If you think our snazzy Spring Arts Preview cover image—a Karl Lagerfeld–designed outfit for Chanel—is about a fashion show, you’re right, but it’s no runway show. In May, the Metropolitan Museum of Art opens what promises to be the most talked-about exhibition of the season, “PUNK: Chaos to Couture,” devoted to the styles associated with the punk movement. The Costume Institute’s annual show is one of the Met’s glitziest (the gala attracts the likes of Anna Wintour and Jessica Chastain) and best-attended (remember the lines for McQueen?). Contemporary art, like fashion, has a mind-boggling amount of hype behind it these days. From May 10 through May 13, Frieze New York will gather over 180 international galleries under a big top on Randall’s Island, bringing the art world out in droves. But we urge you to, from time to time, turn away from the glitz and glamour this season, especially when you’re at the Met. Running concurrently with “PUNK” is “Photography and the American Civil War” (April 2–September 2), an exhibition that will show you the real story behind movies of the era, like the recent Lincoln and Django Unchained. Photography was young in the mid-19th century, and journalists were eager to document one of the bloodiest episodes in American history, one that resulted in over 700,000 deaths. To honor the 150th year of the Battle of Gettysburg, the Met has mined its collection for a number of important photographs from the period, ranging from wrenching corpse-strewn post-battle landscapes to medical studies of survivors to portraits of both Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth. You just might find yourself experiencing the shock of the old.
'The Impressionist Line From Degas to Toulouse-Lautrec' at the Frick Collection | Opens March 12
The Frick saves museumgoers a trek to the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass., to see its magnificent holdings of works on paper by bringing 58 of them into its own galleries for an exhibition that highlights the aesthetic innovations of the second half of the 19th century, from Degas’s masterful figure studies to Toulouse-Lautrec’s rowdy cabaret dancers, with showstoppers like Millet’s Sower and Pissarro’s Paris street scenes in between.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, The Seated Clowness (Miss Cha-U-Kao), from Elles, 1896. (Courtesy Frick Collection)
'John Singer Sargent Watercolors' at Brooklyn Museum | Opens April 5
The Brooklyn Museum joins forces with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, for this exhibition of nearly 100 watercolors. Part of the appeal of these pictures is their immediacy: follow Sargent on his travels from Venice to Corfu to Lucca to Carrara. For those who can’t go without the artists gorgeous oil paintings, never fear, nine of them will be on view, including Brooklyn’s An Out-of-Doors Study, Paul Helleu and His Wife (1889), and Boston’s The Master and His Pupils (1914).
'Claes Oldenburg: The Street and The Store' and 'Claes Oldenburg: Mouse Museum/Ray Gun Wing' at MoMA | Opens April 14
Claes Oldenburg may be known for monumental public sculptures but it’s tough to walk down East Second Street in New York and not think of The Store. In 1961, he rented a storefront and displayed in it rough-hewn sculptures mimicking things like dresses, cakes and cigarettes. A few years earlier, he’d made his sculptural piece The Street. MoMA is recreating and showing elements of these works in its sixth floor galleries, and filling its atrium with two other classic Oldenburgs: the Mouse Museum (readymades he displayed in his 14th Street apartment) and its Ray Gun Wing (exactly what it sounds like).
Claes Oldenburg, Pastry Case, I, 1961–62
'Punk: Chaos to Couture' | Opens May 9
Fans of safety pins, leather and ripped T-shirts, rejoice! The Met’s annual Costume Institute presentation—in recent years, among its most well-attended exhibitions (see: Alexander McQueen)—is devoted to the sartorial influence of punk rock, starting with the raucous 1970s. There will be multimedia elements, which in this case should translate to a terrific soundtrack. Azzedine Alaïa, Yohji Yamamoto and Vivienne Westwood are among the designers featured. The most pressing question: what to wear to the gala?
