5 Great Art Exhibitions to See in New York Before They Close

A view of the “Esperanza Spalding Selects” exhibition organized by Ms. Spalding, the Grammy-winning musician, from the collection of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

The winter holidays get a bit frantic, and not just with gift-buying and related rituals. All those art exhibitions you’ve been meaning to see for months are closing soon. Don’t panic — one strategy is to use art-viewing to mitigate the holiday stresses. Here are some worthwhile shows that may have escaped your notice and will all close after New Year’s (with one gallery exhibition that ends sooner). These worthy shows may just rekindle your stamina.

Some of the exhibitions on my list have tended to be overshadowed by more attention-grabbing shows nearby. None more so than “Leonardo to Matisse: Drawings From the Robert Lehman Collection,” which has had to compete with David Hockney and Michelangelo.

The Met’s show displays 60 of the greatest hits from the more than 700 drawings that the financier Robert Lehman (1891-1969) collected from the early 1920s on and bequeathed to the museum. Organized by Dita Amory and Alison Nogueira, the exhibition is the first to cover the Lehman drawings’ entire span, from the late 14th century to the early 20th century. In contrast to the Morgan Library’s current offering, “Drawn to Greatness: Master Drawings from the Thaw Collection,” where the Renaissance drawings are firmly attributed, some of Lehman’s most intriguing works are credited to “circle of” or regional schools. He followed his eye no matter where it led and was often drawn to quirky displays of the art process.

One example, by an unidentified artist, is a 14th-century North Italian drawing of the Flagellation of Christ whose gossamer refinement suggests the influence of Leonardo. Especially striking is the artist’s concentration on the head and shoulders of Christ; his tormentors and surroundings are more lightly rendered, as if the trials of the physical world were less real.

A Netherlandish artist, from the circle of Rogier van der Weyden — possibly Vrancke van der Stockt — created “Men Shoveling Chairs,” a study for a high-relief carving for a pillar that is an amusing exegesis on both movement and chair design. And from the circle of Andrea Mantegna comes an unusual rendering of “The Descent Into Limbo,” in which Christ ducks under a low, unprepossessing archway. But there are plenty of attributed works by Goya, Signorelli, Dürer, Zuccaro, Ingres and Matisse. And most of all Rembrandt, whose vigorous red-chalk rendition of Leonardo’s “Last Supper,” the renowned fresco in Milan, is one of the Met’s great treasures. Rembrandt, who never went abroad, didn’t see the original; he copied an engraving of it, imbuing the scene with an intensity that is all his own, giving every gesture, posture and face its own emotional import and stirring the air. It has not been exhibited at the Met since 2000. (Through Jan. 7; Fifth Avenue, Manhattan; metmuseum.org.)

“John Lockwood Kipling: Arts & Crafts in the Punjab and London” is the kind of thoroughly researched, expertly installed, slightly daunting but ultimately rewarding exhibition in which the Bard Graduate Center specializes. Organized by Susan Weber, the director of the center, and Julius Bryant, curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, it is also typically groundbreaking. Its subject is one of 19th-century England’s notable polymaths, John Lockwood Kipling (1837-1911), father of the writer Rudyard Kipling. As an artistically talented teenager the elder Kipling was transfixed by the lavish displays of crafts from India he saw in London at the Great Exhibition of 1851. He devoted most of his life and energy as a draftsman, sculptor, designer, teacher, curator and administrator to documenting, preserving and promoting Indian crafts and craftsmen; leading schools in Mumbai and Lahore; and procuring commissions for his teachers and students. These included extravagant carved-wood interiors in the royal residences of Bagshot Park near Windsor Castle and Osborne House, on the Isle of Wight.

With furniture, drawings, photographs, textiles, videos and much else, this exhibition forms an immersive visual biography, a fascinating chapter of the British Arts and Crafts movement and a story of relatively benign colonialism. It begins with some of the Indian luxury goods that young Kipling saw in 1851 and ends with his post-retirement career as an illustrator of some of his son’s best-known books. Many of the loans here come from London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, which was created for material acquired from the Great Exhibition. Its story is also part of the Bard show and further detailed in the extraordinary catalog. No surprise, when he was just starting out, the elder Kipling helped design some of the museum’s interiors and decorations. (Through Jan. 7; 18 West 86th Street, Manhattan; bgc.bard.edu.)

