Folk Art Geniuses Take a Trip

Brooklyn’s Lion, carved in 1910 by Marcus Charles Illions, who worked at the carousel shop and later set up his own studio

Brooklyn’s Lion, carved in 1910 by Marcus Charles Illions, who worked at the carousel shop and later set up his own studio

The American Folk Art Museum knows how to put on a show and take it on the road. After today, the staff will be packing up Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum and letting the Brooklyn Lion, Connecticut’s Weathervane Elephant, Chicago’s Sideshow “Radium Girl”, and a baseball old-timer from Centre Street see what’s up in Davenport, San Diego, Fort Worth, New Orleans, Saint Louis, and Tampa. We’re betting that there will be crowds waiting to greet them.

The museum’s staff has brought out its best to show off four centuries of made-in-America maker art – furniture, sculptures, textiles, painting, and what-not. It’s genius that they’ve put the spotlight on “genius” because their collection is jam-packed with some truly remarkable artists, visionaries, and craftsmen. Get the full view on the Museum web site and some close-ups on our Flickr page.

The curators say that the United States was a make-it-up-as-you-go-along democracy, so they felt “self taught” was right in line with this unique Americana theme – having a vision and making a masterwork.

Empire State Building, carved in New Jersey in 1931 from precious cherry wood. Auriti's Palace is just behind.

Empire State Building, carved in New Jersey in 1931 from precious cherry wood. Auriti’s Palace is just behind.

Yes, there are some true eccentrics in the mix, but let’s momentarily focus on the People with a Plan from the section of the show on “Achievers”. Their works are immensely pleasurable and intense, and they’re right inside the entry.

You could spend hours contemplating the detail and work that went into the monumental Empire State Building made from cut cherry wood pieces in New Jersey in 1931. No one knows who created it, but legend has it that it was an ironworker that actually worked on that 13-month wonder and couldn’t let go of the achievement.

Consider The Encyclopedic Palace of the World, created by Maurino Auriti, an auto body worker who just loved designing and building architecture. Mind blowing. If his visionary campus was actually constructed, the skyscraper would be taller than that spire in Dubai.

The Encyclopedic Palace, created by Maurino Auriti, an auto body mechanic, in the 1950s from from wood, plastic, glass, metal, hair combs, and hobby kit parts

The Encyclopedic Palace, created by Maurino Auriti, an auto body mechanic, in the 1950s from wood, plastic, glass, metal, hair combs, and hobby kit parts

If you get to Lincoln Square today, you’ll enjoy one amazing treasure after another, but if not, check it out the beautiful web site archive created by the museum team for the tour. Browse by time period, theme, or artist.

And check out the Museum’s other brilliant online solution to letting you in on the world’s interpretation of these works. They’ve assembled all the media written and produced about the pieces in the show, which have often served as a springboard for scholarly research. This is a fun, serious treasure chest of work, so probe to your heart’s content — baseball folk art, mourning pictures, 18th century folk-art Washington portraits, and even more recent works.

What will it take to take this show of masterworks on the road? Last year, Auriti’s The Encyclopedic Palace was chosen as the theme of the  55th International Venice Biennial, so it got to go on its first trip to Italy.

Get a glimpse of where the folk art lives when it’s not on display and see how art gets packed to take a trip.

Baseball statue from 114 Centre Street and the sideshow’s Radium Girl banner from Chicago in the 1930s

Baseball statue from 114 Centre Street and the sideshow’s Radium Girl banner from Chicago in the 1930s

Dissident Artist Leaves Brooklyn for Second Time

The artist in Williamsburg, 1983. From his New York Photograph Series (1983-1993). Courtesy: the artist

Then: Ai Weiwei in Williamsburg, 1983. From his New York Photograph Series (1983-1993). Courtesy: the artist

If you haven’t yet trekked to Brooklyn to see one of the world’s most famous international provocateurs, go this weekend to see Ai Weiwei: According to What? and get to know the work of the artist who was incarcerated a few years ago by the Chinese government for pulling the veil off its bureaucratic repression and dishonesty. Closing August 10, it’s the last stop on the show’s North American tour – a fitting finale since Ai Weiwei first lived in Williamsburg when he moved to New York back in 1983.

You know him either from his collaboration on the famous “bird nest” stadium at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, smashing Han Dynasty vases as an art project, or from having bulldozers sent by the Chinese government to eradicate his studio in 2011 and being put into house arrest for 81 days – an event that made front-page news and sparked an international outcry – museums and political leaders took out protest ads, made videos, placed flowers on his public works, and called for his release all over the world.

