18 Art Exhibitions to View in N.Y.C. This Weekend

Our guide to new art shows and some that will be closing soon.

‘ARTISTIC LICENSE: SIX TAKES ON THE GUGGENHEIM COLLECTION’ at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (through Jan. 12). Displays that artists select from a museum’s collection are almost inevitably interesting, revealing and valuable. After all, artists can be especially discerning regarding work not their own. Here, six artists — Cai Guo-Qiang, Paul Chan, Richard Prince, Julie Mehretu, Carrie Mae Weems and Jenny Holzer — guided by specific themes, have chosen, which multiplies the impact accordingly. With one per ramp, each selection turns the museum inside out. The combination sustains multiple visits; the concept should be applied regularly. (Roberta Smith)
212-423-3840, guggenheim.org

‘AUSCHWITZ. NOT LONG AGO. NOT FAR AWAY’ at the Museum of Jewish Heritage (through Aug. 30). Killing as a communal business, made widely lucrative by the Third Reich, permeates this traveling exhibition about the largest German death camp, Auschwitz, whose yawning gatehouse, with its converging rail tracks, has become emblematic of the Holocaust. Well timed, during a worldwide surge of anti-Semitism, the harrowing installation strives, successfully, for fresh relevance. The exhibition illuminates the topography of evil, the deliberate designing of a hell on earth by fanatical racists and compliant architects and provisioners, while also highlighting the strenuous struggle for survival in a place where, as Primo Levi learned, “there is no why.” (Ralph Blumenthal)
646-437-4202, mjhnyc.org

‘PIERRE CARDIN: FUTURE FASHION’ at the Brooklyn Museum (through Jan. 5). He was never a great artist like Dior, Balenciaga or Saint Laurent, but Pierre Cardin — still at work at 97 — pioneered today’s approach to the business of fashion: take a loss on haute couture, then make the real money through ready-to-wear and worldwide licensing deals. He excelled at bold, futuristic day wear: belted unisex jumpsuits, vinyl miniskirts, dresses accessorized with astronaut-chic Plexiglas helmets. Other ensembles, especially the tacky evening gowns souped up with metal armature, are best ignored. All told, Cardin comes across as a relentless optimist about humanity’s future, which has a certain retro charm. Remember the future? (Jason Farago)
718-638-5000, brooklynmuseum.org

‘AGNES DENES: ABSOLUTES AND INTERMEDIATES’ at the Shed (through March 22). We’ll be lucky this art season if we get another exhibition as tautly beautiful as this long-overdue Denes retrospective. Now 87, the artist is best known for her 1982 “Wheatfield: A Confrontation,” for which she sowed and harvested two acres of wheat on Hudson River landfill within sight of the World Trade Center and Statue of Liberty. Her later ecology-minded work has included creating a hilltop forest of 11,000 trees planted by 11,000 volunteers in Finland (each tree is deeded to the planter), though many of her projects exist only in the form of the exquisite drawings that make up much of this show. (Holland Cotter)
646-455-3494, theshed.org

‘RACHEL HARRISON LIFE HACK’ at the Whitney Museum of American Art (through Jan. 12). As seen in this excellent midcareer survey, Harrison’s assemblage-style sculptures suggest serendipitous urban still lives, of the kind you see on New York City sidewalks on trash collection day: bottles, bedding, defunct appliances, outgrown toys, discarded Christmas trees in season and, always, sealed garbage bags filled with you don’t want to know what. All of these together translate into information about commerce, class, memory, value, accident, appetite, waste, color, shape, zeitgeist — not to mention life and death. But this is an art of questions, not answers. The more you look, the more questions there are. (Cotter)
212-570-3600, whitney.org

