The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum celebrated its 100th birthday on New Year’s Day, and it will kick off more than a year of centennial-related events with an exhibition of work by pioneering conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth, who spent last November in residence at the Palazzo on the Fenway. "Joseph Kosuth" at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (2 Palace Road; January 24–April 6) promises site-specific installation work inside the museum and out, using text and images based on the artist’s experience poking through Mrs. Gardner’s stuff last fall. Also highly site-specific, the centerpiece of "Carsten Höller: Half Fiction" at the Institute of Contemporary Art (955 Boylston Street; January 22–April 27) is an interactive playground slide that will wind through the ICA’s galleries, bringing the experience of play, travel, and terror into the museum setting as Belgian-born Höller explores uncontrollable movement and redefines the process of moving through a museum exhibition. Downstairs, "Building a Vision: Diller + Scofidio in Boston" (January 22–April 27) presents architectural drawings and models tracking the development of the ICA’s new waterfront museum — I personally hope the ICA plans to include a slide (or maybe a teeter-totter?).
The whole idea of video art was rocked and rolled in the late 1990s by the work of artist Paul Pfeiffer, whose video, photography, and sculpture will be the subject of "Paul Pfeiffer" at MIT’s List Visual Art Center (32 Ames Street in Cambridge; February 6–April 6). The stimulation of Pfeiffer’s images is structural as well as political; the artist has explored pointed issues of identity and race using imagery from sports, film, and popular culture. The politics and culture of a fascinating developing nation form the core of "Coexistence: Contemporary Cultural Production in South Africa" at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University (415 South Street in Waltham; January 22–June 29), which presents contemporary art from South Africa, where apartheid was abolished in 1990 and where artists have played a significant role in redefining the social and political identity of the region. This show promises art that reflects both Third World history and First World influence on this area, challenging African and Western notions of art.
Beauford Delaney, one of the few African-American painters associated with Abstract Expressionism, spent much of his career as an American in Paris. "The Color Yellow: Beauford Delaney," at the Sert Gallery in Harvard University’s Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts (next door to the Fogg Art Museum, 32 Quincy Street in Harvard Square; February 15–May 4), looks at Delaney’s work from his 1940s portraits and cityscapes of New York’s Greenwich Village to abstractions made in Paris, where he lived from 1953 until his death in 1979. Also coming to Harvard, "Bruegel to Rembrandt: Dutch and Flemish Drawings from the Maida and George Abrams Collection," at the Fogg Art Museum (March 22–July 6), will feature 17th-century Dutch drawings from a private Boston collection, including a recently rediscovered work by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. More-recent drawing is front and center in "Visions and Revisions: Art on Paper since 1960," at the Museum of Fine Arts (465 Huntington Avenue; April 2–September 21), an exhibition that explores the æsthetic issues of our times as played out on that most intimate of media. Abstraction, figuration, Pop, and minimal art are all up for scrutiny in this diverse exhibition.
Art is a matter of life and death in "The Last Expression: Art and Auschwitz," at the Davis Museum and Cultural Center, Wellesley College (106 Central Street in Wellesley; January 7–February 14), which presents art made by victims of the Holocaust while they were in ghettos or in hiding, or imprisoned in concentration camps, during World War II. Drawn from collections in Poland, Israel, the US, Germany, and France, the art ranges from self-portraits and landscapes to political cartoons and images of camp existence, and it’s made by amateur as well as trained artists. This exhibition includes "official" art commissioned by Nazi authorities as well as subversive works created to convey a sense of life in the camps, and work that expresses suffering as well as work that offered a brief distraction from suffering.