10 must-see exhibitions in NYC this winter

Stay warm and art-savvy with our picks for winter's best shows at New York City's top museums and art galleries

Photograph: Private Collection

Okay. The holidays are over, you’ve gained five pounds and seasonal adjustment disorder is starting to set in. You sound like you could use a bit of cultural uplift. There’s no better place to get some than in New York’s museums and art galleries. There are tons of art shows opening in January, February and March, and, of course, since you’ll be too busy hitting the gym to see them all, we’ve put together this list of the 10 essential exhibits to check out, with a little something for every taste and pocketbook.

Exhibitions in NYC this winter

Marcel Dzama and Raymond Pettibon, “Forgetting the Hand”

Two bad boy artists are better than one, or so you can surmise from this collaborative show by two of attitudinal art’s finest draftsmen. Marcel Dzama and Raymond Pettibon team up in an contemporary update of the “exquisite corpse” game which originated with the Surrealists of the 1920s. The idea was simple: A piece of paper folded repeatedly into strips was passed around a group of artists who each drew part of a figure without seeing what the rest had drawn. Dzama and Pettibon do something similar as each starts a drawing to be finished by the other. Considering who’s involved here, the results are predictably weird.

Marcel Dzama and Raymond Pettibon, We will ride into the sunset, 2015
Photograph: Courtesy David Zwirner

Thu Jan 14 - Sat Feb 20


The five contemporary painters assembled for this show——Nina Chanel Abney, Mathew Cerletty, Jamian Juliano-Villani, Caitlin Keogh, and Orion Martin—share an approach to representational imagery that relies on flattened forms and color. Their debt to the cartoonish qualities of Pop Art and Chicago Imagism are obvious, but the energy and even optimism of those styles are replaced in their work by a sense of apprehension that is more appropriate to a culture that’s at once global and threatening to come apart at the seams.

Mathew Cerletty, Shelf Life, 2015
Photograph: Courtesy the artist and EPW Studio

Thu Jan 14 - Sun Apr 17

“Mystery and Benevolence: Masonic and Odd Fellows Folk Art from the Kendra and Allan Daniel Collection”

If you’re the sort who believes in conspiracy theories and thinks the world is being secretly run by Masons and the Illuminati, this show may not be for you. On the other hand, maybe you should check it out all the same. On view are items used in and related to the rituals of Freemasonry and Odd Fellows, and needless to say, they are rich in Masonic symbols—the Blazing Star, the Masonic Eye, the Square and Compasses—that are at once mystical, surreal and spooky. But more importantly, these objects are amazing examples of folk art with roots in the Enlightenment and the American Revolution, thanks to Founding Fathers like Washington, Franklin and Monroe, all of whom were Masons. The show plumbs the still-secretive nature of a society that’s had a more significant impact on history than most people realize, even if they don’t rule the world. (We think).

Independent Order of Odd Fellows Tracing Board, c. 1850–1900
Photograph: Collection American Folk Art Museum

Wed Jan 20 - Sun May 8

Richard Aldrich, “Time Stopped, Time Started”

Aldrich is an artist of memory who seeds references to his life and interests into paintings and sculpture that straddle the line between abstraction and representation. Photos and odds bits of collage and objects are tossed into pieces that, like memory itself, often seem incomplete or evanescent.

Richard Aldrich, Three Records, 2015
Photograph: Courtesy Gladstone Gallery

Fri Jan 29 - Sat Mar 5

“Anri Sala: Answer Me”

Born in Albania and based in Berlin, Sala represented France in the 2013 Venice Biennale and has made frequent appearances in major museums throughout the world. The glaring exception, however, has been New York, an oversight the New Museum rectifies in this survey of the artist’s video installations from the past decade or so. Sala eschews narrative and even language, preferring instead to use music in unconventional ways to evoke a sense of mood that takes on the qualities of a story, albeit one that doesn’t seem to go anywhere. In one piece, for example, a  lone man on the outskirts of an unnamed town plays the Clash’s “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” on a music box, producing a sound both circus-like and surreal. Another video features two pianists discordantly playing a composition by Ravel as they attempt to synch their performances without much success. Tinged with existential pathos, Sala’s work employs music to comment on the human condition.

