• Chuck Close

    MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art
    11 West 53rd Street
    February 6–May 26, 1998

    Chuck Close’s retrospective was originally slated to open at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but the artist canceled because of his dissatisfaction over the ungracious quarters the museum had afforded him. Evidently, the rooms available at MoMA are a lot nicer. Close's best-known monumental portraits are like anti-John Singer Sargents: insistently, clinically unflattering, they reveal every pore and blemish. More recent works retain the painter's signature scale and have an optically punchy, psychedelic splendor. Organized by MoMA curator Robert Storr, the exhibition surveys the full range of Close's oeuvre, including paintings, drawings, prints, and photographs.

  • Alvar Aalto: Between Humanism and Materialism

    MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art
    11 West 53rd Street
    February 19–May 19, 1998

    In 1918, the very year Finland gained its independence, Alvar Aalto began producing a dazzling range of glass and laminated wood objects, town-planning designs, and architectural projects that have made him that country's most celebrated Modernist. This year, a host of conferences and exhibitions mark the centennial of Aalto’s birth, including MoMA’s retrospective organized by Peter Reed of the museum's architecture department and Columbia University professor Kenneth Frampton. Nearly 200 drawings and fifteen original models, as well as new and archival photographs, will be displayed, along with video walk-throughs and full-scale reconstructions (such as a kiosk designed for the 1929 Turku 700th Anniversary Exhibition). An illustrated catalogue accompanies the show.

  • Norman Lewis: Black Paintings, 1944-1977

    The Studio Museum in Harlem
    429 West 127th St
    April 1–September 20, 1998

    Norman Lewis has lately become famous for not being famous. The only African-American among the primary first-generation Abstract Expressionists, he remains far less recognized than most of those he must have argued with at the Club and the Cedar, and the energy in recent scholarship to reroute art history via race has made some folks wonder why. Prominent among them has been this show’s co-curator, art historian Ann Gibson, who has written extensively about Lewis. With this project the Studio Museum in Harlem (where the second organizer, Jorge Daniel Veneciano, is curator of exhibitions) celebrates both its thirtieth anniversary and an artist raised in the neighborhood. It also gives us a chance to see what the fuss, had there been any, would have been about.

  • After Mountains and Sea: Frankenthaler 1956-1959

    Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum | New York
    1071 Fifth Avenue
    January 16–May 3, 1998

    It seems ridiculous to have to “reevaluate” Helen Frankenthaler’s early achievement, seeing that she herself has been so uncharitable about almost all art since—well, since hers. Yes, her position in art history still looks secure—if only for the innovation of the stained-canvas technique (introduced in her one picture everyone knows, the 1952 Mountains and Sea)—but now she seems more famous as a neo-con gal pal than as the woman Greenberg shouldered with the burdens of carrying the standard of advanced aesthetic consciousness (at least until he moved on to Noland, Louis, and Olitski). This exhibition should show Frankenthaler in the best light, at a time when her approach to abstraction was still fresh, rather than the tepid corporate decor it would later become.

  • China: 5,000 Years

    Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum | New York
    1071 Fifth Avenue
    February 6–June 3, 1998

    This show of over 500 objects, ranging from Neolithic jades to Socialist Realist paintings realized under Mao, involves more than fifty Mainland lenders and the assistance of the PRC Ministry of Culture. So while this exhibition, curated by former Cleveland Museum of Art director Sherman Lee and scholar Julia Andrews, should be spectacular, its limitations will be clearest with regard to developments since 1949. Still, the show (which occupies both New York branches of the Guggenheim) remains a not-to-be-missed encounter with what scholar Haun Saussy recently called “an intimidating object: China, the artwork whose medium is history.”

  • Paul Strand, Circa 1916

    The Metropolitan Museum of Art
    1000 Fifth Avenue
    March 10–May 31, 1998

    The year 1916 was something of an annus mirabilis not just for Paul Strand but for photography in general. With striking urban images like his forceful Blind Woman, the photographer helped sway his medium, and the influential Alfred Stieglitz, from the gauzy Pictorialist confections that had passed for art in the early part of the century. Stieglitz, whose own New York pictures may be credited as a precedent for these images, announced his conversion by publishing Strand’s work in the final issues of the journal Camera Work. Also on view in this selection of vintage prints, organized by Met photography curator Maria Morris Hambourg, is the classic White Fence, the flattened shapes of which acknowledge Cubism’s impact on photography with fanfare.

  • Robert Irwin

    Dia Center for the Arts
    542 West 22nd Street
    April 1, 1998–June 1, 1999

    Just as Duchamp sneered at “retinal art,” Clement Greenberg condemned the Symbolists’ desire for an art of pure sensation unbound to any physical medium, for one that “might just as well have been breathed on air or formed out of plasma.” Robert Irwin uses light as a medium to confute both in works that detach color from objects and make visible what's objectively not there, subtly yet theatrically manipulating viewers' perceptions as they move through space. For his latest large-scale project (curated by Lynne Cooke), he plans to use his signature scrims to convert one floor of the Dia Center into a series of interconnecting chambers. The installation will be modified over the show's extended run, highlighting distinct sequences of perceptual experience in the process.

  • An Expressionist in Paris: Chaim Soutine

    The Jewish Museum
    1109 Fifth Avenue
    April 26–August 16, 1998

    Chaim Soutine’s work has been understood in different ways over the course of the century, and in his first museum retrospective in thirty years, cocurators Norman Kleeblatt and NYU art historian Kenneth Silver highlight the divergent readings in three sections. The paintings of this Lithuanian-born artist are introduced from a ’20s Parisian perspective, when they were celebrated for their romantic, ethnic, and eccentric qualities. Next, a ’30s French viewpoint, which interpreted the work as preserving traditional European painting, is reconstructed. Finally, Soutine’s postwar reception in the US, where he was refashioned into a father figure to the Abstract Expressionists, is examined.