15 Blockbuster Gallery Shows You Need to See in New York This May

The rise of the museum-quality gallery show hits a fever pitch this May in New York, as a flurry of blockbuster exhibitions fill galleries across the city. From the unexpected Urs Fischer showing in the Lower East Side to Cindy Sherman’s comeback in Chelsea, rejoice in the wealth and breadth of dynamic and in-depth new shows of major modern and contemporary artists. 


Thornton Dial at Marianne Boesky Gallery

Apr. 30–Jun. 18, 509 West 24th Street 

  • Thornton Dial, The Power of the Birds, 2002. © Thornton Dial. Photo by Jason Wyche, courtesy of Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York. 

    Thornton Dial, The Power of the Birds, 2002. © Thornton Dial. Photo by Jason Wyche, courtesy of Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York. 

Dead at 87, Thornton Dial Was Not Just a Giant of Outsider Art but a Towering Figure of Art History

Brilliant, multimedia paintings that employ scrap material and found objects by this late, great self-taught artist go on view at Marianne Boesky in “We All Live Under the Same Old Flag,” the first New York show dedicated to Dial since his death earlier this year. Known for a prolific career in Alabama, Dial produced works that responded to the struggles that have plagued the American South over the last seven decades. Dial’s works resonate with salient sociopolitical issues including the plight of poverty, homelessness, and war. 


Cindy Sherman at Metro Pictures

May 5–Jun. 11, 519 West 24th Street 

  • Left: Cindy Sherman, Untitled, 2016; Right: Cindy Sherman, Untitled, 2016. Images courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures.

    Left: Cindy Sherman, Untitled, 2016; Right: Cindy Sherman, Untitled, 2016. Images courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures.

To christen Metro Pictures’s newly renovated galleries, and in advance of a major show at The Broad that opens this June, Sherman debuts her first new body of work since 2012. Her photography has transfixed us for some 40 years, challenging conceptions of female identity time and again—and with these new works, she tackles aging through homing in on a generation of independent women of 1920s Hollywood.


Richard Serra at Gagosian Gallery

May 7–Jul. 29, 522 West 21st Street and 555 West 24th Street

Serra is known for his mesmerizing large-scale steel sculptures that curve and contort our perception of space. He too will have a two-venue exhibition at Gagosian’s Chelsea galleries this spring, marking his  30th major exhibition with the gallery. The show features four new large-scale steel sculptures and an installation drawing to remind us that this living legend is still at work. 


Carmen Herrera at Lisson Gallery

May 3–Jun. 11, 504 West 24th Street 

  • Carmen Herrera, El Muro Roja (Red Wall), 2015. © Carmen Herrera. Courtesy of Lisson Gallery.

    Carmen Herrera, El Muro Roja (Red Wall), 2015. © Carmen Herrera. Courtesy of Lisson Gallery.

Lisson’s inaugural U.S. show at its freshly built Chelsea space features the recent work of the formidable abstract painter Herrera, who is nearly 80 years into her painting career—but only gained recognition a decade ago. Celebrating her 101st birthday this month, Herrera clearly embodies the edge and emboldened spirit of her powerful large-scale minimalist paintings. 


Philip Guston at Hauser & Wirth

Apr. 26–Jul. 29, 511 West 18th Street

  • Left: Philip Guston, Accord I, 1962; Right: Philip Guston, Untitled, 1967. Images courtesy of Hauser & Wirth.

    Left: Philip Guston, Accord I, 1962; Right: Philip Guston, Untitled, 1967. Images courtesy of Hauser & Wirth.

This expansive show of Guston’s paintings created between 1957 and 1967 revives a key moment in the artist’s career—a time when he reflected on painting itself and toed the line between abstraction, figuration, and self-expression. Guston’s inimitable facility with paint is on full display, as is his progression between color and form. The show is rounded out by a final room of simple charcoal drawings. 


Meg Webster at Paula Cooper Gallery

May 7–Jun. 24, 534 West 21st Street 

  • Meg Webster, Solar Piece, 2015. Installation view, Villa Panza, Varese, Italy. © Meg Webster. Courtesy of Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.

