Shows that top art gurus' to-do lists

Even as the country's top museums welcome hordes of art lovers through their doors, curators of these institutions still try to sneak a peek at the competition. The Monitor asked some of these art gurus which shows currently top their to-do lists.

The Northeast

Judy Hecker, assistant curator, Department of Prints and Illustrated Books, The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Judy Hecker is anxious to see "Legacies: Contemporary Artists Reflect on Slavery" at the New York Historical Society through Jan. 7, 2007. She says the exhibit offers a new way of reappraising this painful past. Ms. Hecker notes that the exhibit is "a unique opportunity" for viewers who might only have had the chance to approach slavery from a historical or educational perspective. Hecker also says that a diversity of responses from artists young and old connects the history of this brutal past to the present. Above all, the curator says that "Legacies" broaches the issue on an emotional level. "It is a way to see a subject, not based on direct documentation and history ... [that] makes it dynamic and lively," she says.

The Museum of Modern Art is exhibiting "Since 2000: Printmaking Now" until Sept. 18.

Malcolm Rogers, director, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Aquamanilia might sound like a newfangled contraption, but MFA director Malcolm Rogers is looking forward to his encounter with the medieval vessels used for hand washing by both priests and laypersons. "Lions, Dragons, and Other Beasts: Aquamanilia of the Middle Ages, Vessels for Church and Table," at New York's Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture, will display 30 of these hollow-cast vessels through Oct. 15. But it isn't just the age-old history of the vessels that piques Mr. Rogers interest; it's the fact they are "sculptural in a grand way," while remaining "very scholarly but very fun visually." Rogers adds that, surprisingly, aquamanilia are very modern despite their medieval origins, a testament to his belief that "the medieval imagination was just as vivid as our own; they had a great sense of humor, design, and humanity."

Boston's Museum of Fine Arts is exhibiting "Americans in Paris, 1860-1900" through Sept. 24.

The Midwest

Lynne Warren, curator, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago

The iconic work of photographer Harry Callahan fascinates curator Lynne Warren. The exhibit "Harry Callahan: The Photographer at Work," on display at The Art Institute of Chicago through Sept. 24, excites Ms. Warren because she considers Callahan to be one of the "most important artists, not just photographers, of the 20th century." The curator says this "didactic show" reveals the intricacies of Callahan's craft – allowing viewers an intimate glance at the photographer's oeuvre. One image in particular, titled "Eleanor, Chicago," impresses itself in Warren's memory because of its historical murmurings. The 1949 ethereal photograph of Callahan's wife – his consummate muse – standing submerged in water and hair afloat, reminds Warren of Renaissance painter Botticelli's sea sirens. But it is the photographer's intimate relationship with Chicago that resonates most audibly with Warren, who says that Callahan produced "iconic images which have helped define how Chicago sees itself."

The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, is exhibiting "Catherine Opie: Chicago (American Cities)" until Oct. 15.

The West

Betti-Sue Hertz, curator of contemporary art, San Diego Museum of Art

"Robert Rauschenberg: Combines," on display at Los Angeles's Museum of Contemporary Art through Sept. 4, is of particular interest to Ms. Hertz, who considers Rauschenberg's "combines" to be an artistic "third form," in which the artist merged the two mediums of painting and sculpture.

Using found objects combined with the traditional tools of paint and canvas, Hertz explains that Rauschenberg, "Liberated art forms from themselves ... into the freedom of open language." Hertz notes that while much of the artist's work is "embedded in personal autobiography and symbolism," it also simultaneously embraces and shuns the "hegemonic style" of abstract expressionism – that preceded him. To Hertz, the "combines" are "elegant, powerful works."

The San Diego Museum of Art is exhibiting "Andy Warhol's Dream America: Screenprints from the Collection of the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation" through Sept.10.

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