Close-up of R itual, one of the six dioramas of S.A.C.R.E.D. (2011-2013), inspired by his 2008 incarceration. Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio. © Ai Weiwei

Now: Close-up of R itual, one of six dioramas of S.A.C.R.E.D. (2011-2013), showing his 2008 incarceration. Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio. © Ai Weiwei

Even before you hit the admissions booth, you’ll see his response to all of this – a series of six large, mysterious boxes that make up his work, S.A.C.R.E.D. You climb up to peer into them, right inside Brooklyn’s entrance. Inside, you’ll see everyday depictions of what it was like for him in detainment – eating, sleeping under the watch of the uniformed guards, and interrogations.

Upstairs, you’ll see an expansive show filled with thought-provoking works along with some black-and-white photos of his East-Village life in the 1980s, where he hug with Tan Dun, Xu Bing, and other artists-on-the-move and artists-on-the-run from a conformist Mainland.

At a distance, his sculptures seem like simple, cool contemporary installations. Read the label copy and you realize the subversive is at work. It looks like some found-art piece, but the room is actually filled with the full contents of a young woman’s home. Ai Weiwei found her and all her stuff on the side of a road after the authorities evicted her.

Straight (2008-2012) is made from 70 tons of rebar reclaimed from the Sichuan earthquake and hammered straight back into rods. © Ai Weiwei

Straight (2008-2012) is made from 70 tons of rebar rods, reclaimed from the Sichuan earthquake and hammered straight. © Ai Weiwei

A single room is devoted to Straight, a monumental installation made up of rebar, metal rods used to strengthen concrete calls. Except that this is the actual rebar from the 2008 earthquake that claimed 5,400 young lives in Sichuan Province when the schools collapsed due to shoddy construction practices. He bought the scrap rebar from those buildings, spent four years hammering to straighten them out, and assembled the rods into a 70-ton sculpture. Nearby, he’s listed the names of every school child – something that the Chinese government never did.

Performance art: dropping a Han dynasty vase (206 BC-220 AD), along with other historic ceramic pieces altered by a dip into modern industrial paint (2007-2010). Photo: C. Carver. Courtesy: the artist

Performance art: dropping a Han dynasty vase (206 BC-220 AD), along with other historic ceramic pieces altered by a dip into modern industrial paint (2007-2010). Photo: C. Carver. Courtesy: the artist

How and why does he do it? Find out by listening to Ai Weiwei’s answers to visitors’ questions. You’ll have quite an insight to his thought process, since there are 45 pages of video Q&A. Well worth the time to meet this brave, inspirational artist-activist.

He’s simply one of the top contemporary artists working today and you owe it to yourself to experience work that literally takes on the world. Kudos to the Brooklyn Museum for also publishing the amazing teacher’s guide, which asks students to ponder and think about news, authority, and speaking out.

Watch as the Brooklyn crew assembles Stacked, Ai Weiwei’s 2014 sculpture made from 700 bicycles, a comment on the transportation traditionally used by Chinese commuters until the dawn of the smog-inducing automobile. It’s all happening under the watchful Egyptian eye on Brooklyn’s main floor:

The Sistine Chapel of Fashion Virtuosity

Clover Leaf Ball Gown – a 1953 silk faille, shantung, and black lace sculpture by Mr. James. Part of the Brooklyn Collection at The Met

Clover Leaf Ball Gown – a 1953 silk faille, shantung, and black lace sculpture by Mr. James. Part of the Brooklyn Collection at The Met

When the Brooklyn Museum handed its fashion archive over to the Met in January 2009, the first thought that crossed everyone’s mind was the mind-bending masterworks that would now be sheltered under the protective wing of the Costume Institute’s crack conservation team — “Oooh, maybe the Met will do a Charles James show!”

We’re glad to report that the Met has done this master proud and given his humble admirers a fitting place to worship in its triumphant two-gallery show, Charles James: Beyond Fashion, which ends this weekend, August 10.

1952 portrait by Michael A. Vaccaro / LOOK Magazine. Courtesy: The Met;  Library of Congress

1952 portrait by Michael A. Vaccaro / LOOK Magazine. Courtesy: The Met; Library of Congress

Mr. James is credited with being among the first to perfect the strapless gown in the 1930s, an inspiration for Mr. Dior’s “New Look” in the 1940s, and the epitome of Vogue glamour dressing in the 1950s. He could do things with fabric that others simply couldn’t do or wouldn’t dare…well, maybe except for Madame Gres. He pushed silhouettes and fabrics further than most anyone could conceive and had the temperamental nature, drive for perfection, and uncompromising attention to detail that characterize any of history’s greatest, most passionate artists.

