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Arts and technology writer who is in the know about the latest and greatest that the City has to offer, what's going on in the Cloud, and the fossils that are being dug up around the world

Modern Japanese Design from Humble Plants Blossoms at Met

2017 immersive bamboo sculpture by Tanabe Chikuunsai IV

Ancient grasses are the medium through which master craftsmen have made eye-popping, intricate statements, as evidenced in the Metropolitan’s exhibition, Japanese Bamboo Art: The Abbey Collection, running until February 4.

The show opens with a dynamic, undulating tiger-bamboo sculpture installation by Tanabe Chikuunsai IV, a modernist descended, trained, and influenced by three previous generations of acclaimed Japanese bamboo innovators.

In fact, families passing on the secrets and traditions in three different regions of Japan is a featured theme of the show. In many cases, work by fathers and sons is shown side-by-side, such as the intricate works by Tanabe’s own great-grandfather and grandfather, and the stunning sculptures by Honma Hideaki and his father, Honma Kazuaki.

Mid-19th c. hanging cicada-shaped basket collected by Moore

The show showcases contemporary and 20th-century bamboo art from the Abbey Collection (which will eventually be given to the Met) alongside 19th-century pieces collected and donated to the Met in different eras.

For example, the Met received a bonanza of Asian art from Tiffany’s artistic director of silver, Edward Moore – over 80 textiles, bamboo baskets, metal work, and ceramics – from his overseas journeys in the 1860s and 1870s.

Beautiful gold-and-lacquered bamboo pieces that he collected are displayed in this show, alongside kimonos, painted screens, and netsuke-toggled containers featuring images of bamboo growing wild.

Modern lines of 1940s Peony Basket by Maeda Chikubosai

There’s also a unique bamboo and rattan bowler hat from the 1880s, courtesy of the Abby Collection, which injects a bit of the “Pacific Overtures” feel to the show, demonstrating how Western influences began to creep into Japan and push artists, such as Shokosai, to use traditional materials in contemporary life. In this case, snappy items sported by fashionable celebrities.

Despite the centuries in which craftsmen shaped large and small specimens of some of the more than 600 species of these grasses, bamboo work remained classified as “craft” versus “art.”

By 1929, however, the up-and-coming generation of bamboo innovators finally accomplished what their artistic ancestors had not – full recognition by the Japanese art hierarchy that their creations were on a par with painting, other types of sculpture, and fashion.

2014 sculpture by Honma Hideaki next to 1983 panel by his father, Honma Kazuaki

An example is Sakaguchi Sounsai’s fruit tray, one of the first pieces of bamboo works accepted into a government-organized national art exhibition. Kudos to the Abbey Collection and the Met for showing how Japanese artists took a humble plant and made it blossom into a dramatic, rich, intricate statement reflecting modern times.

Take a look at everything on the Met’s website and our favorites on Flickr, which shows some of the Moore and Abbey-collected works in chronological order.

To get an idea of the skill involved in transforming these natural materials, watch this time-lapse video of The Gate, the dynamic, undulating installation dominating the show’s entrance, created by a team led by bamboo artist Tanabe Chikuunsai IV.

And listen to Hiroshi Sugimoto, the famed photographer, looks at Tosa Mitsunobu’s 15th-century Bamboo in the Four Seasons screen, also included in this show at the Met, describing how a two-dimensional work brilliantly uses nature to convey the passage of time.

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MoMA Picks Fashion Items with Modern Impact

1970 looks envisioned by Rudi Gernreich people in the Year 2000

The MoMA design department came up with a list 111 clothing items that have had an impact on the world and is presenting them for your reflection through January 28  in Items: Is Fashion Modern?

Capri pants, graphic T-shirts, jumpsuits, backpacks…they’re easy to identify, but do you really know where they came from or where they’re going?

The design team dug deep, interviewing experts, commissioning new designs, and taking you on quite a journey from what seems familiar but has deeper implications and meanings.

Each item on the list gets more-or-less the same treatment: familiar examples, a little historic context, audio by experts intimately familiar with the prototype and its societal significance, and maybe videos providing a little more background. (Go, Beatnik video, next to the felt berets and black turtlenecks!)

