The Art of Staying Cool: 10 Can’t-Miss Summer Shows in New York

“Snowman” (1987/2016), by Peter Fischli and David Weiss, in the Museum of Modern Art’s Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden.

Time can be uncooperative; schedules go askew. And New York City’s a busy town. One of the big regrets we art critics feel as the season winds down is about the museum shows we didn’t review, the ones that got caught in the midyear pileup of openings across the city. As a partial remedy, we’re looking at 10 of those brilliant strays now. In every case, late notice is no reflection at all on the merits of the exhibitions. Blame it on the embarrassment of riches, of which they’re a part. And when summer weather turns sultry, museums can be very cool places to be. You’ll find Wayne Thiebaud’s “Ice Cream Cones” waiting for you at the Morgan Library & Museum — and “Snowman,” by Peter Fischli and David Weiss beating the heat in MoMA’s Sculpture Garden. HOLLAND COTTER

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Up a narrow staircase, on a mezzanine perch above the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s galleries of South and Southeast Asian art, are three small rooms of art from the Himalayas. The space, a bit like a treehouse, is a retreat from the summer-swarmed museum — and a capsule of spiritual energy. And the energy is especially potent these days thanks to an exhibition called “Crowns of the Vajra Masters: Ritual Art of Nepal.”

It’s a show about elevation and transformation. The crowns of the title — there are five — look like antique versions of astronaut headgear: gilded copper helmets, each studded with gems, encrusted with repoussé plaques, and topped by five-pronged antennas — the vajra or thunderbolt of wisdom. The earliest crown dates from the 13th or early 14th century, the latest from 300 years later. All were designed for use in an ancient Buddhist ritual still performed in the Newar community in the Kathmandu Valley today.

Such crowns were believed to turn their wearers into bodhisattvas, perfected beings who are willing and able to bestow blessings on the world. The only catch is that qualified wearers have always been few, strictly limited to a familial lineage of priests known as Vajracharyas, or “vajra masters.” This remains true — the show has a 2017 video of a ritual in progress — which may be one reason such esoteric objects have been understudied. Organized by John Guy, the Met’s curator of South and Southeast Asian art, the exhibition is the first to focus on them, and it does so with a wealth of compressed historicalinformation.

The earliest known images of such crowns appears, worn by the Bodhisattva Padmapani, in a fifth-century mural painting at the monastic caves at Ajanta in central India. Later examples turn up in Indian stone carvings, and still later ones in cast metal sculptures and paintings in Nepal and Tibet, of which the show has several resplendent examples, including an 11th-century statuette of the most winsome Buddha of the Future you’ll ever meet.

But it’s the crowns themselves, the real ones, the wisdom-generators, set in mandala-formation in the center of the gallery, that are the fascinators. Four of them belong to the Met, one to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. All differ somewhat in ornamental detail — tiny Buddhas, flowers, birds, even cast locks of hair — but all have a similarly stylish presence that’s distinctive, yet hard to define. Maybe Diana Vreeland’s description of the perfect color red comes close: “rococo with a spot of Gothic in it and a bit of Buddhist temple.” Make that a lot of Buddhist temple, with a whoosh of “Star Wars,” and you’ve got it.HOLLAND COTTER

Through Dec. 16; 212-535-7710,


In the East Village in the early 1980s, the British-American artist Sue Coe showed some of the strongest political art of the day, and in the most traditional of media: figurative painting, drawing and printmaking stretching back in its influences to Käthe Kollwitz, José Guadalupe Posada and Chittaprosad Bhattacharya. In such work, reportage, advocacy and emotion are never far apart. And propelling themes — in Ms. Coe’s case, racism, war, capitalism and violence against all animals, including humans — are never in doubt.

But directness of this kind has a hard time in a market-driven world that favors the convenient slipperiness of ambiguity.As a result, Ms. Coe was left out of many of the big “political” shows of the 1980s and 1990s, and has had spotty visibility since. The current small survey, “Sue Coe: Graphic Resistance,” organized by Peter Eleey, chief curator of MoMA PS1, working with Josephine Graf,a curatorial assistant, is long overdue.

Some the artist’s great early pieces are here, including the 1983 mural-size collage-painting titled “Woman Walks into Bar — Is Raped by Four Men on the Pool Table — While 20 Watch,” from her first New York solo at P.P.O.W.It’s based on a news story from that year, a moment in history that still has the power to shock and outrage, as we finallypublicly reckon with the horrors of sexual abuse. Later pictures like “Road to White House” (1992), “Health Care (Hospital Emergency Room)” (1993) and “The New Xenophobia” (1995) are no less relevantto the present.