    Meg Webster, Solar Piece, 2015. Installation view, Villa Panza, Varese, Italy. © Meg Webster. Courtesy of Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.

Influenced by Minimalism and Land Art, Webster explores the possibilities of the body’s interaction with natural and organic materials. Her odes to mother nature on view at Paula Cooper span a bed from peat and moss, a fort-like enclosure formed by twigs, branches, and plants in bloom, a pristine pyramid made from sparkling salt crystals, and an entire ecosystem raised by pink solar panel light. The show follows a major exhibition at Villa Panza in Varese, Italy, last year, and runs alongside the debut of a new earthwork that Webster will unveil at Socrates Sculpture Park this spring.


James Turrell at Pace Gallery

May 6–Jun. 18, 32 East 57th Street and 534 West 25th Street 

  • James Turrell, Afrum, Pale Pink, 1968, projection, installation dimensions variable. Photograph by Florian Holzherr © James Turrell, courtesy Pace Gallery.

    James Turrell, Afrum, Pale Pink, 1968, projection, installation dimensions variable. Photograph by Florian Holzherr © James Turrell, courtesy Pace Gallery.

“Projections 1967-1968” is a two-venue exhibition and the first of its kind in more than a decade to uniquely focus on Turrell’s beginnings in light works during the late 1960s. Included is the first projection Turrell ever made and his significant corner projections—volumes of colored light that appear to hover in corners. Fittingly, the exhibition runs alongside the inaugural show at Pace’s new gallery in Palo Alto, which features iconic light works from the perceptive master. 


Radcliffe Bailey at Jack Shainman Gallery

Apr. 28–Jun. 11, 513 West 20th Street 

  • Installation view of Radcliffe Bailey at Jack Shainman Gallery, 2016. Photo © Radcliffe Bailey, courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

    Installation view of Radcliffe Bailey at Jack Shainman Gallery, 2016. Photo © Radcliffe Bailey, courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Quest” is Bailey’s fifth solo exhibition at Jack Shainman gallery and it may be his best yet. These new paintings, sculptures, and installations explore America’s history, ancestry, and collective consciousness—particularly around the artist’s research on escaped African slaves in the U.S. Spanning a towering assemblage of trumpets and trombones, collages layered with images of African sculptures, and a synthetic heart dispelling blue blood, Bailey leaves his viewers to question of how this history is understood in the present. 


Jean-Michel Basquiat at Nahmad Contemporary

May 2–Jun. 11, 980 Madison Avenue, Third Floor 

  • Left: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Moses and the Egyptians, 1982. Guggenheim Blibao Museoa; gift of Bruno Bischofberger, Zurich; Right: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Thesis, 1983. Private Collection. Works © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat / Licensed by Artestar, New York. Courtesy of Nahmad Contemporary.

    Left: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Moses and the Egyptians, 1982. Guggenheim Blibao Museoa; gift of Bruno Bischofberger, Zurich; Right: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Thesis, 1983. Private Collection. Works © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat / Licensed by Artestar, New York. Courtesy of Nahmad Contemporary.

“Words Are All We Have,” Basquiat’s first solo exhibition at Nahmad, focuses on the essential part that language and music played in his oeuvre—the erratic, peculiar phrases, charged words recalling poetry of the disillusioned Beat Generation, and nods to jazz and hip-hop. Curated by Basquiat scholar Dr. Dieter Buchhart, the exhibition carefully explores the methods to Basquiat’s madness.


Sadie Benning at Mary Boone Gallery and Callicoon Fine Arts

Apr. 28–Jul. 29, 745 Fifth Avenue and 49 Delancey Street

  • Installation view of “Sadie Benning: Green God” at Mary Boone Gallery, 2016. Photo courtesy of Mary Boone Gallery.

    Installation view of “Sadie Benning: Green God” at Mary Boone Gallery, 2016. Photo courtesy of Mary Boone Gallery.

“Green God” is yet another two-venue exhibition this season that features Benning’s paintings exploring what Genesis 1:27 could possibly mean. From the famous line, “God created man in His own image,” Benning questions and challenges mankind’s collective belief system as well as the literal image of God. Benning is known for her idiosyncratic, textural paintings made from individual cut pieces of wood—which she paints, covers in resin, and sands down, sometimes slotting in a found image—that she fits together like a puzzle.


