Blockbuster art: Impressionists, Gainsborough portraits, the Confederate truce flag, moon-gazing
The Barnes Foundation brings in a show of early French and English photographs. Brandywine has great American paintings from a significant bequest. Allentown has Carrie Mae Weems.
Perhaps it’s lunacy, or anticipation of the 50th anniversary of humanity’s first footsteps on the moon, but Earth’s only satellite will be on view in several local art museums this spring.
A centerpiece exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art focuses on a great Japanese printmaker’s views of the moon, the Michener is devoting an entire exhibition to American moon-gazing painters, and the Berman tackles science fiction and space-age childhoods.
Beyond all that, the Barnes will feature some of the earliest photographs ever made. An impressionist show at the Art Museum exhibits paintings, sculptures, and works on paper by celebrated artists — Cezanne, Monet, Cassatt — known for oils on canvas.
Princeton hosts an assembly of Gainsborough portraits. Delaware has a treasury of children’s book illustration, and, in this age of wildfires, Reading scrutinizes Smokey Bear.
In this age of confronting Confederate battle symbols, the Fabric Workshop and Museum examines one that has not been all over the news: the Confederate truce flag.
Introducing Tony Conrad: A Retrospective (through Aug. 11, Institute of Contemporary Art). This show, organized by the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo, is billed as the first full retrospective of the six-decade career of a multifaceted artist who became an important voice during the 1960s. The show will include videos, music, and performance, in addition to works created to be shown in museums.
Also at ICA are Cecilia Vicuña: About to Happen (through March 31), the first major solo exhibition by an influential Chilean-born artist, and Mundane Futures (through March 31), the first installment of a three-part show, “Colored People Time,” about the contemporary impact of slavery and colonialism. (215-898-7108, icaphila.org)
Carrie Mae Weems: Strategies of Engagement (through May 5, Allentown Art Museum). This is a major traveling exhibition of a celebrated contemporary African American artist. It will include more than 100 photographs, videos, and mixed-media works, most of which explore themes of social and racial inequality throughout American history and today. (610-432-4333, allentownartmuseum.org)
Reinstalled Chinese Galleries (permanent, Philadelphia Museum of Art). Consisting of more than 5,000 objects, the Art Museum’s Chinese collection is one of the nation’s earliest, begun in 1876. Now it has a new look, with improved display and interpretation. (215-763-8100, philamuseum.org)
The Art of Seating: Two Hundred Years of American Design (Feb. 9-May 5, Michener Art Museum). This show, organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Jacksonville, includes 40 distinguished chairs — by John Henry Belter, George Hunzinger, the Herter Brothers, the Stickley Brothers, Frank Lloyd Wright, Charles and Ray Eames, Eero Saarinen, Isamu Noguchi, Frank Gehry, and others — along with designers’ renderings, patent drawings, and upholstery. (215-340-9800, michenerartmuseum.org)
Long Light: Photographs by David Lebe (Feb. 9-May 5, Philadelphia Museum of Art Perelman Building). This is the first in-depth exhibition of a photographer who was a pioneer in depicting homoeroticism during the 1970s and expressing the impact of AIDS in the next decade. (215-763-8100, philamuseum.org)
Freedom’s Journal: The Art of Jerry Pinkney (Feb. 16-May 12, Woodmere Art Museum). Some 85 works by the renowned Germantown-born illustrator and watercolorist will be included. Among the highlights are his illustrations for “Escape from Slavery,” a 1984 National Geographic article by Charles L. Blockson credited with transforming perceptions of the Underground Railroad. (215-247-0476, woodmereartmuseum.org)
Gainsborough’s Family Album (Feb. 23-June 9, Princeton University Art Museum). This show, which originated at London’s National Portrait Gallery, will include all 10 of the portraits the 18th-century English artist Thomas Gainsborough did of his daughters, along with 40 more paintings of other family members. (609-258-3788, artmuseum.princeton.edu)
