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.

Kris Martin, T.Y.F.F.S.H., 2011, hot-air balloon, basket, metal ring, fans. Installation view, Marc Foxx Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo: Robert Wedemeyer. From “S, M, L, XL.”

“S, M, L, XL”

MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART | CHICAGO
CHICAGO
Through October 4
Curated by Michael Darling

Taking its title from Rem Koolhaas’s 1995 manifesto, “S, M, L, XL” is an examination of sculpture and scale. Scale, the relative size of one thing to another, became a preoccupation of aesthetic theory with the publication, in these pages, of Robert Morris’s “Notes on Sculpture” in 1966. Fittingly, two of the four works in the show are by Morris: Portal, 1964, a post-and-lintel structure so narrow we can barely squeeze through it, and Passageway, 1961, an increasingly constricting curved corridor that funnels us to a dead end. And while Franz West’s Blue, 2006, adds a welcoming “relational” element (a seat) to Morris’s spiral, Kris Martin’s installation T.Y.F.F.S.H., 2011, an open balloon animated by fans, allows viewers to experience the immersive scale so emblematic of today’s “site-specific” sculpture.

James Meyer

“Light, Paper, Process: Reinventing Photography”

J. PAUL GETTY MUSEUM
LOS ANGELES
Through September 6
Curated by Virginia Heckert

Exactly what photography is at this point is an open question. Proliferating digital technologies and omnipresent smartphone cameras have made photographic imaging ridiculously easy, costless, and ubiquitous—a flow of experiences rather than staccato decisive moments. Reflecting on the fundamental nature of the medium, a host of contemporary artist-photographers have been experimenting with the medium’s obsolescing materials and practices. Some expose outdated papers, some scratch or waterlog their prints, and some reject the photographic apparatus wholesale—generating controversy while challenging notions of what defines a photograph. This timely exhibition and catalogue showcase seven key artists in this surging debate: Matthew Brandt, Marco Breuer, John Chiara, Chris McCaw, Lisa Oppenheim, Alison Rossiter, and James Welling, alongside process-focused predecessors including Man Ray, and Henry Holmes Smith. Whether the present generation is reinventing photography or merely picking over its still-warm corpse remains to be seen.

Brian Wallis

“Perfect Likeness: Photography and Composition”

HAMMER MUSEUM
LOS ANGELES
Through September 13
Curated by Russell Ferguson

In his seminal 1972 essay “Understanding a Photograph,” John Berger wrote that “composition in the profound, formative sense of the word cannot enter into photography.” Such questions regarding the medium’s essential characteristics, its capabilities, and its “proper task” have been continually contested since its advent nearly two hundred years ago. But as photographic imagery becomes embedded within an ever-proliferating array of visual spaces, the contemporary viewer is even harder pressed to isolate and articulate the photograph’s distinguishing qualities. Ferguson’s exacting and conceptually ambitious exhibition will consider the possibility of rigorous and intentional composition in the work of such prominent contemporary photographers as Stan Douglas, Annette Kelm, Barbara Probst, Jeff Wall, and Christopher Williams. Featuring more than fifty photographs by some two dozen artists, this exhibition promises to explore the narrative repercussions of deliberate formal intervention.

Isabel Flower

Noah Purifoy, Hanging Tree, 1990, mixed media, 52 40". Noah Purifoy Foundation.

“Noah Purifoy: Junk Dada”

LOS ANGELES COUNTY MUSEUM OF ART (LACMA)
LOS ANGELES
Through February 28, 2016
Curated by Franklin Sirmans and Yael Lipschutz

This exhibition reevaluates the vital yet understudied practice of Noah Purifoy (1917–2004), an artist and activist whose melding of collage and community outreach would influence numerous succeeding practitioners. Born in Alabama, Purifoy moved in 1950 to Southern California, where he would execute his signature 1966 exhibition “66 Signs of Neon,” whose works Purifoy and others crafted from the debris of the previous year’s Watts rebellion, and the sprawling constellation of assemblages (1989–2004) that comprise his Joshua Tree Outdoor Desert Art Museum. “Junk Dada” will feature a selection of modes from Purifoy’s diverse oeuvre, from collages to sculptures to installations, and promises to assert his importance within histories of the found object. The accompanying catalogue will include an interview with Purifoy; essays by colleagues, critics, and historians; and a never-before-published portfolio of the artist’s photography.

Huey Copeland

“Josephine Pryde: Lapses in Thinking by the Person I Am”

CCA WATTIS INSTITUTE FOR CONTEMPORARY ART
SAN FRANCISCO
Through August 1
Curated by Jamie Stevens

In her photographs, Josephine Pryde frequently stages determinedly pitched, inscrutable parodies of selfhood. For her first show in a US institution, she presents a series of roughly twenty newly created images of women’s hands in close encounters with their own bodies, as well as with touch screens and touch lamps. Held in suspended states of discovery, these hands are living it up, footloose and perhaps in the midst of one of the “lapses” of self-awareness suggested by the show’s title. Pryde manages subtle affectations in each scene, lampooning her caricatured subjects on an almost subliminal level. Note to Bay Area readers: If you get weary padding the hoof from photo to photo, you can hop a ride aboard Pryde’s miniature Union Pacific boxcar train, an interactive (yep . . .) sculpture barreling its way through the Wattis. Travels to the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, Sept. 16–Dec. 27.

Jay Sanders

“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