NOTHING BEATS SPENDING THE HOLIDAYS in New York City and the best way to avoid the clutch of shoppers is to sneak away and take in some art. All around Manhattan, from the New Museum, where British-born Chris Ofili’s first solo exhibition at a major U.S. museum is on view, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Jewish Museum and the Studio Museum in Harlem, major institutions are exhibiting the work of Black artists. Throughout the city, galleries are also featuring major figures such as Norman Puryear and El Anatsui, mid-career artists including Gary Simmons, Kara Walker and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, and emerging talents, Ayana V Jackson and Nnenna Okore, among them. Here is a selection of 17 exhibitions to get you started:

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EL ANATSUI, Installation view of “Metas” exhibition at Mnuchin Gallery. | Photo by Victoria L. Valentine

1. El Anatsui: Metas @ Mnuchin Gallery | Oct. 28 – Dec. 13, 2014 FINAL DAYS
Known for transforming bottle caps into vibrantly hued, three-dimensial wall sculptures that drape and fold like textiles, El Anatsui is presenting his first exhibition on the Upper East Side. “Metas” features nine new works, several composed of gray, square newspaper printing plates, an innovative material the Ghanaian-born, Nigeria-based artist is using for the first time.

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MELVIN EDWARDS, “Homage to the Poet Leon Gontran Damas,” 1978-81 (welded steel, in five parts). | via Alexander Gray and Assoc.

2. Melvin Edwards @ Alexander Gray Associates | Oct. 30 – Dec. 13, 2014 FINAL DAYS
Houston-born Melvin Edwards’s metalwork objects and installations are defined by his aesthetic, philosophical and personal connections to Africa, where he has regularly traveled throughout several countries since 1970 (the same year he became the first African American artist to mount a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum), establishing a studio in Dakar in 2000. “Homage to the Poet Leon Gontran Damas” serves as the exhibition’s centerpiece and is shown for the first time in more two decades since the artist’s 1993 retrospective at the Neuberger Museum of Art in Purchase, N.Y.

Melvin Edwards’s metalwork objects and installations are defined by his aesthetic, philosophical and personal connections to Africa, where he has regularly traveled throughout several countries since 1970.

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AYANA V JACKSON, “Does the brown paper bag test really exist? / Will my father be proud?,” 2013 (archival pigment print, edition of 6 + 3 AP). | Courtesy Michael Steinberg Fine Art

3. Ayana V Jackson: Archival Impulse @ 33 Orchard | Nov. 13 – Dec. 21, 2014
“Archival Impulse” draws on art historian Hal Foster’s theory that by “confronting the archive new systems of knowledge can be created.” For her first solo exhibition in New York, Ayana V Jackson casts herself as subject, considering Black representation in late 19th and early 20th century photography. A Spelman College alum who divides her time between New York, Paris and South Africa, she draws on images from the Duggan Cronin collection created in South Africa, works by unknown photographers practicing throughout the Global South, and stereotypical images of performers touring Europe.

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GARY SIMMONS, “Fight Night,” 2014 (enamel on wood), (MP# GS–284) | Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures

4. Gary Simmons: Fight Night @ Metro Pictures | Oct. 30 – Dec. 23, 2014
Recognized for his signature “erasure” technique in which he smudges and obscures elements of his paintings and drawings, New York-based Gary Simmons is presenting a series of boxing images including a large-scale installation of 180 posters advertising historic boxing matches. “Over the course of 20 years Simmons has often used boxing as a leitmotif in his work to address the politics of race, class and professional sports,” the gallery notes. “In his painting of the famed old marquee for Madison Square Garden, the site of many legendary matches that was demolished in 1968, Simmons alludes to a bygone New York as he reflects on the mediated lens through which history is viewed.”