Close-up of MoMA-commissioned jumpsuit by Richard Malone, made from recycled acrylics

There are sections on shaping undergarments, luxury items, expedition wear, and power dressing. Check out our Flickr album of some of our favorites, and be sure to check out the video of the graphic T-shirt installation.

The MoMA team gets the digital gold star for using sound, video, social media, and social platforms to explore each item on the list. Hear the many voices who contributed to the show – designers, curators, fashionistas – on MoMA’s terrific audio tour.

For example, everyone knows “the little black dress” but MoMA calls it “a concept” and then displays everything from Gabby Chanel’s original 1920s bugle-beaded innovation to Gianni’s safety-pin number to subversive top-shorts combos for a hip-hop crowd by Rick Owens.

It’s nice to see all the versions while listening to FIT’s Valerie Steele on the audio tour and to watch the gallery video of how the laser-cut nylon pieced dress by Nervous System symbolizes the LBD’s future.

1997 A-POC Queen by Miyake Design Studio — one tubular piece of cloth knitted by an industrial machine from one thread.

And as for the future, there are plenty of visions: Gernreich’s 1960s take on what people would be wearing in the Year 2000. Donna’s Seven Easy Pieces from the Eighties are still being treasured as components for a totally modern dressing solution.

It’s remarkable to think that the Miyake Design Studio’s innovative, red-hot one-thread tubular computer-knit everything-in-one piece first debuted in 1997 and that paper shift-dresses weren’t born yesterday.

A soft, doe-colored Halston Ultrasuede shirtdress is featured in one of the final galleries, but there’s nothing about its demure look to suggest the societal fashion mania that ensued during the Seventies for this washable suede-like innovation.  It was one of the decade’s had-to-have items.

There’s plenty of flash, surprise, and history to go around. Sign up for MoMA’s free course on Fashion as Design on Coursera and poke through MoMA’s YouTube channel for insights on Saville Row suits, fashion lifecycles, digital dresses, and more.

Take a walk with MoMA’s design curator Paola Antonelli though this enjoyable, provocative show:

Also, MoMA produced a set of videos to provide a behind-the-scenes look at some of the garments commissioned especially for the show, such as futuristic biker jacket by Asher Levine and James DeVito. Step into their atelier as they enhance their design:

Divine Michelangelo at The Met

Detail of Zuccaro’s 1600 Portrait of Michelangelo as Moses

Crowds at the Metropolitan Museum of Art have been jamming into the galleries on the second floor to get a close-up look at rarely seen works by the Divine Mr. M – drawings, sketches, and sculptures pulled together from 48 institutions from across the world, including the Louvre and Queen Elizabeth’s own private collection.

Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer, in New York through February 12, is a blockbuster that tells the story of the master’s life, loves, teachers, students, and clients from his early-prodigy works through portraits of the legend late in life through 200 works, reunited here in a once-in-a-lifetime show.  See some of our favorites on our Flickr site.

Although Michelangelo thought of himself primarily as a sculptor, the assembled works principally illustrate his mastery in two dimensions – red chalk and pen-and-ink sketches where sculptural illusions are built up on handmade rag paper in studies of nude models that would later make it into larger commissioned works.

Pen-and-ink study of a model for the 1504 Battle of Cascina

Although he burned most of this prep sketches, the 133 drawings that you see in the Met’s show evoke a studio-lab that might not be so dissimilar to Warhol’s Factory – assistants everywhere, celebrity-artists dropping in, muscled models ever-present, up-and-comers asking for guidance, and teams preparing large-scale cartoons for the next fresco that the master would finish.

Crowds make it necessary to visit the show multiple times to see all of the fine, delicate work and examine sheets where he would whip off a small drawing and ask his students to copy it. The small scale of so many works makes it easy to miss a masterpiece.

For many visitors, the high point is the spacious central gallery with a scaled-down replica of the Sistine Chapel hanging overhead and matching preparatory studies displayed below.

Red chalk study for the Sistine Chapel’s Libyan Sibyl

The crowd dissipates as people waft toward the drawings distributed across the floor. It’s quite a pleasurable path of discovery as you meet the earlier incarnations of the Libyan Sybil and even the Hand of God.

