• Untitled, 1943.

    Untitled, 1943.

    Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective of Drawings

    Whitney Museum of American Art
    99 Gansevoort Street
    November 20, 2003–February 15, 2004

    Arshile Gorky has generally been regarded as among the first Abstract Expressionists, and hence a paradigm-breaking innovator, but his art was deeply rooted in a devotion to the old masters (Cézanne, Picasso, and Miró) that bordered on impersonation and an emphasis on well-rehearsed displays of technical virtuosity. Gorky was unrivaled in his patently erotic longing for aesthetic release—and greatness. This 140-work exhibition, curated by the Whitney’s Janie C. Lee and Gorky scholar Melvin P. Lader, makes for good critical sport for those reconsidering the myth of AbEx from the vantage of Gorky’s maverick traditionalism, but the immediate and preternaturally enduring satisfactions are those of sex in a pen and sex in a pencil.

  • Skull & Milky Way, 1966.

    Skull & Milky Way, 1966.

    Unrepentant Ego: The Self-Portraits of Lucas Samaras

    Whitney Museum of American Art
    99 Gansevoort Street
    November 13, 2003–February 8, 2004

    A lot of isms have followed each other in American art over the past four-plus decades—the duration of Lucas Samaras’s career—and I’ve yet to read anything that catalogued him permanently in any one of them. His work is too individual and too various, but it manages the neat trick of suffusing its variety with its individuality: Samaras is always recognizably Samaras. Of course, he cheats a little: His individuality is often on show in the most literal way, in that his art is full of self-portraits. The Whitney show, curated by Marla Prather, is the first retrospective to focus on this aspect of his work. It features sculptures, drawings, paintings, and photographs, about 300 of them altogether, all self-reflective—“unrepentant ego” indeed.

  • Moth, 1996.

    Moth, 1996.

    Kiki Smith: Prints, Books, & Things

    MoMA QNS - Museum of Modern Art
    4520 33rd Street
    December 5, 2003–March 8, 2004

    The female master of icky, sticky sculpture, Kiki Smith has also made books, multiple objects, prints, and photographs over the last twenty years. Equally comfortable in tuxedo and T-shirt, she ranges from elaborate lithograph portfolios to temporary tattoos, all of which are presented here in the first museum survey of her multiples. To make sense of the different media, MoMA curator Wendy Weitman groups the work into thematic categories like fantasy and the body. Look for a catalogue that not only reproduces the art but includes original material produced by the artist for the occasion.

  • Iona Rozeal Brown, a3 black face #3, 2002.

    Iona Rozeal Brown, a3 black face #3, 2002.

    Black Belt

    The Studio Museum in Harlem
    West 125th Street
    October 15, 2003–January 4, 2004

    It’s 1974. “Kung Fu Fighting” is number one on the charts, the TV show Kung Fu airs every Thursday on ABC, and Bruce Lee (who died the previous year) is a box-office draw. As a nonwhite hero battling The Man, Lee’s popularity extended to African Americans as well as Asian audiences. For a generation of artists, the kung fu phenomenon of the ’70s left an indelible impression: “I was struck by just how many people are making work about it,” says the Studio Museum’s Christine Y. Kim. The curator has selected twenty artists, including Sanford Biggers, Ellen Gallagher, Luis Gispert, Michael Joo, and Glenn Kaino, for “Black Belt,” a show of mostly new works. The catalogue, which features a roundtable discussion among the artists, the curator, and a martial arts instructor, kicks ass.

  • Yoshua Okon, New Décor, 2002. Still from a three-channel video installation.

    Yoshua Okon, New Décor, 2002. Still from a three-channel video installation.

