Folk Art Couture

Gary Graham’s coat of wool/cotton jacquard in front of his inspiration — an 1810 Ann Carll Coverlet: “Blazing Star and Snowball.”

Gary Graham’s coat of wool/cotton jacquard in front of his inspiration — an 1810 Ann Carll Coverlet: “Blazing Star and Snowball.”

Delightful, whimsical carved animals from New Mexico don’t often appear on the runway with couture, but they certainly take center stage in the American Folk Art Museum’s fantastic show, Folk Couture: Fashion and Folk Art, which closes today.

No worries, though, the museum has created a detailed, media-rich exhibition site on Tumblr that gives you a close-up look at the fabrics, fashions, and folk art that inspired these fun, creative looks.

The museum pulled 100 of works from its collection and asked thirteen
designers to create clothes – wearable or not – that would reflect the scope, spontaneity, and sheer funkiness of folk art.

A steady stream of fashion-lovers worked their way through three galleries of beautiful clothes and creations inspired by collection pieces from across America — New Mexico folk-art porcupines inspired Jean Yu to make a straw-chiffon cocktail ensemble; an 1810 coverlet from Westbury, Long Island inspired Gary Graham to create a gorgeous jacquard-pattern coat and leggings; a religious sculpture made by German immigrants in North Dakota inspired Brazilian designer Fabio Costa to create an other-worldly white ensemble that would look at home in any avant-garde collection.

Closep-up of Michael Bastian’s sweater icon based upon an 1840s weathervane of the Archangel Gabriel. The look also features a hood with built-in earmuffs.

Closep-up of Michael Bastian’s sweater icon based upon an 1840s weathervane of the Archangel Gabriel. The look also features a hood with built-in earmuffs.

Apparently menswear designer Michael Bastian is a fan of this museum and loves its collection, so he fairly faithfully replicated an angel-weathervane icon on the front of his guy sweater and thought it would be fun (which it is!) to take the top hat and eyewear from a Michigan folk-art sculpture and put them right onto his mannequin’s head. The look is great — modern artist and old-fashioned at the same time.

Visit our Flickr album and the exhibition site to see all of the inspirations from the museum collection and learn more about each designer’s working process. We particularly liked the inspiration board in the gallery, which showed some of the process from art to reimagination to finished gown, coat, and dress.

You can’t really beat Yeohlee’s paper dress, featuring images of New Mexico folk-art animals printed on Kraft paper and made into a modern and mod shaman ensemble. Chic and magical at the same time, just like her all of her collections and fans.

Yeohlee’s dress — Shamanistic Printed Prayer Flag Dress from Brown Kraft Paper. Among her whimsical inspirations — a ram carved in 1988 by New Mexico artist Johnson Antonio

Yeohlee’s dress — Shamanistic Printed Prayer Flag Dress from Brown Kraft Paper. Among her whimsical inspirations — a ram carved in 1988 by New Mexico artist Johnson Antonio

We’ve heard that this inspirational show will tour and we’ll keep you posted.

Subversive Chinese Brush-Up at the Met

Yang Jiechang’s Crying Landscape (2003) shares the Gallery for Art of Ancient China with a sandstone stele from the Northern Wei dynasty (489-495) and the 1319 Buddha of Medicine.

Yang Jiechang’s Crying Landscape (2003) shares the Gallery for Art of Ancient China with a sandstone stele from the Northern Wei dynasty (489-495) and the 1319 Buddha of Medicine.

Normally, the galleries for Asian Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art are pretty tranquil. But through April 6, you’ll find them buzzing with contemporary art lovers reveling in the hunt to find the most famous, subversive, subtle works by Chinese painters, sculptors, and digital artists residing amidst centuries-old treasures in the widely popular exhibition, Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China.

The Met gave the Chinese art curators free reign to pluck sly works from the in-house contemporary collections created by Chinese artists over the last 20 years, grab monumental works from private collectors, and mount a tribute to how post-Cultural Revolution innovators parse the traditions associated with centuries-old art making in their ancestral country.

How do the hottest artists on the planet turn calligraphy and inked woodblocks into biting social commentary? Take a stroll through the second floor Asian art wing.

Inspired by Cultural Revolution posters, the letters in Wu Shanzhuan’s Character Image of Black Character Font (1989) have no meaning.

Inspired by Cultural Revolution posters, the letters in Wu Shanzhuan’s Character Image of Black Character Font (1989) have no meaning. Courtesy: Private collector, the artist.

Just past the balcony-bar area, the monumental 1319 Buddha of Medicine mural from Shanxi Province, China, casts a benign presence over the Gallery for Art of Ancient China. But just stage right, two larger-than-life works on paper preview how Chinese artists twist the “then” into the “now”.

Yang Jiechang’s Crying Landscape panels are painted in the beautiful, colorful “old school” flat Asian style but depict decidedly unbeautiful industrial and political subjects. Similarly, Qiu Zhirie’s Nanjing Yangzi River Bridge ink triptych features masterful, large-scale ink-brush technique but uses art-world icons to relay a disturbing story. It’s an installation triumph that will haunt you every time you pass through that room again.

Large-scale calligraphy by many of the artists makes ink-pot-and-brush tradition echo with gestures as large as Rothko’s. In the galleries with meticulously crafted “landscape” drawings and images, you’ll ask how this modern crew managed to produce scrolls with such heft and detail. Take a walk-through of the show through our Flickr site.