Inch for inch, the Cooper Hewitt’s series of small exhibitions selected by invited artists, designers and other creatives are among its best. This season’s entry, “Esperanza Spalding Selects,” is especially excellent. Ms. Spalding, the prodigious jazz singer and bassist, worked with Caitlin Condell, an associate curator at the museum. On a wall text the musician explains that the show is “about people, culture and design simultaneously evolving and devolving,” an inevitable growth process that she calls “d+evolution,” echoing her 2016 album, “Emily’s D+Evolution.” The show diagrams mutation, hybridity and adaptation among cultures. These currents are traced in textiles, furniture, accessories, books and set design. These include a magnificent Nigerian robe embroidered with patterns based on calligraphic styles found in the Quran and a mid-1980s gold ring by Ed Wiener that sits next to its inspiration, a cast-bronze Akan goldweight from Ghana.

The music wafting through the gallery features Ms. Spalding, singing four “d+evolving” versions of a song represented here by sheet music. Sculptures, assemblages and rubbings derived from deconstructed pianos were also devised by Ms. Spalding, with two collaborators from Portland, Ore., her hometown: the architect Robert Perry and Meghan McGeorge, of the nonprofit organization Piano. Push. Play.

The true subtlety of Ms. Spalding’s eye and thought are visible in the text panels and labels. Although the print is sometimes small, they bring a fresh visual intelligence to both the curator’s discipline and such issues as racism, colonialism, identity and fluidity. (Through Jan. 21; 2 East 91st Street, Manhattan; cooperhewitt.org.)

One of the very best films on view in New York right now is “Fly Paper,” a lyrical 23-minute tribute to life and culture in Harlem by Kahlil Joseph, a filmmaker who directed some of Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” while also becoming known for his own lush, impressionistic short works. The show has been organized by Natalie Bell, assistant curator, and Massimiliano Gioni, the museum’s artistic director. Its title — “Kahlil Joseph: Shadow Play” — conveys Mr. Joseph’s dreamlike way with images and narratives and talent for giving black and white a richness inspired by the photographs of Roy DeCarava, an acknowledged influence. Combining existing and newly made footage with an extraordinary soundtrack of music, spoken words and muffled conversations, Mr. Kahlil captures Harlem in both its day-to-day life and its magnetic effect on artists of all kinds. Jazz, blues, art and especially dance are woven into a matrix of great joy and ineffable sadness, of derelict lofts and quiet living rooms where people talk, muse and look out windows.

Among the recurring narratives is the silent progress of the actor Ben Vereen wearing a white suit. He walks along the street with a cane, sits in a bathtub and dances with ominous, fragile brilliance in a darkened stairwell, intermittently joined by the flex dancer Storyboard P. (Through Jan. 7; 235 Bowery, Manhattan; newmuseum.org.)

By coincidence another great, if laconic film is on view near the New Museum: Michael Landy’s “Breaking News — New York” at the Sperone Westwater gallery. This is his 2001 “Break Down,” in which we see Mr. Landy, an erstwhile Young British Artist, and a group of skilled assistants systematically disassemble all his possessions — a total of 7,227 items including his car, the contents of his studio (nearly 400 artworks), as well as furniture, clothing, books, foodstuffs and his refrigerator. Everything is placed in plastic bins on conveyor belts leading to a compactor.

The whole process lasted two weeks, unfolding in a vacant department store on Oxford Street that was open to the public and yielded over five tons of landfill. Relentless and humbling, the video is being shown in New York for the first time, with its equally mind-boggling accompaniment, “Break Down Inventory”: a detailed list of Mr. Landy’s belongings that took three years to compile before their destruction. The printed document wallpapers a large space, floor to ceiling, and is also available in book form. Commissioned by Artangel, the London nonprofit, “Break Down” and its inventory should be on permanent view in a museum. It is a monument to the mindless consumption of material goods and waste that plague the world. The show also includes scores of skillfully subversive red-and-white drawings borrowed from other artworks, newspaper headlines and protest slogans to further convey the anxieties and crises of the moment, but “Break Down,’’ now 16 years old, sums them up most hauntingly. (Through Dec. 23; 257 Bowery, Manhattan; speronewestwater.com.)

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