With impressive shows featuring glasswork and surrealist art, these are American museums worth traveling to in 2019.
Innovative contemporary glasswork, paintings that show art’s influence on environmental awareness, and exhibitions that highlight unsung women artists are some of the spring highlights happening at U.S. museums. Here are 10 exhibitions to make part of your travel plans.
January 20 — April 7, 2019; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California
“No one has ever contacted me wanting to know about my mother,” says an older man in this film installation. His name is David and he is talking about Flora Mayo, an American sculptor who spent time in Paris before giving up her art to work in Los Angeles factories to support her son. Weaving together David’s interview with a reenactment of the artist in her studio, the two-sided film considers how her work was lost and how her story can be recovered. The American-Swiss artist duo Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler initially came across Mayo as a footnote in a biography of Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti, with whom she had an affair. After tracking down David, they created Flora, which premiered at the 2017 Venice Biennale and is having its U.S. debut at LACMA. Although no examples of Mayo's work are known to exist, the exhibition includes “Bust,” a photographic reproduction of her sculptural portrait of Giacometti.
January 11 — April 14, 2019; Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
American photographer Dawoud Bey is best known for his large-scale color portraits of urban youth, but his latest series involves monumental black-and-white photographs without people. These meditative images, now on view at the Art Institute of Chicago, depict or evoke locations along the northern stretches of the Underground Railroad, with picket fences, fields, and forests all viewed in the shadows of night. Today, there’s little physical evidence of this pathway to freedom for enslaved Africans and African Americans; Bey’s large-scale photographs reconstruct the uncertainty of their journeys in these dark scenes.
February 10 — April 28, 2019; Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas
Much of the historic architecture of Dresden, Germany, was obliterated in the 1945 World War II bombing of the city. Through Venetian artist Bernardo Bellotto’s paintings of the city in the 1700s, we can glimpse wrecked sites like the Frauenkirche’s towering dome and the spire of the royal palace. Each 18th-century panoramic vista is animated by illustrations of city dwellers and prominent people of the time. At the Kimbell Art Museum, loans of Bellotto’s detailed paintings from the Dresden State Art Collections—many of which measure more than eight feet across—are joined by contextual works, such as a three-foot-tall rare porcelain vase and paintings by Bellotto’s uncle and mentor Antonio Canaletto. Together they offer a visual portrait of this vanished past.
February 2 — May 5, 2019; Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts
This timely exhibition at the Peabody Essex Museum contrasts historic paintings that romanticized American landscapes, like Thomas Moran’s 19th-century depictions of Yellowstone that omitted the indigenous people forced off their lands with contemporary art that considers ecological precariousness, such as Valerie Hegarty’s 2007 Fallen Bierstadt with the painted landscape crumbling out of its frame. Through over 100 works by U.S. artists, Nature’s Nation explores three centuries of how art has influenced and reflected environmental awareness. From a 19th-century Tlingit robe with whale motifs representing a human-animal connection, to Alexandre Hogue’s 1939 painting of land wrecked by Dust Bowl–era farming, each shows an individual response to collective relationships with nature.
February 24 — May 26, 2019; Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, Maryland
Minotaurs prowled through paintings of the 1930s and ’40s, the half-man, half-bull beasts embodying the savagery of humanity. The monster was one of many employed by surrealists on both sides of the Atlantic to evoke the horror of the rise of fascism, the Spanish Civil War, and World War II. This exhibition, co-organized by the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, features over 90 works by such artists as Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, and Max Ernst. Although surrealist imagery, with its dreamlike tableaux, may seem fantastic for the sake of being strange, this exhibition shows how it was reacting to the real-world monstrosities of violence and war.
April 20 — August 4, 2019; Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, California
For almost five decades, Los Angeles–based artist Suzanne Lacy has pushed the conversation around labor, racism, and women’s rights with public actions, community organizing, performances, and other multidisciplinary tactics. So it makes sense that a retrospective on her career would need two institutions, one to highlight her community-focused performances (the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts) and the other to take a contemporary art perspective (the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art). With video installations, objects, photographs, and revived performances, the exhibitions celebrate Lacy’s legacy while involving new collaborative works.
March 9 — September 8, 2019; Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, Arizona
The obscurity of U.S. painter Agnes Pelton was in part self-imposed. Following her studies and work in Europe and New York, where she exhibited in the modernist watershed Armory Show of 1913, she moved west, settling in Cathedral City, California, in the 1930s. There, away from the mainstream art world, she painted abstract compositions infused with symbolism based on her studies of spiritualism and numerology. The Phoenix Art Museum is presenting the first survey of her art in over two decades, bringing together more than 40 of her rare works that interpret desert landscapes and light as transcendental expressions.
February 27 — October 20, 2019; National Museum of African Art, Washington, D.C.
Organized by the Fowler Museum at UCLA, this traveling exhibition is the first of its kind to survey the technical sophistication and artistry of ironworking in Africa. The more than 225 examples from around the continent are concentrated in the 19th and early 20th centuries, with some earlier pieces demonstrating how techniques developed over two millennia. Striking Iron shows how blacksmiths transformed this natural material into objects of utilitarian value and ceremonial power, whether it’s an herbalist’s staff from Nigeria decorated with an elegant flock of metal birds or the knife-shaped currency from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
May 12, 2019 — January 5, 2020; Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York
The last time the Corning Museum of Glass hosted a major survey of international glass art was 1979. In 2018, the museum announced an open call for a new exhibition to highlight the innovations happening in contemporary glass today. The 100 selected artists represent 32 nationalities, with art ranging from monumental installations to video work to experiments with the chemistry of glassmaking. They include Japanese artist Rui Sasaki’s installation of 200 blown glass “raindrops” embedded with glowing phosphorescent material, and Virginia-based artist Sarah Briland’s fossil-like sculptures shaped from such cast-off materials as foam and plastic bags. The ambitious show is staged in the luminous Contemporary Art + Design Wing, which opened in 2015.
March 9, 2019 — October 31, 2019; MASS MoCA, North Adams, Massachusetts
Visitors to this MASS MoCA exhibition will enter the domain of the Mound creatures. These mysterious cryptids are part of Houston-based artist Trenton Doyle Hancock’s evolving universe of imagined beasts and monsters represented in his vibrant multimedia art, which ranges from collaged-felt paintings and Halloween costumes to animatronics and toys. Included in this sprawling show are pages from Hancock’s ongoing graphic novel. Within an immersive installation, musicians, dancers, and preachers will transport visitors into this frenetic world.