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2009 Spring Arts Roundup

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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