Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
1071 Fifth Ave. at 89th St.
Friday - Wednesday through September 12, $25 (pay-what-you-wish Saturday 5:00-7:45)
In his catalog essay “The Quest for the Absolute” for Alberto Giacometti’s 1948 solo show at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York, Jean-Paul Sartre began, “I know no one else so sensitive as he is to the magic of faces and gestures. He views them with a passionate desire, as though he were from some other realm. But at times, tiring of the struggle, he has sought to mineralize his fellow human beings: he saw crowds advancing blindly toward him, rolling down the avenues like rocks in an avalanche. So each of his obsessions remained a piece of work, an experiment, a way of experiencing space.” Humanness and space are key to the Guggenheim’s outstanding current retrospective, simply titled “Giacometti,” where large crowds are expected in its final days; the exhibition ends September 12. Although Giacometti, who was born in Switzerland in 1901, spent most of his working life in Paris, and died in 1966, came to New York only once, for a MoMA show in 1965, he has had a long and important relationship with the city.
Following gallery shows at Pierre Matisse and Julien Levy, Giacometti was given a major exhibition at the Guggenheim’s temporary space in 1955, and nineteen years later the institution mounted a posthumous retrospective in its Frank Lloyd Wright building. The new show is beautifully curated by the museum’s Megan Fontanella and Fondation Giacometti director Catherine Grenier and smartly installed by Derek DeLuco, with the artist’s large and small bronze and plaster sculptures, paintings, drawings, notebooks, and more unfolding chronologically up the Guggenheim’s spiral pathway, revealing a fascinating array of humanity and artistic styles (Surrealism, Cubism, Abstract Expressionism, Egyptian and African), with plenty of room for both the visitor and the work to breathe.
The High Gallery provides a kind of amuse-bouche, a tantalizing look at Giacometti’s designs for an unrealized 1958 project at the Chase Manhattan Bank plaza downtown. Back on the ramp, bays feature black bronze and white plaster versions of the abstract “Spoon Woman,” an early gestation of the more familiar sculptures to come. “Suspended Ball” is a piece of Surrealist illusion. “Woman with Her Throat Cut” and “Hands Holding the Void (Invisible Object)” offer compelling narratives. “Very Small Figurine” is just that, not even two inches tall, in contrast to, for example, “Man Pointing,” which reaches nearly six feet. (If it looks like the man’s left arm is cradling a missing figure, that’s because it is; Giacometti destroyed it, preferring to have the man be more lonely, particularly in the aftermath of WWII.) “City Square” brings together a handful of eight-inch figures that form a little community, while “Four Women on a Base” comprises a quartet of narrow figures who are so thin they nearly disappear. “In the street people astound and interest me more than any sculpture and painting,” Giacometti said. “They form and re-form living compositions in unbelievable complexity. It’s the totality of this life that I want to reproduce in everything I do.”
In “The Nose,” the lengthy proboscis of a figure in an open box pokes outside the plane. “Figurine Between Two Houses” resembles a man in a console television set. A woman stands tall on a small platform with two large wheels in “The Chariot,” which casts stunning shadows below it. Oil paintings such as “Standing Nude,” “Black Annette,” “Diego Standing in the Living Room in Stampa” (Diego was his brother and longtime model as well as a sculptor and designer), and “Jean Genet” prove Giacometti’s intense skill with canvas. The show is so well laid out that a visitor eagerly looks forward to what awaits in the next bay rather than tiring of so many elongated figures; they can seem like a sequence of musical notes, rising and falling as one proceeds through the show. “In space, there is too much,” Sartre quotes Giacometti, but that is not true of this thrilling, must-see retrospective.
I remember the buzz in the room back in July 2012 at the press preview for the “Yayoi Kusama” retrospective at the old Whitney. Even among all the jaded art critics, there was palpable excitement at the rumor that Kusama herself might be attending the event. Alas, it was not to be. But now everyone can feel like they’re in the same room as the iconoclastic Japanese artist when watching Heather Lenz’s infinitely entertaining documentary, Kusama: Infinity, opening September 7 at Film Forum. Over the course of her seven-decade career, Kusama has explored the concepts of infinity and eternity through painting, sculpture, performance art, film, and installation, highlighted by an obsession with endless circles and mirrored reflections. “I convert the energy of life into dots of the universe. And that energy along with love flies into the sky,” she explains. Traumatic childhood experiences deeply influenced her life and art; she began painting when she was eight years old in rural Matsumoto City, where her unhappy parents ran a wholesale seed business (and her mother would tear up her drawings). Now eighty-nine, she still works every day, going from the Seiwa Hospital for the Mentally Ill, where she has lived voluntarily since 1977, to her studio, which is filled with her captivating works-in-progress. Lenz zooms in for extreme close-ups of the artist surrounded by canvases, as if she is the biggest dot (or seed?) in her universe. “So much of Kusama’s art seeks to re-create that [childhood] experience in one form or another,” notes Alexandra Munroe, senior curator of Asian Art at the Guggenheim. “It is literally an experience of being lost into her physical environment, of losing her selfhood in this space that is moving rapidly, and expanding rapidly.”
