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10 memorable museum shows from the year everyone wants to forget

"Six Crimee" by Jean‑Michel Basquiat, 1982.Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The year seemed normal enough when it started, with the typical slate of major openings in January and February and a laundry list of more big things for the year ahead. But who could have imagined a year like this? Over many months of pandemic disruption, museums closed, re-opened, and some closed again this month, pitching in to stanch the rising second wave we were all warned about. Before and in-between, they gave us what we needed: Joy, relief, and reflective moments to consider a world seemingly transformed in a flash — but one that was really festering with discontent all along. In no particular order, my favorites of 2020 were:

Writing the Future: Basquiat and the Hip Hop Generation. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


Tschabalala Self. Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston

J.M.W. Turner: Watercolors from the Tate. Mystic Seaport Museum, Mystic, Conn.

Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle. Peabody Essex Museum, Salem

Panel 10 from Jacob Lawrence's "American Struggle" series. This one is titled: "We crossed the River at McKonkey's Ferry 9 miles above Trenton . . . the night was excessively severe . . . which the men bore without the least murmur . . . -Tench Tilghman, 27 December 1776, 1954."© The Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Walls Turned Sideways: Artists Confront the Justice System. Tufts University Art Galleries, Medford

Norman Rockwell: Murder in Mississippi. Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge

Blane de St. Croix: How to Move a Landscape. Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, North Adams

From Blane de St. Croix's "How to Move a Landscape" at Mass MoCA.Kaelan Burkett

Reckoning with ‘The Incident:’ John Wilson’s Studies for a Lynching Mural. Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn.

Adam Pendleton: Elements of Me. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston

Wendy Red Star: Apsáalooke: Children of the Large-beaked Bird. Mass MoCA, North Adams

Murray Whyte can be reached at Follow him @TheMurrayWhyte.