There are lots of different kinds of museum-goers, and lots of different reasons why one might want to head to a museum.
This fall and winter, there's such a variety of promising shows that almost any and every artistic need should be met. To help make sure they are, we've sorted our fall art highlights into a few handy categories.
Easy on the Eyes
The show that already has this critic drooling will be at the Smithsonian's Sackler Gallery in late October. "Style and Status: Imperial Costumes From Ottoman Turkey" will bring together some of the world's most exquisitely woven silks.
There ought to be similar visual pleasure, if maybe in a more modest and mellow mode, in the abstract paintings in "Sean Scully: Wall of Light," also in late October, at the Phillips Collection. The Phillips will present one of Scully's most recent and most ambitious series, inspired by the light and Mayan ruins of the Yucatan.
Vik Muniz is another artist who makes art that's fun to look at, but the easy pleasure that he gives appeals to the mind as much as to the eyes. He takes found images such as news photographs and re-creates them in another medium: He's known to Washingtonians from the 2000 Corcoran Biennial, for which he re-created well-known images of famous Americans using shiny pools and blobs of ink. The work he's showing this month at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts will survey all of the many images he's made that riff on great works of art: a Cezanne remade from dots punched out of glossy magazines or Warhol's famous "Marilyn" done in drops of blood.
Museum-goers who want a guarantee of quality have plenty to choose from this season.
Curators at the National Gallery are bringing in a stunning assortment of certified masterpieces. They start the season with three of the greatest sculptures of the earlier Italian Renaissance, which have recently been restored. They move on to 47 hand-colored etchings of birds by John James Audubon. In the new year, they launch the much-anticipated "Cezanne in Provence" show, which commemorates the 100th anniversary of the artist's death by looking at the art he made about his place of birth.
More early Renaissance masterpieces will be on show in New York in October, with the Metropolitan Museum's landmark exhibition of paintings by Fra Angelico. This will be this country's first survey of the Florentine friar. Also in October, the nearby Frick Collection will present a major survey of the portraits of Hans Memling, who was a Netherlandish art star of the later 15th century.
The most exciting Old Master show this year must be the Francisco Goya survey coming in October to Kunsthistorisches (Art History) Museum in Vienna. It will be the largest exhibition of the artist's works ever held outside Spain.
Those who like more recent blue-chip work can head to the Corcoran in September, for an overview of Andy Warhol's pictures borrowed from the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.
Even more contentious "masterpieces," again native to this country, will be on show in November at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, in an exhibition called "Masters of American Comics." Featured artists include Chester Gould (creator of "Dick Tracy"), Jack Kirby ("Captain America," "The Fantastic Four") and Charles Schulz ("Peanuts").
If you think the curators must be on something to mount a show of comics, you could be right. Note their drug-themed October show called "Ecstasy," in which 31 artists explore "altered states and alternative modes of perception." I am told no Kool-Aid nor brownies of any kind will be supplied to visitors.
A Second Look
A very different kind of pleasure comes when an exhibition gives a chance to reconsider art that's better known by reputation than by sight.
Washington abstractionist Sam Gilliam has long been famous as the artist who set the painted canvas free to become a blob of rumpled colored fabric. To date, however, we haven't had the chance to come to grips with the totality of his creations, as we'll be allowed to do in the major retrospective launching in October at the Corcoran.
Two other African American artists will also get a fresh examination this fall. In December, the Baltimore Museum of Art hosts "Henry Ossawa Tanner and the Lure of Paris," with 60 paintings from the years to either side of 1900. In November, the Philadelphia Museum of Art opens a 50-picture survey of the works of New Yorker Beauford Delaney, which will include his paintings of New York life, portraits and abstract compositions. (The very latest crop of black artistic talent will be showcased in November in a group exhibition titled "Frequency," at the Studio Museum in Harlem.)
Alice Neel, yet another artist who so far has been granted a kind of middling status, is being featured in October at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in a portrait exhibition titled "Alice Neel's Women."
The only thing better than discovering how great the greats truly are, or that they've got competition from the second tier, is to see shows that prove the field is even broader than you ever thought.
In October, the Hirshhorn's latest reinstallation of its permanent collection -- another entry in its ongoing Gyroscope project -- is sure to be full of unexpected finds.
Few people know much about the 17th-century still lifes of Dutch painter Pieter Claesz, but we should all be learning more at the National Gallery exhibition that launches next week.
I bet that most of us know even less about the art of ancient Novgorod, Russia's oldest medieval city, but we'll be less ignorant after a visit to the major survey being held at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore in November.
Veteran American painter, sculptor and thingamajig-maker Richard Tuttle is well known and much admired in the art world, but he's probably as remote as Novgorod for many museum-goers. Even some fans can barely tell you why he makes the baffling art he does, or what it means -- only that it's so subtly peculiar it's hard to leave it alone. The major solo exhibition landing in November at the Whitney in New York should help to tie him down.
And then there are a flock of shows that have promise when described, but could pan out as good, or great or absolutely horrid once seen in the flesh. Finding out how they turn out is half the fun.
"Retratos: 2,000 Years of Latin American Portraits" will be at the Smithsonian's Ripley Center in October. It could give real insight into a tradition -- or turn out to be a pointless grab bag of work. Same goes for the massive survey of nine centuries of Russian art that the Guggenheim is launching in New York in a few days' time.
The five small shows that open American University's new Katzen Center for the Arts in October could also add up to more than their summed-up parts -- or could just end up splitting visitors' attention.
"African Art Now: Masterpieces From the Jean Pigozzi Collection," which in November will fill the National Museum of African Art with 100 recent works, may also be worth a gamble. And I'd also risk a bet -- if not my entire pot -- on "Japanese Ceramics for the New Century" at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The Japanese have managed to mix fine craft and high-concept art more successfully than almost any other culture. (Just look at their fashion design.) Their most recent pottery may continue that tradition.