Museums' overlooked treasures

"Two Circus Women" by Elie Nadelman (c. 1928-29)

"Two Circus Women" by Elie Nadelman (c. 1928-29) is a favorite work of Whitney Museum director Adam D. Weinberg. It will be on view at the Whitney exhibition "American Legends" beginning Dec. 22. (Credit: Whitney Museum of American Art)

New York's museums are full of iconic works that draw visitors from around the world: Van Gogh's "Starry Night" at MoMA, for example, or the mummies in the Brooklyn Museum's Egyptian collection. People literally line up to see them. But there are many worthy, though less famous, artworks that deserve more attention than they get. And who better to identify these overlooked items than the directors of the institutions themselves?

Elie Nadelman, "Two Circus Women" (c. 1928-1929)

WHERE Whitney Museum of American Art, 945 Madison Ave.

The Polish born sculptor Elie Nadelman, who worked for decades in the Bronx, was characteristically ahead of his time with this piece, according to Whitney director Adam D. Weinberg. Instead of metal, stone or wood, it's made from papier-mâché. "The figures have great mass, but maintain an incredible lightness and buoyancy," he says. Though it stands tall, Weinberg adds, it has "a handmade quality that makes it feel intimate." The sculpture will be on view in "American Legends," starting Dec. 22.

INFO 212-570-3600, whitney.org

Life-Death Figure (900-1250)

WHERE Brooklyn Museum of Art, 200 Eastern Pkwy.

Director Arnold Lehman says this monumental Mexican stone figure, made a millennium ago, "never fails to engage and amaze me." The front shows a young man wearing a conical hat, large ear ornaments and a cloth skirt; the reverse is a skeletal figure. Its exact purpose is not known -- and the mystery adds to the appeal. On view in "Connecting Cultures: A World in Brooklyn."

INFO 718-638-5000, brooklynmuseum.org

Dieter Roth, "Solo Scenes" (1997-98)

WHERE Museum of Modern Art, 11 W. 53rd St.

Swiss artist Dieter Roth (1930-1998), a pioneer of using found materials in his work, inspires director Glenn Lowry, who calls Roth "one of the late 20th century's most influential artists." This elaborate video work has 128 monitors that all document the last year of Roth's life. Lowry calls it "an intimate and utterly absorbing self-portrait."

INFO 212-708-9400, moma.org

Pablo Picasso, "Mandolin and Guitar" (1924)

WHERE Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Ave.

Although Picasso's black-and-white work is currently dominating the museum's famed spiral, director Richard Armstrong likes to remind visitors that the painter was also a masterful colorist. This still life with a humble subject in the Guggenheim's permanent collection demonstrates Picasso's ability to "redefine the ordinary," he says, by energizing it with the "new and conceptual space of the 20th century."

INFO 212-423-3500, guggenheim.org

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