You always look at his creations and ask yourself, “How did he do it?” How did he get a spiral of fabric to stand out as it wraps sinuously around a sleek, strapless electric green silk mermaid dress? Is that sexy Thirties frock actually cut from one scarf?  How did he create virtual moving sculptures from the world’s most expensive fabric?

Innovative digital display tells the back story of Mrs. Hearst’s Clover Leaf Gown – too big for Ike’s inaugural, but just right for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation

Innovative digital display tells the back story of Mrs. Hearst’s Clover Leaf Gown – too big for Ike’s inaugural, but just right for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation

Long known for his innovative engineering, the Met came to a brilliant solution to explain the magic that Mr. James wrought over his decades of no-two-alike work – hire an architectural firm to show us.

Enter Diller Scofidio + Renfro, who have mounted these sculptures in silk inside an infinity-room gallery and paired each masterpiece with its own personal robot and humongous iPad-type display. Look at the dress and refer to the screen as the dress digitally deconstructs and is assembled again.

Cecil Beaton’s 1955  photo of Nancy James in the Swan Gown. Courtesy: The Met; Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby's

Cecil Beaton’s 1955 photo of Nancy James in the Swan Gown. Courtesy: The Met; Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby’s

The crowds waft from dress to dress in no particular order, clustering silently to watch digital magic, see where the robot is pointing, and view photos of Mrs. Randolph Heart, Jr., Gypsy Rose Lee, or Josephine Abercrombie in said gown. The robot with the 1954 Swan Ball Gown captivates viewers by moving underneath to televise close-up views of some of the 1,080 square feet of tulle that Mr. James used to create the oomph.

The mirrored walls of the upstairs gallery and the see-through dividers downstairs are emblazoned with the wisdom of the man himself. He seems to be talking right to you as you wonder how he made the fabric do what it’s doing (“It’s the air that’s sculpted, not the silk”) or how he thought about the world of fashion (“We who have been ahead in style have usually been ahead in our thinking”).

Downstairs gallery, newly named for Ms. Wintour, filled with James creations

Downstairs gallery, newly named for Ms. Wintour, filled with James creations

The second gallery (welcome back, ground floor Costume Institute!) displays his wool creations and sharply shaped cocktail wear. It’s interesting that James considered some of these genuinely more innovative than his often-photographed gowns. The curators have placed another of his “first” in a room at the back – the predecessor of today’s puffer coat. On loan from the V&A, it remarkably dates from the 1930s – his soft, sensual, silky answer to the boxy fur jackets that Ms. Schiaparelli was showing in Europe at the time.

We have to thank Mr. James for his vision and for making sure the Brooklyn design lab had so many examples of his masterpieces to teach and inspire future generations of Seventh Avenue designers. As he says, “In fashion, even what seems most fragile must be built on cement.”  Lesson learned.

The Met’s a great steward. Just listen to the love in the tour of the show by its curators:

If you have more time, hear what Zac Posen has to say to the co-curator about The Master:

Poison Packs Punch at AMNH Night at the Museum Adult Sleepover

The sleepover site under the Blue Whale

The sleepover site under the Blue Whale

The first-ever adult Night at the Museum sleepover at the American Museum of Natural History last night was a hit, thanks to the enthusiasm and star power of Dr. Mark Siddall, the curator of the fantastic exhibition, The Power of Poison, closing August 10.

Early in the evening, Siddall mingled with sleepover guests at dinner in the Powerhouse and later in a series late-night talks from the Victorian theater inside the Poison show where costumed performers normally show visitors how to gather clues to solve a period murder mystery involving poison. (Think “I’ve got poison in my pocket” from A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.)

After dinner, the adventurers, some in costumes themselves, made quick trips with their stuffed animals to the cots under the Blue Whale and bounded up the stairs through the low-light galleries to reach the shark IMAX, live animal demos, fossil tours, and Siddall’s Poison briefings.

The Victorian theater inside Poison. Photo: AMNH/D. Finnan

The Victorian theater inside Poison. Photo: AMNH/D. Finnan

You had to pass through the always eerie Hall of Reptiles and Amphibians (hello, Komodo dragons!) to enter the magical kingdom of the Poison galleries.

Once inside, you were transported to a tropical rainforest, with golden poison-dart frogs under a dome, huge models of dangerous insects, and a toxin-eating Howler Monkey lurking on a branch.

