February in New York is dark and cold. At least it’s short.
The city’s cultural community comes to the rescue this month offering a bounty of fairs, gallery openings, and museum happenings for art lovers counting down the days until the promise of March.
Sometimes, it’s having something to look forward to that can pull you through the gloom when spring’s warmth and light still feel like a distant oasis. Mark your calendar, bundle up, and let the anticipation of seeing great art overcome your winter blues.
February 1: Schomburg Center
Harlem’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture debuts its newest temporary exhibition, “The Ways of Langston Hughes: Griff Davis and Black Artists in the Making,” with an opening for the public from 6:00 to 8:00 PM. Admission is free, but RSVP is required.
On view are photographs from Griff Davis who met Hughes while Davis was a student and Hughes a visiting professor at Atlanta University. Davis later rented a room in Hughes’ Harlem home in 1948 while attending the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
Through Davis’ photographs, the show shares Hughes’ mentorship of the artist and their longtime friendship.
February 2: Poster House & Chelsea Hotel
Take advantage of free Fridays at Poster House where a special exhibition, “We Tried to Warn You! Environmental Crisis Posters 1970-2020,” proves alternately amusing and alarming. With the first Earth Day as its starting point, the presentation demonstrates how artists have long been used by activist movements to show the effects of humanity’s abuse of its planet and provide warning for continuing such behaviors.
From littering and acid rain in the 1970s to climate change and the mass extinction crisis of today, the posters verify that a picture is worth a thousand words.
Beginning with Robert Rauschenberg’s collage promoting the inaugural Earth Day, the presentation reminds audiences that for all of the man-made environmental catastrophes being experienced now, the situation would be much worse were it not for previous generations of conservationists.
Wall text quoting Richard Nixon from his 1970 “State of the Union” address serves as a spinetingling example of how haywire the contemporary political conversation around the environment has gone.
While you’re in the neighborhood, and also free to peruse, two blocks from Poster House find Hotel Chelsea, a landmark for creativity in New York. The lobby and staircase–check out railing!–are filled with paintings.
February 9: Whitney Museum of American Art
Adults save $30 on a general admission ticket to the Whitney when visiting on Friday nights and taking advantage of a new free ticket initiative rolled out for 2024. Visitors will need to reserve a ticket in advance online, and it’s popular so don’t dawdle, but with the museum remaining open until 10:00 PM on Fridays, you’ll get in.
While Whitney exhibitions are pared down in February to prepare for its famed biennial opening in March, the permanent collection galleries and views from the terraces are always worth a stop.
February 10: Chelsea Gallery Crawl
In a rotating exhibition space at 548 West 22nd Street, a powerhouse show of women artists from the Shah Garg Collection would draw crowds to any of the city’s museums. “Making Their Mark” shows off signature pieces of abstraction from the 1940s through the present day with a superstar roster including Joan Mitchell and Lenore Tawney, Cecily Brown and Simone Leigh … and Howardina Pindell, and Faith Ringgold, and Tschabalala Self, and Julie Mehretu, and Firelei Báez.
The artworks are big, bold, colorful, dramatic, approachable–the sort of display that even people who “don’t like art” can get a kick out of.
Particularly appreciated is the representation of Indigenous artists. Icons of contemporary Native American art Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Kay WalkingStick, Marie Watt, and Rose B. Simpson take their place alongside the other artists, demonstrating how Native art is no thing of the past.
Speaking of Marie Watt, two blocks away at Print Center New York, “Storywork: The Prints of Marie Watt,” brings together the artist’s celebrated “Blanket Stories” sculptures along with a retrospective of her printmaking with all items drawn the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation, the world’s preeminent private collection of fine art prints.
First introduced to printmaking as a student at Willamette University, Watt enrolled in printmaking classes while attending the Institute of American Indian Arts where she studied under the artist and Indigenous activist Jean LaMarr. Since completing her MFA in Painting and Printmaking at Yale in 1996, Watt has returned to printmaking repeatedly.
Remember the names Watt and Schnitzer, February in New York isn’t done with them yet.
Across the street from Print Center, Lisson Gallery highlights the work of Leon Polk Smith through February 17. While Smith has Cherokee ancestry, the Oklahoman is not generally considered a Native artist. His claim to fame comes as a foundational figure in the Hard-edge Painting movement.
That’s not the work on view here, however. Displayed are early career paintings from the 1940s and 50s after Smith moved to New York and began experimenting with different styles of European Modernism; the influence of Piet Mondrian is particularly apparent.
Lastly, stop by Galerie Lelong & Co. on West 26th Street where another artist who came to New York mid-century takes center stage. Sarah Grilo arrived in the city from Argentina in 1962 following receipt of a Guggenheim Fellowship. In a career spanning six decades, she created paintings and works on paper in a distinctive style fusing abstraction with language.
