Fifth Ave. at 82nd St. (879-5500)—When Winston Churchill said, "Let us brace ourselves to our duties," he may not have meant "Let us tighten the corset in our pink organza gown." But in the years leading up to the Second World War, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were doing just that, leading a life of extravagant frivolity across the English Channel in Paris. "Blithe Spirit: The Windsor Set" presents French couture, including fashions by Lanvin, Chanel, and Schiaparelli, created for British café society between 1935 and 1940. Most of the clothes are nothing more than beautifully tailored evening wear, but certain designers manage to slip a little subversiveness into their creations, as in the Mainbocher dress that portends impending chaos through layers of faded and shredded tulle and lace. Through Feb. 9. Tucked away in a gallery at the back of the museum's Lehman Wing is a collection of thirty-five small-scale Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings from the private collection of the late philanthropist Janice Levin. There are guaranteed crowd-pleasers—Monet's garden at Argenteuil, Renoir's zaftig bather, Bonnard's alfresco lunch, Morisot's rosy-cheeked nymphs—and also some surprises. A pre-Moulin Rouge Toulouse-Lautrec depicts a day trip to the countryside with his portrait of three friends lounging in high grass as a little dog looks on from a slight distance (a surrogate for the artist himself?). Through Feb. 9. "The Prints of Vija Celmins." Through Dec. 29. "Richard Avedon: Portraits." Through Jan. 5. (Open Tuesdays through Sundays, 9:30 to 5:30, and Friday and Saturday evenings until 9.)
MUSEUM OF MODERN ART (MOMA QNS)
33rd St. at Queens Blvd., Long Island City (708-9480)—"Drawing Now: Eight Propositions," a trailblazing show curated by Laura Hoptman, sets the MOMA seal of approval on twenty-six youngish international artists working in the medium that's been the bedrock of visual art since Lascaux. Hoptman's "propositions" identify current modes of drawing, including illustration, decoration, fashion, architectural and scientific drafting, and comics. The show suggests a forge of styles, in which artists hammer out new links between craft, discipline, and worldly import. Some—John Currin, Elizabeth Peyton, Neo Rauch, Ugo Rondinone—are farther along than others, but nearly all convey the exhilaration of being onto something. For the first time in quite a while at a museum group show, exacting comparison, argument, and judgment seem to be a matter of course. Don't miss this. Through Jan. 6. "The Changing of the Avant-Garde: Visionary Architectural Drawings from the Howard Gilman Collection." Through Jan. 6. (Open Thursdays through Mondays, 10 to 5, and Friday evenings until 7:45.)
Fifth Ave. at 89th St. (423-3500)—In one projection in "Going Forth by Day," Bill Viola's visually striking five-channel video piece commissioned by a German bank for the Guggenheim Berlin, an eclectic procession traipses through a light-dappled forest (the panoramic image evokes old-fashioned CinemaScope). In an adjacent scene, water gushes from the windows and doors of a pristine building façade. Death and resurrection figure elsewhere in the action, as Viola tackles Big Themes. Through Jan. 12. (Open Sundays through Wednesdays, 9 to 6; Fridays and Saturdays, 9 to 8.)
WHITNEY MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART
Madison Ave. at 75th St. (570-3676)—Although Gee's Bend, Alabama, is isolated by poverty and a sharp bend in the Alabama River, the group of hamlets there has for generations fostered quilt-making as a virtuoso performance in frugality. Sixty hand-sewn quilts, dating from the thirties to the present and incorporating a wild variety of geometries, colors, and fabrics, are on view. Though the women of the African-American community—many of them members of the local Pettway clan—quilt and sing together (a documentary film showing continuously in the gallery broadcasts the sewing circles' amazing harmonies), no two quilts are alike. Each woman has a fiercely individual approach. The visual compositions are electric with abstraction of the most visceral sort, aesthetically inventive and born of necessity. Through March 2. (Open Tuesdays through Thursdays, and weekends, 11 to 6; Fridays, 1 to 9.)
