2009 Spring Arts Roundup

2009 Spring Arts Roundup

T+L spotlights the best of the spring season in arts and culture in New York, London, Mexico City, and beyond. Plus, reports on the expansion of the Art Institute of Chicago, films on Tokyo, and new dances by choreographers, young and revered.

Chicago: The Look of the New

One of America’s greatest encyclopedic museums, the Art Institute of Chicago, is breathing new life into its hallowed halls with an ambitious transformation that leaves few corners of the venerable 130-year-old institution untouched. Many of its treasures, fresh from the conservation lab, are being reframed and reinstalled in renovated galleries that have been reorganized by curators to provide visitors with fresh insights into the collection. Seurat’s iconic A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte is now the centerpiece of a newly revamped suite of 10 Impressionist and Post-Impressionist galleries in the 1916 Gunsaulus Hall. The cornerstone of the massive overhaul is the gleaming $300 million Modern Wing, designed by Renzo Piano. The 264,000-square-foot structure, which opens on May 16, will showcase modern and contemporary art, photography, and architecture and design in luminous, spacious, glass-walled galleries. Atop the three-story building is a sleek restaurant with sweeping views of Millennium Park (to which the wing is connected by a bridge designed by Piano), Chicago’s skyline, and Lake Michigan. The Modern Wing’s opening exhibition, on view through Septmeber 13, offers highlights from the permanent collection and a show of selected works by Cy Twombly. Renovated galleries in the rest of the museum will continue to be unveiled into 2009. 111 S. Michigan Ave.; 312/443-3600; artic.edu. —Raul Barreneche

Don’t Miss Exhibitions


Venetian splendor arrives in New England this spring with “Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice” at the Museum of Fine Arts (March 15–August 16; mfa.org), a show focusing on the intense competition between three maestros of light, color, and drama whose portraits, mythological nudes, and paintings on sacred themes were infused with a unique sensuality.

New York

At the Whitney Museum of American Art, “Jenny Holzer: Protect Protect” displays 15 years of installations, paintings, and sculptures by an artist best known for her oracular use of language to address our deepest public and private concerns (March 12–May 31; whitney.org).

San Francisco

Politics and art also intersect in “William Kentridge: Five Themes” (March 14–May 31; sfmoma.org), a traveling exhibition organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach that includes recent drawings, animated films, and theater models by this prolific and protean South African, a poet of memory and the wounds of war.


The Royal Academy of Arts is presenting “Kuniyoshi” (March 21–June 7; royalacademy.org.uk), a survey devoted to the great Japanese printmaker, one of the last masters of the ukiyo-e style, whose superhero-like warriors wrestle with crocodiles and demon ghosts.


And Americans abroad will find a compatriot following in the steps of Atget and Cartier-Bresson in “William Eggleston: Paris,” at the Fondation Cartier (April 4–June 21; fondation.cartier.com), in which a photographer long associated with forgotten corners of the American South turns his surreal eye on the City of Light. —Leslie Camhi

New Museums: The Art of the Matter

Ann Arbor, Michigan

Located in the heart of the University of Michigan campus, the Museum of Art (umma.umich.edu) reopens on March 26 after a multimillion-dollar expansion, which nearly doubles the exhibition space and includes the renovation of its landmark Beaux-Arts building, Alumni Memorial Hall. Architect Brad Cloepfil and Allied Works Architecture organized the expansion around three limestone-and-glass wings, suffused with light and designed to showcase one of the country’s leading university art collections of more than 18,000 pieces, including notable Central African works and Asian art, as well as Old Masters, modern, and contemporary art.

Mexico City

Mexican Modernist painters Diego Rivera, David Siqueiros, and Rufino Tamayo are already well known. Now, the National Autonomous University of Mexico has opened the Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporáneo (muac.unam.mx), devoted to contemporary art. Architect Teodoro González de León has designed the building’s nine expansive galleries which house the country’s largest public collection of contemporary art, which are set on a reflecting pool. Exhibitions feature a range of Mexican artists, including installation artist Gabriel Orozco and post-minimalist Damián Ortega, as well as work by Icelandic-Norwegian conceptual artist Olafur Eliasson and Swiss video artist Pipilotti Rist.


