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The Whitney Reopens With 3 Powerhouse Shows

The film’s coherence owes to its underpinning theme: how visionary practice overflows the boundaries of art, spirituality and politics, and gathers all these together when they’re exercised with generosity. Narrations of texts by Rebecca Cox Jackson, a 19th-century Black Shaker eldress, and words and music by Alice Coltrane are crucial to the weave. But the tour de force belongs to Ms. Smith, an experimental filmmaker at the pinnacle of her craft, who has brilliantly paced so many elements into something that resonates like freedom.

The Whitney has installed “Sojourner” appropriately, with its own room and a large screen. Another Smith film, “Pilgrim,” which revisits the ashram and the Shaker site in a melancholy register, suffers from its placement in a corridor that leads to the terrace. Also on view are Ms. Smith’s drawings of book covers; in this series, “Firespitters,” she celebrates books by some of her favorite poets and others that they, in turn, have recommended. A big show developing Ms. Smith’s vision across mediums — film, installation, performance, textile — is desperately overdue in New York. But “Sojourner,” a masterpiece, is essential balm and ballast for now. SIDDHARTHA MITTER

Whitney Museum of American Art

99 Gansevoort Street, Manhattan; 212-570-3600, Purchase of timed tickets in advance is required. (Admission is pay what you wish through Sept. 28.)


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