Urs Fischer at JTT

May 1–Jun. 5, 170A Suffolk Street 

  • Urs Fischer, Ursula. Image courtesy of JTT.

    Urs Fischer, Ursula. Image courtesy of JTT.

At the center of this Lower East Side gallery’s 500-square-foot space, Fischer will present just one sculpture. Inspired by Aristide Maillol’s La Rivière (1943), which he first saw as a child in Switzerland, the sculpture is replica made of plasticine, a clay-like material. Viewers are invited to participate in the show by interacting with and, ultimately, transforming the artwork altogether—a quintessential Fischer experience that is not to be missed. 


Tracey Emin at Lehmann Maupin

May 5–Jun. 18, 536 West 22nd Street 

  • Left: Tracey Emin, You were here like the ground underneath my feet, 2016. Photo © Prudence Cumming, 2016; Right: Tracey Emin, Another way to Think of You, 2015. Photo © George Darrell. Works © Tracey Emin. All rights reserved, DACS 2016. Courtesy of Lehmann Maupin.

    Left: Tracey Emin, You were here like the ground underneath my feet, 2016. Photo © Prudence Cumming, 2016; Right: Tracey Emin, Another way to Think of You, 2015. Photo © George Darrell. Works © Tracey Emin. All rights reserved, DACS 2016. Courtesy of Lehmann Maupin.

Tracey Emin Pushes Her Art Forward through a Marriage to a Stone

Following her marriage to a stone last summer, the honeymoon phase continues for Emin this spring in “Stone Love” (a title is inspired by the David Bowie song “Soul Love”), which spans neons, bronze sculptures, and embroidery, and a significant return to expressionist figurative paintings. Raw intimacy is at the helm of the British artist’s practice, but lately, her focus has turned to unbridled expressions of love.


Sigmar Polke at David Zwirner

May 7–Jun. 25, 537 West 20th Street 

David Zwirner gifts us with a solo exhibition by the late German artist, featuring works that delve into the ever-enticing concept of travel, centering on the artist’s trip across the world during 1980–81. “Eine Winterreise” journeys from Polke’s lighthearted takes on generic tourist photographs of the 1960s, to films of his own travels, to pensive multi-layered paintings on fabric from the 1980s that take on new dimensions of color and delve into abstraction.


Gerhard Richter at Marian Goodman Gallery

May 7–Jun. 25, 24 West 57th Street 

  • Gerhard Richter, 940-8 Abstraktes Bild, 2015. Image courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery.

    Gerhard Richter, 940-8 Abstraktes Bild, 2015. Image courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery.

There may not be another living artist who has so deftly mastered the concept of abstraction in painting and drawing quite like Richter, or quite as long as him, and this new show proves just that. The exhibition features new and recent work from the last five years, demonstrating the latest ways that the artist has renewed and reinvented his own diverse style, as he has done over the past five decades. Included are prime new abstract paintings covered with thick, colorful smears of paint.


Felix Gonzalez-Torres at Andrea Rosen Gallery

May 3–Jun. 18, 525 West 24th Street

  • Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Curated by Julie Ault and Roni Horn. Three-part exhibition at Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York; Massimo De Carlo, Milan; and Hauser & Wirth, London, May 3 – June 18, 2016. Courtesy of Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York. © The Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation. Photo: Pierre Le Hors. 

    Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Curated by Julie Ault and Roni Horn. Three-part exhibition at Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York; Massimo De Carlo, Milan; and Hauser & Wirth, London, May 3 – June 18, 2016. Courtesy of Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York. © The Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation. Photo: Pierre Le Hors. 

This exhibition is one part of a trifecta of shows dedicated to the late Gonzalez-Torres, all of which are curated by artists Julie Ault and Roni Horn. The shows extend across the Atlantic to Hauser & Wirth in London and Massimo De Carlo in Milan, and together incite new conversations between Gonzalez-Torres’s works, and around the artist’s lasting relevance.


—Alexis Corral


Explore more current and upcoming shows in New York.