From Today, Painting Is Dead: Early Photography in Britain and France (Feb. 24 – May 12, Barnes Foundation). This exhibition, drawn from an important private collection, will include about 250 images from the 1840s to the 1880s, the earliest days of photography. It will include the earliest known war photographs (from the Crimean War), some of the earliest travel photos, and works by Felix Nadar, arguably the inventor of celebrity photography. (215-278-7000, barnesfoundation.org)
Fairy Tales to Nursery Rhymes: the Droller Collection of Picture Book Art (March 2-May 12, Delaware Art Museum). On exhibit will be more than 100 children’s book illustrations, including works by such classic illustrators as Randolph Caldecott, Kate Greenaway, and Arthur Rackham, along with more recent works by Maurice Sendak, Jerry Pinkney, and others. (302-571-9590, delart.org)
American Beauty: Highlights from the Richard M. Scaife Bequest (March 9-May 27, Brandywine River Museum of Art). In his will, Scaife, the Pittsburgh-area publisher, philanthropist, and political activist, left his collection of American paintings to the Brandywine and to the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg, Pa., for the two museums to divide. This show will include 50 works, 25 from each museum. (610-388-2700, brandywine.org/museum)
Sonya Clark: Monumental Cloth, The Flag We Should Know (March 29-Aug. 4, Fabric Workshop and Museum). The Truce Flag, signaling the end of the Civil War, looks something like a dish towel. Artist Sonya Clark proposes that this modest flag, and not the Confederate Navy Jack battle flag, should be remembered. The installation, which includes an oversize re-creation of the truce flag, will contrast these two symbols and consider Confederate imagery in contemporary culture. (215-561-8888, fabricworkshopandmuseum.org)
The Impressionist’s Eye (April 16-Aug. 18, Philadelphia Museum of Art). This exhibition, drawn mostly from the Art Museum’s collection, places the emphasis on works by impressionist artists that are not paintings on canvas. About 70 watercolors, prints, drawings, and sculptures will be on display, including pages from Paul Cezanne’s sketchbooks, which will be seen for the first time in 30 years.
On the same dates in adjacent galleries, the museum will be showing Yoshitoshi: Spirit and Spectacle, drawn from its collection of more than 1,200 prints by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-92). These include selections from his last and best-known series, One Hundred Aspects of the Moon. (215-763-8100, philamuseum.org)
Quotidian Pasts (April 26-Aug. 11, Institute of Contemporary Art). The second installment of “Colored People Time” is a collaboration with the Penn Museum that deals with the complexities of collecting and displaying works from foreign cultures. (215-898-7108, icaphila.org)
Smokey Bear and the Art of Rudy Wendelin (May 18-Aug. 25, Reading Public Museum). A Kansas-born artist and longtime employee of the U.S. Forest Service, Wendelin oversaw the appearance of an American icon in decades of posters, commercials, and products. (610-371-5850, readingpublicmuseum.org)
The Color of the Moon: Lunar Painting in American Art (June 1-Sept. 8, Michener Art Museum). This show of about 50 works, organized by the Michener and the Hudson River Museum, begins with the 19th-century romanticism of Thomas Cole and ends with Norman Rockwell’s celebration of the moon landing in 1969. In between are works by Henry Ossawa Tanner, Arthur Dove, and others. (215-340-9800, michenerartmuseum.org)
Science Fiction (June 6-Oct. 6, Berman Museum of Art). This group show of international artists, all born in the 1960s and 1970s, considers the blurring, during the space age and now, between science fiction and everyday life. (610-409-3500, ursinus.edu/berman)
Souls Grown Deep (June 8-Sept. 2, Philadelphia Museum of Art Perelman Building). The Souls Grown Deep Foundation, based in Atlanta, documents, preserves, and promotes the work of contemporary African American artists in the South. This is the first showing of 24 works the foundation has given the Art Museum, including 15 of the distinctive quilts made by residents of Gee’s Bend, Ala. (215-763-8100, philamuseum.org)