Beyond the tropics, the show morphed into a land of make-believe…or was it? Tableaux with a sleeping Snow White, the witches of Macbeth, and the Mad Hatter were captivating, with the label copy bringing you back down to earth by explaining the role played by poisons and toxins in these scenes and what exactly witches’ brew contained.

Supplies for the toxic witches’ brew. Source: AMNH

Supplies for the toxic witches’ brew. Source: AMNH

A Chinese emperor (the one with the terra cotta army, no less!) ingests mercury in one diorama, thinking it’s going to give him immortality. Wrong move. Glancing down, you find out that as recently as 1948, mercury-laced teething powder was still being used on babies in the United States.

A spectacular illusion along the way is a magical set of Greek vases whose painted figures came to life to tell stories of how poison helped Hercules and doomed Ms. Medea.

The Magic BookThe lively vases are a prelude to the exhibition team’s greatest wonder – the Enchanted Book – a gigantic tome where ancient illustrations leap to life as you turn big, think parchment pages. Visitors could not get enough of that magic book. Somehow the AMNH digital team replicated it on the website, so click here to take a look at The Power of Poison: An Enchanted Book and turn the pages on line.

Here’s a glimpse of one story from the belladonna page, providing the backstory on how witches fly:

A lot of Siddall’s spectacular, magical, immersive, theatrical exhibition explains the science behind venoms, the “arms races” in the natural world, poison’s role in children’s stories, and how to analyze clues in solving murder mysteries.

Check out the Victorian-style introduction to Poison with Dr. Mark Siddall, its creator, and get a little taste of what the sleepover guests saw and heard.

To ward off any bad dreams about toxins or creepy crawlers, a lot of the late-nighters nestled in to watch vintage Abbott and Costello and Superman films and post Instagrams from the cozy, pillow-lined pit in center of the Hall of Planet Earth.

See the Today show’s recap (video after the commercial).

PS: If you can’t get to this show before August 10, download the iPad app, Power of Poison: Be a Detective that allows you to experience the last portion of the show. It’s been nominated for a 2014 Webby Award in the Education and Reference category.

William Morris: Meeting the Needs of Artistic Shoppers

Detail of the large woolen Bird textile that Morris designed in 1878 for his home that was still being sold decades later.

Detail of the large woolen Bird textile that Morris designed in 1878 for his home that was still being sold decades later.

William Morris not only did his historic homework, but was able to channel his convictions about the magic of the Medieval to tap into what artistic Victorian shoppers wanted – stylized visions of nature and old-school craftsmanship, the way it was done in the “old days.” See the evidence in two Metropolitan Museum of Art shows on right now — The Pre-Raphaelite Legacy: British Art and Design (running through October 26) and William Morris Textiles and Wallpaper (closing July 20).

You’ll see how Morris used the historic textile collections at the Victoria & Albert Museum as inspiration for his modern wall coverings and textiles. In the little low-light gallery outside the museum’s textile center –many designed by his designer, John Henry Dearle — right next to the older textiles that inspired them both. You’ll be able to compare Morris’s own winding, intricate patterns with those woven by the 15th-18th c. Venetians, Germans, and Spaniards.

Voided velvet and silk from Venice, 1420

Voided velvet and silk from Venice, 1420

As our Flickr site shows, the Met has its own examples for you to enjoy.

Morris began designing in 1861, went through a couple of iterations of his company and collaborators, and finally landed at Hanover Square in 1917, where his workshop was located just a few steps from Liberty of London on Regent, another retail hotbed of the Arts and Crafts movement where many of the Pre-Raphaelites shopped. As Oscar Wilde once remarked, ““Liberty is the chosen resort of the artistic shopper.”

In 1923, the Met decided to scoop up all of the still-being-sold Morris textiles from London. What you’ll see in the show aren’t the originals, but likely subsequent runs of the super-popular block-printed decorating papers and yardage.

 

The Backgammon Players, the faux-Medieval, mixed-arts furniture collaboration that started it all1861, with the 1878 Bird wall hanging far right.

The Backgammon Players, the faux-Medieval, mixed-arts furniture collaboration that started it all 1861, with the 1878 Bird wall hanging far right.

The Pre-Raphaelite Legacy has paintings, photos, sculptures, and other works by a wide range of artists. Check out the early painted furniture that Morris did with Edmund Burne-Jones (1861) and the book, written by Morris in archaic English and illustrated by Mr. Burne-Jones at the height of Morris mania (1898).

