10 Art Exhibitions to Check Out in 2011

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If the seemingly endless barrage of lists telling you what was so great, so horrible, so whatever, in 2010 have started to bum you out, fear not! We’ve entered a new year, which means it’s all about looking forward to what’s up and coming — namely, a host of awesome exhibitions, from the haute-couture looks of the late great Alexander McQueen to the gory yet hypnotic work of Hermann Nitsch. So why not celebrate the new year with some new art (and, if you’re lucky, a new perspective!), and check out ten must-see shows after the jump.

MoMA: Staging Action: Performance in Photography Since 1960 January 28 – May 9, 2011

Rong Rong. East Village, Beijing, No. 81. 1994. Gelatin silver print. 21 3/16 x 13 1/8″ (53.8 x 33.3 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Acquired through the generosity of Peter and Susan MacGill. © 2010 Rong Rong

While we’re not sure it can compare to witnessing the tear-inducing antics of Marina Abramović live, one of the more conceptually interesting upcoming exhibitions at the MoMA is a collection of performance art photography that captures something that some art critics would say is impossible to grasp — the act of performance. The work included, made expressly for the camera as opposed to an audience, is pulled from a range artists, from “pioneers” like Ana Mendieta and Bruce Nauman to Ai Weiwei, Matthew Barney, and Lorna Simpson.

Guggenheim: The Great Upheaval: Modern Art from the Guggenheim Collection, 1910–1918 February 4 – June 1, 2011

Fernand Léger, Nude Model in the Studio (Le modèle nu dans l’atelier), 1912–13. Oil on burlap, 128.6 x 95.9 cm. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection 49.1193. © 2010 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

The decade leading up to the ’20s was one of unrest, change, and expression, so it comes as no surprise that the art of that generation reflected just that. Coming from the Guggenheim’s private collection, this exhibition showcases the movement towards abstraction, and boasts such bigwig names as Chagall, Duchamp, and — of course — Picasso.

MCA Denver: Bloodlines: Paintings by Hermann Nitsch February 4 – May 29, 2011

Hermann Nitsch, Schuttbild (6 Day Play), 1998.

As an Austrian performance artist once jailed for his craft, Hermann Nitsch is not the kind of person you want to take home and introduce to Granny Agnes; his dramatic, often violent inceptions of artwork have left him a controversial figure. The Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver is showcasing eight of Nitsch’s Shuttbilder (spill paintings) created between 1990 and 2007. A fellow painter, Mildred Montano, once asked Nitsch if the “intensity of the taboo associated with blood” frightened him, to which he responded: “It frightens and fascinates me at once.” He also said the work is less dangerous than “our repressed aggressions.” Serious stuff, but then again, why would you want to see straight-laced, vanilla art after this?

New Museum: Works by Lynda Benglis February 9 – July 13, 2011

Lynda Benglis, Contraband, 1969. Pigmented latex, 116 1/4 x 394 1/3 x 3 in (295.3 x 1001.6 x 7.6 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Purchase, with funds from the Painting and Sculpture Committee and partial gift of John Cheim and Howard Reed 2008. © Lynda Benglis/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Lynda Benglis’ first museum retrospective in over 20 years spans 40 years worth of work, and features many of her odd yet mesmerizing latex sculptures, from the rainbow-hued to the molten glowing green polyurethane in Phantom. Unclassifiable, maybe. But unclassifiably cool.

Museum of Contemporary Art: Rodarte: States of Matter March 4 – June 5, 2011

If critics’ predictions for Black Swan are any indicator, there should be a considerable amount of buzz for this exhibition, which focuses on designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy, the sisters behind the Rodarte label. Famous for their meticulously edgy yet romantic looks (see their Spring 2010, Fall 2010, and Fall 2008 collections), the Mulleavys are also responsible for the gorgeous, avian costumes from Darren Aronofsky’s psychological bird flick — both the lovely white tutu and the sinister, black-feather laden counterpart.

