Why do we look at art? Sometimes we go to an exhibition to learn something new or to expand our worldview. Sometimes we seek out art that will challenge us, upset us. But most often, probably, we visit museums or browse fancy coffee table books because we want to see something beautiful.
Art has long been preoccupied with beauty—from Botticelli to the Pre-Raphaelites to Ryan McGinley and his photos of today’s bright young things. Still, this season New York City’s museums and galleries are particularly obsessed. From fairytale couture to photos of Elizabeth Taylor’s closet, here’s a look at winter’s most gorgeous shows.
This Jamaican artist, who splits her time between Kingston and Lexington, Ky., creates baroque mixed-media installations that explore notions of masculinity and violence. Her first NYC solo show includes five of her jacquard photo tapestries — featuring social-media-sourced images of murder victims woven together and adorned with embroidery or beading — as well as a life-size tableau of 10 male mannequins dressed in a riotous mix of floral fabrics. Patterson uses beauty — and the vibrancy of Dancehall fashions — to masque, and then compel one to look closer at, the horrors that lie beneath.
Through April 3, 2016
The Museum of Art and Design
2 Columbus Circle
Fashion has long relied on fantasy in order to sell its products and seduce customers, so it makes sense that designers, photographers and editors routinely turn to the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Anderson for inspiration. This show will include 80 garments and accessories that demonstrate the relationship between fairy tales and fashion, spanning 18th century Red Riding Hood capes to the fantastical creations of such 21st century designers as Thom Browne, Alexander McQueen and Prada.
Jan. 15 - April 16, 2016
The Fashion Institute of Technology
227 West 27th St.
The Cooper Hewitt’s fifth triennial will focus on aesthetic innovations in contemporary design. Featuring more than 250 works by 62 artists from all over the world, “Beauty” looks at the myriad ways designers play with and continue to evolve our notions of attractiveness, from makeup artist Pat McGrath’s transformative masques to perfumer Sissel Tolaas’ ephemeral scents to Neri Oxman’s 3-D-printed wearable objects embedded with microorganisms to allow life on Mars (or elsewhere).
Feb. 12 - Aug. 21, 2016
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
2 East 91st St.
Inspired by William Eggleston’s snaps of Elvis’s Graceland, noted portraitist Catherine Opie’s latest project trains her lens on an equally opulent estate, Elizabeth Taylor’s L.A. mansion on Nimes Road. By capturing Taylor’s closets full of fur-trimmed caftans, her vanity lined with crystal perfume bottles and, of course, her honking jewels, Opie captures the star’s glittering, larger-than-life and sometimes desperate personality and quest for perfection.
Jan. 14 - Feb. 27, 2016
Lehmann Maupin Gallery
201 Chrystie Street
This winter, Pace/MacGill will mount exhibitions devoted to the great photographers Irving Penn and Yasuhiro Wakabayashi (also known as Hiro), who helped shape our cultural perceptions of beauty with their iconic images for such publications as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. But first up is a look at the snapshots of Swedish street photographer Christer Strömholm, most famous for his captivating black-and-white portraits of the transsexual community at Place Blanche in Paris.
Jan. 7 - April 2 (check website for exact dates)
32 East 57th Street, 9th Floor
Penn exhibition at 534 West 25th Street
For more pretty things, follow Raquel on Twitter @RaquelLaneri.