Next to the furniture collaboration, the curators have hung Morris’s own Bird textile, an intricate woven wonder of woodland creatures and forest marvels. The detail will blow you away, but so will the fact that the original was created in 1878, but what you are looking at was likely manufactured decades later for artistic shoppers and décor enthusiasts who just had to have it.

Before LeBron: Historic Tribute to Basketball Pioneers

Claude Johnson of the Black Fives Foundation in the New-York Historical Society's "Black Fives" gallery.

Claude Johnson of the Black Fives Foundation, surrounded by memorabilia, in The Black Fives show at New -York Historical Society.

With LeBron James’s big announcement in the news, it’s a good time to trek over to the New York Historical Society to learn about how it all started – basketball, African American domination of the sport, and pro trades — in the fascinating second-floor show, The Black Fives, running through July 20.

When basketball really took off in the 1910s and 1920s, the top starting players were known as “fives.” Pre-integration, when African-Americans had their own teams, the amateur club starters were known as “black fives.” NYHS produced this show in collaboration with Claude Johnson, director of the Black Fives Foundation, who has been leading the charge to collect, document, and interpret the unknown or forgotten history of African American participation in one of America’s favorite games.

Recap: Basketball began in 1891, using peach baskets, as a game to keep youngsters occupied during long winters in the Northeast. in 1904, Harvard-educated Edwin “EB” Bancroft Henderson introduced the game to African-Americans through the public-school phys ed classes he taught  in Washington, D.C. Physical activity was seen as a way to combat TB and pneumonia, which were rampant in cities. Here’s a short clip about Henderson:

It wasn’t long before basketball came to Harlem, Cleveland, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Atlantic City, and Pittsburgh, where there were large populations of young African American men and coach/role models ready to start something new in public schools, churches, and colleges.

Charles “Tarzan” Cooper (1907-1980), the star center who won the World Pro Basketball Tournament championship with the Rens in 1939. Photo: courtesy Black Fives Foundation.

Charles “Tarzan” Cooper (1907-1980), the star center who won the 1939 World Pro Basketball Tournament championship with the Rens. Photo: Black Fives Foundation.

Johnson’s collection of original cotton jerseys, trunks, stop-clocks, balls, and shoes from the 1910-1920 era is amazing, and really brings you back to the days when basketball courts were surrounded by wire mesh to protect fans (“cage match”, anyone?). You’ll see original, handmade basketball shoes, crafted of canvas and kangaroo leather and a life-size photo of how these snazzy sportsmen dressed.

Since NYC gymnasiums were still racially segregated, African-American clubs had to find alternate spaces to play. Uptown, the rise of basketball just happened to coincide with the Harlem Renaissance. Solution: use a ballroom and combine dancing, jazz orchestras, and basketball.

Ballrooms and basketball boomed, with “black five” teams now having really nice home courts. In 1923, Bob Douglas created the first Black-owned pro team for Harlem’s 2,500-seat-capacity Renaissance Ballroom at 138th Street. Douglas christened them the New York Renaissance Big Five (fans called them the “New York Rens”), and promptly started offering big-time contracts to the best players in town. By luring top talent with lucrative pay, the Rens would dominate basketball for decades to come.

Since they couldn’t compete at first in white leagues, the Rens went barnstorming across the country to play white teams, averaging 130 games per season. Some venues were as large as 10,000 seats. Fans went wild during the Depression to see the amazing Rens. From 1923 on, the Rens won 1,673 out of 1,944 games, led by Charles “Tarzan” Cooper. By 1939, they captured the first World Championship of Pro Basketball in Chicago, defeating the top white team in the country, the Oshkosh All Stars. The Rens were hailed as the top team of the decade, black or white.

This 1971 Milton Bradley game , in the NYHS collection, celebrates the Harlem Globetrotters, who were a team  that started on Chicago's South Side

This 1971 Milton Bradley game , in the NYHS collection, celebrates the Harlem Globetrotters, who were a team that started on Chicago’s South Side

To learn more about this history, visit NYHS or go to the foundation’s web site and click through each section of the exhibition in the pull-down menu. In the Depression Era section, you’ll get the entire backstory on how the Harlem Globetrotters were actually from South Side Chicago and how even they got creamed by The Rens in ‘39. (The Globetrotters didn’t actually play a game in Harlem until 1968!)

