All Smiles at The Mouse Museum on 53rd St

View of Oldenburg’s Mouse Museum/Ray Gun Wing at MoMA. Photo: Jason Mandella. © 2013 The Museum of Modern Art

View of Oldenburg’s Mouse Museum/Ray Gun Wing at MoMA. Photo: Jason Mandella. © 2013 The Museum of Modern Art

Is it the best museum in the world? One of the happiest places to be in New York right now is Claes Oldenburg’s Mouse Museum and Ray Gun Wing, currently installed in MoMA’s atrium as the scene-stealing companion to the Fifth Floor exhibit, Claes Oldenburg: The Street and The Store, which ends August 5.

You’ll want to take your time contemplating the Pop master’s 1970s curated collection of average, everyday stuff that he showcased inside a geometric mouse-head structure, originally a design he proposed for Chicago’s (then unbuilt) Museum of Contemporary Art.

In the mid-1960s, Oldenburg began collecting souvenirs, rubber toys, and crazy stuff he found on his wanderings and storing them on shelves of his 14th Street studio. An early idea was a display of artificial vegetables and other food with Fluxus genius George Maciunas. It never happened, but luckily some of the 1960s-style replicas repurposed here in the Mouse collection.

Inside view. On loan from the Austrian Ludwig Foundation, since 1991. © 1965–77 Claes Oldenburg. Photo by MoMA Imaging Services Dept. © 2013 The Museum of Modern Art

Inside view. On loan from the Austrian Ludwig Foundation, since 1991. © 1965–77 Claes Oldenburg. Photo by MoMA Imaging Services Dept. © 2013 The Museum of Modern Art

Oldenburg decided to submit his museum to Documenta 5, whose theme was “inquiry into reality—today’s imagery.” He washed off his dusty collection (you can hear the tape of that inside) and he and some friends organized 367 objects into display categories. For Documenta, the little building itself was fabricated in Germany.

What’s really inside? In a riff on the classification systems that were then in vogue by conceptual artists, Oldenburg “classified” all his fun stuff – landscape, human beings, food, body parts, clothing (including makeup), tools, animals, buildings (including monuments and souvenirs), money containers, smoking articles, and studio remnants.

Here’s MoMA’s take on the importance of this little museum and its Ray Gun Wing:

Now, enjoy a virtual walk-through to examine this tiny museum’s treasures, shot by Christian Zurn when it was on display at MUMOK in Vienna last year. Do yourself a favor and go see this spectacularly funny, whimsical collection for yourself.

Want to spend some time with Claes himself? Here’s a YouTube of the master recollecting his life in the Sixties, travels to LA with Warhol, and how his soft sculptures came to be, click here.

Shimmering Curtains of Liquor-Bottle Caps Hung in Brooklyn

Installation view in the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Gallery on the Fifth Floor. Brooklyn Museum photo: JongHeon Martin Kim.

Installation view in the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Gallery on the Fifth Floor. Brooklyn Museum photo: JongHeon Martin Kim.

They’re big, they’re from Africa, they’re hung in one of the most spectacular art spaces in the City, and you need to see them before August 18. If you’re going out to Brooklyn to see the Sargent show, be sure to see the spectacular contemporary installation, Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui.

The one-man retrospective of London-trained Ghanaian artist El Anatsui (his first) takes up half of the Brooklyn Museum’s Fifth Floor, but really shines under the skylight in the Iris and B. Gerald Gallery.

DetailYou might have seen his large piece hung in the African gallery on the First Floor of the Met or his installation in the 20s on the High Line, but in Brooklyn you’ll see 30 big, shimmering pieces arranged on walls and suspended under the dome. They’re all made out of scrounged metal material and wire from garbage dumps near his home, but the experience of seeing these big, beautiful pieces could not feel further from the source.

Hung from the ceiling, the metal-and-wire pieces look like open-weave textiles fabricated on a grand scale. Visitors wander through Anatsui’s hangings, silently gazing, stepping up to look close, and then move further back to wonder how he creates such a lightweight, effortless illusion from years of collected, flattened, punched bottle caps and stuff.

