15 Must-See Museum Exhibitions this Winter

Installation view of Installation photo of "Nature—Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial." Photo: Matt Flynn. © Smithsonian Institution.

Museums and galleries save some of their best exhibitions for the winter months. Whether you’re interested in Renaissance art or contemporary artists, there’s a little something for everyone now on view, from Los Angeles to Paris. While some of these exhibitions offer a fresh take on a blue-chip artist, others offer an unprecedented look at lesser-known works.


Lucian Freud: The Self-Portraits

Where: Royal Academy of Arts
Now through January 26, 2020

While self-portraits are common practice for many artists, few are as compelling or disturbing as Lucian Freud’s. This exhibition combines paintings, prints and drawings in an unprecedented way: a display of all of Freud’s self-portraits under one roof. From his earliest portrait executed in 1939 to his last portrait in 2003, audiences can follow his artistic development from the linear works of his early career to the lumpy, twisted figures he is most commonly associated with today. The evolution of these self-portraits presents a captivating study of the universal human process of aging, as well as the artist’s troubled psyche.

Gauguin Portraits

Where: National Gallery
When: Now through January 26, 2020

Gauguin Portraits features approximately 50 portraits of various media including paintings, works on paper and three-dimensional objects. As the first-ever exhibition entirely devoted to the artist’s portraits, it allows viewers an unparalleled glimpse into Paul Gauguin’s interpretation of both portraits and self-portraits throughout the span of his career. His self-portraits reveal the artist’s range of views of himself, while his choice of context in his portraits of others express meaning that went beyond the sitters’ own personalities. 

William Blake

Where: Tate Britain
When: Now through February 2, 2020

The largest showing in almost 20 years of one of Britain’s most prolific artists, Tate Britain has brought together over 300 original works by William Blake. Mastering painting, printmaking and poetry made Blake more than just an artist; he was a true visionary of his generation. The exhibition includes a recreation of the small domestic space in which Blake originally showed his works in 1809, allowing viewers to imagine the impact his works originally had. In another part of the exhibition, Blake’s dreams are brought to fruition by using digital technology to show some of his small works at a gigantic scale. The works in Tate Britain’s exhibit show off the artist’s masterful work with line and composition, as well as his personal visions of society, history, religion and science. 

Los Angeles

Manet and Modern Beauty

Where: The J. Paul Getty Museum
When: Now through January 12, 2020

The Getty and the Art Institute of Chicago join forces to celebrate the works created during the last years of Edouard Manet’s life, a period of time rarely looked at in depth. The show is organized into five sections which each explore different series and themes, some unfinished, that the artist explored in his later years. This includes stylish portraits and colorful still lifes, which emphasize Manet’s masterful use of paint and pastels. The exhibition offers an antidote to the more radical pieces Manet is so often associated with by showing more personal, intimate pieces that occupied the prolific artist’s final years. 

Tokyo Pop Underground

Where: Jeffrey Dietch Gallery
When: Now through January 18, 2020

In Tokyo Pop Underground, the Jeffrey Dietch Gallery explores the unique history and trajectory of contemporary art in Japan, which is completely unlike that of contemporary art in the West. The show is curated by Tokyo gallerist Shinji Nanzuka and presents the work of seventeen different artists. Some works challenge the definition of art with their commercial nature, while others draw links between the underground Japanese culture and the American graffiti subculture.

Julie Mehretu

Where: Los Angeles County Museum of Art
When: Now through May 17, 2020

Co-organized with the Whitney Museum of American Art,
Julie Mehretu is the first-ever retrospective of the Ethiopia-born artist’s work. If you’ve set foot in an auction house in the past few years, you’re probably familiar with Mehretu’s work as it grosses more at auction than most other living female artists. It’s easy to understand why–her large, map-like paintings are daunting, while still sparking a sense of curiosity and intrigue in its viewers. But LACMA’s exhibition covers more than the large works we’re already familiar with. Also included are the much smaller pieces from Mehretu’s early career, which served as keys for the artist’s later, more complex works. On display are nearly 40 works on paper and 35 paintings that cover Mehretu’s examination of history, colonialism, war, diaspora and displacement. 


