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David Smith’s White Works Take Center Stage at Storm King

“I declare the sculpture’s value to be only its weight of sixty pounds of scrap metal.” That’s how the American abstract expressionist David Smith disavowed one of his works in 1960 after learning that his dealer, Leo Castelli, had stripped it of its paint to suit the tastes of a collector. Smith was rightfully livid: What right did Castelli have to change the piece once it had left the studio?

The episode would haunt Smith’s work even after his death in 1965. By the 1970s, an executor of his estate, the art critic Clement Greenberg, had five more sculptures stripped. Three of them, Primo Piano III, Circle and Box, and an untitled work, all since repainted, are now on show in the exhibition “David Smith: The White Sculptures” at the Storm King Art Center.

Greenberg’s defense, when he was discovered, was that the paint was only primer and that the works were unfinished. But it was clear that he preferred sculptures that did not hide their materiality. He was simply more drawn to Smith’s raw, metal pieces, which he felt were more truthful to their media.

“Primo Piano I,” in 1962

The works now sit at the top of a short but serious hill just next to the sculpture park’s museum. One of them, Primo Piano III, is part of a trio that no one — not even Smith — has ever before seen together. All three in the group (Primo Piano I, Primo Piano II, and Primo Piano III) were made in 1962. But Smith, who kept them until his death, elected to separate them, putting only one within eyesight of his studio at Bolton Landing, the hamlet seventy miles north of Albany where he lived and worked. He kept the others in a field he would walk past regularly.

At Storm King, it’s clear why he needed them apart. For one thing, they’re enormous. The most striking of the group, Primo Piano II, clocks in at more than seven feet tall and more than thirteen feet across, so that the painted white work stands out like a radiating beacon against the park’s verdant foliage. The other sculptures, also white, are just as vibrant, and they gently vie for space, even when there is so much of it. They are perfectly titled — in Italian, primo piano means “center stage” or “foreground” — and each has large circular shapes, rectangular sheets, and curved metal panels that stand out like semaphores. For the artist, they could signal clearly when apart.

David Smith’s Primo Piano I, 1962; Primo Piano II, 1962

The exhibition is a revelation. It is the first to focus extensively on Smith’s interest in the color white, and includes black-and-white photographs by Smith of his own work, a small group of his abstract paintings, and two of his first sculptures, which he made to look like little men out of small handfuls of white coral in 1931 to ’32.

Smith was born in 1906 in Decatur, Indiana, and moved to New York twenty years later. After the war, he became close with artists like Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Mark Rothko, and like them was labeled an abstract expressionist. Greenberg was one of his earliest supporters; in 1947, the critic called Smith “the greatest sculptor this country has produced.” But collectors could be slow. A solo show in 1956 at the Willard Gallery led to no sales.

Perhaps the problem was Smith’s flexibility; he was always open to new avenues. While Pollock, de Kooning, and Rothko realized clear mature styles, Smith was always experimenting. At the same time that he was making the white works, he was carefully balancing polished stainless steel cubes and cylinders in works like Cubi XXI, from 1964, and making curious still-life sculptures like Voltron XX, from 1963, a reddish steel piece that looks like a blacksmith’s table with tools. Both works are on show from Storm King’s collection. (In New York, the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum have earlier works by Smith currently on view.)

David Smith’s White Sculptures at Storm King in the Hudson Valley

The six white works in the show (which are largely isolated from the rest of the Storm King collection) pop vibrantly against the green landscape but are always respectful of the space — which is precisely how Smith wanted it. When he died, he left nearly 100 large-scale pieces (including eight white sculptures) dotting his property. All of them are highly artificial, man-made things, yet Smith had a sense for harmony with nature, largely because he was at heart a figurative artist, no matter how extravagant or refined his cubism became. Smith’s Portrait of a Lady Painter, a cubist sculpture that depicts its title, is just across the way from the Primo Piano works, which brings to bear how much the white works look like men holding flags in a field.