Earth's SkinTwo more galleries feature other large-scale works, arranged and pinned on walls, bunched like beautiful fabrics. Anatsui creates his gigantic constructions, carefully sorting the different colors of metal from the various brands of beverages. He says it’s like doing a watercolor wash, and when you view the work in person, you’ll be stunned by the variety of color, pattern, and lovingly arranged metal tapestries.

Here’s a time-lapse video of the Brooklyn crew installing the show, initially mounted at the Akron Art Museum. Anatsui says that he enjoys giving installation crews and curators a lot of leeway in how they hang his work, and he was a little surprised (in a good way) about some of the choices by the crew in Brooklyn. See for yourself. The big, shiny silver sculptures snaking across the floor are made of milk tin lids.

Amazing Baby Shoes Under the Met’s Stairs

Infant-size palm leaf sandals (only 2 x 5 in.) made at the Kharga Oasis, Byzantine-era Egypt (4th-7th c.)

Infant-size palm leaf sandals (only 2 x 5 in.) made at the Kharga Oasis, Byzantine-era Egypt (4th-7th c.)

Will all the excitement over babies this week (the Royals and the Fallons), you might want to sneak a peak at some of the most perfect infant shoes ever, on display at the Met’s micro-exhibit, Objects from the Kharga Oasis, right under the grand staircase just past security until August 4.

Back in the 1930s, Metropolitan Museum archaeologists found this pair of infant sandals crafted beautifully from palm leaves at an oasis in the western Egyptian desert that was one of the earliest frontier Christian communities serving the trans-Saharan caravan routes.

The shoes are tiny – only about 2 x 5 inches – and were made during the Coptic (Byzantine) era sometime between 300 AD and 600 AD. There are also 1,500 year-old linen tunics and caps for kids and adults nearby, too. It’s amazing that the clothing survived at all.

Totally wearable Kharga bracelet. Iron from 4th-7th c. Egypt. Source: Met

Totally wearable Kharga bracelet. Iron from 4th-7th c. Egypt. Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Besides building churches (and there are plenty of photos and illustrations in the show), the communities around Kharga were busy growing grains, sesame, olives, and grapes. They apparently had a huge business making and exporting wine to the thirsty Egyptians 150 miles east along the Nile and 400 miles northeast in Cairo.

Drawing upon a ceramic craft tradition that was happening at the oasis since Old Kingdom times (2600 BC), potters cranked out transport jugs for the vino (shown here) and decorated them with grapevine paintings. The show has jewelry, tombstones, and photos of early Christian churches, but the brand-new-looking baby shoes are really the stars of the show.

Among dozens of ceramic items dug up by the Met are grapevine-decorated earthenware jugs to transport locally made wine from the Oasis to the Nile and upriver to Cairo.

Among dozens of ceramic items dug up by the Met are grapevine-decorated earthenware jugs to transport locally made wine from the Oasis to the Nile and upriver to Cairo.

First Ladies of Spanish Dance at NYPL Performing Arts

PosterThere’s no way to cool off the Spanish heat you’ll experience at the dance-til-you-drop exhibition Flamenco: 100 Years of Flamenco in New York, currently in the last weeks at NYPL’s Library of Performing Arts at Lincoln Center (until August 3).

NYPL gives us videos, recordings, a few costumes, and other memorabilia, but mostly you’ll hear the castanets and rapid-fire footwork of the best of the best. Who knew that the first woman to appear in front of Edison’s movie camera was Carmencita, the Spanish sensation who debuted at Niblo’s Garden in 1889, and had a fairly good run at Koster & Bial’s Music Hall on 24th and Sixth Avenue. Her portrait by Sargent is at the Musee d’Orsay and her portrait by Chase at the Met. Here’s a link to Edison’s 1894 flick.

