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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“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 Sep 3 - Sun Oct 19
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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 2 - Sun Dec 7
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"That Obscure Object of Desire"

  • Critics choice
  • Free

Taking its title from Luis Buñuel's 1977 film about dark sexual obsessions, this group show is organized around the theme of erotic desires on the verge of spinning out of control. The show spans the late 1940s to the present and often delves into creepy fetishism, most evidently in photos by Hans Bellmer and Robert Heinecken featuring female figures as the main course at Benihana: sliced, diced and cooked into disturbingly abstract assemblages. Other works with similarly

  1. Luxembourg & Dayan 64 E 77th St, between Madison and Park Aves, 10075
  2. Tue Sep 2 - Sat Oct 4
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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 2 - Sun Jan 4
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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 2 - Wed Oct 1
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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 2 - 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 2 - Wed Dec 31
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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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"The Pre-Raphaelite Legacy: British Art and Design"

  • Price band: 2/4
  • Critics choice

An examination of this 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 2 - Sun Oct 26
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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 2 - Sun Oct 26
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Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #370

  • Price band: 2/4
  • Critics choice

In this particular mural, Lewitt (1928–2007) creates an Op-py Pop-y meditation in black-and-white on the basic geometric triad of square, circle and triangle. As always, the piece was executed on-site by a crew following a set of the artist's instructions.

  1. The Metropolitan Museum of Art 1000 Fifth Ave, at 82nd St, 10028
  2. Tue Sep 2 - Mon Sep 29
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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 10-panel mural, titled 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 its depiction of life during the country's explosively modern Jazz Age, though the painting itself 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 - Wed Dec 31
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"Mel Bochner: Strong Language"

  • Price band: 2/4
  • Critics choice

A selection of 70 works in painting, drawing and mixed media make up this survey of Bochner, whose focus on language as a subject made him one of the pioneers of late-'60s Conceptual Art.

  1. The Jewish Museum 1109 Fifth Ave, at 92nd St, 10128
  2. Tue Sep 2 - Sun Sep 21
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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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"Death Becomes Her, A Century of Mourning Attire"

  • Price band: 2/4
  • Critics choice

Widow's weeds from the Victorian and Edwardian period are given the Costume Institute survey treatment, which charts the evolution of funeral fashion from The Napoleonic Wars to World War I.

  1. The Metropolitan Museum of Art 1000 Fifth Ave, at 82nd St, 10028
  2. Tue Oct 21 - Wed Dec 31
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