Check out the exhibition video:

Here, you’ll see more about the Black Fives and Brooklyn, and how the Barclay Center is commemorating the “Black Five” era:

Last Day for Art & Industrial History: Kara Walker’s “Sugar Baby”

Crowds surround Kara Walker’s monumental sugar sculpture

Crowds surround Kara Walker’s monumental sugar sculpture

The crowds lined up yesterday on Kent Avenue all the way beyond the Williamsburg Bridge, almost to Schaeffer’s Landing, waiting to enter the rusted, aromatic, tumble-down confines of the old Domino Sugar Factory on one of the last days to see Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety, or The Marvelous Sugar Baby”, commissioned by Creative Time.

Today is the last day, so take a look at history in person, on our Flickr page, or in the video below.

Security was in full force to keep the Williamsburg bike path clear and drivers were slowing down to ask, “What’s going on and what are people waiting for?” only to be told by patient fans, “They’re lined up to see art!”

Once inside, the marvelous, gigantic Sugar Baby sculpture was on hand to preside over the far end of the abandoned several-block-long 1851 industrial space that once refined over half the sugar consumed in the entire United States.

One of her many attendants throughout the factory

One of her many attendants throughout the factory

As readers of Friday’s front-page article in The New York Times knew, Walker was again pushing the buttons with her homage to the brutal history of the sugar trade from the 1700s until today by giving us an experience that isn’t really all that sweet. Witnessing Kara’s witnessing is what had people – including some elderly visitors on canes — flocking to the sticky-floored, slightly ominous space. You could smell the sugar and molasses before you even entered the door.

Leading up to the gigantic white sculpture, people encountered all sorts of molasses-children, toting baskets full of…well…looks/smells like molasses. The experience evokes everything that Kara wished for…history, economics, society, race, abuse, industrial profit, and industrial scale.

Take a look at how it was made, and read about the history behind her thinking. Click on this link to Vimeo, look on the Creative Time website to see her sketches and graphic inspirations, and be sure to check out the various stages of Kara’s 3D digital sphinx up close.

If you go to Brooklyn today, expect to wait about an hour in line; once inside, there’s plenty to think about.

Astonishing Colorful Carved Stone Collections in The Met

Converse had to have this tiny green malachite sculpture of a teacher seated in a grotto.

Converse had to have this tiny green malachite sculpture of a teacher seated in a grotto.

The tiny show in the upper gallery at the far, far end of the Metropolitan Museum’s Asian Wing shows just how far two industrialists would go to collect eye-popping dazzlers from 18th and 19th century China. Colors of the Universe: Chinese Hardstone Carvings runs through the weekend.

The curators want you to now that intricately carved and polished stones from China’s Qing Dynasty go way beyond green and white jade to the blacks, tans, reds, oranges, roses, and blues of a wide variety of stones available to the Chinese 18th and 19th century artisans — malachite, chalcedony, amethyst, coral, lapis, and carnelian. See them all lovingly displayed in Gallery 222.

Look at our Flickr page, and check out other images in the Met’s photo gallery. If you can get to the Met, walk all the way to the end of the Asian wing on the Second Floor and take the stairs or elevator up. When we visited, there were no shortage of Asian tour groups filing through and snapping photos.

Who wouldn’t want to have a miniature Peanuts and Jujube Dates carved from chalcedony in 18th century China? Heber Bishop bought it

Who wouldn’t want to have a miniature Peanuts and Jujube Dates carved from chalcedony? Heber Bishop bought this. It’s just over one inch high. 18th c. China

The ancient art of Chinese stone carving reached its zenith during the Qing (1644-1911), known in movies and pop culture as the Manchu Dynasty. It was a time when emperors painted and wrote poems, the Peking opera was born, and culinary culture (tea ceremonies and gourmet dishes) rivaled today’s elevation of foodie culture. Scholars and the highly educated upper classes went to town outdoing one another with ink, paper, and acquisitions.

Qing craftsmen enjoyed lots of royal patronage, and any materials required to produce something fantastic – including colorful stones — were available. Although this show includes personal jewelry and a few carved pots and brushes used by high-end scholars, the focus is really on the “look at this” display pieces.

Tiny pendant in the Shape of a Boy, carved and polished tourmaline

Tiny pendant in the Shape of a Boy, carved and polished tourmaline

These fantastic pieces were mostly acquired by two powerful industrialists of 19th century and early 20th century New York. Colorful miniature landscapes, lions, kids, fruits, vegetables, and seafood were irresistible.

Several stunning pieces were bequeathed by Edmund Converse, an industrialist-collector who otherwise focused on big jade and European oil paintings. But even when his stuff went to the Met in 1921, the curators noted that the quality and delight of his assemblage of little colorful non-jade Chinese hardstones.