Rodarte, Vogue, July 2008. (Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art/Photograph by David Sims)
'Subliming Vessel: The Drawings of Matthew Barney' at the Morgan LIbrary & Museum | Opens May 10
Ten years ago, a big Guggenheim show introduced viewers to Matthew Barney’s mythological Cremaster series of films. What remained to be mined was his prodigious work as a draftsman, and the Morgan Library has stepped in with the first show devoted to that. There will be some 100 pieces, starting with his work as a Yale undergrad and ranging through the intricate studies for Cremaster, including storyboards. Mr. Barney has selected rare books and medieval manuscripts from the Morgan’s collection to hang alongside his own pieces to create a display likely similar in spirit to his acclaimed show at the Schaulager in Basel, Switzerland, a few years ago.
Matthew Barney, Ren: Headgasket, 2008. © Matthew Barney/Courtesy Barbara Gladstone Gallery
'Expo 1: New York' at MoMA PS1 | Opens May 12
Given the untiring efforts of its curator, Klaus Biesenbach, on behalf of the Rockaways, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, it should come as little surprise that the theme of this exhibition, or at least of the portion of it that takes over P.S.1’s building, is “dark optimism.” But this show, billed as a “festival-as-institution” (biennial fans, rev your engines) spreads far beyond the museum, to other off-site locations. There will be contemporary artworks, but there will also be lectures, group exhibitions-within-the-exhibition and that favorite activity in contemporary art: interventions.
Installation view of Adrian Villar Rojas's Return the World, 2012, at 'Documenta 13' in Kassel Germany. (Courtesy the artist, Marian Goodman Gallery and Kurimanzutto)
'Hopper Drawing' at the Whitney | Opens May 23
You think you know Edward Hopper’s famous 1942 painting Nighthawks, but do you know how it was made? The Whitney aims to answer that question—and not just for that painting—by bringing together some 200 drawings and studies by Hopper in the most extensive exhibition to date of his works on paper. The Whitney’s own collection of some 2,500 Hopper works on paper has been mined, the holes filled in with significant loans. The exhibition promises to have a particularly New York angle, looking at some of the New York City buildings that inspired Hopper.
(Courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art)
Llyn Foulkes at the New Museum | Opens June 12
The New Museum has two exhibitions opening in mid-June—the other is a well-deserved one for Ellen Gallagher. Llyn Foulkes is the older of the two artists but less known to most New Yorkers. It’s hard to believe that the Los Angeles artist, who has been making work since the early 1960s, has never had a major New York museum show. Known for paintings that are more like sculptural reliefs and feature things like landscapes of the American West and critiques of Mickey Mouse, Mr. Foulkes has also ventured into music, with his Rubber Band (formed in 1973).
The Awakening, 1994–2012. (Courtesy the artist and L&M Arts)
'Le Corbusier: An Atlas of Modern Landscapes' at the Museum of Modern Art | Opens June 15
Architecture fans and designers are waiting for this one with bated breath. It’s the largest show ever in New York devoted to the modernist multitasker (he also worked as an artist, city planner, writer, and photographer) and the first comprehensive one at MoMA, the only U.S. venue for the show, which will range from early watercolors to architectural plans for Rio de Janeiro and designs for the new Indian city of Chandigarh.
Le Corbusier, Marseille, model of the superstructure showing the surrounding country. (Fondation Le Corbusier, Paris. FLC L1(12)38. © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris / FLC)
James Turrell at the Guggenheim Museum | Opens June 21
For the past 37 years James Turrell has been transforming a land formation in the desert of Arizona into a massive earthwork—the Roden Crater. It’s been almost as long since he’s had a major museum exhibition in New York, so the Guggenheim’s rotunda-filling extravaganza will be quite the event. The rotunda will play a starring role in Mr. Turrell’s show, as he transforms it into one of his signature “Skyspaces,” artworks that produce a sublime experience of light and space.
Rendering of the project by Andreas Tjeldflatt. (Courtesy the artist and the Guggenheim Museum)