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

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

‘ANSEL ADAMS IN OUR TIME’ at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston (through Feb. 24). This far-ranging, smartly and instructively installed show of more than 100 of Adams’s photographs — noble and challenging images of our country’s heritage, most of them from the Lane Collection — is not a mere retrospective; it also includes about 80 images by 23 contemporary photographers that the curator, Karen Haas, sees as a modern lens on his work. Although the connections are occasionally a bit tenuous, their addition highlights how Adams, who carried the 19th century’s hymn to America into the 20th century, has remained an inescapable force. (Vicky Goldberg)
617-267-9300, mfa.org

‘HILMA AF KLINT: PAINTINGS FOR THE FUTURE’ at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (through April 23). This rapturous exhibition upends Modernism’s holiest genesis tale — that the male trinity of Kandinsky, Malevich and Mondrian invented abstract painting starting in 1913. It demonstrates that a female Swedish artist got there first (1906-7), in great style and a radically bold scale with paintings that feel startlingly contemporary. The mother of all revisionist shows regarding Modernism. (Roberta Smith)
212-423-3500, guggenheim.org

‘BLACK CITIZENSHIP IN THE AGE OF JIM CROW’ at the New-York Historical Society (through March 3). This exhibition about Reconstruction and its aftermath doesn’t draw explicit parallels to today’s politics. But perhaps it doesn’t have to. Reconstruction can be a challenging story to tell, given how it cuts against deeply held American ideas about steady moral progress. It can also seem like a very abstract story, dominated by Constitutional amendments, legal battles and court decisions. “Black Citizenship,” which fills three small upstairs galleries, covers the legal and political landmarks, but it also includes poignant artifacts that show how ordinary people fought the battle for — and against — racial equality on the ground. (Jennifer Schuessler)
212-872-3400, nyhistory.org

‘BLUE PRINTS: THE PIONEERING WORK OF ANNA ATKINS’ at New York Public Library, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building (through Feb. 17). An intimate, exquisite show of a pioneer of photography and natural science. In the early 1840s, Atkins, a seaweed-loving Englishwoman, began documenting aquatic plants through the new technique of cyanotype (or blueprint, as architects would later call it), and sewed her spectral images into the very first books of “photographical impressions” — albeit ones made without a camera. Atkins, perhaps assisted by servants, placed hundreds of specimens of seaweed or algae on coated paper, left them in the sun, and then washed the exposed sheet to produce white shadows of the plants against rich Prussian blue backgrounds. Each one is a little miracle, with neuronlike roots winding across the page, the leaves revealing every branching vein. (Jason Farago)
917-275-6975, nypl.org

‘CONSTANTIN BRANCUSI SCULPTURE: THE FILMS’ at the Museum of Modern Art (through Feb. 18). This show is built around works by the Romanian modernist (1876-1957) that have been longtime highlights of the museum’s own collection. But these days, can Brancusi still release our inner poet? The answer may lie in paying less attention to the sculptures themselves and more to Brancusi’s little-known and quite amazing films, projected at the entrance to the gallery throughout the duration of the exhibition. MoMA borrowed the series of video clips from the Pompidou Center in Paris. They give the feeling that Brancusi was less interested in making fancy museum objects than in putting new kinds of almost-living things into the world, and they convey the vital energy his sculptures were meant to capture. (Blake Gopnik)
212-708-9400, moma.org

‘ROCHELLE FEINSTEIN: IMAGE OF AN IMAGE’ at the Bronx Museum of the Arts (through March 3). In her career survey, this wisecracking Bronx native proves that she can do just about anything with painting. She can chronicle history or tell a joke. She can alchemize linen, photographs, newspapers, cardboard and photocopies into art. She can teach you something about looking and life. A whiz with color, she sprays and squeezes paint, and stains with it. Several works feel like odes to color charts or to the color theory art students learn in school. A morbid strain runs through other works as Feinstein grapples with and battles the forces trying to shut down painting in favor of other media. (Martha Schwendener)
718-681-6000, bronxmuseum.org

‘LUCIO FONTANA: ON THE THRESHOLD’ at the Met Breuer (through April 14). The art of this Argentine-Italian modernist looks a bit like it comes from another planet, and it might as well, given how seldom we see it in New York. The Met Breuer show, with single environments at the Met Fifth Avenue and El Museo del Barrio, is the artist’s first museum survey here in over 40 years. This wouldn’t be especially notable — plenty of his Latin American peers never get seen at all — were Fontana, who died in 1968, not so influential a figure. The “threshold” in the title refers not only to the early phase of his career, which the Met Breuer show highlights, but also to his position as a forebear of contemporary art as we know it. Things we take for granted — installation, new media and the poly-disciplinary impulse that defines so many 21st-century careers — Fontana pioneered in the 1950s. (Holland Cotter)
212-535-7710, metmuseum.org

