The December holidays are among the most popular time to visit New York. If you'll be among the throngs, here are some current museum highlights to help plan your itinerary.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
(212) 423-3500, guggenheim.org
Spanish Painting from El Greco to Picasso, through March 28. This show is spectacularly grand and avoids the familiar piety of the standard masterpiece potpourri by virtue of its eloquent installation in the museum's loopy ramp, still the weirdest-coolest place to look at art and at other people looking at art. There are dozens of Goyas and Velazquezes and Zurbarans and El Grecos and Riberas and Dalis and Picassos, many famous, many not.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
(212) 535-7710, metmuseum.org
Glitter and Doom: German Portraits from the 1920s, through Feb. 19. This show's 100 paintings and drawings are by 10 artists, among them George Grosz, Christian Schad, Rudolf Schlichter and Karl Hubbuch, and most conspicuously the unrelentingly savage Otto Dix and his magnificent other, Max Beckmann. In their works the Weimar Republic's porous worlds reassemble. We look into the faces of forward-looking museum directors and cabaret performers, society matrons and scarred war veterans, prostitutes and jaded aristocrats who were watching their world slide from one cataclysm to the next.
Americans in Paris: 1860-1900, through Jan. 28. Not so long ago the United States was a buyer rather than a seller of cultural information, and France was a major source between the Civil War and World War I. That's the story told in this exhibition. The basic ideas, though undeveloped, are inherently interesting, and the art, with some notable exceptions, is conservative and staid, especially when compared with work in the Met's Vollard show, done at the same time.
Museum of Modern Art
(212) 708-9400, moma.org
Manet and the Execution of Maximilian, through Jan. 29. This small, gripping, focused show reminds us of Modernism's mutinous, myth-scouring origins. And it does so by bringing one of art's great path-cutters, Edouard Manet, onto the scene. There's not a lot of him here: eight paintings, three on a single theme - the death by firing squad of the Austrian archduke Ferdinand Maximilian in Mexico in 1867. But it's enough. Manet's images, surrounded by a selection of prints and photographs, are electrifying.
Brice Marden: A Retrospective of Paintings and Drawings, through Jan. 15. This quietly magnificent 40-year retrospective pays tribute to an artist who helped rebuild painting in the 1970s, working back from the brink of single-panel monochromes to elegant tangles of thick line on vibrant monochrome grounds that encompass a tremendous emotional range and sense of physical energy.
The Whitney Museum of American Art
(212) 570-3676, whitney.org
Albers and Moholy-Nagy: From the Bauhaus to the New World, through Jan. 21. This vigorously multimedia show traces the trajectories of two Modernist pioneers who overlapped as teachers at the Bauhaus in the 1920s and went on, separately, to influence postwar art and design in the United States. Ranging through painting, sculpture, film, design, prints and commercial art, it clarifies the Bauhaus debt to Russian Constructivism and includes works that presage the "specific objects" of the 1960s.
Kiki Smith: A Gathering, 1980-2005, through Feb. 11. Many things fly and float in "Kiki Smith": men and women, harpies and angels, birds and beasts, toadstools and stars. And some things fall to Earth, or rather to the museum's black stone floors, maybe to rise again, maybe not. The whole show, a midcareer retrospective, suggests a Victorian fairy tale, its tone at once light, grievous and dreamlike. But fanciful as it is, Smith's art is also deeply, corporeally realistic.
(718) 638-5000; brooklynmuseum.org
Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer's Life, 1990-2005, through Jan. 21. With photographs of her close-knit family and her companion, Susan Sontag; bits of photojournalism; and a pretentious foray into landscape photography, this large exhibition tells you more about Leibovitz than you probably want to know. Her well-known celebrity portraits are strongest, and at their best in a re-creation of the large pin-up boards on which she plotted the lavish book that accompanies the show. (This show is scheduled to travel to Atlanta's High Museum, May 12-Sept. 9.)