The Met curators have helpfully added diagrams to the label copy to help you find the section of the ceiling that matches the sketch you are perusing. Seeing the early and finished versions together is nothing you can otherwise experience, even if you travel to Rome.

The massive show includes several unfinished marble statues, luxury works by others that were inspired by Michelangelo’s better-known drawings, and an architectural model of his portion of Saint Peter’s Cathedral in the Vatican.

Best times to visit this show at the Met are Monday mornings and dinnertime on Friday or Saturday, when the crowds thin out.

Look through works in the exhibition on the Met website, and learn about each section of the show here.

Get a preview before your visit by stepping through the audio guide of the show here.

Hear the curator Carmen Bambach speak about the joy of curating this show and how the master used drawing in his wider work:

Disorienting Delirious Art at Met Breuer

Detail of Jim Nutt’s 1967 Miss E. Knows, representing twisted expressions of Sixties angst

Do you believe that delirious times call for delirious art? This was the impetus for the Met Breuer to create “Delirious: Art at the Limits of Reason, 1950-1980,” to take viewers on an experience of vertigo, excess, nonsense, and twisted sensibilities through January 14.

About a third of the show is drawn from the Met’s own collections, but there are plenty of surprises around each corner – art from lesser-known artists who were channeling their times as well as little-known pieces from well-known artists.

The first rooms of the show explore vertigo by catapulting you back in time to the 1960s, when psychedelia and altered, fractured states drove artists to experiment and translate the feelings of social change and upheaval.

Peering into Robert Smithson’s 1965 Three Mirror Vortex

Works include the stunning, ultra-controlled, and visually disorienting op-art canvases of Edna Andrade as well as a fractured inside-out sculpture by Robert Smithson. You can even put your head inside of it and experience worlds within worlds.

In case you miss the point of all this early Sixties experimentation, the curators have the Met’s copy of Timothy Leary’s psychedelic tome on display, along with drawings done by his colleagues under trance-like conditions.

From there, the curators accelerate the feeling of delirium and disorientation by grouping works according to excess (read obsessive), nonsense (gibberish), and twisted.

Detail of Alfred Jensen’s obsessive 1978 work

You’ll see highly obsessive, ordered works, such as a monumental Alfred Jensen systems painting with rows of numbers caked in oil impasto and an all-white 3-D see-through grid installation by Sol Lewitt. All very precise but irrational, regardless whether the work is messy or clean.

Turn the corner and find that obsessive Kusama is at it again with her self-titled “compulsion furniture,” plastering an ordinary ladder with high-heeled shoes and who-knows-what. It feels as though her work is the opposite of the previous group, but it’s just as over-the-top.

Punched-paper details in Howardina Pindell’s 1977 collage

In a nice surprise, the Met pairs Kusama with obsessive, joyous, and glittering works by former curator Howardena Pindell, who channeled her experience of a 1970s African odyssey into an abstract riot of punched-out paper holes, colors, and stuff. Bravo, Howardena! (Note: Her work is also featured on the walls of the Whitney right now in “An Incomplete History of Protest.”)

The nonsense portion of the galleries feature word-play and an unusual early Oldenburg totem inspired by his old neighborhood – “Letter Tenement” is a mish-mash sturdily assembled from oil and rags. An abstract Stan VanDerBeek video pulses nearby.

Impermanence and found-object inspirations are represented by letterset, photocopy art, and large-scale works made from torn Parisian posters by Jacque Mahé de la Villegié from the Tate collection. Layers upon layers of jumbled, dazzling fragments that you can get lost in.

For a walk on the wild side, visit this stimulating show. Take a look at some of our favorite works on our Flickr feed, and listen in as the curator presents highlights of the show:

Surrealist Nature Walk and Space Trip at MoMA

One of 147 images from Ernst’s first collage novel in 1929, The Hundred Headless Woman

Drawn mostly from its own collections, MoMA’s Surrealist tribute show “Max Ernst: Beyond Painting,” running through January 1, takes visitors on a nature walk and space trip through the eyes of one of the 20th century’s wildest art innovators.