Carmencita’s fan photo (c. 1890). Source: NYPL Billy Rose Collection

Carmencita’s fan photo (c. 1890). Source: NYPL Billy Rose Collection

This first Spanish-dance craze was further fueled in 1916 by the arrival in New York of La Argentina (Antonia Merce), Spain’s first modernist dance artist who fused classical dance, regional styles, and Flamenco. A decade later, she returned with a full company and presented New York’s first full-length Spanish dance-theater piece. By then, Ruth St. Denis, Martha Graham, and Ted Shawn were already incorporating Latin moves, gestures, and rhythms into their performances, and La Argentina’s company had a spectacular run. Here she is in a solo.

Although there’s lots more to the story, one of the best parts of the exhibition features photos, albums, videos, and recordings of the fast footwork of Carmen Amaya, who Sol Hurok billed as “The Human Vesuvius” in her 1941 New York debut. She could kick the 15-foot train of her dress right into the air.Carmen Amaya Record Album

Amaya’s innovation is that she injected a bit of the Gypsy style into Flamenco and was somewhat of a Spanish-dance rule-breaker – sporting tight-fitting trousers to show off her super-fancy footwork. Superstars Dietrich and Hepburn were also wearing trousers at the time, but it was a first in Amaya’s field of work.

Good move, Carmen, as shown in this clip from Follow the Boys, a 1944 all-star vehicle released by Universal to boost morale during the War. It’s like watching a great jazz tapper at work. Move over, Riverdance people.

Source: Archival clip, Follow the Boys, from the DVD, Queen of the Gypsies, A Portrait of Carmen Amaya.

Virtual Visit to the Met’s Punk Couture Show

IMG_2416Too hot to get over to the Met this weekend and climb up all those high stairs out front? Stay in the comfort of your air-conditioned home and take this virtual tour of the Met’s Punk: Chaos to Couture show (closing August 14).

Curator Andrew Bolton explains the real-life inspirations for much of the iconic looks in this show –people from music, pop, and celebrity worlds, taking you through the galleries one by one, emphasizing the importance of recycling and deconstruction to the haute couture designers of today.

Our favorites: Rodarte’s crochet looks alongside those of Westwood and McLaren, McQueen’s faux recycled trash bag dresses, Chris Bailey’s spiked Burberry ensemble, and the great finale – Comme des Garcon’s amazing collection with trousers, mutton sleeves, and disassembled pieces of clothing brilliantly attached for maximum punch to the runway models.

Look closely, remember, and enjoy.

Brooklyn Museum Reveals Sargent’s Master Strokes

Sargent’s masterful 1908 White Ships. Translucent and opaque watercolor and wax resist with graphite underdrawing, Source: Brooklyn Museum.

Sargent’s masterful 1908 White Ships that he likely painted in a day. Translucent and opaque watercolor and wax resist with graphite underdrawing, Source: Brooklyn Museum.

Back in 1909, John Singer Sargent’s watercolor show at Knoedler was considered a knockout, drawing discerning crowds in awe of his sensational technique. The images of Bedouin life, Venice, and boats on the Mediterranean were so compelling that the Brooklyn Museum raced in to buy 83 (nearly all of them), forcing Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts to wait until 1912, when they could clean out his entire next watercolor show.

Bedouins

Bedouins (c.1905–6). Opaque and translucent watercolor, Source: Brooklyn Museum.

Walking into John Singer Sargent Watercolor on Brooklyn’s Fourth Floor, you can see why the two great institutions went crazy. With 93 of their finest Sargent purchases collectively displayed, it’s impossible for visitors to pick the most spectacular. They’re all exceptional – the Bedouin horses at rest inside the tent, Sargent’s niece wrapped in her cashmere shawl, the cliffs of the Carrara quarries, and the lush Medici gardens.

How did he make such magnificent work with such an unforgiving medium? How did he whip them out? The two museums asked a team of conservators and curators to put the works under the microscope and ultraviolet light to discern more about the master’s process – the sequence of paint application, the types of paint used, and whether he did a pencil sketch before applying paint to paper.

