(image above: Mickalene Thomas, featured in Muse)
2016 was a great year for high profile art in D.C. Museums saw record numbers of people show up to everything from Renwick’s Wonder to the newly reopened East Building of the National Gallery of Art to Dupont Underground’s new lease on the art life. While some critics wondered whether “Art for Instagram’s Sake” was ruining the museum experience, the increased audience engagement begged to differ. So, as we bravely venture into 2017 (several of our favorite shows of 2016 are closing this weekend), here is some gorgeous art to look forward to in the months to come, both in D.C. and elsewhere. Run, don’t walk to these.
Please note: the list below is, much like all art lists, pretty subjective and organized in chronological order, and mainly focused on major institutions since a lot of independent art organizations don’t share their programming for beyond the next month or two, but please keep looking for more to see and feel.
- Jacob Lawrence: The Life of Toussaint L’Ouverture @ Phillips Collection (opens January 7) – Coming on the heels of Lawrence’s powerful Migration Series which was at the Phillips the last few months, this collection of rarely seen silk screens moves from the mass experience to a more intimate narrative and portrays the life of Toussaint L’Ouverture, the former slave turned leader of Haiti’s independence movement. It is a continuation of the museum’s mission to share the artist’s work.
- Julie Wolfe: Quest for a Third Paradise @ Katzen Museum (opens January 28) – Julie Wolfe’s 2016 Hemphill shows placed her into a position of one of the most buzzed about D.C. area artists. Her next solo exhibition, which fittingly sees her graduation to a museum settings, asks the audience these questions: “What if we could better understand our own human social systems—the means by which we communicate with each other, the patterns that govern our interdependence, and the minutiae that form those larger structures? And what if we could appreciate the infinitely more complex systems that thrive in our natural world? Perhaps we, as humans, could then see how we fit into a larger universal system housed by nature: an ecological world in which our relationship to nature is not adversarial, but one of peaceful coexistence.”
- Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors @ Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden (opens February 23) – Let’s face it, if there is a natural heir to the WONDER throne for 2017, it is Kusama’s 65 year career-spanning show, including all six of her mirror rooms, available to view in D.C. for the first time. This one is probably 2017’s most talked about art experience, not just in D.C. but worldwide, and comes to the Hirshhorn courtesy of David Zwirner Gallery. Sign up for free timed passes come February. You’ll need them.
- Down These Mean Streets @ Smithsonian American Art Museum (opens May 12) – Street photography is such a buzzword these days that having an opportunity to check into its roots in a contemplative setting will hopefully help us reconnect with its original intentions: capturing the world transforming itself before the photographer’s (and our) very eyes. Down These Mean Streets unites works by Frank Espada, Camilo José Vergara, Anthony Hernandez, Ruben Ochoa, Manuel Acevedo and others who, rather than approach the neighborhoods as detached observers, deeply identified with their subjects and were driven to document and reflect on the state of our cities during 50s and beyond.
- Marlene Dietrich: Dressed for the Image @ National Portrait Gallery (opens June 16) – Decades after her death, Marlene Dietrich is still a symbol of anti-Nazism, a fashion icon and an influential figure of the LGBTQ community. This exhibition celebrates her unique androgynous style, unprecedented glamour, and constant challenging of the limited notions of femininity at the time through her lifestyle and fashion. “I dress for the image. Not for myself, not for the public, not for fashion, not for men.”
- Revival @ National Museum of Women In The Arts (opens June 23) – This year NMWA is celebrating 30 years since its inception and this show is their way to celebrate AND look towards the decades to come. Revival presents contemporary sculptors and photo-based artists whose arresting aesthetics and intense subject matter (think: fragmented bodies, peculiar creatures, and wayward children) spur viewers into a transcendent encounter with the art object. Get ready to be challenged.
- Summer Block Party @ National Building Museum (sometime in early Summer) – whatever NBM is doing this summer (in 2017, in collaboration with the always innovative Studio Gang), you know you are likely lining up to see it.
And if traveling outside of D.C. (no matter how near or far), pencil these beauties in:
- Muse: Mickalene Thomas Photographs and tete-a-tete @ Maryland Institute College of Art (opens January 27) – The Aperture Foundation’s Mickalene Thomas show looks beyond her large-scale, multi-textured, and rhinestone-encrusted paintings of domestic interiors and portraits, and to her photographic images through which she continually asserts new definitions of beauty and inspiration. The exhibition showcases a collection of muses that includes herself, her mother, her friends and lovers, emphasizing the communal and social aspects of art-making and creativity that pervade her work. The idea of communities of inspiration will be further carried out via tête-à-tête, an installation curated by Mickalene Thomas of work from photographers and key images which have inspired her.
- David Hockney @ Tate Britain (opens February 9) – Tate is kicking 2017 in style with probably the most blockbuster retrospective, Kusama aside, a comprehensive exhibition of David Hockney, spanning over six decades and coinciding with the artist’s 80th birthday.
- Basquiat Before Basquiat: East 12th Street, 1979–1980 @ Museum of Contemporary Art Denver (opens February 11) – Basquiat by himself is a surefire hot ticket for any museum, but this show of ephemera and memories of his pre-fame New York existence offers the kind of insider approach that today’s art audiences seem to crave sometimes even more than the access to the art itself.
- Adiós Utopia: Dreams and Deceptions in Cuban Art Since 1950 @ Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (opens March 5) – “The most comprehensive and significant presentation of modern and contemporary Cuban art shown in the United States since 1944.”
- Matisse In The Studio @ The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (opens April 9) – A collection of master’s paintings, sculptures, and drawings, set in the context of the objects with which he surrounded himself for inspiration while at work — decorative arts and textiles from all over the world— promises to give a unique understanding of his art and the process behind it.
- Rei Kawakubo / Comme Des Garcons @ The Met 5th Avenue (opens May 4) – The Costume Institute’s spring 2017 exhibition will examine the work of Japanese fashion designer Rei Kawakubo, featuring 120 examples of Kawakubo’s womenswear for Comme des Garçons, from her first Paris runway show in 1981 to her most recent collection. Read more about it in NY Times here.
- Robert Rauschenberg @ MOMA (opens May 21) – This is the first 21st-century retrospective of the artist, inviting you to experience his work in fresh, new ways and bringing together over 250 paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, and sound and video recordings. MoMA’s presentation is structured as an “open monograph”— as other artists came into Rauschenberg’s creative life, they come into the exhibition, mapping the exchange of ideas. These figures include John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Jasper Johns, Yvonne Rainer, Paul Taylor, David Tudor, Cy Twombly, and many others.