Hotter Than July

Three groundbreaking artists are on display this month

Stuart Davis (1892–1964), Tropes de Teens, 1956. Oil on canvas, 45 1/4 x 60 1/4 in. (114.8 x 153 cm). Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. © Estate of Stuart Davis / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Photograph by Cathy Carver

Stuart Davis (1892–1964), Tropes de Teens, 1956. Oil on canvas, 45 1/4 x 60 1/4 in. (114.8 x 153 cm). Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. © Estate of Stuart Davis / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Photograph by Cathy Carver

The city may be shimmering and simmering with summer heat, but its museums are some of the coolest places around. Each of the three shows highlighted this month focuses on an unusual and noteworthy artistic talent – someone who followed his own unique vision to produce an eclectic body of work. The extraordinary worlds they created are definitely worth a visit.

Fever Within: The Art of Ronald Lockett, The American Folk Art Museum
The American Folk Art Museum’s Fever Within: The Art of Ronald Lockett is the first retrospective on the Bessemer, Alabama-born and raised artist who died of AIDS in 1998 at the age of 32. Largely self-taught and mentored by his cousin, the artist Thornton Dial, Lockett used various found materials (chicken wire, rope, wood) and techniques during his short career. He eventually worked extensively with rusted sheet metal (left over from the days when Bessemer was a major steelmaking center) in collages such as the one that gives the exhibit its name. Lockett’s body of work, comprised of around 350 pieces, depicts subjects ranging from the deterioration of his own body to national disasters including the assassination of President Kennedy and local threats such as the Ku Klux Klan; works such as Deer Caught in Fence and Instinct for Survival show Lockett’s concern with endangered animals and environmental devastation. Largely unrecognized in his own lifetime, Lockett has come to be appreciated as a sensitive and valuable interpreter of the American South. (Through 9/18, 2 Lincoln Square at 65th St.)

Stuart Davis: In Full Swing, Whitney Museum 
Stuart Davis: In Full Swing at the Whitney is a celebration of the jazzy, colorful art of the American Modernist painter who combined bold advertising-inspired images and the conversations of European avant-garde art to create his own unique representations of contemporary America. Davis’ long career stretched from the early 20th century to the 1960s; this show concentrates on his later work and the idiosyncratic method of using older themes as a starting point for new paintings. Approximately 100 pieces are on view, ranging from paintings of consumer products from the early 1920s to the piece left on his easel at his death in 1964. Though it may not immediately be obvious to the viewer, Davis’s post-1940 paintings almost always reference one of his previous works. This is the first major exhibition to feature later pieces hung next to the earlier ones that inspired them. (Through 9/25, 99 Gansevoort St.)

Dreams in Dust: The Pastels of Lucas Samaras, The Morgan Library & Museum
Known mainly for his artfully distorted photographs, the multifaceted Lucas Samaras has also worked in painting, sculpture, and performance art during his long career. Dreams in Dust: The Pastels of Lucas Samaras at the Morgan Library & Museum focuses on the small, intimate works the Greek-born, Rutgers University- trained artist created during the first three decades of his working life. The fact that pastels were particularly unfashionable at the time of their creation was no doubt part of his attraction to the neglected medium. Dating from 1958 to 1983, these 48 vibrant pieces were a gift to the Morgan from the artist and his dealer, Arne Glimcher. The works, which build on themes present in his better- known works, cover a broad range of subject matter including self-portraits and nudes, mystical interiors and dreamlike seascapes. The installation of the collection is a result of the Morgan’s collaboration with Samaras, who designed wallpaper especially for the show. (Through 8/21, 225 Madison Ave. at 36th St.)