Art, culture and food are always at the top of my list when planning a weekend away. Here are my Exhibitions worth Travelling for in 2021. At present Covid makes it unwise to travel but I remain hopeful that travel will become possible again in 2021.
Cultural Wednesday’s Pick of Exhibitions Worth Travelling For in 2021
When going away for a weekend I prefer not to get on a plane, so most of the destinations here are accessible in a few hours by train or car. Dante in Florence and Yayoi Kusama in Berlin are exceptions to that rule.
Given endless free time and a limitless budget, these are major exhibitions one new museum opening that I would love to see this year. I tried to confine my wishlist to destinations that would work as a weekend break.
Van Eyck: An Optical Revolution, Museum of Fine Arts Ghent
Our bags were all packed ready to visit Ghent when lockdown hit in March 2020. The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb (a painting you want to see for the title alone) is back on the altar at St Bravo Cathedral and a shiny new visitor centre is still waiting to open. Mat Collishaw has created a digital tribute to Van Eyck that will be on show at St Nicholas Church in Ghent that blends art, music and video mapping. I’m a big fan of both Mat Collishaw and Jan van Eyck, so really, really keen to see this.
- Lights on Van Eyck: Mat Collishaw
- St Nicholas Church Ghent
- Until 30 June 2021
- Trains to Ghent leave Brussels Centraal or Brussels airport every few minutes, catch a Eurostar to Brussels and change. It takes 35 minutes to get to Ghent.
- Ferries go to Zeebrugge from Hull driving to Ghent takes an hour.or to Calais from Dover
- Getting to Calais can be done by ferry from Dover or via the Eurotunnel from Folkestone, the drive from Ghent is about 1 hour 45 minutes.
Beaufort on the Belgian Coast
Every three years, since 2003, the Belgian coast hosts Beaufort, a contemporary art festival. After every festival some of the artworks remain. 2021 will see new world joining the 30 or so that already grace the coastline. What we loved most about exploring the Beaufort art works was that you can hop on and off a tram the whole length of the coast meaning that you can leave your car behind.
- Sculputures at Sea, Beaufort, Belgium
- open until 7 November 2021
- We drove from Surrey to the Belgian Coast via the Eurotunnel
- DFDS ferries cross from Dover to Dunkirk
- P&O ferries cross from Dover to Calais
- P&O have a crossing from Hull to Zeebrugge
- Eurostar Trains depart from St Pancras International to Brussels and take just under two hours from there there are frequent trains to Ostend and the tram takes you along the coast.
Big Bang in Leuven
Did you know that the Big Bang theory was formulated in Leuven? No, me neither. George Lemaitre was both a priest and a scientist who lectured at the Catholic University of Leuven. The University itself celebrates 600 years in 2021 so October there will be a Big Bang festival that celebrates the creativity of scientific discovery and art. My background is a scientific one, so this melding of art and science really appeals.
- Big Bang Festival, Leuven, Belgium
- Opens in October
- Eurostar trains take just under two hours from London to Brussels. Frequent trains run between Leuven and Brussels the journey takes about half an hour.
Many years ago I lived in Nottingham for a short time. It is a beautiful city with a strong industrial heritage. When I first moved there I was very excited to visit Nottingham Castle, with high hopes of meeting Robin Hood or catching a glimpse of the Sheriff of Nottingham but was disappointed by the experience. So I was very excited to here that the Castle is in the process of total renovation and set to reopen in 2021 … hopefully in Spring. There will be a Robin Hood gallery, a tour of the caves (there are many caves under Nottingham) and parts of the castle that have never been seen by the public before will be on show. Can’t wait to revisit Nottingham for this.
- Nottingham Castle
- Open 21 June 2021
- Trains take just under two hours from St Pancras
Coventry – UK City of Culture 2021 from May
Coventry is one of those places that I have only ever visited for work but am curious to revisit and explore. From June Coventry will be adorned with all manner of installations, performances and digital works. Little Amal, who is a giant puppet representative of all migrants is currently walking 5,000 miles thorough Europe and will arrive in Coventry in the Summer. In September the Turner Prize for Modern Art will be hosted in Coventry.
- Coventry City of Culture
- Trains from London Euston take just over an hour to get to Coventry.
