Grant Wood Puts Sophisticate Spin on American Myths

1930 American Gothic, which Grant Wood modeled on his sister and dentist – an “invented” couple. Collection: Art Institute

Travel the world, but paint what you know.

It seems to be the philosophy that guided the artistic development of our homegrown American painting virtuoso, as told in the Whitney’s revealing exhibition, Grant Wood: American Gothic and Other Fables, on view through June 10.

Although the Art Institute never lets American Gothic leave the Windy City, the famous couple has been having quite a time on the High Line, surrounded by a wealth of beautiful paintings, crafts, furniture, magazine covers, book illustrations, drawings, and lithographs. See our favorites in our Flickr album.

Since Wood’s iconic masterwork burst upon the scene at the Chicago Art Institute in 1930, it’s surprising to know that this is only the third time that Wood has had a one-man show in New York. Whitney curator Barbara Haskell and her staff decided to give Wood the props he deserved by assembling this satisfying and revealing tour of his life’s work.

1930 Arnold Comes of Age, a European-inspired birthday portrait of his studio assistant froom Lincoln’s Sheldon Museum

It’s clear from the start (after you pass the corn chandelier) that Cedar Rapids, Iowa treasured their native son, handing him design and ad commissions galore. Although he always lived close to his mom and sister (the model for the mysterious “Gothic” gal), his artistic direction was solidified fairly early on by trips to Paris and Germany as a young man.

Forget impressionism and expressionism. Wood was captivated seeing the works of Durer and Memling, whose style matched his own precise painterly tendencies.

Returning home, he embarked upon a series of portraits that were completely local (e.g. his mom, art students, neighbors), but harkened back to the centuries-old European style – precisely rendered central figures and metaphorical symbols scattered across shrunken landscapes. Straight out of the 1400s.

1931 folk-inspired The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere from The Met’s collection

When Gothic appeared on the cover of the Chicago Evening Post in 1930, his fate as the quintessential “American” painter was sealed. And he committed himself to staying in the Midwest, painting what surrounded him.

The show takes us through his journey from there: interpreting and busting American myths, celebrating the hometown and ordinary, and sometimes veering into the visual language of folk art to create a feeling of a simplified time.

Cover illustration for Time magazine commemorating famed aviator Wiley Post, September 23, 1940.

When World War II began to brew, Woods was even more convinced that the power of his images could be harnessed to engender a call for action among everyday Americans. Deceptive simplicity on the canvas only underscores his highly sophisticated understanding of the power of symbols, craft, and art history.

Woods embraced many types of WPA and commercial commissions, while keeping up his fine-art output, including selling lithographs (“affordable art”) by mail order. Although one of a naked farmworker got him in hot water with the United States Postal Service, the accusation of “porn in the mail” really didn’t hurt his reputation.

The final two galleries of the show assemble his highly precise, fully modern farm landscapes from a ten-year period – rich, colorful, and geometric until they aren’t. The curators have interspersed gorgeous but melancholy graphite drawings of barren, snow-covered fields. Their presence captures the melancholy of Grant Wood’s final years – grappling with illness and life in Iowa as a closeted man, who died far too young.

1940 charcoal drawing March from Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Even with the somewhat sobering feel, it’s a glorious gallery to end the show – one that leaves visitors marveling about the skill, talent, and magic wrought by an artist whose they feel as if they are discovering for the first time.

The Whitney persuaded lots of other Iowa museums to contribute to the show, too. They shipped everything but the WPA building mural (click here to see a silent video) at the University of Iowa Ames library.

Take a virtual walk through the show with the audio guide and see photos of the different work as the curators talk.

Listen to the brilliant curator Barbara Haskell, as she puts this man’s work into context:

Gold and Other Ancient Luxuries at The Met

Gold crown, headband, and ear flares worn by high-status person from Peru’s Northern Coast (Chongoyape), 800 – 500 B.C. Collection: NMAI, Smithsonian.

What constitutes luxury? Something wildly extravagant, made of expensive and rare materials, and incredibly intricate and beautiful.