Greenberg is often faulted for advocating for abstraction over representation, but in fact, he preferred the latter. What he admired about Smith were his pictorial tendencies, which are visible at every turn of the show. In front of the white pieces, especially the repainted ones, it’s impossible not to reflect on his influence. Greenberg was one of Smith’s earliest supporters — a man without whom Smith’s work, as we know it, would not have been possible. Yet how odd the idea that if Greenberg had had his way, this exhibition would have looked quite different — wrong, even. As it stands, the opposite is true. Outside, amid the trees and greenery, on the hills of New Windsor, it is the closest we can come to seeing directly through Smith’s brilliant vision.

‘David Smith: The White Sculptures’
Storm King Art Center
1 Museum Road
New Windsor, New York
845-534-3115
stormking.org
Through November 12

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Smoke on the Water: The Idyllic Nostalgia of Andreas Schulze

The German painter Andreas Schulze’s latest pictures at the Team Gallery have a whiff of the past to them; maybe that’s why a friend of mine scoffed and called them “outdated.” With their depictions of bathers on vacation—sitting, standing, or lying by the water, lounging on pool floats—these new paintings seem steeped in nostalgia. But it’s the technique that my friend was referring to: the linear, mechanical style evokes late Cubism, and Léger in particular. The figures, all torsos, are tightly cropped. They have neither arms nor heads, and some are painted in such close-up detail that their bodies and clothing have dissolved into abstract design patterns. A few of them are really just backdrops for bright Hawaiian shirts; one has a towel across his neck that’s so stylized, it looks like a strip of cartoon bacon.

Schulze was born in Hanover in 1955 and has been concerned, for much of his career, with the wastefulness of idyll. He seems to have little sympathy for luxury, and his paintings read as a dour critique of how freakish bourgeois life can become through affluence. There is always some peculiar, mild violence hovering nearby. In 2012, for his first show with the Team Gallery (the current is his fourth), Schulze created an installation to look like a contemporary sitting room with a group of chairs, a few lamps, a long table, one painting—and some vases shaped like detached human heads. Violence crops up in the new paintings in the form of pollution: Every single bather emits thick black clouds of smoke into the atmosphere, as only machines can do as they warm the climate.

Untitled (Vacanze) 15, 2016

Stylistically, Schulze is part of an overall wave of Late Cubism in contemporary art that includes great painters like Jonas Wood and Dana Schutz. He is closer to the latter; like Schutz, Schulze makes figures so complex and artificial that they look only barely human. But of the three, Schulze is the only designer. He treats his paintings as images, not objects, which comes through especially at the edges of his paintings, which he doesn’t always tape off. Ignore that messiness; it’s the picture on front that matters, the one that’s painted in a crisp, clean, graphic manner. Across the board, the paintings vary little in quality. Each is as handsome as the next, no matter what grotesque implication.

Untitled (Vacanze) 1, 2016

That’s evidence of a remarkably reliable painter, but it comes at the cost of too much familiarity. Much of the time, the problem is that Schulze’s vision is too clear, as if he has too rich a sense of tradition to break free. The real issue is a question of form and content: How long can Schulze sustain such a harsh critique of middle-class life in his refined, well-established language? Let’s be clear: There is merit in making good work in a venerable mode, but Schulze’s work is a little too close to what we already know quite well. These paintings are a little too easy to like.

Andreas Schulze: Vacanze 365
Team Gallery
83 Grand Street
212-279-9220
teamgal.com
Through September 30

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Animal Magnetism: A New Exhibition Channels Orwell (and the Eighties Art Scene)

In our increasingly Orwellian world, there’s something apropos about calling an exhibition “Animal Farm.” That, anyway, was painter Sadie Laska’s thinking when she was asked to curate a show at the Brant Foundation in Greenwich, Connecticut. And, given the
bucolic setting, it was a better fit than 1984. “My Amazon account kept suggesting this book,” she says of George Orwell’s 1945 allegory of a barnyard gone Bolshevik. “It seemed to really capture the anxiety everyone in my community feels at the moment.”

