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

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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, 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


‘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,  — 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, — 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, — 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, — P.P.

‘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, — 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, — 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, — 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, — 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, — P.P.