Benton’s Freebie Masterpiece at The Met

Viewer contemplates “The Changing West” panel of Thomas Hart Benton’s America Today mural (1930-1931)

Met visitor contemplates “The Changing West” panel of Thomas Hart Benton’s America Today mural (1930-1931)

When times get tough, did you ever take on a job or make something for free just to build up your resume and showcase what you could do? That’s exactly what one New York up-and-comer did, and it really paid off. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s show, Thomas Hart Benton’s ‘America Today’ Mural Rediscovered, tells the story.

Back in 1930, the New School was just completing its modern building in the Village on West 12th Street and was seeking something to jazz up the boardroom.

“City Activities with Subway” portion of America Today based on his portrait sketches

“City Activities with Subway” portion of America Today based on his portrait sketches. (It’s Pollack’s sister-in-law, Elizabeth)

Mr. Orozco, the famed Mexican muralist, had already been commissioned for the more visible dining room/lounge, and Mr. Benton, who was teaching at the Art Students League, saw an opportunity to showcase his painting chops.

Social realist chronicler Reginald Marsh had introduced Benton to the mysteries of mastering egg tempera, and Benton felt ready to go to town on a large-scale portrait of American life in all of its regional glory. Here’s the deal: no pay, just loft studio space about a block away.

Twenty years earlier, Benton had hung around Paris, soaking up the birth of the French Cubist and Italian Futurist movements in Europe. Ten years earlier, he roamed around the back roads of the United States, filling up sketchbooks with steel town landscapes, lumber camps, oil derricks popping up in Los Angeles, dives, diners, and small town stuff.

“Steel” portion of the mural, featuring model Jackson Pollack, Benton’s student

“Steel” portion of the mural, featuring model Jackson Pollack, Benton’s student

The mural began taking shape, crammed to the gills with swirling activities, people, industry, and pop culture that he saw. Need models? Why not ask Jackson Pollack, his art student, and his sister to pose?

It’s hard to imagine serious board meetings taking place in a room so alive with oversized ambition and action. Over the decades, the New School repurposed the room for classroom lectures, and over time, the scuffed mural was removed completely.

Lucky for us, Benton’s 1930s historic masterpiece found its way to the Met, which has lovingly restored and installed it in a rectangular room just beyond the Frank Lloyd Wright room.

The curators have filled the adjacent galleries with extra treats: the inspirational sketches from Benton’s earlier road trips and works by Mr. Pollack and Benton’s Village contemporaries.

See our Flickr album to glimpse the installation (and works by early Pollack, Abbott, Marsh from the Met’s collection), and watch the Met curators tell the story of how Mr. Benton’s freebie paid off and their joy in giving this ten-panel chronicle a new home.

Reverent Ceramic Master Honored in NC

Hiroshi’s “Twin Vase”, a monumental 2002 stoneware sculpture with crawl glaze

Hiroshi’s Twin Vase, a monumental 2002 stoneware sculpture with crawl glaze

Known for a strong pottery tradition, North Carolina’s Cameron Art Museum is paying tribute to a Japanese ceramic expert in Hiroshi Sueyoshi: Master of Reverence through September 6.

As a young artist who apprentices with ceramic masters of 1960s Japan, he was advised by folk artist Shoji Hamada to see as much of the world as he could before he turned 25.

In the early 1970s, he came to Asheboro to help build a pottery, trained with Japanese ceramic-artist ex-pats, worked at Seagrove, and landed teaching jobs at several North Carolina colleges.

By the end of the decade, he relocated to Wilmington, teaching and serving as an artist-in-resident at the Museum.

Although the show features the full scope of Hiroshi’s work, it exhibits the work of the ceramic artists who influenced him. Works by Rita Duckworth, Isamu Noguchi, Peter Voulkos, and Shoji Hamada are shown side-by-side with his own, demonstrating the tradition upon which he draws.