Kusama was determined to be successful and to stand out from the crowd, as shown in dozens of color and black-and-white photographs of her in various kimono, dot-covered outfits, revealing apparel, and great hats, always sporting that unique bang hairstyle. “I promised myself that I would conquer New York and make my name in the world with my passion for the arts and my creative energy,” she explains. She was not about to let anything stop her, least of all her gender and her heritage. She was angry when it appeared that such artists as Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, and Lucas Samaras copied specific aspects of her work and gained greater notice for it. She sought advice from Georgia O’Keeffe. She got involved in an odd relationship with reclusive artist Joseph Cornell. She was shunned in her home country because of her penchant for nudity. She occasionally gets teary looking back at her life. The film features sensational archival video and photographs from some of Kusama’s seminal happenings and exhibitions, from “Aggregation: One Thousand Boats Show” to “Yayoi Kusama: A Retrospective” at CICA, from her “Narcissus Garden” intervention at the 1966 Venice Biennale, where she was selling individual mirror balls she had arranged on a lawn, to 1969’s “Grand Orgy to Awaken the Dead,” in which the fiercely antiwar artist read “Thoughts on the Mausoleum of Modern Art” as eight participants ran around naked in MoMA’s sculpture garden. (This summer, Kusama brought “Narcissus Garden” to New York for MoMA PS1’s biannual Rockaway! show.) There are also clips from the revolutionary 1967 psychedelic art film Kusama’s Self-Obliteration, made by Jud Yalkut and Kusama.
Lenz, who will participate in a Q&A at Film Forum on September 7 after the 7:45 screening, talks to a wide range of people who provide intriguing perspectives on the artist and her work, including Kusama dancer Jeanette Hart Coriddi, former Matsumoto City mayor Tadashi Aruga, David Zwirner director Hanna Schouwink, psychoanalyst and art collector Judith E. Vida, MD, longtime best friend Akira Iinuma, artists Carolee Schneemann, Ed Clark, and Frank Stella, curators Marie Laurberg and Lynn Zelevansky, Joshua Light Show founder Joshua White, and Yayoi Kusama Museum director Akira Tatehata. CUNY Kingsborough art history professor Midori Yamamura says, “Her diagnosis is of obsessive-compulsive neuroses. Once something enters into her mind, she cannot get rid of it.” Former art dealer Beatrice Perry of the Gres Gallery adds of Kusama’s Infinity Net series, “I’d never seen anything like it. They had some kind of magic. You couldn’t stop looking at them, and you didn’t know where they were going. They were hypnotic.” And gallery owner Richard Castellane remembers, “She was taking away your ability to focus, breaking all boundaries of space. . . . This was the great breaking point in art. No longer are you the viewer the master; she’s the master.” Kusama’s mastery is still evident today, as prices paid for her artwork continue to skyrocket — she’s recognized as the top-selling woman artist in the world — and fans wait on long lines for hours and hours to spend thirty seconds inside one of her Infinity Mirrored Rooms. In addition, Lenz has done a masterful job giving us a Kusama we have never seen before. Despite her difficult, challenging life, the extraordinary Kusama declares, “I want to live forever.” And in the very personal, intimate, and infinite world she has created and Lenz has masterfully revealed, who’s to say she won’t?
The Met Cloisters in Upper Manhattan is one of three locations displaying the breathtaking exhibition “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,” a spectacular collection of haute couture inspired by Roman Catholicism; other parts of the show are also on view on the first floor of the Met Fifth Ave. as well as in the Costume Institute. But on your way to the Cloisters, be sure to stop off at the Cloisters Lawn in Fort Tryon Park, where Icelandic artist Steinunn Thorarinsdottir’s “Armors” continues through September 13. On the vast grassy area surrounded by trees and a pathway overlooking the Hudson River, Thorarinsdottir has placed three pairs of life-size silver human figures, each consisting of one naked, faceless being and one wearing medieval armor. As people walk around and in between the sculptures, it is as if past, present, and future are coming together. To get the armor just right, Thorarinsdottir, whose previous public works include “Ice in the City” in London, “Places” in Copenhagen, and “Borders” in Chicago in addition to many in her hometown of Reykjavik and the current “Trophies” in Dresden, made 3D scans of suits of armor in the Met’s permanent collection. The androgynous figures appear to be in the midst of conversation, a kind of intriguing intervention in the bucolic park, especially as cars pass by on one side and the now-inescapable selfie-makers create evanescent new groups with the figures, then drift away.
