From New York, Crazy with Art

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In a short program like this, there is no way to do justice to the New York art scene that I plunged head first into last week. The week after Thanksgiving is my favorite time to go there: museums and galleries are putting their best foot forward, and theaters and concert halls follow the same trend. So if you are thinking of visiting the Big Apple, here is a haiku review of the best that I saw and experienced there.

at101207a.jpgI started at the Guggenheim with its attention-grabbing historical survey of art produced between WWI and WWII in France, Italy, and Germany. Their artists -- scared and traumatized like everyone else by the suffering and death inflicted by the First World War -- turned away from the groundbreaking avant-garde experiments of the previous decade. Goodbye Cubism, welcome back Figurative Art, with strong references to ancient Rome. In this context, three heroic neoclassical sculptural portraits of Mussolini are especially riveting and repulsive. One could assume that curators were squeamish about including portraits of Hitler, whose shadow nevertheless looms large over this challenging historical survey.

At the nearby Jewish Museum, I stopped for a short visit to see an amusing show about the one and only Houdini -- world famous magician, artists' muse, and rabbi's son. The imaginative presentation, with its hint of Ringling Brothers, contains fascinating rare footage of Houdini's famous escapes.

at101207b.jpgThe Neue Galerie wows visitors with a first-rate exhibition by 18th century German sculptor Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (1736-1783), famous for his idiosyncratic portraits capturing extreme human emotions.

at101207c.jpgAll the above can be seen in just a few hours, but going to the Metropolitan Museum, you better set aside the whole day. In the Grand Lobby, I was startled by the provocative juxtaposition of two gigantic photo murals by John Baldessari. They preside over the architectural opulence of the museum entrance as a dramatic introduction to his large traveling retrospective inside. The first image is a single palm tree against an endless expanse of blue sky and ocean; the other is a white model of a human brain hovering like a cloud in an infinity of bright blue sky.

Hidden deep in the bowels of the Met, there is small show of Miró artworks hanging side by side with the 17th century Dutch paintings that inspired them. Sorry to disappoint Miró lovers, but in this friendly competition, the Old Master works win hands-down.

at101207d.jpgThe major treat of this season at the Met is the spectacular exhibition of Jan Gossart (circa 1478-1532), a Renaissance artist from the Netherlands. This type of show is precisely where the Met excels, by being able to bring together so many extremely rare masterpieces from around the world. The exhibition is scholarly but also surprisingly entertaining in telling the story of this Northern European Master deeply affected by his trip to Italy and interaction with the game-changing art of the Italian Renaissance.

I trust you remember the old saying, “To err is human, but to forgive is divine,” so let's hope that the Met was able to forgive the embarrassing error by the LA Times in its excellent review of this exhibition, where the subhead placed this show at MOMA rather than the Met. A few days later, to return the courtesy, the New York Times made its own embarrassing misstep by identifying Jeffrey Deitch in one of the photographs as an art dealer rather than (since last summer) the director of LA's Museum of Contemporary Art.

at101207e.jpgAmong the many pleasures of going to MOMA is reconnecting with beloved artists and their iconic images defining our perception of Modern and Contemporary Art. One always wants to be challenged visiting this museum, and its two current exhibitions, Abstract Expressionist New York and On Line: Drawing Through the Twentieth Century, definitely don't disappoint. I was especially delighted by a group of very strong paintings by Lee Krasner, Grace Hartigan, and Joan Mitchell, who, at their best, could compete admirably with the big boys of the New York art scene.

The second big, ambitious show at MOMA attempts to redefine the traditional notion of a drawing well beyond the mere trace of pencil on paper. Surprisingly and provocatively, the curator includes in this show samples of sculpture, painting, textile, film, and even computer-generated art, which encourages the viewer to think about them with drawing in mind. And that's why -- when watching the video of a performance by modern dancers -- I was able to imagine their bodies as soft, pliable tools drawing an intricate line that vanishes in thin air...

Chaos and Classicism: Art in France, Italy, and Germany, 1918-1936
On view at the Guggenheim Museum through January 9, 2011

Houdini: Art and Magic
On view at the Jewish Museum (NY) through March 27, 2011

Franz Xaver Messerschmidt 1736-1783: From Neoclassicism to Expressionism
On view at the Neue Galerie through January 10, 2011

John Baldessari: Pure Beauty
On view at the Metropolitan Museum through January 9, 2011

Miró: The Dutch Interiors
On view at the Metropolitan Museum through January 17, 2011
Special Exhibition Galleries, 1st floor

Man, Myth, and Sensual Pleasures: Jan Gossart's Renaissance
On view at the Metropolitan Museum through January 17, 2011
Special Exhibition Galleries, 2nd floor

Abstract Expressionist New York
On view at MOMA through April 25, 2011

On Line: Drawing Through the Twentieth Century
On view at MOMA through February 7, 2011

Banner image: Adolf Ziegler's Four Elements: Fire, Water and Earth, Air (circa 1937) which Hitler displayed at home