Ernst cross-pollinated his Data and Surrealist works on paper with his lifelong fascination with natural history, microscopic life, and the furthest reaches of the Universe. MoMA’s showcase of Ernst’s collages, mixed-media mash-ups, and books serve up science and nature in increasingly idiosyncratic ways.

Recovering from his years of service in the German army during World War I, the mysteries of nature, science, and outer space worked their ways into Ernst’s body of work as he founded the Dada movement and transitioned into a leading light of the Surrealist art movement.

Ernst’s 1921 overpainted and embellished science teaching chart.

In the first gallery, Ernst embellished and cut up found illustrations. At a distance, they look charming, but take a closer look. In a small work from 1920, he mixes a dissected beetle and a see-through fish with an illustration from a German military manual about how to conduct chemical warfare from the air.

Nearby, an arresting, colorful painting with meticulous writhing biomorphic forms, who seem to be dancing, is not what it seems. Ernst painted over an otherwise dull science teaching chart showing yeast-cell mutation, turning it into an absurd micro-world where microscopic forms dance, flirt, and carry on.

Slightly surreal bird frottage from Ernst’s 1926 Natural History print portfolio.

A 1924 “Natural History” portfolio in the show demonstrates Ernst’s use of his frottage technique. He creates visions of animals and plants by rubbing crayon on paper over different textured surfaces. It was his contribution to the Surrealist fascination with using unfiltered “automatic” techniques for picture making and novel writing.

Painted rocks, biomorphic forms, and cut-up illustrations made into surreal picture books are on display, along with a Moonrise work. Ernst took burlap, plastered it, spray painted a moonscape, and slathered on thick coats of paint. See this, his butterfly drawing and more in our Flickr album.

Ernst kept drawing inspiration from the natural world as he and his Paris collaborators fled World War II in Europe, tried to adjust as refugees in the United States, and ultimately returned to the Continent.

“Invisible to the naked eye, it appeared in its family to be the furthest from the sun.” An etching in Ernst’s 1964 art book 65 Maximiliana or the Illegal Practice of Astronomy.

The show closes with a magnificent portfolio of work from 1964 that is inspired by a nineteenth-century astronomer’s discovery of a small planetoid. Ernst seriously and whimsically considered what it must have been like to peer into the void of space and find what lies beyond our normal field of vision. In one work, he writes:

“It would be poetic to give the last planets 97 98 and 99 the 3 Fates Clotho Lachesis and Atropos not to cut the thread of research but to wrap up the first hundred of the little planets.”

Ernst spent his life pushing the limits on the edge of discovery.

Here’s a walk though Ernst’s fascinating work with MoMA curator Anne Umland:

Thaw Delivers Masterful Drawing Collection to The Morgan

Degas 1877 litho of outdoor café scene reworked in pastel in 1875.

So many drawings by masters are on the walls in the exhibition galleries at The Morgan that you’ll think that someone shrunk The Metropolitan or The Louvre.

Through January 7, the museum is showcasing some of the top works that benefactor Gene Thaw collected and gave to the Morgan over his lifetime, and it’s astonishing – Rembrandts, Turners, Watteaus, Constables, Tiepolos, Daumiers, Cezannes, Picassos, and even an early Mondrian thrown in for good measure. Modernism on one side, Renaissance and Romantics on the other.

Gene Thaw was an art dealer/collector with a passion for old masters and new. As an example, in the hallway to the show, there’s a charming Hockney 1993 double portrait of dogs that’s as pleasurable as 1830s Delecroix’s sleeping tiger.

Samuel Palmer’s 1828 multimedia drawing with ink, graphite, watercolor, and gum glaze

At the curator walk-through Friday night, people were jammed into the mini-spaces created in each gallery, absorbing every detail of the watercolors, crayon drawings, and pastels from the greatest artists of the Western world. Take a look at our Flickr album at some of our favorites and check out The Morgan’s selected works here.

Gallery goers could not get enough of the English landscape room with the surprising 1828 multimedia drawing by the under-the-radar, Blake-inspired Samuel Palmer that brings an abstracted Kent beech tree and oak to mystical life. Nearby, there’s an 1842 abstracted Turner landscape that drove Ruskin nuts with admiration and excitement.

