Best of Spring

Six Shows to Get You Cultured This Spring

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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

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

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

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

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

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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