Rock Garden, a 2014 interpretation of a Zen garden made with hand-built “rocks”. He wants the viewer to be conscious of their surroundings

Rock Garden, Hiroshi’s 2014 interpretation of a Zen garden made with hand-built “rocks”.

Landscapes, biomorphic shapes, streams, voids, spirals, crackled surfaces, and Zen gardens – you’ll see and feel it all as you slowly work through the galleries. Find power in Hiroshi’s simplicity and lots of detail upon closer inspection.

The sculptures echoes of the primitive power of Brancusi and installations evoke the meditative calm of the Rothko Chapel. The museum has even hung up some of the coverings that Hiroshi uses for his pottery tables on the wall in the back gallery. Their subtle dust-ground, worked surfaces feel like subtle, magical Twombly atmospheres. So, even Hiroshi’s work cloths feel like art.

If you can’t make it to see this beautiful work in Wilmington, take a stroll through our Flickr site.

Biomorphic 2009 wall sculpture Blossom. Stoneware with crater and crawl glaze. Courtesy: New Hanover Library

Biomorphic 2009 wall sculpture Blossom. Stoneware with crater and crawl glaze. Courtesy: New Hanover Library

Ennion: Luxury Tableware at The Met

Two identical one-handled Ennion jugs from different sites. On right, the only Ennion piece with an intact foot, 1st c. A.D.

Two identical one-handled Ennion jugs from different sites. On right, the only Ennion piece with an intact foot, 1st c. A.D.

It’s unlikely that you have any of this sought-after designer’s pieces accompanying your best table setting or that the MAD Museum has any of his hand-blown, molded glassworks in their collection.

Two thousand years before ABC Carpet began retailing high-end home goods on Broadway and Martha Stewart branded her at-home lifestyle line, a Mediterranean craftsman in Sidon, Lebanon (then Phoenecia) created a line that every aspiring tastemaker in the Roman Empire just had to have. The Metropolitan Museum of Art pays tribute to his output in Ennion: Master of Roman Glass, on view just off the Greek-Roman study galleries through April 12.

Who needs old-fashioned metal cups or pottery jugs on the well-laid Roman table when Ennion was creating stunning cobalt-blue and transparent glass equivalents?

Two-handled cup, with Ennion’s Greek brand (“Ennion made this/it”). Blown glass into mold, 1st c. A.D. Courtesy: Turin museum; other by private collector

Two-handled cup, with Ennion’s Greek brand (“Ennion made this/it”). Blown glass into mold, 1st c. A.D. Courtesy: Turin museum; other by private collector

Ennion’s workshop was on the cutting edge of a manufacturing-and-craft revolution – blowing glass into decorative molds (which took the guesswork out of creating place settings for four, six, or ten) and exporting sets for sale throughout The Empire.

Ennion’s competitors were doing the same, but Ennion of Sidon had the big brand emblazoned on his work, working it into the design in the same way that MK, DKNY, DVF or YSL do today. His logo was written in Greek, the universal language of the first century: ““Ennion made me/it.” Scholars reckon that it was all made and exported from Sidon, a first-century glassmaking powerhouse, since none of Ennion’s molds featured a bilingual brand.

After two millennia, only about 50 of Ennion’s gorgeous works remain, and the Met’s show has assembled about half that amount from its own collection (courtesy of master-collector J. Pierpont Morgan), the Corning Museum, private collections, and other museums of antiquities in Israeli and Europe.

Non-Ennion glass jug made in a four-part mold; right, a two-handled amphora blown into a three-part mold, ist c. A.D. Source: The Met

Non-Ennion glass jug made in a four-part mold, 1st c. A.D. Source: The Met

In addition to Sidon, Ennion’s output has been found in excavations of ancient homes in places as far flung as Jerusalem, Croatia, Italy, and Spain. The Met’s team has had fun displaying glassware from identical molds next to one another, despite the fact that pairs were discovered thousands of miles from each other at different archeological sites.

Check out the Met’s beautiful tribute to a master artist on our Flickr feed.

