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The 16 best exhibits we can’t wait to see in 2016

Fairy-tale fashion, textbook sculptures and medicinal plants all get the exhibit treatment this year

By Leah Faye Cooper

Mark your cultural calendar now–these 16 exhibits already have us excited for 2016. The exhibits, found in museums and galleries that are New York's top attractions all by themselves, have everything from Fischli and Weiss’ citywide art scavenger hunt of sorts to fantasy high fashion. And we also already rounded up this year’s 20 best theater shows and new films we’re excited about, too.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best of 2016

Photograph: Courtesy the Artist

“Li Hongbo: Textbooks”


Chances are your eyes glazed over at the sight of a textbook more than once throughout middle school. But through sculpture, Beijing-based artist Li Hongbo casts a critical light on academic culture in America and China. Works made with binder clips, textbooks and old desks comprise an immersive exhibit just as thought-provoking as any grad school class.

Photograph: Courtesy Grey Art Gallery

“Global/Local 1960-2015: Six Artists from Iran”


See life in Iran through the eyes of three generations of Persian artists born between 1937 and 1982. Paintings, sculpture, drawings and more chart a fascinating history lesson, touching on everything from Middle Eastern architecture to the Iranian Revolution.

Photograph: Eileen Costa; Courtesy the Museum at FIT

“Fairy Tale Fashion”

Things to do Exhibitions

Socialites and celebrities may get all the sartorial praise, but this fantasy of a show will quickly remind you that your favorite fictitious characters clean up pretty nicely, too. Feast your eyes on looks by Tom Ford, Alexander McQueen, Rodarte and others, all reflective of the bold, elaborate fairy-tale aesthetic. We promise not to judge if you leave yearning for a pair of glass slippers.

“Cheryl Donegan: Scenes and Commercials”


Bring your couch potato tendencies here for a look at Donegan’s videos, which parody commercials and music videos. On the way out, you can even shop garments, drawings, prints and textiles by the artists, available at the exhibit’s pop-up concept shop.

Photograph: Courtesy Ivo M. Vermeulen

“Wild Medicine in the Tropics”

Things to do Exhibitions

We know what you’re thinking, but please leave your paraphernalia at home. Instead, download this bountiful exhibit’s companion app (also dubbed Wild Medicine) and explore plants revered for their healing properties long before the introduction of Tylenol.

Photograph: Courtesy Juno Calypso/Flowers Gallery

“The Real Thing”

Art Photography

Delve into the ever-relevant topics of identity, gender and sexuality through the work of female photographers Juno Calypso, Natasha Caruana, Pixy Yijun Liao and Melanie Willhide. If some of the subjects look familiar, it’s because the photographers often turned their lenses on themselves.

Photograph: Courtesy Anri Sala

“Anri Sala: Answer Me”

Art Installation

A symphonic experience awaits you at this exhibit, with Sala’s audio and visual installation spanning three floors. Works touch on everything from the post-communism era in Sala’s native Albania to the ways in which music and sound conjure images and nostalgia.

Photograph: Courtesy Peter Fischli/David Weiss

“Peter Fischli David Weiss: How to Work Better”

Art Contemporary art

If you find the art world too serious for your taste, the collaborative works of Fischli and Weiss—made over the span of three decades—offer a refreshing departure from the status quo. Their photos, videos and clay and rubber sculptures dare to poke fun at the banalities of everyday life—and they do so in colorful, mesmerizing fashion. Keep your eyes peeled for the exhibit’s public works, which will be planted throughout the city.


“Laura Poitras: Astro Noise”

Art Contemporary art

Drones. The War on Terror. Guantánamo Bay. Academy Award and Pulitzer Prize–winning filmmaker Poitras addresses facets of post-9/11 America through immersive, video-rich installations, giving us a creative take on troves of hot-button issues.

Photograph: Nick Waplington

“This Place”

Art Photography

Journey through Israel and the West Bank, courtesy of more than 600 photos snapped by a dozen artists between 2009 and 2012. You’ll see tinges of the Israeli-Palestinian War as well as universal themes of family, home and nature.

Photograph: Jason Frank Rothenberg

“Isaac Mizrahi: An Unruly History”


Anyone with multi-hyphenate career aspirations (so 99 percent of NYC’s millennial population) will enjoy this take on the life and times of designer/critic/host/cabaret performer/documentary film subject Mizrahi—the museum’s first effort focused on the cultural impact of an American fashion designer.

Photograph: The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Jean-Baptiste Mondino

“manus x machina: fashion in an age of technology”

Art Textiles

Our chances of getting invited to the Met Ball? Slim. Our chances of showing up on another day sans over-the-top getups? Highly likely. With 100-plus garments, the Costume Institute’s spring exhibit will examine the impact of technology and mass production on the fashion industry, proving that, yes, there’s a big difference between how your grandmother’s favorite skirt was made and how the one you just bought from Zara was.

Photograph: Loek Blonk

Studio Job Museum

Art Mixed media

Peruse the tongue-in-cheek pieces that have earned collaborators Job Smeets and Nynke Tynagel enfants terribles reps in the art world. Works, which include furniture, light fixtures and bronze casts, are inspired by their European travels and were crafted in their Antwerp atelier, Studio Job.

Photograph: Courtesy Bronx Museum of the Arts

Art AIDS America


See a range of artistic responses to the AIDS epidemic at this searing exhibit, which features works from 1980 to present day from contributors including HIV-positive visual artist Kia Labeija and sculptor Charles LeDray.

Photograph: Antonio Lopez/Estate of Antonio Lopez and Juan Ramos

“ANTONIO LOPEZ: Future Funk Fashion”

Art Photography

We really don’t need to say anything more aside from the fact that this exhibit includes a cache of instamatic photos of a bleach-blond Grace Jones. But we will anyway: Throughout his career, fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez sketched for Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, and works being featured include pieces from his private estate.


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