7 exhibitions to visit around New York over the 2021 holidays
The New York area always shines during the holidays, and these must-see exhibitions are among the region’s brightest, from medieval manuscripts to modern marionettes
Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams
Until 20 February 2022
French couturier Christian Dior’s iconic designs literally shaped the 20th century. His ‘New Look,’ introduced in 1947, brought tightly cinched waists and full skirts to a society fresh from wartime fabric rationing. Rejecting fashion’s turn towards the utilitarian, Dior ushered in a new era of femininity and opulence.
Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams contextualizes Dior’s work by placing garments alongside the works of art and facets of nature that inspired them. The show surveys the entire history of the House of Dior, with installations dedicated to Dior successors Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons, and current artistic director, Maria Grazia Chiuri.
All the galleries are installed thematically and burst with colours and textures. The breath-taking centrepiece is the Brooklyn Museum’s Beaux-Arts Court atrium, which has been styled to look like an enchanted garden to show off Dior’s nature inspired couture.
Sophie Taeuber-Arp: Living Abstraction
Museum of Modern Art
Until 12 March 2022
This exhibition is the first major US exhibition in 40 years to offer a survey of Swiss artist Sophie Taeuber-Arp’s career, featuring work that ranges from paintings to wooden marionettes to stained glass to architectural designs.
Working across such diverse media, much of Taeuber-Arp’s art is tied together by her distinct visual vocabulary — blocks of colour arranged together to create dynamic abstractions. These designs were partially inspired by the open-weave grid structure of embroidery.
Taeuber-Arp’s work crossed the boundary of art and design, and she believed that art went beyond the visual. To her, art was something with which to interact physically and emotionally daily. She believed the role of artists and designers in society tapped into humanity’s ‘deep and primeval urge to make the things we own more beautiful’.
Sophie Taeuber-Arp’s colourful, geometric shapes are a bright and cheerful way for visitors to MoMA to ring in the holiday season.
Spain, 1000-1200: Art at the Frontiers of Faith
Until 30 January 2022
Art at the Frontiers of Faith covers 200 years of cultural exchange in medieval Spain, when large Christian, Muslim, and Jewish populations lived there, side by side. Located in the Fuentidueña Chapel gallery of the Met Cloisters, this exhibition brings together objects from these three traditions to show visitors how visual culture at this time could transcend differences in faith.
Some highlights include the Morgan Beatus, an illuminated manuscript containing a commentary on the Book of the Apocalypse by Beatus, a folio from a pink copy of the Qur’an made in Andalusia, and fragments from the Cairo Geniza, a trove of medieval Jewish manuscript documents found in the wall of the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Fustat, Egypt. Many of the objects visually parallel each other, the result of these populations — and their patrons and craftspeople — living in such close quarters.
This exhibition brings a dimension of multiculturalism to a space usually dominated by Christianity — the Cloisters house much of the Met’s collection of medieval European art. Starting 9 December, the Cloister gardens, which are sealed off with glass so visitors can view them from indoors, will be decorated for the medieval celebration of Christmastide.
Color Riot! How Color Changed Navajo Textiles
Montclair Art Museum
Until 2 January 2022
Color Riot! How Color Changed Navajo Textiles at the Montclair Art Museum places textiles by nine contemporary Diné (Navajo) weavers in conversation with historical examples of the same media. Interspersed are reflections by Diné artists and culture-bearers, along with weaving tools and materials.
The historical and contemporary textiles both invite the viewer to reflect on issues of cultural preservation and transformation. Many of the historical textiles were produced in a period after 1868, after the forced displacement of over 10,000 Navajo to an internment camp at Fort Sumner in New Mexico. The disruption of old trading networks limited weavers’ access to their traditional materials, but exposed them to new dyes, fabrics, and sources of inspiration, allowing them to experiment and innovate.
The exhibition was co-organized with the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona, but the installation in Montclair adds many new elements, including immersive, atmospheric music by Diné musician Connor Chee. Visitors to Color Riot! will have the opportunity to see the resilience, autonomy, and ingenuity woven into these textiles along with the beautiful colours.
Etel Adnan: Light’s New Measure
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Until 10 January 2022
Etel Adnan’s (1925-2021) simple, colourful paintings are intensely personal windows into the mind of a modern luminary. Born in Lebanon to a Greek mother and Syrian father, Adnan grew up speaking three languages. As an adult she lived for extended periods in the United States, Lebanon, and France. Her experiences at the crossroads of different cultures influenced her work as not only a painter, but also a writer — she is best known for her poetry, journalism, and novels.
Adnan began painting during her time as a professor of philosophy in Northern California, where Mount Tamalpais was the view from her Sausalito home. That view is a recurring motif in her art — the colours, tones, and textures used to depict the mountain vary drastically, even as its shape remains the same. This tension between variation and repetition is present throughout the exhibition, giving the viewer the sense that it is they who have changed, not the mountain.
Adnan died in November of 2021, during the show’s run time, but Etel Adnan: Light’s New Measure offers a celebration of her life, work, and spirit.
Gilded Figures: Wood and Clay Made Flesh
Hispanic Society of America
Until 9 January 2022
Polychromy, simply meaning ‘the art of painting sculptures,’ is one of the most significant yet underappreciated forms of European art from the last millennium. Polychrome sculptures are characterized by their sumptuous colours, delicate carving, and the hyper-expressive faces of their figures. The Hispanic Society’s collection contains an impressive range of polychrome works from the Spanish-speaking world, showcasing the diversity within the medium itself and among its practitioners.
Gilded Figures: Wood and Clay Made Flesh begins in Castile during the late Gothic period and moves through the Baroque period in both Spain and the New World. Female sculptors Andrea de Mena and Luisa Roldán — the latter of whom served as court sculptor to Hapsburg king Charles II — have their own section of the exhibition, exploring the issues faced by women artists in this period.
This exhibition is the first New York show exclusively devoted to these sculptures in the last twenty years. A highlight is The Four Fates of Man by indigenous Ecuadorian sculptor Manuel Chili, better known as Caspicara. This dramatic artwork exemplifies the emotive potential of polychromy.
Making Knowing: Craft in Art, 1950-2019
Whitney Museum of American Art
Through February 2022
Making Knowing: Craft in Art, 1950-2019 highlights artists throughout the past seven decades who experimented with unconventional materials as a way of questioning the hierarchical nature of the art world which prioritized traditional media.
The show includes over 80 artworks from the Whitney’s permanent collections, featuring many works by well-known women artists such as Yayoi Kusama and Eva Hesse. Craft was embraced by feminist artists, who used materials associated with ‘hobbies’ and ‘decoration’ to interrogate how the art world belittled certain styles for their associations with women.
A stand-out piece for many visitors has been Liza Lou’s Kitchen (1991–1996), which took the artist five years to complete. This beaded life-size replica of a kitchen is dazzling and engaging, with seemingly infinite hidden details for the viewer to explore.