But the show isn’t meant to be a downer. Instead, Laska wants to put artists of her generation — like the painters Joe Bradley and Josh Smith — in conversation with major painters from the 1980s, like Julian Schnabel, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Keith Haring, who are all well represented in the foundation’s collection. “We were growing up when those guys were the most famous artists around,” she says. “I remember looking at them in Interview magazine. For me, it’s a way to create a path through the Brant Foundation to these younger artists.”

The show includes about thirty painters who have been reciprocally beneficial to one another’s careers.
In the 1980s, when Schnabel became famous for his plate paintings, he opened the door for artists like Thornton Dial (also in the show), who had long used found materials in his work. “The vibe of the show is very folky and funky,” Laska says. “I want people to feel good about the creative spirit” — a worthy mission for these Orwellian times.

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Changing Colors: New Art Exhibits in NYC This Fall

Critic’s Pick: Few artists are as right on as Mierle Laderman Ukeles, who in her five-decade-plus career has created a generous and muscular body of work of performances, interventions, and other projects that have dealt swift, sharp blows to the systems and frameworks imposed on art and culture by capitalism. In 1968, after giving birth to her first child, a daughter, she began to divide her attention (happily, it must be noted) between motherhood and her art practice. Rather than see herself, as so many female artists did, as failing the call of the avant-garde, she remapped its margins, recognizing that all her labors — both in the studio and in the home — were efforts made to support and preserve life’s forward momentum, its future. (“Mark [Rothko] didn’t change diapers,” she once quipped.) The following year, Ukeles wrote one of the great texts on art and labor, Manifesto! Maintenance Art: Proposal for an Exhibition “Care,” in which she argued that maintenance work — the largely unseen labor that’s neither flashy nor fun nor well paid — is necessary, and therefore should be made visible and considered vital. “After the revolution,” she offered by way of example, “who’s going to pick up the garbage on Monday morning?” For her groundbreaking “I Make Maintenance Art One Hour Every Day,” she photographed three hundred office maintenance workers, asking them to think of their work as art for one hour of a day. This led to Ukeles becoming the first and only artist-in-residence for New York’s Department of Sanitation, an unpaid position she still holds today. With the Queens Museum’s “Mierle Laderman Ukeles: Maintenance Art” (through February 19, New York City Building, Flushing Meadows–Corona Park, queensmuseum.org), Ukeles gets her very first (and long-overdue) retrospective, one that — in the artist’s own words — promises to “keep the contemporaryart­museum groovy keep the homefires burning.” — Jennifer Krasinski

‘Carmen Herrera: Lines of Sight’ Through January 2, 2017 “Patience, dear, patience.” Such was the advice the painter Carmen Herrera gave when asked in June to lend wisdom to young artists. She should know: She sold her first painting at the age of 89. Now, at 101, Herrera has landed a solo show at the Whitney, her first New York museum exhibition in almost twenty years. This modest survey of around fifty works examines how the Cuban-born hard-edge painter arrived at her rigid mature style, focusing particularly on the years 1948–1978. One especially noteworthy section looks at her time in Paris and includes works that have never before been publicly exhibited. Whitney Museum of American Art, 99 Gansevoort Street, whitney.org — Pac Pobric

Cecily Brown’s Combing the Hair (Beach)
Cecily Brown’s Combing the Hair (Beach)

‘Cecily Brown: Rehearsal’ October 7–December 18 It is a shame that so few painters are colorists on the order of Cecily Brown, but perhaps that’s for the best. She deserves special standing among her peers for paintings that, at their finest, are an embarrassment of chromatic riches. But Brown’s drawings are less familiar, and this show at the Drawing Center is the first to focus on them. What, exactly, does a great colorist do in a medium where color is ancillary? In the first place, she (or perhaps the curators) cheats a bit and expands the definition of drawing: A number of the eighty works in this exhibition are actually watercolors. The Drawing Center, 35 Wooster Street, drawingcenter.org — Pac Pobric

