For New Yorkers who regard their local cultural institutions as unofficial civic symbols, the museum openings that began at the end of August are a welcome sign that the city’s spirit is starting to re-emerge after months of disruption and uncertainty. Broadway theaters remain shuttered, and it’s still impossible to see a movie on the big screen or eat indoors at restaurants, but the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art are finally back.
Several other museums, including the Morgan Library & Museum and the Bronx Museum of the Arts, have returned as well, and more will begin to welcome visitors again in the weeks to come. On Saturday, the Brooklyn Museum, El Museo del Barrio and the Rubin Museum of Art will be open to the public for the first time since March.
Prospective patrons should be aware of the changes that museums have implemented to keep their guests safe. Some will likely come as no surprise. Masks and social distancing are mandatory, and the number of visitors allowed inside at once is strictly limited. You won’t be able to check your coat or bag, water fountains will be out of commission, food will be largely unavailable, and temperature checks will not be uncommon.
Other new protocols may take some more getting used to. Returning museumgoers need to plan their trips in advance because timed entrance tickets, which were mainly reserved for the most in-demand special exhibitions before the pandemic, are now a necessary tool for regulating the flow of visitors. Be sure to check online, because admissions are being handled slightly differently at every institution. Tickets at the Brooklyn Museum will be sold in 15-minute increments while the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City, Queens, which reopens Sept. 23, will offer access to morning and afternoon sessions. “We realize it’s a challenge to get out to us even when the subway is running under normal circumstances, so we felt the other system wouldn’t work for us,” said Jennifer Lorch, the museum’s deputy director, referring to more specific timed entries.
Freedom of movement within museums will also vary, with the size and setup of each institution dictating how much latitude patrons will have to wander. “We’re creating pathways that will allow you to enjoy the shows but not be colliding with other visitors,” explained Colin Bailey, the director of the Morgan Library & Museum. “We’re trying to keep the curatorial integrity of the layouts but also we want people to walk in certain directions.” Physically larger institutions like the Brooklyn Museum will be able to be less prescriptive.
As the coronavirus situation remains unresolved, many museums are choosing to proceed cautiously even once they have reopened. For the time being, visitors should expect limited schedules and some continued gallery closures. Patrick Charpenel, the executive director of El Museo del Barrio — which at first will be open from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays — is hopeful that these restrictions will be temporary and that his museum will quickly be able to safely increase its hours. “As soon as we see that we’re OK, we will begin expanding until we’re exactly as we were before Covid,” he said.
While the visitor experience at newly reopened New York museums will be somewhat different this fall, the quality of the art on offer remains world class. Curators and directors have worked hard to ensure that patrons have the opportunity to view exhibitions that were cut short or postponed because of the shutdown. Below you’ll find a partial listing of museums that are set to reopen soon, with input from our critics on shows they were able to catch before the pandemic struck. PETER LIBBEY
American Folk Art Museum Two exhibitions that pull from the museum’s collection are currently on view: “American Perspectives: Stories From the American Folk Art Museum Collection” and “Six Decades Collecting Self-Taught Art,” both running through Jan. 3. folkartmuseum.org
American Museum of Natural History Most of the museum is open to visitors, except for a few galleries and the Hayden Planetarium Space Theater. Two recent exhibitions are also available: “The Nature of Color” (through Aug. 8), examining the role color plays in the natural world and our everyday lives, and “T. rex: The Ultimate Predator” (through next spring), an eye-opening show with the latest scientific research on T. rex and many other tyrannosaurs. (A display of fossilized excrement is sure to delight the kids.) amnh.org
Bronx Museum of the Arts Extended through Jan. 10, “José Parlá: It’s Yours” features the vibrant paintings of this former graffiti writer. “Even though he’s long been deliteralizing his work, it still captures the structural recklessness of the best graffiti,” Jon Caramanica wrote about the art in this show. “The impatience of the paintwork juxtaposed against the permanence conveyed by the representation of decay is a backdoor way to capture the graffiti impulse and make sure it’s never erased.” Also on view: “Codeswitch,” an exhibition devoted to over 50 quilt-based pieces by Sanford Biggers. It is scheduled to close Jan. 24, and will travel to Los Angeles and New Orleans. bronxmuseum.org