BROOKLYN MUSEUM OF ART
Eastern Parkway (718-638-5000)—"Exposed: The Victorian Nude," from Tate Britain, is a strong historical show about an era when jumpiness about sex had bizarre effects in art. Literary and classical themes provided the alibis for displaying naked females. Popular guises included Shakespearean fairies, virtuous heroines (Lady Godiva rides again, and again), Roman decadents, and the like. For male nakedness, the excuse was propaganda for robust healthiness. Lust lurked, and smut reigned. A turn toward frankness around the turn of the century—in the gloomy nudes of Walter Sickert and the too little known William Orpen—offers a fresh invention: actual people. Orpen's felicitously titled "The English Nude" (1900), a Rembrandtesque tour de force, presents a regular, interesting woman on a rumpled bed. Its mystery is that of a really lived life. Through Jan. 5. Judy Chicago's monumental installation "The Dinner Party" is a delta-shaped banquet table for thirty-nine worthies, from Primordial Goddess to Georgia O'Keeffe. Through Feb. 9. (Open Wednesdays through Fridays, 10 to 5; Saturdays and Sundays, 11 to 6.)
Malcolm X Blvd. at 135th St. (491-2200)—"The Art of African Women: Empowering Traditions." For the past twenty years, the Namibian-born photographer Margaret Courtney-Clarke has gone around South, West, and North Africa documenting decorative painting and craft techniques practiced by female artisans. In certain rural areas of Ghana, Mali, and Burkina Faso, women paint their houses, inside and out, with ravishingly colored geometries, some passed down for generations and others invented on the spot. Their beadwork and weavings, like the textiles and pottery of North African Berber women, trace dynamic interactions between traditional and innovative techniques, organic and synthetic materials. The exhibition, which combines the didactic and the celebratory, is best when it focusses on individual artists, notably the Ndebele artists and activists Francina and Angelina Ndimande, of Mabhoko, South Africa, a mother and daughter who have established a community-service project to preserve indigenous techniques while providing support to the women who practice them. Through March 30. (Open Mondays through Saturdays, 10 to 6, and Sundays, 1 to 5.)
Unless otherwise noted, galleries are open Tuesdays through Saturdays, from around 10 or 11 to between 5 and 6.
This haunting show is inspired by the 1923 novel "Confessions of Zeno," by Italo Svevo, a writer who has been called Italy's answer to Kafka. In this series, Kentridge's signature charcoal drawings—larger ones hung salon-style around the room and smaller ones displayed in a vitrine—suggest a dreamlike Mitteleuropa of wrought-iron balustrades, lonely civic monuments, and zaftig nudes. The smaller works are made on red-ruled leaves culled from a nineteenth-century business ledger, with entries in a neat clerk's hand overlaid by Kentridge's smoky, darkly comic scenes; similar red lines, added to the big drawings, take on psychological implications. Kentridge has also relied on Svevo for a new film, "Zeno Writing." The eleven-minute animated opera, based on the drawings, is cinematic chocolate: bittersweet, absolutely satisfying, and over too soon. Through Jan. 4. (Marian Goodman, 24 W. 57th St. 977-7160.)
Mitchell-Inness & Nash, 1018 Madison Ave., at 78th St. 744-7400. Through Dec. 20.
Werner, 4 E. 77th St. 988-1623. Through Jan. 18.
RICHARD LONG / ROXY PAINE / MAGNUS WALLIN
The James Cohan gallery inaugurates its new Chelsea space with a garden of earthly delights. Long, the most established and earnest of the three artists, makes art out of treks in nature. Here, he fills the floor with an oval of black and white stones from Mexico and Vermont, accompanied by a drippy mural made of mud (it looks like an eco-friendly Pat Steir). In adjacent galleries, Paine mounts his hyperrealistic mushrooms on stark white panels to create a hybrid of sculpture and painting (call it pop mycology), and Wallin lines the walls of a mirrored chamber with a futuristic animation starring characters from Hieronymous Bosch. Through Dec. 21. (533 W. 26th St. 755-7171.)
