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Jeff Koons, Gazing Ball, CROPPED SPLASH
Photograph: © Jeff Koons Jeff Koons, Gazing Ball (Turner Ancient Rome), 2015, detail

The top 10 NYC gallery exhibitions in November

Check out our art critic's picks for the best shows this month at some of New York City's best galleries

By Howard Halle

Thanksgiving is on the way, but before you start to plan your trip over the river and through the woods, perhaps you should consider feasting on this menu of must-see art shows at the Metropolitan Museum of ArtWhitney Museum and Museum of Modern Art, along with other offerings in art galleries around the city.

Gallery exhibitions in November

Claes Oldenburg & Coosje van Bruggen: Things Around the House
Steven Probert

“Claes Oldenburg & Coosje van Bruggen: Things Around the House”


A key figure in Pop Art, Claes Oldenburg became known for his “soft” sculptures in kapok-stuffed vinyl, depicting ordinary objects (hamburgers, sinks, eggbeaters) larger than life. He also attracted attention for his monumental sculptures of giant lipsticks, clothespins and garden trowels, among other items. Starting in the mid-1970s, he began collaborating with his wife, Coosje van Bruggen. They shared a house and studio from 1976 until Van Bruggen’s death in 2009. The 100 objects in this show represent the maquettes for various projects that the two artists kept for themselves. And like the larger works, they are representations of ordinary objects that speak to the poetry of the everyday.

Thornton Dial
Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio

Thornton Dial


Now nearing 90, Dial is one of America’s preeminent self-taught artists. To call him an outsider or folk artist, however, would do him a disservice, as his heavily collaged all-over abstractions often possess the same sophistication as Robert Rauschenberg’s "combine" paintings, even when dealing with hot-button issues such as America’s history of bigotry and racism. Born in 1928 in Alabama, where he continues to live and work, Dial didn’t start pursuing art seriously until the 1980s. This show focuses on drawings and watercolors featuring figures and animals rendered in a sinuous style that seems a mix of Jean Dubuffet, late Picasso and Surrealism.

Jim Lambie, Train in Vein
Courtesy Scott Associates Sculpture & Design Ltd

Jim Lambie, “Train in Vein”


This Glasgow artist was first a musician, and it certainly shows in the rock & roll brashness of his work, most noticeably in psychedelic floor-installations created with vinyl tape and a lot of elbow grease. His floor-to-ceiling installation in this exhibition is anchored by a small steam locomotive hoisted over the middle of the gallery. Formerly ensconced as the centerpiece of the Poetry Club, Lambie’s music venue, the piece, dubbed The Flying Scotsman, doubles as a smoke machine.

Jeff Koons, Gazing Ball
© Jeff Koons

Jeff Koons, “Gazing Ball Paintings”


Whether people love or hate Jeff Koons's work, it's hard to ignore. It could be thought of as a form of high-culture trolling, especially his latest productions. He has reprised the blue-mirrored, gazing-ball lawn ornaments that a few years ago appeared at Zwirner, paired with larger-than-life, white-plaster sculptures of classical statuary and Hummel-style figurines. Here, the same objects are tag-teamed with reproductions of paintings by Titian, El Greco, Courbet, Turner and Manet—some heavyweight company, to be sure. Each gazing ball is set on a shelf at the center of its respective host, seemingly communing with the art historical past as if summoned by a fortune-teller. As is usually the case with Koons's work, it’s difficult to discern if he is kidding the viewer or just himself.

Robert Motherwell: Elegy to the Spanish Republic
Private collection

“Robert Motherwell: Elegy to the Spanish Republic”


Robert Motherwell was a noted figure of the New York School, largely thanks to his role bringing “automatic” drawing, a concept he had picked up from the Surrealists on his travels to Europe, to the attention of his peers. Painterly free association, coupled with existentialism, were the linchpins of Abstract Expressionism, though Motherwell’s work was defined by a formal stylishness. Nonetheless his most important series, "Elegy to the Spanish Republic," was a somber condemnation of the brutalities of the Spanish Civil War. Unlike Picasso’s Guernica, also inspired by that conflict, Motherwell’s “Elegies” was not created contemporaneously with events. He began the series in 1948 and continued it until his death in 1991. These works varied widely from monumental canvases to modest works on paper but shared a brooding palette as well as a compositional scheme in which vertical bands or columns alternated with ovoid forms (a combination that in retrospect suggests human faces peering out from prison bars). The paintings, however, were intended to convey their subjects through mood and scale.

Girolamo dai Libri and Veronese Art of the Sixteenth Century
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

“Girolamo dai Libri and Veronese Art of the 16th Century”


Lying just to the west of Venice in Northern Italy, Verona produced during the Renaissance its fair share of Old Masters, most notably Girolamo dai Libri (1474–1555). This manuscript illuminator and artist is best known for his altarpieces. As a native of one of the major cities of the Veneto, dai Libri had a style that owed a great deal to the coloristic aesthetic of Venetian painting but that also drew upon the naturalistic precision of Northern Renaissance art. Dai Libri’s 1520 altarpiece, Madonna and Child with Saints, serves as the centerpiece for this collection show of the artist and his Veronese contemporaries that also includes illuminated manuscripts and drawings.

Collected by Thea Westreich Wagner and Ethan Wagner
Whitney Museum of American Art

“Collected by Thea Westreich Wagner and Ethan Wagner”


If you want an overview of market-validated tastes in contemporary art over the past 25 years, you couldn't do better than catching this show of works amassed by the husband-and-wife collecting team of Thea Westreich Wagner and Ethan Wagner. As a noted art consultant, Westreich helped to propel the careers of such marquee names as Robert Gober, Jeff Koons and Christopher Wool. Westreich and Wagner have even penned a how-to manual for neophytes titled Collecting Art for Love, Money and More. Of the 800 artworks they own, 500 are being gifted to the Whitney, with the other 300 going to the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, where this show travels after its Whitney run.

© Keiichi Tanaami



The venue and title for this show suggests a focus on religion. But in this case, unorthodox simply means "unconventional," which is certainly an apt descriptor for contributions here by 50 contemporary artists whose works “highlight the importance of iconoclasm and art’s key role in breaking rules and traditions," as the Jewish Museum put it.

Jackson Pollock: A Collection Survey, 1934–1954
The Museum of Modern Art

“Jackson Pollock: A Collection Survey, 1934–1954”


This survey of works by Pollock drawn from MoMA’s holdings revisits the familiar, but always fascinating, story of the American artist whose career most closely paralleled the country’s rise to cultural dominance in the postwar era. From his salad days of working for the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s to his breakthrough moments of fashioning drip compositions in the late 1940s and even his period of creating works just before his death (in a crash while driving drunk), Pollock’s artistic life was a struggle to free himself from parochialism and his limitations (as a painter and individual) to best Europe at its modernist game. At a time when such a thing was still possible, he did just that, albeit at great personal cost.

Ebony G. Patterson: Dead Treez
John Michael

“Ebony G. Patterson: Dead Treez”


Dancehall fashion, Afrofuturism and haute couture collide in the work of this artist who divides her time between Kingston, Jamaica, and Lexington, Kentucky. The show’s high point is a tableaux installation of male mannequins wearing funky floral patterns. But it’s not all a walk in the garden: Patterson has included a series of tapestries depicting murder victims who represent the “underreported brutality experienced by those on the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder,” according to the Museum of Arts and Design.

Find more art shows in November

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