NEW YORK CITY — What better way to spend the hot and muggy days of August than to catch up on the city’s coolest museum shows before the summer ends?
Exhibitions now on view have something for everyone. For contemporary art lovers looking to be wowed, there’s an eye-popping Yayoi Kusama retrospective at the Whitney and a giant silo-turned-movie-dome at the "Ghosts in the Machine" show at the New Museum.
The more sociologically-inclined can visit the Museum of Modern Art’s “Century of the Child” and Staten Island’s Snug Harbor’s “Island Sounds: A 500 Year Music Mashup.”
Those interested in art playgrounds, still have time to check out the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s rooftop installation, “Cloud City.”
Summertime tends to be busy for New York museums, and with many likely looking for an escape from the high temperatures, this summer has seen an increase in attendance at several museums, officials said.
"Attendance has been specacular," Met Museum spokesman Harold Holzer wrote in an email. "Foreign visitation as high as ever — 28,000+ last Saturday alone — more than the comparable in 2011, during [the popular Alexander] McQueen [show]."
At the Guggenheim Museum, attendance always tends to be strong in July and August, said spokeswoman Lauren Van Natten.
This year has been even stronger.
"Total attendance for July 2012 [with "Art of Another Kind: International Abstraction and the Guggenheim, 1949-1960 and the Rineke Dijkstra retrospective] is 3 percent above 2011 and 10 percent above the same period in 2010," Van Natten said.
"Average daily attendance for 2012 is up 3 percent over 2011 and 5 percent over 2010," she added.
Here’s a list of shows not to miss:
Yayoi Kusama at the Whitney Museum of American Art:
This show spans more than six decades of work from the legendary and semi-reclusive artist Yayoi Kusama, who turned 83 this year. Marking her first major exhibition in New York in 15 years, this show at the Whitney traces Kusama’s development, as she became one of the most influential artists of her time. Kusama, who is famous for use of dense patterns of polka dots and nets, as well as her intense, large-scale environments, was in the heart of the city’s avant-garde arts scene in the 1960s and became well known for her “happenings.” She returned to Japan in 1973, and four years later she moved into a psychiatric institution, where she still lives, with a studio nearby to continue making art. (Please note that her "Fireflies on the Water," installations made with mirror, plexiglass, 150 lights and water requires timed tickets, free with entry.)
Tomas Saraceno’s “Cloud City” on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art:
Argentine artist Tomas Saraceno's eye-popping, site-specific installation — a large constellation of 16 interconnected modules, measuring 54 feet long and 28 feet high — merges art, science and architecture. The artist calls it an "invitation" to challenge perceptions and envisions it as a floating city of sorts that defies notions of gravity and celebrates a different kind of human interaction based on ecologically sustainable concepts. Museum-goers, with time-ticketed entry, can spend up to 20 minutes walking through the hive-like structure, with its transparent and reflective materials, to catch various perspectives of the city's skyline amid the leafy expanse of Central Park. "'Cloud City' is a vehicle for our imagination," Saraceno said in a statement, "ready to transport us beyond social, political, and geographical states of mind."
Rineke Dijkstra: A Retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum:
Dutch photographer and videographer Rineke Dijkstra is known for her large-scale color photographs of young, usually adolescent subjects that conjure paintings of 17th-century Old Masters their scale and visual acuity. Her highly-praised mid-career retrospective at the Guggenheim features more than 70 color photographs and five video installations, from various series she’s done, including portraits of young people posed on beaches from Hilton Head, South Carolina, to Poland and Ukraine; or groups of young people posed in lush public parks.
“Weegee: Murder is my Business” at the International Center of Photography:
Arthur Felig, better known for his photo byline Weegee, relentlessly documented Manhattan's crime scenes — its murders, fires and car smashes — for the city's tabloids from 1935 to 1946. Armed with the newly invented flash bulb and a police radio, Weegee knew where the gritty action was, and when his radio wasn't enough, he would check the police station he lived across from and follow sirens to the mayhem. This ICP show demonstrates the immediacy and potency of the urban underworld on display in Weegee's shots, often capturing startled and anguished expressions of his subjects.