FIT Tribute to Lauren’s Look

18-year-old Bacall poses as a Red Cross WWII nurse on Harpers Bazaar cover, March 1943. Cover photo: Louise Dahl Wolfe

18-year-old Bacall poses as a Red Cross WWII nurse on Harpers Bazaar cover, March 1943. Cover photo: Louise Dahl Wolfe

What’s a New York City style icon to do when you run out of room at the Dakota but can’t bear to part with 700 of your favorite designer dresses, gown, daytime wear, and accessories? Give them to FIT, of course.

The FIT graduate students are paying tribute to the classic simplicity, clean lines, and casual elegance of a particularly generous donor in the capsule show, Lauren Bacall: The Look, on view at The Museum at FIT through April 4.

The show chronicles Bacall’s start (under the watchful eye of Ms. Vreeland) as a Forties’ cover girl and her quick ascent into the Hollywood pantheon as a 19-year-old leading lady in To Have and Have Not with her soon-to-be-husband Mr. Bogart.

The students have unearthed an early studio photo-test of various hairstyles for the Hollywood newcomer – revealing the casual, wavy down-to-the-shoulder look that would be her signature look for the rest of her life.

1968 Cardin dress of Dynel, which can be crushed and washed without losing its shape. Worn in the 1968 CBS fashion special, Bacall and The Boys

1968 Cardin dress of Dynel, which can be crushed and washed without losing its shape. Worn in the 1968 CBS fashion special, Bacall and The Boys

Take a look at clips of Lauren at her best in snippets from famous films, including How to Marry a Millionaire alongside Ms. Monroe and Designing Women.

On to the clothes: The narrow gallery displays a hot pink Norell coat from Sex and The Single Girl, but the focal point of the show is in the back room — an array of frocks custom-fit for Bacall from the leading Sixties designers as part of a 1968 CBS special, Bacall and The Boys.

The wall-size projection shows Bacall modeling the outfits you’ll see right in the gallery – looks from Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Cardin, Mr. Ungaro, and Marc Bohan of Dior. All of the designers make appearances and clearly Ms. Bacall has an artist-muse connection with each of them.

The back wall features a silk Ungaro pantsuit with sleek dresses that became Ms. Bacall’s day-to-day “uniform” around town – most by Norell and Miss Dior. There’s also an iPad featuring close-ups of outfits that don’t appear in this capsule show (but do appear in the FIT show downstairs on Halston and YSL).

1968 CBS special Bacall and The Boys showing Yves Saint-Laurent with Lauren Bacall. Nearby are ensembles and dresses by Marc Bohan of Dior, Cardin, Norell, YSL, and Ungaro.

1968 CBS special Bacall and The Boys showing Yves Saint-Laurent with Lauren Bacall. Nearby are ensembles and dresses by Marc Bohan of Dior, Cardin, Norell, YSL, and Ungaro.

As always, the students have provided some digital punch to the show on line: Click through the FIT timeline, loaded with great 1960s-style fashion illustrations.

See what’s on the iPad by clicking here and enjoy looks from Ms. Bacall’s closet by Ossie Clark, Halston, YSL, Norell, Chanel, and Pucci.

For more of Lauren’s looks, visit the exhibition website, FIT’s Flickr website and our own Flickr site.

Norell’s 1956 “Subway” cashmere silk ensemble.

Norell’s 1956 “Subway” cashmere silk ensemble.

Killer Heels as Art in Brooklyn

Gaultier’s 2012 Nude Tattoo Boot displayed next to its inspiration, a Chinese porcelain Ming vase (1573-1619)

Gaultier’s 2012 Nude Tattoo Boot displayed next to its inspiration, a Chinese porcelain Ming vase (1573-1619)

The hottest show in New York right now is Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe, a curatorial masterwork that the Brooklyn Museum has decided to extend through March 1.

As soon as you enter the first-floor gallery, you’ll encounter Zach Gold’s mesmerizing Spike video, a wall-sized video extravaganza of high fashion, high glamour, and high heels. Why rush into the first room of the exhibition when your eye is trying process all the lush details? This digital kaleidoscope genuinely sets the tone for what lies ahead – an historical mash-up of style, fashion, and design all seen through the lens of ladies’ shoes.

