Upper East Side events: The best shows and cultural happenings

Find things to do on the Upper East Side, including museum exhibitions, shows, festivals and other events.

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"That Obscure Object of Desire"

  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Critics choice
  • Free

Titled after Luis Buñuel’s 1977 film about sexual obsession, this group show includes pieces from the 1940s to the present, and teases out formal and thematic connections among a nicely considered selection of Surrealist, Pop and contemporary artworks. The leitmotif here is the body reduced to parts: Tummies, breasts, lips, knees, buttocks and vulvas are reassembled into new and unsettling combinations or isolated as fetishized objects. Dorothea Tanning’s 1970 stuffed

  1. Luxembourg & Dayan 64 E 77th St, between Madison and Park Aves, 10075
  2. Tue Sep 30 - Sat Oct 4
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The World of Ice and Fire with George R.R. Martin

  • Critics choice

The creator of the cult series A Song of Ice and Fire discusses his new best-seller, The World of Ice and Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones.

  1. 92Y, Kaufmann Concert Hall 1395 Lexington Ave, and 92nd St, 10128
  2. Sun Oct 26
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Farhad Moshiri, "Float"

  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Free

A reasonable suspicion when first encountering the work of Farhad Moshiri at Galerie Perrotin is that the artist uses his aptitude with materials to obscure a dearth of ideas. His paintings, for the most part, feature images whose qualities of line recall old textbook illustrations or romance comic books. The territory they mine is familiarly pop, but there is also a twist: They’ve been rendered with colored plastic beads that must number in the tens of thousands. Some are

  1. Galerie Perrotin 909 Madison Ave , at 73rd St, 10021
  2. Tue Sep 30 - Sat Oct 4
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"Rite of Passage: The Early Years of Vienna Actionism, 1960–1966"

  • Rated as: 5/5
  • Critics choice
  • Free

People familiar with the 1960s Vienna Actionism movement are aware of its notoriety for trangressive works—or more succinctly, acts—of art. For everyone else, this survey of paintings, collages, drawings and performance photographs curated by Hubert Klocker should provide an eye-opening introduction to a group whose outrageous reputation is well earned, if also somewhat misunderstood. Like their German contemporaries Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke and Konrad Lueg, the

  1. Hauser & Wirth New York 32 E 69th St, between Madison and Park Aves, 10021
  2. Tue Sep 30 - Sat Oct 25
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“Jeff Koons: A Retrospective”

  • Rated as: 2/5
  • Price band: 2/4

If I had to sum up American history in a word, I wouldn’t use racism, though obviously that’s a biggie. I’d pick hokum. I put it right up there with liberty, as in “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” a passage which itself could be taken for hokum, written as it was by a man who owned slaves. However, I don’t mean the term as it’s generally construed, i.e. bullshit. I refer to this definition: “A device used (as by showmen) to evoke a desired audience

  1. Whitney Museum of American Art 945 Madison Ave, at 75th St, 10021
  2. Wed Oct 1 - Sun Oct 19
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Amie Siegel, Provenance

  • Rated as: 5/5
  • Price band: 2/4
  • Critics choice

In the early 1950s, a newly independent India commissioned Le Corbusier to design a city, Chandigarh, as a regional administrative center in the northern part of the country. The institutional buildings he created with other modernist architects were outfitted with functional furniture (designed by his cousin, Pierre Jeanneret), that has become collectible in Europe and the United States. Provenance, Amie Siegel’s slow-paced, engrossing HD video, traces this narrative of

  1. The Metropolitan Museum of Art 1000 Fifth Ave, at 82nd St, 10028
  2. Tue Sep 30 - Sun Jan 4
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Morris Louis, "Veils"

  • Critics choice
  • Free

This series of paintings done in the late 1950s represent the artist's breakthrough to what would become his signature style: layers of color poured in cascades of thinned paint onto raw canvas.

  1. Mnuchin Gallery 45 E 78th St, between Madison and Park Aves, 10075
  2. Tue Sep 30 - Sat Oct 18
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"Early American Guitars: The Instruments of C.F. Martin”

  • Critics choice

With all due respect to Les Paul, few names loom larger in American luthier lore than Christian Frederick Martin. The German immigrant crossed the Atlantic in the 1830s and began fashioning six-strings in the Spanish style (figure-eights with super pretty rosewood inlays), but with sturdier and more streamlined construction. He also experimented with new design flourishes, some of which were later adapted by makers like Fender. This exhibit boasts 22 of his original creations,

  1. The Metropolitan Museum of Art 1000 Fifth Ave, at 82nd St, 10028
  2. Tue Sep 30 - Sun Dec 7
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"ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s–60s"

  • Price band: 2/4
  • Critics choice

This historical survey, the first of its type in the U.S., takes the measure of the postwar Zero group, which included artists from Europe, Japan, and North and South America. It was arguably the first truly global art movement, and though each participant had an individual agenda, they all pushed forms originally developed in prewar abstraction into radically new directions, often going beyond painting and sculpture to explore installation, performance and other nontraditional

  1. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum 1071 Fifth Ave, at 89th St, 10128
  2. Fri Oct 10 - Wed Dec 31
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"Kandinsky Before Abstraction, 1901–1911"

  • Price band: 2/4
  • Critics choice

Besides being one of the first artists to push Modern painting into the realm of pure abstraction, Vasily Kandinsky (1866–1944) is also the signature artist of the Guggenheim collection, which contains more than 150 of his works. Taking advantage of its trove, the Gugg pulls out its holding of Kandinsky's paintings and woodcuts, spanning the decade before the artist's abstract breakthrough, when he worked in a representational style typical of the Blue Rider group.

