Histories, Trash, Erotica, Death: A (Fine) Fall Museum Preview

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Prepare for the recently dormant yet typically quite lively art gallery circuits in our fine town to get jolted back into activity this week with hundreds of openings scattered around the boroughs. There are about 20 shows opening in the Lower East Side alone this Wednesday, for instance, and another 50 in Chelsea on Thursday.

Yes, 50. Just in Chelsea. Just this Thursday. And that’s a low-balled estimate. So is the 20.

Friday, then, will feature loads of openings in Brooklyn, with many of them concentrated in Bushwick. So plan accordingly. And by that I mean plan to nurse a formidable art hangover all weekend.

Wait, no! There are about 30 more shows—again, balling low—opening in the Lower East Side and Brooklyn between Saturday and Sunday, so don’t start your art hangover until Monday.

So, well, all that. And loads of fun for your Twitters, your Instas, your Snapchats.

Meanwhile, if calm unto frenzy characterizes the gallery side of things in the coming days, then going from exceptionally good shows to much anticipated ones describes the institutional side of the local art scene over the coming months. So here’s a hefty sampling of exhibitions that are already generating plenty of buzz—or that people have in fact been buzzing about all year, but that now are finally (almost) here.

[Note: All image information at bottom of page.]

1-Triptych-of-Jan-Crabbe

September

A couple excellent shows I’ve mentioned in other preview pieces, and that received no shortage of praise over the summer, will still be up in September. One of those is The Keepers, at the New Museum, which is at least a celebration if not an obsession-driven apotheosis of collectors, collecting and collections, and in which those terms aren’t necessarily limited to gatherings of fine art. Another yet-running winner is Future Present, the Moholy-Nagy show at the Guggenheim, which has done a wonderful job of introducing this prolific, profoundly interdisciplinary Hungarian artist to a much broader audience, and of making it abundantly clear that polyphony and innovation factor as heavily into his œuvre as do modernist aesthetics. Get there very soon, though, as it’s only up through September 7th.

Among the highlights of exhibitions slated to open in September are several that either chart or recontextualize particular histories. At the New-York Historical Society, for instance, you’ll soon find a wealth of artworks, documents and other objects pertaining to one of the most epic, yet ostensibly also under-recognized battles of the Revolutionary War, the Battle of Brooklyn. At the Morgan, meanwhile, you’ll find—aside from the Rembrandt show you’ve likely heard about—a reconstruction of Hans Memling’s famed Triptych of Jan Crabbe, a 1470 altarpiece disassembled in the 18th century that has never before been mounted in its entirety for US audiences. (As you gaze upon it, look closely at the figures’ mouths. It’s long been my suspicion that Memling painted their lips in just such a way as to sometimes make it appear as though they’re murmuring, for perpetuity, his last name.) Over at the Rubin Museum, Monumental Lhasa will deploy photographs, paintings and films to visually transport iconic structures from the holy city to New York, in a kind of virtual reverse-pilgrimage—which makes one wonder if such virtual pilgrimages might one day be commonplace, either for reasons of practicality and convenience, or because so many sacred monuments are at constant risk of being destroyed, and what then ‘pilgrimage’ would come to mean.

On a much more contemporary note, Mierle Laderman Ukeles: Maintenance Art at the Queens Museum will be the first major survey of work by this groundbreaking artist whose sociopolitical drives and messaging were so sincere that she spent almost four decades as an uncompensated Artist-in-Residence at the NYC Department of Sanitation, all the while exploring issues of labor- and gender-related equality that have since assumed a tremendously more central role in art and mainstream discourse alike. Speaking of mainstream discourse, if somehow there’s not already a cat meme out there saying something like, ‘i can haz taxidermy,’ then expect Art, Science & Immortality at the Morbid Anatomy Museum to generate some kind of imagery along such lines. It will feature Walter Potter’s The Kittens’ Wedding, after all, which may or may not remind you of what a fine, weird or dreadful time you had at your friends’ wedding ceremonies this summer. (On that note, people do serious weddings, quick weddings, fun weddings, casual weddings, athletic weddings and so on, but are creepy weddings a thing? Like, truly frightening kinds of haunted-house weddings? More than just death metal at the reception, in other words. Something totally terrifying that maybe guests aren’t prepared for at all. Death is in the vows, so why not bring it into the matrimonial procession in some way? Well, I guess Potter had something like that in mind a long time ago. I wonder if he might’ve liked Slayer, Cannibal Corpse, Carcass, et. al. And that all sounds more like Halloweenish stuff for the coming month.)

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October

Opening in October are some exhibitions that have been on my radar for quite a while, and others that I became aware of only very recently. Included in the former group is most certainly the huge Agnes Martin retrospective coming to the Guggenheim. It’ll be one of the biggest and most temporally expansive surveys of this beloved Minimalist’s work in a number of years, and since it’ll be installed in the museum’s rotunda, the works’ inherent spiritual qualities might well nigh lull certain viewers into physically leavened states of apparent ascension. Also in that group is the Pipilotti Rist show coming to the New Museum. This Swiss artist’s often all-encompassing and sometimes craftily cheeky use of projections in her video installations gives visitors great reason to immerse themselves in her nature-reflective, image-warping, rather swirling spaces, and to let time disappear for a little while. Her environments also tend to be quite happy-making for viewers of all ages. Be very surprised if you don’t see children milling about Pixel Forest, having a blast or stuck in gleeful repose (even kiddos?) right alongside you. Another show I’ve been looking forward to is that of Max Beckmann‘s work at the Met. It’ll be limited to about 40 or so paintings, 14 of which he completed during the last year of his life, when the German artist was living in New York. The show will surely be a master class in Expressionist tendencies, but since it’s Beckmann, it’ll also be a master class in the supremely expressive rendering of hands. His are always so damn good.

