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Exhibitions to see in 2021



David Hockney chronicled the arrival of spring on his iPad from his Normandy home © David Hockney

For much of the past year, exhibitions in museums and galleries have been like magnificent mirages: they gleam alluringly in the distance, but as soon as we approach . . . 

The closures and cancellations have been frustrating. For us as viewers, though, they have proved one thing beyond question — that despite all the valiant efforts of online programmes, our appetite for seeing works of art in the flesh is undiminished. Those of us lucky enough to catch some of the great exhibitions that did manage to open in 2020 often found ourselves half-overwhelmed by the experience. It was as if we had been re-sensitised by temporary deprivation. And the crowd control imposed by Covid has proved, perhaps ironically, to be an added pleasure.

So what will 2021 bring, in terms of great exhibitions, in the shining, post-vaccinated future now on the horizon? Some of last year’s events were delayed — the Venice Biennale of Architecture, for instance, plans to stage its cancelled 2020 edition this coming year, which will mean the next biennale of art will be in 2022. There have also been predictions that Covid will spell the end of the blockbuster show, those mighty assemblages of work from all over the world that — although spectacular — are extremely heavy on resources and only work financially with big crowds and international tourism. 

Yet because such shows are usually several years in the planning, we are still seeing hopeful programmes devised in happier times. They might or might not happen as planned but will probably happen in some form, at some point. No one knows exactly what the year will bring and since this writer’s crystal ball is in the shop for repairs, all we can report are the best intentions of some of the world’s great institutions.

Francis Bacon’s ‘Study for Chimpanzee’ (1957) © David Heald

In London, where museums and galleries are currently closed, the Royal Academy of Art plans Francis Bacon: Man and Beast, promising a spectacular showing of canvases that reveal the great painter’s obsession with our animal nature. Bacon investigated humanity by portraying it stretched to its primal limits: look forward to a parade of apes, dogs, bulls, contorted birds of prey — and, of course, biped mammals too. 

The RA also hosts David Hockney: The Arrival of Spring, Normandy, 2020, which was shown in Paris last year. During lockdown at his home in Normandy, Hockney documented the new season with 116 iPad images printed on to paper that must surely count as one of the most joyous outcomes of the Covid year.

Paula Rego’s ‘The Dance’ (1988) © Paula Rego

At Tate Britain, meanwhile, 2021 should bring a diverse programme, of which two stand out. Paula Rego, still with us at 85, is a classic in her own lifetime. A Portuguese artist who adopted Britain as her home, her fierce portrayals of life — often women’s lives — draw on her native roots or delve into quasi-mythologised yet psychologically acute illuminations of the human condition. This is supposedly the largest and most comprehensive showing of this artist: a treat in store.

And The Making of Rodin, a collaboration with the Musée Rodin in Paris, focuses on the humbler side of the great sculptor’s practice: the thousands of plaster pieces created sometimes as maquettes for the more magisterial stone or bronze works, but sometimes for themselves. Their display of the artist’s speed and skill, the conjuring of likeness in a few rough plaster slabs, is thrilling.

Study for ‘The Thinker’ (1881) by Auguste Rodin © Musée Rodin

New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is now open, with limited access by timed ticket, and ongoing shows include work from across the world. Notably, two chef d’oeuvre exhibitions: Art of Native America: The Charles and Valerie Diker Collection, and In Praise of Painting: Dutch Masterpieces at the Met. There is a rich hoard planned for 2021, including a first Met appearance for the American painter Alice Neel, who died in 1984, and whose haunting, enigmatic works are now hotly in demand. Next year also brings, with the Met’s usual sweep across time and genre, Goya’s Graphic Imagination and New Woman Behind the Camera, a celebration of dozens of sometimes overlooked or little-known female photographers.

At New York’s Museum of Modern Art, too, photography is due for a fascinating showing this year with Fotoclubismo, assembling the startling work of a group of amateur Brazilian photographers, who from 1946 to 1964 created a vivid insight into the country’s postwar flowering. Just as brilliantly enjoyable will be Alexander Calder: Modern from the Start. Nothing the great American sculptor did was ever less than enthralling, as he used his medium to experiment with space and movement. MoMA was his first home, and holds a trove of commissioned pieces.