In 1995, Ai Weiwei corporatized a Han Dynasty (206 B.C. – 9 A.D.) earthenware jar.

In 1995, Ai Weiwei corporatized a Han Dynasty (206 B.C. – 9 A.D.) earthenware jar. Courtesy: M + Sigg, the artist

Along the way to back of the wing, the curators play hide-and-seek, putting Ai Weiwei’s “enhanced” Han Dynasty jar right in the aisle with the “unmodernized” earthenware vessels, and mounting Hong Hoo’s subtly colored, hilarious historical “atlas” silkscreens in a case that practically dares unfocused visitors to pass them by as they drift toward the Astor Court.

Hopefully by the time they get to the rock garden they will notice Zhang Jianjun’s crazy pink silicone rubber “scholar rock” right next to the real ones. Zhan Wang’s stainless steel scholar rock and Shou Fan’s side chairs are beautifully arranged in the Ming Dynasty room just off the Court, along with more of Ai Weiwei’s furniture hijinx.

After you’re done getting a feel for how the galleries have been transformed, go back into the Met’s exhibition web site to study the brushwork and details and get to know some of the artists.

Zhang Jianjun’s 2008 silicone rubber Scholar Rock (The Mirage Garden) sits in a 17th-century pagoda in the Met’s Astor Court

Zhang Jianjun’s 2008 silicone rubber Scholar Rock (The Mirage Garden) sits under a 17th-century pagoda in the Met’s Astor Court. Courtesy: Sigg Collection, the atist

Although the web site appears to be more plain-vanilla than jazzy, you’ll be surprised to see that the digital back-end of the Met archives lets you zoom into each of the paintings to see the handsome handwork of each of these wunderkinds from each thematic section of the show. You can even peruse the gigantic scrolls up close, section by section.

The video room, where art lovers can relax and watch a rotating collection of work, is a nice touch. The modern digital sign to the side tells you exactly where you are in the rotation.

Here’s a link to one of the featured videos: Get to know the constantly transforming cityscape of Beijing through Chen Shaoxiong’s 2005  Ink City, and see what happens when a contemporary artist paints daily life in Beijing with traditional tools and ports his day-to-night experience to video.

FIT Students Digitize and Unzip Biker Jacket History

The 1980 version of The Perfecto, which debuted in 1928 and is still sold by Schott Bros. Source: FIT

The 1980 version of The Perfecto, which debuted in 1928 and is still sold by Schott Bros. Source: FIT

The FIT fashion and textile grad students always pull out the stops on their shows in the Museum at FIT’s side gallery, turning mini-shows into main events, as in their current exhibition, Beyond Rebellion: Fashioning the Biker Jacket. The gallery installation highlights the jacket’s role in history, culture, couture, and street fashion, but the team makes its history come alive even further on their superb companion digital site featuring photos, videos, and the historical context. See the jackets in person and touch the leather swatches before April 5, and go play with the web site at any time.

The digital timeline begins with the birth of the motorcycle in the UK in 1902, but the fashion story starts in 1928 with the debut of the leather riding jacket, The Perfecto by the Schott Bros. It’s the template upon which all other cool looks – street, couture, punk, ready-to-wear – are based. It combines the swag of a WWI aviator jackets with the utility and protection needed by one of the original road warriors. Retail: $5.50.

From Rei Kawakubo’s 2005 Biker + Ballerina collection (leather, gingham, and tulle) for Comme des Garcons. Source: FIT.

From Rei Kawakubo’s 2005 Biker + Ballerina collection (leather, gingham, and tulle) for Comme des Garcons. Source: FIT.

In the first gallery next to The Perfecto, fashionable visitors were hovering to take in all the information in Paula Sim’s excellent illustrated deconstruction of the jacket’s iconic design features as if it were the Rosetta Stone. How and why did the details we know so well all originate? The asymmetrical zip thwarts wind, epaulets secure riding gloves during breaks, the belt keeps wind from whistling up your back, and zips at the wrist do the same for the glove-sleeve juncture. The extensive use of hardware was a desirable touch inspired by chrome and metal features on the just-taking-off auto industry. Want or need?

It didn’t take long for motorcycle-loving vets to start applying patches and insignias to the aviator-inspired jackets, just as they had done with patches, insignias, and pins during the war. By the 1930s, as shown on the timeline, club patches gradually became associated with “outlaw” clubs. Nevertheless, the popularity of motorcycle riding grew, documented by the curators with a 1951 Sears catalog showing a premium $33.95 leather moto jacket featuring a snap-off lamb collar and “built-in kidney support”.

Screenshot from the FIT show timeline

Screenshot from the FIT show timeline

As the curators note, the watershed year for this utility bomber was 1953, when Brando sported cuffed-jeans-and-jacket attire in The Wild One. Banned initially in the UK, the film (and Brando) became a sensation, giving mass audiences a pop-culture version of what happened in the 1947 Hollister, California motorcycle club riots.

The style went viral, pushed further into street-style consciousness by emerging rock-and-rollers and The King himself, Elvis. Take a look at some iconic 50s performances that the digital curators included on the show’s website. Scroll up to 1956 in the timeline to see Gene Vincent tear it up onstage and to 1968 to see Elvis rocking his leather look doing Jailhouse Rock in his NBC comeback special.