What an eyeful – carefully composed vitrines where you can behold golden Baroque curliques on Prada platforms, 1920s evening shoes, and a 19th century gilded table. What about silver-and-pearl Chanel boots whose heels mimic the 1890s Gorham candlestick right next to them? Or the red-hot strappy Miu Miu shoes whose ornament is identical to the handles on a 18th-century Wedgewood ice cream cup? Check out our Flickr feed to see some of our favorites.

2008 Heels by Miu Miu next to a Wedgewood ice cream cup and saucer (1790-1800)

2008 Heels by Miu Miu next to a Wedgewood ice cream cup and saucer (1790-1800)

Everywhere you look, there are delightful juxtapositions across time, culture, and material – embellished pointy-toed heels from the 1690s, iron-and-leather pallets that boosted the feet of ladies above the muck of 18th-century city streets, and sky-high mother-of-pearl-inlay stilt shoes that Syrian beauties sported in the Twenties. It’s interesting that the latter are displayed in proximity to those dangerous purple Vivienne Westwood gillies that gave Naomi Campbell such problems on the runway.

Nothing’s chronological. It’s all designed to unfold in your mind by pinging unexpected references and associations – designer shoes next to concoctions from another place and time, fantastical embellishments, and streamlined perfection.

Fashionable, embellished pointy-toed 1690 French and 1720 British heels

Fashionable, embellished pointy-toed 1690 French and 1720 British heels

Provocative, room-sized videos commissioned for this show and small historical films only heighten the pizzazz. Check out Edison’s 1903 short, The Gay Shoe Clerk, or snippets from Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette or other Hollywood classics. Don’t miss Eve A.D. 2000, shot in 1939 to predict what fashions and footwear of the future would look like. You’ll have fun evaluating whether those Thirties visionaries got it right.

There’s simply too much to describe – glass slippers by Georgina Goodman, political-statement heels, shoes that seem to take Metamorphoses at its word, and architectural-engineering wonders. Go see for yourself. You’ll find shoes by Ford, Ferragamo, Prada, Gaultier, and unknown Italian, French, and British craftsmen of long ago.

Watch curator Lisa Small’s video but make the trip out to Brooklyn to immerse yourself in one of the best adventures of the season:

Sturtevant’s Mini-MoMA Imitation Game

Sturtevant’s 2004 piece — a reproduction of an light bulb and cord installation “ Gonzalez-Torres Untitled (America)”. On far wall, “Study for Rosenquist’s Spaghetti & Glass”, an oil painted in 1965-1966

Sturtevant interprets Gonzalez-Torres Untitled (America) (2004). On far wall, Study for Rosenquist’s Spaghetti & Glass, an oil painted in 1965-1966

The free Friday night crowd at MoMA could not get enough of the Elaine Sturtevant tribute, Double Trouble, closing this weekend. Sturtevant spent her long career creating ready-mades out of other people’s art.

The show is a who’s who of 20th century art, except that all the pieces were done by Ms. Sturtevant. The show has it all – an entryway plastered with Warhol’s cow wallpaper (done by her), Lichtensteins, Rosenquists, Johns oil paintings – all done in her hand. Take a walk through our Flickr site and see more in the photos on the curator’s blog.

It’s all imitation, except that Elaine’s versions are really, really good. It’s hard to tell them from the originals displayed through the rest of the museum. Nothing in the show is a line-by-line copy, but you’ll have to go MoMA’s permanent galleries to compare them with the real thing.

Sturtevant’s 1967-1968 oil on canvas,Study for LIchtenstein’s ‘Happy Tears’

Sturtevant’s 1967-1968 oil on canvas, Study for LIchtenstein’s ‘Happy Tears’

In fact, MoMA encourages a trek upstairs to compare Duchamp’s own ready-mades and whirligig. Or Mr. Beuys slabs of fat with those sitting on Sturtevant’s chairs in the darkened gallery.