There’s plenty on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the Golden Kingdoms: Luxury and Legacy in the Ancient Americas, running through May 28.

The show, which returns to New York after a run at the Getty in Los Angeles, is a fulfilling journey that takes you over 3,000 miles through North and South America and across the years – from 1200 B.C. to the Spanish conquest of mighty kingdoms.

The star attraction is gold, which was hammered and fashioned into portable ornaments worn by high-net-worth individuals centuries ago. Crowns, ear flares, and nose ornaments from Peru’s northern coast, made sometime between 800 and 300 B.C., are on display right at the start of the show.

Front of a headdress from Peru (Moche), 300 – 600 A.D. Collection: Lima’s National Museum

But as you wind your way further through time and cultures, many more virtuoso works are displayed – a gold sheet octopus for the front of a headdress and the dramatic crescent-shaped burial ornamentation for the Lord of Sipán, both Peruvian pieces from the Moche culture made 600 years later.

In the center gallery, you encounter whimsical gold sculptures from Colombia made nearly a thousand years later by Colombia’s Muisca people, who “sacrificed” some of these precious items to the gods by tossing them into lakes or cenotes – a practice that unfortunately led the Spanish to believe that the mythical El Dorado really existed.

Incan tunics for votive figures, 1460 – 1626 A.D. From The Met, Field Museum, and AMNH.

Curators segment the show by highlighting the various approaches to luxury by different indigenous cultures – intricately woven textiles, feathered shirts and temple wall hangings, carved jade, monumental stone portraits of royalty, and even a lime container in the shape of a jaguar that is partly made from platinum.

Because materials were sourced so far from where the luxury items were crafted and preserved, the show weaves a rich tale of trade. Networks for jade far from Guatemala, tropical birds far from the Amazon rainforest, and ocean shells far from the dry Andean highlands.

Pair of gold, shell, and stone ear ornaments from Peru’s North Coast (Moche), 200 – 600 A.D. Collection: The Met

The mosaics, beadwork, and of multiple precious-stone inlay are dazzling, both in their visual impact and when you stop to consider the South American supply chain.

The magical properties of shells were acknowledged by everyone in these ancient kingdoms – from the rulers and lords that sported patterned multicolored shell collars to priests using shell-shaped ceramics for ritual offerings to everyday farmers who ensured sufficient rain by scattering broken shells in their fields.

Mixtec mask of spondylus shell, mother of pearl, and turquoise, 1200 – 1521 A.D. Collection: Italy’s MIBACT Museum of Civilization

Spondylus shells – the ultimate in marine adornment – only came from the oceans near Ecuador or northern Peru. Rulers just had to have them.

By the time the Spanish arrived in the New World, the level of artwork was at an all-time high. A particularly virtuoso inlaid Mixteca mask is shown toward the end of the show – one so beautiful that it came into the hands of Count Medici and is on loan from a museum in Italy.

Take a look at the beautiful items on the Met’s exhibition website and our favorites on our Flickr album.

See what’s behind the golden door by taking a peaceful video walk through this gorgeous show. All you’ll hear are the magical Mayan cenote bells:

Find out more by listening to the audio guide of the show here.

When Jewelry Has Its Own Idea

Organic geometry: Kazumi Nagano’s brooch of folded linen paper and other materials.

Can jewelry actually speak? The Cooper Hewitt curators thought so when they went through the expansive collection that a donor had assembled, as shown in Jewelry of Ideas: Gifts from the Susan Grant Lewin Collection, on view in New York through May 28.

Lewin, who donated her collection to the Smithsonian, was passionate about collecting fairly conceptual wearable art pieces – works that reflected pop culture, or held great symbolic meaning, or told a story that was significant to the artist.

Around 150 bracelets, pendants, necklaces, and rings are on display in the show. They’re all intriguing works on their own, each telling a story, but the selections are nicely classified into sub-groups, such as Nature, Symbol and Metaphor, Memory, and so on.

Nature: Daniel Kruger’s necklace with pressed flowers and leaves.

