The wait is over for art museums in Massachusetts, though not entirely and in bits and pieces scattered across the state. Such is life in the pandemic, but we’ll take it. In the city, the Institute of Contemporary Art and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum will switch from “pause” to “play” with exhibitions that have been mothballed since March. The ICA’s Sterling Ruby and Carolina Caycedo shows opened just a couple of weeks before the shutdown. At the Gardner, the museum’s slate of winter offerings shut down March 13, one month to the day after they opened: “Boston’s Apollo,” the museum’s marquee event for 2020 on John Singer Sargent’s principal model, a Black elevator operator named Thomas McKeller, whose physique is forever enshrined in the white deities at the Museum of Fine Arts rotunda; and Adam Pendleton’s “Elements of Me.” Outside of the city, meanwhile, there’s much newness to be found. Here are a handful of fresh things to see as Massachusetts museums crack open for the first time in months.
BLANE DE ST. CROIX: HOW TO MOVE A LANDSCAPE (MASS MoCA): Leave it to Mass MoCA to make the most of its downtime. The mega-museum reopened July 11 with a football field-size mass of subarctic permafrost wedged precariously into one of its main galleries. It’s De St. Croix’s mournful lament for a warming world. (And it’s made of bone-dry foam and other recycled synthetics, so leaves your wellies at home.) As significant as the scale might be, the work is dwarfed by the issue it represents: disappearing sub-arctic communities and ecosystems that have relied on the frozen tundra for millennia, and their struggle with what happens now. (Hint: Nothing good.) 1040 Mass MoCA Way, North Adams. 413-662-2111, www.massmoca.org
LIN MAY SAEED: ARRIVAL OF THE ANIMALS (CLARK ART INSTITUTE): This show, the first-ever survey of the Berlin-based artist in North America, embraces Saeed’s fantastical point of view on animal rights. Saeed, whose parents emigrated to Germany from Iraq before she was born, harnesses the human world’s casual disregard for animals with an expansive narrative and aesthetic frame that leans toward the mythological. Also in progress: The museum’s mountaineering “Ground/work” of outdoor sculptures, much delayed by pandemic-related shipping and production woes, but now appearing bit by bit. The first piece, Analia Saban’s “Teaching a Cow How to Draw,” is a delight — a playful (and very, very long) expanse of rustic split-rail cedar fence with the express purpose of keeping the Clark’s resident herd in the pasture, with elegant flourish that evokes Minimalism. July 21 through Oct. 25. 225 South St., Williamstown. 413-458 2303, www.clarkart.edu
LIZA DONNELLY: COMIC RELIEF (NORMAN ROCKWELL MUSEUM): Donnelly, a cartoonist and children’s book author, has been making wry, powerful cartoons for the New Yorker for more than 30 years. Don’t let the show’s name fool you: Charged with political awareness from feminism to Black Lives Matter, Donnelly’s career is a master class in using humor to heighten and amplify a dead-serious point of view. Also of note: The museum’s presentation of Rockwell’s “Murder in Mississippi,” a painting the artist made to depict the murder of three civil rights activists at the hands of the Ku Kux Klan in 1964. 9 Route 183, Stockbridge. 413-298-4100, www.nrm.org
ALL THE FLOWERS ARE FOR ME (PEABODY ESSEX MUSEUM): Anila Quayyum Agha’s installation is a steel cube that glows from within, laser-cut with intricate Middle-Eastern floral motifs that project patterns in all directions — on the walls, floor, and ceiling of the gallery. A fan favorite — it was last installed in 2017 — the work was slated for re-installation on July 16. With PEM reopening July 18, it’s a happy accident of timing. East India Square, 161 Essex St., Salem. 978-745-9500, www.pem.org
MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS Boston’s biggest museum has sidestepped the reopening bandwagon, choosing instead to forestall its return to “early fall,” according to a spokesperson. When the MFA finally reopens, it’s expected to be with its long-awaited “Monet and Boston: A Lasting Impression” ready to go. “Writing the Future: Basquiat and the Hip Hop Generation,” originally set to open April 5, won’t be far behind. But we’ll see signs of life long before, with the museum hosting outdoor concerts and film screenings throughout the rest of the summer. Details TBA.