New York City’s contemporary arts scene in 2014 is crammed with must-see exhibitions. The city’s art calendar features two major retrospectives and shows exploring issues as diverse as Afrofuturism, sexuality, consumerism and postdigital technologies. Among the highlights are photographer Accra Shepp’s stunning images of the New York City we don’t see in tourist guides or acclaimed African-American artist Carrie Mae Weems’ explorations of race and gender.
Guy Ben Ner: Soundtrack at the Postmasters Gallery
Until 8 March
Tel Aviv-based video artist Guy Ben Ner, best known for his unpolished ‘home movies’ which combine satire and appropriated audio, brings two of his most recent works to the Postmasters Gallery. In Soundtrack (2013), Ben Ner and his family re-enact 11 minutes of the 2005 Spielberg film War of the Worlds in his Tel Aviv apartment. Big budget scenes of alien destruction are replaced with small-scale domestics disasters such as exploding kitchen appliances, interspersed with real scenes of the Israeli–Lebanon and Palestinian conflicts on the family laptop. The second showing, Foreign Names (2012), features a chain of Israeli coffeehouses where, for economic efficiency, waiters have been replaced with a system where customers order coffee and wait for their names to be called by microphone. Ben Ner gave fake names in around 100 coffeehouses, which he recorded and then edited to form an ode that bewails the chain’s absence of waiters.
Kiluanji Kia Henda Icarus 13 (detail), 2008 Eight photographs mounted on acrylic frame 31 × 47 × 3 inches each
| Courtesy Galleria Fonti, Naples and Galeria Filomena Soares, Lisbon
The Shadows Took Shape at the Studio Museum
Until 9 March
The Shadows Took Shape at Harlem’s Studio Museum is a multidisciplinary exhibition of contemporary art produced via the Afrofuturist aesthetic, a term coined by writer Mark Dery in 1994 that refers to conventions in African-American music, science fiction and art. The Shadows Took Shape, which is the first major exhibition to explore Afrofuturism, is made up of 60 works, including 10 entirely new commissions, from both well-known and up-and-coming artists. On display are works from Spanish photographer Cristina De Middel’s The Afronauts series, inspired by the almost forgotten unsuccessful Zambian space programme which aimed to put the first African to the moon, and stills from Kenyan director Wanuri Kahiu’s 2009 film Pumzi, a science fiction film set in post-apocalyptic Nairobi.
Isa Genzken: Retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art
Until 10 March
The Museum of Modern Art presents the first comprehensive retrospective in a US museum of German contemporary artist Isa Genzken’s varied works created over the past forty years of her illustrious career. Genzken, who works primarily in sculpture and installation, is held as one of the most important contemporary female artists of her generation, and this exhibition displays not only her well-known sculptured pieces, but also works in her lesser known mediums of painting, photography, collage, film and drawing. Organised in conjunction with the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and the Dallas Museum of Art, which will also exhibit the retrospective, the show features works including the pop culture-inspired Schauspieler (Actors) (2013), a cluster of mannequins dressed with carnival masks and brightly coloured clothes and draped in various fabrics.
Nathan Vincent, Locker Room (installation view), 144 X 228 in, Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, 2011 | Photo by Stephen Miller/Courtesy of the artist
Queer Threads: Crafting Identity and Community at Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art
Until 16 March
Curated by designer and writer John Chaich, Queer Threads: Crafting Identity and Community features the works of 24 artists from across the globe who use thread-based mediums to explore gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer experiences. Using the traditional craft methods of crochet, knitting and quilting, the Leslie Lohman Museum exhibition examines and challenges those methods’ inherent gender stereotypes and hierarchies, with some works constructed entirely of craft materials, while others blend fabrics with fin art. Crochet artist Nathan Vincent’s Locker Room (2011) constructs the typically male space of the locker room using the stereotypically female crafts of knitting and crocheting to explore the notion of gender social roles. Liz Collins’ Accumulated Prize (2014) takes inspiration from the rainbow flag. By re-introducing two stripes from the original rainbow flag design – pink for sexuality and turquoise for magic and art – Collins questions whether sexuality and creativity is undervalued in current mainstream LGBT cultures.
Laure Prouvost, Farfromwords, installation view, Whitechapel Gallery, 2013 | Courtesy of the artist and MOTINTERNATIONAL, London and Brussels
Laure Prouvost: For Forgetting at New Museum
Until 13 April
French installation and video artist Laure Prouvost’s work explores the ambiguous relationship between imagination and reality while eschewing linear narratives. Born in Lille in 1978, Prouvost has lived and worked in London since the age of 18 and won the 2013 Turner Prize for her experimental video piece Wantee. For Forgetting is Prouvost’s first-ever solo museum exhibition in the USA and is curated by the New Museum’s assistant curator Margot Norton. The multi-faceted and immersive installation includes a semi-circular mural collage wall, a multichannel video piece, various sculptural elements and the artist’s 2014 film How to Make Money Religiously. The various elements of the exhibition probe the problems and possibilities of memory and forgetting and the discrepancies between systems of communication and interpretation.
