Bard Graduate Center
Credit Bruce White/Bard Graduate Center
“John Lockwood Kipling: Arts & Crafts in the Punjab and London” is the kind of thoroughly researched, expertly installed, slightly daunting but ultimately rewarding exhibition in which the Bard Graduate Center specializes. Organized by Susan Weber, the director of the center, and Julius Bryant, curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, it is also typically groundbreaking. Its subject is one of 19th-century England’s notable polymaths, John Lockwood Kipling (1837-1911), father of the writer Rudyard Kipling. As an artistically talented teenager the elder Kipling was transfixed by the lavish displays of crafts from India he saw in London at the Great Exhibition of 1851. He devoted most of his life and energy as a draftsman, sculptor, designer, teacher, curator and administrator to documenting, preserving and promoting Indian crafts and craftsmen; leading schools in Mumbai and Lahore; and procuring commissions for his teachers and students. These included extravagant carved-wood interiors in the royal residences of Bagshot Park near Windsor Castle and Osborne House, on the Isle of Wight.
With furniture, drawings, photographs, textiles, videos and much else, this exhibition forms an immersive visual biography, a fascinating chapter of the British Arts and Crafts movement and a story of relatively benign colonialism. It begins with some of the Indian luxury goods that young Kipling saw in 1851 and ends with his post-retirement career as an illustrator of some of his son’s best-known books. Many of the loans here come from London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, which was created for material acquired from the Great Exhibition. Its story is also part of the Bard show and further detailed in the extraordinary catalog. No surprise, when he was just starting out, the elder Kipling helped design some of the museum’s interiors and decorations. (Through Jan. 7; 18 West 86th Street, Manhattan; bgc.bard.edu.)
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Credit Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Inch for inch, the Cooper Hewitt’s series of small exhibitions selected by invited artists, designers and other creatives are among its best. This season’s entry, “Esperanza Spalding Selects,” is especially excellent. Ms. Spalding, the prodigious jazz singer and bassist, worked with Caitlin Condell, an associate curator at the museum. On a wall text the musician explains that the show is “about people, culture and design simultaneously evolving and devolving,” an inevitable growth process that she calls “d+evolution,” echoing her 2016 album, “Emily’s D+Evolution.” The show diagrams mutation, hybridity and adaptation among cultures. These currents are traced in textiles, furniture, accessories, books and set design. These include a magnificent Nigerian robe embroidered with patterns based on calligraphic styles found in the Quran and a mid-1980s gold ring by Ed Wiener that sits next to its inspiration, a cast-bronze Akan goldweight from Ghana.
The music wafting through the gallery features Ms. Spalding, singing four “d+evolving” versions of a song represented here by sheet music. Sculptures, assemblages and rubbings derived from deconstructed pianos were also devised by Ms. Spalding, with two collaborators from Portland, Ore., her hometown: the architect Robert Perry and Meghan McGeorge, of the nonprofit organization Piano. Push. Play.
The true subtlety of Ms. Spalding’s eye and thought are visible in the text panels and labels. Although the print is sometimes small, they bring a fresh visual intelligence to both the curator’s discipline and such issues as racism, colonialism, identity and fluidity. (Through Jan. 21; 2 East 91st Street, Manhattan; cooperhewitt.org.)
Credit Kahlil Joseph, via New Museum
One of the very best films on view in New York right now is “Fly Paper,” a lyrical 23-minute tribute to life and culture in Harlem by Kahlil Joseph, a filmmaker who directed some of Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” while also becoming known for his own lush, impressionistic short works. The show has been organized by Natalie Bell, assistant curator, and Massimiliano Gioni, the museum’s artistic director. Its title — “Kahlil Joseph: Shadow Play” — conveys Mr. Joseph’s dreamlike way with images and narratives and talent for giving black and white a richness inspired by the photographs of Roy DeCarava, an acknowledged influence. Combining existing and newly made footage with an extraordinary soundtrack of music, spoken words and muffled conversations, Mr. Kahlil captures Harlem in both its day-to-day life and its magnetic effect on artists of all kinds. Jazz, blues, art and especially dance are woven into a matrix of great joy and ineffable sadness, of derelict lofts and quiet living rooms where people talk, muse and look out windows.
Among the recurring narratives is the silent progress of the actor Ben Vereen wearing a white suit. He walks along the street with a cane, sits in a bathtub and dances with ominous, fragile brilliance in a darkened stairwell, intermittently joined by the flex dancer Storyboard P. (Through Jan. 7; 235 Bowery, Manhattan; newmuseum.org.)
Sperone Westwater Gallery
Credit Michael Landy, via Sperone Westwater, New York
By coincidence another great, if laconic film is on view near the New Museum: Michael Landy’s “Breaking News — New York” at the Sperone Westwater gallery. This is his 2001 “Break Down,” in which we see Mr. Landy, an erstwhile Young British Artist, and a group of skilled assistants systematically disassemble all his possessions — a total of 7,227 items including his car, the contents of his studio (nearly 400 artworks), as well as furniture, clothing, books, foodstuffs and his refrigerator. Everything is placed in plastic bins on conveyor belts leading to a compactor.
The whole process lasted two weeks, unfolding in a vacant department store on Oxford Street that was open to the public and yielded over five tons of landfill. Relentless and humbling, the video is being shown in New York for the first time, with its equally mind-boggling accompaniment, “Break Down Inventory”: a detailed list of Mr. Landy’s belongings that took three years to compile before their destruction. The printed document wallpapers a large space, floor to ceiling, and is also available in book form. Commissioned by Arc Angel, the London nonprofit, “Break Down” and its inventory should be on permanent view in a museum. It is a monument to the mindless consumption of material goods and waste that plague the world. The show also includes scores of skillfully subversive red-and-white drawings borrowed from other artworks, newspaper headlines and protest slogans to further convey the anxieties and crises of the moment, but “Break Down,’’ now 16 years old, sums them up most hauntingly. (Through Dec. 23; 257 Bowery, Manhattan; speronewestwater.com.)