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The art of summer in NYC

Sculpture, photography, art, even waterfalls – New York's exhibitions entertain with their originality.

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•Lest we forget sculpture, the Guggen-heim Museum has mounted a full-career retrospective, "Louise Bourgeois" (through Sept. 28). The 96-year-old, French-born, American artist is considered the greatest living sculptor. Her 150 works on view straddle abstraction and figuration, hinting at an emotionally fraught narrative that the viewer must decipher. Bourgeois has written on a drawing, "To forgive in order to forget. I do not want to relive the past. I want to experience the present." Yet her entire body of work deals with her love/hate relationship with her tyrannical father and the conflicting family dynamics of attraction and repulsion. "Art is a guarantee of sanity," Bourgeois stitched on a mailbag in one of her signature "cell" installations. For 70 years, her art has attempted to express what she calls "the tension of being human, the fragility of people." This exhibition is the real thing, art at the highest level of craft that engages the viewer to both feel and think.

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•The Whitney Museum of American Art hosts an overview of futuristic designs in its "Buckminster Fuller: Starting with the Universe" (through Sept. 21). Fuller, the inventor of the geodesic dome who died 25 years ago, appears in videos talking lickety-split as he explains his concepts of synergy and sustainability. Fuller's life was dedicated to the belief that a single individual could achieve a maximum benefit for humanity using the fewest resources. Globalism, multitasking, low-carbon footprint, interconnectivity – Fuller was there first with all these concepts.

•For those who can't bear to be indoors, New York City offers two destinations to soak up real sunshine along with art. The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx has 20 monumental bronze sculptures by Henry Moore scattered among its towering trees and blooming flora. "Moore in America" (through Nov. 2) presents perfectly sited examples of the British sculptor's simplified family groupings. They get a boost from their dialogue with the setting as visitors circle the pieces, touch them, and view their volumes and voids from all angles.

•Until Oct. 13, viewers can also experience "The New York City Waterfalls" at four locations along the East River, conceived by the Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson. From Pier 17 at the South Street Seaport in Manhattan or by a boat ride that leaves from Pier 16, one can see all four artificial waterfalls – installed under the Brooklyn Bridge, at Pier 35 near the FDR Drive in Manhattan, on Governors Island, and the Brooklyn Piers. Visible from morning until 10 p.m., the waterfalls suck up water from the river through their 10-story-tall scaffolds of pipes before it tumbles back like a lacy bridal veil. "This is not my work of art," the artist said at a press conference. "It's your work of art. It's part of the city."

Eliasson, known for creating immersive environments that engage the viewer in shared, sensory experiences, hopes the work will be "inclusive rather than exclusive." He opens our eyes to the waterfront and the river so spectators see the space as dynamic, involving, and evolving. The artistic value lies not in its spectacle but in spurring self-reflection. Eliasson's art begins with a "Wow!" but next should come "Whoa!" to make us aware and self-aware, before the "Aha!" of self-revelation.