New York’s Most Exciting Fall Museum Openings

Feast your eyes on masterpieces from China and Italy, and ponder the meanings of gender and wealth.

Museum-hopping is one of the most eclectic, mind-expanding experiences a New Yorker can have. Sure, you can bop in and out of restaurants and taste cuisines from across the globe, and the variety of music around town is impressive. But museums are packed with so much complex information—history, technology, lifestyle, philosophy, and, of course, aesthetic beauty—that you can’t help but come away changed.

Looking at the 11 best art exhibitions this fall, the range is stunning: contemporary Chinese art; newly restored Renaissance religious paintings; a major survey of the artist behind The Scream; a 37-year-old Dutch superstar designer; and a documentary immersion in the Vietnam War. The whole world is there in our museums. All you have to do is go; we can assist with that.

“Louise Bourgeois: An Unfolding Portrait”

French-American artist Louise Bourgeois (1911–2010) lived long enough to slip through any net you could throw. Depending on how you view her sculptures, installations, paintings, and prints, she’s a latter-day Surrealist, an Abstract Expressionist, or a feminist Conceptualist. None of these labels do her work justice. Bourgeois was a singular figure: a passionate woman struggling with the meaning of family, motherhood, intimacy, and sexuality. While she’s best known for her fearsome metal sculptures Spider (1996) and Maman (1999), this must-see retrospective focuses on her prints and illustrated books. The installation in the Museum of Modern Art’s Marron Atrium comprises 300 pieces: prints displayed with related sculptures; drawings; and paintings in thematic groupings like architecture, the body, and nature.

Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd Street (between Fifth and Sixth Avenues), Midtown
Sunday, September 24–Sunday, January 28, 2018
$25; $18 for seniors; $14 for students

“Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer”

Considered one of the greatest artists who ever lived, Michelangelo (1475–1564) had to start somewhere. Meaning, he had to begin with sketches, preparatory drawings, and notes about the ideas that would eventually become world-renowned masterpieces like the Sistine Chapel. We know he mastered painting, sculpture, and architecture, but this genius was supported by his astonishing gifts in disegno, the power of drawing and invention that provided the foundation for all the arts. This staggering exhibition will present approximately 150 of Michelangelo’s drawings, three of his marble sculptures, his earliest painting, his wood architectural model for a chapel vault, as well as substantial bodies of work by other artists for comparison and context.

Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue (entrance at East 82nd Street), Upper East Side
Monday, November 13–Wednesday, February 21, 2018
$25 suggested donation

PS1: NY Art Book Fair

Part of being a serious art lover is amassing a private library. How can you resist the impulse to buy the catalog after you’ve seen the exhibition? Do you buy books based solely on package design? Then this event is clearly for you. MoMA PS1 hosts the annual bash this year, which is expected to draw nearly 400 booksellers, antiquarians, artists, institutions, and independent publishers from up to 30 countries. Associated events include the Classroom, a curated engagement of informal conversations, workshops, readings, and other artist-led interventions, as well as the Contemporary Artists’ Book Conference (CABC), in its 10th year, featuring two days on emerging practices and issues within art-book culture.

22-25 Jackson Avenue, Long Island City
Friday, September 22–Sunday, September 24

“The Vietnam War: 1945–1975”

Most of what we know about the Vietnam War comes from TV and movies. Indeed, few American wars have been dramatized as much as our bloody and failed anti-Communist adventure in Southeast Asia in the past four decades. Part of that is generational; the pain and tragedy is closer. But Vietnam also provides us with valuable lessons to understand our current military entanglements in the Middle East. This wide-ranging exhibition pulls together more than 300 artifacts, photographs, artworks, documents, and interactive digital media to explore the root causes, bloody course, and confused end of this iconic conflict. Items range from a Jeep used at Tan Son Nhut Air Base to a copy of the scandalous Pentagon Papers.

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West (at West 77th Street), Upper West Side
Wednesday, October 4–Sunday, April 22, 2108
$21; $16 for seniors, teachers, and active military; $13 for students

“Veronese in Murano: Two Venetian Renaissance Masterpieces Restored”

Many exhibitions flaunt their size—200 paintings! A warehouse-filling installation!—but the Frick is content with merely two pieces. But what a pair. These exquisite paintings by Renaissance master Paolo Veronese (1528–1588) are traveling outside Venice for the first time ever. Saint Jerome in the Wilderness and Saint Peter Visiting Saint Agatha in Prison (both 1566) were commissioned for a chapel on Murano (an island in the lagoon of Venice). They’ve recently been restored (with funding by Bulgari) and will be displayed in the Frick’s Oval Room, which will be transformed into a “chapel-like space” in order to re-create the feeling of Francesco Degli Arbori’s chapel in Murano. Although not as famous as Michelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci, Veronese is considered by many a master colorist and orchestrator of virtuosic theatrical effects. These two devotional canvases will be more meditative, though no less gorgeous.