Neue Galerie New York
1048 Fifth Ave. at 86th St.
Through September 3 (closed Tuesday/Wednesday), $20
In February 1918, Austrian artist and caftan fancier Gustav Klimt passed away at the age of fifty-five. Later that year, his student Egon Schiele died on Halloween; he was only twenty-eight. The Neue Galerie is honoring the hundredth anniversary of their deaths with the small but lovely exhibit “Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele: 1918 Centenary,” which continues through September 3. The show consists of three rooms, two of which are always on view at the Neue, one featuring gorgeous portraits and landscapes by Klimt, including “Adele Bloch-Bauer I,” “The Dancer,” and “Park at Kammer Castle,” the other displaying such Schiele oils as “Man and Woman I (Lovers I),” “Danae,” and “Town among Greenery (The Old City III).” But it is the Drawings Gallery that brings the two giants together, with walls of works on paper dedicated to each artist. The Schiele wall is particularly dramatic, highlighted by several of his daring, bold self-portraits, including “Self-Portrait with Arm Twisted above Head” and “Self-Portrait in Brown Coat,” in addition to the bittersweet “Friendship.” Upstairs, there are photos of Schiele and Klimt in “Highlights of German Art from the Collection.” The centenary celebration continues nearby at the Met Breuer, where “Obsession: Nudes by Klimt, Schiele, and Picasso from the Scofield Thayer Collection” is on view through October 7.
In 1966, Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama invited herself to the Venice Biennale, setting up “Narcissus Garden,” a collection of plastic silver spheres, on the lawn outside the Italian Pavilion; she even sold the mirrored balls for about two dollars apiece before being told to stop the vending. Original footage of the intervention is one of the highlights of the excellent new documentary Kusama: Infinity, which opens September 7. In the meantime, visitors can experience “Narcissus Garden” for themselves Friday through Sunday through Labor Day (including that Monday) as part of MoMA’s biannual “Rockaway!,” the free site-specific exhibition started in 2014 by MoMA PS1 curator-at-large Klaus Biesenbach and multidisciplinary artist Patti Smith, both Rockaway residents who were determined to rebuild the area following the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy. Kusama, who lived in New York City from 1958 to 1973 and staged many controversial art happenings here, has placed fifteen hundred mirror balls in a former train garage in Fort Tilden in the Gateway National Recreation Area. Kusama’s popularity has risen dramatically this century, with record prices paid for her works and fans lining up for hours and hours (and hours and hours) to get thirty seconds inside one of her Infinity Mirror Rooms at Chelsea’s David Zwirner gallery, for example. So don’t be surprised when you arrive at the Rockaway building only to find that there’s a wait even in the middle of nowhere.
“Narcissus Garden” has been displayed around the world over the years, but it is more relevant than ever in the age of social media and selfies. At Venice, Kusama’s installation included a sign that said, “Your Narcisium [sic] for Sale,” and that is very much still true today. The spheres, each of which rests on a small, barely visible stand to keep them from rolling, reflect not only the surrounding area, consisting of other balls, walls covered in colorful graffiti, blown-out windows, and a high, dilapidated ceiling, but the viewer as well. Thus, people snap photos of themselves in the spheres, ready for posting. Others get so caught up in being photographed within the installation that they don’t listen to security guards telling them not to sit on the ground, not to go past the dangling hook, not to touch the pieces, and not to wander down inviting pathways, which are there to tantalize but not follow. There are even some spheres behind a rusted cage, locked away from the rest, segregated as if imprisoned. When we were there, one man muttered about this not being art and actually kicked one of the spheres, causing it to roll away, after which he was ordered to get out, still mumbling as he exited. Thus, “Narcissus Garden,” a presentation of MoMA PS1, the National Park Service, the Jamaica Bay — Rockaway Parks Conservancy, and the Rockaway Artists Alliance, continues to be a reflection of ourselves, now going back more than half a century, although Kusama, an eighty-nine-year-old firm believer in love and peace who still works every single day, is not condemning anyone or criticizing contemporary culture; she just wants us to enjoy the art. And it’s hard not to love it, especially as sunlight filters in and causes one area to suddenly glow.
