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Delacroix, Warhol and More Art to Look Forward to This Fall

Category: Art & Culture,Arts & Design

“We all paint in his language,” effused Paul Cézanne, one of so many of the artist’s later worshipers. Baudelaire, in “The Flowers of Evil,” sang that his paintings were “a lake of blood, haunted by evil angels”; Picasso admired him so deeply he repainted his 1834 oil “Women of Algiers in Their Apartment” more than a dozen times.

But how often today do we turn to the art of Eugène Delacroix, whose emulsified brush strokes of gold and black and carmine cohered into such splashy, but such sinister, visions of romance and empire? Not nearly enough, and criminally seldom in the United States.

I don’t always pick the blockbuster as the season’s most anticipated show; many of the art world’s most beautiful encounters, and most significant thinking, take place in smaller institutions or one-room close studies. But this fall, in America’s own end-of-empire era, the must-see exhibition can only be the big one: The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s traffic-stopping Delacroix show, opening Sept. 17, is the first U.S. retrospective ever for the signal artist of the early 19th century, whose churning canvases seem to be racing into the modern era even as they stand athwart tradition.

The show’s been organized with the Musée du Louvre in Paris, where this summer it became the best-attended show in its history. Its most prized Delacroixes, including the flag-waving “Liberty Leading the People,” are staying home, but the languid “Women of Algiers” is coming to the Met, as is the impassioned “Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi,” whose conjoined themes of liberty, nationalism and racial and sexual anxiety have lost none of their relevance two centuries on. When I saw the show at the Louvre in May, I was particularly taken by the studies on paper, revealing the calculation that preceded his major Romantic canvases, as well as his notebooks from North Africa, whose delicate watercolors of arcades, mosques and men in burnooses evade Orientalist stereotyping. (By the way, if you wondered why Beyoncé didn’t rock out in front of any Delacroixes in that Louvre clip, this show is the reason: They’d all been moved to the retrospective downstairs.)

“Delacroix,” which the Met has prepended with a lovely show of the artist’s drawings, through Nov. 12, set the stage for the coming of modern painting in Paris. Two big East Coast museums will present retrospectives of French artists who used Delacroix’s example for an age of industry. The National Gallery of Art in Washington turns to Camille Corot, best known for landscapes shrouded by curtains of leaves — but this show will reveal his lesser-known work in portraiture, specifically of women, opening Sept. 9. And a retrospective of Berthe Morisot, an Impressionist with a keen gaze upon social class and leisure, and one of the most important women of 19th-century French art, is on view now in Quebec City and arrives on Oct. 21 at the Barnes Collection in Philadelphia.

There is European painting of earlier and later vintage all around New York this fall. At the Frick Collection, “The Charterhouse of Bruges” (opening Sept. 18) reunites two panels commissioned by a 15th-century monk: the Frick’s own “Virgin and Child,” by Jan van Eyck and his workshop, and the “Exeter Virgin,” by the exacting Flemish Primitive Petrus Christus. The Morgan Library & Museum offers Pontormo, the Mannerist master who turned saints, angels, and Florentines with lots of money into corkscrews of color (starting Sept. 7).

Starting Oct. 12, the Guggenheim’s white spiral will get a jolt of color from Hilma af Klint, the Swedish theosophist who may have invented abstract painting in 1906 without telling anybody, except for a spirit she communed with called Amaliel. A concurrent exhibition at the museum of new work by the contemporary painter R.H. Quaytman promises to amplify the enigma of Af Klint: Is a painting truly abstract if it “represents” a world beyond, and what role does gender play in our answer?

Traveling from the Centre Pompidou in Paris to the Jewish Museum on Sept. 14, “Chagall, Lissitzky, Malevich: The Russian Avant-Garde in Vitebsk” restages debates around painting and politics at a Belarusian art school in the first days of the Soviet Union, where Professor Chagall’s indulgent graphic style vied with Professor Malevich’s black and red squares.

Two smaller museum shows, though, may offer equally rewarding second looks. At Japan Society, the chameleonic photographer Yasumasa Morimura will show his decades of self-portraits in which he inserts his face and body into mostly Western art history; such channeling may look newly fresh in an age of high-speed image circulation and stricter scrutiny of cross-cultural encounters. And the Museum of Art and Design hosts an exhibition of ceramics from Sterling Ruby (opening Oct. 3), an artist whose considerable talent and unorthodox use of craft got somewhat lost amid art market hype, and deserve a closer look. (Part of me wonders if Mr. Ruby’s redesign of the Calvin Klein store on Madison Avenue, with honking yellow walls and vintage quilts, was the best exhibition of last year.)

In addition to the 19th-century inundation, there’s a strong lineup of contemporary shows in Washington this season, where Richard Tuttle’s intimate and fragile sculptures at the Phillips Collection (from Sept. 13) will contrast with Rachel Whiteread’s weighty casts of concrete or resin at the National Gallery of Art (from Sept. 16). A well-deserved retrospective of Charline von Heyl, a painter with a rare combination of unshakable self-confidence and real wit, arrives at the Hirshhorn Museum on Nov. 8.

What I want most this season is a resolution to the yearslong meltdown of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, which lost both its director and its chief curator this spring. The appointment of a new director, Klaus Biesenbach — a social butterfly who will savor his time on the red carpets, but also an advocate for young artists at MoMA PS1, and a talented curator with an all-too-rare ecological commitment — could draw a line under the MOCA crisis if he accomplishes two tasks: First, he needs to convince the collectors on its board, which has ultimate responsibility for MOCA’s stewardship, to commit themselves fully to the museum or to make way for trustees who will. Second, he needs to appoint a new chief curator who can forge a more diverse and engaged museum, but who can also tend to MOCA’s excellent collection and build on its fabled exhibition history.

That diversity should also be geographical, and I encourage him to look closely at Latin America’s leading curators as he staffs up. My two dream picks for chief would be Cuauhtémoc Medina, of Mexico City, and Adriano Pedrosa, of São Paulo, Brazil; younger Latin American curators including Eugenia Braniff and Fernanda Brenner should be on his radar too.

Mr. Biesenbach has always been a heatseeker, and this decade has seen Los Angeles cement its place as, no question, the cultural equal of New York. It’s well past time for its main contemporary art museum to live up to its hometown’s worldliness.

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