Art museums are increasingly under an ethical searchlight. Recently, sources of patronage have been protested, leading one Whitney Museum of American Art donor and trustee, whose wealth comes from the manufacture of military supplies, to leave the board. And long before this development there have been demands that our big-guns art institutions racially and ethnically diversify their boards, staffs and collections.
The Museum of Modern Art, Reinstalled
Where the calls for accounting will lead remains to be seen. But they won’t end soon, and will almost certainly shape responses to the fall’s most noticed American museum event, the reopening of the Museum of Modern Art, after an extensive expansion and reinstallation. Will the “new” MoMA exchange its old, cramped Paris-New York version of Modernism for an inclusive and accurately global one? Will women and artists of color finally find their rightful place in the mix?
‘Betye Saar: The Legends of “Black Girl’s Window”’
We’ll have to wait for answers until the museum reopens on Oct. 21. But two solo exhibitions debuting then are clearly moves in the right direction. One, “Betye Saar: The Legends of ‘Black Girl’s Window,’” is a survey of prints by a veteran Los Angeles artist who, at 93, is still going strong. (A parallel display of the artist’s notebooks titled “Betye Saar: Call and Response,” will be at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art from Sept. 22 to April 5.)
A Trio of Exhibitions for Pope.L
The other show, titled “Pope. L: Instigation, Aspiration, Perspiration,” and one shared by a trio of exhibitors — MoMA, the Whitney, and the Public Art Fund — is a sampler of work, old and new, by an influential Conceptualist who once billed himself as “The Friendliest Black Artist in America” and is still one of the sharpest social satirists in the business. For one past performance, he devoured and vomited up entire sections of The Wall Street Journal. For another, he belly-crawled the length of Manhattan dressed in a Superman costume. He’ll do a repeat crawl, sponsored by the Public Art Fund, on Sept. 21 and is looking for volunteers to join him.
‘Hans Haacke: All Connected’
Meanwhile, in a happy stroke of timing, this fall the New Museum offers a career view of one of the great museum shaker-uppers, Hans Haacke. A 1970 installation created by the German-born artist for a MoMA group show allowed visitors to cast votes of no-confidence in then-New York Governor and Republican presidential hopeful Nelson Rockefeller, who was a MoMA trustee. A year later, the Guggenheim abruptly shut down a Haacke solo that seemed to connect dots between museum patronage and slumlord real estate money. Mr. Haacke has been a hero to many critically minded artists. And the New Museum treats him as one by giving “Hans Haacke: All Connected” the lion’s share of its floor space. (Oct. 24-Jan. 26.)
‘Robert Colescott: Art and Race Matters’
A major American political painter returns to view in “Robert Colescott: Art and Race Matters” at the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center (Sept. 20-Jan. 12). Colescott, who died in 2009, came to international attention in 1997 when he represented the United States at the Venice Biennale. His scorching fantasies of life in his homeland and burlesques of national icons (e.g. “George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware”) blend outrageousness and formal beauty in ways that successive generations of African-American artists — Kerry James Marshall, Kara Walker — have learned from.
‘Beatriz González: A Retrospective’
Dark humor less raucous — but no less caustic — spikes the painting of the Colombian artist Beatriz González, now in her 80s and the subject of a retrospective at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (Oct. 27-Jan. 20). With crisp figures and solid Pop colors Ms. González has, for six decades, chronicled the sometimes murderous modern history of her homeland and the hopeless pretensions of art itself. (She once called her own work “underdeveloped painting for underdeveloped countries.”) Her only substantial United States show was at El Museo del Barrio more than 20 years ago, so this one is real news.
‘The Facade Commission: Wangechi Mutu, the NewOnes, Will Free Us’
Newsworthy too is the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s first-ever art commission for its Fifth Ave. facade niches: sculptures by the Kenyan-American artist Wangechi Mutu. Ms. Mutu has sculptures in the current Whitney Biennial: sinuous mash-ups of materials (earth, wood, stone, bone), forms (human, animal, botanical), and cultures (non-Western, Western, mythical). Comparable images installed on the Met’s classicizing, foursquare facade would send a provocative message about the encyclopedic collection within, one suggesting that hybridity, not purity — change, not fixity — is what art is about and has always been (Sept. 9-Jan. 12).
Sculpture Rocks, From the Renaissance to Rachel Harrison
Generally speaking, sculpture, as medium, will have a strong year. Mash-up is also the method of Rachel Harrison’s work, seen in “Life Hack,” a midcareer Whitney survey (Oct. 25-Jan. 12). The New York artist’s tipsy combos of household hardware, distressed furniture and cement-coated Styrofoam lumps add up to a kind of post-Costco Surrealism. Its character is goofy, sinister, and complex. She’s major.
So is the Renaissance sculptor and painter Andrea del Verrocchio (1435-1488), who’s best known as Leonardo da Vinci’s teacher, but deserves serious props on his own, as will surely be apparent from “Verrocchio: Sculptor and Painter of Renaissance Florence,” a show of 50 pieces assembled at the National Art Gallery in Washington. Given the grace, the art and wave of Leonardo fever circling the globe, the museum could well have a hit on its hands. (Sept. 15-Jan. 12.). And the enthusiasm generated may spill over to “Bertoldo di Giovanni: The Renaissance of Sculpture in Medici Florence” at the Frick Collection, a scholarly take on an older Verrocchio contemporary who was both a student and a teacher of stars: Donatello was Bertoldo’s mentor; Michelangelo his pupil. (Sept. 18- Jan 12).
The Best of Los Angeles
As usual, Los Angeles has a high concentration of goodies, starting with “Lari Pittman: Declaration of Independence” at the Hammer Museum, an eagerly awaited panoptic view of a world-class painter who, through a 30-year career, has stuck close to his home city (Sept. 29-Jan. 5). At the California African-American Museum, another L.A. native will have a single, new, object-studded installation: “Timothy Washington: Citizen/Ship” (Sept. 25-March 1).
Finally, Nayland Blake, a biracial, pansexual ex-adopted-Angeleno (make that Angelenx) gets the full-career treatment at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. The show, “No Wrong Holes: Thirty Years of Nayland Blake,” (Sept. 29- Jan. 26), has been a long time coming. With luck it will later head east.
‘Nicolas Moufarrege: Recognize My Sign’
Among smaller offerings here and there I’m banking on at least three. “Nicolas Moufarrege: Recognize My Sign” at Queens Museum sums up the output of a terrifically witty artist who died in 1985 at 36 and left behind a treasurable legacy of woven and painted tabletop-scale tapestries that, with their meld of Disney comics and Arab calligraphy, distill the esprit of the early 1980s multicultural moment. (Oct. 6-Feb. 16)
‘Must’ve Been a Wake-Dream: Guadalupe Rosales’
The Gordon Parks Foundation in Pleasantville, N.Y., will host “Must’ve Been a Wake-Dream: Guadalupe Rosales,” an archive of photographs and ephemera amassed by the Los Angeles-based Ms. Rosales to document Southern California Latinx and L.G.B.T. youth culture. (Sept. 6-Oct. 18)
‘The Pencil Is a Key: Drawings by Incarcerated Artists’
From The Drawing Center in Manhattan comes “The Pencil Is a Key: Drawings by Incarcerated Artists,” an overview of art produced by prisoners, from Gustave Courbet, jailed in France as a revolutionary in 1871; to Ruth Asawa, confined to a Japanese internment camp in California during World War II; to inmates of the American prison-industrial complex today. (Oct. 11-Jan. 5)