There are currently two primary ways for artists to gain (or regain) posthumous fame: to sell for an outrageous nine-figure sum at public auction, or to be the subject of a solo exhibition. Fewer than 10 artists have ever had work sell publicly for more than $100 million—think Picasso, Van Gogh, Modigliani, Francis Bacon—which leaves the gallery walls as most artists' best path to stardom.
In the year ahead, multiple artists seem poised for a second (or third, or fifth) act. Some were famous in their lifetimes. Others remained relatively obscure until now.
Spanning mediums, centuries, and continents, what follows are nine artists who will be the subjects of single, several-month-long surveys that are likely to make a splash beyond the art world:
1. Marcel Broodthaers, Museum of Modern Art, New York
Marcel Broodthaers (1924–1976), a Belgian artist whose work falls loosely under the rubric of conceptual art, created witty, visually captivating installations and objects. Though he is widely known among devotees of the European avant-garde of the 1960s and '70s (basically, among eight people), this is Broodthaers's first museum retrospective in New York.
MoMA, Feb. 14 — May 15, 2016
2. Hubert Robert, National Gallery of Art, Washington
Hubert Robert (1733-1808) was one of the most successful artists in France, successfully riding his fame through the French revolution to emerge relatively unscathed. (He was briefly imprisoned.) Robert's best-known works were his many depictions of fanciful, ancient landscapes; the show at the National Gallery includes 50 paintings and 50 drawings that will go some way to explain why the man became so famous in his lifetime, and by the same token, how shifting tastes made his work fall precipitously from favor.
The National Gallery of Art, June 26 – Oct. 2, 2016
3. Paul Nash, Tate Britain, London
Widely known in the U.K. and obscure everywhere else, Paul Nash (1889–1946) was an incredibly important mid-century landscape painter who represented Britain in three different Venice Art Biennials, and was one of Britain's official war artists (yes those existed) in both the first and second world wars. The Tate exhibition includes oils, watercolors, assemblages, and photographs.
Tate Britain, Oct. 26, 2016 – March 5, 2017
4. Fausto Melotti, Hauser & Wirth, New York
With mega-galleries now putting on museum-quality shows, it's fitting that Hauser & Wirth, which took over the estate of Melotti (1901- 1986) earlier this year, is able to put on a show of the artist's work that will turn heads. Fausto Melotti, a modernist Italian sculptor who rose to fame in the late 1930s, was well-known in Italy but—until recently—was widely overlooked in the U.S. and abroad.
Hauser & Wirth, April 2016 — June 2016
5. Pierre Bonnard, Legion of Honor, San Francisco
Pierre Bonnard (1867–1947) isn't a fresh face—multiple exhibitions of his work have been staged in recent decades. Still, this major exhibition, Pierre Bonnard: Painting Arcadia, which started at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, traveled to the Fundación Mapfre in Madrid, and is finally settling in San Francisco, should fully (re)-establish his reputation. Once dismissed as a decorative fuddy-duddy, Bonnard was a defining figure in modernism, the exhibition contends.
Legion of Honor, Feb. 6 — May 15, 2016
6. Roberto Burle Marx, Jewish Museum, New York
If you've strolled along Copacabana Beach in Rio or Biscayne Boulevard in Miami, you've enjoyed the work of Roberto Burle Marx (1909–1994), one of the most transformative landscape architects of the 20th century. His use of water to surround buildings, his embrace of native tropical plants as decoration, his trippy, asymmetrical sidewalk designs have each been so widely embraced and appropriated by the world at large that it's easy to forget one man pioneered them. The Jewish Museum's exhibition will include Burle Marx's paintings, textile designs, jewelry, theater sets, and sculpture, along with images of his best-known work.
The Jewish Museum, May 6 —Sept. 18, 2016
7. Théodore Rousseau, Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Now virtually forgotten, Theodore Rousseau (1812–1867) was one of the hottest artists of the 19th century, with paintings selling for what were then princely sums. His romantic landscapes of withered trees and violent clouds were valuable when he made them and then grew even further in stature after he died. Then, the advent of modernism crushed Rousseau's reputation. This show, comprising about 75 paintings and drawings that emphasize the technical virtuosity of his work, should change that.
The Getty Museum, June 21 — Sept. 11, 1016
8. Agnes Martin, Guggenheim Museum, New York
Agnes Martin (1912–2004) is probably the most famous artist on this list, yet she's hardly a household name. While her mild, geometric paintings and drawings set her firmly within the Minimalist field, her art—often restrained, always provocative—spans more than four decades of the 20th century. This exhibition, which will fill the Guggenheim rotunda, is sure to draw crowds, finally putting Martin irrevocably on the map.
The Guggenheim, October 2016 — January 2017
9. Tom Wesselmann, David Zwirner Gallery, London
To those familiar with Tom Wesselmann's work, it's a travesty that he is unknown to the casual museum-going public. One of the greatest practitioners of American Pop Art, Wesselmann's work stands alongside such artists as Roy Lichtenstein in art's historical canon. This show at David Zwirner Gallery will present over 30 collages he produced from 1959 to 1964.
David Zwirner, Jan. 29 – March 24, 2016