The Best Cultural Events to Get You in the Fall Spirit

illustration by Adam Johnson/Courtesy HarperCollins. Photographs: Crown © by Hurst Photo/Shutterstock; Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States. | © Maira Kalman. Courtesy Julie Saul Gallery, New York.

As long summer days fade away and the weather gets a bit more chilly, there's nothing better than filling your time with cultural excursions around your city. From Los Angeles to New York, we've put together the best cultural events to look forward to this fall, giving you something to look forward to as the beach days make way for the cozy, quieter days of autumn

“LA Phil 100” in Los Angeles

Ongoing

Banners around Los Angeles declare the LA Philharmonic’s upcoming year the “season of the century,” which is more than just clever wordplay: for its 100th birthday, the vibrant and adventurous orchestra, led by the irrepressible Gustavo Dudamel, is truly pulling out all the stops. Beginning this fall, music directors past and present—in addition to Dudamel, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Zubin Mehta, and Andre Previn—will lead major symphonies and new works (sometimes of their own writing); more than fifty new commissions by the likes of John Adams, Philip Glass, Andrew Norman, Kamasi Washington, and Louis Andriessen will get premieres; major projects, like Benjamin Millepied’s Romeo & Juliet, a Beethoven piano cycle with Lang Lang, and concerts delving into music and film will come to fruition; and the cornucopia of events goes on and on. The orchestra calls it a “sonic adventure”—which quite possibly is the understatement of the century. Various venues.

Merce Cunningham Centennial Worldwide

Ongoing

As the fall kicks into high gear, so too does a far-reaching international celebration of Merce Cunningham’s centennial, bringing the trailblazing modern choreographer’s work to the stage, the screen, and beyond. The Washington Ballet works with former Merce Cunningham Dance Company member Melissa Toogood to stage his 1980 Duets (Oct. 31-Nov. 4 at Washington D.C.’s Harman Center). The Lyon Opera Ballet presents the masterwork Summerspace, with choreography by Cunningham, design by Robert Rauschenberg and a score by Morton Feldman, all created separately from each other (Nov. 9-11 at the Opera de Lyon). New York’s Anthology Film Archive will begin a series focused on Cunningham’s films and videos, including a screening of one of his earliest dances, the John Cage collaboration Variation V (opening Nov. 19), while in Barcelona, the international dance film festival Choreoscope will host Cunningham-inspired workshops and films (Oct. 1-6). Even in Bogota, the Festival Danza en la Ciudad will celebrate the centennial with an installation of the 16-webisode Mondays with Merce series, which provides an intimate look at Cunningham’s work with his company in its later years.   And that’s just a brief sampling of the offerings in store.  See Mercecunningham.org for a full schedule.


Courtesy Ai Weiwei and Marciano Art Foundation. Photo by Joshua White/JWPictures.com.

“Life Cycle” in Los Angeles

Through Mar. 3

Despite the persecution he still faces in China—where his Beijing studio was just recently demolished by authorities – Ai Weiwei never shies away from, and indeed finds joy in tackling head-on, incendiary political and social issues in his artworks. His brand new Life Cycle, exhibited for the first time ever at Los Angeles’ Marciano Art Foundation, is no exception. The massive bamboo sculpture is shaped like the kind of rubber boat often used by refugees to cross the Mediterranean, with figures made from bamboo and silk and inspired by 4th-century mythic characters suspended above. The installation (which just opened in late September) feels both monumental and ephemeral, even ghostly, thanks to Ai’s use of traditional Chinese kite-weaving techniques in its construction, and conjures Ai’s own experience as a child refugee.  Like all Ai’s work, it’s a thoughtful and deeply evocative artwork that fearlessly engages with some of the most difficult crises facing the world today. 4357 Wilshire Blvd..

“Charles White: A Retrospective” in New York

Oct. 7-Jan. 13

That Charles White was one of the most significant painters of the African-American experience is indisputable: over a four-decade career, he created, in his own words, powerful “images of dignity” explicitly intended to inspire social change. But White was much more than an expert painter, draftsman, and printmaker: he was a dedicated teacher and arts community member, active among the creative milieu in whatever city he inhabited, and inspiring to a generation of artists including Kerry James Marshall and David Hammons who would become influential in their own right. The Museum of Modern Art’s White survey – the first major museum show devoted to him in more than thirty years – is appropriately comprehensive, encompassing White’s full career from the 1930s to his death in 1979, with over 100 works including paintings, prints, photographs, illustrated books, and even record covers. 11 W. 53rd St.


Beverly Hills John. 2012. Rubell Family Collection, Miami. © John Waters, Courtesy Marianne Boesky Gallery. | Study Art Sign (For Prestige or Spite). 2007. © John Waters, Courtesy Sprüth Magers Gallery.

