Walter Gropius, University of Baghdad Campus, from “City of Mirages”
"CITY OF MIRAGES: BAGHDAD 1952–1982" :: This exhibit at BSA Space (through January 10) tells the story of Western architects' attempts to modernize Baghdad. Plans and models offer rueful lessons in optimism, hubris, and business.
"THIS WILL HAVE BEEN: ART, LOVE & POLITICS IN THE 1980S" :: Curator Helen Molesworth's revisionist history of 1980s art, at the Institute of Contemporary Art (through March 3), argues that the Reagan-Thatcher greed-is-good decade was all about feminism and AIDS. The art is a requiem for liberal losses and oh-so-many dead.
CRISTI RINKLIN:: Last summer, Rinklin covered windows at the Currier Museum of Art with a 20-foot-wide cartoon of taffy clouds, stark mountains, and swooping rivers. The sun glowing through it boosted the stellar painting the Bostonian has been doing in recent years to a new wattage.
"AMERICAN VANGUARDS" :: This show at Phillips Academy's Addison Gallery of American Art (through December 30) detailed how a handful of friends in New York in the 1930s birthed what would become known as Abstract Expressionism and made the Big Apple the center of the Western art world (with some help from summers in Massachusetts). One takeaway: Willem de Kooning's paintings dripped with sensuality from the start.
NANCY HOLT:: The 1970s Earthworks movement is associated with big boys wielding big tools. "Sight Lines" at the Tufts University Art Gallery last spring showed how Nancy Holt, whose Sun Tunnels in the Utah desert is a sort of construction-site Stonehenge, could play with heavy machinery with the best of them.
"THE IVENTION OF GLORY":: "The Invention of Glory" at the Peabody Essex Museum (through December 31) imports four giant 15th-century tapestries propagandizing a Portuguese king's conquest of the region known today as Morocco. They're a breathtaking history lesson via a Renaissance version of a cast-of-thousands Hollywood spectacular. For the Peabody Essex in 2012, it was excellent business as usual — with Jerry Uelsmann's photo fantasies, contemporary Native American "Shapeshifting," frothy "Hats," and a comprehensive (if somewhat off base) roundup of Ansel Adams's water works. No museum in the region is more entertaining, edifying, and entrancing.