“An-My L: Small Wars,” RISD Museum, Providence, RI, June 30 through October 15
An-My L arrived in the US as a 15-year-old refugee from her native Saigon in 1975. She delved into her past, and documented Vietnam War re-enactors prowling the woods of South Carolina from 1999 to 2002. More recently, she went to 29 Palms Marine base to photograph jarheads rehearsing house searches, and tanks and Humvees creeping across a Southern California sandbox in preparation for the real thing in Afghanistan and Iraq. In an era when imagined weapons of mass destruction embroiled us in a very real war, these 50 images investigate the blurry line between truth and fiction by asking: what are we really playing with all our war games?
“Anselm Kiefer: Velimir Chlebnikov,” Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, CT, May 27 through October 1
German painter Anselm Kiefer gained fame in the US in the 1980s by exploring the murky crossroads of German history and myth with his tar, straw, and lead paintings of scorched battlefields, gray seashores, and haunted barns. Kiefer is inspired by Velimir Chlebnikov (1885–1922), a kook and founding poet of Russian futurism, who aimed to eradicate Western influences from the Russian language, and who believed historic battles occurred in 317-year cycles. In this collection of 30 recent and ravishing paintings, rusty subs and minesweepers ply fierce, gray seas. An Aldrich patron bought the whole kit and caboodle (including the corrugated-steel mausoleum it’s housed in) after this show exhibited in London last year. See it now because after this show, the museum warns, “it will disappear from the public view and move into a private collection.”
“Cryptozoology: Out of Time Place Scale,” Bates College Museum of Art, Lewiston, ME. June 24 through October 7
SWOONING LANDSCAPE: Thomas Cole’s Scene from the ‘Last of the Mohicans’ (1827) at Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum.
Cryptozoology is the study of unknown, rumored, or hidden critters like Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, the Abominable Snowman, and the giant squid (which turns out to exist). In other words, what we have here are 16 artists inspired by mad scientists and monsters. Cool.
Marc Swanson presents his sculptural self-portrait as a furry white yeti; Jamie Wyeth exhibits paintings of a creepy anteater-thing that he helped dream up for Stephen King’s 2004 TV series Kingdom Hospital. And several of the artists are enamored of the Australian thylacine, a/k/a the Tasmanian wolf, which is believed to have become extinct in the 1930s. These creature-features explore the boundary between science and fiction.
“Surrealist Works on Paper,” Worcester Museum of Art, Worcester, MA, through August 19
The Surrealist movement arose from artists’ disgust with the official upper-crust nuttiness they believed fueled World War I. They responded by fighting crazy with crazy, and tapped into the sexy, disreputable subconscious with images such as Man Ray’s 1924 photo Le Violon d’Ingres in which a woman’s nude back becomes the body of a violin. The artists featured here — Ray, Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, Jacques Lipchitz, Matta, and others — try to freak us out, but decades later we still can’t get enough of them.