“John Waters: Indecent Exposure” in Baltimore

Oct. 7 – Jan. 6

This is the first-ever retrospective of John Waters’ visual arts presented in his hometown of Baltimore. So take the opportunity to enter the Baltimore Museum of Art and see more than 160 of the ultimate provocateur’s photographs, sculptures, video and sound works, along with ephemera that should be candy to any Waters obsessive, including objects from his home and studio and three peep-shows with footage from his rarely seen 1960s underground films. It’s a deep-dive into the singular Waters aesthetic: deploying humor and absurdity to reveal deep-rooted moral codes, the depths in mass media and culture, and how transgressive images can underline the darker truths beneath it all. 10 Art Museum Dr.

“Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future” in New York

Oct. 12-Feb. 3

Long before Vasily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich and Piet Mondrian – all now regulars on the Guggenheim Museum’s walls – began creating their bold modern representational art, Stockholm-born Hilma af Klint was marking the turn of the century with vividly colorful, abstract paintings – which she kept, largely, to herself. Convinced the world would not understand her work, af Klint exhibited very rarely, and instead of following the lead of her eventually-much-more-famous contemporaries, who published manifestos and showed their work all over, she stipulated that hers not be seen until 20 years after her death. Many years after that, she finally gets the major museum show she deserves and her first major solo exhibition in the U.S., offering an unprecedented look at the themes she explored, her experimentations with form, and the ways she constantly pushed boundaries of shape, color and style in her astounding work. 1071 Fifth Ave.

“Making Africa: A Continent of Contemporary Design” in Austin

Oct. 14-Jan. 2

As Africans from all over the continent grow ever closer to technology (there are 650 million registered mobile phones there – more than in Europe or the U.S.), a boom of entrepreneurship and creative blossoming has followed.  That’s crystal clear in the Blanton Museum of Art’s wide-ranging new show devoted to over 120 artists and designers making work reflecting Africa’s ongoing social and political change. Co-organized with design mecca the Vitra Museum, and with the Guggenheim Bilbao, “Making Africa” is divided into four sections exploring ideas ranging from Western preconceptions of Africa to how objects and artifacts from the roots of contemporary African culture, via photography, sculpture, fashion, film, prints, and much more. University of Texas at Austin, 200 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.


Frank Chi and Aminatou Sow, Can’t Spell Truth Without Ruth | Roxana Alfer Geffen, Self-Portrait, 2016. Courtesy of the artist.

“Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsberg” in Los Angeles

Oct. 19-Mar. 10

There’s truly no time like the present to reflect on, and pay homage to, Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s uniquely trailblazing American journey—hence now this first-ever museum retrospective of RBG herself. Based on the New York Times bestselling book of the same name and created in collaboration with its authors, Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik, the Skirball Center’s Ginsberg exhibition treats the justice like any deserving, game-changing historical figure, showcasing her many fascinating roles – mother, wife, lawyer, Jew, public servant – through archival photographs, historical artifacts, and interactive exhibits. Ginsberg’s experience becomes a lens through which to explore the American legal system and the civil rights movement – in addition to our own troubled times. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd.

“Berthe Morisot: Woman Impressionist” in Philadelphia

Oct. 21- Jan. 14

Monet, Degas, Manet, Renoir: the marquee names of the Impressionist movement are, by and large, men. But as so often happens in 19th-century art history, the stories of just-as-significant women artists are obscured – like that of Berthe Morisot, one of Impressionism’s leading talents. In her depictions of the human figure in classic Impressionist settings – the garden, domestic life, and bourgeois society – Morisot captured the beauty of fleeting quotidian moments.  See how she defied expectations of her time – and took her rightful place among the Parisian avant-garde of the day – in this revealing exhibition, co-organized with the Dallas Museum of Art, Musee National des Beaux Arts du Quebec and the Musee d’Orsay and de l’Orangerie in Paris. Barnes Collection, 2025 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” in New York

Performances begin Nov. 1; open Dec. 13

Will the king of rapid-fire banter do justice to the unpretentious, quietly beautiful prose of  Harper Lee?  That Aaron Sorkin is adapting To Kill a Mockingbird for the stage feels both momentous and apt: he’s always been fascinated by American justice – and injustice – and specializes in richly-drawn characters, so should be more than equipped to take on the progressive classic about prejudice, class, and unpretentious people doing quietly brave things. Bartlett Sher, a master of subtly bringing out refreshed magic in theater classics, directs, and the cast couldn’t be more dreamy, led by Jeff Daniels as Atticus Finch and the chameleonic Celia Keenan-Bolger as Scout, plus a company of Broadway standouts including LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Stark Sands, Gideon Glick and Frederick Weller. Shubert Theatre, 225 W. 44th St.

