Our Mid-March Picks of New York City Art Shows

The major spring show on many of our radars may be the Whitney Biennial, but don’t forget that great art can be found all over the city! Whether you’re in the mood for traditional Zen Buddhist art from Japan, a sculptor whose work reveals what he did and didn’t do, or an animal kingdom’s worth of drawings by a pioneering conceptualist, the shows below are some of our favorites. You can even see works from the impressive Black art collections of Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys, complete with an accompanying soundscape. Many of these are quiet, even meditative shows, but each one is a powerhouse in its own right. —Natalie Haddad, Reviews Editor

Zenga: A New History

This exhibition focuses on the collection of Alice Yelen Gitter and Kurt Gitter, two American collectors who appreciated the work of leading artists of this important genre of Japanese art. Among these artists is Hakuin Ekaku, considered one of the most influential figures in Japanese Zen Buddhism and its related painting, called zenga, which is often connected to the larger tradition of the Japanese tea ceremony. Curator Yukio Lippit cites “Two Blind Men Crossing a Log Bridge” (18th century) as one of the best known zenga works outside of Japan, and the other works on display reveal a large cross section of scroll paintings that highlight the intellectual interests of Zen. Hakuin, as he is often known, explores all the genres of this school of art, from calligraphy to images of enlightened monks to symbolic paintings of staffs. You can ruminate on his work and its influence on other artists (explored in the final gallery), all of which illuminate why the Japanese understanding of Zen continues to appeal to people the world over.  —Hrag Vartanian

Japan Society (japan society.org)
333 East 47th Street, Turtle Bay, Manhattan
Through June 16

Mel Kendrick: Cutting Corners

Mel Kendrick doesn’t like to waste anything. When he cuts a cylindrical form out of a thick block of wood, what he removes becomes part of the sculpture. When you walk around one of his works, you see traces of decisions he made and those he changed his mind about. These markings are records of the artwork coming into being. While he may have learned from both conceptual and process-oriented artists, his connection to the previous generation of Abstract Expressionists, with no hint of nostalgia, makes him one of the best artists of his generation. We don’t see his work; we experience and viscerally engage with his creative choices. We see evidence of logic and the unexpected; everything feels both necessary and surprising. Kendrick is the kind of magician who shows you how it is done and still leaves you mystified. —John Yau

David Nolan Gallery (davidnolangallery.com)
24 East 81st Street, Upper East Side, Manhattan
Through April 13

Shan Shui Reboot: Re-envisioning Landscape for a Changing World

This rather large exhibition brings together contemporary artists of Chinese descent, all exploring the longstanding landscape tradition in Chinese art called shan shui (literally “mountain-water”). Guest curated by Tiffany Wai-Ying Beres, who is currently completing her PhD in art history at the University of California, San Diego, the show features pieces by seven artists born between 1974 and 1992, including three works commissioned specifically for this exhibition. One of those, Lam Tung Pang’s impressive “Mountains de-bonding (pt. 1)” (2024), is his largest work to date and explores his migration from his beloved Hong Kong to a state of diaspora in Vancouver. In Ni Youyu’s “Galaxy” (2023–24), also commissioned, the artist hammers coins into flat surfaces for painting, and proceeds to create mini literati-style shanshui paintings — a few inspired by van Gogh. Spread out like a constellation, they’re some of the most conceptually complex artworks in the show. Make sure to check out the artist’s striking small photo collages in the same gallery — all of it reveals his special touch, which connects images in a way that I can only describe as soothing and seemingly inevitable. —HV

China Institute (chinainstitute.org)
100 Washington Street, Second Floor, Financial District, Manhattan
Through July 7

Joan Jonas: Animal, Vegetable, Mineral

Joan Jonas’s Animal, Vegetable, Mineral at the Drawing Center, running concurrently with her newly opened retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, is a revelatory look at the drawings that form the foundation of the artist’s practice. Both floors are filled with works in watercolor, oil pastels, and other media depicting animals and nature in jewel hues. A video on the lower level contextualizes the drawings as part of Jonas’s larger fascination with the nonhuman world. Fluid renderings and translucent washes of color seem to imbue her subjects with life that is at once familiar and foreign, embodied in her portrayals of resting and snarling dogs. Rife with the mystery of the animal realm, these otherworldly drawings shouldn’t be missed. —NH

The Drawing Center (drawing center.org)
35 Wooster Street, Soho, Manhattan
Through June 2

Joanna Beall Westermann: Works from the Estate

I first met the late Joanna Beall Westermann in the mid-1990s, when I visited her in the Brookfield, Connecticut, house she had shared with her husband, the sculptor H.C. Westermann, who died in 1981. She was self-effacing and was happy to show me all of H.C.’s woodwork that he added to the house, never once mentioning that she was an artist. I finally saw her work in a solo show at Venus Over Manhattan in 2021. Consisting of paintings, drawings, and gouaches, that show opened my eyes. I was particularly struck by the gouaches in her current exhibition at George Adams Gallery. Each one conjures a world governed by its own logic, yet the multiple domains hold together. While compositionally simple, I was mesmerized by the mostly gray “Human Cannonball 2” (1959). A bearded man in a brown gown rises up into a gray sky, possibly launched from a cannon below. Is he a performer or an aspiring saint? Are both follies? What does it mean to want to be noticed? —JY

George Adams Gallery (georgeadamsgallery.com)
38 Walker Street, Tribeca, Manhattan
Through April 6

Giants: Art from the Dean Collection of Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys

The large collection of Black art that is owned by pop music icons Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys is worth a visit at the Brooklyn Museum. While many of the works can almost feel like a checklist of A-list artist names, the show often shines in the lesser-known talents who are given space and a global context. Motswana artist Meleko Mokgosi’s “Bread, Butter, and Power” (2018) monumentalizes the everyday with its huge, history-painting scale. What at first appears to be unconnected scenes from Mokgosi’s imagination transforms into a timeless dialogue with the history of art. Another highlight is Arthur Jafa’s giant “Big Wheel I” (2018), which hangs like a symbolic pendulum in the largest gallery. Then there’s the friendly conversation between Tschabalala Self’s and Jarvis Boyland’s recent paintings. My personal favorite section is the cluster of works by Barkley Hendricks from the 1990s and 2000s depicting Jamaica. Hendricks’s smallish rock and seascape paintings evoke the intimacy of peepholes but they’re done using the language of 19th-century Salon painting. Each one is so perfectly constructed that it verges on the stylized, and they all serve up slices of gold-framed heavens that can appear to radiate light all by themselves. 

Throughout the exhibition there are comfortable sitting areas and elegantly designed Bang & Olufsen speakers with accompanying wall labels. Some are going to see this addition as too commercial, while others will see it as respectful of design and the patrons’ own musical heritage. Overall, I think it works, and I like the idea of the soundscape of the museum space being a more considered thing. —HV

Brooklyn Museum (brooklynmuseum.org)
200 Eastern Parkway, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn
Through July 7

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