As recently as 1999, the Amstelhof, on the Amstel River, was a nursing home and, in a daring example of adaptive reuse, the 17th-century building complex is being transformed into the Hermitage Amsterdam (hermitage.nl), the latest satellite of the St. Petersburg Hermitage. Set to open in June 2009, the museum will open with an exhibition re-creating a day at the opulent 19th-century Russian court, incorporating more than 1,800 historical objects, from brocaded costumes to elaborate china sets. —Jennifer Welbel

Film: Reel Tokyo

Not since Lost in Translation has the Japanese capital received this much exposure on U.S. movie screens. The three short films that comprise Tokyo! (hitting theaters in March) incorporate plenty of the city’s hallmarks, from the shoebox-size apartments in Michel Gondry’s Interior Design to anxiety-inducing crowds in Shaking Tokyo, Bong Joon-ho’s tale of an agoraphobe who falls for the pizza delivery girl. Much of Kyoshi Kurosawa’s feature-length film Tokyo Sonata, a Cannes winner, takes place in a company man’s leafy residential neighborhood—until he loses his job, setting off a chain of events that scatters his family to the city’s outer reaches. —Darrell Hartman

Dance: Forever Young

Modern-dance legend Merce Cunningham never paid attention to his birthdays until this year, when the idea of reaching 90, on April 16, inspired him to choreograph an evening-length work, which premieres at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (April 16–19; bam.org) and tours worldwide through 2010. Still as inventive as when he presented his first solo New York dance concert with iconoclast composer John Cage in 1944, for his 90th anniversary Cunningham has chosen an eclectic group of collaborators. Architect Benedetta Tagliabue will create a set conceived as a reevolving, multilevel structure for musicians and dancers. For music, he has turned to a few of his favorites, indie-rock legends Sonic Youth, former Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, and mixed-media sound composer Takehisa Kosugi.

Accomplished young Russian choreographer Alexei Ratmansky, who recently joined the American Ballet Theatre as artist-in-residence, begins his five-year tenure with a splash this June. The former artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet plans to restage On the Dnieper (a river in Ukraine) for the company’s spring season at the Metropolitan Opera House (June 1–June 6; abt.org). First choreographed by Serge Lifar to music by Sergei Prokofiev, the original ballet had its premiere at the Paris Opera Ballet in 1932. Brilliant at both abstract and narrative ballets, Ratmansky hasn’t given away what he’ll do this time, but he’s engaged the top set and costume designers from the Bolshoi Ballet, Simon Pastukh and Galina Solovyeva. Expect a grand production with grand dancing from the ABT’s thrilling stars. —Valerie Gladstone

Architecture: Presidential Retreat

In 1809, Thomas Jefferson began vacationing at Poplar Forest (poplarforest.org), the retirement house he designed while still president. This April the octagonal, Palladian-inspired villa completes 25 years of exhaustive restoration—and celebrates its 200th anniversary—with the opening of the reconstructed office wing, tours of the grounds, and the debut of ”Conversations with Jefferson” (re-enactments in which the Founding Father discusses politics and nature with Federalist-era painter Charles Peale—and the audience). Until 1823, when his health failed, the former president periodically retreated to ”live in the solitude of a hermit” at this hideaway near Lynchburg, Virginia. With its intricate eight-sided geometry, Poplar Forest surpasses Monticello as the architect’s most mature work. But after an 1845 fire, the building’s complex design was never fully realized as Jefferson intended. Until now. —Catesby Holmes

Festival: Extremely Hungary

Washington, D.C., and New York City

Once considered the Paris of the East, Budapest, along with the rest of Hungary, plunged into cultural obscurity when the Iron Curtain descended in 1945. Now, 20 years after the fall of Communism, the nation that gave us Ödön Lechner and Hungarian Art Nouveau and composers Franz Liszt and Béla Bartók returns to center stage. This spring, Extremely Hungary (extremelyhungary.org) promotes the country’s contemporary avant-garde as well as its cultural heritage, with programs including ”Lajos Vajda and Contemporary Hungarian Artists,” an introduction to the revelatory Cubist painter (March 17–April 19; Katzen Art Center at American University, Washington, D.C.); an exploration of Romantics Chopin, Mendelssohn, and Schumann on the 200th anniversary of their births by Hungarian pianist Dénes Várjon and British cellist Steven Isserlis (March 5 and 8; 92nd St. Y, New York City); and the Washington, D.C., premiere of ”Hunky Blues,” Péter Forgács’s documentary about Hungarian immigrants in turn-of-the-20th-century America (May 10; National Gallery of Art). —C. H.

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