It's so Schott: Stefano Pilati’s Fall 2009 jumpsuit for YSL. Source: FIT, gift of YSL.

It’s so Schott: Stefano Pilati’s Fall 2009 jumpsuit for YSL. Source: FIT, gift of YSL.

In 1960, YSL became the first high-fashion designer to bring the biker look to the runway – a move that contributed to his exit from the House of Dior. Never mind, though. When he opened his own house two years later, he continued riffing on the bad-girl theme.  The rest was history, with plenty of rock musicians, high-end designers, and Vogue stylists following suit.

The curators feature New York’s own Ramones as the epitome of the 1970s motorcycle-jacket-wearing punk-music rebels, and present lots of album covers as evidence of the jacket’s enduring presence.

As for fashion from the FIT collections, the team has pulled together a dozen high-end interpretations, beginning with Mr. Versace’s 1993 gold-stitched biker jacket with pull-tab logo hardware and a more subdued version by Emporio Armani. Fashion lovers have plenty of other versions to savor from Ms. Herrera, Rick Owens, JPG, Rei Kawakubo, and others.

All the techniques rolled into one in Jean Paul Gaultier’s 1987 creation of leather, fake fur, suede, and wool. Note the trapunto, elbow studs, fringe, and pin stripes. Source: FIT, gift of Anne Zartaian.

All the techniques rolled into one: Jean Paul Gaultier’s 1987 leather, fake fur, suede, and wool jacket with trapunto, elbow studs, fringe, and pin stripes. Source: FIT, gift of Anne Zartaian.

In the far corner, the team offers a wall where you can touch and compare different types of hides and treatments used for jackets, marvel at the trapunto-on-leather techniques Mr. Versace and JPG used so extensively, and learn that patent leather was invented in 1811.

If you can’t get to FIT in person, browse through the fantastic exhibition site, listen to the nine-minute audio tour, and download the exhibition brochure. Better yet, do both.

As for the current popularity of the biker jacket on the Streets of New York, enjoy the slide show by the FIT student team, shot on the only warm weekend day so far this year in Williamsburg:

Armory Show Stars on the West Coast of Manhattan

The Artforum Lounge on the Contemporary Pier

The Artforum Lounge on the Contemporary Pier

For four action-packed days, the art crowd made its way to the West Coast of Manhattan Island past gritty lots, warehouses, the ball fields of Clinton, and high-rises-under-construction to enter a white, light-filled glittery expanse of painting, sculpture, and champagne bars at the 2014 edition of The Armory Show.

This year, 205 exhibitors showed off the best in modern masters and contemporary upstarts. Walk through it with us on our Flickr feed.

If you’ve never been there, just know that the art fills two full piers (yes, where the cruise ships come in). You may think the Whitney Biennial is big, but The Armory promenade is vast.

On the Modern Pier: Chicago’s Alan Koppel Gallery gave tribute to original Armory Show in 1913 with several Duchamps, but most of the work is post-1940 by Modern superstars. Right at the start of the pier, Galleria d’Arte Maggiori positioned a nice rough-and-ready Mattia Moreni in kind-of a face-off with a pretty primitive Basquiat nearby.

Dramatic paper collage and charcoal work by Elaine de Kooning with two Picasso ceramics at Vivian Horan

Dramatic paper collage and charcoal work by Elaine de Kooning with two little Picasso ceramics at Vivian Horan

Frankfurt’s Die Galerie gave NYC glamour-icon Louise Nevelson a mini-tribute, and several galleries featured Marca-Relli’s painting/collages.

Best on the Modern Pier: Vivian Horan’s booth, dominated by a large Elaine de Kooning charcoal drawing with collage, but populated by two small Picasso ceramics that most fair goers didn’t even see, although they were practically out in the aisle. You don’t see Picasso ceramics too much, and they really added a nice touch.

Second runner-up was the Armand Bartos booth with a sharp Kenneth Noland, Andy’s chicken soup can under glass, and a no-holds-barred Stella. In fact, there were multiple 1980s 3D Frank Stellas leaping out from walls, demanding attention. Besides posing with the soup can, lots of visitors were snapping photos of themselves in front of Mr. Stella’s work.

1949 Hans Hoffman oil at London’s Crane Kalman

1949 Hans Hoffman oil at London’s Crane Kalman

Welcomed surprises: Even though he taught most of the post-war painters in New York, you don’t often see Hans Hoffman paintings, so it was nice to encounter one of his color explosions at Crane Kalman. And we’ve never seen the two super-early skinny Lichtenstein sculptures at Barcelona’s Galeria Marc Domenech booth. Guess they were made in those lean before-the-dots years on his path to Pop.

Susan Harris curated a great micro-show of 20th century female artists, mostly works on paper (e.g. Georgia O’Keefe, Kiki Smith, Lee Bonticou), all contributed by gallery exhibitors.

Richard Long’s 1994 Merrivale Circle at the Lisson Gallery

Richard Long’s 1994 Merrivale Circle at the Lisson Gallery

Although you could hike outdoors to get to the second pier along the West Side Highway, most were guided through a wormhole and down a flight of stairs to descend directly into the booths from 17 contemporary galleries across China – a great landing into a warren of booths featuring installations (watch out for the Roomba!), and user-friendly exercise equipment that the PRC makes available in public parks for citizen fitness.

