Ellsworth Kelly

June 5 through September 3

America's foremost abstract painter, it turns out, is a closet realist. Who knew? This summer, the Met will have proof of Kelly's apostasy in the form of six decades of minutely rendered drawings. A selection of some 80 efforts the 93-year-old began in 1948, Kelly's graphite-and-ink-on-paper works update John Ruskin's exercises as a botanist. Kelly himself likens his precisely observed drawings of seaweed, flowers, and a banana leaf to portraits—the ultimate in naturalistic depiction. "The most pleasurable thing in the world, for me," he has said, in echo of representational artists throughout the ages, "is to see something, and then to translate how I see it."

Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue, metmuseum.org

The Bruce High Quality Foundation: 'Art History with Labor'

June 28 through September 30

New York's premier art collective, the Bruce High Quality Foundation has promised to accomplish two seemingly opposite things: "resurrect art history from the bowels of despair" and "protest against the star-making machinery of the art market." Although this might read as a standard case of cognitive dissonance, it's more likely a flash of F. Scott Fitzgerald–type genius. (The author of The Crack-Up referred to a first-rate intellect as one capable of holding "two opposing ideas in mind at the same time.")

Whatever the deal, BHQF plans to pull out all the stops for its upcoming Gotham exhibition—brimming brilliance and insanity included. The anonymous artists are due to take over Manhattan's toniest exhibition space: the lobby and plaza of Park Avenue's Lever House. Following bling-studded presentations by Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, and Rachel Feinstein, BHQF will inaugurate a show whose putative subject is "the history of organized labor and the idea of work itself." The exhibition will include, among other objects, a 12-foot bronze sculpture of a rat (the sort unions use to protest scab labor), a "pedagogical video," a large-scale painting, and several "janitorial objects" sculpted from Play-Doh, among them mop buckets, trash cans, chairs, and a copy machine. All this deposited squarely at the feet of the wheeling-and-dealing 1 Percent.

Among the hard questions sure to be asked are: Will this art triumph over the speculative traps that await? And can you really be an art star if you refuse to be photographed? Lever House, 390 Park Avenue, thebrucehighqualityfoundation.com

Alighiero Boetti

July 1 through October 1

From his early days as an experimental artist in the late 1960s to his untimely death in 1994, the Italian artist Alighiero Boetti led a powerfully poetic assault on order, formalism, and authorship. A leading purveyor of Arte Povera, or poor art, Boetti combined exploration of everyday materials with a well-traveled conceptual cosmopolitanism—he made art in countries like Guatemala, Sudan, and Afghanistan. This timely retrospective (since 2010, there have been provincial imitations of Boetti all over the Lower East Side) includes a 1973 monumental drawing made with ballpoint pen titled Mettere al Mondo il Mondo (Bringing the World Into the World), a work that speaks volumes about bringing life into art and art into life. Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street, moma.org

'Ghosts in the Machine'

July 18 through October 7

Nearly a riposte to the Web-inspired, Tumblr-led New Aesthetic, this survey of the constantly shifting relationship between humans, machines, and art renders today's iPhone creativity historical. Organized as a cabinet of curiosities, the show will consider (among other ideas) how machines get anthropomorphized and how technology is increasingly capable of transforming subjective experiences. Featuring an archive of artworks by historical and contemporary figures like Richard Hamilton, Stan VanDerBeek, Christopher Williams, Bridget Riley, Mark Leckey, and Hans Haacke alongside non-art objects, the exhibition presents some 50 years of artist-led future thinking—with an accent on both the practical and the far-out visionary. Pay special attention to the futures that never arrived. New Museum, 235 Bowery, newmuseum.org

Camilo José Vergara

June 13 through September 16

A photographic essay begun by MacArthur grant recipient Camilo José Vergara in 1977, Harlem: The Place documents both dramatic and subtle changes to the streetwise fabric of the capital of black America. A second part of a larger display—the first was titled Harlem: The People—Vergara's follow-up show focuses on the neighborhood's brick-and-mortar changes, as demonstrated by urban crisis, regeneration, and finally gentrification. A self-described "archivist of decline," Vergara gets down transformations abiding in the "walls, signs, trees, and sidewalks." Part of a three-decade project that includes another 20 American cities, Vergara's pictures will eventually comprise a record the artist calls The Visual Encyclopedia of the American Ghetto. New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, nyhistory.org

Rineke Dijkstra

June 29 through October 3

A mid-career survey of more than 70 color photographs and five video installations by this Vermeer of camera work, Dijkstra's most comprehensive institutional exhibition to date is also her first major American museum outing. A master of the straightforward photograph of individuals in transition, this artist has captured teenagers on the make, soldiers after their induction, new mothers after giving birth, and bloodied bullfighters after a corrida. Her pictures reveal lives shifting, identities molting, and—generally speaking—the bloom going off the rose for people who are at once strangers yet remarkably familiar. Profoundly subtle work tuned to a fine humanist pitch, this show is not to be missed. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue, guggenheim.org

'Signs & Symbols'

June 28 through October 28

You'd hardly know it today, but it wasn't all de Kooning and Pollock in New York in the 1940s and '50s. American abstraction was, instead, chock-full of competing voices. Signs & Symbols sheds new light on America's greatest generation of artistic game changers. Drawn from the museum's deep holdings of paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints, and photographs, this display looks to right a few wrongs in the art historical canon. Including works by Will Barnet, Forrest Bess, Charles Seliger, and Mark Tobey, among others, the show moves away from AbEx muscle and toward figurative and calligraphic mark making. The third in a series of exhibitions aimed at reassessing the museum's collection, this display reconsiders the era's iconic figures and masterworks. Whitney Museum, 945 Madison Avenue, whitney.org

'Caribbean: Crossroads of the World'

June 12 through January 6

Even in New York, the center has relocated to the margins. A three-museum blockbuster that looks to examine the development of art and aesthetics across the multicultural Caribbean, this show constitutes both a history lesson and a contemporary guide to a burgeoning visual culture. Centering on the era opened by the Haitian Revolution—the area's first successful bid for independence—the show spans the history of the Caribbean, from early colonization to the present, touching on subjects like slavery, geography, commerce, migration, hybridism, and paradise. Some three years in the making, this show is the first time the three institutions have collaborated on a single exhibition. El Museo del Barrio, 1230 Fifth Avenue, elmuseo.org

Queens Museum of Art, New York City Building, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens, queensmuseum.org

Studio Museum in Harlem, 144 West 125th Street, studiomuseum.org

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