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This Week: Must-See Arts in the City

Picasso's guitars, Cézanne's card players, abstraction and the Arctic, not to mention a wonderful documentary about hobo graffiti. New York has got it going on this week. Here is WNYC's guide to what's tops:

Picasso: Guitars 1912-1914, at the Museum of Modern Art For an intense period of three years just prior to World War I, Pablo Picasso was investigating the visual possibilities of his materials — mixing sand and grit into his paint, creating sculptures that were meant to be hung on the wall (a radical idea at the time) and producing layered collages out of bits of old wallpaper and yellowing newspaper. (The latter can get downright hilarious if you speak Spanish: his blue-hued Guitar, from 1913, features an advert not only for purgatives, but for a doctor expert in dealing with illnesses of the genitals.) The artist’s prime subject matter during this period was the humble guitar — joyously rendered in myriad ways that show the artist not only experimenting with his materials, but with the Cubist perspective (in a way that closely echoes the work of his friend and collaborator, French artist Georges Braque). Highlights include a collage held together by pins, an inventive cutout that can be viewed only against a backlight and the deceptively simple wall sculptures that inspired this exhibit (one of these is pictured at left). All around, an excellent show. Opens Sunday, in Manhattan.

Cézanne’s Card Players, at the Metropolitan Museum in Manhattan This is another excellent, tightly edited little museum show geared at exploring an artist’s single area of investigation. The focus: a small series of paintings produced by Paul Cézanne during the 1890s of men playing cards. The exhibit begins with a display of works that depict card playing all the way back to the 1600s. This history lesson makes Cézanne’s paintings all the more remarkable. Historically, these games are associated with all manner of licentious behavior — but Cézanne infused his figures with a studiousness and dignity that elevates the activity into something meditative. Through May 8, in Manhattan.

The Parallax View, at Lehmann Maupin in Chelsea I admit it: I’m a sucker for abstraction. And this new show at Lehmann Maupin’s Chelsea branch promises to be a good one. Organized by independent curator Manuel E. Gonzalez, the show — which purports to examine the ways in which works of art are observed (so meta) — includes pieces by an all-star line-up featuring land artist Robert Smithson, light artists Robert Irwin and Dan Flavin, repetitive line drawer Agnes Martin and the inimitable Venezuelan geometric abstractionist, Gego. Should be trippy. Opens Thursday evening at 6 P.M., in Manhattan.

Janet Biggs, The Arctic Trilogy, at Winkleman Gallery As everyone else thinks about the state of our ice caps, New York-based video artist Janet Biggs decided to go out and explore them — specifically, a group of islands between Europe and the North Pole called Svalbard. For this video project, she traveled aboard a century-old two-masted schooner in the Arctic, following various figures through ice-filled seas, frigid caves and even a frosty coal mine. The bone-chilling, windswept landscapes should be on high. Opens Friday at 6 P.M., in Manhattan.

RETNA: The Hallelujah World Tour, at 560 Washington St RETNA, an L.A.-based graffiti artist and muralist known for his highly stylized Gothic calligraphy is debuting his first solo show in New York at a pop-up gallery in the West Village this weekend. Expect oversized canvases and walls laced with the artist’s signature font. Opens Friday (for 10 days only), in Manhattan.

A screening of Who is Bozo Texino?, at the Museum of Modern Art This insightful documentary by Bill Daniel is a must-see for those interested in non-academic forms or art. In it, Daniel chronicles the history and traditions behind the whimsical graffiti icons left on freight trains by rail workers and hobos (a practice that dates back several generations). Though the filmmaker’s quest is for the elusive Bozo Texino, this stunningly-shot doc provides a thorough overview of the tradition in general. Heck, even if you’re into the academic, consider this a total must-see. View a trailer here. This Friday at 7 P.M., in Manhattan.