Turner’s 1842 studio watercolor, The Pass at St. Gotthard, near Faido that Ruskin had to have

The curator told the crowd that when the Morgan enlarged Turner’s little watercolor masterpiece for a ginormous exhibition sign for the wing’s foyer, the team discovered Turner’s thumbprint. The wonders of digitization applied to Romantic visionaries!

In the same gallery, another innovation was on display – Casper David Friedrich’s 1808 experiment in illusion and installation art. Apparently, Friedrich’s mysterious nightscape had its full Moon cut out so a candle could be lit behind the drawing for drawing-room audiences. When the candle flickered, it illuminated the mini-flecks of gold paint on the trees so they appeared bathed in moonlight.

Sketch by Vincent Van Gogh in 1888 letter to Paul Gaugin

Across the foyer, there’s another jam-packed area dedicated to 19th and 20th century works, with a revealing and slightly sinister series by Redon. And it’s a highlight to (again) see Thaw’s collection of Van Gogh’s letters to Bernard and Gaugin – personal diaries and drawings of his approach to his colorful masterworks.

Some visitors said they had come back several times because the profusion of work was too great to be absorbed in one visit. Sort of like the Met’s concurrent show of Michelangelo drawings.

Take a look at The Morgan’s tribute to this amazing collector in the video below. If you can’t get to the show before January 7, you can click through and listen to the Morgan’s audio tour here.

Drawn to Greatness: Master Drawings from the Thaw Collection from The Morgan Library & Museum on Vimeo.

Cooper Hewitt Serves Up Decade of Twenties Style

1923-1926 Callot Soeurs velvet evening dress, embroidered with pearls and metallic thread. Collection: MCNY

Booze-filled nights, cocktail artistry, designer scents, dancing the night away in half-hidden clubs, and high style provide the context for the Cooper-Hewitt’s gigantic show, The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s, closing on August 20. If you go, plan on spending some time contemplating two floors of beautiful things that made this decade a design stand-out.

From the time of New York’s first Armory Show in 1913, the appetite for primitive art, artistic dressing, and design innovations just kept growing. The end of World War I encouraged German, Austrian, and French designers to look west to find new markets and clients, and New York in the Twenties was ready for something completely different.

As the curators show, the trans-Atlantic influences, designers emigrating to New York from Europe, and newly liberated women enjoying the cigarettes, cocktails, music, and dance all added up to an explosion of change.

1927 silver coffee service, inspired by cubism and skyscrapers, designed by Eric Magnussen for Gorham

The Twenties became a watershed decade for innovations in fashion, jewelry, furniture, art, and design on both sides the Atlantic. View all the beautiful things in the show here.

The two-floor show is grouped by theme, chronicling the initial cross-pollination of new European designs into high-end American lifestyles and choices – modern geometric designs in diamond bracelets, hair bands replacing tiaras, cubism gone wild, the De Stijl and Wiener Werkstätte revolutions in design-think, and how everyone was interested in Frank Lloyd Wright.

1920s diamond geometric bracelet by Mauboussin with colorful clusters of rubies

New York high society could not get enough of the meticulous craftsmanship and new geometries in design emanating from Europe. If you had the cash, you traveled to Paris to scoop up designer duds and art glass, but the appetite for what each continent had to offer was a two-way street: Europe could not get enough of Josephine Baker, jazz, and New York’s new, ever-expanding skyline. The Jazz Age is loaded with vases, armchairs, and even a wastebasket drawing inspiration from super-tall buildings sprouting in Manhattan.

The show also highlights the craze for “primitive” elements of design, Egyptian motifs inspired by the discovery of King Tut’s tomb, and the stuff that started to be made when party goers discovered the joy of cocktails.

There are fabulous bracelets from Cartier worn by high-society style makers and celebrities (e.g. Mae West, Gloria Swanson) and perfume containers that doubled as collectible art.

1955 copy of 1918 Gerrit Rietveld chair, inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright

Couturier Jean Patou even commissioned a perfume presentation styled to look like a cocktail bar as a wink to the fact of Prohibition on the other side of the Atlantic. Of course, he offered ladies’ drinks when they came to his Paris salon, commiserating about alcohol deprivation in America.