“Hadestown” in London

Nov. 2-Jan. 26

Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen, Be More Chill – the most exciting new musicals these days tend to start off-Broadway, and sometimes far from it, as the musical Hadestown did two years ago at the eternally-enterprising New York Theatre Workshop. The haunting show sets the story of Orpheus and Eurydice in an imagined Southern Gothic-leaning landscape, in which the ensemble forms a rootsy Greek chorus and the titular lovers seem more like a down-to-earth folk singer and his biggest fan than mythological creatures.  The entrancing music by singer-songwriter Anais Mitchell (Hadestown is based on her concept album of the same name) keeps the story going, as does director Rachel Chavkin’s inventive and intimate vision.  Like its groundbreaking predecessors, this one’s going to Broadway; catch the National Theatre’s production first so you can say you saw it when. Olivier Theatre, Bankside.


© The Easton Foundation/VAGA, NY. Photos: Christopher Burke (L); Maximilian Geuter (R).

“Louise Bourgeois: The Eternal Thread” in Shanghai

Nov. 3-Feb. 24

With her blend of psychological depth and formal inventiveness, the French-American artist Louise Bourgeois became one of the most highly-regarded artists of the 20th and 21st centuries in the West, a staple of modern art spaces everywhere. But she’s just now getting her first large-scale museum exhibition in China – a tightly curated survey of major career-spanning works, ranging from her late 1940s Personage sculptures to her Cell installations of the 1990s, the fabric works of her last years, and, of course, a monumental spider sculpture. The exhibition focuses on the many ways to interpret the motif of an uncut thread unifying so much of Bourgeois’ work – suspending her hanging sculptures, referencing the centrality of sewing and fabric to her later practice, and inspiring the iconic spider sculptures representing her mother, a weaving and restoration specialist. Long Museum West Bund, 3398 Longteng Ave., Xuhui District.

“Gordon Parks: The New Tide, Early Work 1940-1950” in Washington, D.C.

Nov.4-Feb. 18

Few artists truly deserve to be called visionaries, but Gordon Parks epitomized the term: a true polymath (photographer, director, musician, writer), he rose from an early 20th-century childhood in segregated Kansas to become one of the most prominent artists in the U.S., particularly as a documentarian of the civil rights era and the African-American experience. It was in the 1940s that Parks made the jump from self-taught photographer capturing daily life in Chicago and Saint Paul to in-demand professional, shooting for glossy magazines like Ebony, Vogue and Life – a period in his 60-year career that’s gone largely unexamined in major art institutions until now. The National Gallery of Art brings together 150 Parks photographs and ephemera to examine how his early experiences at places like Standard Oil and the Farm Security Administration, along with his close relationships to pioneering writers like Richard Wright and Langston Hughes, shaped his perspective and style. The expansive show will travel around the country as well, hitting Cleveland, Forth Worth and Andover’s Phillips Exeter Academy. Constitution Ave. btw. 3rd and 9th Sts.


Ansel Adams (American, 1902–1984), The Lane Collection. © The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust. Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

“Ansel Adams: In Our Time” in Boston

Dec. 13-Feb. 24

It’s difficult to imagine the American West in its most iconic form without simultaneously thinking of an Ansel Adams photograph: a pristine black-and-white image capturing a mixture of quietude and grandeur, enshrining the natural wonders of the Western landscape like royalty.  But while it’s tempting to think of Adams’ vision as one set apart in modern photography, he was in fact strongly inspired by his 19th-century predecessors in government survey and expedition photography, like Eadweard Muybridge and Carleton Watkins – even sometimes replicating their images in his own depictions of the national parks.  Likewise, a whole generation of artists has been newly inspired by Adams, from Catherine Opie to Abelardo Morell.  The MFA Boston’s landmark exhibition appreciates Adams’ mastery by placing it in context of what came before and what followed.  465 Huntington Ave.

William Forsythe in Boston and London

Oct. 31-Feb. 21 (Boston); Oct. 4-6 (London)

One of the foremost choreographers in modern dance, William Forsythe is also one of its most relentlessly experimental, constantly testing and stretching the boundaries of what can constitute an evening of dance.  He’s got two major showings this fall illustrating the breadth of his work. First, “A Quiet Evening of Dance” at Sadler’s Wells in London, where a group of seven performers close to Forsythe performs what he imagines to be the dance equivalent of a chamber-music concert, distilling the geometric bases of classical ballet. Later in the month, the groundbreaking “William Forsythe: Choreographic Objects” comes to the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston – a major exhibition of interactive works by the choreographer, his first in the U.S., intended to engage the audience in a kind of choose-your-own-adventure through infinite choreographic environments. Dancers often wait a whole career to dance a Forsythe; grab this chance to do it yourself, no professional training required.  ICA Boston: 25 Harbor Shore Dr.; Icaboston.org.  Sadler’s Wells: Rosebery Ave.