The art world is molting -- some would say melting. Galleries are closing; museums are scaling back. Even the stately Met has cut staff; no one knows if the Whitney is going ahead with its new downtown building; it’s anyone’s guess when Dia will finally open a permanent space in the city. Yet the fall season of shows in New York’s galleries, museums, and alternative spaces should quell some of the skittishness and titillate our senses.
1. Performa 09
Various locations; Nov. 1–22.
This three-week performance biennial, invented by impresario-scholar-gadfly RoseLee Goldberg in 2004, is back, bigger than ever, and intends to "write the next chapter of performance art." The nerviness and artistic energy make this year’s offerings -- from about 100 artists, with ten commissioned pieces -- unmissable.
Guggenheim Museum; Sept. 18–Jan. 13.
If MoMA’s founding artist is Picasso and the Whitney’s is Hopper, the Guggenheim’s is Vasily Kandinsky -- whose influences, by comparison, have faded. This first big U.S. survey of the artist in more than 20 years has the power to alter that impression.
3. Georgia O’Keeffe: Abstraction
Whitney Museum of American Art; Sept. 17–Jan. 17.
Once the most popular artist in America, O’Keeffe is often written off today (too many flowers and va-jay-jays). But O’Keeffe can be a powerhouse -- especially in her less-well-known, abstract work, which is what we’ll see here.
4. Ree Morton: At the Still Point of the Turning World
Drawing Center; Sept. 18–Dec. 18.
It’s time to revisit the whimsy, wit and relevance of Ree Morton, who died in a car accident in 1977, shortly before her 41st birthday. Morton combined conceptualism, postminimalism, magic, Americana and kitsch with a feminist twist and a comedian’s wit.
5. Urs Fischer
New Museum; Oct. 28-Jan. 24.
Three-plus exhibition floors go to the Swiss-born New Yorker known for his outlandish juxtapositions of objects and his architectural interventions, like the huge hole he dug into a gallery floor in 2007. Sure to rattle esthetic cages, raise eyebrows and impress us even more than we have been.
6. A Voyage of Growth and Discovery
SculptureCenter; Sept. 13-Nov. 30.
Teaming up for this filmic-sculptural installation are West Coast art star Mike Kelley and local art hero Michael Smith. We’ll see the intrepid journey of Smith’s longtime alter ego Baby IKKI -- for which role he dresses in a diaper and a bonnet and goes out walking. Should be raving fun.
P.S. 1; Oct. 25-April 5.
The art world is finally shaking off its long obsession with 1968 -- but just barely, as P.S. 1 turns the page and fills its large second-floor galleries with about 80 works, all drawn from MoMA’s permanent collections, all produced in 1969.
8. Sarah Anne Johnson: House on Fire
Julie Saul Gallery, Sept. 17-Nov. 14.
For her third solo show, Johnson combines photography, sculpture, and painting to tell the story of her grandmother’s medical mistreatment. Dark scenarios, enacted by small figures, unfold in an elaborate dollhouse. Uncanny, touching and formally inventive.
9. Janine Antoni: Up Against
Luhring Augustine; Sept. 12-Oct. 24.
This MacArthur winner returns with a video of herself hanging by ropes, spiderlike, in her daughter’s room -- and with a copper device in the form of a gargoyle that allows a woman to urinate standing up. As Antoni puts it, "The body becomes a funnel through which the world has been poured." I’ll say.
10. Tauba Auerbach: Here and Now/and Nowhere
Deitch Projects; Sept. 3-Oct. 17.
A super-promising artist who uses sign-painting techniques, math, mysticism and philosophy to "explore the impossible. . . to violate itself, or crumple it, or double it back on itself." It’s retinally exciting, logical and cerebral all at once.
11. Paul Chan: Sade for Sade’s Sake
Greene Naftali; Oct. 22-Dec. 5.
Chan’s five-hour-plus looped video of shadowy figures engaging in religious rituals and mayhem, experiencing natural disasters and having sex is a visual ballad, putting all Chan’s interests in one darkly sexual, psychologically challenging basket.
12. Justine Kurland
Mitchell-Innes & Nash; Oct. 15-Nov. 14.
This photographer’s exploration of fictive utopias and the dreams of the itinerant gives us pictures of empty freight trains rolling through mountain landscapes, hobo musicians and wizened prospectors still looking to strike it rich. A perfect photographic chaser to the Met’s Robert Frank show.
13. Peter Fischli & David Weiss
Matthew Marks; Oct. 30-Jan. 16.
I think of this extraordinary Swiss team as "Shamans of the Alps." For this extravaganza, they’re building an installation out of 800 magazine ads, and showing their gnarly clay-and-rubber figures as well as a new film starring their animal avatars, a rat and a bear.
14. Lynda Benglis
Cheim & Read, Nov. 19-Dec. 19.
Our perennial and underappreciated wizard of the artistic id will exhibit her wily ways with phallic and labial forms, her penchant for intense color, and her knack for turning any material into something talismanic and weird.
15. The Bruce High Quality Foundation University
Susan Inglett Gallery; Dec. 4-Jan. 23.
This artist collective of esthetic marauders and walking bullshit detectors has opened its own academy, in a donated Tribeca building, intending to subvert art schools’ market-driven ethos. The semester-end exhibition of work could be the most interesting new thing you’ll see all fall.
16. Sylvia Sleigh
I-20 Gallery; Nov. 5-Dec. 19.
The 93-year-old painter will present small-scale portraits (made in the 1960s and ‘70s) of noted critics, curators, and other artists, nude, with big heads of bad hair, and flowery clothes. Sleigh’s paintings and watercolors are diamonds in the rough, waiting to be rediscovered and savored.
JERRY SALTZ is art critic for New York magazine, where this essay first appeared. He can be reached at email@example.com.