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U.S. Museum Exhibitions

The following guide to museum shows currently on view is compiled from Artforum’s three-times-yearly exhibition preview. Subscribe now to begin a year of Artforum—the world’s leading magazine of contemporary art. You’ll get all three big preview issues, featuring Artforum’s comprehensive advance roundups of the shows to see each season around the globe.

“MICHAEL RAKOWITZ: BACKSTROKE OF THE WEST”

MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART, CHICAGO (MCA CHICAGO)
CHICAGO
Through March 4
Curated by Omar Kholeif

It seems almost inconceivable that Michael Rakowitz is only now receiving his first major museum show in the United States. Born in New York, based in Chicago, and obsessively drawn to the complexities of his own ancestry as the grandson of Iraqi Jews pushed out of Baghdad in the 1940s, Rakowitz has worked with remarkable clarity and consistency for more than twenty years. Named for a botched translation on a pirated Chinese copy of a Star Wars film, “Backstroke of the West” includes roughly a dozen projects dating from the late ’90s to the present, including drawings, sculptures, and documentation of Rakowitz’s many long-term projects marked by heartbreakingly beautiful gestures of replica and return. With a catalogue featuring texts by curator Omar Kholeif, writer Shumon Basar, and scholar Ella Shohat, the show offers a critical record of the artist’s compassion as he navigates across numerous lines of conflict.  

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

Mounira Al Solh, untitled, 2015, mixed media on paper, 11 3/4 × 8 1/2". From the series “I strongly believe in our right to be frivolous,” 2012–.

“Mounira Al Solh: I strongly believe in our right to be frivolous”

THE ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO
CHICAGO
February 8 - April 29
Curated by Hendrik Folkerts with Jordan Carter

Mounira Al Solh has established herself as one of the most exciting young Lebanese artists in a generation set to follow in the outsize footsteps of predecessors such as Rabih Mroué, Walid Raad, and Akram Zaatari. She did so through outrageous expressions of disaffection in videos such as Rawane’s Song and As If I Don’t Fit There, both 2006, which are about having nothing to say regarding Lebanon’s civil war and artists who quit, respectively. It was all an utterly charming ruse, of course, masking the artist’s deep and serious engagement with the politics of war and the aesthetics of craft. Al Solh’s ongoing series of refugee portraits (“I strongly believe in our right to be frivolous,” 2012–), some three hundred of which form the centerpiece of this exhibition, is one of the most sensitive responses to Syria’s civil war to date. Her embroidered flags and tents, also on view, weave mischievous humor into a subtle celebration of heritage in a region where creativity is often devastated but never destroyed.

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

Howardena Pindell, Video Drawings: Swimming, 1975, C-print, 11 × 14".

“Howardena Pindell: What remains to be seen”

MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART, CHICAGO (MCA CHICAGO)
CHICAGO
February 24 - May 20
Curated by Naomi Beckwith and Valerie Cassel Oliver

This highly anticipated retrospective of American artist Howardena Pindell will showcase her fifty-plus-year commitment to creative pursuits. In that time, Pindell has experimented with various media, including painting, drawing, installation, photography, and video. This exhibition will feature approximately 140 works spanning her vast aesthetic vocabulary—figurative paintings from the 1960s, abstract canvases, and the personal and political pieces Pindell made throughout the ’80s—and collectively highlighting the ingenuity of her expressive dexterity. The video Free, White and 21, 1980, in which the artist describes her experience of racism growing up, will also be on view. The accompanying catalogue will include essays by the curators, Lowery Stokes Sims, Charles Gaines, Kellie Jones, and Pindell herself. Travels to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, August 25–November 25, and the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University, Waltham, MA, January 24–June 16, 2019. 

Kalia Brooks Nelson

Willem de Rooij, 3-part tracksuit (jacket, t-shirt, pants), size L, 2015, polyester and cotton embroidered tracksuit. From “Stories of Almost Everyone.”

“Stories of Almost Everyone”

HAMMER MUSEUM
LOS ANGELES
January 28 - May 6
Curated by Aram Moshayedi with Ikechukwu Onyewuenyi

Thanks to Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and Clement Greenberg, the Greek statue of Laocoön is indelibly associated with modernism’s strict separation of narrative and plastic arts. Now that medium-specific studio artists have ceded ground to project-based multitaskers experimenting with documentary, ethnographic, and archival research, however, perhaps we need to revisit the story behind the statue. After all, who is Laocoön if not the first critic to caution against accepting an artwork at face value? This survey of art from the past twenty years, featuring more than thirty international artists, will foreground how objects are tasked with relating (and, more problematically, verifying) historical narratives. One notable inclusion is Jill Magid’s The Proposal, 2016, a diamond ring made from the ashes of the preeminent Mexican architect Luis Barragán. A catalogue with contributions from Lynne Tillman, Julie Ault, Chris Kraus, and others should offer crucial insights into whether contemporary art has become a vessel for ecstatic truths or simply a Trojan horse.

Colby Chamberlain

Brassaï, A prostitute playing Russian billiards, Boulevard Rochechouart, Montmartre, ca. 1932, gelatin silver print, 15 3/8 × 11 1/4". © Estate Brassaï/RMN, Grand Palais.

“Real Worlds: Brassaï, Arbus, Goldin”

THE MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART, LOS ANGELES (MOCA)
LOS ANGELES
March 4 - September 3
Curated by Lanka Tattersall with Rebecca Matalon

“I photographed whatever happened to catch my attention . . . any one of the thousands of chance events of everyday life,” wrote Brassaï in The Artists in My Life in 1982, at about the same time that Nan Goldin was prototyping the diaristic slide show that later became The Ballad of Sexual Dependency. A decade earlier, the posthumous monograph Diane Arbus had revealed the seldom-seen denizens of a world that moved in the same orbit as the secret Paris traversed by Brassaï in the 1930s and the louche haunts frequented by Goldin and her cohort in the late ’70s and ’80s. Curator Lanka Tattersall, with her finger on the pulse of today’s image-saturated media culture, brings these “Real Worlds” together with some one hundred photographs drawn from the three photographers’ seminal publications, as well as a digital presentation of Ballad. The catalogue places Tattersall in conversation with some of today’s most original voices in the realm of identity politics: Hilton Als, Maggie Nelson, and A. L. Steiner.

Stephen C. Pinson

Dara Friedman, Government Cut Freestyle, 1998, 16 mm transferred to digital video, color, silent, 9 minutes 20 seconds.

“DARA FRIEDMAN: PERFECT STRANGER”

PÉREZ ART MUSEUM MIAMI (PAMM)
MIAMI
Through March 4
Curated by René Morales

In one of her earliest films, Friedman slowly and systematically trashes a room, shattering plates, smashing chairs, and stomping dresser drawers. The Super 8 footage of Total, 1997, was printed in reverse, however, so what we see instead is a lurching, mystical return to order. As in many of the films to follow, from the two-channel 16-mm Bim Bam, 1999, to the cacophonous multiscreen Dichter (Poet, 2017), Friedman uses structural film techniques—looping, flicker effects, color fields, and asynchronicity of image and sound—to highly emotive ends. Though her films have gotten bigger and bolder—fifty-five singers perform in the forty-eight-minute-long Musical, 2007–2008, and sixty-six in Dancer, 2011, for example—her interests in intimacy, affection, and magic have remained. With two dozen works and an accompanying catalogue, the first midcareer survey of this Miami-based artist offers a welcome chance to track the movements of her evocative, empathic oeuvre over the past twenty years. 

Rachel Churner