NEW YORK >> Michelangelo. Yayoi Kusama. Ai Weiwei.
The city’s museums, galleries and streets are brimming with megawatt stars this holiday season. Congratulations! Consider yourself blessed by the art world gods, though there are some downsides: long lines and crowded viewing conditions.
Add the annual flood of holiday tourists and school breaks to the mix, and these buzzy exhibitions are sure to draw enough people to test capacity limits. It can all be quite daunting — even for New Yorkers accustomed to such bountiful options and pedestrian congestion. So it’s essential to plan ahead.
Early birds will want to make sure they are in line when the doors open at the big four — the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of Art. The lines will be long, but don’t worry: They will move fast and the people in them will soon disperse. Your reward will be maintaining a bit of personal space while marveling at the black chalk work in Michelangelo’s “Pietà for Vittoria Colonna.”
Not an early riser? It’s OK to show up late, especially after 3 p.m. The big museums have extended hours on Fridays, Saturdays or both. (It’s always good to check websites to be sure, especially those websites of commercial art galleries, which will close for extended periods in the final weeks of the year.) Here’s a small sampling of some of the shows on view.
THE SHOCK OF THE AWESOME
>> Hands down, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer” is the show of the season. New York Times critic Holland Cotter called it “a monument to a monument.” (Pro tip: The lines are generally shorter at the museum’s street-level 81st Street entrance. Plus, the exhibition is easily accessible from there — just an elevator ride to the second floor.) The Met is also showing David Hockney’s crystalline retrospective, which opens Monday. Times critic Roberta Smith said it is a “delightful, absorbing exhibition” that leaves you wanting more.
>> People have been lining up as early as 6 a.m. for Yayoi Kusama’s “Festival of Life” installation (her dazzling infinity rooms are selfie bait) at David Zwirner’s Chelsea gallery space. Kusama’s “three-ring circus of exhibitions — including substantial displays of her infectious paintings — at David Zwirner’s uptown and downtown spaces,” Smith said in her review, “argue in favor of greatness.”
>> “One of the paramount group drawing shows of the era.” That’s how Cotter described the Morgan Library & Museum’s “Drawn to Greatness: Master Drawings From the Thaw Collection.” The display of luminous works — by Goya, Rembrandt and van Gogh (to name a few) — was culled from more than 400 items given to the museum this year by New York art dealer Eugene V. Thaw and his wife, Clare Eddy Thaw.
>> Politics, controversy and innovation swirl around two striking exhibitions at the Whitney. Jimmie Durham’s traveling show raises issues of identity and ownership; Cotter called it a “brilliant, half-century-long act of politically driven self-invention.” Lauren Owens’ midcareer survey has drawn anti-gentrification protests; she renews painting by exploding it from within, Smith said, adding that the “smart, beautiful exhibition bodes well for painting.”
>> The Museum of Modern Art has plunged headfirst into fashion (yes, fashion) with its first exhibition of clothing design since 1944. “Items: Is Fashion Modern?,” Smith said in her review, “is as anthropological as it is aesthetic.” Other exhibitions at MoMA include “Louise Bourgeois: An Unfolding Portrait,” the museum’s third big excursion into Bourgeois’ world, and “Club 57,” a museum-worthy revival of the 1980s East Village art scene via films and ephemera.
>> The New Museum’s “Trigger: Gender as a Tool and a Weapon” examines concepts of trans and queer as embodied in new art. It’s an expansive show, but make time to watch Kahlil Joseph’s new video, “Fly Paper,” a collage of Harlem’s past and present, in the museum’s new ground-floor exhibition space.
>> “Art and China After 1989: Theater of the World” at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is the largest U.S. survey of Chinese-born artists and collectives since 1998. Cotter said it is “of considerable interest” despite the museum’s decision to withdraw works that set off a moral controversy before the show’s opening.
ESCAPE FROM MANHATTAN
>> Patty Chang’s multidisciplinary installation at the Queens Museum, “The Wandering Lake 2009-2017,” concerns gender fluidity, internet surfing, climate change and migration. Nancy Princenthal called it “engrossing and deeply moving.” In his review, critic Will Heinrich called the museum’s exhibition “Never Built New York,” a “thought-provoking tour of models, drawings and newspaper headlines” that brings to light “plenty of grand ideas to be regretted.”
>> At MoMA PS1 in Long Island City, Queens, Irish sculptor and painter Cathy Wilkes is the subject of an exhibition that, Jason Farago wrote in his Times review, “unites uncanny cloth sculptures and scumbled paintings with large doses of junk.” But don’t go expecting fireworks, he said, “her tools can be as unprepossessing as a tea-ringed saucer, a discolored hatbox, an unfixed sink or a case of vegetable peelers.”
THE GREAT OUTDOORS (WITH ART)
>> The worldwide refugee crisis informs “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors,” Ai Weiwei’s citywide public art installation. The ambitious endeavor, Farago wrote in his review, “consists of new sculptures in the form of steel barriers; hundreds of lamppost banners of refugees past and present; and interventions at bus stops across the five boroughs.”
>> Pioneering fiber artist Sheila Hicks has taken over the northern stretches of the High Line with “Hop, Skip, Jump and Fly: Escape From Gravity,” with 200 meters of serpentine aluminum tubes wrapped in colorful, weatherproof textiles.
FOR ART’S YOUNGEST INVESTIGATORS
>> If you want to get children inside a museum, show them mummies. There are plenty — Egyptian, Peruvian and virtual — in a special show devoted to the subject at the American Museum of Natural History. The museum also just opened an exhibition that warps what we perceive to be reality and helps visitors make sense of their senses.
>> Young people will also enjoy the mythology and artifacts in “Soulful Creatures: Animal Mummies in Ancient Egypt,” at the Brooklyn Museum, which explores a nonhuman afterlife.
>> Art Lab, a child-centered space at the MoMA, houses “Nature,” where children can make works on that theme, much as artists in the collection have.
>> And on Dec. 27, “Winter Time,” a family festival at the Met Cloisters, will offer young visitors the chance to go on self-guided art hunts and take part in gallery workshops on how monks, nobles and commoners experienced the season during the Middle Ages.