Agnes Martin October 7–January 11, 2017 The painter Agnes Martin had a spare aesthetic. She made her abstract pictures with muted colors (blue, gray, dusty orange) across grids on perfectly square canvases. For much of her career, she was labeled a minimalist, but at heart, she was a mystic. She felt herself to be an abstract expressionist and considered her grids to be inscrutable. “Take beauty,” she once said. “It’s a very mysterious thing, isn’t it?” Depending on your disposition, the mystery will either deepen or come into focus at this first full retrospective of Martin’s art since her death in 2004. It presents 110 works, including her only completed film, which follows a child as he wanders from the mountains to the sea. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue, guggenheim.org — Pac Pobric

‘Valentin de Boulogne: Beyond Caravaggio’ October 7–January 16, 2017 Valentin de Boulogne is poorly known today, but among his seventeenth-century contemporaries in Rome, he was widely respected. This French follower of Caravaggio, who inherited the Italian master’s emphatic realism, was adept in a range of subjects, from everyday scenes of musicians and cardsharps to contemplative depictions of saints and martyrs. Because he died so young (he was only 41) and so few of his paintings survive (around sixty in total), it is difficult to see his art in depth; this Metropolitan show brings together 45 of his existing pictures, including, remarkably, every one that belongs to the Louvre in Paris. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue, metmuseum.org — Pac Pobric

‘Word and Image: Martin Luther’s Reformation’ October 7–January 22, 2017 Five hundred years ago in October, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany, demanding to know why church authorities were accepting fees for absolving parishioners of temporal sins. Theologically, the act was groundbreaking, but it would likely have been a local affair had it not been for the advent of then-novel media like the printing press, which allowed Luther and his followers to spread their message. Through ninety objects including paintings and manuscripts (one highlight is a draft of Luther’s translation of the Old Testament), this show looks at how that message made it across Europe. Morgan Library and Museum, 225 Madison Avenue, themorgan.org — Pac Pobric 

‘Max Beckmann in New York’ October 19–February 20, 2017 Max Beckmann was 66 years old in the closing days of 1950 when he left his home on the Upper West Side and headed across town to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see its installation of one of his paintings — a self-portrait completed earlier that year. Beckmann, unfortunately, never made it to the museum: At 69th Street and Central Park West, he was struck down by a heart attack. The end of his life helped inspire this show, which looks at fourteen pictures that Beckmann made after settling in New York in 1949 (including that tangentially fatal self-portrait), along with 25 works made prior to the move. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue, metmuseum.org — Pac Pobric

‘Mark Leckey: Containers and Their Drivers’ October 23–March 5, 2017 In certain circles — among the youngest of artists, in particular — the British post-conceptualist Mark Leckey holds deep sway. Leckey builds inroads between cultures, as with his short film Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore, which documents dance in British discothèques from the Seventies through the Nineties, or with another of his shorts, Made in ‘Eaven, in which he digitally rendered a Jeff Koons balloon-bunny sculpture and transferred the images to film. The comprehensive exhibition will provide a deeper sense of his practice and also a look into his latest stirrings, made especially for the show. MoMA P.S.1, 22-25 Jackson Avenue, Queens, momaps1.org — Pac Pobric

‘Kerry James Marshall: Mastry’ October 25–January 29, 2017 Like any form with a long tradition, portraiture is in constant need of reinvention. Kerry James Marshall, one of our most gifted painters, has long been up to the task. For 35 years, he has been updating old ideas; one of his pictures references Hans Holbein’s The Ambassadors in a black hair salon. That Marshall focuses on black subjects is especially important: As he says, there simply aren’t enough of them in museums. At the Met Breuer’s essential retrospective, eighty of his works will be shown, along with forty contextualizing items the artist has plucked from the museum’s collection. Met Breuer, 945 Madison Avenue, metmuseum.org — Pac Pobric

