Spring’s exhibitions offer a varied menu of historical and modern art
In New York’s ever-so-diverse roster of museum exhibitions, social science, the modern art world and Biblical family trees comprise some of this season’s best. From stained glass to kitchen tables, see these displays that cross all sorts of boundaries through space and time.
Six Romanesque-period windows that haven’t left England since they were created more than eight centuries ago are visiting the Cloisters at Radiant Light: Glass from Canterbury Cathedral. Perhaps the windows’ home sounds familiar; Canterbury was founded in 597 but became a major pilgrimage site during the Middle Ages – a journey which spawned Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Now, it’s renowned for housing the most comprehensive stained-glass cycle in art history, depicting the full ancestry of Jesus Christ – all 86 of them. In the selected six windows on display here, Noah, Abraham, Phalec and others stand nearly life-sized, an old testament to the fine art of glass in their complex drapery, statuesque poses and detailed expressions. With graceful lines and powerful colors, the windows are astonishingly feats considering their uneasily mastered medium, though the artist remains unknown. This is a rare opportunity to see these stateside, only possible because of their removal from the cathedral for conservation work. A pilgrimage to the upper west side is worth it. (Through May 18, 99 Margaret Corbin Drive)
At the Guggenheim, a mid-career retrospective of a Brooklyn-based artist, Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video, is positively progressive in every way. The scope is large, not only in content but in medium, as well – written texts, audio and videos in addition to the primary suspect, photography. The material documents her career of the past 30 years, which itself documents social issues and all the philosophical questioning they evoke. Race, gender, class, sexism and politics all make their way in front of Weems’s lens, who claims she is not an activist but an idealist. Her goal is to make viewers think deeply, as she has. Although she has largely remained out of the limelight, this exhibit is a testament to her work, as is her recent MacArthur fellowship, more readily known as the “genius grant.” Nothing demonstrates her intellectual stamina more than the “Kitchen Table Series,” an impressive bout of storytelling – and her most well known – of a woman in front of the camera, dealing with the existential in the everyday way that we do. (Through May 14, 5th Ave. at 89th St.)
The work of one of the most influential art mavens of the 20th century is exhibited at MoMA at Illeana Sonnabend: Ambassador for the New. It’s not her work, per se, but selected pieces from her galleries in Paris and New York from artists now tremendously famous, thanks to her: Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, John Baldessari and Jeff Koons, to name a few. A daring enthusiast, she championed these pioneers before conceptual, pop, minimalist and performance art had supporting audiences, and her taste caught on, to the point of dictating ours now. Some signature pieces are on display, Rauschenberg’s Canyon, for example, which is the centerpiece of the vast exhibit. This exhibit is a tribute to her and is a bit ironic in being such, as MoMA would not have the art it would if it were not for her visionary loyalty to some of the artists that the museum now collects. (Through April 21, 53rd St. nr. 6th Ave.)