Can anyone distinguish the Warhol Wall Flowers that Elaine made from the reproduced images of the originals on the stuff all over the gift shop?

The Gonzalez-Torres installation was the dramatic high point, all flashy bulbs in a charismatic, mysterious circle near the pretty perfect interpretations of early video games. Everyone is having a blast lining up to contemplate Sturtevant’s walk down digital memory lane with her interpretation of Pacman 1.0.

Is that Sturtevant’s Duane Hanson museum security guard reproduction in the corner? Oh, no, it’s an actual MoMa guard! Sorry. Just about everything else is a fool-the-eye art encounter. Total fun in the white cube.

Sturtevant’s 1990 vision of Warhol’s Flowers alongside her 1968 Duchamp film with interpretations of three Beuys chairs

Sturtevant’s 1990 vision of Warhol’s Flowers alongside her 1968 Duchamp film with interpretations of three Beuys chairs

Sending a Message by Dressing in Black

Dramatic 1861 British mourning attire in black silk moiré.

Dramatic 1861 British mourning attire in black silk moiré.

When the curators at the Metropolitan Museum of Art were researching collections for last year’s Impressionism-fashion show, they noticed something curious – a disproportionate number of luxurious 19th century American dresses in black. The black silhouettes found in the Costume Institute’s collection formed the basis for their first fall exhibition in seven years, Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire, closing this weekend.

The show is a sumptuous walk-through of the years spanning the 1840s to the early 20th century, when fashionable women telegraphed their status as widows, paid tribute to fallen heroes, and acknowledged the passing of a member of the British royal family through dress, hats, parasols, rings, brooches, and other purchases. Click here to see our Flickr feed, and here for the Met’s own gallery views.

1868 wedding ensemble designed by West Virginia bride to honor casualties of the Civil War

1868 wedding ensemble designed by West Virginia bride to honor casualties of the Civil War

Fashion became such a rich language that the women in the 19th century felt “forced” to conform, according to associate curator Jessica Regan. It was an expensive proposition, and during the hard times of the American Civil War, many women stopped worrying about what others might think if they didn’t conform. If you didn’t have the cash to commission a new frock, it seemed to be OK just to dye an old one black.

As fashion magazines and periodicals became ubiquitous, middle-class and elite-status women eagerly sought styles that telegraphed sorrow while maintaining an up-to-the-minute silhouette.

Men of the 19th century were essentially wearing all-black suits, so the show’s focus is squarely on the ladies and the complex codes of mourning-attire etiquette. For example, after a sufficient period of time, a woman could introduce a bit of grey into her wardrobe, then mauve.

1894-1896 half-mourning dress purchased at James McCreery at 180 Broadway,when machine sewing was more common

1894-1896 half-mourning dress purchased at James McCreery at 180 Broadway,when machine sewing was more common

The team has assembled stunning examples of each from local collections (the now in-house Brooklyn collection, New-York Historical Society, and the Museum of the City of New York) as well as from the V&A’s collection in London. The most dramatic all-black look is the sweeping silk moiré gown from 1861 Britain. Perhaps the most startling is the 1868 a all-black bridal gown designed for a West Virginia bride who chose to pay tribute to fallen Civil War soldiers on her happy day.

Boutiques within department stores catered to mourning clothes buyers. Entire warehouses were filled to the brim with essential accouterments for the correct “look”. By the 1860s, mass-production of fabric increased the accessibility of the raw materials. A few decades later, heavy fabrics fell out of fashion in favor of lighter weight, more flowing options.

The 1890s fashions feature the best from New York department stores, including a mourning dress emblazoned with a bold geometric design.

1902 dresses worn by Queen Alexandra to mourn Queen Victoria’s death. French tulle, chiffon, and sequins.

1902 dresses worn by Queen Alexandra to mourn Queen Victoria’s death. French tulle, chiffon, and sequins.