  1. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum 1071 Fifth Ave, at 89th St, 10128
  2. Tue Sep 30 - Wed Dec 31
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"Under the Same Sun: Art from Latin America Today"

  • Rated as: 2/5
  • Price band: 1/4
  • Critics choice

The entire notion of lumping together art from more than 20 countries on two continents under the Latin American rubric is problematic to begin with, and in this exhibition of new acquisitions for the Guggenheim’s collection, it mostly serves as a marketing tool. This selection of works by some 40 artists, organized into six nebulous “themes” by Mexican curator Pablo León de la Barra, never really coheres; worse, it provides little artistic excitement or surprise. Too many

  1. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum 1071 Fifth Ave, at 89th St, 10128
  2. Tue Sep 30 - Wed Oct 1
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"Thomas Hart Benton's America Today Mural Rediscovered"

  • Price band: 2/4
  • Critics choice

Benton is generally known for being the crusty anti-Modernist teacher of Jackson Pollock, so it's somewhat ironic that his epic ten-panel mural, America Today, was commissioned in 1930 by New York’s New School for Social Research for the boardroom of its International Style building on West 12th Street. Even more ironic is the work's depiction of life during the country's explosively modern Jazz Age, though the painting was created at the onset of the Great Depression.

  1. The Metropolitan Museum of Art 1000 Fifth Ave, at 82nd St, 10028
  2. Tue Sep 30 - Sun Apr 19
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"Cubism"

  • Price band: 2/4
  • Critics choice

hese 80 paintings, collages, drawings, and sculpture from the Leonard A. Lauder Collection—all promised gifts to the Met—represents the first time they have been shown in public, offering opportunity to revisit the seminal early-20th Century movement through the taste of one patron. The contributing artists comprise a mighty quartet of Braque, Gris, Léger and Picasso.   

  1. The Metropolitan Museum of Art 1000 Fifth Ave, at 82nd St, 10028
  2. Tue Oct 21 - Wed Dec 31
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"The Roof Garden Commission: Dan Graham with Günther Vogt"

  • Price band: 2/4
  • Critics choice

Graham, a pioneer of video and conceptual art, has spent the past 25 years or so creating elegant pavilions of glass and steel (and sometimes mirrors) in rural and urban outdoor settings. Similar to the architectural follies that grace formal gardens—albeit with a phenomenological bent—these structures are meant to explore the relationship between the individual and the public space. Here, in an echo of sprawling Central Park below, Graham collaborates with Swiss landscape

  1. The Metropolitan Museum of Art 1000 Fifth Ave, at 82nd St, 10028
  2. Tue Sep 30 - Mon Nov 3
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The New American Wing

  • Critics choice

The Met's expansive galleries trace the evolution of American painting, sculpture and decorative arts from colonial days to the early 20th century. Gems include Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze’s iconic 1851 painting Washington Crossing the Delaware, which depicts the Revolutionary general looking presidential as he launches an attack, a Gilbert Stuart portrait of the first President and a life mask of Abraham Lincoln.

  1. The Metropolitan Museum of Art 1000 Fifth Ave, at 82nd St, 10028
  2. Tue Sep 30 - Wed Dec 31
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"The Pre-Raphaelite Legacy: British Art and Design"

  • Price band: 2/4
  • Critics choice

This exhibit examines a fascinating moment in 19th-century British art, when a group of young painters, reacting to the onslaught of the Industrial Revolution, turned to medieval and early Renaissance art as the spur for their own work, taking solace in a romanticized past.

  1. The Metropolitan Museum of Art 1000 Fifth Ave, at 82nd St, 10028
  2. Tue Sep 30 - Sun Oct 26
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Barneys holiday windows

  • Critics choice
  • Free

This year, the Madison Avenue shop incorporates video, light installations and more forward-thinking concepts into its holiday displays. The theme is "A New York Holiday," and elements include an interactive scene with Santa and Mrs. Claus, and a "floating city" created with 3-D mapping and light projections.

  1. Barneys New York 660 Madison Ave, at 61st St
  2. Thu Dec 4 - Wed Dec 31
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"Men in Armor: El Greco and Pulzone Face to Face"

  • Price band: 2/4
  • Critics choice

Like knights of old, the subjects of these separate portraits by El Greco (1541–1614) and Scipione Pulzone (c. 1540/42–1598) seem to square off in a contrast of styles, resplendent in ceremonial armor that speaks to their status as military figures. Pulzone's portrait Jacopo Boncompagni depicts the commander of the papal army during the reign of Pope Gregory XIII, who was also Boncompagni's father (celibacy wasn't quite as celibate back then). El Greco's full-length

  1. The Frick Collection 1 E 70th St, between Fifth and Madison Aves
  2. Tue Sep 30 - Sun Oct 26
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"V. S. Gaitonde: Painting as Process, Painting as Life"

  • Price band: 2/4
  • Critics choice

Over the past 20 years, contemporary artists from India have become significant players in the global art market, so it's only natural that Western institutions would begin to explore the context from which they emerged. Enter this Guggenheim retrospective of painter Vasudeo Santu Gaitonde (1924–2001). Gaitonde started as a figurative painter, channeling Indian tradition through modernist templates brought to the subcontinent by the British. By the mid-1960s, his style had

  1. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum 1071 Fifth Ave, at 89th St, 10128
  2. Fri Oct 24 - Wed Dec 31
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