Best museum exhibitions in NYC
This spring, the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art attempts to illustrate the ineffable concept of camp—a style so exaggerated it verges on parody.The show features some 100 garments from the 1960s through the present, pairing high-fashion looks with key camp moments through history: from the grandeur of Versailles (Chanel) to the witty world of Oscar Wilde (Versace). In the seminal essay that lends the exhibition its name, critic Susan Sontag described camp as a “dress made of three million feathers;” at the Met, a paper doll–inspired gown from Jeremy Scott’s spring/summer 2017 collection for House of Moschino does the trick. In classic high camp style, its Barbie-pink bow nods to pop culture, while trompe l'oeil legs and exaggerated “paper” tabs revel in the artifice of the design. The look—and Camp itself—serves up lowbrow culture with an intellectual wink in a way few exhibitions have ever dared before.
In this exhibition, 14 artists and 18 musicians from around the globe muse on the troubadour’s legacy in everything from artist Ari Folman’s Depression Chamber, an immersive experience in which a single viewer experiences the song “Famous Blue Raincoat” as projected images, to a collective reimagining of his famous “Hallelujah” by design studio Daily tous les jours, in which visitors are invited to hum along with an online chorus.
Here, artist George Fok introduces his video installation, Passing Through, which uses archival footage to evoke Cohen’s spiritual journey:
“Within an immersive setting, we witness his larger-than-life journey: the stardom of a young, charismatic and occasionally melancholic Cohen, his passion and youthful desire for love, his longing for grace and mercy as he aged. The secret to recontextualizing these materials into a new experience are rhythm, peacing, dimension...just like composing music, you have 12 notes and 12 keys—it comes down to your arrangement.”
Polish-German artist Alicja Kwade brings the music of the spheres to the Met’s rooftop garden for this year’s annually commissioned outdoor-art installation. Stones quarried in Brazil, Norway and seven other countries have been rounded and polished into globes that represent the nine planets of our solar system. Perched on an armature that resembles an oversize jungle gym, these objects serve to remind us of our place in the universe, adding a cosmic frisson to your experience of taking in all those amazing rooftop views of midtown and Central Park.
This year, the institution is returning to form with a hearty roster of 75 artists (after featuring a smaller group two years ago) working in every medium imaginable. Also of note is the reappearance of artists who focus on identity politics, which was downplayed in the 2017 edition. Most welcome is work by Outsider artists Joe Minter and Marlon Mullen, suggesting the gap is narrowing between the art-schooled and the self-taught.
Simone Leigh is having a banner year: In addition to an appearance at the Whitney Biennial, she’s inaugurating the High Line Plinth, NYC’s latest public art showcase, with a 16-foot-tall bronze bust of a black woman, titled Brick House. This Guggenheim exhibit comprises four large sculptures that feature the artist’s signature melding of bodies and architectural forms into totems of Afro-centric female empowerment.
“This isn’t a conventional exhibition. But then the Frick isn’t a conventional house or museum or gallery,” says Edmund de Waal, the ceramicist whose site-specific installation Elective Affinities opens at The Frick on May 30. The show is made up of sculptures that were created in conversation with the objects on display from the museum's permanent collection. “The process of working with a historic collection or archive is always different,” the artist explains. “The most valuable insights come in the margins of texts, in the throwaway comments of curators. Much of my work is a kind of conceptual scribbling in the margins, too.”
Mika Rottenberg’s first solo museum show in New York, Easypieces, opens on June 26. Curator Margot Norton gets you up to speed on the multimedia artist:
What’s in the show?
The exhibition mixes past work (including a video that premiered at the Venice Biennale) with the premiere of a new piece called Spaghetti Blockchain in a disorienting immersive exhibition where visitors will “weave through tunnels, walls of multicolored garlands, a hallway filled with fans” and other surreal spaces, Norton says.
What’s it about?
“Employing absurdist satire to address the critical issues of our time, Rottenberg creates videos and installations that offer subversive allegories for contemporary life,” Norton explains of Rottenberg’s work, which blend documentary with fiction, often with protagonists who toil “in factory-like settings to manufacture goods ranging from cultured pearls (No Nose Knows, 2015) to the millions of brightly colored plastic wholesale items sold in Chinese superstores (Cosmic Generator, 2017).”
