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Six Shows to Get You Cultured This Spring

In anticipation of the spring and early-summer exhibition seasons in New York, we’ve put together a preview of six shows that are worth the trip.

The opening of “Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960–1985” at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles last September was a revelation: finally, a thoughtful, scholarly exhibition with real popular appeal that focused on a period of cultural history that was almost completely unrecorded in conservative, mainstream surveys. Just up at the Brooklyn Museum — its only East Coast venue — the show includes more than 260 works by more than 120 artists from 15 countries that underwent tremendous political upheaval in the mid-twentieth century. Those contexts — of American military interventions; dictatorships in Brazil, Chile, and elsewhere; and the rise of Black Power movements around the world — inspired artists like Anna Maria Maiolino and Victoria Santa Cruz, two of the most compelling artists in the show, to radicalize modern art to political ends. During our own moment of political turmoil, this is a timely and important exhibition. The Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, brooklynmuseum.org, through July 22

Bring Down The Walls will be located at Firehouse, Engine Company 31 in Lower Manhattan.

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Creative Time’s latest project, “Bring Down the Walls,” is more about social justice than about art in the accepted sense, but the distinctions matter little to the artist and organizer behind the exhibit, Phil Collins. Each weekend in May, the Firehouse, Engine Company 31, a decommissioned fire station on Lafayette Street, will become a hub for discussions on mass incarceration and criminal justice reform. More than a hundred collaborators, including formerly incarcerated people, activists, and educators, will lead workshops and talks and offer free legal advice. In the evenings, the station will be converted into a nightclub, which Collins designed as a nod to the days when such venues were places for not only music and dance, but also civic and political engagement. The Firehouse, Engine Company 31, 87 Lafayette Street, creativetime.org, opening May 5

Georgia O’Keeffe “Waterfall, No. I, ‘Īao Valley, Maui” (1939); Georgia O’Keeffe on Leho‘ula Beach, near Aleamai, Hāna,
Maui], 1939

Meanwhile, in a completely different setting, the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx will present “George O’Keeffe: Visions of Hawai’i”, which charts the artist’s nine-week stay in the state in 1939. That year, aged 51, O’Keeffe was sent on commission by the Hawaiian Pineapple Company to design images for a promotional campaign. During her stay, O’Keeffe made a series of paintings, seventeen of which will be displayed at the garden. There will be twenty total pieces on display. The pictures — which haven’t been exhibited in New York since their 1940 debut at the gallery of O’Keeffe’s husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz, on Madison Avenue — will benefit from the garden’s conservatory, where examples of the Hawaiian fauna O’Keeffe painted — birds of paradise, ginger, and hibiscus, among others — can provide additional context. Although O’Keeffe is well-known for her floral paintings, a show like this can remind viewers how closely she looked at her subjects, something that’s difficult to convey in a gallery that has only white walls. The New York Botanical Garden, 2900 Southern Boulevard, Bronx, nybg.org, May 19–October 28

Antonio Canova, “Primo Pensiero for George Washington” (1817), “Modello for George Washington (detail)” (1818)

Just one month after the Frick Collection closes a beautiful and insightful show of paintings by Francisco de Zurbarán, it will open Canova’s George Washington, another small, focused exhibition that digs deep into a specific historical episode. In 1816, the North Carolina State House, on the recommendation of Thomas Jefferson, commissioned the Italian neoclassical sculptor Antonio Canova to create a full-length statue of Washington, which was installed at the state house in Raleigh in 1821. Ten years later, a fire tore through the building and destroyed the work (the one in North Carolina now is a duplicate). Canova’s preparatory plaster version, which remained in Italy, is the centerpiece of this exhibition, which may uproot our expectations of the artist’s style. For the most part, the public knows him as one of the most naturalistically graceful sculptors of his time. Canova was an artist who was remarkably sensitive to touch; he could make marble look as soft as flesh with seemingly only the mildest exertion. But such grace takes great effort, and this show aims in part to pull back the curtain on Canova’s process. The Frick Collection, 1 East 70th Street, frick.org, May 23–September 23

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Maren Hassinger, “Study for Monuments” (2018)

Harlem will be the place for those looking to see art outdoors. In June, the Studio Museum in Harlem will present “Maren Hassinger: Monuments, which includes eight new sculptures, in Marcus Garvey Park, by the artist, who has a long association with the museum (she was an artist-in-residence in 1984). Similar to some of her previous works, the new sculptures will be made from tree branches that Hassinger found around the city, and which will be fashioned into objects, with help from New York high school students, just prior to when the exhibit opens. This sort of civic engagement has long been on the artist’s mind. In 2015, during a retrospective of her work in Atlanta, she said she wanted to get back to the ideals of the civil rights movement, and “to concentrate on issues and environments where we all have a common interest.” What better place to do that than in a New York City public park? The Studio Museum in Harlem, 144 West 125th Street, studiomuseum.org, opening June 16

