Art in the Big Apple, a Bit Farther From the Madding Crowd

By Blake Gopnik
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 28, 2008

NEW YORK -- Over Labor Day weekend, New York's museums can be crowded, as tourists from all around the country end their summer in the city. Washingtonians who plan on joining them might want to take refuge in five exhibitions that don't aim to bust the block.

· Moore in America This show of 20 monumental works by the great British sculptor is high up in the Bronx, on the sprawling grounds of the New York Botanical Garden. There can be no better setting for Henry Moore's biomorphic sculpture, which pushes art toward nature in the same way the tame trees of the garden push nature toward art. The show is easily worth the 20-minute train ride from Grand Central -- at rush hour, it can take longer to taxi to Times Square. At Bronx River Parkway and Fordham Road in the Bronx. Visit

· Art of the Royal Court: Treasures in Pietre Dure From the Palaces of Europe This show, at the Metropolitan Museum, presents crowds of tabletops, cabinets and jewelry covered in insanely complex inlays of semiprecious stone (the "pietre dure" of the title). For centuries, many European aristocrats cared as much for these objects as for any fine painting, and paid far more for them. To fully appreciate this once-in-a-lifetime event, you have to flip all your ideas about what is tasteful art and what is ostentatious kitsch. (The museum will be open Labor Day.) On Fifth Avenue at East 83rd Street in Manhattan. Visit

· After Nature This group show at the New Museum, now settling into its fresh digs on the Bowery, fills galleries across three floors with strange, mostly apocalyptic visions of the natural world. American artist Zoe Leonard presents a huge tree, chopped up and then made whole again thanks to metal braces, cables and turnbuckles. Polish genius Artur Zmijewski gives us a video in which the bodies of amputees are shown "completed" by the limbs of their hale partners. On the Bowery at Prince Street in Manhattan. Visit

· Paul McCarthy: Central Symmetrical Rotation Movement -- Three Installations, Two Films If you've heard disturbing things about this California artist's work -- rumors of incest and abuse and absurd gross-outs -- this show at the Whitney Museum should come as a welcome surprise. Its spinning room, slamming robot doors and experiments in almost abstract video are more about perceptual and architectural disorientation than moral drift. On Madison Avenue at 75th Street in Manhattan. Visit

· Action/Abstraction: Pollock, de Kooning, and American Art, 1940-1976 This exhibition at the Jewish Museum proves that one of the pleasures of good art is that intelligent people can reach entirely different conclusions about it. The exhibition is built around the views of the pioneering New York critics Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg, who often championed the same pictures -- but only rarely for the same reasons. On Fifth Avenue at 92nd Street in Manhattan. Visit

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