From there, you enter the Contemporary Pier area.  Highlights: the whirling handbag piece (with real handbags) by Egill Saebjornsson at Reykjavik’s i8 Gallery, Richard Long’s stone circle at London’s Lisson Gallery booth, the completely constructed entry to Boesky Gallery, and Claudia Weiser’s cool wooden sculptures at Sies + Hoke (Dusseldorf).

Nick Cave Soundsuits at Jack Shainman

Nick Cave Soundsuits at Jack Shainman

A great place to end the journey was at the Jack Shainman booth, with its dramatic contemporary art exploring expressions from Africa, African-Americans, and global artists — the Nick Cave soundsuits and Richard Mosse’s spectacularly dissonant hot-pink infrared photograph of a waterfall in the continually disintegrating, war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo.

Take a look at the highlights here.

Fair goer relaxes on modernist egg chair under the watchful eye of Dali

Fair goer relaxes on modernist egg chair under the watchful eye of Dali

Berlin Artist Loves NYC and MoMA Loves Her Back

Schauspieler (Actors) (2012-2013) welcome visitors to Isa’s show.

Isa’s Schauspieler (Actors) (2012-2013) welcome visitors.

Early in her art career, she zigged and zagged and eventually found inspiration in New York, but  then who hasn’t? Take a ride at MoMA through the career of an “artist’s artist”, Isa Genzken Retrospective, through March 10.

On a weekend with the bit-of-everything Biennial debut, why not also see work a sculptor who’s done it all herself — tried a little bit of everything on a career-long journey through computerized wood, concrete and electronics, resin, subversive architectural models with ready-mades, and mannequin-and-outfit art. Hey, she’s a one-woman Armory Show!

We have highlights on our Flickr feed, but MoMA’s digital interactive team has done an outstanding chronology of this Berlin artist’s invention over the past 40 years. Click through the show on the web, read the label copy, and enjoy the audio tour.

Weltempfänger (World Receiver) (1987–89) mimic the real thing in concrete

Weltempfänger (World Receiver) (1987–89) mimic the real thing in concrete

What we found interesting: Back in the late 1970s, she wondered what it would be like to design sculptures on computers and ended up making huge wooden sculptures that took collaboration with physicists and carpenters. To put her achievement in perspective, her 1980 sculptures were displayed at a time when the Mac was still essentially a garage project. Good going, girl!

Around the same time, she became captivated by electronics and began experimenting with collages, sculptures, and ready-mades with hi-fi equipment and wideband radio receivers.

Fenster (Window) (1992) installed under a MoMA skylight from which you can see the buildings outside.

Fenster (Window) (1992) installed under a MoMA skylight from which you can see the buildings outside.

MoMA’s installed a spectacular gallery populated with large, high, dramatic, airy structures that she made in the 1990s. Are they windows? Empty stretchers for paintings? Look closely and you’ll see that they are made of see-through resin. It’s all the more mysterious because their tops are reaching up to Midtown’s rectangle skyscrapers visible through MoMA’s own window. (You’ll feel like you’re in Stacy and Clinton’s 360, except it’s reflecting Modern architecture.)

It’s a nice gateway to what lies beyond – a room filled with work inspired by her first trips to New York in 1995-1996. She loved what she saw.  She collected mementos of her Downtown travels – invites to clubs, flyers, posters, gallery notices, calling cards – and made them into bright, colorful scrapbooks.

In 2000, she went on another collecting trip from her flat near Wall Street to pay tribute to the City’s world-class skyscraper architecture that so inspired her.

Genzken’s 2000 series that paid tribute to NYC's modernist architecture. A sly Tatlin touch.

Genzken’s 2000 series that paid tribute to NYC’s modernist architecture. A sly Tatlin touch.

But rather than rely on “substantial” materials to interpret hard-edge Modernist design, she cobbled together vignettes of toy cars, pizza boxes, and other ready-mades holding it all together with brightly colored adhesive tape. (As you walk through her tall plywood stands perusing her cityscapes, watch out for the tiny Hula-Hair-Barbie-wannabe toy standing along the narrow pathway facing the gallery wall.)

And be sure to look up. On the ceiling above, she’s showing a film shot on the noisy city streets, interspersed with tranquil river views of the Hudson.

There’s much more to the exhibit – commentaries on corporate America (featuring Scrooge McDuck) and her phenomenal we-are-all-actors-in-this-crazy-life installation at the entrance. You can’t really describe it.

And don’t worry if you’ve never heard of Isa before, as this MoMA YouTube attests. If you have 20 minutes, take a tour of Berlin, New York, and the Venice Biennale through the eyes of Isa’s fans — Lawrence Weiner, Wolfgang Tilmans, Dan Graham, and a host of German gallery owners, collectors, and curators:

Take a stroll through Isa’s work in person at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (April 12-August 3) and the Dallas Museum of Art (September 14 – January 4).

The Most Lavish Natural History Show in the World

Remember 17th c. Dutch tulipmania? JAR
Tulip Brooch 2008 made of
rubies, diamonds, pink sapphires, garnets, silver, gold, and enamel. Private collection.
Photo: Jozsef Tari. Courtesy: JAR, Paris.