The Frick Collection
1 East 70th Street (between Fifth and Madison Avenues), Upper East Side
Tuesday, October 24–Sunday, March 11, 2018
$22; $17 for seniors; $12 for students

“Trigger: Gender as a Tool and a Weapon”

Gender, as well as social attitudes around it, evolves almost as quickly as technology. We are way beyond the simple polarities male and female. Facebook alone has more than 70 gender options by which to identify yourself. Now the New Museum brings together nearly 50 artists to explore the varied meanings and expressions of gender through film, video, performance, painting, sculpture, photography, and handicrafts. Many of the artists embrace a pleasure principle and baroque, campy exuberance as political statements, while some deliberately reject concrete representation by turning to abstract language or formal ambiguity. Put on your favorite gender-nonconforming outfit and join the fun!

New Museum
235 Bowery (between Stanton and Rivington Streets), Lower East Side
Wednesday, September 27–Sunday, January 21, 2018
$18; $15 for seniors; $12 for students

“Joris Laarman Lab: Design in the Digital Age”

Dutch designer and artist Joris Laarman creates chairs, tables, and lamps that look both alien and ancient. His work is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, and Centre Pompidou in Paris. His sleek, unique objects are inspired by emerging technologies; Laarman even once used an algorithm to carve out a chair based on the morphology and functionality of human bone and tree structures. Has he used 3-D printers? Oh, sure: to build a pedestrian bridge in midair! This first major NYC exhibition of Laarman is a great place to contemplate the intersection of science, aesthetics, and practicality.

Cooper Hewitt
2 East 91st Street (at Fifth Avenue), Upper East Side
Wednesday, September 27–Sunday, January 14, 2018
$18; $12 for seniors; $9 for students

“Edvard Munch: Between the Clock and the Bed”

You know him for The Scream that shook the art world, but Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863–1944) had other facets to his career. The Met Breuer collects 45 of the Symbolist artist’s compositions spanning six decades, including 16 self-portraits and pieces never before displayed in America. (More than half were part of Munch’s personal collection and remained with him throughout his life.) The title of the exhibition comes from a self-portrait Munch finished a year before he died. When he used himself as the subject, Munch called them “self-scrutinies,” and you can sense the artist’s penetrating, appraising eye directed within. Also on view will be Sick Mood at Sunset, Despair (1892), in which you can see the compositional seeds for The Scream.

The Met Breuer
945 Madison Avenue (at East 75th Street), Upper East Side
Wednesday, November 15—Sunday, February 4, 2018
$25; $17 for seniors; $12 for students

“Under One Roof”

As a national debate rages about borders and travel bans, the curators of the Tenement Museum are proud to present their first survey about immigration post-1945, bringing the story up to present day. The 10,000-square-foot exhibition and guided tour takes place in the restored former homes of the Epstein family, survivors of the Holocaust; the Velez family, whose seamstress mother left Puerto Rico for new opportunities; and the Wong family, whose mother supported the family by sewing in the Chinatown garment shops. As Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote in Hamilton: “Immigrants. We get the job done.”

Tenement Museum
103 Orchard Street (between Broome and Delancey Streets), Lower East Side
$25; $20 for seniors and students

“Art and China After 1989: Theater of the World”

Hands down, this sprawling exhibition is the biggest this fall, maybe the biggest all year. The Guggenheim turns its spotlight on 75 Chinese artists who have defined their nation’s role in a post-Communist world. The emphasis is on conceptual art from two generations, showing how contemporary Chinese artists have reacted to China’s emergence as a global superpower. Occupying the full Frank Lloyd Wright Rotunda and two Tower Galleries, the show contains 150 iconic and lesser-known works on loan from private and public collections across Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and America. The title comes from Huang Yong Ping’s installation of an octagonal cage in which scorpions, beetles, and smaller insects devour each other over the course of the show. Think: Darwinism as art spectacle. If all you picture when you hear Chinese contemporary art is the work of Ai Weiwei (he’s featured, of course), this will broaden your perspective.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
1071 Fifth Avenue (between East 88th and 89th Streets), Upper East Side
Friday, October 6–Sunday January 7, 2018
$25; $18 for seniors and students

“Generation Wealth by Lauren Greenfield”

Excess, materialism, and greed are evergreen subjects, but now seems an excellent time to talk about them, with a supposed billionaire in the White House and everyone else clinging to their bling. The International Center of Photography presents the first major retrospective of photographer Lauren Greenfield. This mixed-media exhibition surveys a quarter century of Greenfield’s work documenting and commenting on “affluence, beauty, body image, competition, corruption, and fantasy…in a globalized consumerist culture.” Her lushly colored photos are accompanied by interviews with the subjects themselves. Among the installation’s eight sections are studies of the “princess fantasy”; extreme beauty; the dream of home ownership; Chinese and Russian elites; and the mass-marketed hedonism of Las Vegas.

International Center of Photography
250 Bowery (between East Houston and Prince Streets), Nolita
Wednesday, September 20–Sunday, January 7, 2018