A conservative black dress worn by Queen Victoria stands in stark contrast to the sparkly mauve gowns worn in tribute to her by Queen Alexandra – exquisite and subtle, but not really subdued. The spotlights emphasize the delicate pizzazz of these French confections.

By 1910, wearing all black became fashionable, decoupling the color from its sorrowful past. The show concludes by noting that World War I essentially brought an end to mourning-attire traditions and fashions in Europe.

Enjoy this lecture by associate curator Jessica Regan here, posted on the exhibition home page.

Next up at the Costume Institute, Spring 2015: Chinese Whispers: Tales of the East in Art, Film and Fashion. Get out your cheongsams.

1915 Mme. Boué-Debat mourning hat with silk grapes from Brooklyn Museum collection at the Met

1915 Mme. Boué-Debat mourning hat with silk grapes from Brooklyn Museum collection at the Met

Times Square Time Machine at the Skyscraper Museum

Poster from the Schubert archives of “The City at 42nd Street”, the never-built 1979 mall-superblock plan

Poster from the Schubert archives of “The City at 42nd Street”, the never-built 1979 mall-superblock plan

Two weeks ago, the eyes of the world were on Times Square, but how did it get that way? Take a walk through history at The Skyscraper Museum’s exhibition — Times Square, 1984: The Post Modernist Moment through February 15.

You’ll find out that the crazy, frenetic, chaotic landscape of this town square and its surrounding theaters was nearly lost when the City Fathers and the real-estate community thought Times Square should be “sanitized”. It took wrecking balls destroying several historic theaters to bring activists, celebrities, actors, historians, and preservationists into the streets and paddy wagons to reverse course.

The skyscrapers that were finally built at Times Square, including the Times Towers of 1997 and 2004

The skyscrapers that were finally built at Times Square, including the Times Towers of 1997 and 2004

The Skyscraper Museum has assembled the architectural models, videos, personal memorabilia collections, and planning sketches to resurrect this nearly forgotten war story. See the installation views on our Flickr site.

The show opens with a 1905 Mutoscope film showing the panorama from the top of the new Times Tower – the first skyscraper in that part of town. See it here on the exhibition web site. The Times started the ball drop in 1907, and it’s continued as one of the City’s most famous traditions.

The “Great White Way” name became popular in the 1920s and 1930s to indicate the glow from theater marquees lining Broadway, Seventh Avenue, and the side streets. The second skyscraper wasn’t built until 1927 (the Paramount Building/ Hard Rock Café), and remarkably, no other skyscrapers popped up until 1972.

Cutaway drawing of the Portman/Marriott Marquis Hotel (1973-1985), which kept focus inward away from tawdry Times Square

Cutaway drawing of the Portman/Marriott Marquis Hotel (1973-1985), which kept focus inward away from tawdry Times Square

The Portman Hotel (now Marriott Marquis) project was sketched out in 1973, but it took until 1985 to open. The fortress-like complex was designed to look inward on purpose – away from the tawdry street life that characterized Times Square in the “bad old” days when drug pushers, crime, pickpockets, loudmouths, and fistfights were the norm. The atrium and rotating rooftop restaurant were marvels to tourists, who were happy to have an inside-escape route.

By 1979, it was so bad outside that the City proposed some drastic plans to make it all better: Why not tear down a few blocks and make an indoor entertainment mall, complete with a 15-story indoor Ferris wheel and the world’s biggest movie screen? Why not make Times Square look more like Sixth Avenue by building monolithic skyscrapers on each corner of Broadway at 42nd?

Real estate deals ruled the city at the time, and the bonanza created by tourism was still decades away.

Save the Theaters study with 1982 photos of Joe Papp and others protesting the destruction of the Helen Hays and Morosco to build the  Portman. Courtesy: Lee Harris Pomeroy

Save the Theaters study and 1982 photos of Joe Papp protesting the destruction of the Helen Hays and Morosco to build the Portman. Courtesy: Lee Harris Pomeroy

The actors, preservationists, and architects were aghast at plans to tear down so many historic theaters for the Portman/Marriott Marquis and began staging street protests and galvanizing public opinion to save Broadway. Through a lot of community organizing, a Save the Theaters study, and a night where all the theaters turned the lights out, the battle was won. Yes, new towers would be built, but the demolition of theaters would stop.