Some of her most affecting work focuses on animal rights and the mass slaughtering and processing that is part of the corporate meat industry.Ms. Coe grew up next to a slaughterhouse in Liverpool, England, and its sounds and sights have stayed with her. Over the years, she has repeatedly embedded herself, like a war reporter, inside meat factories and brought out horrifying front-line images, some imagined from a dying animal’s perspective, as in her 2017 book of woodcuts called “The Animals’ Vegan Manifesto,”which is pocket-size but ticks like a bomb.

The survey includes clips from various newspapers, including The New York Times, for which Ms. Coe did opinion page illustrations in the past, and selections from her recent sketchbooks. Together they indicate that her style has changed over the years, growing at once more abstract and more naturalistic, but her view of the ethical mission of art has not. “If people are not protesting by now, they’re not paying attention,” she said in a recent interview. And it is crystal clear from the show that just as she sees all violence — against animals, people and the environment — as connected, so are all forms of activism.HOLLAND COTTER

Through Sept. 9; 718-784-2084,

Museum of Modern Art

Agnes Gund’s steadfast support for the Museum of Modern Art and other cultural institutions, and for essential art education programs like Studio in a School, has been more than enough to cement her legacy as one of New York’s most generous civic leaders. Yet last year MoMA’s president emerita, who now chairs MoMA PS1’s board of directors, took the extraordinary decision — extraordinary in both scale and vision — to sell a prized Roy Lichtenstein painting and to spend $100 million of the proceeds to fight mass incarceration. Her Art for Justice Fund disbursed its second tranche of grants last week, diverting the art market’s immense wealth to organizations fighting to reform bail procedures, prevent recidivism, educate children of prisoners and end discriminatory sentencing.

Ms. Gund, known as Aggie, is no ordinary philanthropist, and “Studio Visit: Selected Gifts from Agnes Gund” is no ordinary collection show. The 55 works here include some of the museum’s most important recent American paintings, including Jasper Johns’s “Between the Clock and the Bed” (1981), a hinge between his crosshatched works and the figurative puzzles to come, and Elizabeth Murray’s “Painters Progress,” made the same year, which depicts her palette and brushes fractured across 19 canvases.

Ms. Gund, too rare among collectors of her standing, has been a firm supporter of women artists and artists of color, and this show’s substantial sculptures by Terry Adkins, Nick Cave and Martin Puryear, as well as a fine portrait of three children by the Harlem Renaissance painter William H. Johnson, testify to her central role in diversifying MoMA’s holdings. The curators Ann Temkin and Cara Manes have honored the collection with a sprightly hang, featuring unexpected rhymes (a cube of burned wood by Jackie Winsor alongside a print by Willie Cole made with scorching-hot irons) and culminating with a major new acquisition: Kara Walker’s “Christ’s Entry Into Journalism,” a massive collage of violent passages from history and the present that was the high point of last year’s exhibition at Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

The bequests here exhibit a greater breadth and quality than the holdings of some single-collector museums. Her greatest legacy could be to inspire a new generation of philanthropists driven, like her, not by vainglory but by justice. JASON FARAGO

Through July 22; 212-708-9400,

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Visit the famed chateau outside Paris and you’ll have to maneuver through crowds of fellow tourists; here at the Met, a different obstacle stands between you and the gilded furniture, ornate tapestries, and embroidered suits and gowns of France’s ancien régime. The distraction in “Visitors to Versailles” comes from a recommended free audio guide whose moderately nifty engineering (a binaural stereo technology oversold as “3D” sound) hardly compensates for its insulting soundtrack of actors portraying awe-struck ambassadors and gossiping aristocrats.

Tell me if you can really appreciate the detailing on a gem-studded ball gown while a baroness hoots in your ear: “I was obliged to rise at 6 o’clock to get my hair dressed!” Do your best to scrutinize a remarkable table inlaid with a map of France in colored marble, while an ambassador with a hammy German accent as strong as a Doppelbock lager recounts that “ve crossed sroo the guard room” to meet “ze king!” This is the sort of juvenile “living history” one hardly expects at the leading art museum of the United States; I am relieved they left out a Hall of Mirrors selfie station.