Rottenberg examines the shifting ways we think about value and, well, stuff, as tech paves the way for an increasingly virtual world, Norton says. “Rottenberg’s works highlight the absurd qualities of labor practices in our globalized economy and shed light on how seemingly insignificant or immaterial items can affect change to our climate, our universe, and the ways we connect and communicate with one another.”
Since a fateful trip to New Orleans in 1978 introduce her to the world of cross dressing, Mariette Pathy Allen has photographed a wide spectrum of gender expression. Through September 8, the Museum of Sex looks back on four decades of creative collaborations, like this one (above) with an artist named Toby.
“Toby is a drag artist, an entertainer, and was the [opener for] Ethyl Eichelberger. I photographed many drag artists in the '80s and the '90s—these were playful collaborations, fantasy. Drag artists usually have a great sense of humor, and know how to take up space. This photograph came together at the end of a long day of shooting. By this time, Toby's make-up was askew, and she was tired. At the end, it felt right for her to wind up in this fetal position. I hope this exhibition will inspire people. Young viewers in particular might be astonished by the difficulties gender nonconformists experienced in the past, and how creative and determined we all were to create tolerance, and even appreciation, for people who have been stigmatized for so long in the USA and most of the rest of the world.”
This summer, The New-York Historical Society commemorates a half-century of the gay liberation movement with the Stonewall 50 slate of programing. Here, assistant curator of material culture Rebecca Klassen gives the scoop on Stonewall.
Why is the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising so important?
The Stonewall uprising was a moment in which LGBTQ people, who could be arrested for expressing their identities, resisted a commonplace raid by the police on a gay bar. Over the past 50 years Stonewall has been invoked as a rallying call for action, as a point of inspiration, and as an historical marker for a battle that was fought.
What are some exhibition highlights?
Some of my favorite objects in the three exhibitions are footwear: sneakers worn by the artist Keith Haring, roller skates worn by the activist and disco personality Rollerena, and Dr. Martens boots worn by Christina McKnight to several years of Dyke Marches. To me, all of them represent physical movement as an expression of liberation.
What do you hope visitors take from these exhibitions?
First, that gay life didn’t begin with Stonewall. Second, that if you've attended a Pride parade in New York, you were celebrating the anniversary of the uprising.
The song “The Moon Represents My Heart” by Taiwanese pop star Teresa Teng stirs emotions for Chinese-speaking people around the world. “It has a visceral connection to Chineseness for people of a certain generation,” explains Herb Tam, curator of the Museum of Chinese in America, where a new exhibition named for the 1977 hit looks at the emotional connection between music and memory in immigrant Chinese communities as far back as the 1850s. Guest curated by New Yorker writer Hua Hsu, the exhibition is a “a big mixtape of music that matters to Chinese in America,” explains Tam, whose personal playlist for the show includes 1927 pop song “The Drizzle,” 1960s Chinatown doo-wop group The Fortune Cookies, and Y2K-era rapper MC Jin’s “Learn Chinese.”
Many of the most visually audacious and immersive exhibitions in NYC turn into selfie traps. The Rubin’s “Power of Intention: Reinventing the (Prayer) Wheel” is not that kind of show—or, at least, it asks you to be fully present and mindful instead of Instagramming. Of the numerous works of interactive contemporary art inspired by Tibetan Buddhist practices, we suggest checking out Scenocosme’s “Metamorphy” (pictured): When you touch the piece’s fabric membrane, it conjures up a “storm” using motion-sensing camera projection. The installation will make you think about how your energy affects the karma of the world.
Thirty years after his death, artist Robert Mapplethorpe still provokes. While capturing the fever dream of underground NYC in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, he ignited national conversations—and conflicts—on sex, race, censorship and government involvement in art, all of which still rage on today. Running until July, the first section of the Guggenheim’s ambitious, two-part exhibition displays Polaroids, collages, nude photographs, portraits of celebrities and the artist himself, and takes on the New York S&M scene.