Remember 17th c. Dutch tulipmania? JAR
 Tulip Brooch 2008. Rubies, diamonds, pink sapphires, garnets, silver, gold, and enamel. Private collection.
Photo: Jozsef Tari. Courtesy: JAR, Paris.

If you took the detailed observational field skills and plant-and-animal artistry of JJ Audubon and crossed them with the gold-and-jewels precision of a Fabergé master, you can understand the enjoyment, beauty, and wonder that await the luxury-lovers crowding into Jewels by JAR, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s tribute to the world’s most exclusive and reclusive jewelry artist. Meditate on his exquisite take on the natural world before it all goes back to the vaults on March 9.

Plenty of worshippers were wielding tiny flashlights last Saturday night, working their way meticulously through the darkened gallery perusing every detail of 400 tiny, sparkling, jewel-encrusted pieces by JAR (or, Joel A. Rosenthal as he was known growing up in the Bronx). He’s one of the world’s experts in the pavé technique and achieves subtle effects by painstakingly arranging miniscule diamonds, rubies, opals, and amethysts across gold, platinum, and silver surfaces.

JAR’s 2010 bracelet evokes snow on branches. Diamonds, silver, and platinum.
Private collection.
 Photo: Jozsef Tari. Courtesy: JAR, Paris.

JAR’s 2010 bracelet evokes snow on branches. Diamonds, silver, and platinum.
Private collection.
 Photo: Jozsef Tari. Courtesy: JAR, Paris.

Despite being one of the most sought-after jewelers in the world, JAR will not do commissions. Each piece is one of a kind, so the subjects that he chooses tell you a lot about him. Look closely.

The first case features bracelets, earrings, brooches, and necklaces fashioned into exact, delicate replicas of just about anything you can find at the New York Botanical Garden on a spring day — gardenias, roses, camellias, tulips, lilacs,  carnations, wisteria, pansies, and even wild oats. Across the room, you’ll see perfect oak leaves and acorns (made from diamonds, platinum, silver, and gold) formed into dramatic rings, cufflinks, necklaces, and earrings.

Growing up, JAR loved roaming the halls of the American Museum of Natural History and the Met, which shows. He’s made one pair of pendant earrings (No. 83) from iridescent beetle wings, married with tiny emeralds, garnets, and diamonds set into silver and platinum.

JAR
Butterfly Brooch
1994.
Sapphires, fire opals, rubies, amethyst, garnets, diamonds, silver, and gold.
Private collection.
Photo: Katharina Faerber. Courtesy: JAR, Paris

JAR 
Butterfly Brooch
1994.
 Sapphires, fire opals, rubies, amethyst, garnets, diamonds, silver, and gold.
Private collection.
Photo: Katharina Faerber. Courtesy: JAR, Paris

Right next to that (No. 84) you’ll see his 1981 Egyptian-style faience earrings with emeralds, coral, and gold — a 20th century take on the Middle Kingdom. He’s crafted stalactite earrings (No. 93) from diamonds and silver and found a heart-shaped pebble into which he’s set a perfect ruby surrounded by silver and gold (No. 283).

In the center of the room there are moon and stars pendant earrings (a tribute to Cole Porter) made of sapphires and diamonds (No. 274), and a box (No. 260) inspired by lightning (rock crystal and diamonds). JAR’s 1991 Phases of the Moon Bracelet, made of basalt, diamonds, silver, and platinum, makes you think he probably also hung out at the Hayden in his youth.

The finale to the gallery is the Met’s jeweled twin to the AMNH Butterfly Conservatory – a wall in which 22 of JAR’s beautiful butterflies take flight. OK, there are 2 dragonflies in there, too, but the overall message is butterflies.

A few animals are in the show, too. JAR
Zebra Brooch
1987
made of agate, diamonds, a sapphire, silver, and gold.
Private collection.
 Photo: Katharina Faerber. Courtesy: JAR, Paris

A few animals are in the show, too. JAR Zebra Brooch 1987
made of agate, diamonds, a sapphire, silver, and gold.
Private collection.
 Photo: Katharina Faerber. Courtesy: JAR, Paris

Every person in the crowd seemed to pause here in the dark to choose which creature was the most beautiful before entering the bright, unforgiving lights of the gift shop. A personal favorite was the 1987 Dragonfly Brooch (No. 378) with double-layered rock crystal wings.

If you love nature, wit, color, and fool-the-eye magic, you’ll like getting lost in the dark among the billions of points of light that JAR has created in his glittering universe.

Mutu Takes Art-Lovers on a Fantastic Brooklyn Journey

Le Noble Savage, 2006. Ink and collage on Mylar (over 7 feet tall). Collection: Martin and Rebecca Eisenberg. Image: courtesy of the artist. © Wangechi Mutu

Le Noble Savage, 2006. Ink and collage on Mylar (over 7 feet tall). Collection: Martin and Rebecca Eisenberg. Image: courtesy of the artist. © Wangechi Mutu

The Saturday night crowd at the Brooklyn Museum was intent on exploring every inch, sketchbook, plastic-wrapped ball, and cut-out supplied by the born-in-Kenya Brooklyn vision-artist in her one-woman show, Wangechi Mutu: A Fantastic Journey. Explore her world (installed right next to The Dinner Party) before March 9.

