Tri-Borough Art Fest: From Guggenheim to P.S. 1

Before Norman Rockwell, before Giorgio Armani, before Harley Davidson, Matthew Barney and his umpteen gallons of Vaseline, the Solomon R. Guggenheim was known, in its initial incarnation, as the Museum of Non-Objective Painting. Established in 1939, the institution dedicated itself to a mystical brand of abstraction favored by Hilla Rebay (1890-1967), a baroness who served as the museum’s first curator, director and educator. Was she the mistress of Solomon R. Guggenheim? Certainly, the copper magnate was fond of the notoriously eccentric and famously off-putting Rebay. He lavished her with a choice selection of modern art, an array of paintings that formed the foundation of the Guggenheim’s permanent collection.

Art of Tomorrow: Hilla Rebay and Solomon R. Guggenheim, an exhibition coming this May to the Guggenheim, focuses on Rebay’s efforts as an artist. It will juxtapose her oils, watercolors and collages alongside the work of painters and sculptors she championed, among them Vasily Kandinsky, Jean Arp, Kurt Schwitters and Pablo Picasso. How well Rebay’s art holds up remains to be seen, but her impact on Manhattan is beyond dispute. It was Rebay, after all, who convinced Frank Lloyd Wright-no fan of New York City-to create a “temple of spirit” on Fifth Avenue and 89th Street.

[ Art of Tomorrow: Hilla Rebay and Solomon R. Guggenheim will be at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum from May 20 to Aug. 10.]

How great can Greater New York 2005 be? In readying the exhibition for P.S. 1, MoMA’s funky but chic outer-borough cousin, a phalanx of curators from both institutions plowed through submissions by close to 2,500 artists. That’s a lot of artists, but not for New York City or, for that matter, “nearby towns in New Jersey.” The 2000 edition of the show was less an overview of contemporary art than a reason to party-be there or be square. Expect more of the same this time around, or so the cynic in me cautions. The optimist looks forward to enjoying the show’s youthful vitality. The realist hopes for something of substance betwixt and between the spectacle.

[ Greater New York 2005 will be at P.S. 1 from March 13 to Sept. 26.]

You can gauge how effective the ongoing canonization of Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) is by the title of the upcoming retrospective of drawings and paintings at the Brooklyn Museum. Like Leonardo, Michelangelo, Picasso and, er, Cher, his genius can be evoked by but a single name: Basquiat. Of course, how much of a genius you consider him depends on how willing you are to let biography color art. East Village wunderkind; self-destructive junkie; token race man in a lily-white art world; overnight celebrity, just as speedy has-been and Warhol hanger-on; finally, dead at the age of 27 from an overdose of heroin-you can’t blame Julian Schnabel for turning it all in to a movie. Basquiat’s story is too good-that is to say, meteoric, tragic and true-to ignore.

Seen piecemeal at galleries and museums in the years since his death, Basquiat’s art-with its cryptic slogans, primitivist cartoons and stuttering, scratchy lines-looks to have lost much of its street cred, revealing, instead, an art of stylish pictorial tics culled from the paintings of Picasso, Dubuffet and Cy Twombly. Will the Brooklyn show uncover nuances in an oeuvre that has become all but ubiquitous? Or will it be an exercise in 1980′s nostalgia? Either way, plan on fighting the crowds.

[ Basquiat will be at the Brooklyn Museum of Art from March 11 through June 5.]