In 2018, the United States stands with dukes up against much of the world. And a scan of the upcoming art season suggests that museums are tightening borders too. Where are the big shows of art from the Global South: Africa, Asia, South America? The United States and Europe dominate the turf.
Do we really need another Andy Warhol retrospective? The Whitney Museum of American Art thinks we do, and maybe they’re not wrong, given the times. Warhol, celebrity-addled but acid-eyed, has been an apt fit for every truly nutzoid American moment. In “Andy Warhol — From A to B and Back Again,” he surely will be again (opening Nov. 12).
“Bruce Nauman: Disappearing Acts” at the Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PS1 (Oct. 21) is the 76-year-old artist’s second MoMA retrospective. (The first was some two decades ago.) But, again, the moment is ripe for an artist with a radar for the civic surreal. His famed 1987 (Reagan-era) video “Clown Torture” is one of the funniest works of political revenge-porn ever made.
The humongous Eugène Delacroix survey, heading to the Metropolitan Museum of Art from the Louvre, bristles with politics too. Never was European colonialism imagined with more painterly flair than by this grand Romantic. And as the first full-scale North American retrospective devoted to him, the Met event is real news (Sept. 17).
The Delacroix show pulled clamorous crowds in France, where he’s a monument, and it will be interesting to see how it reads here. He’s one of several Europeans in the United States this year on short-term visas. Another is the Swedish abstract painting pioneer and mystic Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) who arrives at the Guggenheim with an angel’s tread (Oct. 12). Only slightly more earthbound are the early-20th-century German painters Franz Marc and August Macke, who will be paired at Neue Galerie (Oct. 4). Both were members of the progressive Blaue Reitergroup in Germany. Both viewed Nature as spiritually charged. Both died in combat in World War I.
And it’s a good year for immigrant artists who are longtime American citizens. A retrospective of the Latvian-born Vija Celmins, poet-painter of sea and stars, opens at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (Dec. 15) and moves on to the Met Breuer. A 45-year survey of work by Liliana Porter, a native of Argentina, reopens a refurbished El Museo del Barrioon Sept. 12. (In her wry installations, Elvis, Joan of Arc and Benito Juárez meet.)
Few transplants have addressed Americanness more directly than Siah Armajani. Now in his late 70s, he came here from Iran in 1960 and went on to built sculptural tributes to several of this country’s canonical secular saints — Henry David Thoreau, Frank O’Hara, Walt Whitman. On Sept. 9, a summing-up look at his art opens at the Walker Art Center in his adopted hometown, Minneapolis, and arrives at the Met Breuer on Feb. 20.
If spirituality is a subtext to some of these shows, it’s right up front in others. Buddhism will be the levitating force in “The Jeweled Isle: Art From Sri Lanka” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Dec. 9), one of the season’s few big-ticket Asian items. And the assertively titled “Armenia!” at the Met will be a flyover tour of 14 centuries of a largely Christian culture that produced some of the most gorgeous gospel illuminations ever made (Sept. 22).
This show overlaps with a smaller thematic one at the Bard Graduate Center in Manhattan. Called “Agents of Faith: Votive Objects in Time and Place,” its theme is the technology of charisma, how religious power-objects work. And the basic idea is: If you pay attention to them, they’ll pay attention to you, and everything’s grace from there (Sept. 14).
This dynamic finds an unexpected contemporary extension in “Robert Pruitt: Devotion” at the California African American Museum. The Houston-based artist is best known for his portrait drawings but the Los Angeles museum is assembling an extensive show from material related to religion in the American South (Sept. 12). Mr. Pruitt is one of several younger artists whose solo shows I’m looking forward to. Others include: Devan Shimoyama at the Andy Warhol Museum (Oct. 13); Tschabalala Self at the Hammer Museum (Feb. 2); Chris E. Vargas and MOTHA at the New Museum (Sept. 26); and Nina Chanel Abney at the California African American Museum (Sept. 23) and at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Fla. (Feb. 9).
I’ve been waiting for someone to do a midcareer survey of the New York-based sculptor Rina Banerjee, and Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts has come through (Oct. 27). I plan to catch up with the Chocktaw-Cherokee artist Jeffrey Gibson in his traveling survey at the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson, or in a smaller solo at the Wellin Museum in Clinton, , N.Y. (both open Sept. 8).
And certain pleasures I know in advance, such as those that will be delivered by the abstract painter Zilia Sánchez. Born in Cuba, living in Puerto Rico, and still active at 90, she’ll be adding serious sizzle to mainline modernism at the Phillips Collection in Washington (Feb. 16).
One way or another, all these shows — and others, like the much-anticipated “Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists” coming to the Minneapolis Institute of Art (June 2, 2019) — create narratives counter to the ones some museums still cling to. We’ll get a strong dose of that difference in “Martha Rosler: Irrespective,” a career survey of a feminist activist at the Jewish Museum (Nov. 2), and in Dawoud Bey’s photographic “The Birmingham Project” at the National Gallery of Art in Washington (Sept. 12), with its present-day portraits of veterans of the 1960s civil rights struggles in Alabama.
Mr. Bey’s project will give a past that has not really passed visibility in the present. So too will a collaborative show called “With Drawn Arms: Glenn Kaino and Tommie Smith” at High Museum, Atlanta (Sept. 29). It revisits a specific historical incident — Mr. Smith’s raising of a Black Power fist at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics — and links it to take-a-knee protest now.
The spring of 2019 will bring another glance backward — and forward — with the half-century anniversary of the Stonewall uprising and the start of the Gay Liberation Movement. There will be plenty of related celebrations then, but the one I’m most eager to see, “Rubbish and Dreams: The Genderqueer Performance Art of Stephen Varble,” opens Sept. 29 at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art.
Varble (1946-1984) was an anti-institutional, anticapitalist street performance artist who, in the 1970s, dressed in fantastic costumes made from rubbish, and made guerrilla appearances at the World Trade Center, Tiffany & Company and outdoors all over town. A critic called him “the embarrassment of Soho.” Warhol called him “a divinity.” Varble said that we live in “an age of pornography and contempt” and he wanted to show it up — embarrass the high and mighty, take outrage to the street. Still a great idea.