Fotografiska New York The new outpost of this Stockholm-based museum was up and running for only a few months when the city shut down. Now it has reopened with a group exhibition organized in partnership with Vice Media and its second lineup of four solo shows: Julie Blackmon’s portraits of family life; Cooper & Gorfer’s studio shots of female migrants; Martin Schoeller’s video portraits of exonerated death row inmates; and Naima Green’s nontraditional portraiture featuring queer women as well as transgender, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming subjects. fotografiska.com/nyc
Metropolitan Museum of Art (open now) and Met Cloisters (opening Sept. 12) Several new exhibitions are now open, including “Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle” (through Nov. 1). It reunites the panels of a lesser-known series, exploring themes from the American Revolution to the Westward expansion, that the painter created during the mid-1950s. “Making the Met, 1870-2020” (through Jan. 3) features more than 250 objects that are “displayed, roughly speaking, by the date the Met acquired them rather than the period or place they were made,” Jason Farago wrote in his review. “This unusual organizing principle lets you map the growth of the Met from room to room, even as it creates strange, riveting juxtapositions across time.” Héctor Zamora’s rooftop sculpture project, “Lattice Detour” (open through Dec. 7), “proves to be exactly right for its moment and place,” Holland Cotter wrote in his review. “It’s a monument to openness over enclosure, lightness over heaviness, transience over permanence. It’s also an image fraught with political meaning.” Also on view: “In Pursuit of Fashion: The Sandy Schreier Collection” (through Sept. 27); “The Great Hall Commission: Kent Monkman, Mistikosiwak (Wooden Boat People)”; “Sahel: Art and Empires on the Shores of the Sahara” (through Oct. 26); Wangechi Mutu’s Met facade commission, “The NewOnes, will free Us” (through Nov. 1); and “Arte del Mar: Artistic Exchange in the Caribbean” (through Jan. 10). metmuseum.org
Morgan Library & Museum Plan accordingly: The museum extended “Jean-Jacques Lequeu: Visionary Architect,” which went on view before the shutdown, but it’s closing this Sunday. Jason Farago called it a “bewitching exhibition” with “nearly 60 of his voluptuous, perfectionist pen-and-wash drawings” that are “a remarkable achievement of the later Enlightenment.” He continued, “They have much more to offer young architects today than a drawing lesson.” This weekend also brings the opening of “Betye Saar: Call and Response” (through Jan. 31), which places some of the artist’s finished works side by side with the preliminary annotated sketches that she has made throughout her career. Some of Ms. Saar’s travel sketchbooks are also included in this exhibition. themorgan.org
Museum of the City of New York Ongoing exhibitions include “New York at Its Core,” which gives an overview of the city’s history, and “Activist New York,” which looks at the city’s history through social justice and political agitation. Kenneth T. Jackson, editor of “The Encyclopedia of New York City,” recently told Colin Moynihan in an article about the museum: “If you had to pick one place to learn about New York City, it would probably be the Museum of the City of New York.” mcny.org
Museum of Modern Art The museum reopened with an “exemplary” show devoted to Félix Fénéon, “one of the busiest, most fascinating players in Parisian cultural circles in the decades around the turn of the 20th century,” Roberta Smith wrote in her review of “Félix Fénéon: The Anarchist and the Avant-Garde — From Signac to Matisse and Beyond.” “He worked as a critic, editor, translator, curator, journalist, publisher, gallerist, private dealer and prescient collector, not only of the French avant-garde but also of non-Western art, especially African sculpture whose aesthetic value he was early to recognize.” Among the shows that MoMA extended upon its reopening: “Sur Moderno: Journeys of Abstraction — the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Gift” (through Sept. 12); “Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures” (through Sept. 19); “Artist’s Choice: Amy Sillman — The Shape of Shape” (through Oct. 4); “Taking a Thread for a Walk” (through Jan. 10); “Judd” (through Jan. 9); and “Private Lives Public Spaces” (through Feb. 21). moma.org
Whitney Museum of American Art When the museum announced its closure in March, our critics had reviewed two remarkable shows. One was the first New York museum exhibition of the still-mysterious painter Agnes Pelton (extended through Nov. 1). Roberta Smith said Pelton’s “exquisitely finished, otherworldly abstractions are the stuff of dreams, visions and mirages; they often came to the artist while she slept or meditated, and they arrived remarkably whole, as indicated by the sketches from her journal reproduced in the catalog.” The other was “Vida Americana,” a grand retrospective of the Mexican muralists Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros (through Jan. 31). “The show is stupendous and complicated,” Holland Cotter wrote. “It reshapes a stretch of art history to give credit where credit is due; it suggests that the Whitney is, at last, on the way to fully embracing American art; and it offers yet another argument for why this country’s build-the-wall mania has to go.” Also on view until Jan. 31 is “Cauleen Smith: Mutualities,” which, Siddhartha Mitter wrote, is anchored by the sumptuous 22-minute film “Sojourner.” whitney.org