Wangechi has been turning out thought-provoking work for the last 15 years, and the show, originally created by the Nasher Museum on the Duke University campus, presents the gigantic collage images that made her famous with collectors as well as a brand-new video and on-site installation.

Ladies’ fashion lips, stiletto-heeled shoes, African totems, African animals, high-fashion eyes, and magical shapes and patterns are interworked onto large-scale pieces portraying Amazons that are pushed, puzzled, and probed in fantasy landscapes, surrounded by plants and creatures from different worlds.

She’s a visual virtuoso who knows that how things look from a distance are nothing like what you’ll see when you get up to her images very, very close. For example, when you come into the gallery, you see a wall-sized work that Wangechi created that looks like a she-centaur being chased by who-knows-what-in-3D flying into the frame. Up close, you’ll see that her “hooves” are collages of African sculptures and engine parts. The furtive creature flees atop a huge root system of “earth” created out of masses of folded felt. Take a look at how she assembled it:

Walking up to each piece, shapes shift right in front of you, conjuring mixed messages and forms associated with female beauty, African “otherness”, the fallout from colonialism, and the disassociation with the natural world. Wangechi wants everyone and everything to exist harmoniously, but her techniques constantly remind you of the dissonance and difficulty in achieving this.

Funkalicious fruit field, 2007. Ink, paint, mixed media, plastic pearls, and collage on Mylar. Collection of Glenn Scott Wright. Courtesy: Victoria Miro Gallery, London. © Wangechi Mutu

Funkalicious fruit field, 2007. Ink, paint, mixed media, plastic pearls, and collage on Mylar. Collection of Glenn Scott Wright. Courtesy: Victoria Miro Gallery, London. © Wangechi Mutu

In a 2007 piece titled Funkalicious fruit field, the far-away feeling is organic, dense, watery, and surreal. But when you get right up close, you’ll discover three jackals, a sacred cow, and a white rhino floating around, and you’ll start scouring the weeds for more surprises. Her female portraits can sometimes feel scary as you recognize the genesis of some of the cut-up images creating the illusion – medical textbooks whose components aren’t pretty.

The crowd was captivated by her first animated film, The End of eating Everything. A female-headed magical creature belches volcano steam from her misshapen body, eating everything in sight. Thankfully, it has a bit of a surreal, happy ending as hopeful, intelligent heads eventually prevail, framed by a cloud-filled blue sky.

Listen to a discussion of her work at the Brooklyn Museum via YouTube, and enjoy this beautiful 9-minute documentary produced by Arise Entertainment 360. You’ll meet this fascinating artist, see close-ups of her collages, and experience what’s so great about this show:

Exquisite Journey Through Time via Modern Venetian Glass

Scarpa’s striped Rigati e tessuti glass pieces (1938–1940). Sources: private collection; Carraro Collection (Venice); European Collection

Scarpa’s striped Rigati e tessuti glass pieces (1938–1940). Sources: private collection; Carraro Collection (Venice); European Collection

The gorgeous art and design show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Venetian Glass by Carlo Scarpa: The Venini Company, 1932–1947, is deceptive.

It’s a tribute to one of the top innovators in Murano glass, stepping visitors through more than two dozen styles and innovations that he brought to glass-making, but it also provides a brilliant introduction to the virtuosity that characterized decorative luxury items as far back as the first century B.C. See it before March 2.

Scarpa was inspired by 18th c. Chinese porcelain. Source: The Met

Scarpa was inspired by 18th c. Chinese porcelain. Source: The Met

Scarpa, a trained architect, began working as an artistic consultant at Paolo Venini’s glass factory in Venice right after he graduated, but soon his creativity and vision catapulted him into the job of artistic director and into the spotlight with every new collection he debuted at the Venice Biennale.

At the start of the show, you’ll see his Bollicine group (1932-1933) with tiny air bubbles incorporated into each white, blue, black, and green piece. In awe of the artistry of Eastern Asia, he fused this modern technique with a reliance on traditional shapes from one of his favorite periods of Chinese porcelain – the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), where ceramic artists crafted bold, dramatic single-color works. Check. Let’s take a page out of that book and put it to use in creating sleek, modern icons of Italian design.

At the far side of the circular Lehman Wing gallery, the Met curators have put together a shelf that fools you from a distance. You’ll think that the gorgeously modern works are all opaque glass masterpieces by Scarpa, but only half are. The rest are beautifully arranged works from 18th and 19th century China from the Met’s own collection.

Scarpa’s bubble-glass liqueur set (1935). Source: The Met.

Scarpa’s bubble-glass liqueur set (1935). Source: The Met.

Venini and Scarpa felt it was important to document the specific silhouettes that they created, and the Met has matched the archive shape with many of the modern glass works in the collection.

Just look at each label and wonder what the 18th century Chinese ceramicists would think of their shapes being transformed into glass marvels.

Working your way around the gallery, you’ll experience astonishing artistry resulting from dozens of technical approaches – for example, glass with rough, irregular surfaces (Corrosi 1936-1938), glass blown from thin slabs made of alternating clear and colored glass rods (Mecca filigrana 1934-1936), boldly striped pieces, and iridescent glass (Iridati, 1940). The variety and effects are astonishing and it’s easy to float dreamily through this art for art’s sake show.