The team gives visitors insights to the scientific process used — an unusual twist at the back of the gallery that visitors poured through enthusiastically. Brooklyn’s digital team installed a 30-second video in which paper conservator Toni Owen asks visitors what more they’d like to know. Here’s the site where she answers with comments on Sargent’s use of gouache, soft-wax resist, yellow paints, and the difficulties of explaining false-color infrared imaging (FCIR) in limited-space wall text in the gallery.

Carrara: A Quarry (1911). Translucent and opaque watercolor and wax resist with graphite underdrawing, Photo: © 2013 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Carrara: A Quarry (1911). Translucent and opaque watercolor and wax resist with graphite underdrawing, Photo: © 2013 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

You’ll learn that Mr. Sargent painted very fast, did not rely on photographs, and did at least one watercolor sitting in a gondola.

Brooklyn’s integrating much more media into its visual art shows, and they’ve hit upon a winning combination here. Some videos show the gardens that were the subjects of Sargent’s work in Italy. Others explain the techniques that Sargent used in the painting next to it.

Listen as artist Monika deVries Gohlke reflects on the type of day Mr. Sargent might have experienced working on his 1908 Melon Boat painting. Watch as she prepares the watercolors, selects his colors, chooses his brushes, and attempts to recreate his “jungle” of shapes and impressions. Does her painting look like his? You be the judge and go get your own paintbox.

Warhol, The Queen, Madonna, and The Scream

Warhol’s 1984 silkscreen, The
Scream
(After
Munch). Source: Part of the founding collection contributed
by
The
Andy
Warhol
Foundation
for
the
Visual Arts to The Andy Warhol Museum;  ©2013
AWFVA/ ARS, NY

Warhol’s 1984 silkscreen, The
Scream
(After
Munch). Source: Part of the founding collection contributed
by
The
Andy
Warhol
Foundation
for
the
Visual Arts to The Andy Warhol Museum; ©2013
AWFVA/ ARS, NY

Andy is kicking Mr. Munch’s Scream up a notch on Park Avenue, all to the delight of the Queen of Norway, in the Scandinavia House’s stellar exhibition, Munch, Warhol, and the Multiple Image through July 27.

Actually, Queen Sonja herself was one of Andy’s subjects in his Celebrity series, so it’s no wonder that she flew in to preside over Mr. Munch’s 150th birthday at a New York show where his most iconic work is appropriated and reimagined by the Master of Pop.

Andy first encountered Munch’s woodcuts in Oslo in the 1970s, and took home reproductions. So, when a now-defunct 57th Street gallery invited him to their 1982 Munch exhibition and offered him a commission to make 15 paintings and 30 silkscreens about the work, Warhol accepted.

The Scream was so iconic, Andy considered it almost a “ready made”, as ripe as any other pop culture image for his flat, unemotional, Day-Glo serial treatment. Ditto for Munch’s Madonna and Self Portrait with Skeleton Arm. He photographed reproductions of four Munch works, blew them up, traced on them, and rephotographed what he had traced. And then he turned it all over to a master silkscreen printer with suggested colors. So totally Andy.

Room full of Munch Madonna prints seen from gallery with Warhol silkscreens of same. Eileen Travell’s photo for Scandinavia House/The American-Scandinavian Foundation, 2013

Room full of Munch Madonna prints seen from gallery with Warhol silkscreens of same. Eileen Travell’s photo for Scandinavia House/The American-Scandinavian Foundation, 2013

With all the commotion earlier this year at MoMA over The Scream (like fans along the red carpet, jockeying to get their photographs taken with the world’s-most-anxious celebrity-on-a-bridge), this show deserves similar crowds. Because Warhol’s prints were never published, you’re seeing one-of-a-kind prints that are dispersed around the world and rarely on view.

The curators have also brought together (with the help of The Munch Museum in Norway) multiples created by Munch. It’s fascinating to compare the five controversial Madonna prints side by side, walk into the first Warhol gallery, turn around, and see both Munch and Warhol Madonna interpretations right in front of you. It’s a smart, immensely satisfying installation.