MoMA holds a trove of Alexander Calder pieces, such as this 1927 work in wire, a tribute to entertainer Josephine Baker © MoMA

Across the world, important galleries are in suspension, waiting like caged creatures to be released from their various lockdowns. In some cities, such as Hong Kong, commercial galleries manage to stay open despite everything and their fine exhibitions are always worth seeing. Some artistic centres have fared better: Lagos, for instance, an exciting and fast-growing scene, recently held one of 2020’s few in-real-life art fairs with Art X Lagos, and its galleries remain open. For 2021, the magnificent Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town is planning a large-scale exhibition of Tracey Rose, entitled Shooting Down Babylon. The dynamite South African uses the body and performance, as well as film and photography, sculpture painting and print, to explore her explosive themes of post-colonialism and identity.

Tracey Rose explores explosive themes of post-colonialism and identity at her Cape Town exhibition © Zeitz MOCAA

Finally, a beacon of real hope for the coming year. Paris is about to witness the opening of a grand-scale project, many years in the making: the historic Bourse de Commerce, a circular Belle Époque building in full Parisian high style in the heart of Les Halles, has been remade by luxury goods billionaire and art collector François Pinault — with the genius of Japanese architect Tadao Ando — into an enormous contemporary art venue. With a towering glass domed roof at its centre, it is a remarkable feat of outward renovation and internal modernisation. Pinault adds this to an impressive portfolio of private museums: the Punto della Dogana and the Palazzo Grassi in Venice already focus on the display of his collections. His grand new venture makes the French capital unique in the scale and ambition of its private contemporary art palaces, joining the (Jean Nouvel-designed) Fondation Cartier and the (Frank Gehry-designed) Fondation Louis Vuitton, among others. The opening is January 23, undeterred (at the time of writing) by a mere pandemic.

Listen to our podcast, Culture Call, where FT editors and special guests discuss life and art in the time of coronavirus. Subscribe on AppleSpotify, or wherever you listen


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FT 1000: Europe’s Fastest Growing Companies




The latest annual ranking of businesses by revenue growth. Explore the 2021 list here — the full report including in-depth analysis and case studies will be published on March 22

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EU plans digital vaccine passports to boost travel




Brussels is to propose a personal electronic coronavirus vaccination certificate in an effort to boost travel around the EU once the bloc’s sluggish immunisation drive gathers pace.

Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission president, said on Monday the planned “Digital Green Pass” would provide proof of inoculation, test results of those not yet jabbed, and information on the holder’s recovery if they had previously had the disease.

“The Digital Green Pass should facilitate Europeans‘ lives,” von der Leyen wrote in a tweet on Monday. “The aim is to gradually enable them to move safely in the European Union or abroad — for work or tourism.”

The plan, expected to be outlined this month, is a response to a push by Greece and some other EU member states to introduce EU “vaccination passports” to help revive the region’s devastated travel industry and wider economy. 

But the commission’s proposed measures will be closely scrutinised over concerns including privacy, the chance that even inoculated people can spread Covid-19, and possible discrimination against those who have not had the opportunity to be immunised.

In an immediate sign of potential opposition, Sophie Wilmès, Belgium’s foreign minister, raised concerns about the plan. She said that while the idea of a standardised European digital document to gather the details outlined by von der Leyen was a good one, the decision to style it a “pass” was “confusing”. 

“For Belgium, there is no question of linking vaccination to the freedom of movement around Europe,” Wilmès wrote in a tweet. “Respect for the principle of non-discrimination is more fundamental than ever since vaccination is not compulsory and access to the vaccine is not yet generalised.”

The travel sector tentatively welcomed the news of Europe-wide vaccine certification as a way to rebuild confidence ahead of the crucial summer season, but warned that regular and rapid testing was a more efficient and immediate way to allow the industry to restart.

Fritz Joussen, chief executive of Tui, Europe’s largest tour operator, said “with a uniform EU certificate, politicians can now create an important basis for summer travel”. But he added that testing remained “the second important building block for safe holidays” while large numbers of Europeans awaited a jab.

Marco Corradino, chief executive of online travel agent, said he feared the infrastructure needed would not be ready in time for the summer season: “It will not work . . . at EU level because it is too complicated and would not be in place by June.”

He suggested that bilateral deals, such as the one agreed between Greece and Israel in February to allow vaccinated citizens to travel without the need to show a negative test result, had more potential.

