Fall Arts Preview: Top 10 Museum Exhibitions

What we’re most looking forward to in the city's museums

Iran looms large on the international stage, but its modern art is underexamined. The Asia Society seeks to remedy that with an exhibition that covers the 1950s to the 1970s, with more than 100 works by 26 artists. Curated by Fereshteh Daftari and Layla S. Diba, “Iran Modern” is organized thematically and includes sections devoted to calligraphy and abstraction. There are names that may be familiar (like Siah Armajani) and many that will not (like Mohammad Ehsai and Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian). Come for the art, stay for the education.
Coinciding with the biennial Performa festival is this survey of 100 works by 36 artists. Start at the Grey Art Gallery with a history lesson that begins with Fluxus in the 1960s and stretches through newer works by the likes of Trenton Doyle Hancock, Lyle Ashton Harris, Kalup Linzy and Clifford Owens. Then head uptown to the Studio Museum, for video, documentation and remnants of performances by Theaster Gates, David Hammons, Carrie Mae Weems and others.
It’s been 30 years since the U.S. has seen a major Balthus exhibition—too long! This show consists of just 35 paintings, but they are 35 very potent paintings, as only Balthus could make them. It covers 20 creatively fertile years in Balthus’s life—the mid-1930s to the 1950s—and takes us from those unforgettable portraits of his Parisian neighbor Thérèse Blanchard to his work in Château de Chassy in the Morvan. Sure to provide an added frisson are the 40 ink drawings he made of his adventures, at age 11, with a stray cat, published by Rainer Marie Rilke in 1921 and never before shown in public.
Robert Indiana’s Love image has become so iconic since he first created it nearly half a century ago, it’s tough to believe this is the Pop artist’s first full-scale American museum retrospective. For most, Mr. Indiana’s output outside of Love may be a bit fuzzy, so the Whitney’s approach here—de-emphasizing Love in favor of lesser-known work—is clever. Curated by Barbara Haskell, the show closely examines Mr. Indiana’s use of letters and numbers, an approach that has made him influential. Look for some real Indiana sleepers, like his “Confederacy” series, and collages of costumes he designed for Virgil Thomson’s and Gertrude Stein’s operatic collaboration The Mother of Us All.
Even more iconic than Robert Indiana’s famous four-letter word is René Magritte’s pipe—or, as the case may be, non-pipe. “Ceci n’est pas un pipe”—titled The Treachery of Images (1929)—is, however, just the tip of the iceberg. MoMA’s show, which includes 80 paintings, along with collages and other works, promises to be a real crowd-pleaser with looks at Magritte’s early work, made when the artist was closely aligned with the Surrealists. It follows him from Brussels to Paris, and it includes well-known paintings like The Lovers (1928), The Human Condition (1933), that window within a window, and, of course, the famous pipe. Curated by Ann Umland.
What do you call being shot in the arm for the sake of art, if not an extreme measure? That 1971 performance guaranteed Chris Burden life-long fame—and reverence—among artists. The Los Angeles artist never stopped making tough work, though, and the New Museum’s show, organized by Lisa Phillips, with Massimiliano Gioni and Jenny Moore, is the most comprehensive New York presentation of his work to date. Not content to stay within the confines of the museum, Mr. Burden is hanging his 30-foot-long piece Ghost Ship on the façade of the museum and erecting two 36-foot-high skyscrapers on its roof. It promises to be impressive! But, this being New York, someone is bound to complain about an obstructed view.
The Kenyan-born, New York-based collagist gets a well-deserved mid-career survey. Ms. Mutu mines glossy magazines for images, which she recombines in jewel-like ways that end up somehow both beautiful and grotesque. Her intricate work comments implicitly on race, gender and globalization but is never didactic. It fascinates, rather than preaches. The exhibition, organized by Trevor Schoonmaker, a curator at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University (and in Brooklyn by Saisha Grayson), includes Ms. Mutu’s first animation work, The End of Eating Everything (2013), produced in collaboration with the singer Santigold.
In recent years, the art world has begun to embrace comic artists (see R. Crumb, who is coming off a Paris retrospective), and next up is the man who brought us Maus. Like Crumb, Mr. Spiegelman got his start in underground comics and ultimately graduated to places like The New Yorker. In the 1980s, he founded RAW magazine; in 2004 he created an autobiographical account of September 11 (In the Shadow of No Towers). The Jewish Museum show, organized by Rina Zavagli-Mattotti, addresses those things and more.
In 2007, Isa Genzken’s strange constructions made of things like suitcases, mannequins and baby strollers took over the German pavilion at the Venice Biennale, and the world was reminded of just how intriguing and relevant an artist she is. Ms. Genzken has been making art for 40 years now and this wide-ranging exhibition, organized by Sabine Breitwieser, Laura Hoptman and Jeffrey Grove, with Stephanie Weber, looks at the full arc of her career-to-date, starting with her Minimalist sculptures from the 1970s and ’80s, and continuing through to her very baroque current work.

This week, The Observer published its annual Fall Arts Preview. Click the slide show to find out what shows you won’t want to miss in the city’s museums.

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