Some groups tell the art-for-art’s sake story; other groups are made of materials with charged significance. But all reflect the deep thought that jewelry artists give to their work and the delight the wearer has in either sharing the story of the piece or just keeping its secret to themselves.

The show emphasizes how ground-breaking artists have conceptualized jewelry to go beyond the constraints of simply pretty, glitzy, or decorative ends.

For example, the paper necklaces by Kiff Siemmons speak to the artist’s interest in pulling dramatic shapes out of lowly materials and in cross-cultural collaboration – in this case, working with artisans from Oaxaca’s Arte Papel who are expertly reviving pre-Columbian paper making technology with traditional, plant-based dyes.

Attai Chen’s paper, paint and coal necklace from Nature section of the show

In the portion of the show where jewelry reflects society and the human condition, designer Deganit Stern Schocken used crushed soda cans and zircons in a piece named after Israel’s largest checkpoint, evoking the daily West Bank anxieties of passing between Jerusalem and Ramallah.

The fact that Estonian artist Kadri Malik incorporated a large shark tooth in her “It’s Getting So Dark” necklace gives the piece a voice that speaks volumes, even if the wearer doesn’t say a word. The same is true for Attai Chen’s dark riff on nature — dramatic necklace formed from paper, paint and coal.

Art Smith’s 1948 Modernette Cuff Bracelet reflecting the art world’s interest in biomorphic forms

The show also touches on the history of post-war wearable art by innovators in America and Europe, including a biomorphic piece by Sixties jewelry maker Art Smith, who was connecting the dots among the cultural influences he was seeing in painting and dance studios from his Village studio.

What about other art for art’s sake? The curators showcase collection pieces that are colorfully painted, baubles incorporating found objects, and art that simply conveys the joy of pure, clean, abstractions.

Lewin certainly had fun collecting and wearing provocative pieces, and the curators also seemed to have enjoyed displaying these fascinating works in a context that suits them.

Take a look at some of our favorites in our Flickr album.

To give an idea of how kinetic artist Friedrich Becker conceptualized his work in motion, here’s a video showing how his ring activates to convey its story when worn:

This show focuses upon an international array of artists. But for anyone that wants to dig deeper into the roots of American studio jewelry 1940 – 1970, art historian Toni Greenbaum  describes how artist-made jewelry came to its cherished place in the art and design worlds today:

The Skies Have It: Thomas Cole Paints to Protect Nature

Cole’s 1936 panoramic masterpiece The Oxbow – a call to preserve the rapidly disappearing American wilderness. Collection: The Met

Awestruck by the magnificence of nature, romantic painter Thomas Cole set out to create visions so powerful that they would convince development-obsessed American to preserve landscapes and vistas for future generations.

Although the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition chronicles his artistic journey, Thomas Cole’s Journey: Atlantic Crossings, on view through May 13, the subtext of the show is how he leveraged the romantic thrill of nature for a higher purpose.

Cole was battling pro-development sensibilities back then, in the same way environmentalists are fighting eco-battles today — 200 years after Cole started sketching upstate New York.

Detail from Turner’s 1829 Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus that Cole sketched in London. Collection: National Gallery

The exhibition sums up how British painters in the early 1800s were rebelling against the horrors of the Industrial Revolution, how Cole romanticized the drama views of nature, and then took the techniques that he learned on his trip to Europe to turn his painting into a call to action.

The most famous Cole works showcased at the Met – The Oxbow and The Course of Empire – are from New York City collections, but the curators have placed Cole’s artistic development into a global context by showing us the powerful Turners and Constables that actually inspired Cole on his Grand Tour of Europe in the 1820s and 1830s. Visitors get to experience them as he did.

Constable’s 1824-28 expressive oil sketch Rainstorm Over the Sea. Collection: Royal Academy

The presence of these landscape giants is exquisite – enormous masterworks with overpowering skies, majestic vistas, mythological allegories, and poignant ruins. The show also includes ethereal and dramatic cloud studies that Constable did out in the open air – works that inspired Cole to do the same.

Back in America, he founded the Hudson River school of painting – the first great art movement of the United States — and encouraged students to learn from nature. They certainly did, as shown by the dramatic landscape paintings by Chuch and Durand.

