U.S. Museum Exhibitions

The following guide to museum shows currently on view is compiled from Artforum’s three-times-yearly exhibition preview. Subscribe now to begin a year of Artforum—the world’s leading magazine of contemporary art. You’ll get all three big preview issues, featuring Artforum’s comprehensive advance roundups of the shows to see each season around the globe.

“One-Way Ticket: Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series and Other Visions of the Great Movement North”

MOMA - THE MUSEUM OF MODERN ART
NEW YORK
Through September 7
Curated by Leah Dickerman

Between 1900 and 1960, an estimated five million African Americans migrated from Southern states to urban centers in the North, a process accelerated in 1915 by the wartime industrial boom. In a series of sixty tempera panels created in 1940–41, Jacob Lawrence captured in striking color and form the experience of these individuals on the move. The paintings, usually split between MoMA and the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC—the show’s organizers, in collaboration with the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture—will be reunited this spring for the first time in two decades. Scholar Henry Louis Gates has argued that the Great Migration caused the emergence of a new culture, and Lawrence’s images bear witness to the massive social, political, and demographic transformations of the period. Seeing the paintings alongside contemporaneous responses in painting, photography, literature, and music will highlight Lawrence’s series as a trenchant reformulation of historical accounting in the modern period.

Rachael Z. DeLue

Gordon Parks, Shoes, Fort Scott, Kansas, 1950, gelatin silver print, 14 × 11". © The Gordon Parks Foundation.

“Gordon Parks: Back to Fort Scott”

MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS, BOSTON
BOSTON
Through September 13
Curated by Karen Haas

Even before photojournalist, director, and author Gordon Parks was “Gordon Parks,” his biographical arc—youthful escape from the black quotidian followed by loving, professional return—seemed as much his subject as whatever might be before his lens. Parks was born in segregated Fort Scott, Kansas, in 1912; in 1950, he went home as Life magazine’s first black photographer to capture the adult circumstances of his elementary school classmates. His document of the pre–Brown v. Board moment wasn’t published (Life covered General MacArthur’s 1951 canning by Truman instead), but curator Karen Haas has recovered it in the form of forty-one select prints and a more expansive book introduced by renowned author Isabel Wilkerson. Most striking may be the reminder of how painfully unsettled Parks’s physical and psychic geographies remain for us. Fort Scott sits just southeast of Topeka, site of the “board” in Brown v. and only “4 h 40 minutes without traffic,” Google Maps assures us, from Ferguson, Missouri.

Gary Dauphin

Doris Salcedo

MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART | CHICAGO
CHICAGO
Through May 24
Curated by Madeleine Grynsztejn and Julie Rodrigues Widholm

Doris Salcedo has spent much of the past thirty years exploring how the banal trappings of domestic life might bear the traces and traumas of those who lived amid them. Although the resulting sculptures address the cycles of political violence that have scarred her native Colombia, they are never dependent on the knowledge of specific events, operating instead by means of an unsettling embodiment of absence. This first retrospective of Salcedo’s career brings together a comprehensive selection of her sculptural production since the late 1980s alongside her newest works, which trade in the heavy solidity of concrete-filled armoires and chairs for the fragility of rose petals and raw silk. The exhibition will be accompanied by a new film documenting Salcedo’s site-specific installations and a catalogue with contributions by the artist, Elizabeth Adan, Katherine Brinson, and Helen Molesworth. Travels to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, June 26–Oct. 14.

Megan Sullivan

Jos De Gruyter and Harald Thys

CCA WATTIS INSTITUTE FOR CONTEMPORARY ARTS
SAN FRANCISCO
Through April 18
Curated by Anthony Huberman

In Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys’s unnerving, darkly comic videos, characters sit mutely, assault one another, or comment glumly on unsatisfactory vacation experiences. These low-watt individuals could have produced the artists’ intentionally pedestrian drawings, depictions of sex scenes, urban views, vehicles, dinosaurs, etc., which feel similarly blank. The Belgian pair’s first US exhibition presents a new video, a work composed for organ (to be performed in a local cathedral), and steel sculptures elaborating on their earlier White Elements, 2012–, masklike white physio-gnomies (and functioning fountains) that could be public sculpture in Thys and de Gruyter’s world. Yet this art suggests that its emotional evacuations might be elective, a means of escaping a confining state apparatus via comfortable numbness. Therein—sidestepping liberal pieties, approving self-hobbling—lies its real challenge. Travels to MoMA PS1, New York, May 3–Aug. 30.

Martin Herbert

“Man Ray: Human Equations”

THE PHILLIPS COLLECTION
WASHINGTON, DC
Through May 10
Curated by Wendy Grossman, Adina Kamien-Kazhdan, Edouard Sebline, and Andrew Strauss

In 1936, Man Ray photographed plaster, wood, string, and papier-mâché models of mathematical formulae housed in the Institut Henri Poincaré in Paris, creating pictures that André Breton thought of as representing the crisis of the object. Living in Hollywood during the 1940s, Man Ray used these hermetic images for a group of bluntly illusionistic paintings he called “Shakespearean Equations,” titling them after Shakespeare characters. The triangles and T squares of Giorgio de Chirico’s metaphysical paintings are their forebears, and they signal a revived introspection spurred by the Second World War. Co-organized with the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, this show will present more than one hundred related pieces; a selection of the canvases will appear alongside their photographic sources and a number of the original mathematical models. Travels to the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, June 11–Sept. 20; Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Oct. 20, 2015–Jan. 23, 2016.

Robert Pincus-Witten

“Mark Rothko’s Harvard Murals”

HARVARD ART MUSEUMS
CAMBRIDGE, MA
Through July 26
Curated by Mary Schneider Enriquez

Art, science, collaborative innovation, the risks and responsibilities of patronage—you couldn’t invent subject matter more fitting for the inaugural exhibition of the Harvard Art Museums this fall following Renzo Piano’s extensive renovation. “Mark Rothko’s Harvard Murals” will present a set of paintings commissioned by the university for its Holyoke Center penthouse dining room. In 1962, Rothko made six abstract panels, each almost nine feet high; five were hung. Reflecting his interest in creating a space rather than its decoration, he also consulted on the walls and fiberglass curtains for the room’s ample windows. Despite these measures, the paintings quickly deteriorated and by 1979 were banished to dark storage. All six will reemerge, alongside thirty-two studies from 1961–62 and with the benefit of some conservation magic: The Harvard Art Museums and MIT Media Lab developed software that creates “compensation images” for projection over the canvases to virtually (and fleetingly) restore their original color. Light, once a vandal of the works, now plays the hero.

Prudence Peiffer