‘THE JIM HENSON EXHIBITION’ at the Museum of the Moving Image (ongoing). The rainbow connection has been established in Astoria, Queens, where this museum has opened a new permanent wing devoted to the career of America’s great puppeteer, who was born in Mississippi in 1936 and died, too young, in 1990. Henson began presenting the short TV program “Sam and Friends” before he was out of his teens; one of its characters, the soft-faced Kermit, was fashioned from his mother’s old coat and would not mature into a frog for more than a decade. The influence of early variety television, with its succession of skits and songs, runs through “Sesame Street” and “The Muppet Show,” though Henson also spent the late 1960s crafting peace-and-love documentaries and prototyping a psychedelic nightclub. Young visitors will delight in seeing Big Bird, Elmo, Miss Piggy and the Swedish Chef; adults can dig deep into sketches and storyboards and rediscover some old friends. (Farago)
718-784-0077, movingimage.us

‘ERNST LUDWIG KIRCHNER’ at the Neue Galerie (through Jan. 13). You could be forgiven for drawing a connection between Kirchner’s shocking color palette and his character. It would be understandable enough, considering his problems with morphine, Veronal and absinthe; the nervous breakdown precipitated by his artillery training in World War I; and his suicide in 1938, at the age of 58, after the Nazis had denounced him as a degenerate. But to linger on Kirchner’s lurid biography would be unfair to the mesmerizing technical genius of his style, amply on display in this exhibition. Surrounding more or less sober portrait subjects with backgrounds of flat but brilliant color, as Kirchner did, wasn’t just a youthful revolt against the staid academic painting he grew up with. It was also an ingenious way to articulate subjective experience in an increasingly materialist modern world. (Will Heinrich)

‘THE LAST KNIGHT: THE ART, ARMOR, AND AMBITION OF MAXIMILIAN I’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (through Jan. 5). Kaiser Max, who ruled the Holy Roman Empire in the years around 1500, anchors the Met’s largest show of arms and armor in decades: a gleaming showcase of heavy metal and Hapsburg propaganda. Maximilian I, who ruled a swath of Europe stretching from the Netherlands to Croatia, would have looked resplendent on the battlefield when he wore the tapered suit of ribbed and fluted steel here. What really broadcast his power were public spectacles of chivalric glory, in which he jousted with local noblemen and foreign champions in ritualized mock combat, still dangerous despite the staging. He also embraced the hottest technology of the late 15th century: printmaking, which allowed the emperor to broadcast his military prowess through books and monumental woodcuts. The pen, or at least movable type, was for Maximilian even mightier than the sword. (Farago)
212-535-7710, metmuseum.org

‘THE LIFE AND TIMES OF ALVIN BALTROP’ at the Bronx Museum of the Arts (through Feb. 9). New York City is a gateway for new talent. It’s also an archive of art careers past. Some come to light only after artists have departed, as is the case with Baltrop, an American photographer who was unknown to the mainstream art world when he died in 2004 at 55, and who now has a bright monument of a retrospective at this Bronx museum. That he was black, gay and working class accounts in part for his invisibility, but so does the subject matter he chose: a string of derelict Hudson River shipping piers that, in the 1970s and ’80s, became a preserve for gay sex and communion. In assiduously recording both the architecture of the piers and the amorous action they housed, Baltrop created a monument to the city itself at the time when it was both falling apart and radiating liberationist energy. (Cotter)
718-681-6000, bronxmuseum.org

‘NATURE: COOPER HEWITT MUSEUM DESIGN TRIENNIAL’ at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum (through Jan. 20). Plastics transformed the material world after World War II. Today, they pollute our oceans. A better future will be made with … algae. Or bacteria. That’s the dominant theme of this sweeping exhibition. On display here at the Smithsonian’s temple to the culture of design are objects you might once have expected only at a science museum: Proteins found in silkworms are repurposed as surgical screws and optical lenses. Electrically active bacteria power a light fixture. The triennial displays some 60 projects and products from around the world that define a reconciliation of biosphere and technosphere, as Koert van Mensvoort, a Dutch artist and philosopher, puts it in the show’s excellent catalog. “Nature” provides us with a post-consumption future, in which the urgency of restoring ecological function trumps the allure of the latest gadget. (James S. Russell)
212-849-2950, cooperhewitt.org

[Read about the events that our other critics have chosen for the week ahead.]