Paul Cézanne's 'The Card Players,' produced circa 1890-92.
Paul Cézanne's 'The Card Players,' produced circa 1890-92. ( The Metropolitan Museum of Art )
The Met exhibit includes numerous related pieces from Cézanne's card player series, including portraits of some of the men he used as models — such as 'Man With Pipe,' from 1890-02.
The Met exhibit includes numerous related pieces from Cézanne's card player series, including portraits of some of the men he used as models — such as 'Man With Pipe,' from 1890-02. ( Courtesy of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri )
Another work from the series shows a pair of men studiously playing. The paintings are remarkable for the quiet dignity of their subjects.
Another work from the series shows a pair of men studiously playing. The paintings are remarkable for the quiet dignity of their subjects. ( The Courtauld Gallery, London )
The Lehmann Maupin Gallery in Chelsea has gathered a number of significant minimalist and abstract works in the group show 'The Parallax View.'  Above, Mary Heilmann's 'Pacific Ocean,' from 1998.
The Lehmann Maupin Gallery in Chelsea has gathered a number of significant minimalist and abstract works in the group show 'The Parallax View.' Above, Mary Heilmann's 'Pacific Ocean,' from 1998. ( Courtesy of the Artist, 303 Gallery and Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York )
Also at Lehmann Maupin, a drawing by renowned land artist Robert Smithson, of 'Spiral Jetty' fame: 'Spiral Island (Charred Tree Limbs and Asphault) S3'.
Also at Lehmann Maupin, a drawing by renowned land artist Robert Smithson, of 'Spiral Jetty' fame: 'Spiral Island (Charred Tree Limbs and Asphault) S3'. ( Courtesy of the Artist, James Cohan Gallery and Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York )
'Untitled,' a fluorescent light work by Dan Flavin, from 1975 — also at Lehmann Maupin.
'Untitled,' a fluorescent light work by Dan Flavin, from 1975 — also at Lehmann Maupin. ( Courtesy of the Artist, Paula Cooper Gallery and Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York )
In a new display at Edward Winkleman Gallery, artist Janet Biggs takes on the Arctic in a video trilogy that explores themes of survival, mortality, isolation and some incredibly cold landscapes.
In a new display at Edward Winkleman Gallery, artist Janet Biggs takes on the Arctic in a video trilogy that explores themes of survival, mortality, isolation and some incredibly cold landscapes. ( Courtesy the artist and Edward Winkleman Gallery )
Above, a still from Biggs' 'In the Cold Edge' at Winkleman Gallery — in which the artist follows an explorer into an icy Arctic cave.
Above, a still from Biggs' 'In the Cold Edge' at Winkleman Gallery — in which the artist follows an explorer into an icy Arctic cave. ( Courtesy the artist and Edward Winkleman Gallery )
In the West Village, L.A.-based graffiti artist and muralist RETNA will get his first solo exhibit in New York. Above, an image of an intervention in Miami.
In the West Village, L.A.-based graffiti artist and muralist RETNA will get his first solo exhibit in New York. Above, an image of an intervention in Miami. ( Carolina A. Miranda )
'Las Noches Negras,' by RETNA — a piece from his new solo exhibit organized by Valmorbida.
'Las Noches Negras,' by RETNA — a piece from his new solo exhibit organized by Valmorbida. ( Courtesy RETNA and Valmorbida )
At MoMA: Picasso's visual odes to the guitar (and collage and Cubist sculpture). In this image, his 1912 painting 'Bottle, Guitar and Pipe.'
At MoMA: Picasso's visual odes to the guitar (and collage and Cubist sculpture). In this image, his 1912 painting 'Bottle, Guitar and Pipe.' ( Museum Folkwang, Essen. © 2011 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York )
The exhibit draws together works held by more than 30 international institutions — including sculpture, painting, photography and collage, such as 'Siphon, Glass, Newspaper, and Violin,' circa 1912.
The exhibit draws together works held by more than 30 international institutions — including sculpture, painting, photography and collage, such as 'Siphon, Glass, Newspaper, and Violin,' circa 1912. ( Moderna Museet, Stockholm © 2011 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York )
This photograph, which opens the Picasso exhibit, is one of my favorite images in the show. There is something incredibly playful about those newspaper arms holding a guitar.
This photograph, which opens the Picasso exhibit, is one of my favorite images in the show. There is something incredibly playful about those newspaper arms holding a guitar. ( Private collection © 2011 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York )
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