Musee d’Orsay: Manet, the Man who Invented Modern Art April 5 – July 3, 2011

It’s one of the first things you learn in Art History 101: the difference between Manet and Monet. Monet had a thing for water lilies. Manet was a member of the French bourgeois whose revolutionary idea of painting the everyday common man scandalized the critics and right-minded people of the day. This exhibition focuses on Manet’s influence on Modernism, from his early formal training and studies of great painters like Velazquez and Rembrandt to lesser-known greater works ( Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe is also on display here, the most shocking painting of the time, because it featured a woman sans clothing, staring directly at the viewer). Manet’s choice to go against the mainstream Impressionist movement was maybe the most hipster move of his day.

Tate Modern: Miro April 14 – September 11, 2011

Joan Miró, Head of a Catalan Peasant, 1925. Tate © Succession Miro / ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2008

Miró is considered to be one of the world’s greatest Surrealist painters, and this collection shows off the breadth and depth of his creative arc. Included in the exhibition are over 150 prints, paintings, drawings, and sculptures, depicting the Catalan artist’s insight and interpretation of both World Wars. After moving to Paris in 1919, Miró spent a lot of time amongst the Dada circles, meeting Picasso and Tzara. Sometimes whimsical, sometimes haunting, his works always have deep symbolism. His use of space, color, and dimension marks him as one of the great interpreters of a massively tumultuous time in history. Sadly, the awesome slides are no longer at the Tate.

Art Institute of Chicago: Altered and Adorned: Using Renaissance Prints in Daily Life April 30 – July 10, 2011

The Master of the Very Small Hours of Anne of Brittany (Master of the Unicorn Hunt). The Nativity, in coffer, c. 1490. George F. Harding Deaccessions Fund; Restricted gift of Mr. and Mrs. William Vance; Amanda S. Johnson and Marion J. Livingston

Back in the mid-15th and 16th centuries, the everyday nature of decorative prints led to strange uses, not unlike Natalie Portman’s “Lolita” book-purse. We guess that these artworks were a dime a dozen, more or less the equivalent of a band poster, and thus, ripe for putting in the proverbial trapper-keepers of the day. Some show up in coffers, others as wearable art, and still more in fold-out anatomical charts. It just goes to show that art can be displayed in any number of innovative ways.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty May 4 – July 31, 2011

When one says “high fashion,” it’s hard not to think of the late Alexander McQueen’s dramatic, meticulous, and often wildly conceptual pieces. This exhibition, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute celebrates the life and work of the prolific British designer from 1992 to the final posthumous collection in February 2010. “When you see a woman wearing McQueen, there’s a certain hardness to the clothes that makes her look powerful,” McQueen said in a 2005 interview with The Guardian . “It kind of fends people off. You have to have a lot of balls to talk to a woman wearing my clothes.” And if last year’s Model as Muse exhibition was any indicator, get in line early (and often), and be prepared to move at a slow-as-molasses pace. But the crowds might be a hidden blessing. With McQueen’s pieces, ranging from his origami frock coat to the bumster trouser, and nearly 100 other clothing items, you’ll want to soak in every cross stitch and pleat.

Miami Art Museum: Rivane Neuenschwander: A Day Like Any Other July 17 – October 16, 2011

Rivane Neuenschwander, Rain Rains, 2002. Aluminum buckets, water, steel cable, ladder, dimensions variable. Installation view, Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art, Hiroshima.

Rivane Neuenschwander’s exhibition, A Day Like Any Other, made its rounds through New York at the New Museum, and makes its way farther south in late 2011. The Brazilian multimedia artist favors interactive exhibits, and this is no exception. Focusing on the past ten years, she features three installations. The first is Rain Rains from 2002, which constitutes a system of leaking buckets that recirculate in four-hour cycles. Next is I Wish Your Wish, where museum-goers are invited to take a ribbon with someone else’s wish and write their own on a new ribbon and pin it to a wall. The final, First Love, requires you to sit down in front of a political sketch artist and describe — what else — the look of your first love. This exhibition promises whimsy, meta-awareness, and like any good exhibit, a sometimes unwelcome intrusion into your own past.