At the USA’s leading museums, a spirit of friendly competition prevails for creating the most compelling yet crowd-pleasing displays that will make news – and draw crowds.

In the new year, this will make all museumgoers winners.

In the coming months, institutions across the country will offer new contexts for artists whose work you think you know by heart. Historical objects and subjects will get fresh interpretations, and up-and-coming creators whose work is currently known only to insiders may have their breakout moment.

In chronological order, here are 10 museum exhibitions across the USA that are worth traveling for in 2024.

Yayoi Kusama’s “LOVE IS CALLING” installation, with multicolored, polka-dotted pieces that look like stalactites and stalagmites
Yayoi Kusama’s famous “LOVE IS CALLING” will be installed at SFMOMA through September 2024 © YAYOI KUSAMA; courtesy the artist, Ota Fine Arts, Victoria Miro and David Zwirner

1. Yayoi Kusama: Infinite Love

SFMOMA, San Francisco
On view: now through September 7 

For six decades now, Japanese polymath Yayoi Kusama has been exploring the concept of the “infinity room.” These meditations on perception, the cosmos and existence itself combine bold colors, three-dimensional forms and mirror-generated optical illusions to transport viewers to an all-encompassing aesthetic universe. They’ve become a worldwide phenomenon – and in the exhibition Yayoi Kusama: Infinite Love they have landed in Northern California for the first time. Featured works including the brand-new Dreaming of Earth’s Sphericity, I Would Offer My Love (2023) and the famous LOVE IS CALLING (2013) will be on display at SFMOMA through next fall. Be sure to reserve advance tickets the minute they go on sale: as ever, these installations are already the hottest tickets in town.

The painting "Seated Woman, Back Turned to the Open Window" (ca 1922) by Henri Matisse
An enchanting show at the St Louis Museum of Art will present such Matisse works as “Seated Woman, Back Turned to the Open Window” (ca 1922; The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts) © 2024 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

2. Matisse and the Sea

St Louis Art Museum, St Louis
On view: February 17–May 12, 2024

Henri Matisse lived for decades near the Mediterranean, and a spectrum of blues carries through his entire oeuvre, largely inspired by the reflection of light off the water. Yet the new exhibition Matisse and the Sea at the St Louis Art Museum is somehow the first ever to offer a thorough overview of how Matisse depicted, learned from and looked to the sea – from the south of France to Tahiti – throughout his career. With the artist’s Bathers with Turtle (1907–8) as a museum highlight, the exhibition travels across both Matisse’s output and the world itself, with works by this 20th-century master in various media, depicting the sea as a subject and as a thematic motif.

Archibald J Motley, Jr’s “Black Belt” (from the collection of Howard University) will be a highlight of the Met’s major Harlem Renaissance exhibition this spring © Estate of Archibald John Motley Jr. All reserved rights 2023 / Bridgeman Images

3. The Harlem Renaissance and Transatlantic Modernism

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
On view: February 25–June 28, 2024

Years in the making, the highly anticipated show The Harlem Renaissance and Transatlantic Modernism reflects the Met’s efforts to place the work of Black artists in a new light. Expect works by Harlem Renaissance artists including Charles Alston, Archibald Motley and James Van Der Zee – largely drawn from the collections of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) – to hang alongside those of European contemporaries such as Henri Matisse, Edvard Munch and Pablo Picasso.

Exterior view of the Whitney Museum of American Art in NYC
The Whitney Biennial is always one of the year’s most-talked-about art events © Nic Lehoux / courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art

4. Whitney Biennial 2024: Even Better Than the Real Thing

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City
On view: starting March 20, 2024

Some swoon. Some scratch their heads. Some leave angry. Others emerge inspired. Yet however you react, it’s hard to forget any Whitney Biennial. In a tradition dating back to 1932, every other year (more or less) the Whitney Museum of American Art presents a survey of contemporary work by American artists who are stirring things up on the art scene. Multimedia pieces abound (a popular if shocking piece from the 2017 exhibition featured virtual-reality goggles) and political themes are never hard to detect. Curated by Chrissie Iles and Meg Onli, the lineup at this year’s Biennial has yet to be announced. But whoever the participants are, their work is sure to make a statement.

A still from the video piece “Lead Me to Places I Could Never Find on My Own” by Meryl McMaster
Work by women in many media – including Meryl McMaster’s video piece “Lead Me to Places I Could Never Find on My Own” – will comprise the survey “New Worlds” © Courtesy of the artist, Stephen Bulger Gallery and Pierre-François Ouellette art contemporain

5. New Worlds: Women to Watch 2024

National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington DC
On view: April 14–August 11, 2024

New Worlds: Women to Watch 2024 is a triennial survey of work by up-and-coming creators at the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA), and it returns after a major 2023 renovation transformed the small but mighty DC institution. As the only museum in the country dedicated to the work of female artists, the NMWA has network of committees across the world keeping tabs on new talent, so you can count on it for an exhibition that brims with creativity, ideas and buzz. This year’s roster features two dozen artists, from Germany to Arkansas to Peru. Visit this show and you can brag that you saw their work before just about anyone else.

