Magazine article The New Yorker

Museums and Libraries

Magazine article The New Yorker

Museums and Libraries

Article excerpt

Fifth Ave. at 82nd St. (879-5500)--"Splendid Isolation: Art of Easter Island" sparks wonderment about the speck in the South Pacific whose remarkable civilization rose and fell during the thousand years before the first white man made landfall, on Easter Sunday in 1722. Only a few works in the show--including a smallish example (weighing twelve hundred pounds) of the great stone heads--predate that fateful event; the rest are mostly nineteenth-century wooden objects from a final efflorescence of native genius. The art has a familiar Polynesian look but is haunted by the memories of a dying race whose past included disastrous civil wars and the astonishing cult of the Birdman: each year, the island's leader was selected on the basis of a perilous quest for an egg of the sooty tern. Through Aug. 4. "Extreme Beauty: The Body Transformed" traces ideals of beauty from head to toe (with notable detours at the neck, bust, and waist) and the gloriously absurd fashions that ensue in their pursuit. Curator Harold Koda contrasts recent examples of haute couture with artifacts from other cultures and historic periods, so a Commes des Garcons organza ruff about as large as an end table shares the stage with an elaborately beaded Masai collar. Through March 17. (Open Tuesdays through Sundays, 9:30 to 5:30, and Friday and Saturday evenings until 9.)

11 W. 53rd St. (708-9480)--An Alberto Giacometti retrospective reacquaints us with the Swiss sculptor's iconic skinny statues while emphasizing his paintings and his less esteemed Surrealist objects of the nineteen-thirties. The paintings, mostly portraits from the nineteen-fifties, expend obsessive energy to visually skimpy ends. But the great statues are more engaging than ever. These tragicomic presences don't so much stand in the world as stand up to it. Through Jan. 8. (Open Saturdays through Tuesdays, and Thursdays, 10:30 to 5:45; Fridays, 10:30 to 8:15.)

Fifth Ave. at 89th St. (423-3500)--"Brazil: Body & Soul." Through Jan. 27. "Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People." Through March 3. (Open Sundays through Wednesdays, 9 to 6; Fridays and Saturdays, 9 to 8.)

Madison Ave. at 75th St. (570-3676)--The melancholy of small-town living may have a finer champion in Hopper, but if it's the latent menace of a clotted rural sky you want, Charles Burchfield's your man. This concise exhibition of works on paper, drawn from the museum's permanent collection, emphasizes watercolor, the medium for which Burchfield is best known, and the inclusion of several stilted engravings does little to alter that reputation. Rapture strikes when least expected, as a field of goldenrod becomes an exotic jungle of feathery stalks. Elsewhere, a shaft of white light transforms the trunk of a bare-branched tree in a cramped back yard into a celestial apparition. Through Jan. 20. "Over the Line: The Art and Life of Jacob Lawrence." Through Feb. 3. (Open Tuesdays through Thursdays, and weekends, 11 to 6; Fridays, 1 to 9.)

Eastern Parkway (718-638-5000)--"Eternal Egypt: Masterworks of Ancient Art from the British Museum," a modest blockbuster culled from the collections of the British Museum, opens with a group of rare wooden statuettes from the Old Kingdom. One of them still has a painted guideline running down the center of her torso. Equally fascinating is a drawing board, more than three thousand years old, with a mix of finished and practice motifs: a serene Pharaoh, a quail chick, and seven crude efforts at hands. But the show also offers plenty of moments of Ozymandian grandeur, among them a reclining lion in red granite (looking a good deal more formidable than his Fifth Avenue cousins) and a vast and trunkless head of Amenhotep III. Through Feb. 24. (Open Wednesdays through Fridays, 10 to 5; Saturdays and Sundays, 11 to 6.)

GALLERIES UPTOWNUnless otherwise noted, galleries are open Tuesdays through Saturdays, from around 10 or 11 to between 5 and 6. …

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