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

by and

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; — Jessica Dawson

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

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,

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: Open Plan’
April 29–May 14
Whitney Museum of American Art, 99 Gansevoort Street,

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,

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,

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,

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,

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