You’ll enjoy listening to what the Queen had to say (first 8 minutes of the video) and see photos of her younger self at The Factory with Andy and Mr. Rosenquist.

Oh, and the photo below isn’t a disco queen from Studio 54. It’s Andy’s wall-sized reinterpretation of Munch’s The Brooch, Eva Mudocci, a lithograph originally done in 1903 to celebrate the beautiful, talked-about violinist.

The last 15 minutes of the video features the curator showing the work of the two Modern masters who knew how to leverage print technology and multiples into fame, fortune, and icon status.

Matthew Barney Digs Up Morgan Treasures

Barney’s show entrance at the Morgan, as photographed by Graham S. Haber. Courtesy: Matthew Barney, Morgan Library.

Barney’s storyboard case for River of Fundament in the entrance to his show at the Morgan. Photo: Graham S. Haber. Courtesy: Matthew Barney, Morgan Library.

The brilliant, perplexing, and mysterious Matthew Barney has combed through the Morgan’s collection to curate mini-collections for the first-ever retrospective of his drawings — Subliming Vessel: The Drawings of Matthew Barney (on view through September 8).

Whether you enjoy his work or not, you can’t deny that he and his curators did a bang-up job of presenting his works-on-paper. Get over to enjoy highlights of the Morgan’s collection in an entirely new way – a mash-up of controversial contemporary work with infrequently seen gems, many collected by J.P. himself.

Barney’s
CREMASTER 4: Manx Manual (1994-95)
Graphite, lacquer, and petroleum jelly on paper framed in cast epoxy, prosthetic plastic, and Manx tartan. Source: Private collection. Courtesy: Matthew Barney, Gladstone Gallery.

Barney’s
CREMASTER 4: Manx Manual (1994-95)
Graphite, lacquer, and petroleum jelly on paper framed in cast epoxy, prosthetic plastic, and Manx tartan. Source: Private collection. Courtesy: Matthew Barney, Gladstone Gallery.

There’s real fun to be had by examining the flat waist-high cases in chronological order (clue: they are marked with the letters A to O). Your walk will take you through Barney’s storyboards for his early works, through Cremaster, and to his current project – River of Fundament, a seven-act opera combining film and live performance.

The cases contain stuff from the Morgan Library interspersed with the props, photos, drawings, and other images that inspired Barney’s extravaganzas. In order to enjoy this to the max, take a guidebook (in a stack right inside the gallery door). Even if you’re a Barney connoisseur, you’ll need the gallery guide to ID the great picks from the Library.

Case C is very satisfying to anyone who’s followed Barney’s career from his satyr-prancing videos at his first Biennials – you’ll see an 18th-century satyr drawing from Italy and the 1290 Persian blockbuster, The Benefits of Animals, opened right to the page with two crazy mountain goats. (And, yes, they’re standing in trees!).

Barney’s Ancient Evenings: Ba Libretto, 2009. Ink, graphite and gold leaf on paperback copy of Norman Mailer’s Ancient Evenings, on carved salt base, in nylon and acrylic vitrine. Courtesy: Marguerite Steed Hoffman and Matthew Barney

Barney’s Ancient Evenings: Ba Libretto, 2009. Ink, graphite and gold leaf on paperback copy of Mailer’s Ancient Evenings, on carved salt base, in nylon and acrylic vitrine. Courtesy: Marguerite Steed Hoffman and Matthew Barney

The Cremaster 2 storyboard in Case F has an Goya drawing and the original edition of one of New York’s most popular entertainments – Joseph Smith’s 1830 The Book of Mormon. (Trust me, you won’t find it without the guidebook.)

Cases K-O contain the River of Fundament storyboards, which were inspired by Norman Mailer’s book, Ancient Evenings, Egyptian reincarnation myths, and the Chrysler bankruptcy. Alongside Barney’s props and things, you’ll glimpse sky burials documented by Curtis, Whitman’s original Leaves of Grass, and a Diane Arbus portrait of Mailer.

