The Best Art Exhibitions in Europe This Summer

From Oslo’s first biennale to a provocative exhibit on the Greek island of Hydra, these art shows offer a dose of culture this summer.

The Best Art Exhibitions in Europe This Summer

Olafur Eliasson’s “Your Uncertain Shadow” is on display in London this summer.

Photo by Maria del Pilar Garcia Ayensa / Studio Olafur Eliasson

If you’re planning to be in Europe this summer, make time to see some of the season’s top exhibitions. We dug through the many shows to highlight a selection of art events, retrospectives, and topical exhibitions taking place in all corners of the continent.

Arthur Rimbaud in New York, 1978-1979. The Wojnarowicz exhibit opens in Madrid in late May.

Arthur Rimbaud in New York, 1978-1979. The Wojnarowicz exhibit opens in Madrid in late May.

Courtesy of Fales Library and Special Collections, New York University

“David Wojnarowicz: History Keeps Me Awake at Night”
May 29 to September 30, 2019; Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain “To make the private into something public is an action that has terrific ramifications,” wrote New Jersey–born artist David Wojnarowicz during the height of the AIDS crisis. Working in New York’s East Village, he produced a broad body of work in the 1970s and 1980s in media including sculpture, writing, film, photography, performative activism, and collage, a selection of which is on view in Madrid.

With often brutally provocative work, Wojnarowicz pioneered the era’s fraught identity politics, political critique, and prescient takes on queerness; he died at only 37 of AIDS-related complications. One of many self-portraits, the deathmask-like “Untitled (Face in Dirt)” (1991) feels almost a premonition. This traveling show (it started at New York’s Whitney Museum last year) is a testament to a brilliant artist and a difficult time.

“Brave New Virtues. Shaping Our Digital World,” Vienna Biennale
May 29 to October 6, 2019; various venues, Vienna, Austria

The third iteration of Vienna’s Biennale once again takes an interdisciplinary approach to how our digital world affects architecture, art, and design. The Museum of Applied Arts (MAK) launched the biennale in 2015 and continues to keep the event collaborative; exhibitions here and in other local venues, like Kunsthalle Wien and the Architekturzentrum, tackle pressing issues like artificial intelligence, the future of the city, climate change, and responsible consumption.

At MAK’s “Uncanny Values: Artificial Intelligence and You,” expect to see rising art stars like James Bridle and veterans like Lynn Hershman Leeson; in the Kunsthalle exhibition “Hysterical Mining,” watch for art delving into feminism and technology by artists like Judith Fegerl and Barbara Kapusta, both big in Vienna’s local scene.

Marianne Heier, “And Their Spirits Live On” will be performed at the former Museum for Contemporary Art as part of the program.

Marianne Heier, “And Their Spirits Live On” will be performed at the former Museum for Contemporary Art as part of the program.

Courtesy of Lia Ronchi / Oslo Biennalen

Oslo Biennalen
Opens May 25, 2019; various public locations, Oslo, Norway Biennials are nothing new (the Venice Biennale, the first of its kind, started in 1895), but the Norwegian capital’s inaugural art biennial is breaking new territory by taking art out of the white cube, putting it into public space, and running the event as a multiyear project.

On the weekend of May 25, 26 artists (many of them Norwegian, like Mette Edvardsen, who is well known in Europe for her performative public work) will introduce artwork to Oslo’s public spaces, where they’ll stay for five years. The biennial, which is free, unfolds over time with public programs and a second set of artworks to be unveiled throughout Oslo in October.

Dora Maar’s “Sans Titre” (“Untitled”) forms part of the Centre Pompidou’s new exhibition.

Dora Maar’s “Sans Titre” (“Untitled”) forms part of the Centre Pompidou’s new exhibition.

Courtesy of Centre Pompidou

“Dora Maar”
June 5 to July 29, 2019; Centre Pompidou, Paris, France Dora Maar is perhaps best known as Picasso’s long-term lover, muse, and the subject of his “Weeping Woman” series of paintings, but this show celebrates her own formidable talent as a photographer.