Luxury Italian modern glass from the early 1st century A.D. Source: The Met, gift of Henry G. Marquand, 1881

Luxury Italian modern glass from the early 1st century A.D. Source: The Met

The curators also make use of the Met’s vast collection of ancient glass to remind modernists that the glassmaking tradition extends back nearly two millennia along the Mediterranean and Adriatic shores.

Be sure to look for the Met’s cast glass created in Greece between the 2nd century and 1st century B.C. and in Rome from the late 1st century B.C. to the early 1st century A.D. Glass was a super-high-end luxury item back in those days.

You’ll be blown away by how modern it all looks.

This mosaic glass dish may look like Italian 1980s, but it’s Greek from the 2nd-1st century B.C. Source: The Met

This mosaic glass dish may look like Italian 1980s, but it’s Greek from the 2nd-1st century B.C. Source: The Met

The Art of ElBulli’s Culinary Genius

Notebooks and menu drawings from ElBulli’s kitchen displayed in front of a mural of Ferran Adrià and staff in Roses, Spain in the most famous kitchen in the world. Courtesy: elBullifoundation, The Drawing Center

Notebooks and menu drawings from ElBulli’s kitchen displayed in front of a mural of Ferran Adrià and staff in Roses, Spain in the most famous kitchen in the world. Courtesy: elBullifoundation, The Drawing Center

If you weren’t able to visit the famed ElBulli restaurant on the coast of Spain before it closed two years ago, don’t worry. Pop down to Soho to meet the man, his team, and his legacy through The Drawing Center’s provocative show, Ferran Adrià: Notes on Creativity, running through February 28.

Even if you can’t taste the world-renowned creations, you’ll feel as though you’ve entered his kitchen during the six months per year that his team worked on R&D through up-close looks at experiments, plating, techniques, codes, inventions, and graphic treatises. Take a look at the installation on our Flickr feed.

Close-up of large working board of photo and diagrams document the plating and components of each dish. Courtesy: elBullifoundation

Close-up of large working board of photo and diagrams document the plating and components of each dish. Courtesy: elBullifoundation

Last weekend, the Wooster Street space was jammed with visitors eager to see glimpse the genius behind the magic of the famed elBulli – notebooks filled with diagrams of exacting platings of food, a room inside the gallery evoking elBulli’s Barcelona archive, huge storyboards pinned with drawings and photographs of artist-inspired dishes, and glass-topped tables containing inventions that created some of the most amazing food–art in the world.

Examples: the apparatus that turns cheese into “spaghetti”, the glass bowls used to serve diners “edible air”, or the cocktail device that literally sprays a dry martini right into a diner’s mouth.

240 plasticine models used to standardize recreation of the sizes and shapes of various portions of food used as components in his highly inventive, artistic dishes. Courtesy: elBullifoundation, The Drawing Center

240 plasticine models used by staff to recreate precise shapes and portions of artistic dish components.

And how do you keep the beautiful dishes consistent? By making little plastic sculptures so that the kitchen crew knows how to duplicate forms for delicate platings precisely on everyone’s plate. When you’re delivering identical 40-course dinners to guests who have flown halfway around the world to join you for dinner, precision counts.

Improvisation may have happened during the six months of the year that elBulli shut down to devote itself to R&D, but not so much during dining-season crunch time. Just look at the large wall drawing that Adrià sketched for this show — Map of the Creative Process: Decoding the Genome of Creativity. Organization is key.

Last weekend, there were no empty seats in the downstairs video viewing gallery, as visitors sat mesmerized by 1846, the 90-minute film co-produced by The Drawing Center, showing every dish Adriá ever served at elBulli (1987 – 2011).

Plasticine model of the 1994 Le Menestra dish composed only of textures, including cauliflower mousse, basil jelly, almond sorbet, avocado, and numerous other components. Courtesy: elBullifoundation

Plasticine model of the 1994 Le Menestra dish composed only of textures, including cauliflower mousse, basil jelly, almond sorbet, avocado, and numerous other components.

Photos of gorgeous, glistening food on plates, rocks, and wood lilted by to an opera soundtrack punctuated by the sounds of water lapping on the shore near the restaurant.  Plates of vegetables, seafood slices, sprigs, and flowers wafted by. What are those spoons filled with? What appeared to be “hatching” out of that egg? What was the egg? What was perching on a stalk like an insect? The effect made you feel as if you were seeing life on Earth evolve…biomorphic shapes surrounded by foam.

You could tell that these art-and-food lovers had absorbed the exhibit upstairs when there was a collective gasp of recognition when the real-life version of La Menestra (accurately and lovingly represented in plascticene upstairs) floated onto the screen.

Since he shut the most desired and famous restaurant in the world, Adrià has been hard at work making sure that his thoughts, processes, philosophy, and research were well documented and translated to digital form. Although it’s still in beta, he’s incorporating it all into an online encyclopedia of gastronomic knowledge.

Kudos to Brett Littman and his team at The Drawing Center for mounting a show that pays tribute to food-as-art and shows us how creativity, inspiration, and documentation (in the hands of an genius, or team of geniuses) can turn experiments in a kitchen on a small Spanish seaside cove into a global digital export of wisdom and innovation for the next generation of chefs.

