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    winter arts guide: critics’ pick

    Critics’ picks in Boston-area art museums

    A Nick Cave costume, “Soundsuit,’’ at the Peabody Essex Museum.
    James Prinz
    A Nick Cave costume, “Soundsuit,’’ at the Peabody Essex Museum.


    LETHAL BEAUTY: SAMURAI WEAPONS AND ARMOR and SAMURAI! ARMOR FROM THE ANN AND GABRIEL BARBIER-MUELLER COLLECTION Has any warrior class had as developed an aesthetic as the Japanese samurai did? These two shows explore just how beautiful military regalia can be. “Lethal Beauty”: Through May 5, Currier Museum of Art, 603-669-6144, “Samurai!”: April 14-Aug. 4, 617-267-9300,

    PORTUGAL, JESUITS, AND JAPAN: SPIRITUAL BELIEFS AND EARTHLY GOODS East and West, sacred and secular, transcendence and trade meet in this exhibition examining the relationship between Portuguese mariners and priests and Asian artists and dignitaries. Feb. 16-June 2. McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College. 617-552-8100,


    EDWARDIAN OPULENCE: BRITISH ART AT THE DAWN OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY A lavishly appointed show about a lavishly appointed era, the reign of Edward VII (1901-10). Who needs “Downton Abbey” when you can get bits of the real thing in New Haven? Feb. 28-June 2. Yale Center for British Art. 203-432-2800,

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    BILL BRANDT: SHADOW AND LIGHT The foremost British photographer of the 20th century, Brandt did stunning work in portraiture, landscape, the nude, and social documentary. The one constant throughout his exploration of those genres was his highly expressive use of chiaroscuro, the focus of this much-anticipated retrospective. March 6-Aug. 13. Museum of Modern Art, New York. 212-708-9400,

    BURST OF LIGHT: CARAVAGGIO AND HIS LEGACY Was Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio the most revolutionary painter of the 17th century? If he wasn’t, you better get out of the way of whoever was. “Burst of Light” (a cunning title considering Caravaggio’s revelatory use of shadow) includes five of his paintings and more than 50 by his followers, the Caravaggisti. March 6-June 16. Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford. 860-278-2670,


    ED RUSCHA: STANDARD  Ruscha, a dean of Pop Art, employs everyday signs and images of the urban California landscape in his paintings, prints, and films, exploring language and graphic design as layered means of deadpan, sometimes absurd communication. Feb. 13-June 9. Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, 415 South St., Waltham. 781-736-3434,


    PAINTING BETWEEN THE LINES  Can you envision Dorian Gray’s portrait? Fourteen fictional paintings, including Oscar Wilde’s portrait of Gray, are made manifest by contemporary artists. Laylah Ali takes on Thomas Mann; Fred Tomaselli paints Samuel Beckett, and more. Feb. 16-June 9. Williams College Museum of Art, 15 Lawrence Hall Drive, Williamstown. 413-597-2429, wcma.williams

    ELECTRIC PARIS  In the 19th century, lighting changed from oil to gas and then electric. In Paris, nightlife burgeoned. Artists such as Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Cassatt depicted the growing illumination and how it affected society. Feb. 17-April 21. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 225 South St., Williamstown. 413-458-2303,

    FREEPORT [NO. 006]: NICK CAVE  Three faceless, funky, sculptural costumes by the fabric artist, seen in conjunction with a film projection. Cave’s exuberant “Soundsuits” recall anything from African ceremonial garb to neon-hued yeti to conglomerations of Beanie Babies. Through May 27. Peabody Essex Museum, 161 Essex St., Salem. 978-745-9500,

    MICHELANGELO: SACRED AND PROFANE, MASTER DRAWINGS FROM THE CASA BUONARROTI  From the Florence museum in a building once owned by Michelangelo and dedicated to his work, 26 renderings, including a Virgin and Child and an image of Cleopatra. April 21-June 30. Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Ave. 617-267-9300,