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New York's freshest shows

From ancient sculpture to Van Gogh's night inspirations, the best of this season's art.

‘Head of Athena’ is in a tribute show at the Met.

COURTESY OF THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART

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New York puts on its sparkly best for the holidays, and this season's art offerings are equally glittery.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art offers a tribute to its esteemed director, retiring after 31 years, in the form of a gala exhibition: "The Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions" through Feb. 1. With 300 objects representing the crème de la crème of the 84,000 works collected during de Montebello's tenure, the show's a holiday treat.

Arranged chronologically by the year acquired, the pieces strike up a dialogue across the 5,000 years of their production. A wooden Kongo power figure from the second half of the 19th century, stabbed all over with nails to release its power, personifies force. The carved figure of a man seems to speak across the ages to a Jackson Pollock drip painting, "#28" (1950), which embodies another kind of force, also bristling with primeval energy.

The paintings are a trove of masterpieces: from Rubens to Rothko. As for sculpture, a massive, antique "Head of Athena" serenely communes with Brancusi's sleek, white arc called "Bird in Space" (1923). A 1904 Charles Rennie Mackintosh oak washstand, ornamented with blue tile and mirror-glass petals, shines opposite an evening gown (circa 1965) by Madame Grès, its silk folds falling like streams of water.

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