THE NEW MUSEUM OF MODERN ART (ongoing). Of course we’ve got quibbles about this or that gallery — but the new MoMA, a third larger than before, feels fresher and more urgent than at any time since it last closed in 2002. The best news: This is a museum that once again puts its collection first. If you want to see everything, budget a solid four or five hours — and you’ll still be moving fast past many works. I suggest starting on the east side of the museum. (Look for the suspended helicopter.) Take the escalators or elevators to the fifth floor, where the chronological display of the collection (1880-1940) begins. The galleries are numbered, so you can work counterclockwise, moving from the older building into the new wing and back. If you enjoy a more sequential approach, you can do it again on the fourth floor (for postwar art, 1945-75 or so) and the second floor (for contemporary art, from the late 1970s to the present). But if you’re more adventurous, head west from the ticket desk, hit the design gallery and projects gallery, then hop on the new “blade” staircase by Diller Scofidio + Renfro/Gensler. This way will plunge you into the middle of the timeline. (Farago)
212-708-9400, moma.org

THE NEW MUSEUM OF MODERN ART: THE COLLECTIONS (ongoing). MoMA celebrates its latest expansion by not only extending the permanent collection, but also reshaping its version of modernist art history to include many more women, artists of color and non-Westerners. Some works have been newly conserved (note the brightened colors of Henri Rousseau’s “The Sleeping Gypsy”). Others have been put on view for the first time in years. The collection is also less permanent in that one-third of its galleries will be installed every six months, starting in February. Adding to the festivities, all other exhibitions at the Modern are drawn from its collection. “Surrounds: 11 Installations” puts on view 11 sprawling, never-before-exhibited artworks that vary in interest and probably won’t be seen again any time soon (to Jan. 4). “Moment: Pope.L, 1978-2019” surveys the long career of a rare artist who, working in all media, has maintained his avant-garde street cred (through Feb. 1).“Sur Moderno: Journeys of Abstraction, the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Gift” presents a selection of South American postwar art so substantial that it could reorient the museum’s focus (through March 14). For the latest iteration of MoMA’s well-known “Artist’s Choice” series, the painter Amy Sillman has selected “The Shape of Shape,” filling a large gallery with an astounding array of carefully juxtaposed works from across the collection (through April 12). “Taking a Thread for a Walk” (through April 19) examines the role of weaving in modern art beyond textiles. And don’t forget the six artists’ commissions. (Smith)
212-708-9400, moma.org

‘OCEAN WONDERS: SHARKS!’ at the New York Aquarium (ongoing). For years, the aquarium’s 14-acre campus hunkered behind a wall, turning its back to the beach. When aquarium officials last year finally got around to completing the long-promised building that houses this shark exhibition, maybe the biggest move, architecturally speaking, was breaking through that wall. The overall effect makes the aquarium more of a visible, welcoming presence along the boardwalk. Inside, “Ocean Wonders” features 115 species sharing 784,000 gallons of water. It stresses timely eco-consciousness, introducing visitors to shark habitats, explaining how critical sharks are to the ocean’s food chains and ecologies, debunking myths about the danger sharks pose to people while documenting the threats people pose to sharks via overfishing and pollution. The narrow, snaking layout suggests an underwater landscape carved by water. Past the exit, an outdoor ramp inclines visitors toward the roof of the building, where the Atlantic Ocean suddenly spreads out below. You can see Luna Park in one direction, Brighton Beach in the other. The architectural point becomes clear: Sharks aren’t just movie stars and aquarium attractions. They’re also our neighbors — as much a part of Coney Island as the roller coasters and summer dreams. (Michael Kimmelman)
718-265-3474, nyaquarium.com