The array of armchairs that have been assembled are a mini-exhibition on their own – from Gerrit Rietveld’s astonishing 1918 primary-color chair to Breuer’s iconic 1925 Barcelona chair to the 1929 steel-tube-and-rubber chair by René Herbst. It’s hard to look at them and see them as from an era different than our own today.

The curators make the point that a watershed moment in design was the 1925 Paris Exposition of International Arts. The excitement over the new designs was so intense that department stores in the United States offered to hold a traveling exhibition of 400 objects. After people across the US got a whiff of what new style was all about, the appetite for modern furniture, vanity table items, and textiles exploded.

1920s form-fitting “California” style wool knit bathing suit. Collection: Kent State

Clothing plays a role in the show, but the displays include more accessories and jewels. Beautiful evening dresses by Chanel and Callot Soeurs are featured, along with a pair of exquisitely preserved sparkly dancing shoes and a modern knit bathing suit that really revealed all of a woman’s curves.

Touring the show, you’ll learn how jewelry changed with the times during the Twenties. Shorter, looser-fitting dresses on ladies moving to the latest dance styles demanded longer, looser necklaces, or sautoirs, that swung in time to the music, too. More open T-strapped and ankle-strapped shoes were embellished to make those dance moves even more dazzling.

There’s a lot to the fashion story during this decade. Join two fashion historians and Cooper Hewitt curators, as they talk about the fashions of the Jazz Age in New York and Paris.

When DIY Fashion and Couture Were the Same Thing

John Sebastian’s 1967 performance cape, jacket, and pants, which he tie-dyed himself

Imagine a time before designer logos, no one asked “who you are wearing,” and your sartorial status was ranked according to DIY embellishments and colorful, theatrical approaches to materials that telegraphed a strong social-political message.

The current show at Museum of Art and Design (MAD), Counter-Couture: Handmade Fashion in an American Counterculture, on display through August 20, is a tribute to the Sixties and Seventies when Hollywood, rock royalty, rich kids, hippies, and living-off-the-land types all marched to their distinctive fashion beats.

At Columbus Circle, two floors of fashion take you on a journey through hand-crafted masterworks of several copacetic subcultures who carried out the youth revolution over sixty years ago — acid trippers, antiwar protesters, peace-and-love advocates, commune dwellers, hashish users, Dashiki wearers, and the all-nature/all-natural advocates.

100% Birgitta’s crocheted 1969 Rainbow Ensemble with Large Pendant

In a war on conformity and Mad-Men style, the counterculture of Southern California, the San Francisco Bay, and the Village turned to wild color, hand-dyed fabric, tribal inspiration, oversize accessories, personalized embroidery, and repurposed materials to declare individuality and a better, more peaceful world.

John Sebastian’s tie-dyed cape, shirt, and pants on loan from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame remind you that long before Gwen Stefani, rock stars once styled themselves and made their own clothes. Theatrics and performance was important, whether it was Woodstock, street theater, or East Village happenings.

Apple Cobbler’s Mickey McGowan made custom shoes and boots from brocade (no leather) and traveled with a suitcase full of client foot patterns, ready to spring into action whenever a rock drummer needed to replace his favorite footwear. In the late Sixties, the must-have item for starlets was a colorful crocheted seaside ensemble by 100% Brigitta.

Nina Huryn’s 1971 painted tooled leather jacket, typical of custom pieces she made for rockstar clients

Take a look at the installation views on MAD’s website, and then go in for a closer look on our Flickr album.

By the late Seventies, some clothing artists, such as K. Lee Manuel, were making one-of-a-kind pieces and selling them through small wearable-art-style shops. Others like Nina Huryn continued doing custom pieces for Elton John, Freddie Mercury, and other rock superstars. At least one — Christopher Crookedstitch — had a team of craftspeople staining homespun cotton, making self-fringe, and applying beads in a teepee workshop.

