Chelsea certainly puts the art in the heart of New York. The neighborhood is home to dozens of galleries with the best free art in NYC on view—from Gagosian to David Zwirner galleries—and the newly minted Whitney Museum of American Art, one of the best museums in the city. Once you've had your fill, head to the High Line to lounge on tree-lined paths with views of the river, then head to one of the best Chelsea restaurants or bars, like Del Posto and the NoMad. The sky's the limit in this neighborhood!
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The best things to do in Chelsea
For the fifth year in a row, this hardcore drag arena welcomes the city's toughest queens to sing (live) and dance their way to eternal glory. Head to Metropolitan Room to witness Constance Busti-ae, Shuga Cain,Diana Carfire, Florence D’Lee, Celah Doore, Jenna Fitz, Emi Grate, Bella Lemay, Easy Mac, Bella Noche, Cherry Poppins and Mildred Scrodum.
“Museum-quality” exhibitions at larger galleries have become the norm, but the private sector can still make bolder and nimbler moves than most of our public institutions. A case in point: This miniretrospective of the great Alice Neel, curated by the writer Hilton Als, focuses almost entirely on the white painter’s portraits of people of color. Painted between 1943 and 1978 in Neel’s inimitable style—half social realist, half wonky Expressionist—the paintings and drawings of her uptown friends, neighbors, colleagues and fellow travelers form a remarkable montage of the artist’s life in a vibrant, multicultural 20th-century New York. Everyone in her pictures, from unnamed local children with big eyes to prominent artists and intellectuals of the era, seem keenly, if awkwardly, alive. In a painting dated circa 1950, for example, the African-American writer Harold Cruse—forehead aglow, somber gray suit punctuated by a vivid blue scarf—thoughtfully touches his cheek with his long fingers. In the early 1960s, Neel’s paintings became brighter and more electrically hued, but she continued to delight in portraying the “other,” including recent immigrants, stoned teenagers, pregnant women and queers. Neel’s sitters, unlike those of, say, Diane Arbus, never seem freakish but rather appear companionable. Ron Kajiwara (1971) shows the graphic designer for Vogue, full-length and seated. His long black hair and coat, crossed legs with jeans tucked into knee-high boots and hand resting ar
Bears, wolves, and otters, oh my! This multi-room bar and club has every caniform you can cruise your way into. You’re guaranteed to find a furry partner at this bondage party, where your wildest fantasies and fetishes come to life. A strict dress code of leather, rubber, belts, and jocks is enforced on the second floor, but the rest of the club is open to any piece of clothing (or lack there of).
If you like a wee dram o' whiskey to go with your wintry chills, make a beeline for National Theatre of Scotland's immersive, satirical fairy tale about literary theorists caught up in supernatural mysteries. David Greig's script is in rhyming couplets and five versatile performer-musicians have been inventively staged by Wils Wilson throughout a cozy pub in the McKittrick Hotel. Read the full review.
Luxembourg-born painter Michel Majerus died in a plane crash in 2002, at just 35 years old, but his influence continues to resonate through the practices of artists who acknowledge the critical role that digital technology plays in our lives. Majerus was among the first painters to make extensive use of Adobe Photoshop in preparing his work, using the program to layer and combine iconography sampled from video games and commercial graphic design in a way that has since become de rigueur. He borrowed from art history, too, dropping references to a range of abstract subgenres—as well as to Pop Art master Andy Warhol. This show of compositions on aluminum sheets features a striking series of five panels from 1996. Monochromatically lathered in a distinct acid-colored enamel, each is silk-screened with the identical image of the plucky Italian plumber Mario, protagonist of the seminal Donkey Kong game and its numerous spin-offs. Other works in the show feature Buzz Lightyear and Woody from the Toy Story movies, as well as abstract and typographic elements. The visual impact of Majerus’s works against the white interior of the gallery is undeniably vibrant, and like Warhol’s painting–screen-print hybrids before them, they seem to flit restlessly from one aesthetic realm to another. They make the act of looking as fun as playing a Game Boy.
Wangechi Mutu’s new exhibition makes extensive use of red-brown soil—along with paper, wood and bronze—to explore our relationship with the natural world. In an ambitious attempt to synthesize traditional African imagery with biomorphic abstraction and idiosyncratic takes on art history and popular culture, Mutu expands her well-known collage-based practice into three dimensions. The results, while occasionally fussy, are inarguably rich in association, evoking a composite mythology that touches on everything from dream states and material realities to biology and ethnography. At the entrance to the gallery, Horn Tree, a large treelike sculpture, sprouts a branching arrangement of cow horns. It’s a slightly surreal object that hints at more complex hybridizations to come. This second dreamer, a polished bronze head resting on its side, conjoins African mask-making traditions with Constantin Brancusi’s Sleeping Muse. Another group of objects resembles a series of old-fashioned naval mines. Each is about the size of a bowling ball, and according to their titles, modeled on viruses. These are just a few of the works here, and although Mutu’s combination of diverse subjects and forms can feel forced or contrived, there are still plenty of ideas to dig into.
A piquant blend of Minimalist sculpture, pop-cultural references and art-world critique is the hallmark of this artist who worked in the 1980s as half of the duo Wallace & Donohue.