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RASHAAD NEWSOME, “King of Arms Crown,” 2013 (mixed media). | Courtesy Marlborough Gallery

5. Rashaad Newsome L. egends, S. tatements, S. tars @ Marlborough Gallery, Midtown West | Dec. 9, 2014 – Jan. 3, 2015
Continuing to assert his penchant for embellishment and decoration, Rashaad Newsome is showing a new series of collages that explore the notion of identity through ornament, architecture and heraldry. “After the industrial revolution, heraldry—a key symbol of status and authority for the European aristocracy—became heavily incorporated into Baroque Revival and Beaux-arts architecture of the nineteenth century,” the gallery notes in the exhibition release. “It was an architectural emblem that asserted the identity of structures in the manner that logos are associated with brands in contemporary society.” The exhibition features 17 collages with sculptural elements and a video titled ICON, a celebration of key figures in the New York ballroom and vogue scene. Born in New Orelans, Newsome lives and works in New York.

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LYNETTE YIADOM-BOAKYE, “Geometric Longings,” 2014 (oil on canvas). Inventory #LYB14.016 | © Lynette Yiadom-Boakye,.Courtesy the artist, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York and Corvi-Mora, London

6. Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: The Love Within @ Jack Shainman Gallery | Nov. 21, 2014 – Jan. 10, 2015
Using moody, saturated hues, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye depicts her subjects with incredible depth and soul-stirring authenticity, a remarkable achievement given the fact that the people she paints are products of her imagination. A masterful portrait artist, who also writes and pens poetry, Yiadom-Boakye lives and works in London. “The Love Within” presents new oil on canvas works at both of the gallery’s Chelsea locations and is accompanied by a new monograph.

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BARBARA CHASE-RIBOUD, “Mao’s Organ,” 2007 (polished bronze and silk with steel base). | Courtesy Michael Rosenfeld Gallery

7. Barbara Chase-Riboud: One Million Kilometers of Silk @ Michael Rosenfeld Gallery | Oct. 31, 2014 – Jan. 10, 2015
Born in Philadelphia and based in Europe, artist, author and poet Barbara Chase-Riboud has said, “I love silk, and it’s one of the strongest materials in the world and lasts as long as the bronze.” She calls the unlikely pairing “two equal things that interact and transform each other.” A presentation of bronze and silk sculptures and charcoal drawings, “One Million Kilometers of Silk” features more than two dozen works produced primarily in the 1990s and 2000s.

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MARTIN PURYEAR, “Big Phrygian,” 2010-2014 (red cedar, paint). | © Martin Puryear, Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery

8. Martin Puryear @ Matthew Marks Gallery | Nov. 8, 2014 – Jan. 10, 2015
A master craftsman who lives and works in upstate New York, Martin Puryear is exhibiting 10 new sculptures at Matthew Marks. Largely made by hand, the works are invested with the intellectual rigor for which his practice has become known over the past 40 years. Puryear draws on a range of skilled traditions to produce his refined creations—from wood carving and joinery to boat building, and more recently, incorporating new digital technology. Abstract and organic in form, the metal and wood works are heavy with symbolism and meaning. Several works on view reference the Phrygian cap which was donned as a sign of resistance in the French Revolution and later came to symbolize liberty during the American Revolution. “Although I was certainly aware of numerous depictions of this cap in European and early American art when I began work on the Big Phrygian sculpture,” Puryear says in the exhibition announcement, “I only discovered the engraved image of the black man wearing the red Phrygian cap years afterwards.”

“Although I was certainly aware of numerous depictions of this cap in European and early American art when I began work on the Big Phrygian sculpture, I only discovered the engraved image of the black man wearing the red Phrygian cap years afterwards.”
— Martin Puryear, Matthew Marks Gallery

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KARA WALKER, “Untitled,” 2013-14 (charcoal on paper, 3 parts, collaged). | © Kara Walker. Courtesy Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York