‘Pipilotti Rist: Pixel Forest’ October 26–January 15, 2017 “Pixel Forest” is an apt title for this survey of Pipilotti Rist’s work: Often, the Swiss artist surrounds audiences with giant video projections on all sides, inviting gallery-goers to take a seat and consider flowers, rivers, or fields of green. But she is no sentimentalist; her videos tend to make nature abstract — pixelate it, perhaps — so that technology also plays a heavy role. This exhibition examines thirty years’ worth of work, beginning with her early, single-channel videos of the Eighties. It also features, notably, a new installation, created on the occasion of the show. New Museum, 235 Bowery, newmuseum.org — Pac Pobric

Iggy Pop
Iggy Pop

‘Iggy Pop Life Class’ November 4–March 26, 2017 In February, twenty-one artists aged nineteen to eighty got together at the New York Academy of Art for a nude life-drawing class. Their subject was Iggy Pop, who stripped down and bared all for his audience. The session was conceptualized by the British artist Jeremy Deller, who said of his idea that Pop’s “body has witnessed much and should be documented.” The drawings that resulted from the class, which were made by students, practicing artists, and retirees, go on view this fall at the Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, brooklynmuseum.org — Pac Pobric

‘Hanne Darboven: Kulturgeschichte 1880–1983’ November 5–July 30, 2017 There are 1,590 framed items and nineteen found objects in Hanne Darboven’s monumental installation Kulturgeschichte 1880–1983. They include German newspaper clippings from the era of Nazism, propaganda posters from the Russian Revolution, and black-and-white photographs of various New York doorways. The narrative of the work is appropriately wide-ranging, covering everything from the history of media and printmaking to the development of industry in Europe. Like much of Darboven’s art, it is rarely seen in the U.S., and this reinstallation of work affords American audiences a chance to see it for the first time in over a decade. Dia:Chelsea, 545 West 22nd Street, diaart.org — Pac Pobric

‘Francis Picabia: Our Heads Are Round So Our Thoughts Can Change Direction’ November 20–March 19, 2017 Francis Picabia was a famously nimble artist. Early in his career, he was an impressionist in the style of Alfred Sisley; then be became bored and morphed into a cubist, then a dadaist, later a surrealist, and eventually, finally, with a late group of naturalistic paintings, a seeming anti-modernist altogether. The name of the show is a direct quote from the artist and speaks to the many -isms of this exhibition (the first major show of Picabia’s work in the U.S.), which will be considered through well over a hundred works of art and a selection of printed archival materials. Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street, moma.org — Pac Pobric

 

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Stroke of Genius: A Peek at NYC’s Summer Art Exhibits

Follow the Leader

Since 2010, Elastic City founder Todd Shalom and associate artistic director Niegel Smith have curated a summer series of artist-led participatory walks designed to give audiences fresh, funny insights into New York and its many neighborhoods. Led by a stellar roster of writers, performers, dancers, and other creative minds you’d be happy to follow anywhere, these events are exercises of a kind, designed to focus your attention on certain details of the whirling world around you. You might think of them as performed psychogeographies — or just tourism with a twist. Sadly, this summer will be the final year of the series, and Shalom and Smith are marking the moment with “The Last Walks” (beginning July 7, multiple locations, elastic-city.org). Among the farewell lineup’s offerings: Sculptor and performance artist Aki Sasamoto will investigate voyeurism while touring the East Village and Tompkins Square Park; Obie-winning theater director Lee Sunday Evans will meditate on power and its sources; and trans performer Becca Blackwell and participants will recall, re-enact, and re-queer the West Village as it was in the Nineties. The performer Okwui Okpokwasili, dance artist Anna Azrieli, and artist Tania Bruguera and Immigrant Movement International will also be creating ambles about town. Before the curtain falls on Elastic City, Shalom and Smith will also lead seven strolls of their own, each paying homage to jaunts of summers past and featuring appearances from such former pied pipers as writer Wayne Koestenbaum, choreographer luciana achugar, and performer Erin Markey. “The Last Walks” are free, so all you need to join the parade is a pair of comfortable shoes. — Jennifer Krasinksi