Bad boy makes good in this impressive inaugural project made with foam core, Sharpie pens, and lots of hot glue for the Bohen Foundation's new space in Chelsea. In the past, Sachs has courted controversy, briefly landing his dealer in jail for doling out live ammo (in a bowl, in lieu of candy), or building a model death camp out of Prada packaging. While his latest installation, "Nutsy's," does include a model ghetto that comes with its own sniper station, the centerpiece is a pair of maquettes Sachs calls McBusier, pairing Le Corbusier's mass-housing project built in Marseilles in 1952 with McDonald's. Through spring. (415 W. 13th St. 414-4575.)
Gladstone, 515 W. 24th St. 206-9300. Through Dec. 21.
GUILLERMO KUITCA / WOLFGANG LAIB
Sperone Westwater, 415 W. 13th St. 999-7337. Through Dec. 15.
Maynes, 529 W. 20th St. 741-3318. Through Dec. 21.
Pictures of hipsters partying the night away are nothing new, but Ruyter stakes out fresh territory in eye-popping paintings based on her own snapshots. She exploits the distortions of flash in her imagery so that Martini glasses psychedelically dapple and faces blush acid yellow (and you thought red eyes were bad news). Ruyter typically limits herself to less than ten colors per canvas, but her palette is so intense and unexpected that the range feels limitless. Through Jan. 4. (Koenig, 249 Centre St. 334-9255.)
This ambitious exhibition-and-performance series (which could also be called "Avec") changes daily. On Tuesdays, the Tribeca space turns into Café Apex, a drop-in center for recovering artaholics, providing coffee, cookies, and magazines; on other days, they promise film and video screenings, a photography show, sound performances, lectures, and spontaneous one-day installations. Participating artists and curators include the videographer Matthew Buckingham, Mary Ceruti of the Sculpture Center, the curator Carin Kuoni, the painter Mira Schor, and the critic Gregory Williams, along with current participants in the international studio-residency program sponsored by the gallery. Through Dec. 21. (Apex Art, 291 Church St. 431-5270. For daily listings, visit www.apexart.org.)
CÉSAR PATERNOSTO AND CECILIA VICUÑA
The Drawing Center, 35 Wooster St. 219-2166. Through Dec. 20.
JOHN J. O'CONNOR AND JOHAN NOBELL
Different as they are, both of these two small shows—drawings by O'Connor and paintings by Nobell—conjure the ghost of Rube Goldberg. O'Connor's starbursts and diagrams in colored pencil outline such elaborate, fantastically interlocked phenomena as memory loss and the patterns on a Rubik's Cube; the best one proposes a correlation between U.S. military engagements and recent earthquakes on the North American continent. In Nobell's tightly controlled but cartoonish paintings, hills and trees, fences and woodpiles coalesce into awkwardly pyrotechnic contraptions—machine guns? moonshine stills?—as if nature itself had gone ballistic. Through Dec. 23. (Pierogi, 177 N. 9th St. 718-599-2144.)
What if the walls really did have ears—or even more provocative body parts? In her New York début, the Argentinean artist seamlessly affixes small, plump folds of white-painted plaster to the pristine gallery walls so that the severe architecture softens into a continuous, almost embarrassingly sensual surface. The fleshy protrusions invite touch, and their edges have acquired a slight polish like the parts of statues that pilgrims stroke for luck. Segal makes staid wallboard palpitate, suggesting that just behind its bland façade some vivid force is breathing, listening, inviting entry. Through Dec. 22. (Plus Ultra, 235 S. 1st St. 718-387-3844.)
"DRAWING QUIRKS 2"
This group show earns its title, though quirkiness (like its quieter cousin, charm) can come across as cloying and affected, or refreshing and almost innocent, depending on your mood. Michael Rogers, Stephen Bitterolf, and Tim Spelios make it into the refreshing category, especially Rogers, whose persnickety pencil drawings of suburban interiors are spangled with elaborate decorative patterns, as if someone were building an Orientalist seraglio in his basement in Peoria. Bitterolf's Photo-Realist charcoal drawings of grass and leaves invite pleasant double-takes, and Spelios's mandala of generic clip art achieves a goofy elegance. Don't skip Rogers's road-trip video in the back gallery, which, while it isn't a drawing, describes a seeming single line that shoots from Coney Island to Santa Monica in the space of twenty minutes. Through Dec. 16. (Parker's Box, 193 Grand St. 718-388-2882.)