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The best art exhibitions to see this summer

As the art world starts to wind down, there’s still plenty to see at New York's best museums and galleries

Written by
Howard Halle
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Galleries usually shutter for the end of summer, though more and more are keeping their doors open through July and August. As for the museums, well, their exhibitions run well into autumn. The upshot: If you’re looking to cool yourself with an art fix during the hot summer months, check out these museum and gallery shows of contemporary art.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to things to do in the summer in NYC

  • Art
  • Sculpture
  • price 2 of 4

Pierre Huyghe, a French artist know for poetic projects that encompass video, sculpture and landscaping, has transformed the Met’s rooftop into a mystical installation—a kind of archaeological excavation of the metaphorical place where the natural world seems unnatural. Segments of the roof’s paving stones have been pried off, stacked to the side like lids from freshly exhumed sarcophagi. Nearby, a large aquarium features a boulder inexplicably floating as part of a tableaux that periodically assumes a milky opacity, as if someone suddenly flipped a switch to obscure the scene. The piece goes back and forth like that, alternately hiding and revealing the contents within—an enigmatic, even unsettling, reminder that all is not what it seems.

Installation view of “The Roof Garden Commission: Pierre Huyghe” at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2015

  • Art
  • Painting
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Along with Martin Kippenberger, Oehlen was a principal player in Cologne, Germany's art scene during the late 1980s and early 1990s. The pair reviled Neo-Expressionism, the style that became synonymous with German art from earlier in the decade, and sought to challenge it, mainly by creating a style of painting that subverted the very idea of painting. For Oehlen, that meant incorporating computer graphics into his work, digitally printing images on canvas, for instance, before painting over them. He created more conventional paintings, as well as installations, but in general, his work expressed skepticism about the efficacy of contemporary painting, as this New Museum retro clearly shows.

Albert Oehlen, Heilige Und Kaempfer (Saints And Fighters), 1997

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  • Art
  • Sculpture
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This former street artist left the streets long ago for higher-profile projects such as designing a balloon for the Macy Thanksgiving Day Parade, and creating the set for last year's MTV Music Awards at the Barclays Center. And he has ascended into the art world’s ranks. For this show, he fills the Brooklyn Museum's lobby with an 18-foot-tall wooden sculpture depicting his signature character, Companion—a sort of skull-headed Mickey Mouse with Xs for eyes—as a pair of identical figures, with one consoling the other. They are joined by two of the artist’s energetic Pop canvases.

KAWS, ALONG THE WAY, 2013

Michael Smith, “Excuse me!?!...I’m looking for the ‘Fountain of Youth’”
Michael Kirby Smith; Courtesy Greene Naftali, New York

Michael Smith, “Excuse me!?!...I’m looking for the ‘Fountain of Youth’”

Smith is usually associated with the “Pictures Generation” that emerged in the late 1970s (he was included in the Met 2009 survey of same), but since his projects have involved writing and producing as much as anything art-related, it’s fairer to describe him as the star/show-runner of longstanding TV anthology series, existing mostly in his imagination, that leaps occasionally into the real world via performances and videos. The results are invariable hilarious, but also poignant in the way they revolve around hapless characters—lost souls trying to make sense of a senseless world. Among them are Smith’s alter egos, Mike, an everyman sad-sack prone to self-delusion, and Baby Ikki, a grown-up infant in a diaper and bonnet who represents the unleashed id. In his latest show, the two join forces in a quest for youth that is depicted in a six-channel video installation, a hand-woven tapestry, and other sculptures, drawings and photos. In Smith’s scenarios, such goals are usually presented as windmills to be tilted at with predictable failure. The comedy—and pathos—of his work lies in the fact that his protagonists don’t seem to realize it.

Michael Smith, Fountain of Youth State Park, Journey No. 1 (Obelisk), 2015

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“Marjorie Strider: Come Hither”
Courtesy 1602 Broadway

“Marjorie Strider: Come Hither”

The Pop Art movement of the 1960s was largely a boy's game, though a few female artists managed to elbow their way in. Marjorie Strider was one such figure, though she'd been largely forgotten until a 2010 survey of women Pop artists at the Brooklyn Museum brought her work back into the public eye. This exhibition features artworks dating from the 1960s and ’70s, including some of self-described “build-outs,” in which elements of the images—the breasts of a woman in a bikini top, a yellow rose—literally protrude out of the painting.

Marjorie Strider, Welcome 1963

“Frederick Sommer: Glue Drawings”
Courtesy Bruce Silverstein

“Frederick Sommer: Glue Drawings”

Sommer was a well-regarded photographer who travelled in Surrealist circles. (He was acquainted with Max Ernst, who once stood for a ghostly, double-exposure portrait by the artist.) Besides photos, Sommer also made drawings, paintings and collages, as evidenced by this show of works on paper made with horse-hide glue mixed with pigments. Done mostly on black backgrounds, Sommer’s “glue drawings,” as he called them, are small abstract networks of ectoplasmic forms and transparent hues bleeding into one another. They’re gorgeous and otherworldly, and consistent with Surrealism fascination with the subconscious.

Frederick Sommer, Untitled, 1950–1955

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Olaf Breuning, “The Life”
Courtesy Metro Pictures

Olaf Breuning, “The Life”

The Swiss artist fields a riotous ensemble of large, flat, collage-covered panels—shaped as circular and elliptical sheets of steel. Leaned against the walls or mounted on easel-like stands, they work together to create and immersive environment of seemingly unrelated images—mannequins heads, planets, piles of trash, various fruits and much more—tumbling across the compositions like clothes in a dryer. Messages (“Can’t Seem to Get Enough”) also crop up in an installation the artist describes as an exercise in modeling the world.

Olaf Breuning, installation view of “The Life” at Metro Pictures, 2015

Jack Pierson
Courtesy Cheim & Read

Jack Pierson

Pierson, who divides his time between New York and Joshua Tree, California, has worked in numerous mediums—photographs, collages, sculptures, installations, drawings and artists books—over the course of a 25-year career. He’s best known, perhaps, for elegant, homoerotic photographs of young male models as well three-dimensional works made from found sign letters (stamped out of plastic or metal; sometimes lit up with neon or incandescent bulbs) forming words and phrases, such as “Hell,” “Faith” and “The World Is Yours.” Pierson’s is an art of desire, memory and loss, darkened by L.A. noir and unfulfilled Hollywood dreams. 

Jack Pierson, Untitled,  2015 

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  • LGBTQ+

Artists Space presents XXX-rated images by the most famous queer erotic artist of all time with more than 180 drawings and paintings from the 1940s, plus collages as well as sketches from Tom's early career. Born Touko Laaksonen in Finland, Tom depicted a veritable Village-People roster of stereotypical male types—cops, cowboys, sailors—rendered as pneumatic masses of muscles and genitalia. They defined the leather aesthetic, and, in the years before AIDS, gave visual form to Gay life as a paradise of unfettered sexual pleasures.

Tom of Finland, Untitled, ca. 1975

  • Art
  • Sculpture
  • price 2 of 4

French artist Philippe Parreno, one of the leading lights of the neo-conceptualist Relational Aesthetic movement of the late ’90s and early oughts, is known for ephemeral installations that incorporate elements of previous installations in a kind of nesting doll progression meant to focus attention on the idea of the exhibition itself, rather than the individual works of art. The latter, however, include the artist’s signature: A light up theater marquee meant to suggest the idea of the exhibit as a performance instead of a static display.

Installation view of Philippe Parreno, H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS at the Park Avenue Armory, 2015

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