‘THE JIM HENSON EXHIBITION’ at the Museum of the Moving Image. 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

‘JULIO LE PARC 1959’ at the Met Breuer (through Feb. 24). Born in 1928 in Argentina, Le Parc was an art student in Buenos Aires in the late 1940s, where Lucio Fontana was his teacher. Master and pupil were on the same beam: Both were formally omnivorous, anti-academic and futuristically minded. In 1958, Le Parc moved to France where, at 90, he still lives. There he met figures associated with what would be called Op Art and Kinetic Art, and pushed what they were doing in more directions. Although far from being the career survey he deserves, this show includes some 50 gouache studies on paper in which he makes an optical ballet from simple geometry and turns mirrors and light into a hypnotic event. (Cotter)
212-535-7710, metmuseum.org

‘THE LONG RUN’ at the Museum of Modern Art. The museum upends its cherished Modern narrative of ceaseless progress by mostly young (white) men. Instead we see works by artists 45 and older who have just kept on keeping on, regardless of attention or reward, sometimes saving the best for last. Art here is an older person’s game, a pursuit of a deepening personal vision over innovation. Winding through 17 galleries, the installation is alternatively visually or thematically acute and altogether inspiring. (Smith)
212-708-9400, moma.org

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

‘BRUCE NAUMAN: DISAPPEARING ACTS’ at the Museum of Modern Art (through Feb. 18) and MoMA PS1 (through Feb. 25). If art isn’t basically about life and death, and the emotions and ethics they inspire, what is it about? Style? Taste? Auction results? The most interesting artists go right for the big, uncool existential stuff, which is what Bruce Nauman does in a transfixing half-century retrospective that fills the entire sixth floor of MoMA and much of MoMA PS1 in Long Island City, Queens. The MoMA installation is tightly paced and high decibel; the one at PS1, which includes a trove of works on paper, is comparatively mellow and mournful. Each location offers a rough chronological overview of his career, but catching both parts of the show is imperative. Nauman has changed the way we define what art is and what is art, and made work prescient of the morally wrenching American moment we’re in. He deserves to be seen in full. (Cotter)
212-708-9400, moma.org
718-784-2084, momaps1.org

‘PAA JOE: GATES OF NO RETURN’ at the American Folk Art Museum (through Feb. 24). Joseph Tetteh Ashong, better known as Paa Joe, is Ghana’s pre-eminent funerary carpenter, turning out thousands of brightly colored lions, soda bottles and automobiles for people to be buried in. Most of his exuberant pieces enjoy the light of day for only a few hours before they disappear into the ground. But in 2004, Paa Joe was commissioned by the art dealer and gallerist Claude Simard to make casket-size hardwood models of 13 former Gold Coast slave forts, and seven of them are now at AFAM. Thanks to Paa Joe’s gift for transmuting even the most complex and brutal material into a cheerful expression of his own artistic temperament, the works’ undeniable conceptual weight doesn’t hamper the overwhelming visual pleasure. (Will Heinrich)
212-595-9533, folkartmuseum.org

‘R.H. QUAYTMAN: +X, CHAPTER 34’ at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (through April 23). At the summit the Guggenheim’s spiraling rotunda, this show appears as if the exhibition of the Swedish artist Hilma af Klint, on the floors below, had suddenly exploded into 28 fragments. Quaytman made this series of works in 2018 in response to af Klint’s oeuvre from the last century, and Quaytman is the perfect artist to answer af Klint: Af Klint worked in series, and Quaytman works in what she calls “chapters.” Where af Klint took orders from spirits she claimed to have contacted through séances, Quaytman, for this project, has adopted af Klint as her higher power, working in a more secular, channeled collaborative vein. And where af Klint offers a bright, dynamic symphony, Quaytman responds with a spare, restrained and slightly dissonant tone poem. (Schwendener)
212-423-3575, guggenheim.org