‘BETYE SAAR: THE LEGENDS OF “BLACK GIRL’S WINDOW”’ at the Museum of Modern Art (through Jan. 4). “Black Girl’s Window,” which consists of an old window frame that Saar filled with a constellation of images, is the focus of this exhibition, one of several helping to reopen MoMA. Concentrating on Saar’s early years as an artist, it tracks the experiments in printmaking and assemblage that led her to arrive at the titular work. Despite the unusual color of the gallery’s deep purple walls, the show is relatively modest — a scholarly study of a specific period, anchored by MoMA’s recent acquisition of a group of 42 of her works on paper. Two pieces from 1972 that represent her shift from the mystical to the political — “Black Crows in the White Section Only,” which brings together a variety of racist advertisements, and “Let Me Entertain You,” which shows a minstrel singer with a guitar transforming into a black liberation fighter with a rifle — serve as a kind of coda. Their appearance at the end offers a tantalizing glimpse of the iconoclastic artist Saar was on her way to becoming. (Jillian Steinhauer)
212-708-9400, moma.org

‘T. REX: THE ULTIMATE PREDATOR’ at the American Museum of Natural History (through Aug. 9). Everyone’s favorite 18,000-pound prehistoric killer gets the star treatment in this eye-opening exhibition, which presents the latest scientific research on T. rex and also introduces many other tyrannosaurs, some discovered only in this century in China and Mongolia. T. rex evolved mainly during the Cretaceous period to have keen eyes, spindly arms and massive conical teeth, which packed a punch that has never been matched by any other creature; the dinosaur could even swallow whole bones, as affirmed here by a kid-friendly display of fossilized excrement. The show mixes 66-million-year-old teeth with the latest 3-D prints of dino bones, and also presents new models of T. rex as a baby, a juvenile and a full-grown annihilator. Turns out this most savage beast was covered with — believe it! — a soft coat of beige or white feathers. (Farago)
212-769-5100, amnh.org

‘VIOLET HOLDINGS: LGBTQ+ HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE N.Y.U. SPECIAL COLLECTIONS’ at Bobst Library (through Dec. 31). With the Stonewall Inn now a National Historic Landmark (and a bar again; it was a bagel shop in the 1980s), nearby New York University has produced a homegrown archival exhibition at Bobst Library, across the park from Grey Art Gallery. Organized by Hugh Ryan, it takes the local history of queer identity back to the 19th century with documents on Elizabeth Robins (1862-1952), an American actor, suffragist and friend of Virginia Woolf, and forward with ephemera related to the musician and drag king Johnny Science (1955-2007) and the African-American D.J. Larry Levan (1954-92), who, in the 1980s, presided, godlike, at a gay disco called the Paradise Garage, which was a short walk from the campus. (Cotter)
212-998-2500, library.nyu.edu

Last Chance

‘YAYOI KUSAMA: EVERY DAY I PRAY FOR LOVE’ at David Zwirner (through Dec. 14). Ignored for decades in New York and Tokyo, this 90-year-old artist is enjoying a not-unmerited surge in public visibility, but just what do audiences get from taking photographs of their colored reflections in her Infinity Mirror Rooms? Kusama first made a mirror environment in 1965, when she was staging orgiastic happenings that encouraged “self-obliteration”; now the self has been subsumed by the social media profile, and our digital narcissism has made the abandonment Kusama once encouraged impossible. If you want to line up for an hour or more for your selfie opportunity, be our guest, but the rest of the show, including some excellent new steel sculptures, requires no wait. (Farago)

‘NOBODY PROMISED YOU TOMORROW: 50 YEARS AFTER STONEWALL’ at the Brooklyn Museum (through Dec. 8). In this large group show, 28 young queer and transgender artists, most born after 1980, carry the buzz of Stonewall resistance into the present. Historical heroes, including Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, are honored (in a film by Sasha Wortzel and Tourmaline). Friends in life, Johnson and Rivera are tutelary spirits of an exhibition in which a trans presence, long marginalized by mainstream gay politics, is pronounced in the work of Juliana Huxtable, Hugo Gyrl, Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski and Elle Pérez (whose work also appeared in this year’s Whitney Biennial). (Cotter)
718-638-5000, brooklynmuseum.org

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