Take an art walk along the Upper East Side in Manhattan

Henri Matisse’s The Dream, circa 1940, oil, is part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition “Matisse: In Search of True Painting,” an exploration of the artist’s process.

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Henri Matisse’s The Dream, circa 1940, oil, is part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition “Matisse: In Search of True Painting,” an exploration of the artist’s process.

NEW YORK — If you're travelling to New York City this holiday season, take a festive walk along the Upper East Side's museum mile. The neighborhood currently hosts a number of must-see exhibitions.

Begin at the Guggenheim Museum, at Fifth Avenue and 89th Street, with the tour-de-force "Picasso: Black and White" (through Jan. 23).

Like fellow Spaniards Diego Velazquez and Francisco Goya before him, Pablo Picasso had a lifelong love affair with black, white and gray, pushing tones to metaphoric extremes to create form.

An odalisque, like a gathering storm, is bruised greenish-plum while two lovers are incised in burnished smoke. One portrait glints like gilded silver. Marie-Therese Walter seems churned out of butter.

Next, travel down Fifth to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for "Bernini: Sculpting in Clay" (through Jan. 6) and "Matisse: In Search of True Painting" (through March 17).

These are monumental shows, one of works by a modernist master and the other of small terra cotta studies — preparatory drawings in clay — by a baroque tempest. The exhibitions complement one another, and seeing them together puts the focus on each artist's unique creative process.

Avoid the gift shops: Museum catalogs and coffee table books weigh you down.

Then head to L&M Arts for "Calder: The Complete Bronzes" (through Feb. 9). Just off Madison Avenue on 78th Street, this beautiful townhouse offers an intimate, two-floor show of Alexander Calder's small bronze sculptures and many of the original plasters.

Ring the bell for admittance. Inside, primitive and playful elephants, acrobats, abstract snakes, vines, fingers and flowers enliven the galleries with their erotic balancing acts and menacing tendrils.

Next, head down Madison Avenue a few blocks to the Whitney Museum of American Art, just past 75th Street, and check out the "Richard Artschwager!" retrospective. His paintings are frivolous photorealism, while his sculptures — highly crafted useless furniture in wood and Formica — conjure 1970 kitchens yet touch on Kafkaesque conundrums.

Don't miss "Sinister Pop" and "Dark and Deadpan: Pop in TV and the Movies" (both through March 31).

Their wildly diverse subjects and objects are jazzy, raw, psychedelic, humorous, documentary and political.

They include Lee Bontecou's sculpted, threatening orifices, Andy Warhol's Marilyn, Nancy Grossman's S&M Head 1968, Claes Oldenburg's giant, floppy cigarette butts and wonderful contextual photographs by William Eggleston, Lee Friedlander, Bill Owens and Weegee.

If you go

"Picasso: Black and White" runs through Jan. 23 at the Solomon

R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Ave. Information: (212) 423-3500; guggenheim.org.

"Bernini: Sculpting in Clay" continues through Jan. 6, and

"Matisse: In Search of True Painting" runs through March 17 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Ave. Information: (212) 535-7710; www.metmuseum.org.

"Calder: The Complete Bronzes" runs through Feb. 9 at L&M Arts,

45 E 78th St. Information: (212) 861-0020; www.imgallery.com.

"Richard Artschwager!" continues through Feb. 3 and "Sinister Pop" and "Dark and Deadpan: Pop in TV and the Movies" run through March 31 at the Whitney Museum of American Art, 945 Madison Ave. Information: (212) 570-3600; www.whitney.org.

Take an art walk along the Upper East Side in Manhattan 12/22/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 18, 2012 5:49pm]

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