Alex Rahon: Poetic Invocations

Where: MoCA North Miami
When: Now through March 29, 2020

MoCA North Miami is exhibiting the works of Alice Rahon, a lesser known French-Mexican surrealist painter. This marks the first solo exhibition of the artist since 1964. In exploring Rahon’s work, MoCA hopes to further contribute to the recognition of under-researched female artists, as well as the culture surrounding European artists who took exile in the Americas. The works on display feature a range of media, including paintings, works on paper, assemblages, original poems and photographs. 

Haegue Yang: In the Cone of Uncertainty

Where: The Bass
When: Now through April 5, 2020

The Bass presents a selection of South Korean contemporary artist Haegue Yang’s body of work from the last decade. The title of the show references the uncertain path of hurricanes (something South Floridians are all too familiar with) while also calling attention to the works’ discussion of climate change and scarcity. This expansive exhibition covers the first and second floors of the museum and offers viewers an unprecedented look at Yang’s vivid artistic language.

The Gift of Art

Where: Perez Art Museum Miami
When: Ongoing

To celebrate the museum’s 35th anniversary, Perez Art Museum is exhibiting the donated works of art they have received over the years. At the core of this exhibition is the belief that art is a unique form of expression which should be both valued and shared with the public. While each work of art is distinctive, they are all representative of the generosity of those who donated to the museum.

New York

Rachel Harrison: Life Hack

Where: Whitney Museum of American Art
When: Now through January 12, 2020

This first-ever full scale survey of Rachel Harrison’s work spans over two decades from public and private collections throughout the world. Many of us are familiar with the term “life hack,” which refers to a simple fix that can make life easier. In her career survey, Harrison uses the term ironically to call attention to the inherent absurdity in the belief that life would provide a shortcut for anyone–especially women. The 1996 critically acclaimed installation that gave the artist her successful start is recreated here, along with other masterpieces such as 2004’s Huffy Howler and 2007’s Alexander the Great.

Nature–Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial with Cube Design Museum

Where: Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Museum
When: Now through January 20, 2020

Nature takes the difficult, often bleak, subject matter of climate change and turns it into a call to action for the world’s designers and the general public. The exhibition features over 60 works from designers who have collaborated with engineers, scientists, farmers, and nature itself to design a more sustainable future. While there are many visually appealing works that straddle the fine line between design and fine art, there are also several early-stage projects from big industries such as Adidas’ recycled plastic shoe initiative. This show takes a new and intriguing look at ways in which nature and design are not only connected, but dependent on each other.

Edith Halpert and the Rise of American Art

Where: The Jewish Museum
When: Now through February 9, 2020

This exhibition focuses on the remarkable career of art dealer Edith Halpert, who championed some of the most respected American artists of the 20th century. At a time when Europe, specifically Paris, was the unofficial capital of the art world, Halpert opened her own gallery in Manhattan and showed a diverse group of artists that challenged the world’s view of what it meant to be an artist. As a female Jewish immigrant in the 1920s, Halpert was considered an outsider to the art world, which makes the fact that she went on to have so much influence on it all the more extraordinary. 


Christodoulos Panayiotou

Where: Musee d’Orsay
When: Now through January 12, 2020

Panayiotou’s work is known for its incorporation of archival materials, as well as a background in theater and dance, to examine important issues. Some of the themes the artist most often explores include institutional history and collective identity. The exhibition at Musee d’Orsay highlights the museum’s own collection of the artist’s work while also including new works that have never been exhibited before.

Francis Bacon en toute lettre

Where: Paris Centre Pompidou
When: Now through January 20, 2020

Known best for his emotionally charged and sometimes disturbing imagery, Bacon’s work is looked at in a new light in Centre Pompidou’s exhibition. The monography illustrates the relationship between the artist’s paintings and literary interests. The works of great authors such as Friedrich Nietzcha and George Eliot are explored, as well as how these literary greats inspired the imagination of one of the 20th century’s most creative minds.

Leonardo Da Vinci

Where: The Louvre
When: Now through February 24, 2020

2019 marked the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci. Though the Renaissance man mastered many disciplines, this exhibition focuses on the artist’s paintings in particular. The Louvre holds the largest collection in the world of da Vinci’s paintings, including Mona Lisa and Saint John the Baptiste. Five stellar works in the collection, including those just mentioned, are displayed alongside significant drawings and small sculptures. This unprecedented retrospective aims to demonstrate how important painting in particular was to da Vinci. Also included are scientific examinations of his paintings and recent clarifications on his biography, which helps visitors further understand this extraordinary artist and historical figure.