Brooklyn Museum (Sept. 12; open to members now) “Studio 54: Night Magic” had the misfortune of “opening” the same day the coronavirus pandemic forced city museums to shut down in March. It will now be on view through Nov. 8. In an article about the show, Matthew Yokobosky, its curator, said: “What we wanted to do here was emphasize the visual dimension, the art, the photography, the fashion, the scenography” that went into the creation of the storied nightclub. “We wanted to capture the way these various aesthetic elements came together to create an environment where people felt really free.” Also on view: “JR: Chronicles” (through Oct. 18). JR is known for his monumental public photography projects, and this show tracks his work in the Gaza Strip, the United States, and the slums of southern Sudan and Sierra Leone. The museum is also hosting an outdoor reopening celebration, with a steel pan performance and D.J. sets, on Sept. 12 from 2 to 5 p.m. brooklynmuseum.org
Museum of Jewish Heritage (Sept. 13; open to members now) The past few months have been especially hard for this institution, which laid off over 40 percent of its staff. It opens this weekend with “Auschwitz. Not Long Ago. Not Far Away” (through May 2), which went on view in 2019. mjhnyc.org
Rubin Museum (Sept. 12; open to members now) The Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam has used photography to advance social justice for 35 years. “But how does a photographer portray people who have disappeared with hardly a trace?” Arthur Lubow wrote in a piece about the show. Mr. Alam addresses that question creatively with the works in “Shahidul Alam: Truth to Power” (now on view through Jan. 4). Mr. Lubow added: “Since 2011, he has been pursuing the case of Kalpana Chakma, a young activist who disappeared in 1996. Because few photographs or possessions of Chakma survive, Mr. Alam conducted what he calls a ‘photo-forensic study,’ making color pictures of traces, real or imagined. His images are not conventional representations of suffering and resistance. He is trying to break through the clichés that deaden our eyes in a photo-saturated world.” rubinmuseum.org
Tenement Museum (Sept. 12) This small institution has also faced dire prospects in the wake of the museum closures. But it plans to begin a phased reopening this weekend. Walking tours of the Lower East Side will be the first of their programs to relaunch. The limited reopening will be the first step toward welcoming visitors back next year. tenement.org
Some of What’s on the Horizon
Guggenheim Museum (Oct. 3) Rem Koolhaas’s sprawling “Countryside, The Future” reopens, and may help satisfy the curiosity of those who have encountered the large green tractor that has been parked outside the museum for months. Inside, museumgoers will find a “huge, text-heavy, dizzying affair with something of the aesthetic of an old Soviet World’s Fair pavilion,” Michael Kimmelman wrote in a profile of the architect ahead of the show’s opening in February. He added: The exhibition “aims to turn a spotlight on the 98 percent of the planet not yet occupied by cities.” guggenheim.org
Jewish Museum (Oct. 1 for the general public; Sept. 24 for members) Rachel Feinstein — artist, fashion muse, mother — confects fanciful works that have a core of steel. She is known for her extravagantly detailed fantasy sculptures, installations and paintings; her first museum retrospective, “Maiden, Mother, Crone,” remains on view through Jan. 3. thejewishmuseum.org
MoMA PS1 (Sept. 17) This Queens institution’s first exhibition upon reopening will be the long-awaited “Marking Time: Art in the Age of Incarceration,” featuring works made by people in prison and by non-incarcerated artists concerned with state repression and erasure. The exhibition, on view through April 4, has been updated to include art related to the Covid-19 crisis in prisons. The museum also announced that it would be unveiling a new commission by the artist Rashid Johnson in its outdoor courtyard, and will have extended hours in the evenings. moma.org
New Museum (Sept. 15) Peter Saul has, for more than a half-century, been “wickedly, gleefully diagnosing America’s social and political maladies,” Holland Cotter wrote about “Peter Saul: Crime and Punishment” (on view through Jan. 3). “The result, as seen in this acidic dirty bomb of a show, is work that’s virtuosically bizarre in style (Tiepolo meets Mad magazine), ecumenically critical in content (whatever your ethnic, sexual or political persuasion, there is something here to give you pause), and right up to date in its targets.” Also on view through Jan. 3 is Jordan Casteel’s “Within Reach,” the artist’s first solo museum exhibition in New York. “The show’s most prominent theme is closeness,” Jillian Steinhauer wrote in her review, “something that’s been severely disrupted by the coronavirus crisis.” The artist “celebrates the people around her” in large, expressive portraits. “Her subjects present themselves to her, and to us, posing as they want to be seen,” she continued, adding, “They invite us into their worlds, offering the audience a privileged view.” newmuseum.org
The Shed (Oct. 16) This Hudson Yards institution returns with “Howardena Pindell: Rope/Fire/Water,” running through April. (Those who reserve tickets in advance can get free admission through Oct. 31.) The exhibition, exploring the historical trauma of racism and the therapeutic power of art, will include Ms. Pindell’s first video work in 25 years. There will also be new large-scale paintings and several abstract works from earlier in her career. theshed.org