John Akomfrah, “Vertigo Sea (still)” (2015)
John Akomfrah: Signs of Empire

Since the early 1980s, the Ghanaian-born, British artist John Akomfrah has been making films and video collages that examine the violent legacy of colonialism. For many viewers, his breakthrough came in the 2015 Venice Biennale, where he presented Vertigo Sea, an unsettling three-channel video that portrayed the oceans as sites of true savagery. In one extended section, there is horrific documentary footage of whalers destroying an animal with harpoons. This summer, John Akomfrah: Signs of Empire will be his first U.S. survey. Akomfrah is an artist of real power. Compared to the various exhibitions from other artists coming to New York in the coming months, Akomfrah’s show has the most potential to overwhelm. The New Museum of Contemporary Art, 235 Bowery, newmuseum.org, June 20–September 2

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FLOWER POWER

Alongside the cherry blossoms at the institution’s Brooklyn cousin, nothing marks approaching seasonal change as brilliantly as the New York Botanical Garden’s annual orchid show. This year’s edition takes us to Key West, with lead designer Francisca Coelho and her team doing their best work to re-create the designs of modernist landscape architect Raymond Jungles. In between the orchids — the garden’s greenhouses contain more than 6,000 — watch for poems from Florida residents Elizabeth Bishop, James Merrill, and Richard Wilbur.

Mondays-Sundays, 10 a.m. Starts: March 12. Continues through April 21, 2014

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WINTER GREENS

Christmas is a time for traditions, and the New York Botanical Garden’s annual holiday train show is one of the best that the city has. For the occasion, the institution (which not only hosts its fair share of day dates but also grants PhDs in coordination with a handful of nearby universities) turns the final 
quadrant of its Enid A. Haupt Conservatory into a miniature alternate New York, one 
in which model trains weave through plant-made replicas of everything from Yankee Stadium to the Empire State Building. 
This year, the landscape around the conservatory will be dotted with different verses from former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy 
Collins — just one more reason to head inside and check it out.

Sun., Dec. 1, 10 a.m., 2013

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IN BLOOM

The New York Botanical Garden, located far uptown but within walking distance of the 2, 4/5, D, and Metro-North trains, is beautiful in the spring and summer, when the flowers are in full bloom and the leaves are at their fullest. But really, it might be best in the fall, when the toughest of those flowers are hanging on while the first of those leaves begin to fall. This week, take the train to the annual Kiku exhibition, a display of Japanese chrysanthemums that have been modified in such a way that dozens of buds will grow from a single stem. Kids (of all ages, as they say) should go from there through the nature trails that cross the Bronx River and around to the Everett Adventure Garden, where this year’s collection of carved pumpkins is being advertised as “spookier than ever.”

Mon., Oct. 14, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Starts: Oct. 14. Continues through Oct. 27, 2013

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WEIRD SCIENCE

Want to know more about insect courtship and reproduction? What about Quantum mechanics? Or maybe the theory of multiple universes? Learn about these and more at this year’s World Science Festival. Presented by the nonprofit organization the Science Festival Foundation, the annual festival is a five-day-long celebration of the field of science, featuring more than 130 speakers and 50 programs. Highlights include an outdoor science street fair, The Moth’s special science-themed evening, and a lecture by this year’s honoree, James Watson (of Watson and Crick fame). Events will take place between today and Sunday at various locations throughout the city, including Washington Square Park, the Met, and the New York Botanical Garden. Many events sell out quickly, so head to the festival’s website to snag tickets for the programs that interest you the most.

Wednesdays-Sundays, 11 a.m. Starts: May 29. Continues through June 2, 2013

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ORCHID FLOWER BOMB

Over the past few years, the New York Botanical Garden’s annual Orchid Show has been an occasion to commission new work from French designer Patrick Blanc, celebrate the biodiversity of Cuba, and give Broadway set designers the chance to try their hand at botany. This year, however, the show is more modest, shifting its focus to the flowers themselves, arranged throughout the conservatory and culminating with the always splendid exhibition hall. They’re hard to miss, but keep your eye out for the Darwin’s Star orchids arranged along the final walkway, and the special Hurricane Sandy memorial to the garden’s nearly 300 trees destroyed by the storm.

Sat., March 30, 10 a.m., 2013

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TRAIN DREAMS

A holiday tradition for more than 20 years, the New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show returns to the Bronx location’s spectacular Haupt Conservatory, offering as good a date or family time opportunity as you’ll find anywhere across the boroughs. As past attendees know, the show’s stars aren’t the trains but the buildings, intricate replicas of some of the city’s finest, crafted only from materials found in the garden. As you walk under the Brooklyn, Manhattan, and George Washington bridges, you’ll be struck by replicas of everything from Yankee Stadium to Coney Island’s Luna Park.

Mondays-Sundays, 10 a.m. Starts: Dec. 17. Continues through Jan. 13, 2012

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THE BRONX GIVERNY

In his many paintings, Claude Monet depicted the natural world with unrivaled brilliance. The only drawback? His impressionist brushstrokes and paint smears capture the essence of his flowers but make their details almost undecipherable. With their Monet’s Garden exhibition, the curators at the New York Botanical Garden seek to make things a little clearer, using notebooks, letters, and photographs to re-create the arrangements outside the artist’s Giverny country house as closely as possible, even building a Japanese footbridge. See it now with the much-depicted water lilies in full bloom.

Mondays-Sundays, 10 a.m. Starts: June 5. Continues through Oct. 21, 2012