Maar, who grew up in Buenos Aires, was active in Parisian intellectual circles between the two world wars. She created surrealist art photography (and studied under Man Ray) but also shot portraiture and photojournalism for social and political causes, focusing on marginalized groups and urban spaces. This retrospective shines a light on her remarkable photographic oeuvre.

“Memory,” Kiki Smith
June 18 to September 30, 2019; Deste Foundation Slaughterhouse Project Space, Hydra, Greece

Perched on a rocky incline near the harbor of the Greek island of Hydra, art collector Dakis Jouannou’s Deste Foundation project space—in a small stone slaughterhouse overlooking the sea—is hosting a summer exhibition featuring U.S. artist Kiki Smith, known for her explorations of mortality and sexuality and more recently, human connection to nature.

The show’s exact works are never known until opening day, but considering Smith’s cryptic preshow writings (“The milk is an offering to the goats and the sea”), this exhibition is sure to be thought provoking. Hydra is a carless island reachable via an hour-long hydrofoil trip from Athens; Leonard Cohen spent summers on this visual arts hot spot.

The installation view of John Akomfrah’s “Purple,” displayed at The Curve, Barbican Centre in 2017.

The installation view of John Akomfrah’s “Purple,” displayed at The Curve, Barbican Centre in 2017.

Photo by Justin Piperger

“The Coming World: Ecology as the New Politics 2030–2100”
June 28 to December 11, 2019; Garage, Moscow, Russia Many exhibitions are tackling environmentalism and ecology lately, but this is the first of its kind in Russia. What will the Earth look like when there’s not much left of what we know now? Fifty artists show new and existing works at Garage to explore this unsettling idea; Accra-born British artist John Akomfrah, known for his film work on postcolonialism, kicks off the show on June 15 (ahead of the opening) with a video installation called Purple, a montage of archival film material and newly shot footage from endangered ecosystems. It examines our relationship with—and responsibility to—nature and the planet on six screens, with a lush soundtrack.

“In Real Life: Olafur Eliasson”
July 11 to January 5, 2020; Tate Modern, London, United Kingdom

Icelandic Danish artist Olafur Eliasson’s work has long explored human perception and illusion though mediums like trippy light and color, and it’s delved into the spaces where art and science coexist. More recently he has addressed environmental issues with materials such as melting ice (his recurring “Ice Watch” project has seen large blocks of ice melt in cities like London in 2018).

This large-scale retrospective showcases more than 30 of Eliasson’s epic works ranging from a vast stretch of Icelandic moss (“Moss Wall”) to installations in which visitors walk, fun-house-style, through kaleidoscopes of mirrors. This is the first U.K. retrospective of this seminal artist, covering 30 years of production. He even recreates the bustling in-house vegetarian kitchen of his Berlin-based studio here on the Tate’s Terrace Bar (the fare, sometimes prepared by Eliasson’s sister, is consistently delicious).

“Near Life, 200 Years of Casting Plaster at the Gipsformerei”
August 30 to March 1, 2020; James Simon Galerie, Museum Island, Berlin, Germany

After decades of post-wall renovation, the neoclassical Museum Island in Berlin finally gets its missing piece—the brand new James Simon Galerie by star architect David Chipperfield.

The elegant, columned gallery opens to the public in July and connects the island’s five other museums, including the Pergamon Museum and the Neues Museum (a Chipperfield renovation unveiled a decade ago).

First up in the space is an exhibition all about Berlin’s historical plaster casting facility, which, like Museum Island, was pivotal to the city’s art production and display. In the mid-1800s, casting sculptures took place here in the adjacent museums. The building is a first, but the exhibition is a celebration of tradition.

>>Next: How to Book a Cheap Flight to Europe

Kimberly Bradley is an American writer living in Berlin and Vienna, but her love affair with Greece in general and Athens in particular dates to the early 1990s. Read her writings on travel and culture at
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