‘BETYE SAAR: KEEPIN’ IT CLEAN’ at the New-York Historical Society (through May 27). Saar has been making important and influential work for nearly 60 years. Yet no big New York museum has given her a full retrospective, or even a significant one-person show, since a 1975 solo at the Whitney Museum of American Art. As this exhibition demonstrates, the institutional oversight is baffling, as her primary themes — racial justice and feminism (her 1972 breakthrough piece, “The Liberation of Aunt Jemima,” merges the two by transforming the racist stereotype of the smiling black mammy into an armed freedom fighter) — are exactly attuned to the present. (Cotter)
212-873-3400, nyhistory.org

‘STERLING RUBY: CERAMICS’ at the Museum of Art and Design (through March 17). Adept at most art mediums, this artist is at his best in ceramics, especially in the outsize, awkwardly hand-built, resplendently glazed baskets, ashtrays and plates and the objects that verge on sculpture in this show. These works actively incorporate accident and aspects of the ready-made, have precedents in the large-scale ceramics of Peter Voulkos and Viola Frey, but may be closest in spirit to the Neo-Expressionism of Julian Schnabel — rehabilitated, of course. (Smith)
212-299-7777, madmuseum.org

‘SCENES FROM THE COLLECTION’ at the Jewish Museum. After a surgical renovation to its grand pile on Fifth Avenue, the Jewish Museum has reopened its third-floor galleries with a rethought, refreshed display of its permanent collection, which intermingles 4,000 years of Judaica with modern and contemporary art by Jews and gentiles alike — Mark Rothko, Lee Krasner, Nan Goldin, Cindy Sherman and the excellent young Nigerian draftswoman Ruby Onyinyechi Amanze. The works are shown in a nimble, nonchronological suite of galleries, and some of its century-spanning juxtapositions are bracing; others feel reductive, even dilettantish. But always, the Jewish Museum conceives of art and religion as interlocking elements of a story of civilization, commendably open to new influences and new interpretations. (Farago)
212-423-3200, thejewishmuseum.org

‘ANDY WARHOL — FROM A TO B AND BACK AGAIN’ at the Whitney Museum of American Art (through March 31). Although this is the artist’s first full American retrospective in 31 years, he’s been so much with us — in museums, galleries, auctions — as to make him, like wallpaper, like the atmosphere, only half-noticed. The Whitney show restores him to a full, commanding view, but does so in a carefully shaped and edited way, with an emphasis on very early and late work. Despite the show’s monumentalizing size, it’s a human-scale Warhol we see. Largely absent is the artist-entrepreneur who is taken as a prophet of our market-addled present. What we have instead is Warhol for whom art, whatever else it was, was an expression of personal hopes and fears. (Cotter)
212-570-3600, whitney.org

Last Chance

EMPRESSES OF CHINA’S FORBIDDEN CITY’ at the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass. (through Feb. 10). Every emperor of the Qing dynasty had dozens of wives, concubines and serving girls, but only one of them could hold the title of empress. The lives of women at the late imperial court is the subject of this lavish and learned exhibition, which plots the fortunes of these consorts through their bogglingly intricate silk gowns, hairpins detailed with peacock feathers, and killer platform boots. (The Qing elite were Manchus; women did not bind their feet.) Many empresses’ lives are lost to history; some, like the Dowager Empress Cixi, became icons in their own right. Most of the 200-odd dresses, jewels, religious artifacts and scroll paintings here are on rare loan from the Palace Museum in Beijing — you will not have a chance to see these again without a trip to the People’s Republic. (Jason Farago)
978-745-9500, pem.org

‘POSING MODERNITY: THE BLACK MODEL FROM MANET AND MATISSE TO TODAY’ at Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University (through Feb. 10). This landmark show uses a new lens on 19th-century French art history. Progressiveness — both artistic and social — is measured by the way black women are depicted in the paintings of the period; this yardstick is also applied to subsequent generations of European, American and African artists. A revelatory thesis, brilliantly executed. (Smith)
212-854-6800, wallach.columbia.edu

‘SOUL OF A NATION: ART IN THE AGE OF BLACK POWER’ at the Brooklyn Museum (through Feb. 3). It will be a happy day when racial harmony rules in the land. But that day’s not arriving any time soon. Who could have guessed in the 1960s when civil rights became law that a new century would bring white supremacy tiki-torching out of the closet and turn the idea that black lives matter, so beyond obvious, into a battle cry? Actually, African-Americans were able to see such things coming. No citizens know the national narrative, and its implacable racism, better. And no artists have responded to that history-that-won’t-go-away more powerfully than black artists have. More than 60 of them appear in this big, beautiful, passionate show of art that functioned as seismic detector, political persuader and defensive weapon. (Cotter)
718-638-8000, brooklynmuseum.org

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