This will be a limited and bittersweet season for the arts, but after six months of pure bitterness, this writer will happily take what he can get. The fall arts season has long felt like a kind of a carnival for sophisticated urbanites. It is the time of year that museums, theaters and galleries, in preparation for holiday fundraising and shopping, launch the year’s blockbuster exhibitions, performances and events. This year’s season will be decidedly less ebullient.
However, despite the hamstringing effects of COVID-19 throughout the arts, museums slowly began reopening on a limited basis — beginning with their sculpture gardens — over the summer, implementing timed-entry, social distancing and mask wearing. More will follow suit as we move into the fall. Just announced: the National Museum of African American History and Culture; the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which share a building; and the Renwick Gallery, SAAM’s center for decorative arts and contemporary craft, will reopen on Sept. 18.
Introduced below are three of the noteworthy exhibitions opening this fall.
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF WOMEN IN THE ARTS
OCT. 8 TO JAN. 18
“Paper Routes,” the sixth installment in the “Women to Watch” series of exhibitions at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, will showcase contemporary artists working in paper. In the show, the cultural associations of paper — from protest signs and packaging to lottery tickets and wallpaper — are explored by an international lineup of artists, employing traditional as well as innovative techniques. “Paper Routes” highlights and celebrates this diversity of approaches and the transformation of this ubiquitous and eclectic material into complex works of art.
OPENS SEPT. 23
Guest curated by Sarah Tanguy, “Traces” explores how the past evokes shifting memories while suggesting new and present narratives. Rich in representation and abstraction, the show encompasses painting, photography, mixed media, sculpture, sound and video, and includes several site-responsive installations. As the eight regional artists dialogue with their source materials, they mine the many meanings of “trace” as noun and verb, and engage the themes of displacement, connectivity and transformation.
HER STORY: A CENTURY OF WOMEN WRITERS
NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY
SEPT. 18 TO JAN. 18
“Her Story: A Century of Women Writers,” commemorates the centennial of the 19th Amendment and celebrates some of the country’s most influential authors. Focusing on 24 women writers, including Margaret Wise Brown (author of “Goodnight Moon”), Willa Cather, Lorraine Hansberry (author of “A Raisin in the Sun”), Toni Morrison, Anne Sexton, Susan Sontag and Alice Walker, the exhibition reveals how their personal stories — in addition to those they have written — continue to offer insight and inspiration.