    ICP Triennial of Photography and Video

    International Center of Photography Museum (ICP)
    79 Essex
    September 12–November 30, 2003

    Angling for some high-profile attention, ICP puts itself on the overcrowded international-survey calendar with the launch of its photo and video triennial, the first of which, titled “Strangers,” rounds up some forty new and established artists, including Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Rineke Dijkstra, Luc Delahaye, Zwelethu Mthethwa, Collier Schorr, and Susan Meiselas. Brian Wallis, chief of ICP’s four staff curators, says the show’s theme emerged from the work itself, much of which involves crossing cultural and political borders. Though photojournalism accounts for only a fraction of the mix, its challenges and concerns have been absorbed by so many of the artists that the show's shadow theme might be the unreliable nature of the photographic document.

  • Romare Bearden, Profile/Part I, The Twenties: Pittsburgh Memories, Farewell Eugene, 1978.

    Romare Bearden, Profile/Part I, The Twenties: Pittsburgh Memories, Farewell Eugene, 1978.

    Romare Bearden

    High Museum of Art
    1280 Peachtree Street, NE
    January 29–April 29, 2005

    Dallas Museum of Art
    1717 North Harwood
    June 20–September 12, 2004

    Whitney Museum of American Art
    99 Gansevoort Street
    October 14, 2004–January 9, 2005

    San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)
    151 Third Street
    February 7–May 16, 2004

    National Gallery of Art West Building
    Sixth Street and Constitution Avenue, NW
    September 14, 2003–January 4, 2004

    Everybody knows Romare Bearden’s collages, but even those who delight in his trademark crisp edges, bang-on color, and iconographic witticisms might not be familiar with the man’s sculpture, album-cover designs, stage sets, and costumes. It’s fitting, then, that the National Gallery should put together the most encyclopedic exhibition of his work ever. Oh yes, Bearden is an African-American artist; to mention that is both essential (his art constitutes one of the great chronicles of African-American life) and irrelevant (artistically the competition runs to Giotto, Cézanne, and Japanese prints).

    Sept. 14–Jan. 4; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Feb. 7, 2004–May 16, 2004; Dallas Museum of Art, June 20, 2004–Sept. 12, 2004; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Oct. 14, 2004–Jan. 9, 2005; High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Jan. 29, 2005–Apr. 24, 2005.

  • Untitled, 1966.

    Untitled, 1966.

    Lee Bontecou

    Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA Chicago)
    220 East Chicago Avenue
    February 14–May 23, 2004

    Hammer Museum
    10899 Wilshire Boulevard
    October 5, 2003–January 11, 2004

    MoMA QNS - Museum of Modern Art
    4520 33rd Street
    July 28–September 27, 2004

    In 1965, Donald Judd proclaimed Lee Bontecou “one of the best artists working anywhere.” The sole woman in the early-’60s Castelli stable, Bontecou creatively bridged masculine and feminine, human and machine in her sculpture and drawing, exploring a kind of abstract cyborgian androgyny years ahead of its time. But by 1975, she dropped out, barely exhibiting since (though making new work all along) and refusing cooperation when others tried surveying her past. Now, in her first retrospective (curated by UCLA Hammer’s Elizabeth A.T. Smith, James W. Alsdorf, and Ann Philbin), she’s cooperating—and we all have some happy catching up to do.

    Oct. 5–Jan. 11; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Feb. 14, 2004–May 23, 2004; MoMA QNS, New York, July 28, 2004–Sept. 27, 2004.

  • Batiquitos, 1995.

    Batiquitos, 1995.

    Manny Farber

    New Museum
    235 Bowery
    September 14, 2003–January 4, 2004

    Manny Farber, the best writer on film in America or anywhere else, once listed his critical precepts, some of which were: “playing around with words and grammar to get layers and continuation”; “film-centered rather than self-centered criticism”; “giving the audience some uplift.” Substitute a word here and there and he could have easily been discussing his glorious yet unheralded career as a painter. Organized by MCASD assistant curator Stephanie Hanor, “Manny Farber: About Face” spans forty years and seventy paintings on paper and wood, running the gamut from the luminous single-color paper shapes of the late ’60s through the relatively austere “American Candy” and film-related paintings of the ’70s, to the big, vibrant, spatially dizzying splayed object works of the present. Not to be missed.