Chelsea’s Matthew Marks Gallery presents the recent creations of six of its European and American artists, all produced within the medium of sculpture. The Sculpture exhibition features never before seen works from artists including German sculptor Katharina Fritsch, esteemed American contemporary artist and printmaker Jasper Johns and African-American sculptor Martin Puryear. Fritsch’s 2008 life-size Heiligenfigur/Figure of a Saint (St Michael) is a striking matte green sculpture of an angel slaying a demon, part of her examination of iconography. Johns’ 0 – 9 (2008) is a double-sided copper relief featuring his iconic numerals, while Puryear’s Question (2013 – 2014), an eight-foot-tall geometric structure, is his largest work sculpted in bronze. Other artists featured in the exhibition include Robert Gober, Ellsworth Kelly and Charles Ray.
Installation view of Robert Gober’s Untitled (1993 – 2013), Charles Ray’s Sunflower Relief and Katherina Fritsch’s Heiligenfigur/Figure of a Saint (St. Michael) (2008) | Courtesy of Matthew Marks Gallery
The Islands of New York: Photographs by Accra Shepp at Queens Museum
Until 11 May
The Islands of New York at the Queens Museum is an exhibition featuring 16 striking images from an ambitious project being undertaken by Queens-based photographer Accra Shepp. In 2008 Shepp started documenting the coastlines of New York City with the aim of capturing all forty of its islands, from metropolis Manhattan to the small, picturesque City Island in the Bronx. Using a large format camera, Shepp documents the city’s maritime culture and history taking multiple angle shots, which he then digitally merges into stunning panoramic scenes. Shepp’s images, some of which measure over ten feet in length when displayed, capture corners of New York City not often seen beyond its iconic Manhattan skyline, from the industrial warehouses lining Brooklyn’s Gownaus Canal to Jamaica Bay’s bird sanctuaries, and highlight the relationship between city and water.
Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Until 14 May
This comprehensive exhibition of the work of the socially motivated American photographer and visual artist Carrie Mae Weems displays works from the past 30 years of her career, tracing her development from autobiographical photographer to the more conceptual of her projects which have garnered her acclaim in the contemporary art world. Exploring issues of race, gender, class and equality, the Guggenheim exhibition is primarily photographic but also features written texts, videos and audio recordings created by Weems. The exhibition will include images from Weems’ Coloured People (1989 – 1990) collection, a series of black and white portraits of black subjects tinted with bright blues, yellows and pinks that invite debates on race and colour, and her best known project Kitchen Table Series (1990), 20 photographs with Weems as the subject that trace the experience of female identity.
Installation view of Out of Hand: Materialising the Postdigital, Museum of Arts and Design, 2013 | Photo by Ed Watkins
Out of Hand: Materialising the Postdigital at the Museum of Arts and Design
Until 1 June
Out of Hand: Materialising the Postdigital is the first extensive exhibition examining the use of digital fabrication in contemporary art, design and architecture. Presented by the Museum of Arts and Design, the exhibition features over 120 pieces including sculpture, fashion, furniture and jewellery from 85 artists, designers and architects from 20 different countries. Covering work produced between 2005 and the present, Out of Hand: Materialising the Postdigital explores how cutting-edge technologies are transforming artistic practices. Highlights of the exhibition include American sculptor Richard Dupont’s 2008 work Untitled (5), a distorted and surreal life-size sculpture of himself and a 3D-printed dress made from nylon and Swarovski crystal using laser sintering which was conceived by fashion designers Michael Schmidt and Francis Bitonti and worn by burlesque star Dita Von Teese.
Jeff Koons: A Retrospective at Whitney Museum of American Art
27 June – 19 October
Popular yet controversial, Jeff Koons is one of the most important American artists to emerge from the post-war period. Something of a black sheep in the art world, a major retrospective of Koons’s work has been neglected until the Whitney Museum of American Art curated Jeff Koons: A Retrospective as its final exhibition before moving to its new home in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District in 2015. In his most comprehensive exhibition to date, the retrospective features 120 of Koons’s most iconic objects and artworks from 1979 to the present – a collection so huge it takes up nearly all of Whitney’s Marcel Breuer building. Works featured in the exhibition include New! New Too! (1983), a lithograph billboard from Koons’s The New series which explored consumer desire, and one of his most famous pieces, Rabbit (1986), a stainless steel rabbit sculpture.