So leave the audio guide at the entrance. A real show is hiding in here — one that observes the French court from the 1660s to the fall of the Bastille through the eyes of out-of-towners.Versailles was a meeting place for more than just French aristocrats: artists and politicians came from across Europe and from further afield, as testified to by fine French-made portraits of ambassadors from Tunisia and Vietnam, plus an intricately woven tapestry from around 1735 that depicts the massive Ottoman embassy to the French court.

Crowned heads of Europe traveled to Versailles incognito, to save on the expense of an official visit, and eventually Americans came too: the show closes with a porcelain statuette of Louis XVI and Benjamin Franklin, bonding over treaties between the French kingdom and the new republic. The objects here deserve to be looked at on their own merits, which need not mean without technological support. I bet the Met’s ranks are full of young curators with better ideas for digital programming than this show’s vacuous chatter.JASON FARAGO

Through July 29; 212-535-7710,

Morgan Library & Museum

Now 97, Wayne Thiebaud has won a place in American art history for his densely slathered paintings of cakes, pies, ice cream cones, burgers, fruits and crudités. (He has often been mistaken as a Pop artist; in fact, his art is far warmer than Pop’s often fatalistic American scenes.) Mr. Thiebaud’s drawings have been less celebrated, and this sweet show at the Morgan is the first devoted to his work in pen, charcoal and pastel.

Mr. Thiebaud trained in commercial art at a trade school, made posters for the Army during World War II, and came to New York to work as a cartoonist. (He was not the only advanced artist drawn to comics: Franz Kline and Ad Reinhardt also drew cartoons.) You can see the influence of cartooning and illustration in his still lifes of the 1960s, with their enlarged proportions and standardized iconography; the watercolor “Nine Jelly Apples” (1964) depicts the candied fruits to advantage from a high angle, while the pencil drawing “Ice Cream Cone” (1964) places the titular treat front and center, its edges as carefully teased as a model’s coiffure.

Some drawings served as preparatory works for paintings, and this show includes several engrossing sheets covered with seven to 10 drawings apiece, as Mr. Thiebaud varied the count of pie slices or the placement of lipsticks. Later he turned to cityscapes, which display the greatest amount of direct invention; the steep streets of San Francisco appear here as black-and-white roller coasters, as if M.C. Escher had taken a Bay Area sabbatical.

Mr. Thiebaud is sometimes called a realist, but that’s not precise; his drawings (and paintings too) rely less on artful imitation of appearances and affects than on a translation from low advertising into high art. The best joke of this show, though, is that as I took my notes on this impressive exhibition, the predictive text function on my phone kept suggesting cartoon emoji every time I wrote “apple” or “candy” or “pie.” It was as if Mr. Thiebaud’s archetypes had bled into language itself.JASON FARAGO

Through Sept. 23; 212-685-0008,

Museum of Modern Art

Asked to curate an edition of the Museum of Modern Art’s “Artist’s Choice” series, the Swiss artist Peter Fischli started by hanging Ben Vautier’s 1995 text-based painting “If Everything Is Sculpture Why Make Sculpture” in the corner of its sculpture garden. It’s a characteristic joke, gleaming with intelligence and a kind of open-ended self-deprecation. But the score of figurative, abstract, high-concept and decorative pieces from the last hundred-odd years that Mr. Fischli has pulled out of the museum’s permanent collection to show alongside the painting really do answer the question. (In brief, they suggest that thinking out loud is just what humans do.)

One of the best of them, and a fully-formed answer in its own right, is Mr. Fischli’s own “Snowman,” a 2016 reprise of a piece he originally made in 1987 with his longtime collaborator David Weiss, who died in 2012. It lives inside a chunky gray freezer about the size and shape of a block of Carrara marble waiting to be carved into a masterpiece. This inconvenient machine, located outside in the brutal heat of a New York summer, is a reminder both of the outrageous expense of mounting any kind of art show and of art’s own precariousness and fragility. Since it could theoretically preserve the snowman as long as there’s an electric grid, it’s also a model of the kind of immortality art can grant even the most ephemeral idea simply by freezing it in place.

