With 2016 finally behind us, there’s a lot to look forward to—especially in the art world. Whether it’s to reflect on the ups and downs of this past year or to celebrate the great painters and thinkers who have influenced the art scene today, these new museum shows capture some of the most inspiring and innovative works that you won’t want to miss.
Perpetual Revolution: The Image and Social Change
International Center of Photography
January 27–May 7, 2017
In a world in which we are constantly barraged by shocking photographs, it can be hard not to become cynical about the effectiveness of images to enact social change. In “Perpetual Revolution: The Image and Social Change,” curators at the International Center of Photography take on the question of whether an image really matters—only to find that, in fact, it very much does. Using an array of different types of images, from still photographs of refugees arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos to an ISIS recruitment video, the exhibition culls and clarifies the most important imagery of today and argues that the modes of their dissemination, in various channels of social media, are a powerful form of revolution.
Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern
March 3–July 23, 2017
“The men liked to put me down as the best woman painter,” Georgia O’Keeffe once said of her work. “I think I’m one of the best painters.” In the early 20th century, when she first came to prominence as an artist, this was a revolutionary statement. At the time, women were largely relegated to the sidelines of the art world. Most of what O’Keeffe did was revolutionary—from living alone in New Mexico without her husband, the legendary photographer Alfred Stieglitz, to creating paintings of flowers that were both erotic and unlike anything else exhibited in galleries. “Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern” examines yet another way that she was completely unique—her style of dress. In her early years, her style was monochromatic and severe, in an attempt to be taken seriously as a female artist. Later, as she grew more comfortable in her own skin, her dress reflected the Southwestern landscape that inspired her. The show will feature key pieces from O’Keeffe’s wardrobe as well as paintings and photographs that provide a biographical sketch of an artist unique in any era.
Whitney Biennial 2017
Whitney Museum of American Art
March 17–June 11, 2017
Always highly anticipated, the 2017 Whitney Biennial is the institution’s 78th annual exhibition since the tradition was first established by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney in 1932. Cocurated by Christopher Y. Lew and Mia Locks, the biennial will feature 63 artists, all of whom touch on the exhibit’s theme of “the formation of self and the individual’s place in a turbulent society.” There’s the possibility that the artists, among them Lyle Ashton Harris, John Divola, Leigh Ledare, and Occupy Museums, might remark on the aftermath of 2016, a year in which violence reigned in regions around the world, and the United States both confronted its history of racism and elected Donald Trump as president. The 2017 biennial is the first in the institution’s new Renzo Piano–designed building in the Meatpacking District; if you haven’t been yet, the biennial is the perfect excuse to check it out.
Image caption: Lyle Ashton Harris, Lyle, London, 1992, 2015. Chromogenic print, 20 ½ x 15 in. (52.1 x 38.1 cm). Collection of the artist; courtesy of the artist
The Arcades: Contemporary Art and Walter Benjamin
The Jewish Museum
March 17–August 6, 2017
Given the prevalence of the writings of German Jewish philosopher Walter Benjamin in the curricula of elite M.F.A. and critical theory graduate programs, it’s arguable to say that in order to truly understand what’s going on in contemporary art today, you have to start with familiarizing yourself with Benjamin. “The Arcades: Contemporary Art and Walter Benjamin,” makes that easy for you. Based on The Arcades Project, a text by said writer that began as a short meditation on Paris shopping arcades and grew into a sprawling 36-chapter manuscript on the effects of capitalism on culture, the exhibition combines material from the Walter Benjamin archive in Berlin with works by contemporary artists ranging from Chris Burden, Lee Friedlander, Andreas Gursky, Mike Kelley, Collier Schorr, and Cindy Sherman. Built to resemble an arcade in 20th-century Paris, the show invites the viewer to take on the role of the flaneur, or the type of person who has all the time in the world to stroll down the street, following whatever chance may come his or her way.
Louise Lawler: Why Pictures Now
Museum of Modern Art
April 30–July 30, 2017
Best known for her photographs of other people’s art, which she captures in meticulous detail in exquisitely composed images, Louise Lawler is a member of the Pictures Generation, which includes Cindy Sherman, Laurie Simmons, and Barbara Kruger. Long admired by the art-world intelligentsia, she has never before had a major museum survey in New York. “Louise Lawler: Why Pictures Now” will be her first. Consisting of mural-scale images, groupings of photographs, as well as black-and-white tracings of her photos, the show will cement Lawler as one of the most important conceptual photographers working today. If you visit, watch out especially for Birdcalls (1972/81), a sound piece in which the artist turned the names of her male contemporaries into birdlike squawks. Played in the museum’s sculpture garden, it is a funny take on the traditional catcall.