Georgia O’Keeffe's work “Ballet Skirt or Electric Light (from the White Rose Motif)” (1927)
Georgia O’Keeffe works such as “Ballet Skirt or Electric Light (from the White Rose Motif)” (1927) offer themes and forms she later continued refining in the Southwest © courtesy Art Institute of Chicago

6. Georgia O’Keeffe: “My New Yorks”

Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago
On view: June 2–September 24, 2024

This show at the Art Institute of Chicago will explore how Georgia O’Keeffe – an artist so indelibly associated with the Southwest and nature – spent her formative years in the USA’s biggest city. Before she turned her eye to flowers, skulls, mesas and desert sunsets, Georgia O’Keeffe captured the vertiginous perspectives of New York City living – both looking up at skyscrapers from street level and down from her 30th-floor apartment. “My New Yorks” will demonstrate how this urban work was an essential phase in the aesthetic development of one of the world’s most iconic artists.

A battle scene depicted in a Renaissance-era tapestry
A series of splendid Renaissance tapestries will grace the galleries of the Kimbell Art Museum this summer © courtesy Kimbell Art Museum

7. Art and War in the Renaissance: The Battle of Pavia Tapestries

Kimbell Museum of Art, Fort Worth
On view: June 16–September 15, 2024

Thanks to their gigantic scale, luxurious materials, collaborative creation and narrative oomph, tapestries were the most epic format for telling stories in the Renaissance – and perhaps for slipping in some propaganda, too. The Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth has scored a coup by lining up the first US presentation of one of the greatest examples of this opulent art form. Art and War in the Renaissance: The Battle of Pavia Tapestries shows a series of seven tapestries commissioned by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, which depict the 16th-century ruler’s military victories over France through wool, silk and metallic threads. Immerse yourself in these wall hangings to experience battle scenes, rich costumes, landscapes and eye-catching details as imperial courtiers once did.

A painting depicting the Salem Witch Trials at the Peabody Essex Museum
The Salem Witch Trials get a new look at an ongoing installation at the Peabody Essex Museum © Mark Sexton and Jeffrey R. Dykes / courtesy of PEM

8. 1692: The Salem Witch Trials

Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts
On view: July 6, 2024–June 1, 2026

In 1692 and 1693, the colonists of Salem, Massachusetts ran amok; in the centuries since, the famous Salem Witch Trials have captivated Americans of all ages. Not far from where the trials took place, the Peabody Essex Museum is taking a fresh look at this low moment in US history through the new, ongoing installation, 1692: The Salem Witch Trials. Stories of individuals caught up in the madness come to light through documents and personal effects – reminding visitors that this episode is more than just an example of intolerance and injustice. It was a tragedy that affected real people, too.

Manet's seminal 19th-century work “The Railway”
Seminal 19th-century works such as Manet’s “The Railway” will be on display in “Paris 1874” in Washington DC © courtesy the National Gallery of Art

9. Paris 1874: The Impressionist Moment

National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
September 8, 2024–January 19, 2025

A definitive moment that changed the course of culture took place in 1874, when an exhibition of art focusing on the effects of light; on painting outside, in nature; and on rejecting establishment conventions opened in Paris. The group associated with this seminal event – including Edgar Degas, Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir – are today among the best-known artists in the world; 150 years ago, they were considered radicals. Paris 1874: The Impressionist Moment is an important show at Washington DC’s National Gallery of Art that provides the visual and social context – before, during and after – for a turning point in Western art.

 “Women at Their Toilette, Paris” by Pablo Picasso
The monumental collage “Women at Their Toilette, Paris” by Pablo Picasso will make a rare journey to the US this fall, at the Cleveland Museum of Art © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée national Picasso-Paris) / Adrien Didierjean. © Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

10. Picasso and Paper

Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland
December 8, 2024–March 23, 2025

Since museumgoers can never get enough of the prolific Pablo Picasso, leading curators are always finding new angles on the maestro’s decades of innovations. Enter the team at the Cleveland Museum of Art, who will present Picasso and Paper, an innovative survey of Picasso’s career solely through works on paper. The presentation will include studies for Picasso’s major paintings; collages that turn the sum of multiple pieces of paper into a whole work of art; sketchbooks; three-dimensional paper guitars; and much more. If you think you know everything about this most famous of artists, visit this show – and think again.

This article was first published Dec 29, 2023 and updated Jan 2, 2024.

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