08/04/2012 12:02 pm ET Updated Oct 04, 2012

The Museum as Funhouse: Yayoi Kusama at the Whitney, Ghosts in the Machine at the New Museum, Century of the Child at MoMA

The wow kicks in early at these exceptional shows at museums uptown and down. First at the Whitney: Polka dots, the signature pattern for the artist Yayoi Kusama now in her '80s, are appropriated for fashion. Louis Vuitton is doing for her designs what the luxury line does collaborating with Takashi Murakami. The museum features a roomful of canvases in yellows and reds, a display of summer joy for an artist who retreated from the art world for awhile, suffering a mental breakdown. In July, a party of a press opening at the museum with champagne and hibiscus cocktails, smoked salmon and quiche, was followed by a ribbon cutting at the Louis Vuitton Fifth Avenue store, the dots and her image complete with orange wig in its windows. Compelling and sexy, the museum retrospective features soft sculpture, phalluses embedded in shoes, on a jacket, on furnishings. Old maybe, from the sixties, but newly fresh, and titillating.

On the museum's first floor, you have to queue up for the installation "Fireflies," well worth the wait. The artist did not show up for the press at the Whitney, but made it to the Louis Vuitton store. She may be a little crazy, but stupid she's not. The Whitney's important retrospective of her career is sure to bring new audiences to her work, but art and commerce make lucrative bedfellows.

Next, follow the dots to the New Museum on the Bowery where on the third floor works by Bridget Riley play, optical illusions being part of the exhibition Ghosts in the Machine. The historically rich show, researched in a year, curated by Massimiliano Gioni and Gary Carrion-Murayari, matters in a big way, putting together surrealism, kinetic art, dreams and nightmares of what the machine can mean to the imagination. Throw in the literary for the thematic fusing of machine and body: a work based on Kafka's "In the Penal Colony," Raymond Roussel, and J.G. Ballard. And others in science: Fritz Kahn, Viktor Tausk and Alan Turing, a pioneer in computers who in the early '50s suggested that machines could think. Much of these displays recalls William Burroughs' handy metaphor for the body as, "soft machine."

How do we guide our young? By what influences and manipulations do we design for their edification and control? Reflecting the 20th century preoccupation with childhood as "a paradigm for progressive design thinking," the answers on view on MoMA's sixth floor, Century of the Child: Growing by Design 1900-2000, show not surprisingly the effects of politics, economics, gender bias, war and other historic circumstance. An out-sized Trip-Trap chair at the entrance makes an impression, dwarfing anyone who dares sit. The survey is both illuminating and a bit nostalgic with relics from the far and recent past: slinky (1945), colorforms (1951), Etch-a-Sketch (1959), Barbie's dream house (1962), a Brio pull dachshund (1960's). An accompanying film program offers a well-culled selection of child themed features and shorts: Orlando Mesquita's six minute The Ball, intended for youth, reveals a nonchalant, playful and funny take on the rise of AIDS in Africa. A re-viewing of Francois Truffaut's 400 Blows was well worth a trip to MoMA, reminding the viewer: "naughty is the art of innocents."

A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.