9. Kara Walker: Afterword @ Sikkema Jenkins | Nov. 21, 2014 – Jan. 17, 2015
“Afterword” examines the phenomenon of “A Subtlety,” Kara Walker’s monumental sugar sphinx which was on view at the old Domino Sugar Factory in early summer and attracted more than 130,000 visitors. Delving into the economic and labor history of the sugar industry, the sculpture drew on matters of race, gender, power and subjugation, standard themes of Walker’s practice that are familiar to her blue-chip art world audience, but not so readily understood by the general public. In exploring the creation of her first public art project and the varied responses to it, Walker presents preparatory notes and conceptual sketches, remains from the installation including the left fist of the sphinx and a few of the molasses-covered young boy attendants that surrounded it, and two new videos—one turns the camera on the audience that viewed and interacted with the sculpture over the course of its two-month run, the other documents its dismantling.

Kara Walker’s sugar sphinx drew on matters of race, gender, power and subjugation, standard themes of her practice that are familiar to her blue-chip art world audience, but not so readily understood by the general public.

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NNENNA OKORE, The Obstacle, 2013 (newspapers and acrylic). | Courtesy David Krut Projects

10. Nnenna Okore: Twist and Turns @ David Krut Projects | Nov. 20, 2014 – Jan. 17, 2015
Nnenna Okore is presenting a new series of dynamic, free-form sculptural objects and textile-like formations. Her abstract works are composed of newspapers, cloth, plaster and hessian (a fabric made from hemp or jute), all mostly sourced from West Africa, where she has studied traditional crafts and art making. “Okore’s affinity for tactile and gristly elements from the semi-urban environs of Nsukka in south-eastern Nigeria, have inspired a body of works that broadly focus on transformation and regeneration of mundane ecological and man-made objects,” the gallery notes. “Through visual subtleties, she is able to present the fluid and delicate attributes of the physical world, triggered by aging, death and decay.” Raised in Nigeria, Okore is a professor of art at North Park University in Chicago, where she teaches sculpture.

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SAMUEL FOSSO, “Self-Portrait,” 1977 | © Samuel Fosso. Courtesy The Walther Collection and Jean Marc Patras / Galerie

11. Samuel Fosso @ The Walther Collection, Project Space | Sept. 12 – Jan. 17, 2015
One of the most highly regarded contemporary artists working in Africa, Cameroon-born Samuel Fosso has been working as a professional photographer since the age of 13, exploring global themes, contemporary West African culture and, most significantly, turning the camera on himself. This survey presents for the first time in the United States his work from the Walther Collection, including selections from his African Spirits and The Emperor of Africa series.

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CHRIS OFILI, “Triple Beam Dreamer,” 2001–02 (acrylic, oil, leaves, glitter, polyester resin, map pins, and elephant dung on linen) | Courtesy the artist, David Zwirner, New York/London, and Victoria Miro, London. © Chris Ofili

12. Chris Ofili: Night and Day @ New Museum | Oct. 25, 2014 – Jan. 25, 2015 (extended to Feb. 1)
One of the most anticipated exhibitions of the season, “Night and Day” surveys British-born Chris Ofili’s entire career. Exploring race and gender issues through cultural and historical references, his vast and varied oeuvre is both provocative and celebratory, melding “figuration, abstraction and decoration.” His first major solo museum show in the United States features more than 30 paintings, along with his Afromuse watercolor portraits, Afro Margin drawings, and sculpture produced over the past two decades.

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NORMAN LEWIS, “Twilight Sounds,” 1947 (oil on canvas). | Saint Louis Art Museum, © The Estate of Norman W. Lewis, Courtesy of Iandor Fine Arts, New Jersey

13. From the Margins: Lee Krasner and Norman Lewis, 1945-1952 @ Jewish Museum | Sept. 12, 2014 – Feb. 1, 2015
The work of highly regarded Abstract Expressionist Norman Lewis (1909-1979), who grew up in Harlem with parents who were immigrants from the Bahamas, was generally ignored by mainstream collectors and critics during his lifetime. In the decades since his death, plaudits have gradually emerged and his work is enjoying widespread recognition. “From the Margins” juxtaposes his paintings with those of a contemporary, painter Lee Krasner (1908-1984), who was from a Russian Jewish immigrant family in Brooklyn and experienced a similar professional reception.

