While New York City always has its fair share of fantastic winter art exhibitions, spring officially marks the second half of the art season as venues like The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggeheim and the Whitney Museum of American Art gear up for summer’s annual invasion of tourists with major new shows. Spring also means the start of prime time for outdoor art viewing, as projects pop up across the five boroughs. Both art shows and public artworks are abundant in New York—so much so that it’s often hard to figure out exactly what to see. Well, don’t worry: We’re here to help make your choice of what to check out easy with our guide to the top 10 spring art shows.
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Top spring art shows in NYC by date
The Brooklyn Museum’s look at Georgia O’Keeffe, the artist famed for painting desert landscapes and barely disguised vaginas (which, she vociferously denied doing), takes a different tack by examining the artist’s carefully constructed image as a throughly modern, independent woman and style icon. The show presents components that played a part in crafting her persona, including artworks, photographs and examples of her wardrobe.
Georgia O'Keeffe, Ram's Head, White Hollyhock-Hills, 1935
Photograph: Brooklyn Museum
It’s been actually three years since the last Whitney Biennial. Since then, the museum has moved into its current MePA home, making this edition of the show the first to take advantage of the building’s considerable increase in space over the Whitney’s previous digs. As usual, the show is an eclectic affair which collects some 63 artist in a subjective snapshot of contemporary American art.
Aliza Nisenbaum, La Talaverita, Sunday Morning NY Times, 2016
Photograph: Collection of the artist; courtesy T293 Gallery; Rome and Mary Mary; Glasgow
Lygia Pape (1927–2004) was a seminal figure in Brazil’s postwar art scene, a participant in the Concrete and Neo-Concrete movements of the ’50s and ’60s whose work evolved from geometrically abstract paintings and sculptures to videos and installations that engaged social issues—including satirical jabs at the military government that ruled the country between 1964 and 1985. This show is Pape’s first retrospective in the United States.
Lygia Pape, Livro do tempo (Book of Time), 1961-63
Photograph: Paula Pape; © Projeto Lygia Pape
As one of the giants of 20th-century photography, Irving Penn (1917–2009) was known for his fashion photography, portraits and still lifes. His stunning large format, black-and-white images of models and celebrities helped to define the look of midcentury America. This retrospective mounted on the occasion of Penn’s 100th birthday features some 200 examples of his work, which remains as indelible now as when he first began to create it more than 60 years ago.
Irving Penn, Marlene Dietrich, New York, 1948
Photograph: © The Irving Penn Foundation
The raw and the cooked is ongoing theme in the work of this year’s recipient of the fashion brand’s annual $100,000 arts award. Anicka Yi’s sculptural installations explore the boundary between biology and technology, often employing such unorthodox materials as tempura fried flowers, peta-dish grown molds and funguses to create futuristic forms that resemble lab experiments gone wrong.
Anicka Yi, Installation view of 7,070,430K of Digital Spit, 2015
Photograph: Philipp Hänger; courtesy 47 Canal; New York and Kunsthalle Basel; Basel
Remarkably, Rama, a self-taught Italian artist, lived to the ripe old age of 103, and the energy that sustained her for so long is evident in the aggressively erotic drawings drawings that were her métier. Much of her long career was spent in obscurity, though in the last decade of her life she received major recognition in the form of museum shows and the award of a Golden Lion for lifetime achievement at the 2003 Venice Biennale. This is her her first major survey in the United States.
Carol Rama, Senza titolo, 1987
Photograph: Pino dell’Aquila; © Archivio Carol Rama
Six sculptures based on the eponymous animal by this African-American artist are on view in this outdoor installation, the title for which is actually an acronym for “Greatest Of All Time,” a favorite expression of the legendary Muhammed Ali, who used it to describe himself with some frequency. According to the artist, the exhibit—his first solo in an institutional setting—will explore “how hubris creates misplaced expectations in American cultural politics.”
Nari Ward, process detail featuring goat mold
Photograph: Mitch Cope
Associated with the Pictures Generation, Lawler was also one of the authors of Institutional Critique, a Conceptualist genre that made museums and other constituents of the art establishment the subject of a deconstructive inquiry. In Lawler’s case, that entailed photos of other artist’s works hanging in museums, storage rooms and the home of collectors. Elegant and cooly composed, Lawler’s images demystified the art object by showing how it lives as a commodity and piece of decor. MoMA surveys her career, which spans nearly 40 years.
Louise Lawler, (Andy Warhol and Other Artists) Tulip, 1982
Photograph: Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures; © 2016 Louise Lawler
Born into wealth, Florine Stettheimer (1871–1944), was a supporter and promoter of a circle of New York avant-garde artists during the 1910s and 1920s. Stettheimer was also an artist in her own right whose uniquely surreal and dreamy paintings often featured friends such as Marcel Duchamp, Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz. This show presents 50 examples of her work, including her forays into set design.
Florine Stettheimer, Asbury Park South, 1920
Photograph: Collection of Halley K Harrisburg and Michael Rosenfeld
Like Pablo Picasso, Rauschenberg (1925–2008) was known for his protean output and willingness to experiment outside the box. He was a collagist who used found objects and images in densely packed pictorial compositions and sculptural aggregations that explored the gap between art and life. His work helped to loosen Abstract Expressionism’s aesthetic stranglehold on the New York art scene of the 1950s, and in the bargain, set the stage for Pop Art. His 60-year career is celebrated in this retrospective bringing together some 250 paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, sound and video recordings.
Robert Rauschenberg, Charlene, 1954
Photograph: Stedelijk Museum; Amsterdam; © 2016 Robert Rauschenberg Foundation