In the latter group of shows, i.e. the ones of which I’ve only caught wind in the past couple weeks, is one that promise to be fun, and several others that will be of academic import. Among the latter are the Frick’s showcasing of Guido Cagnacci’s Repentant Magdalene, which is sure to be accompanied by explanatory texts providing juicy details about how and why the Baroque painter’s highly eroticized works have been overlooked for so long; the Met Breuer’s expansive survey of American artist Kerry James Marshall, whose paintings featuring black silhouettes in large-scale vignettes are intended to tell a kind of re-inclusively a posteriori counter-narrative of the African-American experience; and Valentin de Boulogne: Beyond Caravaggio, which will probably come across as The Met’s well-substantiated, 45-painting-strong argument that this one-time follower of Caravaggio should perhaps also be a household name.

I also mentioned a show that sounds like pure fun, and I suppose by ‘fun’ I’m hinting at a kind of holistic entertainment. It’s called Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art, and it will fill galleries of the Whitney will variable manner of experimental, fictive, hyperreal, and inter-, infra- and meta-dimensional artworks spanning a hundred or so years and tapping into the œuvres of dozens of artists. If you’re into substances, so to speak, you might not need them for this one. Or go for it, why not? Maybe you’ll manage to get so deep into your mental whatever that you’ll get cognitively stuck in some alternate reality, which could then alleviate you from having to worry at all, come November, about mundane things like the future of certain democracies.

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November

Some time ago I read a brief curatorial essay by Marilyn Minter in The Paris Review, one in which she addresses the thematically divergent qualities of video and photographic works by two young female artists, Laurel Nakadate and Mika Rottenberg (Summer 2011 issue, pp. 87-89). Toward the end of this insightful treatise, Minter makes an observation that is as relevant to those artists’ work as it is to hers, and it’s one that you’d certainly do well to bear in mind when you go to the Brooklyn Museum to see Pretty/Dirty, a major retrospective of works by this most discourse-driving artist: “Having been lambasted for making paintings in the 1980s that referenced hard-core porn, I’ve learned firsthand that women who try to own the creation of sexual imagery encounter a tremendous glass ceiling, one held in place as much by women as by men, as surprising as that might seem.” What might not be surprising at all is if this huge survey serves to render nearly audible, as least with respect to Minter, the crashing down of just such ceilings.

Another major retrospective coming in November is at MoMA, and it’s another one of those sprawling surveys that we’ll all likely chat about and remember for quite some time. In part, that’s because it’s devoted to Francis Picabia, a wonderful and somewhat disciplinarily boundless, a bit boisterous artist, and whose output has never before been explored in full in a US institution. And in part, that’s because it seems MoMA is going all-in on it—not unlike they did with the recent and fully excellent Marcel Broodthaers show—by incorporating hundreds of pieces in a range of media, from paintings and works on paper to periodicals, letters and film. Expect to hear or read things like ‘astonishingly contemporary’ and ‘ahead of his time.’ That latter thought brings to mind, however indirectly, the show’s title: Our Heads Are Round So Our Thoughts Can Change Direction. Such a great summation of our inherent capacity for aesthetico-intellectual ductility.

I use the expression ‘our fine town’ very regularly with regards to our fine home, New York City. In fact, I already used the expression here once, back at the beginning of this by now quite meandering piece. So it seems fitting for me to end this preview of fall exhibitions with a note about a show that’s all about the very fineness of this very town, or that at any rate—since the exhibit is five years in the making and will consist of over 400 objects—promises to delve very deeply into the hows, whens, whos and whats of why our fine, fair and famously tireless town seems to always be worth its ever-accruing salts on so many sociocultural fronts. The exhibit will be at the Museum of the City of New York, and it’s called New York at its Core. It’s sure to be a big and tasty apple to take in.

Have a fun week at the galleries, and a fun, indeed a fine autumn at the museums.

Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 3.11.30 PM* In a most interesting coincidence, my favorite album of theirs is called A Fine Autumn at the Museums. Just kidding, it’s Evisceration Plague.

[Image information, top to bottom: 1. Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Touch Sanitation Performance, July 24, 1979–June 26, 1980, Photo by Robin Holland. Courtesy the artist and Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York. / 2. Hans Memling, The Triptych of Jan Crabbe, ca. 1467-70. Oil on panel. Center panel: Image courtesy of Pinacoteca Civica di Palazzo Chiericati, Vicenza. Left and right panels: © The Morgan Library & Museum, Photography by Graham S. Haber. / 3. Hito Steyerl (b. 1966), Installation view of Factory of the Sun, 2015 (German Pavilion, 56th Venice Biennale, 2015). Photograph by Manuel Reinartz; image courtesy the artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York. / 4. Marilyn Minter (American, born 1948). Blue Poles, 2007. Enamel on metal, 60 x 72 in. (152.4 x 182.9 cm). Private collection, Switzerland. Image courtesy the Brooklyn Museum. / 5. Cannibal Corpse, image courtesy Wikipedia Commons.]

Paul D’Agostino is @postuccio on Instagram and Twitter.

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