Modern Art Three Ways

Three of this winter’s major exhibitions focus on present-day artists

This winter, the museum circuit is heavy with photography and text-based art au courant. With major retrospectives of two living and working artists and a comprehensive exhibition of modern photography, don’t expect to feel transported to romantic European galleries but rather to the holding rooms of major art collectors now.

Robert Indiana’s “LOVE,” is one of the most iconic pieces of American art. With the first two letters stacked atop the latter two – the ‘O’ tilted slightly clockwise – it’s prolific to the point of being first thought of as standard coffee mug design rather than a creative work. The Whitney Museum’s exhibition Robert Indiana: Beyond LOVE is out to change that. The symbol was both the high point and detriment of Indiana’s career, as it overshadowed the rest of his extensive body of work, which this retrospective puts on praiseworthy view. Indiana was a pop artist who counted the likes of Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg as close friends, and much of the rest of his body of work is accessible in the same, punchy way. Large block letters plaster sculptures and canvases with “EAT,” “DIE,” and “HUG,” – seemingly simple words that, when put in certain colors and shape arrangements, evoke the complexities of the American Dream. Playing on quotidian objects such as highway road signs, Indiana’s art grabs with the familiar then questions the abstract, often calling out fragments of racial injustice and socioeconomic issues. Like “LOVE,” his work is easily swallowed and emotionally digestible, and this exhibit shows the breadth of all he wanted viewers to taste. (Through Jan. 5, 945 Madison Ave. at 75th St.)

At the Guggenheim is the retrospective of Christopher Wool, another artist famous for toying with words. The most comprehensive exhibit of his to date, the scope is impressive, and the fact that Wool is only 58 gives light to the immense talent he has demonstrated in the 30 years of his artistic career. The spiraling rotunda and an adjacent gallery are decked with his works, which could be shown in no place more fitting than New York; everything about his style is intensely urban, from its monochrome palette of grey, black and white to the ominously large size of each canvas. Some of the paintings are gestural and abstract, while others – his most recognizable works – play with the meaning of simple words and phrases by jumbling and oddly spacing giant, stenciled letters. Think tidied-up graffiti that makes riddles out of idioms. Additionally on view is a selection of his photography work, a rarer medium of his not often shown. Grainy snapshots capture the streets of the Lower East Side and Chinatown at night – street style for the art world. (Through Jan. 22, 1071 Fifth Ave. at 89th St.)

For a solely photographic exhibition, the Museum of Modern Art’s XL: 19 New Acquisitions in Photography displays the best of the museum’s additions to its photography collection from recent years. Brace yourself for an expansive exhibit. Works by 19 different modern, influential photographers are hung in five galleries, and photos date from the 1960s until present, showing the evolution of artistic photography from then until now. The artists included are natives of countries around the globe, and their photographic styles are similarly disparate and unique from one another. Some are experimental, such as sublime photograms made in darkrooms; some are documentarian, capturing periods such as globalization during the end of the Cold War. The better-known photographers included often provide the more technically impressive works, such as Stephen Shore’s photos from a 1970s road trip, showing a colorful mid-century America of Chevy Impalas and optimistic teenagers. Others, such as Austrian feminists Birgit Jürgenssen and VALIE EXPORT, tackle more conceptual issues, such as gender roles and the embodiment of feminism. The exhibition opened in May, but more works were added in late August, completing a display of some of the best modern photography to date. (Through Jan. 6, 11 West 53rd St. nr. Fifth Ave.)