Fine art in the year ahead

Dalí and the Surrealists, 'obsolete' contemporary art, and Christo's 'Gates' project

Melting timepieces and eerie dreamscapes haunt the work of Salvador Dalí, the Spanish surrealist with flared mustachio and a flair for self-promotion. A comprehensive exhibition of his paintings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is among the headlining museum shows of 2005.

Salvador Dalí, which opens Feb. 16 after its initial showing in Venice, is the largest of several exhibitions to commemorate the centenary of the artist's birth.

The Surrealists, whose heyday was the 1920s and '30s but who inspired (and continue to inspire) artists beyond that era, are well represented this year. Two New York shows tap into the renewed popularity of Surrealism: The Metropolitan Museum of Art examines the work of Max Ernst, a self-taught German painter and one of the founders of the Paris Surrealist movement, April 5 to July 10. And the National Academy Museum mounts the exhibition Surrealism USA, looking at the movement's American and European adherents from 1930 to 1950. The show runs from Feb. 17 to May 8. [Editor's note: The original version misstated the time span of work covered by the exhibit.]

"Surrealism draws large audiences," says Robert Storr, a former curator at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York and now a professor at New York University. Viewers are attracted to the psychology and dream narratives, along with the storytelling, he says.

Latino and Hispanic art continues to be featured in large and small museums, testimony to the fact that these ethnic groups are among the fastest-growing in the US. The Museo del Barrio in New York has mounted Retratos: 2,000 years of Latin American Portraits, featuring work from such icons as Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo to artists less well known north of the border. The show, which began in December, runs through March 20.

Like TV shows and fashion, museums are also revisiting the 1970s. It seems that 30 years has lent enough distance to conceptual art for it to be evaluated on its own merits. These artists, "the Old Masters of the experimental genre," as Professor Storr calls them, are now in their 50s and 60s, and are revered by today's artists. "They were the radicals once upon a time."

Storr points to the work of Barry Le Va, whose series of installations in the 1970s created a stir. His primary method was to scatter objects and debris across a floor, creating what he calls "distributions," much like crime scenes. The Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia's Accumulated Vision, Barry Le Va opens Friday and continues through April 3.

Another Post-Minimalist artist, Richard Tuttle, will be celebrated in a major retrospective at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art from July 2 to Oct. 23. "Tuttle's work is crowd-pleasing. It's decorative in the best sense of the word," Storr says.

A key feature of much contemporary art is its ephemeral nature. Bulgarian-born artist Christo epitomizes this approach. In The Gates: Project for Central Park, New York City, he and his wife, Jeanne-Claude, have designed an installation of 7,500 steel-mounted panels of orange cloth that will be set up along the park's walkways for 16 days beginning Feb. 12 and then dismantled - the ultimate transitory experience.

Like Christo, French artist Daniel Buren wants audiences to enter the art, rather than stand back from it. To that end, he has painted cheerful awning-like stripes on architectural features from pillars to staircases. His stripes give "accents to the world we live in," Storr says. An exhibition of Buren's work appears at the Guggenheim in New York March 17 to May 8.

Obsolescence - both planned and unplanned - is also a theme of contemporary art. On this note, an innovative curator at the Baltimore Museum of Art has pulled together a display of photographic slide images from well-known contemporary artists, Slideshow, Feb. 27 to May 9. The exhibition follows Kodak's announcement in October that it was stopping manufacture of its carousel slide projectors. "The irony is that people thought photographic images would outlast painting," says Storr, who contributed an essay to the show's catalogue. But slide projection is becoming just another outmoded technology.

In the realm of the offbeat and unusual, sculptor Louise Bourgeois has a show of works on fabric, Stitches in Time, at the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, Fla., from Feb. 12 to March 27. Taiwanese-American Chien-Chi Chang has made a series of riveting photographs of mental patients in Taiwan who, as part of their treatment, are chained together for long periods. The Chain series is on view at the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego from March 19 to June 26. And 60 quilts made by women of an isolated black community in Alabama will be featured in The Quilts of Gee's Bend at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, June 1 to Aug. 21.

For art lovers who gravitate toward paintings of earlier periods, there's plenty to choose from.

In Los Angeles, the LA County Museum will show 70 works by the Dutch painter Jacob van Ruisdael, one of the 17th century's finest landscape painters, June 25 to Sept. 18. The Getty Museum will feature the first major US survey of French painter Jacques-Louis David from Feb. 1 to April 24. David's life spanned the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era.

Also worth noting are a combined exhibition of Cézanne and Pissarro at MoMA, which looks at the 20-year friendship of these two modernists, June 24 to Sept. 12, and the the Portland (Maine) Museum of Art's show of the Pre-Raphaelites, March 19 through May 29.

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