• James Ensor, Masks Mocking Death, 1888, oil on canvas, 32 x 39 1/2". © 2009 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SABAM, Brussels.

    James Ensor

    MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art
    11 West 53rd Street
    June 28–September 21, 2009

    Musée d'Orsay
    62 rue de Lille
    October 1–February 1, 2009

    Curated by Anna Swinbourne

    James Ensor (1860–1949), the Belgian Symbolist and proto-Expressionist, is a perennial favorite among people with the right taste. One of the very tippy-top paintings in any American collection is his—Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889, 1888, at the Getty. Sadly, that work will not travel here, although the show does feature the Museum of Modern Art’s no less iconic Masks Mocking Death, made the same year. Skeletons, masks, and puppets are mainstays of Ensorworld iconography, and yet for all his trafficking in lurid mayhem and morbidity, Ensor nevertheless suspires an air of transcendence. So we can thank MoMA for mounting this large-scale, thematically organized exhibition of approximately ninety paintings, drawings, and prints and for publishing a hefty, scholarly catalogue. At last, the heart sings, something worth looking at.

  • Aernout Mik, Schoolyard, 2009, looped color, silent two-channel video installation.

    Aernout Mik

    MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art
    11 West 53rd Street
    May 6–July 27, 2009

    Curated by Laurence Kardish

    “I am intrigued by the figure of the extra,” Dutch artist Aernout Mik has said apropos of the anonymous figures in his films—who, like extras, seem content simply to be on the screen, without being the center of attention, as they move through his ominous and dream-like scenarios that dramatize contemporary forms of power and control. This retrospective features eight of Mik’s pieces, ranging from his earliest film, Fluff, 1996, to Schoolyard, 2009, a two-screen video installation commissioned for the occasion. Mik’s enigmatic images of collective bodies in cinematic movement will be shown throughout the museum in both gallery and nongallery spaces, prompting visitors to negotiate the complex forms of continuity between the activity on-screen and that in the places where his work is shown.

  • Frank Lloyd Wright, Taliesen West, 1937–39, Scottsdale, AZ, 2009. © 2009 The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Scottsdale, AZ.

    “Frank Lloyd Wright: From Within Outward”

    Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum | New York
    1071 Fifth Avenue
    May 15–August 23, 2009

    Guggenheim Museum | Bilbao
    Avenida Abandoibarra, 2
    October 6, 2009–February 1, 2010

    Curated by Philip Allsopp, Thomas Krens, David van der Leer, Oskar Muñoz, Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, and Margo Stipe

    Freshly scrubbed after a three-year restoration, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum celebrates its golden anniversary with an exhibition devoted to the architect’s pioneering conception of space. Wright understood the exterior forms of his buildings as direct expressions of their interiors, a once-revolutionary idea that lost currency as cutting-edge architects increasingly approached their buildings as decorated sheds, abstract compositions, or the sheer articulation of structural concepts and programmatic needs. This exhibition promises a timely counterpoint, presenting more than two hundred original drawings, photographs, video animations, and historical and newly commissioned models relating to sixty-four projects spanning Wright’s vast and protean production.

  • Claes Oldenburg, Soft Toilet—Ghost Version, 1966, canvas filled with kapok painted with acrylic, on metal, 51 x 33 x 28".

    Claes Oldenburg/Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen

    Whitney Museum of American Art
    99 Gansevoort Street
    May 7–August 30, 2009

    Curated by Carter Foster, Chrissie Iles, and Dana Miller

    The hard gone soft, the raw cooked: This is the Claes Oldenburg we know and love, the Oldenburg of Soft Toilet, 1966, and Giant BLT (Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Sandwich), 1963—shiny and tasty American wares fallen victim to gravity and deflation. But beginning in 1976, the artist’s collaborations with the late Coosje van Bruggen seemed to reverse course, stiffening into polished monumentality. While the Guggenheim and the National Gallery’s shared 1995 Oldenburg retrospective struggled to tie together these bodies of work, this survey leaves things largely bifurcated. Its first half, which includes rarely seen films, focuses on Oldenburg’s protean investigations of production, from The Store to soft sculptures to mid-’60s Happenings. Its second features his and van Bruggen’s little-known group of Brobdingnagian musical instruments, quite another take on collaboration and performance.

  • Michael Cataldi and Nils Norman, exhibition poster for “University of Trash,” 2009.

    “University of Trash”

    44-19 Purves Street
    May 10–August 3, 2009

    Curated by Mary Ceruti and Sarina Basta

    This May, artists Michael Cataldi and Nils Norman will use recycled and scavenged materials to transform SculptureCenter into a network of pavilions hosting workshops, talks, and film screenings, and a platform for investigating urbanism, alternative design, and the possibilities for pedagogy and activism inherent therein. The project owes much to the countercultural movements of the 1960s (the search for low-cost, environmentally sound “appropriate technology” for developing nations, for example), but its roots go deeper: to the “adventure playgrounds” of the ’40s, where children were invited to create structures for play from discarded construction scraps. A module made in collaboration with students from the alternative high school City-as-School will provide a site-specific anchor, engaging urban design issues relevant to SculptureCenter’s Queens neighborhood—homework for the summer, indeed.

  • Emory Douglass, untitled, ca. 1970, offset lithograph, 22 3/4 x 15".

    “Emory Douglas: Black Panther”

    New Museum
    235 Bowery
    July 15, 2009–October 18, 2000

    Curated by Sam Durant

    Emory Douglas, former minister of culture for the Black Panthers, made illustrations for the party’s posters and insurgent newsletter covers from the mid- 1960s through the ’70s. While invoking Daumier, Heartfield, and Cuban poster art, the militant imagery commingles Kalashnikov rifles and African assegai with depictions of party members distributing free breakfasts to children and escorting the elderly through crime-ridden streets. This exhibition includes some 150 works, reconceptualizing a show from 2007 that Sam Durant curated for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Whether the presentations herald a new wave of radical chic or a recognition that some larger cultural crisis is dawning, what could be more timely than an exhibition about a self-proclaimed revolutionary who once called on artists to “take up their paints and brushes in one hand and their gun in the other”?

  • Jeff Zenick, Because (detail), 1992, ink on paper, 9 x 6".

    “Silent Pictures”

    The James Gallery, CUNY Graduate Center
    365 Fifth Avenue The City University of New York
    August 14–October 11, 2009

    Curated by Linda Norden

    Thankfully overcoming the curatorial urges to which comics have lately been subjected—the high-low quibble and the drive to canonize—“Silent Pictures” instead undertakes an oblique investigation of the medium’s essential qualities, examining formal structure and syntax through wordless and nonnarrative sequences. The show combines selections from Art Spiegelman’s collection of rare early-twentieth-century wordless comics with materials gathered in the course of cartoonist Andrei Molotiu’s research into contemporary abstract comics. The latter group includes work by an international array of artists (most not well known), including John Hankiewicz, Benoit Joly, Victor Moscoso, Jason Overby, Gary Panter, Ibnal Rabin, and Lewis Trondheim. With these pictures, what need for a thousand words?