 

Stuart Davis’s <i>New York Mural</i> (1932), one of the vibrant works celebrated in the Whitney’s “In Full Swing”
Stuart Davis’s New York Mural (1932), one of the vibrant works celebrated in the Whitney’s “In Full Swing”

‘Queens International 2016’

Through July 31

No need to board a jet this summer to keep apace with the global art scene — just hop the subway to Flushing. This is the Queens Museum’s biennial exhibition featuring artists who live and work in the city’s most ethnically diverse borough. This year’s thirty-plus participants originally hail from points all over the United States, as well as from countries such as Lebanon, China, Iran, Turkey, South Korea, and Mexico. What unites this distinct group is a mission to create artworks uncontained by borders — political, aesthetic, or otherwise. With a program that includes films, concerts, performances, and participatory events, this invigorating exhibition is a welcome reminder why artists are so imperative to the exceptional richness and texture of our city. Queens Museum, Flushing Meadows–Corona Park, Queens, queensmuseum.org  — J.K. 

‘Stuart Davis: In Full Swing’

June 10–September 25

The painter Stuart Davis was among the first members of the Whitney Studio Club — a precursor to the museum we know today — when it was founded in 1918 by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. So this exhibition of around a hundred of his works, with a focus on Davis’s mature period (1921–64), is something of a homecoming for the artist, who had a habit of going back to where he came from: The show emphasizes how motifs from earlier works tended to resurface in later pictures. Whitney Museum of American Art, 99 Gansevoort Street, whitney.org — Pac Pobric

John Akomfrah

June 24–August 12

The Ghanaian-born artist John Akomfrah made a big impression on audiences at the 2015 Venice Biennale with Vertigo Sea, a film reflecting on the systemic violence of the whaling industry. In two new film installations and a suite of photographs for his first New York solo exhibition, Akomfrah shifts his focus to the ill effects of displacement: One of the works looks at a 400-year period of migration from Barbados, Mali, and Iraq; the other takes place at an abandoned airport outside Athens amid Greece’s financial crisis. Lisson Gallery, 504 West 24th Street, lissongallery.com — P.P.

‘The Language of Things’

June 28–September 29

In a 1916 essay on language, Walter Benjamin wrote that there was nothing in the world that did not “communicate its mental contents.” Curators are testing that thesis in this outdoor exhibition of work by seven artists that asks visitors to fend off the noise of the city and pay close attention to their surroundings. Included in the show is a sound installation by Chris Watson based on the murmuring of starlings and a performance by Tino Sehgal in which singers will serenade park visitors. Public Art Fund, City Hall Park, publicartfund.org — P.P.

Bruce Conner’s art of the apocalypse, to be shown at MoMA
Bruce Conner’s art of the apocalypse, to be shown at MoMA

‘Bruce Conner: It’s All True’

July 3–October 2

In 1976, Bruce Conner made a 37-minute film called Crossroads for which he culled footage of U.S. nuclear-weapons testing in the Marshall Islands. Conner’s anxiety about the prospects of apocalyptic war — along with his sense that there was also sublime beauty in terror — persisted throughout his career, which ended with his death in 2008. This show of around 250 works in various media (painting, film, photography, collage, and more) is the first full retrospective of his art. Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street, moma.org — P.P.