Take a look at Bullifoundation’s promo video to see what’s in store:

Happily, this show is going on the road in the United States before it leaves for The Netherlands in 2016:  See it at the ACE Museum in LA (May 4-July 31), Museum of Contemporary Art in Cleveland (September 26-January 18, 2015), or Minneapolis Institute of Art (September 17, 2015-January 3, 2016).

Here’s a link to Documenting Documenta, a 2011 film about Adrià’s life, inspiration, work, and participation in Documenta 12, an international cultural festival in Kassel, Germany that happens every five years.

The Armory Show: One Ends, One Begins

Mr. Duchamp’s 100 year-old icon exits NYHS on Central Park West after seeing the show.

Mr. Duchamp’s 100 year-old icon exits NYHS on Central Park West after seeing the show.

Challenging, ground-breaking art from all over the world under one roof, fashionable crowds, and buyers looking for the next big thing. On March 6, the 2014 edition of The Armory Show opens at the Hudson Piers 92 and 94; but for art-history lovers, there’s just a few days more to travel back in time to experience the 1913 edition that inspired it all at the New-York Historical Society’s show, The Armory Show at 100: Modern Art and Revolution, closing February 23. Check out the spectacular online exhibition site.

NYHS has gathered together 100 of the great art works that rocked Manhattan 100 years ago downtown at the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington and 26th Street, where the Fighting Irish rented out their parade hall for a month to the newly formed Association of American Painters and Sculptors to show 1,400 works representing the latest trends in modernism.

One of the many postcards sold at the 1913 show’s merchandise table. Source: Smithsonian Archives of American Art

One of the many postcards sold at the 1913 show’s merchandise table. Source: Smithsonian Archives of American Art

Picasso, Cezanne, Matisse, Gauguin, and Munch were there in all their shocking glory – the first time many of these Europeans had been shown stateside. Take a look on the NYHS site and see what chaos ensued in the popular press. Even T. Roosevelt himself wrote an editorial about it.

NYHS not only shows us the work, but puts it all in the context of the times – the bohemian life in Greenwich Village, upstart galleries with an interest in the primitive and new, dissatisfaction with the confines of taste at the National Academy, and New York tastemakers yearning to make their mark on a world stage.

In the little low-light gallery next to the library, you’ll find all sorts of interesting ephemera – letters by the organizers of the show, registration cards with the insurance value of now-famous works, postcards for sale at the show, and a scrapbook of satirical telegrams read by the organizers at their celebratory dinner. This is where you can marvel at Gauguins selling for $8,100, Redon for $810, an oil by Braque for $200, a plaster Brancusi for $200, and Cezanne lithographs for $20 to $40. No wonder Stieglitz amassed such a great collection at these prices!

He had to have it. Stieglitz bought Kandinsky’s 1912 The Garden of Love (Improvisation Number 27) as soon as he saw it. Source: Metropolitan Museum/ © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris

Stieglitz bought Kandinsky’s 1912 The Garden of Love (Improvisation Number 27) as soon as he saw it. Source: Metropolitan Museum/ © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris

It’s interesting that the show would not have been such an affordable-art extravaganza without mega-dealer Vollard riding to the rescue, shipping crates of color lithographs and drawings to New York from Paris a scant three weeks before the show. Kuhn and his co-organizers devoted three galleries to works on paper. Works by Gaugin, Cezanne, Lautrec, and Munch flew off the walls, and when the show closed in New York, half of all the works sold had been supplied by Vollard.

Check out the price list and who-bought-what online. You can also probe the Smithsonian’s archive of Armory Show-related materials here.

The International Exhibition of Modern Art (a.k.a. Armory Show) installed in the 69th Regiment Armory at 25th & Lexington. Source: Smithsonian Archives of American Art, Kuhn family papers.

The International Exhibition of Modern Art (a.k.a. Armory Show) installed in the 69th Regiment Armory at 25th & Lexington. Source: Smithsonian Archives of American Art, Kuhn family papers.

The NYHS show is organized according to the original layout, including the grouping of Cubists with Mr. Duchamp’s iconic Nude Descending a Staircase, and the Fauve-Brancusi area – otherwise known in New York critic circles as the “Chamber of Horrors.” Looking at Matisse’s Blue Nude today, it’s hard to imagine that Art Institute of Chicago students found Matisse so shocking that they held a mock trial for him and burned it in effigy when the show arrived in the Windy City in April 1913.

And speaking of Chicago, the Armory Show was a huge success there – attracting over 180,000 art lovers, nearly double the attendance in New York. See the Art Institute’s gorgeous web site of exactly how everything looked in its grand galleries on Michigan Avenue. Everything really got the royal treatment. In turn, AIC can say it was the first museum in North America to show Picasso, Matisse, Duchamp, and Brancusi. No second-city status there.

Kuhn kept Picasso’s 1912 list of which artists should be shown. Source: Smithsonian Archives of American Art, Kuhn family papers.

Kuhn kept Picasso’s 1912 list of which artists should be shown. Source: Smithsonian Archives of American Art, Kuhn family papers.

Buy your ticket to this Armory Show before you buy one for the next one and feel what it’s like to walk through a turning point in American art history.