Every season, for every art lover, an exhibition or two stands out. This fall, among a long list of almost-certain-to-be-spectacular offerings at museums, the promise of two shows at the Metropolitan Museum of Art really gets my heart going: "Giorgio Morandi, 1890-1964" (opened yesterday, through December 14) and "Calder Jewelry" (December 9-March 1).
Last fall, one of the most stunning New York gallery shows was "Simplicity of Means: Calder and the Devised Object," an exhibit of Alexander Calder's handmade tools, toys, games, and household utensils at Jonathan O'Hara Gallery. In the show's catalog essay, Jessica Holmes relates a story about Calder and his wife, Louisa, who had purchased a pitcher and washbasin — items "Calder found inferior." "Scandalized," Ms. Holmes writes, "Calder ... drove a spike through each, destroying them. 'I feel that if one accepts things which one does not approve of [Calder explained], it is the beginning of the end ... Bad taste always boomerangs.'"
It was, in part, an inability to accept a life surrounded by inferior objects that led Calder to devise all sorts of one-of-a-kind things for daily living — eating utensils, ashtrays, cigarette and toilet-paper holders, toys, bells, handles, and hinges. (The list is endless.) To get an idea of the Calder lifestyle, imagine a wiry world — part metal jungle, part "Calder Circus" — in which every domestic object has a living, breathing, wittily curlicue lyricism and life of its own. Now imagine that inimitable wit and genius applied to jewelry — surreal, primitive, lyrical, and dazzling accessories made of glass, metal, wood, stone, leather, and bone — Calder mobiles for the body.
And later this fall, an unrelated yet complementary show, the Whitney Museum of American Art's "Alexander Calder: The Paris Years, 1926-1933" (October 16-February 15), will explore the artist's formative years, during which Calder began to create his first wire sculptures, the "drawings in space," and his mobiles, as well as his "Circus" (1926-31), a hallmark of the Whitney's permanent collection.
Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964), who instilled bottles and bowls with mysterious inner lives, did for crockery what Corot did for trees. The Met's Morandi exhibit, devoted to the 20th-century Italian master of the landscape and the still life, will present us with the first American retrospective of the artist. Comprising more than 100 paintings, drawings, watercolors, and etchings, it should lift Morandi up onto the pedestal, next to Chardin and Cézanne, where he so rightly deserves to be.
In keeping with the Metropolitan Museum's increasing need to envelop New Yorkers in sensory overload, the Morandi and Calder shows are joined by a number of other promising exhibitions. The Met is bringing us "Royal Porcelain From the Twinight Collection, 1800-1850" (opened yesterday, through April 19), an exhibit of works from the pre-eminent Berlin, Sèvres, and Vienna porcelain factories; "New York, N. Why?: Photographs by Rudy Burckhardt, 1937-1940" (September 23-January 4); "Rhythms of Modern Life: British Prints 1914-1939" (September 23-December 7), and "Beyond Babylon: Art, Trade, and Diplomacy in the Second Millennium B.C." (November 18-March 15), a stupendous gathering of approximately 350 Near Eastern art objects.
Also soon to be on view are "Art and Love in Renaissance Italy" (November 18-February 16), a 150-work celebration of love and marriage, and "Choirs of Angels: Painting in Italian Choir Books, 1300-1500" (November 25-April 12), as well as the well-deserved tribute "The Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions" (October 24-February 1), an exhibition in honor of Mr. de Montebello, that esteemed prince of princes of the museum kingdom, who will be stepping down at the end of the year from his 30-year post as the Met's director.
The Museum of Modern Art is mounting two shows of Modern masters, "Van Gogh and the Colors of the Night" (September 21-January 5), an in-depth look at the artist's nocturnal and twilight paintings and drawings, and "Joan Miró: Painting and Anti-Painting 1927-1937" (November 2-January 12), a focused exhibition exploring an innovative decade, through paintings, drawings, and collaged objects, of the artist's long career.
Two shows of overrated Contemporary figurative painters hit New York's museums this fall: "Marlene Dumas: Measuring Your Own Grave" comes to MoMA (December 14-February 16); and "Live Forever: Elizabeth Peyton" comes to the New Museum of Contemporary Art (October 8-January 11). But are the works of these two feeble-minded handlers of the brush more offensive than the fecal-minded shenanigans of the Contemporary British duo Gilbert & George, who headline at the Brooklyn Museum (October 3-January 11)?
My suggestion is that you skip all three of those exhibits and, instead, take in the Frick Collection's "Andrea Riccio: Renaissance Master of Bronze" (October 15-January 18), the first monographic exhibition dedicated to the under-known Italian sculptor Andrea Riccio (1470-1532). Or that you make a visit to the National Academy Museum, where "The Unknown Blakelock (1847-1919)" (September 25-January 4) takes the stage. Tonal painter Ralph Albert Blakelock, like his contemporary Albert Pinkham Ryder, was a creator of moody, moonlit night-scapes, and this concentrated exhibit of approximately 50 paintings by the New York native should dispel the myth that his art was driven by madness.
The Whitney Museum is also bringing us "William Eggleston: Democratic Camera, Photographs and Video, 1961-2008" (November 7-January 25), a retrospective of the influential American photographer (b. 1939) who, in the 1970s, made color photographs of mundane objects a palatable and legitimate art form for Contemporary artists. He may have had considerable influence, indirectly, on American photographer Catherine Opie (b. 1961), whose retrospective of stark documentary portraits of a variety of people from all walks of life will be mounted by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (September 26-January 7).
Another deserving artist is getting double billing this season. "Chagall's Bible: Mystical Storytelling" (October 7-January 18) comes to the Museum of Biblical Art; and "Chagall and the Artists of the Russian Jewish Theater, 1919-1949" (November 9-March 22) will be featured at the Jewish Museum.
If you are looking for something a little more child-friendly, check out two exhibitions that should prove to be as provocative for adults as they are for children: The Morgan Library & Museum's "Drawing Babar: Early Drafts and Watercolors" (September 19-January 4) and, at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, "Wall Stories: Children's Wallpaper and Books" (October 3-April 5).
To top off the season (and what season in New York would be complete without it), we can look forward to yet another addition to the city's long list of newly redesigned and reinstalled art venues. The Museum of Arts and Design, or MAD, reopens to the public in its brand-new digs. A group of inaugural exhibitions, including the show "Permanently MAD" (a sampling from the permanent collection) marks the occasion. On September 27 and September 28, MAD is free to the public.
Correction from September 22, 2008:
"Live Forever: Elizabeth Peyton" is the title of the New Museum's upcoming show. The title was misstated in an article on page S2 of the September 17 Sun.