Vaccine passport sceptics argue it would be unfair to restrict people’s travel rights simply because they are still waiting for their turn to be jabbed. 

Gloria Guevara, CEO of the World Travel and Tourism Council, said it was important not to discriminate against less advanced countries and younger travellers, or those who simply cannot or choose not to be vaccinated. “Future travel is about a combination of measures such as comprehensive testing, mask-wearing, enhanced health and hygiene protocols as well as digital passes for specific journeys,” she added.

A European Commission target to vaccinate 70 per cent of the bloc’s 446m residents by September means many people are likely to go through summer unimmunised.

While some countries around the world have long required visitors to be vaccinated against infectious diseases such as yellow fever, a crucial difference with coronavirus is that those inoculations are available to travellers on demand. 

Questions also remain about the risk of people who have already been vaccinated passing on coronavirus if they contract the disease.


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EU must prepare for ‘era of pandemics’, von der Leyen says




Europe must prepare its medical sector to cope with an “era of pandemics”, the European Commission president said, as she warned the bloc was still in its most difficult period for Covid-19 vaccine deliveries. 

Ursula von der Leyen told the Financial Times that the EU could not afford to sit still even once Covid-19 has been overcome, as she described her plans for a Europewide fast-reaction system designed to respond more quickly to emerging medical threats. 

“Europe is determined to enlarge its strength in vaccine production,” she said in a telephone interview. “It’s an era of pandemics we are entering. If you look at what has been happening over the past few years, I mean from HIV to Ebola to MERS to SARS, these were all epidemics which could be contained, but we should not think it is all over when we’ve overcome Covid-19. The risk is still there.” 

Von der Leyen last month unveiled plans for a biodefence preparedness plan called the HERA Incubator, which will combine researchers, biotech companies, manufacturers and public authorities to monitor emerging threats and work on adapting vaccines. This will become part of a Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA). 

The concept is an attempt to mirror some of the benefits conferred by America’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, which is charged with the job of responding rapidly to new health threats.

“The US has a strong advantage by having BARDA . . . this is an infrastructure Europe did not have,” von der Leyen said. “But Europe has to build up to be prepared for whatever comes, and also for the next possible pandemics. This is the HERA incubator.” 

The EU remains within its “most difficult quarter without any question” for vaccine deliveries, she said, cautioning “many, many problems” could always occur within the production process.

Looking towards the second quarter, she pointed out that a second EU contract with BioNTech/Pfizer for their vaccine would kick in, alongside the new jab from Johnson & Johnson, which is expected to be authorised in March.

In an EU summit on Thursday, von der Leyen addressed vaccine production and the threat of virus mutations after a rocky start to the year, when she was hit by complaints from politicians in member states, including Germany, about supply shortfalls. 

Von der Leyen acknowledged to the European Parliament in early February that mistakes had been made in the EU’s vaccination effort, and the campaign remains behind those of the US and UK. Among the difficulties are continued production problems at AstraZeneca’s European facilities. 

Von der Leyen said she was sticking with the EU’s target for the delivery of 300m doses in the second quarter, saying the challenge will shift from vaccine production to national rollouts. As for AstraZeneca’s shipments, she said: “I need to see the proof of the pudding . . . It’s very good that they also delivered from the rest of the world, but they have to honour their contract and we want our fair share.”

Ursula Von der Leyen says she is sticking with the EU’s target for the delivery of 300m doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the second quarter © Remo Casilli/Reuters

The good news for the EU is its access to mRNA technology, which is used in the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine and which scientists believe can be used to rapidly adapt to mutations, said von der Leyen. 

But she also supported French president Emmanuel Macron’s proposal to share up to 5 per cent of supplies to permit the vaccination of healthcare workers in developing countries.

“We all suffer from the fact that the scaling up was not and is not as rapid as we thought at the beginning. This has a general effect all over the world,” she said. “With production picking up I think we should never forget that only if everybody has access to vaccines will we overcome this virus.”

Von der Leyen added that the EU needed to be particularly concerned about developments in its immediate area. 

“The mutant story is worrying me the most,” she said. “When the virus is still raging in the neighbourhood, the probability that mutants will occur, that will come back, for example, to Europe, is only rising.”

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