Grilo wasn’t long for the States, leaving for Europe in the 1970s in part due to her opposition of America’s ongoing war in Vietnam.
All of these gallery shows are free and open to the public.
February 15: Catherine Opie at Lehmann Maupin
Nowhere in the world can art lovers come in more regular contact with top artists than New York. Lehmann Maupin gallery offers just such an opportunity on February 15 from 6:00 to 8:00 PM when it hosts a reception for celebrated contemporary photographer Catherine Opie on the occasion of its presentation of a recent series of hers centered on Vatican City.
The show opens February 8 and if you can’t make the artist’s reception, Lehmann Maupin is steps from Lisson Gallery.
February 16, 17, 18: IFPDA Print Fair
Established in 1987, the International Fine Print Dealers Association is the preeminent organization for fine art print galleries, dealers, and publishers. Its annual Print Fair is the largest, longest running, and most important fair dedicated to fine art prints and printmaking. International print galleries, publishers, workshops, and dealers will be on hand presenting a wide range of fine art prints spanning various techniques and periods, including works from Old Masters, iconic figures of the 20th century, established contemporary artists, and today’s most promising emerging talents.
After a 5-year run at the Javits Center, the IFPDA Print Fair returns to its home of the previous 25 years, the Park Avenue Armory.
Highlights this year include Jeffrey Gibson’s editioned quilt raising funds for his exhibition at the U.S. Pavilion during the 2024 Venice Art Biennale. Pavilion commissioners Portland Art Museum and SITE Santa Fe, in partnership with Sotheby’s and collector and art advisor Sharon Coplan Hurowitz, will present an editioned blanket by Gibson with all proceeds from sales going toward supporting Gibson’s presentation in Venice.
Also noteworthy is a special curatorial project showcasing prints from the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation collection (there’s that name again), curated by artist Leonardo Drew. The standalone booth will feature major works acquired by the ARTnews Top 200 collector selected by Drew, alongside works by the artist himself held within the JSFF collection.
At the IFPDA Print Fair, visitors don’t just see the artwork, they can see the artists.
Drew will present a public program on Saturday at the fair. Friday features Marie Watt (her again) in conversation, and on Sunday, it’s Kiki Smith. Leading museum officials from around the country will also be on hand for panel discussions relevant to prints and print collecting.
On February 17, Watt is on site at Print Center for a “printing circle,” like a sewing circle, but with prints. Community members can come together and create printmaking plates and prints that will be integrated into future works by Watt. Attendees can also contribute their prints to an emergent installation in the Center’s lobby that will evolve over the course of the exhibition.
No experience is necessary, all ages are welcome, materials are provided, and participation is free.
February 24: The Frick’s Final Days
The historic buildings of The Frick Collection are currently closed for renovation and enhancement, their first comprehensive upgrade since the 1930s. For the duration of the renovation project, the collections of the museum and library remain accessible to the public at Frick Madison in the Marcel Breuer–designed building at 945 Madison Avenue that was once the home of the Whitney Museum of American Art and, most recently, The Met Breuer.
Now in its final days, the temporary residency ensured that the public could continue enjoying the Frick’s masterpieces, while also giving the museum a unique opportunity to reimagine its presentation of paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts within a totally different context.
Gallery talks included with admission are offered throughout the day on each of the final four Saturdays at Frick Madison. Frick educators give insights into permanent collection works including Fragonard’s Progress of Love series, Gainsborough’s The Mall in St. James’s Park, and El Greco’s Purification of the Temple, as well as the special installation Nicolas Party and Rosalba Carriera.
Frick Madison remains open through March 3, 2024; the Frick Collection reopens at 1 East 70th Street in late 2024.
February 29 through March 3: Outsider Art Fair
Wrap up February or begin March at the Metropolitan Pavilion with the Outsider Art Fair, the only fair devoted to self-taught art, art brut, and outsider art. Sixty-two exhibitors will be on hand for the event which celebrated its 30th anniversary last year.
The Outsider Art Fair has been a strong advocate for self-taught artists worldwide, and once again visitors can expect to view artworks created by the most acclaimed artists in the field including James Castle, Henry Darger, Thornton Dial, William Edmondson, Minnie Evans, Bill Traylor, Martín Ramírez, Nellie Mae Rowe, Judith Scott, and Joseph Yoakum.
For Out of Towners
Visitors to New York in February or any month should consider staying at the Crown Plaza HY36 Midtown Manhattan ideally located three blocks from Penn Station, Madison Square Garden and Javits Center, four blocks from the Empire State Building and Hudson Yards, and five blocks from Times Square.
A $30 per night property fee is added on top of room rates for all stays.
Vito’s pizza sharing the same block as the hotel is the authentic New York pop-in slice spot tourists (and locals) dream of finding.