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Installation view, from left JEREMY OKAI DAVIS, “Makes the Man,” 2012 (acrylic on canvas); NOEL ANDERSON, “Black Past-iche (to be looked at farandaway),” 2014 (fabric dye, collage and digital transfers in custom doubled-sded frame; collage, silkscreen, acrylic and digital transfers on rug); and ELLEN GALLAGHER, “DeLuxe,” 2004–5 (portfolio of sixty etchings with photogravure, spitbite, collage, laser-cutting, screenprint, offset lithography, hand painting and Plasticine). | Photo by Adam Reich, Courtesy Studio Museum in Harlem

14. Speaking of People: Ebony, Jet and Contemporary Art @ Studio Museum in Harlem | Nov 13, 2014 – Mar 8, 2015
Rife with symbols of success and beauty and news of civil rights, Black power and post-integration “progress,” Ebony and Jet magazines were historically cherished in countless African American households for nearly three generations. “Speaking of People” examines the ways in which contemporary artists including Jeremy Okai Davis, Margaret Gallagher, Kerry James Marshall, Lorna Simpson, Martine Syms and Purvis Young are developing concepts around the influential publications and incorporating their symbolic imagery in their work.

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JOYCE J. SCOTT, “Dance Neckpiece,” 2013 (woven glass beads). | Courtesy of Mobilia Gallery, Cambridge, Mass.

15. Maryland to Murano: Neckpieces and Sculptures by Joyce J. Scott @ Museum of Arts and Design | Sept. 30, 2014 – March 15, 2015
Joyce J. Scott’s exquisitely rendered bead and glass works are steeped in provocative narratives and sociopolitical commentary about racism and sexism. Featuring 50 works, “Maryland to Murano” is the first exhibition to pair the beaded neckpieces and wall hangings Scott constructs in her Baltimore studio—her foundational work—with the blown glass sculptures she has created over the past five years in Murano, Italy.


“Cakewalk” from 100 Years in Post-Production: Resurrecting a Lost Landmark of Black Film History

16. 100 Years in Post-Production: Resurrecting a Lost Landmark of Black Film History @ Museum of Modern Art | Oct. 24, 2014 – March 31, 2015
The Museum of Modern Art recently discovered unedited footage from an unreleased 1913 silent film starring the legendary Caribbean American entertainer Bert Williams and featuring a Black cast in its Biograph collection. According to the museum, “New York producers Klaw & Erlanger mounted the untitled project at virtually the same time that D. W. Griffith began his racist epic The Birth of a Nation, but they abandoned the seven reels of exposed film in postproduction, leaving buried within it unique photographic documentation of its black cast and white crew on the set.”

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OSCAR MURILLO, “6. 2012-14,” (oil, oil stick, dirt, graphite, and thread on linen and canvas). | Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York/London and Carlos/Ishikawa, London. Photo by Matthew Hollow

17. The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World @ Museum of Modern Art | Dec. 14, 2014 – April 5, 2015 OPENS SUNDAY
“The Forever Now” presents the work of 17 artists, including Oscar Murillo, Julie Mehretu and Rashid Johnson, “whose paintings reflect a singular approach that characterizes our cultural moment at the beginning of this new millennium: they refuse to allow us to define or even meter our time by them. This phenomenon in culture was first identified by the science fiction writer William Gibson, who used the term ‘a-temporality’ to describe a cultural product of our moment that paradoxically doesn’t represent, through style, through content, or through medium, the time from which it comes,” according the the museum. “A-temporality, or timelessness, manifests itself in painting as an ahistorical free-for-all, where contemporaneity as an indicator of new form is nowhere to be found, and all eras coexist.” CT

Before visiting, check with each venue for special holiday hours.