ELMGREEN & DRAGSET
“Past Tomorrow” at Galerie Perrotin, April 16 – May 23
In 2011, the artists Elmgreen & Dragset staged a Beckettian play called Happy Days in the Art World as part of Performa, and one can actually see much of the sweep of their garrulously immersive work in the context of theater—albeit more along the participatory lines of Sleep No More than Waiting for Godot. (Habitués of the Venice Biennale will particularly remember The Collectors, a 2009 installation across the Danish and Nordic pavilions that allowed visitors to wander through two neighboring domestic settings to unravel a plot that involved one of the fictional homeowners floating dead in a pool.) This month, the duo is making a splashy return to New York with their first gallery show in the city in a decade. Their installation at Galerie Perrotin will drop viewers into the world of one Norman Swann, a Proustian composite figure we first met in a 2013 Victoria & Albert installation and who stands for the crumbling legacy of old Europe.
Ever since Cimabue discovered the quintessential early Renaissance painter Giotto as a young boy shirking his shepherd duties to draw charismatic sheep on a rock, the story of the rude, untutored, rebellious talent who evolves into a great artist has been one of our most cherished myths. In American art, the figure who best fits this role is Jean-Michele Basquiat, the street-haunting rascal who rose from a teenage graffiti artist of remarkable elegance and virality (SAMO, etc.) to become an extraordinary painter, a Warhol collaborator, and the most famous black artist in the United States. This month Basquiat’s achievement is revisited with “The Unknown Notebooks,” a survey of the scratchpads where the artist first tested out the shapes and phrases of his paintings. The show might even make another Brooklyn-born success story, the Basquiat collector Jay-Z, keep his own notebooks (instead of just memorizing all of his lyrics).
ADRIAN VILLAR ROJAS
Moderna Museet, April 25 - October 25
Adrián Villar Rojas's unfired-clay sculptures are both monumental and fragile, often deteriorating over the course of an exhibition. The Argentine artist, who is represented by Marian Goodman in New York and Kurimanzutto in Mexico City, is only in his mid-30s but has already had some high-profile museum shows; his Pompeii-inspired landscape of crumbling ruins inaugurated the Serpentine's new Sackler Gallery in 2013. His exhibition "Fantasma," at Stockholm's Moderna Museet, promises more poetic decay plus a look at his work in photography and film.
Working in photography, sculpture, textile, and set design, Barbara Kasten is something of a one-woman Bauhaus. Her influence can be seen in the work of contemporary abstract photographers such as Liz Deschenes and Eileen Quinlan, but she's poised for wider recognition with a spring show at Bortolami in New York that coincides with a retrospective at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia.
Making theatrical use of mannequins and Dutch wax textiles, the British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare MBE creates entertaining sculptural tableaux that convey the complexities of post-colonial identity. The works in his latest show at James Cohan in New York, "Rage of the Ballet Gods," will do all of that while advancing a narrative about climate change with symbolism drawn from Greek mythology. His sculptures can also be seen this summer in the period rooms of the historic Morris-Jumel Mansion in Upper Manhattan, in the show "Yinka Shonibare MBE: Colonial Arrangements" (May 1 - August 31.)
The artist Natalie Frank has for years used her virtuosic painting skills to conjure dark scenes of fraught sexuality, implied violence, and haunted psychology that seem beamed in from an earlier historical era, so it was only a matter of time until she came to tackle a subject that wraps all of her themes into a searing little package: the fairytales of the Brothers Grimm. Now the resulting body of work—75 gouache-and-chalk-pastel drawings made over a three-year period—will be excerpted for a high-profile solo exhibition at the Drawing Center, with the support and participation (in the catalogue) of such luminaries as Broadway impresario Julie Taymor and feminist art historian Linda Nochlin. It’s the high point of a banner year for Frank, who has also been selected as one of the 100 artists spotlighted in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Artist Project video series, where she talks about her debt to the German painter and printmaker Käthe Kollwitz.
303 Gallery, April 16 – May 30
The Danish artist Jeppe Hein might be described as a mindful Minimalist. His latest works, on view this month at 303 Gallery, help visitors to become more attuned to their bodily rhythms; a mirrored sculpture evokes a diagram of a heartbeat, and glass spheres hold the artist’s breath. Next month, the Public Art Fund unveils “Jeppe Hein: Please Touch the Art,” a show of several of Hein’s interactive works (including a labyrinth and a walk-in fountain) in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
ICA Boston, April 21-August 9
A painter of vast ambition and dramatic flair, the Botswana-born artist Meleko Mokgosi has given himself a tall order: to depict the story of Southern Africa’s transition from the colonial past to the hopeful present. To accomplish this he has reached for the suitably grand forms of the history painting and especially the mural, which in the hands of artists like Diego Rivera has managed to tell social stories of Tolstoyan sweep. Now Mokgosi, who a year ago seized attention with an incisive critique of the Met’s African galleries, is debuting a new room-filling series of paintings at the ICA Boston that will provide, in five chapters, a discourse on democracy in his native continent.
A master of the quasi-staged photograph, Philip-Lorca diCorcia challenges the supposedly authentic, spontaneous tradition of street photography by using artificial lighting and other tricks of the film trade. His fifth solo show at David Zwirner in New York, which arrives close on the heels of a major European retrospective, highlights his ongoing series “East of Eden.” Inspired by Steinbeck’s novel of the same title, this loose survey of America in the post-Bush era is rich in political and religious symbolism.
MoMA, April 3 – September 7
Combining abstraction and figuration, epic narrative and family history, Jacob Lawrence’s “Migration Series”—made in 1941, when the artist was just 23 years old—has long been considered his masterpiece (and a compelling record of the black American experience). “One-Way Ticket: Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series and Other Visions of the Great Movement North” reunites all 60 tempera paintings from the series, and marks the centennial of the beginning of the Great Migration. In a symphonic show, the curators Leah Dickerman and Jodi Roberts embellishes this potent artistic record with other cultural artifacts related to the period, from a film of Billie Holiday singing "Strange Fruit" to photography of African American communities of the time.