Given that there are relatively few tourists in the city at the moment—though they’re sure to descend soon enough—there’s never been a better time to enjoy (like leisurely take in, not just marvel at for a New York minute) some of the thrilling art exhibitions on view around town at the moment.
De Blasio’s declared that the city will fully reopen on July 1, which means we’ve still got a few blissful weeks to have it somewhat to ourselves, so mask up, score advanced tickets, and see some art…starting with the eight shows below.
If you’ve wanted to see The Frick’s permanent collection in a new way, you’re in luck. The new, temporary space—which is in the old Met Bruer…which was the old Whitney—is now open. (They’re leasing this space for two years, while their location on Madison, a historic mansion, undergoes renovations.) This is where you come to view the jaw-dropping collection of one man: Henry Clay Frick. He collected old masters from the Renaissance to early 20th-century, and here you can see the collection juxtaposed against a brutalist backdrop. There are paintings and sculptures to be sure, but also textiles, clocks, ceramics and furniture all with fabulous stories to tell. A good entry point to the collection is their Cocktails With A Curator virtual Friday night event, which is one cherished pandemic ritual I hope continues even when it’s possible to have in-person events.
2. Affordable Art Fair, Metropolitan Pavilion
May 20–23, 2021
Have you spent the pandemic remodeling your home or buying a new one? Or maybe you’re just looking to spruce up your Zoom backgrounds after a year of virtual meetings? Regardless, the Affordable Art Fair is a great place to procure work from interesting and emerging artists at an affordable price. Located at the Metropolitan Pavilion, the fair showcases local, national, and international work all between $100 to $10,000. Plus, you can test your curatorial instincts by potentially sniffing out the next big thing.
3. Todd James: Garden of Eden, Ross + Kramer Gallery
Through May 30, 2021
Whether you are aware or not, Todd James is behind many of the pop-culture cornerstones of your life. As a commercial artist, he created iconic album covers for Iggy Pop and the Beastie Boys, designed those bear costumes for Miley Cyrus, and masterminded all of the puppets for the TV show, Crank Yankers on Comedy Central. Yet, he got his start as a graffiti artist before transitioning to fine art. His work’s been shown in the Venice Biennale, as well as at major museums including the Brooklyn Museum. In this show, James picks up the spray can again, showcasing a vivid, graphic exhibit filled with optimism.
4. David Hockney: Drawing From Life, The Morgan
Through May 30, 2021
Although David Hockney may be best known for his oil paintings of swimming pools that make the viewer want to dive right in, he is also a master at many other practices, including drawing. This exhibit is the first to focus on his portraits on paper. They’re done with pencils, watercolors, etchings, or iPad, and span over decades showing the breadth and depth of his masterful talent.=
5. Alice Neel: People Come First, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Through August 1, 2021
Alice Neel may just be the patron art saint of mothers everywhere, with a whole section of the Met exhibit dedicated to her portraits of mothers and babies. The first time I saw one of her shows was at the David Zwirner Gallery in Chelsea on International Women’s Day, 2017. So it seems fitting that the next time would be Mothers Day, 2021, at a time when caretakers have just come out of the roughest year of their lives. This painter was a true New Yorker and captured the artists, celebrities, activists, and neighbors of the city with a radically accepting eye. This is the first museum retrospective of her work.
6. The Nature of Color, American Museum of Natural History
Through Aug. 8, 2021
If you’re looking for a joyful exhibit to bring kids or the out-of-town guests to, look no further than this new show at the AMNH. Not only is it a science-based lesson in what color is and how it’s used, but it’s also experiential with different rooms that you can walk through and feel the differences. What colors make you feel good? Invigorated? Relaxed? Why did so many colorful animals and plants evolve? Step out of the pandemic bleakness into a brand new world. (Side note: The museum is also a vaccination site, giving 1,000 shots a day right under the blue whale. Bring your 12 to 16-year-old kids and their friends!)
7. Kaws: What Party, Brooklyn Museum
Through Sept. 5, 2021
This is the most comprehensive survey of the 25-year career of Brian Donnelly, the Brooklyn-based artist known as Kaws. There are more than 100 works of art tracing his evolution from graffiti art to the contemporary art world. Large-scale sculptures, paintings, and augmented-reality projects will likely be bright and bold, and visitors are encouraged to engage with the artwork with a special app.
8. Yayoi Kusama: Cosmic Nature, New York Botanical Garden
Through Oct. 31, 2021
For a showstopping exhibit with lots of Instagram-worthy material, nothing beats the monumental works of Yayoi Kusama who is stunning everyone on my social media feeds with the latest show at New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. Although most of the show is outside in a sculpture garden setting, there are also interesting indoor things to see. If you want to see Kusama’s first-ever “obliteration greenhouse” or visit her work inside the visitor’s center, you’ll need an interior ticket. And a brand new Infinity Mirrored Room will be on display this summer, tickets for which go on sale in late spring.