Exhibitions and epidemics: 2020 in art

Iona Lowe reviews a turbulent year for the art world, and looks at what 2021 holds in store

Iona Lowe
10th December 2020
After a difficult year for the world of culture, Iona Lowe looks back at the artistic events of 2020 and hopes for better things in the year to come...


As with most industries, for the majority of the year the art world has been ground to a halt. Galleries closing doors and postponing exhibitions leads to much of  2020 taking place in 2021. 

The local art scene has seen an exhibition by Newcastle University's own Joy Labinjo. An enlightening exhibition taking place at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, and one which was particularly moving as the roots of Labinjo lie so close to home. 

Students also managed to exhibit their work in an exclusive, one night only exhibition on Lime Street, as well as the Laing Gallery displaying a wonderful exhibition focusing on William and Evelyn De Morgan, a mixture of pre-Raphaelite and early renaissance paintings and ceramic work produced by the talented couple. 

These are just a few of the highlights we have seen down here in the North, with the limited time that has been available. The rest of the art world has also seen many a change, both international and national.

Art fairs around the world have been forced to move online, while galleries have moved to online exhibitions.

The movement has not only affected the economic development of the galleries, but has changed the entire art market. Bidding rooms set up online result in the art market becoming more transparent about pricing and the worth of each individual piece, allowing a reduction in the exclusivity which can often take place in the art world. 

Controversy has also built over the dilemma seen in the royal academy, should they sell the Michelangelo to sustain paying employees? Or should they keep this elite work by the Italian sculptor?

On TV we see Grayson Perry motoring along and into the modern world, running a series on Channel 4 for all the creatives out there trapped in their home – definitely worth a watch. 


'Reciever' by Huma Bhabha
Photo: Rob Harris via balticgateshead on Instagram

Hopes are high for 2021, both socially and culturally. The Baltic sees the re-opening of a new collection by artist Huma Bhabha – the first one to take place in Europe. Filled with sculptures based around the body, Huma also investigated political issues such as colonialism. A definite one to watch out for.

Another one from the Baltic – a mixture of artists take on the issue of the female body (very much in line with the Baltic’s previous exhibition this year by American feminist artist Judy Chicago) - exploring the oppression of the corset and clothes that women have had to endure. 

There is also a range of interesting exhibitions at both the Laing and the Hatton gallery, as well as the end of year display of young artists' work from those graduating the university, an event which was not able to take place last year.

In the wider world we see exhibitions by Tracy Emin, Michael Armitage and a Francis Bacon exhibition. Any would be recommended should you be headed down to London. For the rest of the market, there is a hope for a slow return to live auctions and art fairs. A Florentine trip may also prove rather enlightening – British artist Jenny Saville works on an exhibition out in the heart of Italian art heritage.

However, if we are to take one silver lining from the corona cloud – the art world has realised their impact on the environment. The realisation that online catalogues, exhibitions and auctions are eligible has resulted in a jubilant planet. Hopefully they can keep this up in 2021. 

Featured image: Everything is Going to be Alright by Martin Creed, via Wikimedia Commons

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