But most of what you’ll see in Gallery 222 was collected and given to the Met by Heber Bishop, an industrialist who began in the Cuban sugar business in the 1860s, but later went on to many other industries (gas, iron, and railways) and was one of the backer-builders of New York’s Third Avenue El.

Bishop could not resist a tiny polished lapis lion with a little cub peeking out. Its about 2 inches high

Bishop could not resist a tiny polished lapis lion with a little cub peeking out. It’s just over 2 inches high.

Like many cultured gentlemen of his time, his passion for anthropology and collecting found its end-point in many NYC institutions. He went everywhere and bought everything, including vast amounts of Asian textiles, lacquers, bronzes, swords, and ironwork, but he was crazy for jade. Eventually his collection surpassed any of the jade collections of European museums, and he decided to make a big donation to the Met.

Although there doesn’t seem to be any sign of it now, he made the donation on one condition – that the magnificent pieces be housed in a room that was an exact reproduction of his ballroom at home where it had been so lovingly housed.

Bishop’s room-size Great Canoe donation across town. Photo: © AMNH/R. Mickens

Bishop’s room-size Great Canoe donation across town. Photo: © AMNH/R. Mickens

Who knows what became of that idea 100 years later, but we know that one of Bishop’s biggest buys did get it’s own room across town: Any day of the week at the American Museum of Natural History you can admire the spectacular 64-foot Haida canoe transported from Bella Bella, suspended in the recently spiffed-up Grand Gallery on AMNH’s First Floor. Although it’s wood, it’s carved from a single piece, just like his little Chinese stones.

Little Quilts Honor Grand Central’s Big Sky

Center detail of Grand Prize quilt by Baltimore’s Amy Krasnarsky, Time Flies, But We Take the Train

Center detail of Grand Prize quilt by Baltimore’s Amy Krasnarsky, Time Flies, But We Take the Train

When you’re used to seeing large, magnificent quilts at the American Folk Art Museum, it’s a bit of a surprise to confront so many small ones as you walk through the doors of the New York Transit Museum’s annex to view the Grand Central Centennial Quilts exhibition (through July 6). But they’ve arrived from 15 states as part of a nationwide challenge to quilters to use some custom-designed fabric featuring Grand Central’s zodiac sky to say “Happy 100th Birthday” to our favorite transit hub.

A competition run by The City Quilter, a gallery and quilting emporium on West 25th Street, and American Patchwork & Quilting Magazine, inspired more than 80 quilters from 25 states to design, piece, stitch, and embellish creations that evoke the historic space. Everyone had to make a quilt to the same dimensions and incorporate the custom-patterned fabric designed by The City Quilter, “GCT Constellations” (the zodiac ceiling) and “Grand Central” with many of the terminal’s most iconic architectural elements.

Center detail of First Prize quilt, Grand Central Terminal Mandala, by Ligaya Siachongco

Center detail of First Prize quilt, Grand Central Terminal Mandala, by Ligaya Siachongco

You’ll see 30 of the best – three winners, nine honorable mentions, and other top finalists. Pop into the Annex and take a look.

The Grand Prize went to Baltimore’s Amy Krasnarsky, who used Beauty Blocks, sequins and trapunto to evoke the people who have trod those marble floors over the last 100 years. Amy worked in the acorns and oak leaves, which the Vanderbilt family chose to be their symbols and which are embedded in every nook and cranny of the lavish terminal. Once you begin looking, you’ll see them everywhere.

Ligaya Siachongco of Woodside, Queens, won First Prize by creating a mandala from the terminal’s architectural elements. Look carefully and you’ll see the exacting bead and applique work. The central clock appears “hidden” within a mysterious, secret space.

Abstract Second Prize quilt by Beth Carney of Yonkers, Chasms 16: Under the Stars

Abstract Second Prize quilt by Beth Carney of Yonkers, Chasms 16: Under the Stars

Abstraction was rewarded in Beth Carney’s lyrical interpretation, Chasms 16: Under the Stars.

She used sinuous, meandering stitched lines to evoke the passersby, train lines, veins of marble, tracks and tunnels – everything she sees when she travels down to the City and through the GCT from her home in Yonkers.

Hudon, Ohio’s Nancy Gary received an Honorable Mention, but achieved something quite unique – simultaneous views of the interior and exterior of GCT. Her quilt accurately conveys the dramatic interior of the terminal and those magnificent windows while also showing us the line-up of taxis along the 42nd Street stand. Everything is where it should be, including the black square on the ceiling – the tiles left by the restoration crew to show just how sooty the interior marble and zodiac ceiling used to be.