The figure itself, with its two jolly black eyes and crooked grin behind the semi-reflective glass of the freezer door, looks like an archetype of what Mr. Fischli calls the “sculpture that almost anyone can make.” But in fact it’s composed of frost condensed on three copper spheres, which raises another classic problem: Is it still a snowman if it only looks like a snowman? WILL HEINRICH

Continuing; 212-708-9400,

Bronx Museum of the Arts

“Do you want to make history?” Tim Rollins would ask students in the South Bronx public school where he started teaching in 1981. That pedagogical dialogue eventually resulted in the collective Tim Rollins & K.O.S. (Kids of Survival), which gained a level of fame in the New York art world in the ’80s and ’90s. In this small but evocative show at the Bronx Museum of the Arts,which is dedicated to Mr. Rollins, who died last year, Tim Rollins & K.O.S. is paired with Glenn Ligon, another artist who has mined history to make art.

Both Tim Rollins & K.O.S. and Glenn Ligon appeared at a moment when the term identity politics was gaining currency, but their works, which address histories of violence, discrimination, racism and exploitation, are wildly and sadly pertinent today. Mr. Ligon frequently quotes African-American literature or pop culture, smearing or smudging stenciled letters in his works to reflect and emphasize the messiness or violence of the content — or the threat of historical erasure. Tim Rollins + K.O.S. developed a signature style of disassembling books they read together and pasting the pages on canvas, then painting over that grid, leaving the words partly readable. Texts by Malcolm X, Ralph Ellison, W.E.B. Du Bois and Harriet Ann Jacobs appear here, as well as allusions to James Brown, Martin Luther King Jr. and the signs carried by men in the 1968 Memphis sanitation strike that read “I Am a Man.”

Where Tim Rollins + K.O.S. were competent and studious, however, Mr. Ligon brought a sly humor and brilliance to the enterprise. In “Untitled (Runaways)” from 1993, for instance, a series of lithographs that borrow the layout and aesthetic of 19th-century advertisements for escaped enslaved people, Mr. Ligon cast himself in the role of the runaway. “Glenn” is described throughout the series in funny and touching ways: he’s wearing “green tinted sunglasses”; he’s “socially very adept, yet paradoxically, he’s somewhat of a loner”; he “refers to himself as ‘mother’”; he “moves smoothly, looks like he might have something on his mind — he’ll find you.” To make such dark documents actually funny is a feat of appropriation and historical revision in which Mr. Ligon doesn’t just make history, but remakes it in his own image. MARTHA SCHWENDENER

Through July 15; 718-681-6000,

Queens Museum

Mel Chin is known for making art that highlights social injustice, from colonization to racial and economic discrimination. But he is also a skillful maker of objects, fashioning sculpture out of old paintings or furniture, basketballs, kitchen appliances, food, junk or weapons. “Mel Chin: All Over the Place,” a survey spanning nearly 40 years of work and sprawling through the Queens Museum, Times Square and the Broadway-Lafayette Street subway station offers a consistent and excellent display.

A few highlights include Mr. Chin’s recent “Unauthorized Collaboration” series, in which he cut apart old portrait paintings found in antique stores or bought on eBay to reconfigure formal portraiture into objects that critique cultural authority. A wall installation from 2001 finds him remaking Gustave Courbet’s notorious “Origin of the World” (1865), a painting of a woman’s genitalia and abdomen redrawn here with computer keyboard keys on which you can type your own message.

In a beautiful room-sized installation, Mr. Chin cut illustrations from old encyclopedias and pasted them onto black paper, reconfiguring the “knowledge” in the books into playful compositions. “Cross for the Unforgiven” (2002) is a wall sculpture made with AK-47 assault rifles while the giant spider-shaped “Cabinet of Craving” (2012) holds a Victorian tea set in its belly, a reference to imperial empires like Britain and China. (Mr. Chin, who was born in Houston and lives in North Carolina, is the son of Chinese immigrants.)

Mr. Chin is also known for his collaborative projects. At the Queens Museum you can see the results of a community project, “Flint Fit,” with citizens of Flint, Mich., using discarded plastic water bottles to make fabric as well as garments (fashioned by the Michigan-born designer Tracy Reese, shown here on mannequins) that accentuate the water crisis in that city. At the Broadway-Lafayette Street subway station, his installation includes a message from the Haudenosaunee, or Six Nations of the Iroquois, who originally inhabited New York State.Another sculpture, “Wake,” will be unveiled on July 11 in Times Square, featuring Jenny Lind, a 19th-century opera star whose likeness appeared on the prow of a ship once docked in New York Harbor.