‘Diane Arbus: In the Beginning’

July 12–November 27

For her portraits of the everyday oddballs of Coney Island and Central Park, Diane Arbus is a hometown hero, yet some of her earliest work remains obscure. An exhibition of more than a hundred of her pictures promises to be a revelation: More than two-thirds of them have never been exhibited or published. The photographs all come from the seven-year period, beginning in 1956, when she labeled a roll of 35mm film “#1,” as if to signal a beginning. The Met Breuer, 945 Madison Avenue, metmuseum.org — P.P.

‘Art AIDS America’

July 13–September 25

In the Eighties, AIDS hit the New York cultural community hard, taking away many of our best artists — Martin Wong and David Wojnarowicz among them — and casting a long shadow over the city, one that remains visible. This show looks at AIDS’s lasting legacy through more than 125 works by artists like Félix González-Torres, Annie Leibovitz, and Robert Mapplethorpe. The group Visual AIDS, which raises awareness of the continued dangers of the disease, will present a vitrine in the museum lobby with work by Glenn Ligon. The Bronx Museum of the Arts, 1040 Grand Concourse, the Bronx, bronxmuseum.org — P.P.

Alma Thomas

July 14–October 30

“A world without color would seem dead. Color is life,” said the painter Alma Thomas (1891–1978). An expressionist with ties to the Washington Color School, Thomas is known for vibrant canvases — vivid abstractions — possessed of the exuberant spirit of their maker. Thomas supported herself for decades teaching art in a Washington, D.C., segregated high school, painting in the off-hours until her retirement in 1960 at the age of 69, when at last she could give her canvases full attention. The art world took notice: In 1972, she became the first African-American woman to receive a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The Studio Museum celebrates her singular career with this retrospective; New Yorkers should plan to sacrifice some time in the sun to bask in Thomas’s brilliance instead. The Studio Museum, 144 West 125th Street, studiomuseum.org — J.K.

‘Who Shot Sports: A Photographic History, 1843 to the Present’

July 15–January 8, 2017

Leni Riefenstahl was already a famous Nazi propagandist when Hitler asked her to document the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. Her resulting film, Olympia, is heavily tarnished by her politics, but it remains a part of the history of sports photography, which is the subject of this Brooklyn Museum show. Riefenstahl is among 170 photographers — including Richard Avedon, Eadweard Muybridge, and Alexander Rodchenko — whose work will be presented in a comprehensive survey of more than two hundred pictures. Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, brooklynmuseum.org — P.P.

 

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Eye Catchers: New Art Exhibits Cropping Up in NYC This Spring

Critic’s Pick: Reigning Pigeons

Ornithophobes beware: This spring, the Brooklyn Navy Yard is set to host an avian performance worthy of Hitchcock. At sunset on May and June weekends, the Red Hook–based artist Duke Riley will release flocks of pigeons — thousands, we’re told — as part of “Fly by Night,” his ambitious public-art project produced in conjunction with Creative Time. The winged rats promise an enchanting show: Each will be banded with LED lights so the group can hover like a free-floating constellation over the East River. Currently housed in lofts on a ship docked at the Navy Yard, the birds will retire to their bedrooms each evening after their approximately hour-long aerial ballet. Long a fancier of the gutter bird, Riley, 43, is a man who knows his feathered friends: In the mid-Nineties, he lived and worked in a coop, and in 2013, he mounted a performance in which pigeons smuggled Cuban Cohibas into Key West. Riley assures us that his current cast will be well taken care of — he’s got an avian veterinarian on retainer — and that some will get nights off. “I have to talk to their union manager,” Riley says. There is, of course, the matter of guano and its potential to drop on spectators. Riley insists such fears are unfounded. “As it is with most animals, they generally shit more when they’re sitting down or relaxed,” Riley says. His acrobats, he confirms, shouldn’t pose a threat. “The shit is not something I’m that concerned about.” Begins May 7, at the intersection of Sands and Navy streets, Brooklyn; creativetime.org — Jessica Dawson