The balls also are like three-dimensional manifestations of the dots and infinity lights Kusama has been obsessed with since the beginning of her career. “My desire is to measure and to make order of the infinite, unbounded universe from my own position within it, with polka dots,” Kusama said in a 2016 statement for an exhibition at the Glass House in Connecticut. “In exploring this, the single dot is my own life, and I am a single particle amongst billions. — I work with the principal themes of infinity, self-image, and compulsive repetition in objects and forms, such as the steel spheres of ‘Narcissus Garden’ and the mirrored walls I have created.” Don’t get caught up in taking photographs of the installation; instead, experience it for its many wonders, reflecting on your place and the place of others in the universe, contemplating the circularity of life, enjoying the sheer beauty of what is right in front of you. Then snap a bunch of photos and leave, allowing others to come in and get lost in the infinite joy of “Narcissus Garden.” You can then grab a seat and relax as you watch a screening in the main front space of Jud Yalkut’s 1967 seminal counterculture classic, Kusama’s Self-Obliteration.
The New York Public Library
Stephen A. Schwartzman Building
D. Samuel and Jeane H. Gottesman Exhibition Hall
Daily through September 1, free
The New York Public Library revisits one of the most turbulent eras of American history in “You Say You Want a Revolution: Remembering the 60s,” which continues at the main Manhattan branch through September 1. Part of Carnegie Hall’s citywide “The ’60s: The Years that Changed America,” the show features photographs, art, letters, documents, video, music, propaganda, and more, divided into “Get My Soul Free: Consciousness,” “Wang Dang Doodle: Sexuality and Gender,” “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall: The New Left,” “Bad Moon on the Rise: War in Vietnam,” “I’m Black and I’m Proud: Civil Rights and Black Power,” and “Back to the Garden: Communal Life,” exploring the counterculture and its legacy. John Updike defends the war in Southeast Asia. Tom Wolfe takes notes for what would become The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Film clips celebrate Woodstock and Hair. Buttons declare, “Black Is Beautiful.” The death of the hippie is memorialized in Haight-Ashbury. Psychedelic posters announce happenings. Patty Hearst reinvents herself as Tania. Gloria Steinem has something to say to the New York Times. And Uncle Sam wants out. There are also listening booths where you can act as your own DJ, choosing songs from hundreds of albums arranged politically. Free tours will be held at 12:30 and 3:30 Monday through Saturday and Sunday at 2:00.
New York City–based multimedia conceptual artist Adam Pendleton makes his manifesto clear in “what a day was this,” an immersive installation continuing at Lever House through August 28. The thirty-four-year-old Pendleton has combined black-and-white text and visuals and mirrors from his series “OK DADA OK BLACK DADA OK” and “System of Display” along with silkscreen works on Mylar. Words such as naive, function, and if can barely be read through redacted-like black blotches on several canvases. Large-scale spiral notebooks contain quotes from W. E. B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk, which declares, “The Nation has not yet found peace from its sins; the freedman has not yet found in freedom his promised land,” and Hugo Ball’s Dada Manifesto, which explains, “The word, gentlemen, is a public concern of the first importance.” A wall of masklike portraits of black faces, newspaper clippings (about the 1930 Congo Crisis and other events), and abstract geometric shapes looks out onto Park Ave. An unfinished question asks, “What is the bla?”
Pendleton, whose “Black Dada Flag (Black Lives Matter)” recently flew over Scylla Point, previously known as Negro Point, as part of the Frieze art fair on Randall’s Island, started writing poetry as a young boy in Richmond, Virginia. His mother was an elementary school teacher and his father a contractor and a musician. Pendleton, who lives in Brooklyn and Germantown with his husband, Yumami Food Company cofounder Karsten Ch’ien, and works in two studios in Sunset Park, has had such previous one-man and group shows as “shot him in the face; “I am you, you are too”; “Becoming Imperceptible”; and “How to Live Together” around the world. The site-specific “what a day was this” also includes excerpts from Du Bois’s “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” and Pendleton’s Black Dada Reader as well as an interview with choreographer Trajal Harrell. While the mirrors implicate the viewer, Lever House’s glass walls dare people outside to confront the systemic racism staring right at them. “Black Dada is a way to talk about the future while talking about the past. It is our present moment,” Pendleton says.