Even the Queens Museum’s beloved panorama, with its scaled-down layout of New York City, is part of Mr. Chin’s show.A disturbing video memorializes 9/11, but Mr. Chin’s panorama intervention commemorates “all victims of terrorism,” reminding us of how humans are bound together, globally, by a growing awareness of injustice and acts of violence.MARTHA SCHWENDENER

Through Aug. 12; 718-592-9700,

Brooklyn Museum

It’s hard to overstate what a world-expanding exhibition “Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985” is. Now at the Brooklyn Museum, the show was organized by the independent curators Cecilia Fajardo-Hill and Andrea Giunta for the Hammer Museum as part of the Los Angeles-wide initiative “Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA.” It spotlights 123 artists from 15 countries, the vast majority of whom are little known.

The central theme of “Radical Women is the use of the body. Black-and-white photos and videos prevail, including documentation of actions: Lea Lublin mothering her child in a museum in France, Narcisa Hirsch inviting people to feast off a female skeleton, Victoria Santa Cruz reclaiming a racist taunt through a poem. These works create a feeling of immediacy but also one of experimentation, as if the artists were constantly probing the limits of what was possible amid landscapes of political repression.

Those landscapes form the backdrop for the show, but they don’t occupy the foreground as much as one might expect. Many of the strongest works incorporate violence latently, as a suggestion or ever-present specter. It’s there in Mara Álvares’s photographs of nude body parts in nature and in Graciela Carnevale’s locking guests into a gallery at an art opening. Anna Bella Geiger’s re-creations of postcards of Brazil’s Bororo Indians are funny, but they also highlight the exploitation of indigenous peoples. A performance by Sylvia Palacios Whitman, shot by Babette Mangolte, shows a group of performers suspended in a bundle like meat carcasses.

The violence, when it does move toward center stage, is visceral and stunning. The corpse in the side-view mirror in a Diana Dowek painting sneaked up on and then winded me. Letícia Parente painstakingly sewing the words “Made in Brazil” into her foot made me cringe. I was awed before Sonia Gutiérrez’s Pop Art-style paintings of bound bodies. Yet for all the darkness, there’s a welcome and important dose of levity too, from a hilarious video of a beauty products fair by María Luisa Bemberg to Regina Vater’s playful, costumed self-portrait photographs.

So much is contained in and riding on “Radical Women,” it can be tempting to value it foremost as a sociopolitical statement, especially when the rights of women are under aggressive attack. Fortunately, the works on view resist generalization. They remind us that art is not just images, but also the blood and sweat of the people who make them. JILLIAN STEINHAUER

Through July 22; 718-638-5000,

Museum of Jewish Heritage

“Let the atrocious images haunt us,” Susan Sontag once wrote. The photographs of Henryk Ross haunt us in a particular way. Ross was a Jewish Pole who survived the Holocaust in the Lodz Ghetto. Having worked as a photographer before World War II, he received a job once he was confined to one of the Nazis’ largest ghettos: taking pictures for the statistics department of the Judenrat, or Jewish Council, which reported to the Germans.

Of course, Ross was only meant to shoot certain kinds of photographs — portraits for ID cards, propaganda images showing the productivity of Jewish workers, and the like. But he clandestinely took other ones, too. When the Nazis began to liquidate the ghetto in 1944, he buried 6,000 of his negatives. When he survived liberation, he unearthed them and found nearly 3,000 somewhat intact. About 200 of those are on view in “Memory Unearthed: The Lodz Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross,” where, arranged chronologically alongside a timeline of events, they tell a story of systematic dehumanization.

Not many Jews were able to photograph what was happening during the Holocaust, which makes Ross’s perspective rare. The force of it comes through in the final gallery of “Memory Unearthed,” which pairs photographs of Jews being deported to death camps with posed portraits of residents in the ghetto’s early days, when some semblance of normal life could still be found. The deportation images are as harrowing as any I’ve seen — one shows Jewish policemen literally pulling people out the window of a hospital — and Ross put himself in real danger to get them; in one instance, he sneaked into the nearby train station, hid in a storeroom, and photographed transports through a hole in the wall. Meanwhile, if not for the conspicuous Stars of David, the portraits would suggest a photographer working in an entirely different time and place: Couples pose together outdoors, children laugh, individuals meet the camera’s lens with a confident gaze.

It’s the combination of these two vantage points that makes Ross’s vision unique. He knew it was paramount to document the horrors, but he also understood the need to capture the persistence of life. With his camera, he showed that there are multiple ways to fight back. JILLIAN STEINHAUER

Through Aug. 19. 646-437-4202,

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