Anri Sala, Le Clash, 2010, detail
Photograph: Courtesy the artist

Wed Feb 3 - Sun Apr 10

“Peter Fischli David Weiss: How to Work Better”

The Gugg surveys Swiss artists Peter Fischli (b. 1952) and David Weiss (1946–2012), who teamed up in 1979 to collaborate under the name Fischli/Weiss. The pair’s videos, installations and sculpture undercut conventional assumptions about art with a divine absurdism best summed up in their wry video masterpiece, The Way Things Go (1987), which captures the flow of causalities created by a Rube Goldberg contraption built out of wood, metal, Styrofoam and castaway objects (tires, jugs, buckets, ladders). That piece is included with and other sublime forays into tomfoolery as high art in this look at duo’s efforts over 30 years.

Peter Fischli David Weiss, The Least Resistance, 1980–81
Photograph: Courtesy the artists

Fri Feb 5 - Wed Apr 20

Marcel Broodthaers

Despite his unfamiliarity to most American viewers, Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers (1924–1976) was among the most influential of the European artists working during the 1960s and ’70s. A critic and poet associated with late Surrealism, Broodthaers turned to art at the ripe age of 40 with the stated aim of selling something and finally making a success out of his life; in fact, his artistic efforts earned him little, though he helped to create the template for contemporary installation art and practically invented the Conceptualist genre known as “institutional critique.” He was that classic figure, the innovator who writes the checks eventually cashed by others. Presenting a selection of 200 works in multiple mediums, this retrospective, Broodthaers’s first in New York, offers a long-overdue reappraisal of his crucial role in the development of postmodernism.

Marcel Broodthaers, Moules sauce blanche (Mussels with white sauce), 1967
Photograph: Peter Butler

Sun Feb 14 - Sun May 15

“Vigée Le Brun: Woman Artist in Revolutionary France”

The Old Master period in Western Art History was, let’s face it, a sausage fest with women pretty much relegated to the role of artist’s model or mistress. There were, however, a few women artists, one of whom is the subject of this Met showcase. Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755–1842) was primarily a portrait artist, but her style and technique rivaled those of her contemporary, Jacques-Louis David. Remarkably, Le Brun was completely self-taught. One of her supporters was Marie Antoinette, whose intervention led to Le Brun’s admission into the prestigious Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture. Unfortunately, that same relationship also meant that Le Brun had to flee France with the onset of revolution. Eventually, she returned home, but not before her travels took her to Florence, Naples, Vienna, St. Petersburg and Berlin. During her sojourn, she painted likenesses for members of the royal families of Naples, Russia and Prussia, but even while she was in exile, she managed to exhibit her work in the annual salon in Paris. Her exceptional career is vividly brought bad to life in this retrospective, the first ever accorded the artist.

Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, Self-portrait, 1790
Photograph: Galleria degli Uffizi, Corridoio Vasariano, Florence

Mon Feb 15 - Sun May 15

“David Hammons: Five Decades”

David Hammons is one of the most important American artists today, though you wouldn’t necessarily know it. An artist of his stature would have been recognized by now in major museum surveys, but as one of the first African-American artists to have emerged in the context of ’60s Conceptualism, he has always remained elusive and apart from the largely white art world as matter of strategy. Not that he’s unknown or hasn’t received significant exposure, but this must-see look back at his 50-year career really belongs at MoMA or the Whitney. The fact that it isn’t is the artist’s own choice, but since it’s being mounted in a gallery venue, it does have the virtue of being free.

David Hammons, Untitled (Body Print), 1975
Photograph: Courtesy the artist

Tue Mar 15 - Fri May 27

Nasreen Mohamedi

This survey of Indian modernist Nasreen Mohamedi (1937–1990) is one of two exhibitions inaugurating the Met’s new home for contemporary art in the Marcel Breuer building that once housed the Whitney. Though most Americans aren’t well acquainted with her work, Mohamedi was one of India’s most important artists, known for a serene style of minimalism that drew inspiration from the work of Paul Klee and Agnes Martin, as well as from Mughal architecture and Indian classical music. This exhibition is the most comprehensive look at her art to date. The Met Breuer, 945 Madison Ave at 75th St (212-535-7710, metmuseum.org). Mar 18–June 5.

Nasreen Mohamedi, Untitled, 1969
Photograph: Anil Rane

Find more art shows this winter