‘Pergamon and the Hellenistic Kingdoms of the Ancient World’
April 18–July 10
Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue, metmuseum.org

Hellenistic Europe has never really gotten its due. Its artistic riches — the Winged Victory is just one — are generally seen as small consolation for a civilization in decay. True, Greece never again scaled the heights of its earlier classical era, but there was beauty in decadent revelry. This Met show brings together 260-plus pieces, a third of which are from the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, to make a case for the importance of a profligate culture. — Pac Pobric

‘Philip Guston: Painter’
April 26–July 30
Hauser & Wirth, 511 West 18th Street, hauserwirth.com

If you Google Philip Guston and browse the image results, most of the paintings you’ll see are of disembodied limbs and Klansmen smoking cigarettes. Guston’s earlier work, made when he was still considered an abstract expressionist, is relatively obscure. This show of around 85 drawings and paintings centers on his last decade as an abstractionist and is Hauser & Wirth’s first exhibition of his work since it began representing his estate last September. — Pac Pobric

Steve McQueen
Steve McQueen

‘Steve McQueen: Open Plan’
April 29–May 14
Whitney Museum of American Art, 99 Gansevoort Street, whitney.org

One of the merits of the Whitney’s new building is its lack of columns: On the fifth floor, visitors can look across 18,200 square feet of unobstructed space. The filmmaker Steve McQueen is among the artists who have been given license to experiment with the gallery, which here hosts an expanded edition of McQueen’s 2012 End Credits. The piece presents the FBI’s declassified files on the African-American actor Paul Robeson, who was blacklisted and placed under federal surveillance amid the Communist paranoia that swept through Hollywood during the Red Scare. — Pac Pobric

‘Nicole Eisenman: Al-ugh-ories’
May 4–June 26
New Museum, 235 Bowery, newmuseum.org

Why has it taken so long for New York to catch up with Nicole Eisenman? Her eerie, surreal paintings — one pensive picture depicts a topless woman toasting with a glass of wine while a skeleton holds her hand — seem tailor-made for a city drunk on anxiety. The New Museum will put on the first New York survey of Eisenman’s work, including the figurative plaster sculptures that have occupied her time in recent years. — Pac Pobric

‘Roberto Burle Marx: Brazilian Modernist’
May 6–September 18
Jewish Museum, 1109 Fifth Avenue, thejewishmuseum.org

Before the modernist landscape designer Roberto Burle Marx made a point of doing things otherwise, most Brazilian gardens were based on French designs. It was up to Marx — a Brazilian of German-Jewish and French descent — to stress the potential of drawing inspiration from native plants. This Jewish Museum show features more than a hundred works by Marx, including paintings, tapestries, and rarely seen architectural plans for synagogues.  — Pac Pobric

‘Sigmar Polke’
May 7–June 25
David Zwirner, 537 West 20th Street, davidzwirner.com

There are few artists as celebrated for their eclecticism as Sigmar Polke. Where others are derided for a lack of focus, Polke is upheld as a painter (and photographer, sculptor, collagist, etc.) who refused prescriptions. His travels were as wide-ranging as his work: Indonesia, Tasmania, and the Seychelles are among the countries he visited during his 1980–’81 trip around the world. A modest David Zwirner show of around twenty works looks at the art that resulted from his journey. — Pac Pobric

‘Vito Acconci: Where We Are Now (Who Are We Anyway?), 1976’
May 29–August 30
MoMA P.S.1, 22-25 Jackson Avenue, Queens, momaps1.org

Vito Acconci is best known for Seedbed (1972), for which he spent hours masturbating beneath a ramp at Sonnabend Gallery while visitors traveled overhead. The remains of this project, which include a video of Acconci at work (ahem), are included in a P.S.1 show — one of several marking the museum’s fortieth anniversary — prioritizing the artist’s confrontational early performances. The conceptual anchor is a reinstallation of a 1976 piece involving a wooden plank and an open window. — Pac Pobric