Estuary 2021 on the Thames Estuary
The banks of the Thames Estuary are mysterious magical places. They have been home to industry and ports for as long as England has been a nation yet they are also places of wild marshland. Estuary 2021 sees the 83 miles river bank on both the Kent and Essex side of the river join in an artistic celebration of the Estuary’s landscape and history.
- Estuary 2021, South Essex and North Kent
- May 22 – June 13 2021
Barbara Hepworth at the The Hepworth Wakefield
The Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield celebrates its 10th anniversary with a vast retrospective exhibition of Barbara Hepworth herself. There will also be artworks from Bridget Riley and Tacita Dean in dialogue with Hepworth’s work. Don’t forget that Yorkshire Scuplture Park is just down the road from Wakefield for an art filled weekend.
- Barbara Hepworth at The Hepworth, Wakefield
- 21 May – 31 October
- Trains from Kings Cross take just over 2 hours to get to Wakefield.
Auckland Castle in County Durham
Once upon a time Auckland Castle was home to the Prince Bishops of Durham. Now the Castle has been restored and is set to reopen with the rooms built to impress ready to be explored. The project is a wide ranging one that will see Bishop Auckland home to the largest collection of Spanish Art in the UK outside London, a Faith Museum and a walled garden to visit in addition to the castle itself. Dates for reopening are hazy (lets face it all dates in 2021 are hazy) but County Durham is definitely a place to have on your list this year.
- Auckland Castle, County Durham
- If you want to test your eyesight it is four and half hour drive from London.
- Trains from Kings Cross take just over three and a half hours change at either Eaglescliffe or Darlington for Bishop Auckland.
Arc de Triomphe wrapped by Christo and Jean-Claude, Paris
For two weeks at the end of September the Arc de Triomphe is to be wrapped up. Christo and Jean Claude, the husband and wife team behind the wrapping of the Reichstag in Berlin, are to do the same in Paris. More recently they constructed a huge Mastaba that floated on the Serpentine in Hyde Park in the summer of 2018. I loved the Mastaba and am trying to convince Mr CW that we need an autumn jaunt to Paris. The Pompidou Centre is having an exhibition devoted to the pair in Spring but to be honest it is the wrapping that holds attraction for me.
- Arc de Triomphe wrapped
- 18 September – 3 October
- Eurostar trains take about two hours from London
Fondation Pinault to open in Paris
François-Henri Pinault is a billionaire high fashion business man … think Alexander McQueen, Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and Balenciaga. He also owns one of the world’s largest collections of contemporary art. That collection has a new home and we are all invited. Fondation Pinault will set up home in the former Bourse de Paris which has been given a makeover by Japanese architect Tadao Ando. Expect to see works by Agnes Martin, Cindy Sherman and Takashi Murakami.
- Fondation Pinault, Bourse de Paris
- Open: Monday to Sunday 11 am – 7 pm (Fridays until 9pm)
- Admission: €14
Modern Art Museum at Fontevraud Abbey
First things first: I love the Abbey at Fontevraud. It has the graves of Richard the Lionheart and his parents Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Eleanor was a childhood heroine of mine. This summer a modern art museum is to open on the site following the donation of over 1,000 works of art by Martine and Léon Cligman. Their collection, including works by Corot, Dubuffet, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, Derain and Delaunay, will be on show. Even better the new hotel at the Abbey gives guests access to the Abbey all night long and has a Michelin starred restaurant. Art, Eleanor and Food …. this is possibly my dream destination.
- Fontevraud Abbey overlooks the Loire, the best way to get there is probably to drive crossing the channel either via the Eurotunnel, my favourite route is fast catamaran one way and overnight the other via Brittany Ferries from Portsmouth
DinoPlagne opens at Ain
Did you know that the world’s longest trail of dinosaur footprints is in the French Alps? No neither did I. The prints were discovered in 2009 at Ain, La Plagne. A new museum is set to open in April exploring the three minutes that it took the dinosaurs to make the prints that have lasted for 145 million years.