Kim Gimblette's quilt was one of the few to focus on the track diagrams and East Side Access

Detail of Kim Gimblette’s quilt, focusing on GCT’s track diagrams and the future East Side Access

Kim Gimblette of Ossining, New York, was one of the few that paid tribute to the track diagrams. She even added one in a different shade to represent the future of the station – the mighty East Side Access project that will eventually bring the Long Island Rail Road trains into Grand Central.

We couldn’t resist posting photos some of these amazing details here on the blog page, so go to our Flickr album to see the full-scale designs. The City Quilter’s Flickr page shows each of the artists next to their work. Click here to read each artist’s comments about their quilts.

Does this make you nostalgic for New York and wonder about what you’d create? If you have some time to sew, go to City Quilter’s on-line shop and order some NYC-themed fabrics. Get inspired by cotton yardage featuring the Big Sky of Grand Central (two color ways), architectural landmarks, the skyline at night, subway train cars, and – in case you wanted to channel a little Damien Hirst crossed with NYCT – subway dots of all the lettered and numbered lines.

Detail from Nancy Gary's quilt, featuring the taxi stand and so much more

Detail from Nancy Gary’s quilt, featuring the taxi stand and so much more

Sky High NYC Real Estate at Skyscraper Museum

A photo of the future view from an apartment in One57, with the Midtown zoning map. Source: Skyscraper Museum

A photo of the future view from an apartment in One57, with the Midtown zoning map. Source: Skyscraper Museum

People get pretty emotional about their New York skyline. Recent news has swirled around Comcast wanting to put its name atop Rockefeller Center (goodbye, G.E.), the soon-to-be obstructed view of Manhattan from New Jersey’s Lincoln Tunnel entrance, and the super-slim ultra-tall residential skyscrapers sprouting up along the south edge of Central Park.

What’s going up at Hudson Yards? Will more sky-high slivers be overtaking the Empire State Building? The downtown skyline? Thankfully, the Skyscraper Museum is walking us all through the plans in its show, closing this weekend, Sky High & the Logic of Luxury. In a fantastic on-line and in-gallery show, the museum lays out the thinking behind six super-tall residential real estate developments, gives us the historic context of tall buildings here, and introduces us to the architects and developers behind the trend.

Take an installation walk-through.

Stars of the show, left to right: 432 Park Avenue, One57, 111 West 57th, Four Seasons at 30 Park Place, 56 Leonard, Hudson Yards Tower D.

Stars of the show, left to right: 432 Park Avenue, One57, 111 West 57th, Four Seasons at 30 Park Place, 56 Leonard, Hudson Yards Tower D.

The show – both in the museum and on the web – begins with a definition of  “slim” skyscraper and the long history of super-skinny in Manhattan. The history goes as far back to 1889 with the super-tall (at eleven stories) Tower Building at 50 Broadway – the beginning of the first phase of super-slim buildings. The MetLife Tower, finished in 1909, still towers to the east of Shake Shack at Madison Square. (Note, however, that the clock face is the only original part of the exterior left after a 1960s renovation.)

Illustrations of the world’s tallest skyscrapers in 1899 to 1918, all in Manhattan.

Illustrations of the world’s tallest skyscrapers in 1899 to 1918, all in Manhattan.

After New York’s zoning laws went into effect in 1916 (the first in the United States), hotels started growing taller and skinnier (e.g. the Sherry Netherland in 1927, the Pierre in 1930). Residences didn’t get that way until much more recently with the post-1961 legal change that allowed developers to buy air rights and build really high.

Enter Trump in the 1980s with multiple residential towers covered in dark glass, and the super-tall building (One Madison Park) that went bankrupt during the recession. But now, the entire movement is gaining steam again, with prices, views, and amenities reaching higher and higher.

The buildings featured in this show (in case you haven’t looked up) shoot up between 50 and 90 stories. Some are clustered at the foot of Central Park (check out 432 Park Avenue, One57, and 111 West 57th). Some are rising downtown – Four Seasons at 30 Park Place and 56 Leonard.

Architect model of 111 West 57th Street soars over surrounding buildings

Architect model of 111 West 57th Street soars over surrounding buildings

And, of course, some will be encircled by the High Line Phase III, such as Hudson Yards Tower D.

Take a look at the fantastic, detailed museum exhibition site and get to know your new neighbors.

Be sure to zoom in on the chart on the museum’s web site, showing the history of Manhattan sky-high apartment prices. Also, check out our Flickr photstream of the museum show.

Want to see the future? Take a look: