Winter Art

Stills, Portraits, and a New York Connection

Post-holiday New York may feel a bit anticlimactic, but there are always plenty of exciting shows
going on in the city’s museums (and they’re not nearly as crowded as during the previous months). Come in from the cold and check out our three picks for the month, all fascinating exhibitions offering both visual appeal and food for thought.

Making Face: Images of Exploitation and Empowerment in Cinema
At one time Hollywood studios distributed highly constructed photographs (stills) to sell movies and their starring characters. Making Face: Images of Exploitation and Empowerment in Cinema at MoMA is a thought-provoking exhibition of images used to both lure and signal audiences from the 1910s through 1970s. These depictions of “outsider” (black, gay, off beat) characters were often stereotypical, even if the movies themselves were relatively progressive. Some (Hattie McDaniel in the classic Gone With the Wind Mammy role, Isabel Sanford chiding Sidney Portier in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner) seem uncomfortably offensive today, while others (Blonde Venus’s Marlene Dietrich, shocking onlookers in a white pantsuit) mainly highlight the character’s otherness. Many of these striking and fraught photos portray actors who rebelled against the norms of their time, some of whom found success within an exploitative system. A great collection of Hollywood memorabilia, Making Face also captures society’s views toward certain groups of people over time. (Through 4/30, 11 W. 53rd St.)

Human Interest: Portraits
The long-running and hugely popular exhibition Human Interest: Portraits from The Whitney’s Collection is soon coming to a close. This major retrospective, drawn entirely from the Whitney’s own holdings, celebrates human portraiture, a mainstay genre for the museum, which has long supported the figurative tradition. Comprising over 300 works by approximately 200 artists and spanning more than 100 years, the show is divided into two sections, with the past 60 years represented on floor 6; and works from the early 20th century on floor 7. Together they encompass diverse and often unconventional methods of representing the individual, including the outright rejection of external likeness. Photography has played a major role in democratizing portraiture, once a rarified luxury item, and it is well represented here. Iconic works from Alexander Calder, Edward Hopper, Jasper Johns, Alice Neel, Georgia O’Keefe, Cindy Sherman, and Andy Warhol are on view, as well as new acquisitions by Urs Fischer, Deana Lawson, and Paul McCarthy. (Through 2/12, 99 Gansevoort St.)

Max Beckmann in New York
In December 1950, Max Beckmann left his apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side to see his recently painted Self-Portrait in Blue Jacket on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Sadly, the 66-year-old artist suffered a fatal heart attack and never made it to the museum. Max Beckmann in New York, an exhibition at the Met celebrating the artist’s special connection with the city, is inspired by the tragedy. On display are 14 paintings created while Beckmann lived in New York from 1949 to 1950, plus 25 additional works dating from 1920 to 1948 from various New York collections. The show includes self-portraits, expressionist interiors, colorful portraits of women and performer, landscapes, and triptychs. Beckmann left his native Germany when the National Socialists declared his work “degenerate” and confiscated it from national museums in 1937. After moving to the U.S. in 1948, he began teaching at the Brooklyn Museum Art School. Stimulated by the city’s energy, Beckman created powerful paintings such as Falling Man and The Town (City Night). Earlier works such as Family Picture (1920) and Self-Portrait on Yellow Ground with Cigarette (1923) were already highly valued by New York collectors before Beckmann ever set foot in the U.S. (Through 2/20, 1000 Fifth Ave.)