On the other hand, you might just do your own thing, such as the hand-embroidered, appliqued U.S. Army coat made as a protest or the highly studded and embellished Levis jacket that transformed a machine-made uniform into a work of art. MAD shows a small collection of winners from its 1973 Levis contest (when it was still named the American Craft Museum).

1970 man’s vest from a rice sack by Sandra Van Meter, who dressed her family in humble handmade clothing

Although the clothing isn’t as flashy, the exhibit showcases the caftans and simple linen clothes favored by less-is-more commune dwellers. Although the curators feature some fairly fancy embellished pieces by designer Alexandra Jacopetti Hart, they also note that she founded the home-sewing pattern company, Folkways, which offered a template for anyone to take a slightly historical style (think pioneers and buccaneer shirts) and craft it into their own personal statement.

The do-it-yourself component is only emphasized by a framed Simplicity pattern from the Seventies.

Don’t miss the spectacular tie-dyed panels by Marian Clayden, who also had a fashion label and designed all the textiles for the original production of Hair. Although it’s not a technique in fashion today, confronting work by this master will let you experience why the mystery and transcendence of her craft led so many to get out the Rit dye and try it at home.

Close up of tie-dyed hanging by Marian Clayden

Thanks to the Bellevue Arts Museum in Washington State, who originated the show.

MoMA Makes Space for Women 70 Years Later

Epic 1966 Gaea painting by Lee Krasner

This show never happened…until now. Over the years, MoMA has been collecting the work of female artists, but in their prime, only a few had the chance to reach a wide audience, and certainly back in the Fifties this group would not have been assembled for an all-woman show.

MoMA corrects this oversight and gives these women the attention they deserve in Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction, closing August 13.

MoMA has burrowed into its collection to present the work of female painters and sculptors who largely worked in the shadows of the dominant male artists of the Fifties and Sixties, both in the United States and abroad.

Grace Hartigan’s 1957 Shinnecock Canal

The curators have segmented the artists by style, and it’s fun to discover better-known favorites alongside some women that you simply have never heard of. The first part features large ethereally stained canvases by superstar Helen Frankenthaler and swooping gestures by Lee Krasner (pretty in pink).

The gallery also showcases lesser-known Lebanese-born abstractionist Etel Adnan and Grace Hartigan, who briefly attempted to get her work into galleries by letting dealers think that “George” Hartigan did them. Grace did OK, however, becoming the only female painter that MoMA included in its Fifties European touring show New American Painting.

You can almost imagine critiques like “too feminine” and “paints like a girl” being uttered over shots at the Cedar Tavern. Joan Snyder was not ashamed to say that she drew inspiration from nature – instead of internal angst. Super-minimalist Agnes Martin did the same, drawing inspiration for her thin pencil grids from the majesty and stillness of nature.

Close up of Agnes Martin’s 1964 oil and pencil Big Tree

The “geometric” gallery is where the show expands away from New York’s home base to feature more of the Latin American contingent, like Venezuelan sculptural innovator Gego, a German refugee born Gertud Goldschmidt, and Cuban-born Carmen Herrera. Carmen, who lived in Paris and other world capitals, didn’t sell her first painting until 2004 when she was 89. To put that into perspective, black-and-white paining in MoMA’s collection was done in 1952. Well, at least the Whitney gave her a one-woman show this past year.

The curators hit a home run by also including textile artists and designers like Bauhaus artist Anni Albers and sculptural innovator Sheila Hicks. Seeing these and the process-art artists together is a treat – Eva Hesse and Polish art megastar Magdelena Abakanowicz. Both use found objects but Eva used industrial materials to create ephemeral sculptures and installations; Magdelena took lowly sisal and created a monumental textile presence.

On our Flickr album, we’ve arranged photos of the works in the show chronologically, so it was surprising to find that some of the earliest pieces of abstract art in the show were the 1951 bowl chair by Brazilian designer Bo Bardi and 1950 Stone on Stone textiles from Vera.

Two versions of Vera’s 1950 Stone on Stone pattern — prints on linen and silk by commercial manufacturers for the home market

Anyone decorating a home or buying a headscarf in the Fifties and Sixties knew of Vera, one of the first one-name household design names. The curators make a point to note that by hiring contemporary designers, commercial fabric houses were able to disseminate abstraction throughout the United States in curtains, upholstery, and daily items.