"Century of the Child" at the Museum of Modern Art:
This major survey of 20th century design for children is the "first large-scale overview of the modernist preoccupation with children and childhood as a paradigm for progressive design thinking," MoMA officials said. The 20th century brought a new view of childhood — that children should be treated differently than adults — and this show examines from a design perspective, at roughly 500 items that reflect the evolving view of childhood. It looks at everything from playgrounds, toys, furniture and books to children's hospitals and safety equipment. The title is a nod to Swedish design reformer and theorist Ellen Key's 1900 book, "Century of the Child," a forerunner of how the next 100 years was a time of progressive thinking on the rights of kids. MoMA's "Ecstatic Alphabets/Heaps of Language"(through Aug. 26) and "Alighiero Boetti: Game Plan" (through Oct. 1) are also worth catching.
"Ghosts in the Machine" at the New Museum:
Artists have long embraced technology, often on the cutting edge of the ways in which high-tech wonders can transform subjective experiences. This New Museum show spans 50 years worth of works from artists in what the curators call a "cabinet of wonders," exploring how people have projected anthropomorphic behaviors onto machines and how those machines have become progressively more human. It includes a 12-foot-high, 24-foot-wide silo lid used as a dome for films, the brainchild of the late artist Stan VanDerBreek, who in the early 1960s used a silo lid as a movie theater, allowing people to lie inside as they were bathed in projected films.
"Jean-Michel Othoniel: My Way" at the Brooklyn Museum
The first U.S. museum show of one of France's most important contemporary artists is a mid-career retrospective featuring 67 pieces that trace Jean-Michel Othoniel's development over the past 25 years. The Brooklyn Museum show spans from his early pieces from the 1980s — created with sulfur, lead and beeswax—that touch upon sexual identity and suffering to his more recent works — large scale pieces that incorporate Murano glass from Italy — that evoke mythic and fairytale universes or suggest mathematical equations or molecular structures.
“Rituals of Chaos” at the Bronx Museum of the Arts:
Images from Mexican photojournalist Enrique Metinides, who was the lead crime photographer for a Mexico City daily, La Prensa, for nearly 40 years, fill this group show along with other works curated by São Paulo-based Monica Espinel that explore the act of staring in the city, from the streets of Mumbai to those of The Bronx. Among other works included are a series of photos from 1980 by French artist Sophie Calle, who asked visitors to Fashion Moda, an early gallery in The Bronx neighborhood of Melrose, to take her to a spot in the borough they would never forget, for better or worse; and music video by Jamaican photographer Peter Dean Rickards, that has been slowed so that young men bouncing to hip hop blurs into a kind of modern dance routine.
Young Architects Program at MoMA/PS 1:
The Young Architects Program, now in its 12th year, allows emerging architects create whimsical and future-thinking designs taking over MoMA PS 1's courtyard for its fashionable summer Warm-Up music series. This year's winning project, "Wendy," by HollwichKushner, which is made of nylon fabric treated with a high-tech titania nanoparticle spray to neutralize airborne pollutants. The spiky, star-like structure is supposed to clean the air over this summer equivalent to taking 260 cars off the road, museum officials said. Also, this summer is the last chance to be immersed in the popular and deeply affecting installation, "The Forty Part Motet," by Canadian-based sound artist Janet Cardiff, who also has an epic work on view at the Park Avenue Armory. The PS 1 piece, created in 2001, features an adaptation of a 16th century sacred motet recording with 40 speakers each playing a different choir members' voice.
"Island Sounds: A 500 Year Music Mashup," at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center:
Vernon Reid, guitarist of metal band Living Color; David Johansen, lead singer of the New York Dolls and of Buster Poindexter fame (known for "Feeling hot, hot, hot"); and the RZA from Wu-Tang Clan are among some of the more well-known musicians from Staten Island featured in this Snug Harbor show. Some of the perhaps lesser-known names include 19th century harpist Maud Morgan; vaudeville performer Laura Burt and Vito Picone, from the doo-wop group The Elegants. Famous guitar shop, Mandolin Brothers, which has sold, built and repaired guitars for Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney and others, is also featured among the borough's music memorabilia.