Visual Arts

Best visual arts exhibitions of 2021, from Francis Bacon at the RA to Paula Rego at Tate Britain

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Francis Bacon: Man and Beast

Howling monkeys, slavering dogs, blind beasts, hunched birds: gut-raw emotion animates Bacon’s claustrophobically framed figures. Whether he was painting a baboon or a pontiff, Bacon teased out the human in the animal, and the animalistic in the human.

Royal Academy, London, 30 January to 18 April

Ruth Asawa: Citizen of the Universe

Asawa’s early forms in looped wire were light, translucent, and suspended, made with simple inexpensive materials, innovative and beguiling. One of the greatest students to pass through the legendary Black Mountain College in the 40s, her work was prized by Josef and Anni Albers and R Buckminster Fuller.

Modern Art Oxford, 12 February to 9 May

Sutapa Biswas

Her politically charged Kali painting Housewives With Steak-Knives stole the British Museum’s recent Tantra show, but there’s much more to Biswas. Two concurrent exhibitions this spring explore her role in the Black Arts Movement in Britain and explore her work in drawing, sculpture, photography and video.

Sutapa Biswas, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, 17 April to 4 July; Sutapa Biswas: Lumen Baltic, 8 May to 31 October

Sutapa Biswas
Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge
Sutapa Biswas,
Birdsong, 2004.
Production still

Paula Rego

A timely celebration of one of Britain’s greatest living painters, now in her eighties, Rego has long mined fables old and new for what they tells us of the human condition and relationships. She has a wicked sense of humour and joie de vivre, but at her
darkest, can be devastating.

Tate Britain, London, 16 June to 24 October

Sheila Hicks: Off Grid

What I wouldn’t have given to throw myself into one of Hicks’s luscious, coloured bundles halfway through last year. Fibre
– woven, wrapped, teased, looped, stitched and strung – is Hicks’s raw material, but her medium, really, is colour itself and its response to texture, light and alliances.

Hepworth Wakefield, 27 November to May 2022

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