Look at the slide show from the exhibition, but know that Barney’s drawings are best enjoyed in person. They’re tiny, detailed, and often disturbing. With many references to Egyptian deities, Renaissance drawings, and cars, each is a tiny world unto itself.

Will you ever understand what those iconic self-lubricating frames are about? It doesn’t matter. It’s just nice to dive into an alternate, mysterious universe and simply swim around in Barney’s non-linear excavation of similarly provocative illuminations and page-turners from Mr. Morgan’s stacks.

Think…Download…Make at New Museum

Open-source vacuum assembled from downloadable instructions, a red thermos, hardware store items, and 3D printed parts

Open-source vacuum assembled from downloadable instructions, a red thermos, hardware store items, and 3D printed parts

If you haven’t been exposed to the DIY (Do It Yourself) movement, drop into the New Museum’s Adhocracy show at its Studio 231 storefront this weekend.

It’s a 25-project showcase of cutting-edge design solutions, including DIY as well as some film, video, low-tech high tech, and crazy, new approaches to making stuff in the 21st century.

The DIY sections that we particularly liked were the household appliances made by downloading Open Source instructions, manufacturing components with 3D printers, and buying the remaining bits and pieces at the hardware store. Why spend money on a Dyson when you can build your own vacuum cleaner from a thermos container and other scrounged parts? Each solution is more fascinating than the next, with displays of OS-compatible coffee grinders, water boilers, and bicycle parts and their instructions.

Larisa Daiga uses Unfold's Stratigraphic Manufactury (3D ceramic device) to make coil pots from Gowanus sludge

Larisa Daiga uses Unfold’s Stratigraphic Manufactury (3D ceramic device) to make coil pots from Gowanus sludge

Other displays highlighted the best inventions from Kickstarter (e.g. Central Standard Time wristbands and iPod Nano multimedia wristwatches) and solutions for using the Arduino microcontroller – lion tracking collars in Kenya and an earthquake-sensing device created and marketed by a 14-year old in Chile. It tweets you when there’s a tremor. Click here to see some photos, and if you feel like making something, explore your options on Adafruit..

Right in the storefront window, NYC ceramicist Larisa Daiga uses a ceramic 3D printer to make a tiny coiled pot. Larisa told us that she couldn’t touch the porcelain, because it was actually sludge from Brooklyn’s beloved Superfund site, the Gowanus, and loaded with biotixins.

Daiga felt it was interesting to be part of Unfold’s Stratigraphic Manufactury project, making coil pots (one of the oldest technologies of humankind) with toxic waste. Days spent in the window of Adhocracy let her contemplate how sludge might be reused and recycled instead of being trucked and dumped into unsuspecting landfills in the rest of the country. View her Adhocracy output and see the machine at work on her Flickr feed.

Another DIY favorite from Helsinki is featured in the show — Restaurant Day, when everyone in the city has permission to open their own restaurant on the curb. It’s one step beyond Smorgasburg.

 

Founders in Beta

Founders OnlineThere’s no better way to celebrate the Fourth of July weekend than spending a little time with Founders Online, a collaboration between the National Archives and the University of Virginia Press, featuring posts from six of our most popular founding fathers – Washington, Franklin, Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison.

The National Historical Publication and Records Commission (within the Archives) decided to liberate everyone from trekking to libraries by putting all of the diary posts, letters, and day-to-day chronicles of the Founders online.

You can go right to the earliest drafts of Tom J’s Declaration, and read young Washington’s journal entries on his first trip over the mountains of western Virgina in 1747.

The site, still in beta, currently has over 119,000 searchable documents – who wrote to whom and what the daily buzz was about in the colonial times. You can search by person, sender, recipient, concept, or era.

Jump in and see what Franklin’s or Hamilton’s revolutionary days were like, or ramble through the early White House years. It will be like scanning 18th century Twitter feeds or FB timelines of your favorite founders.

(And speaking of beta, check out Tom J’s copy of his unedited Declaration in the new NYPL Digital Collection.)