Take a look at all 76 paintings and studies in the exhibition on the Met’s website and see closeups of our favorite Cole, Turner, and Constable paintings in our Flickr album.

Cole’s 1832-1841 paint box used when he worked outdoors. Collection: Bronck Museum

The Met has given The Oxbow and The Course of Empire series positions of honor at the center of the show. To prepare these six paintings for their showcase, the conservation team did investigative work that uncovered some insights to Cole’s thinking (the video below shows what’s beneath the painted surface).

In the concluding section of the show, the curators point out that Cole’s students and followers didn’t always see eye-to-eye with the preservationist instincts of their teacher.

Cole’s romantic vision of nature fell out of fashion (for a while), replaced by big-sky and big-vista landscapes that elevated the “beauty” of building roads, harnessing nature, and seeding new towns and industries.

Industrial progress in 19th-century America was inevitable, but the experience of seeing Cole’s unspoiled vision of wilderness still shows visitors that there is value in keeping up the fight.

Take a look at the Met’s insightful film about Cole, his inspirations, and what it was like to paint in the Age of Jackson:

And for a glimpse into what the Met’s curatorial team found, watch this silent movie about about Cole’s thought process as he created his masterpiece:

If you miss this magnificent show, you can visit the room where it happened at Thomas Cole National Historic Site in Catskill, New York. More about that trip here.

Church’s 1849 Above the Clouds at Sunrise, a tribute to Cole

Nick Mauss Brings NYC Modern Art/Dance Influences to Life at The Whitney

Dancers strike poses inspired by the surrounding works of art in a piece collaboratively choreographed with Nick Mauss

Cecil Beaton’s 1937 Vogue photo of poet Charles Henri Ford in a costume by Salvador Dali

Go when the dancers are there. Entering Nick Mauss: Transmissions, installed on the top floor of the Whitney through May 14, you’ll see them moving behind a transparent scrim as the elevator doors open.

The artist had a vision and the Whitney curators gave him the freedom to scour their deep-storage archives, delineate a space for dancers, install works of art, and write scintillating details about the fruits of his research.

Nick’s vision was to create a visual conversation about the collisions between modern art and dance in New York between 1930 and 1950 – a time when bon vivants, peripatetic painters, scandalous artistes, and boundary-pushing dancers expressed themselves in every manner possible.

He succeeds spectacularly. But the show isn’t laid out in a chronological manner like a history show. It’s more of a curated, free association experience that genuinely works.

Visitors encounter Whitney works that are almost never displayed, photos from the Kinsey Institute, works from the NYPL’s Jerome Robbins Division archive, ephemera from personal collections, and Nick’s own creations.

1928 dancer-inspired sculptures by Elie Nadelman stand in front of Nick’s mirrored mural.

Nick’s put a quartet of live dancers at the center of the swirl, encouraging and challenging visitors to explore clues surrounding them – private artistic photos, Diaghilev’s calling card, costume designs by Dorothea Tanning, a video of Balanchine in rehearsal.

As dancers quietly assume poses, visitors are left to move about and make their own connections. Do the dance poses echo the quiet Gaston Lachaise or Elie Nadelman sculptures, or the over-the-top expressions of NYC ballet superstars in Carl Van Vechten’s slide show splashed across the opposite wall?

Nick’s research unearthed an extraordinary wealth of information about relationships among artists, cross-currents of artistic influence, intimate social circles, and gay life. His idea was to inject a little more color to the American modern-art narrative.

One of 830 slides taken of American Ballet Theatre dancers by Carl Van Vechten, America’s first dance critic.

When the Whitney staff read the captivating associations that Nick uncovered as he selected objects for the installation, they decided that it was too rich to simply identify things in the traditional cut-and-dried museum label card format

The curators mounted Nick’s extraordinary background stories next to the artworks, photos, stage set mock-ups, and costume designs to let visitors get inside Nick’s head and share in his fun.

