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Picasso, Matisse Shows Dazzle on NYC Holiday Art Walk

'Marie-Therese, Face and Profile'
"Marie-Therese, Face and Profile" (1931) by Pablo Picasso. The portrait of the artist's French mistress is included in the Guggenheim's survey "Picasso: Black and White" through Jan. 23. Photographer: Beatrice Hatala/Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society, New York/The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum via Bloomberg

To see great art in 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 Velazquez and Goya before him, 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 Mar. 17).

These are monumental shows, one of works by a Modernist master and the other of small terracotta 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.

Calder Acrobats

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 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.

A bit further down Madison, on the second floor of the Carlyle Hotel, is Blain/Di Donna’s “Jean Arp: A Collection of Wood Reliefs and Collages” (through Dec. 11).

Not everything here is a masterwork, but Arp shows are rare. Grab this last-chance opportunity to see a range of the abstract sculptor’s artworks, as well as his creative process, from paper cutout to finished wood relief.

One marble sculpture conflates hand, bone, hammer and cloud. Another is like a keyhole into an alternate universe.

Sinister Pop

Overstimulated? Then go downstairs to the Carlyle’s Bemelmans Bar, a classic New York institution where you can enjoy the Madeline murals, live piano, great bar snacks and a stiff drink.

But if you still have energy, save Bemelmans for later: Mix things up just one block south at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

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 Mar. 31).

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

They include Lee Bontecou’s sculpted, threatening orifices, 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.

Working in dialogue, the artworks here create a sense of the zeitgeist that brought civil rights to the South, man to the moon and Nixon to China.

Together, these two strong exhibitions make for the most cohesive grouping of Pop Art I’ve ever seen.

“Picasso: Black and White” runs through Jan. 23 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Ave. Information: +1-212-423-3500;

“Bernini: Sculpting in Clay” continues through Jan. 6 and “Matisse: In Search of True Painting” runs through Mar. 17 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Ave. Information: +1-212-535-7710;

“Calder: The Complete Bronzes” runs through Feb. 9 at L&M Arts, 45 E. 78th St. Information: +1-212-861-0020;

“Jean Arp: A Collection of Wood Reliefs and Collages” runs through Dec. 11 at Blain/Di Donna, 981 Madison Ave. Information: +1-212-259-0444;

“Richard Artschwager!” continues through Feb. 3 and “Sinister Pop” and “Dark and Deadpan: Pop in TV and the Movies” run through Mar. 31 at the Whitney Museum of American Art, 945 Madison Ave. Information: +1-212-570-3600;

(Lance Esplund is U.S. art critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Rich Jaroslovsky on tech and Jason Harper on cars.

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