Big-time abstract painting and sculpture – whether expressionist, geometric, or minimal — might have been dominated by the guys, but the democratization of abstraction in the way of dress fabric and curtains was a realm that made female designers into brands.

To learn more about many of these innovators, listen in on MoMA’s audio tour via their website or app.

Here’s a quick spin through the show with curator Starr Figura here:

The Woman Behind the Beautiful Bags

Judith channels the era of the space race with a futuristic smoky Lucite egg with gold frame and chain, 1968

You’ve seen them on the red carpet, in the hands of First Ladies, and gleaming cases at Bergdorfs. Tiny glittery sculptures sized to fit in the palm of a hand.

The show at MAD, Judith Leiber: Crafting a New York Story, which closes August 6, gives a well-deserved look at the innovator behind these creations, showcases the many ways Leiber elevated the evening bag, and tells a dramatic story of how an immigrant came to the United States with technical knowledge and flair for an up-to-then unexploited corner of the accessories market.

Take a walk through the show with our Flickr album.

The exhibition in MAD’s Tiffany galleries is an ethereal, low-light showcase of some of Leiber’s most dazzling creations. Putting the primary focus on her lifetime output of handbags-as-art, her life story is conveyed discretely in an understated corner through a few photos and an illuminating timeline.

Leiber’s 21st century Mondrian-inspired bag, 2000

Growing up in Budapest, Judith went to London to take liberal arts courses and intended to study chemistry there to enter the booming European cosmetics business. But the 1939 outbreak of World War II forced her to go to Plan B – sticking close to home and working with the Hungarian luxury brand, the House of Pessl, learning the craftsmanship of fine ladies’ handbags.

As the show notes, with the advent of train travel and emphasis on ladies’ luggage, handbags became a fashionable accessory in the mid-to-late 19th century. With its spas, lavish restaurants, and pastry palaces, Budapest catered to the aristocratic trade in just about everything, including carrying cases and bags. Leiber was in a good spot to learn from the best and became the only female member of the local handbag guild.

Presented to Hillary Clinton in 1997 for her husband’s second inaugural.

When Germany took over Hungary in 1944, she and her family were relocated to a ghetto where they endured economic deprivation and witnessed persecutions that came to an end when Russia liberated the city in 1945.

Channeling her skills into creating bags for military buyers, Judith met and married a member of the U.S. Army Signal Corps – Gus – who would take her back to New York, encourage her to start her own business, and eventually run her company.

Her big break in the New York Garment District was supplying a handbag to First Lady Mamie Eisenhower at her husband’s 1956 inauguration. Although Judith was working for designer Nettie Rosenstein, everyone heard about the Judith Leiber-designed handbag and she made a splash.

Leiber’s first rhinestone bag 1967 – an ingenious solution to hide a discolored brass frame

Ten years later, Judith began her own handbag company. Good thing that she was able to do it all, from making a pattern, to designing the frames, and executing it all right down to the finish. When a brass frame arrived in her workshop with surface defects, she had the idea to cover the defects with rhinestones, and launched the look that would distinguish her at inaugural balls, New York society galas, and Hollywood premieres – the jewel-encrusted minaudière.

The side gallery is packed with her signature pieces, crystal-covered minaudières crafted to resemble animals, food, and Chinese-inspired dressing table items. On the other side of the exhibition is a small case with wax sculptures by Lawrence Kallenberg, who worked a lifetime with Judith to create the 3-D templates that the Italian foundry uses to fabricate the brass cases.

The exhibition is a beautiful display of her lifetime of work, featuring both the first bejeweled bag and her last design in 2004, emphasizing the inspiration she took from 20th century artists and textiles of world cultures. Among the most stunning creations are bags made from embroidered antique obis, Asian ribbons, and even American patchwork quilts.

Penguin minaudière, 1991

Suspended in air and shown off in mirrored cases, the curators create a mood that allows visitors to contemplate how Leiber’s eye, wit, and skill transformed the lowly carryall into a lifetime of unique, ingenious, dazzling art.

See the beautiful bags here.