In 1993, Disney pledged to take over and restore the New Amsterdam, the study identified theater features of historic value (including backstage areas), and a 42nd Street redevelopment effort commenced. Julian Eltinge’s theater (now AMC Empire 25) was moved 130 feet down the street, rehearsal studios were built, and the New Victory brought children’s theater to a house that used to be Minsky’s (and the Belasco).

Today, the crossroads is dominated by tall, sparkling skyscrapers and bustling with high-spending visitors. The TKTS island serves as a concrete village green for the entire area.

Looking north today toward Times Square and 42nd Street

Looking north today toward Times Square and 42nd Street

Insiders at the Skyscraper Museum’s winter program at Columbia University let us in on the fact that the there are actually design requirements for flashing signs and billboards in Times Square to be at off-angles and tilts to maintain the slapped-together look of the area – design elements flouted by Vornado’s new block-long HD video billboard.

This short synopsis is only the tip of the iceberg on Times Square. For the full story and history, get to the show and take time to watch Carol Willis’ historic, all-star panel from last November, where you’ll meet the people who saved the Theater District, remade 42nd Street, and created the landscape of Times Square that the world knows today. You’ll never look at it the same way again:

 

For more, click here to read the exhibition story online and see more photos, videos, and artifacts.

Nature Meditations in the Land of Fire and Ice

Katrín Sigurðardóttir, Haul IV (2004) travelling landscape-in-a-box on loan from private collector. Courtesy: The artist.

Katrín Sigurðardóttir, Haul IV (2004) travelling landscape-in-a-box on loan from private collector. Courtesy: The artist.

When the weather dips below freezing and people think they’re in the Arctic, there’s no better place to get out of the elements and meditate on the landscapes of long, dark winters than the third floor of Scandinavia House on Park Avenue. Until tomorrow, January 10, you’ll join eleven contemporary artists from the sub-arctic on their journeys in a show mounted by the Katonah Museum of Art, Iceland Artists Respond to Place.

Bjork may get all the media attention, but do yourself a favor and walk through this three-gallery show, which beautifully and simply presents the work of Iceland’s other leading visual artists. See the land of fire and ice through their eyes.

Olafur Eliasson, The Aerial River Series, 2000 on loan from private collector. Courtesy: The artist. Installation photo: Ben Blackwell

Olafur Eliasson, The Aerial River Series, 2000 on loan from private collector. Courtesy: The artist. Photo: Ben Blackwell

Olafur Eliasson takes you on an aerial journey along a 60-mile meltwater river, from the mouth to the source. Ragna Róbertsdóttir splatters miniscule lava rocks against a wall but it’s not what it sounds like. Far from a violent eruption, it’s an undulating, mesmerizing meditation that you’ll spend time contemplating.

For sheer romantic and modernist punch, enjoy Georg Guðni Hauksson’s two works – a large landscape memory and a solid dark blue canvas evoking the long winter nights (like an emotional Ad Reinhardt).

Lava rocks “talk” in Egill Sæbjörnsson’s Pleasure Stones installation (2008) on loan from private collector. Courtesy: The artist.

Lava rocks “talk” in Egill Sæbjörnsson’s Pleasure Stones installation (2008) on loan from private collector. Courtesy: The artist.

Egill Saebjornsson takes home the whimsy award with a multimedia installation in which rocks speak (seriously!). Eggert Pétursson zeros in the microscopic natural phenomenon – painting flowers (life sized) in patterns that read like tapestries. You’ll wish you were on some hikes with him. Katrín Sigurðardóttir simply packs up her landscapes into boxes. Tiny, tiny recreations of vast, romantic landscapes.