- Dinoplagne, Ain, Le Plagne
- Opens in April, but already postponed from 2020
- Geneva is the nearest airport
- Driving will take you ten or so hours from London
Maison Heler by Starck in Metz
Not a museum or an exhibition this time but an hotel. I have a soft spot for Metz. It as the first place that I have drank a Kir. When I first visited in the 80s, the bank I went to cash my Travellers Cheques (remember those?) had a stained glass ceiling by Daum. Now Philippe Starck has designed an incredible hotel building that looks like a regular modern block until you get to the roof where you find an 18th century style Alsatian house. I feel the need to drink a Kir and check if the bank is still there.
- When Maison Heler opens it will be part of the Curio Collection by Hilton but it doesn’t appear on the website yet.
- Read more about Philippe Starck vision here.
- Way back in the 80s we drove to Metz crossing from Felixstowe to Zeebrugge but that crossing no longer exists!
Yayoi Kusama at Gropius Bau, Berlin
Infinity rooms and vast pumpkins are Yayoi Kusama’s stock in trade. Whilst you wait in line for one of her infinity rooms you look at the stark black cube and wonder why you are waiting, once you step inside you never want to leave to wonderous reflective universe. There will be a new infinity room in this vast retrospective.
- Yayoi Kusama at Gropius Bau, Berlin
- 19 March – 1 August 2021
Humboldt Forum opens in Berlin
If you are in Berlin head to the Museum Insel in Berlin where a new museum is about to open. The Humboldt Forum will be dedicated to non European art. The site is a fascinating one, starting life a a monastery, then becoming a Royal Palace and then the Palace of the Republic the home to the GDR government. Now a new building has been constructed behind the restored facade of the Baroque Palace. One of the first exhibitions will be entitled “Impressions: Who were the Humboldt Brothers?” to help answer any questions you may have about the siblings who came up with theory of holistic education that brings together arts and science in research.
- Humboldt Forum, Museum Insel, Berlin
- Opens early 2021
- We drove to Berlin, stopping overnight on the way in the Ruhr to check out the incredible Landschaftpark at Duisburg Nord.
- You can get flights to Berlin from many UK airports.
Dante at 700 in Florence
2021 is the 700th anniversary of Dante’s death and Florence is marking the occasion with aplomb. The Bargello Museum is hosting two exhibitions devoted to the poet The Bargello for Dante and The Admirable Vision. Dante and the Comedy in the Symbolist Imaginary with everything you need to know about the Divine Comedy.
- Bargello Museum celebrates Dante
- 23 March – 25 July and 23 September – 9 January 2022
- You can fly to Pisa and catch a train to Florence or direct to Florence
Fun Fact: The Netherlands has a higher density of museums than any other country. Here are the Dutch shows that I would most like to see this year.
Slavery, an exhibition, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
The Dutch Golden Age produced many beautiful paintings and buildings but it was also an era of war, forced labour, and human trafficking. This Autumn the Rijksmuseum aims to look at the less palatable side of the society that fuelled the tulip boom and great artists like Rembrandt.
- Slavery, an exhibition, 5 June – 29 August 2021
- Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
- Eurostar from London to Amsterdam takes just under 5 hours
- Ferries sail from Newcastle to Amsterdam
Fleeting – Scents in Colour at the Mauritshuis
Have you ever wondered about the smells of beautiful images that you hanging on the walls of galleries? Warm cakes fresh from the over, luscious ripe fruit, flowers laden with scent? Or how about stinky canals and the stench of stale sweat? Well the curators at the Mauritshuis in The Hague have and they’ve conjured up an exhibition to stimulate all the senses. I really, really want to experience this one.
- Fleeting – Scents in Colour, Mauritshuis
- 11 February – 29 August 2021
- Stena Line Harwich – Hook of Holland ferry has handy train links to both London and The Hague.
Antony Gormley GROUND at Museum Voorlinden
If you are headed to The Hague be sure to head just outside to Museum Voorlinden right by the sea. Antony Gormley has worked with the museum to create a retrospective of his work tailored to both the gallery and surrounding environment. It looks like the perfect place to explore his explorations of the human body and the space around us.
- Antony Gormley Ground at Museum Voorlinden
- 23 April – 26 September 2021
Fingers crossed that travel becomes possible again in 2021, before you make any travel plans check out the Government Covid Travel Advice. Oh, how I miss hotel breakfasts. These are the must see exhibitions that I would most like to travel for, which do you fancy and which have I missed.
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