For art enthusiasts, the spring months positively teem with things to do and see. In Manhattan alone, the Armory Show, the Whitney Biennial, and Frieze New York will all jostle for attention between now and June; and that’s to say nothing of high-profile exhibitions like “Camp: Notes on Fashion” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But there are quieter (and more immediate) delights to be had, too—not only in New York, but in Connecticut, Washington D.C., and Ohio, as well. Here, a few museum shows to keep on your radar this March and April, from celebrations of pioneering female artists to a sprawling, multimedia tribute to the late folk singer Leonard Cohen.
Jeanine Michna-Bales: Photographs of the Underground Railroad
At the stately Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., an exhibition of photographs by the Dallas-based visual artist Jeanine Michna-Bales retraces 2,000 miles of the Underground Railroad, some 400 years since the transatlantic slave trade reached the Americas. Drawing from her 2017 photographic series “Through Darkness to Light: Photographs Along the Underground Railroad” (completed after years of painstaking historical research), the show probes a particularly murky passage in our collective history; and to wit, Michna-Bales’s pictures are all hauntingly evocative nightscapes. Opens March 2.
Sally Mann: A Thousand Crossings
This month, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston presents “Sally Mann: A Thousand Crossings,” the most comprehensive study of Mann’s work to date. Comprising over 120 photographs, “A Thousand Crossings” considers the enduring influence of Lexington, Virginia, Mann’s hometown, on her art. “Like Janus,” Hilton Als once wrote of Mann, “she looks forward as she looks back, at all those bodies that made her and her place in Virginia, and into the landscape, filled with rutted earth, big or low clouds, storybook fantastic vegetation, and the Southern light that reminds so many of photography itself.” Divided, for this exhibit, into five themes—family, landscape, battlefields, legacy, and mortality—Mann’s starkly poetic imagery and its various points of reference will be held up to the light. Opens March 3.
Harmony Hammond: Material Witness, Five Decades of Art
With “Material Witness, Five Decades of Art,” the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut, will be the first to stage a dedicated survey of artist and writer Harmony Hammond’s work. Since the ’70s, Hammond, now 75, has blazed a trail for queer, feminist artists, curating several group shows and publishing Lesbian Art in America: A Contemporary History (Rizzoli) in 2000. Spanning from 1971 to 2018, “Material Witness” gathers together Hammond’s painted and sculpted pieces—along with works on paper, publications, and ephemera—to fete her significant body of work.
“I moved to New York’s Lower East Side, and then to the corner of Spring and West Broadway in early fall 1969,” Hammond has written. “It was a period of civil rights and antiwar activism, the gay liberation movement, the second wave feminist movement, and the birth of feminist art.” In response to early experimentations with feminist art, Hammond began painting on “blankets, curtains, and bedspreads recycled from women friends,” turning the stuff of life into the bases for her art. “Rag strips dipped in paint and attached to the painting surface hung down like three-dimensional brushstrokes,” she recalled, “their weight altering the painting rectangle. Eventually the rags took over and activated the painting field.” Unusually tactile, pieces like these “could be touched, retouched, repaired, and, like women’s lives, reconfigured,” Hammond reflected. Examples of those works, along with later multimedia compositions and more recent “near monochromes,” will all be on show at the Aldrich. Opens March 3.
Lincoln Kirstein’s Modern
The writer, philanthropist, and art connoisseur Lincoln Kirstein was a towering New York figure, best known for cofounding the Ballet Society (later to be known as the New York City Ballet) with George Balanchine in 1946. (Kirsten was also behind the development of the School of American Ballet, first established in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1933.) In a new exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, Kirsten’s wide-ranging contributions to the cultural fabric of the city are explored through nearly 300 artworks, from ballet sets and costume designs to paintings and sculptures acquired by Kirstein for the museum. From March 16 to 18, dancers from the City Ballet will also perform excerpts from selected Balanchine works in its atrium. “From the beginning, we have thought about MoMA and New York City Ballet as Lincoln Kirstein’s two homes, and we felt a need to intertwine these stories,” associate curator Samantha Friedman told The New York Times. Opens March 17.
Gordon Parks: The New Tide, Early Work 1940–1950
Traveling to Cleveland from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., where it was mounted last fall, “Gordon Parks: The New Tide” focuses on photographs from Parks’s late 20s and 30s, just after he quit his job as a waiter in a railroad dining car. Long celebrated for his portrait work, Parks rendered the American working class with thrilling dignity, taking especially moving pictures of African Americans. (Raised in segregated Fort Scott, Kansas, Parks became Life magazine’s first black photojournalist in 1948.) “Gordon was comfortable with knowing—and making different images about different communities. He understood what it meant to be an American in different forms and different ways,” Deborah Willis, chair of the Department of Photography and Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, told The New York Times in October. He also understood the power that his camera had to transform the things it captured. “I saw that the camera could be a weapon against poverty, against racism, against all kinds of social wrongs,” Parks wrote in 1999. “The New Tide” represents the first blows. Opens March 23.
Tintoretto: Artist of Renaissance Venice
To mark the 500th anniversary of Jacopo Tintoretto’s birth, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., presents “Tintoretto: Artist of Renaissance Venice,” a retrospective staged in collaboration with the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia and the Gallerie dell’Accademia. Made up of nearly 50 paintings and a trove of works on paper, Tintoretto is the Venetian artist’s first major survey in the United States.
As the exhibit’s cocurators, Robert Echols and Frederick Ilchman, note in its catalogue, Tintoretto’s “innovative pictorial techniques enabled him to paint rapidly and—with his deft management of a busy workshop that facilitated ever-larger volumes of production—inspired countless later artists, from El Greco and Rubens to French painters of the romantic period.” His fascination with the human form—coupled with a “fluid brushstroke” and discerning eye for color—has for centuries made Tintoretto’s paintings a thing to behold. “I never was so utterly crushed to the earth before any human intellect as I was today, before Tintoretto,” wrote the great 19th-century art critic John Ruskin to his father. Face-to-face with the dizzyingly grand Paradiso, a roughly 23-by-72-foot canvas commissioned for the Sala del Maggior Consiglio in Venice, Ruskin praised the dynamism of Tintoretto’s composition. “He lashes out like a leviathan, and heaven and earth come together . . . . Away he goes, heaping host on host, multitudes that no man can number—never pausing, never repeating himself—clouds and whirlwinds and fire and infinity of earth and sea, all alike to him.” Incorporating new research into the chronology of his output, “Tintoretto” will run through the midsummer. Opens March 24.
Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything
After a run at Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal last year, “Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything”—an array of contemporary artworks inspired by themes in Cohen’s work—will arrive this spring at the Jewish Museum in New York. Mingling installations, photography, some of Cohen’s own drawings, and, of course, music (in one gallery, guests can listen to covers of his songs by the likes of Moby, Lou Dillon, and Feist), “A Crack in Everything” speaks to Cohen’s extraordinary reach as a storyteller. “‘Going Home,’ ‘Show Me the Place,’ ‘The Darkness.’ These are all great songs,” Bob Dylan said in 2016, “deep and truthful as ever and multidimensional, surprisingly melodic, and they make you think and feel.”
Among the artists featured in the show are Ari Folman (whose Depression Chamber plays “Famous Blue Raincoat” on a loop) and the partners Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, who rigged an old Wurlitzer organ so that each of its keys yields a different recitation of Cohen’s poetry. “Hallelujah,” indeed. Opens April 12.