When we visited the galleries this week, visitors were asking if there was more they could see. Scandinavia House always hosts classy, elegant shows, so although the exhibition space is limited, we have to admit they always leave us wanting to see what’s next from that part of the world.

Seth Myers was recounting his Icelandic adventures this week on Late Night. If you can’t get to the country like Seth or visit the show, at least you can spend chilly days and nights like the natives do, courtesy of this instructional video produced by Scandinavia House:

 

Pterosaurs Leave New York

AMNH illustration of Mary Anning’s Dimorphodon. Courtesy: AMNH.

AMNH illustration of Mary Anning’s Dimorphodon. Courtesy: AMNH.

They came from all over the world to hang out for the ball drop, but will be gone by the time of the Super Bowl. Yes, the crazy cast of characters in the American Museum of Natural History’s show, Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of the Dinosaurs, will decamp for their hometowns tomorrow, January 4 just like everyone else who came to New York and had a blast.

Quetzalcoatlus, Tropeognathus, and “Dark Wing” have been putting on quite a show for AMNH visitors since April, and only time will tell if New Yorkers have learned to stop calling them “dinosaurs.” They are flying reptiles.

AMNH illustration of super-tiny Nemicolopterus from China (10 inches) proves that not all pterosaurs were giants. He lived in the forest.

AMNH illustration of super-tiny Nemicolopterus from China (10 inches) proves that not all pterosaurs were giants. He lived in the forest.

The show features life-sized replicas of these flying machines and the big celebrity “Dark Wing” from Germany – the only pterosaur fossil yet found with impressions of the amazing wing membrane that contains layers and layers of thin muscle, all suspended from a single finger.

Get to know more about these amazing animals in the intro to the show, complete with a peppy soundtrack created by the Museum’s digital divas:

 

When Mary (“She Sells Sea Shells…”) Anning went scouting along Dorset’s Jurassic Coast in 1828, she found little Dimorphodon and sold it to Mr. Buckland, starting a scientific quest to determine the exact nature of these enigmatic creatures.

Happy Ptreranodon in the Vertebrate Origins hall before the crew made him a star of the show inside the Lefrak Gallery.

Happy Ptreranodon in the Vertebrate Origins hall before the crew made him a star of the show inside the Lefrak Gallery.

Most of the press at the time went gaga for the pterodactyl found in Bavaria during the 1830s and 1840s, named Pterodactylus by Mr. Cuvier. Pterosaur fossils have been around so long that it’s hard to believe that this New York show is the first time that these non-dinos have gotten the full star treatment.

Co-curators Mark Norell and Alexander Kellner and the AMNH exhibitions squad took on the jumbo challenge of mounting this first-ever museum show devoted solely to the vertebrates who “invented” flight. Yes, before birds (or bats) took to the skies, fuzzy-bodied pterosaurs were dive-bombing Mesozoic fish, launching from beaches, and leaving their unmistakable footprints on mudflats all over the ancient world.

Click here to see paleontologists searching for pterosaur footprints on an ancient Upper Jurassic beach in central Wyoming.

Pterosaur tracks in the Wyoming sandstone. Crooked forelimb print (L), hindfoot print (R). Taken on a 2006 trackway field trip with the Tate Museum.

Pterosaur tracks in the Wyoming sandstone. Crooked forelimb print (L), hindfoot print (R). Taken on a 2006 trackway field trip with the Tate Museum.

We couldn’t take photos inside the AMNH show of the beautiful pterosaur trackway from the Utah Field House of Natural History in Vernal, Utah, so this Flickr slide show gives you the idea. The shots were taken ten years ago, when paleontologists were still debating whether pterosaurs were bipedal or quadrupedal. As you can see, these Jurassic pterosaurs left quadrupedal tracks.

It’s doubtful that these flying marvels stayed on the beach for long. Watch here to see how gigantic Quetzalcoatlus and friends took off via the animations by the AMNH digital team, based on Michael Habib’s analytics and simulations. You’ll be surprised by what airplanes and pterosaurs have in common: