This Fall, Embrace the Unfamiliar in the Art World


If there’s a trend this fall in the art world, it’s the embrace of the unfamiliar. Sure, you can get your servings of comfort food via Matisse (MOMA, October 12), Helen Frankenthaler (Gagosian Gallery, September 11), or yet another round of Cubism (the Met, October 20). But for whatever reason—new curatorial energy, a general hunger for the offbeat—numerous well-conceived shows are bringing us the forgotten, the neglected, the obscure, and the freshly innovative.

See also: The 2014 Fall (Arts) Issue: An Index

For starters, the major AbEx entry (Jewish Museum, September 12) goes back almost 70 years to consider the early but imaginative work of two underrated painters, Lee Krasner (forever known as Jackson Pollock’s widow) and the Harlem-born Norman Lewis, who often found inspiration in African-American life.

Intriguing, too, are separate surveys of two avant-garde consortiums from the 1960s. The Guggenheim devotes its rotunda to Group Zero (October 10), a trio of Germans (Heinz Mack, Otto Piene, and Günther Uecker) who, in the aftermath of World War II, attempted an artistic rebirth with kinetic and light-based work, and whose transformative notions would expand, globally, to other renegades, many of whom remain little-known in this country. Up at Hauser and Wirth’s 69th Street location, you’ll find rarely seen work by the radical Vienna Actionists (September 9), an iconoclastic clan that purged their postwar trauma through violence, destruction, and flagrantly lewd acts, typically using their bodies as surfaces or tools for their defiant, paint-based art.

At the opposite extreme, the renovated 68th Street gallery at Hunter College presents the exquisite wire constructions and the delicate, network-like drawings of Gertrud Goldschmidt (“Gego”) and Gerd Leufert (October 2). Partners in life and art who’d fled the Nazis for Venezuela, they explored similar geometric motifs in parallel, but their long relationship, strangely enough, has received little attention, and their work is hardly ever shown together — which makes this exhibit a particular treat.

All in all, the eclectic season promises, more than most, to be revelatory. Here are eight more recommendations on the same “out of the ordinary” theme, featuring reconsiderations of two faded stars from the mid-20th century, remarkable pictures from the ends of the earth, a contest of insults between two singers, and lots of quirky art from Brooklyn.

Nam June Paik: Becoming Robot
September 5-January 4, 2015

The idolatry of smartphones hardly stirs the cynics anymore, so leave it to Nam June Paik—father of video art, coiner of “electronic superhighway”—to remind us how obsessed we’ve become with our little televisions. Paik, who died in 2006, was a visionary, but also a humorist, mocking technology’s power to command our reverence. Among numerous creations, the survey here displays his TV Chair (you sit on the screen), TV Bra (worn, infamously, by cellist Charlotte Moorman), TV Penis, and the endearingly scruffy Robot K-456, which “died” in 1964 in a staged car accident, lampooning our affection for a machine. Asia Society, 725 Park Avenue,

Marcel Dzama: Une Danse des Bouffons (A Jester’s Dance)
September 9-October 25

A few years ago, Dzama paid homage to Marcel Duchamp’s final work — that enigmatic diorama of female nudity glimpsed through a peephole — by assembling a comical version of the infamous tableau. Now Dzama offers A Jester’s Dance, a silent black-and-white film that turns the same Duchamp vision into a nightmare of sinister mayhem. Combining horror shtick, Felliniesque buffoonery, the cinematic magic of Jean Cocteau, and a haunting score by the band Arcade Fire, the 35-minute sequence features (among many bizarre moments) an exploding head and the gooey birth of a full-grown man. David Zwirner, 525 & 533 West 19th Street,

Allora & Calzadilla: Fault Lines
September 13-October 11

Last seen here with their carved-out piano (which allowed a performer to stand inside its belly and play Beethoven), wife-and-husband provocateurs Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla are staging another piece of musical theater with Fault Lines. On large stones arranged as a choral platform, two boy sopranos engage in a choreographed duel of insults, singing a litany of retorts taken from centuries of literature. The creators cite Lacan and geology to explain the performance, but the ethereally voiced jabs may bring to mind, at times, P.D.Q. Bach’s intelligent fun. Gladstone Gallery, 515 West 24th Street,

Sebastiao Salgado: Genesis
September 19-January 11, 2015

Having documented the lives of manual laborers and refugees around the world, renowned photojournalist Salgado turned to the Earth itself in 2004, traveling the next eight years to remote locations to capture images of pure, unsullied nature. Shot in lush black and white, his compositions are striking for their drama and immediacy. A strangely square formation on an Antarctic iceberg looms above the sea like a manmade fortress. A naked monkey hunter in Brazil seems to defy gravity in a jungle tree. Two lounging albatrosses admire the view of stark South Atlantic islands, as if they’d posed for a vacation selfie. The planet has never looked more wondrous. International Center of Photography, 1133 Sixth Avenue,

Cy Twombly: Treatise on the Veil
September 26-January 25, 2015

A wide receiver could run a slant pattern for first-down yardage across the area of Cy Twombly’s Treatise on the Veil — a painting so immense that it rarely gets displayed. Inspired by Pierre Henry’s Veil of Orpheus (a nightmarish composition of sounds and voices) and a photographic sequence by Eadweard Muybridge, Twombly created the minimalist work in 1970 during his “blackboard” period, applying chalk-like smudges and mysterious notations to the vast, gray background. The spectacle of the cryptic thing will no doubt spark another spirited debate over whether Twombly was a mystical genius or a pseudointellectual scribbling nonsense. Morgan Library and Museum, 225 Madison Avenue,

Crossing Brooklyn: Art from Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, and Beyond
October 3-January 4, 2015

An extravaganza of Brooklyn-connected projects captures the borough’s current penchant for politically minded transgression and earnest engagement with whatever. Oddities abound. Duke Riley presents his colorful pigeon loft, constructed in Key West for the smuggling (by bird) of Cuban cigars. Cynthia Daignault’s grid of 365 paintings records a patch of sky observed on each day of the year. Marie Lorenz’s filmed tour of Jamaica Bay in a homemade boat, recorded with unusual camera angles, suggests an enchanting dream. In another marvelous video, William Lamson uses his clever flotation device to stand on the Delaware River, enacting an apparent miracle. Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Parkway,

Sari Dienes
October 8-November 16

Though well known in the 1950s for her experiments in assemblage and printmaking, and a friend of everyone from Max Ernst to John Cage, Sari Dienes has pretty much disappeared from the art-history map. This modest exhibit, aiming to resurrect her stature, focuses on the ink-roller impressions Dienes made of Manhattan streets, where she was assisted by a young Jasper Johns (who later called out Dienes as a significant influence). Mixing abstraction and the familiar, her monochrome images of manhole lids, rough pavement, and tread marks not only suggest a proto-Johns but also anticipate the contemporary work of trace-painter Ingrid Calame. The Drawing Center, 35 Wooster Street,

Marisol: Sculptures and Works on Paper
October 9-January 10, 2015

Witty, free-spirited, and alluring, Marisol Escobar (known by her first name) became an art-scene darling in the 1960s with her sculptures of carved and painted wood—satirical and sometimes unsettling portraits of celebrities. The public flocked to her shows, Glamour magazine profiled her, Warhol cast her in two of his films. Maybe because her folky pop didn’t reflect the era’s upheavals, her work gradually faded from view. But this small retrospective, which also includes drawings from a brief period of sexual and violent imagery, demonstrates that Marisol’s carnivalesque figures — like her four-handed bronze Picasso — retain their strange, inventive charm. El Museo del Barrio, 1230 Fifth Avenue,