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Best spring art events at NYC museums and spaces

Art lovers, get your planners poised with our elegantly curated list of must-see exhibitions in Gotham this spring

Photograph: Cameron Wittig
Ralph Lemon, Untitled, 2013-14

Prepare for an offering of thrilling art events this springtime. Whether you're a fan of niche art spaces or major NYC museums, we've got you covered with our roundup of spring art events that includes artist Robert Heinecken’s pioneering photography collages at MoMA and the return of groundbreaking contemporary arts fest Frieze New York.

RECOMMENDED: Find more of the best things to do in spring

"Other Primary Structures"

Nearly 50 years after its groundbreaking 1966 exhibition, "Primary Structures"—widely considered to be the first ever museum survey of Minimalist sculpture—the Jewish Museum presents this revisionist version of the show. While the original featured American and British artists, the current lineup draws from countries that were largely ignored by the art world at the time, such as Argentina, Pakistan, Poland and the former Yugoslavia. Though obviously organized from a 21st-century globalist perspective, the exhibit reveals just how quickly cutting-edge ideas spread back then, while also offering a fascinating glimpse at the way history is written and rewritten.

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Fri Mar 14 - Sun Aug 3

"Robert Heinecken: Object Matter"

Heinecken (1931–2006) was a pioneering artist in two respects: as a member of Los Angeles's contemporary art scene from the late 1950s onward, and as one of the first photographers to deconstruct the medium. His tools ranged from collage to rephotography (that is, photographing an extant photograph, a technique whose invention is usually ascribed to Richard Prince, even though his work came well after Heinecken's), and his imagery was equally eclectic, relying on a grab bag of borrowings from newspapers, magazines, pornography and television. Ghostly and fragmented, Heinecken's work was ostensibly fixated on sex and the nude female form, though his real subject was the atomizing effect of mass media.

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Sat Mar 15 - Sun Jun 22

"When the Stars Begin to Fall: Imagination and the American South"

The Studio Museum takes a fascinating look at the relationships in African-American art between self-taught and trained artists, making the point that the former occupy a far more sizable position in the annals of black culture than white outsider artists do within the European canon. The show also points to the role of the Deep South, and the legacy of slavery and segregation, in spawning the region's rich roster of talents who, compelled only by their individual vision and innate sense of craft, created amazing works of art.

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Thu Mar 27 - Sun Jun 29

Frieze New York 2014

The tent-tastic London art fair on Randalls Island is back for its third New York edition. A global array of 190 galleries is setting up shop under a temporary structure overlooking the East River, designed by New York architects SO–IL. Six contemporary artists—Darren Bader, Eduardo Basualdo, Eva Kotátková, Marie Lorenz, Koki Tanaka and Naama Tsabar—have been commissioned to create site-specific works for the proceedings, which also include talks by artists and writers, and a special tribute to Allen Ruppersberg’s Al’s Grand Hotel, an art project that the artist actually ran as a hotel over six weekends in 1971, at 7175 Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. One day $42, with catalog $75, students with valid ID and groups (per person; timed entry only) $26, children under 16 accompanied by an adult free.

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Fri May 9 - Mon May 12

Kara Walker, "A Subtlety or The Marvelous Sugar Baby"

The very long subtitle of Walker's first ever public-art project reads an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant. While the word artisan is a bit vague, the subject of sugar is certainly in keeping with the artist's career-long investigation of the historical wages of slavery and racism. Sugar was a key leg of the so-called triangle trade that traversed the Atlantic between the 16th and 19th centuries, as European slavers brought their human cargo to the Caribbean in exchange for molasses, which was then transported back to the Continent to be made into rum. However, the project is described as focusing on its site—the old Domino Sugar factory, which will soon be rebuilt as a complex of office and residential towers along the Williamsburg waterfront. Perhaps then, the piece will comment on the use of art as an emollient—or better yet, sweetener—for real-estate development. Whatever the outcome, urban spelunkers should have a field day going through the abandoned plant.

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Sat May 10 - Sun Jul 6