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Top five shows: Sept 26–Oct 2, 2013

The best of the week in art.

 (Photograph: Los Angeles County Museum of Art)
Photograph: Los Angeles County Museum of Art

“Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938”
Museum of Modern Art, Sat 28–Jan 12
One of the titanic names of 20th-century art—and certainly one of the most popular and recognizable—René Magritte (1898–1967) is synonymous with a specific vision in which our experience of the ordinary is thrown into doubt, and real life seems invaded by dreams. The uncanny effect of his work was due precisely to the fact that Magritte, as a painter, stuck tightly to realist script in order to upend the conventions of realism. This retrospective focuses on the years 1925 to 1938, the period when he developed his iconic style that spoke eloquently of its time: the uneasy interlude between World Wars.

 (Photograph: Indianapolis Museum of Art)
Photograph: Indianapolis Museum of Art

“Robert Indiana: Beyond LOVE”
Whitney Museum of American Art, Thu 26–Jan 5
Robert Indiana became one of the most famous 1960s Pop artists, due mainly to his signature image, LOVE, which first appeared in 1966. Rendered by the artist in both 2-D and 3-D versions, it instantly became synonymous with the era of flower power. However, its successive—and unauthorized—proliferation on products ranging from posters to keychains had a deleterious impact on Indiana’s career. The artist became viewed by many as a hack, and as a result, his art, which stylistically alluded to roadside Americana, was dismissed. But in fact, social justice was often a subject in his work, and his emphasis on typography arguably anticipated certain aspects of late-1960s Conceptualism. This retrospective sets out to restore Indiana to his rightful place in the annals of postwar art.

 (Photograph: Jeffrey Warda © 2013 The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation)
Photograph: Jeffrey Warda © 2013 The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation

“Robert Motherwell: Early Collages”
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Fri 27–Jan 5
Although somewhat younger (and Waspier) than the Abstract Expressionists he associated with, Robert Motherwell was a noted figure of the New York School (a term that he, in fact, coined), thanks largely to his role in introducing his peers to “automatic” drawing—a concept he’d picked up from the Surrealists on his travels to Europe. Painterly free association, coupled with existentialism, thus became the linchpin of AbEx, though Motherwell’s own work was defined more by formal stylishness than by sturm und drang. While Motherwell produced large canvases, the collages he created throughout his career were particularly beautiful and elegant. The Gugg offers a choice selection from the first decade of his output, during the years in which he helped to lay the foundation for New York’s art world ascendancy.

 (Photograph: Courtesy of the artist and the Drawing Center)
Photograph: Courtesy of the artist and the Drawing Center

Alexis Rockman, “Drawings from Life of Pi”
The Drawing Center, Fri 27–Nov 3
Rockman was commissioned by film director Ang Lee to help him visualize the fantastical sea creatures in Life of Pi, and the results on view here are surely among the artist’s most exquisite works.

 (Photograph: Collection The Museum of Contemp)
Photograph: Collection The Museum of Contemp

“Chris Burden: Extreme Measures”
New Museum of Contemporary Art
, Wed 2–Jan 12
The New Mu gives over its entire building to this first major New York survey of legendary L.A. artist Chris Burden, who emerged in the early 1970s as the enfant terrible of performance art. He had himself shot in the arm, for example, and once used the back of a VW bug as the cross for his self-crucifixion. Over the ensuing decades, he moved into creating complicated sculptural objects and installations, such as a built-from-scratch automobile and a toy-model metropolis, featuring miniature freeways teeming with tiny cars zipping by at breakneck speeds. This show covers it all, offering New Yorkers a rare comprehensive look at one of the most innovative artists of the past 40 years.