‘SARAH LUCAS: AU NATUREL’ at the New Museum (through Jan. 20). Lucas emerged in the 1990s with the YBAs (Young British Artists), a group that included Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin and that didn’t focus on a particular medium or style. They were postpunk — which is to say, more focused on attitude than aptitude — with a Generation X nihilism and malaise, as well as the clear message that anything, artistically, could be borrowed, stolen or sampled. Self-portraits are among Lucas’s weapons. Instead of sexualized, made-up or fantastic portraits, hers are plain, androgynous and deadpan. And this exhibition, with its 150 objects — many of them sculptures created in plaster or from women’s stockings and tights stuffed with fluff — is populated with penises and with cigarettes penetrating buttocks, rather than the breasts and vulvas modern artists have used to demonstrate their edginess. At just the right moment — the #MeToo moment — Lucas shows us what it’s like to be a strong, self-determined woman; to shape and construct your own world; to live beyond other people’s constricting terms; to challenge oppression, sexual dominance and abuse. (Martha Schwendener)
‘FRANZ MARC AND AUGUST MACKE: 1909-1914’ at Neue Galerie (through Jan. 21). Marc and Macke worked at the forefront of German art in the early 1900s, experimenting with audacious simplifications of forms, infusing colors with spiritual meanings and, in Marc’s case, specializing in dreamy portraits of otherworldly animals. With the Russian-born Wassily Kandinsky, the two friends also helped found a hugely influential circle of Munich painters known as the Blue Rider. But this dizzying, overstuffed exhibit at the Neue Galerie ends abruptly: Both men were killed in combat in World War I, Marc at 36 and Macke at 27. (Heinrich)
‘LILIANA PORTER: OTHER SITUATIONS’ at El Museo del Barrio (through Jan. 27). This exquisite survey of 35 objects, installations and video by this Argentinian-born American artist covers nearly half a century, but feels unanchored by time and gravity. In pieces from the early 1970s, Porter adds spare pencil lines to a photographs of her own face as if to challenge optical perception: Which is more real, the artist or the artist’s mark? Later, she began assembling and photographing groups of toys and figurines found in flea markets and antiques shops to tease out political puzzles. And despite a witty use of miniaturist scale, cruelty and loss run through the work. In the 2009 video “Matinee,” tabletop statuettes live tragic lives: A ceramic child is suddenly beheaded by a hammer. (Cotter)
‘THE PROGRESSIVE REVOLUTION: MODERN ART FOR A NEW INDIA’ at Asia Society (through Jan. 20). The first show in the United States in decades devoted to postwar Indian painting continues a welcome, belated effort in Western museums to globalize art history after 1945. The Progressive Artists’ Group, founded in Bombay (now Mumbai) in the afterglow of independence, sought a new painterly language for a new India, making use of hot color and melding folk traditions with high art. These painters were Hindus, Muslims and Catholics, and they drew freely from Picasso and Klee, Rajasthani architecture and Zen ink painting, in their efforts to forge art for a secular, pluralist republic. Looking at them 70 years on, as India joins so many other countries taking a nativist turn, they offer a lovely, regret-tinged view of a lost horizon. (Farago)
‘RUBBISH AND DREAMS: THE GENDERQUEER PERFORMANCE ART OF STEPHEN VARBLE’ at Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art (through Jan. 27). The 1970s, when New York City’s budget tanked and trash piled up in the streets, was a golden age of downtown performance art. And no artist shone brighter, or better commanded the street as a stage, or made more transformative use of trash, than Varble (1946-84), whose elaborately costumed guerrilla appearances in galleries, museums and luxury boutiques took aim at an early version of the gentrifying, monetizing art industry we know today. Then, within a few years, he was gone from the scene and erased from the historical record, to which he has now been, at long last, restored by this archival show. (Cotter)
‘LUIGI VALADIER: SPLENDOR IN EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY ROME’ at the Frick Collection (through Jan. 20). One of the most sought-after silversmiths of his time, the multiskilled Valadier oversaw a busy workshop that supplied popes, aristocrats and visiting royalty with objects and statues for high altars, private chapels and the most lavish of libraries and dinner tables. Reflecting the period’s growing love of all things Classical, and heavy with gilding, rare marbles and semiprecious stones, this exhibition ranges from secular to religious to spectacular. (Smith)
For an overview of January and February’s cultural events, click here.