The stories – like the dance quartet – encourage visitors to connect their own knowledge about the origins of modern dance and modern art in New York with what they see and read:

What impact did modern dance pioneers Loie Fuller and Ruth St. Denis have on 1920s sculpture? How did a Ballet Russe-obsessed cultural impresario convince George Balanchine to start the New York City Ballet?

Reflected in Nick’s mirrored mural, a monitor shows videos of Balanchine rehearsing the New York City Ballet.

What was a sophisticated dance critic doing in his studio with props, costumes, Agnes de Mille, and stars of the New York ballet world?

The beauty of Nick’s installation is that people wandering about the space are able construct their own visual and mental narratives and understand the swirl of modernism from that time in a new way. Take a look at our Flickr album to view some of our favorite works in the show.

The choreographed piece was developed collaboratively by Nick and the dancers. The complete experience is poetic, revelatory, interactive, and constantly in motion.

The dancers perform from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. daily, and also on Friday nights from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Here’s a short clip of the quartet of dancers performing in the gallery:

And another short clip of duets:

Club 57 Rejects at MoMA 35 Years Later

Music poster for Club 57

They didn’t fit in to any of the scenes back in the Eighties, but now they have their own show at MoMA in a basement club all their own – just like in the old days.

Entering Club 57: Film, Performance, and Art in the East Village, 1978–1983, on view at the Museum of Modern Art through April 8, you’ll be required to find the right way downstairs, peek behind curtains, and lurk around corners where transgressive, challenging art is on display.

The show is a tribute to the ultimate DIY art scene in Alphabet City at a time in New York when things were just plain tough.

Housed in the basement of the Polish National Church on St. Mark’s Place, the misfits invited their friends to imagine and create performance art on a regular basis.

Klaus Nomi’s cape, from his 1978 New Wave Vaudeville finale

Although Danceteria and The Pyramid Club were contemporaneous music scenes, Club 57 was the place to create characters, imagine scenarios, revel in kitsch, celebrate “bad” art, and create performance art or a DIY film festival every night.

The kids – many classmates from School of the Visual Arts – created and handed out flyers to entice the adventurous to witness the uncensored experimentation.

It’s where Keith Haring, Joey Arias, Ann Magnuson (MoMA’s guest curator), and others spent their formative years dressing up, wigging out, and pushing boundaries.

The show displays ephemera from those years and experiments, from Klaus Nomi’s transparent cape (when he appeared as the closing act in New Wave Vaudeville in 1978) to Clayton Patterson’s flyers based on the latest in new technology in 1983, the color Xerox. See it, start to finish, in our Flickr album.

Kenny Scharf’s recreation of his 1979 Cosmic Closet

The installation is on two levels, but downstairs is where it’s all happening. Silkscreened posters by John Sex poke out of the dark. A secret hideaway reveals Kenny Scharf’s black-light psychedelia “Cosmic Closet.”

Hand-crafted calendars by Ann Magnuson illustrate the variety of activities that took place nightly – film screenings, performance, music, and lady wrestling.

Collaged and Xeroxed zines, drag performances with small casts of thousands, and graffiti art jolted life into a subculture struggling to make ends meet, live in a city clawing its way back from financial ruin and high crime, and trying to make sense of the mysterious illness that was plaguing the gay community.

Richard Hambleton’s 1983 Shadowman series

One person’s trash is another one’s art. And the reverse is true — Basquiat was busy sprinkling his moniker all over the decaying walls of the East Village, and Richard Hambleton’s epic Shadowman paintings were popping up in the neighborhood where you’d least expect them. The street and the art were in an ever-renewing cycle.

This immersive journey back in time is stupendous. Be sure to hang out in the basement to watch two or three of the videos from Club 57’s heyday.

For now, take a walk through the show with Frank Holliday, one of the founding members of Club 57.

Also, watch and listen to the artists recollect club experiences during MoMA’s opening night party.

Basquiat: A Singular Sensation

Visitors contemplate Basquiat’s 1982 Untitled

One painting in a white room in a quiet corner is all anyone really needs to contemplate the life, art, and brilliance of Brooklyn’s most celebrated art-world superstar, Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Lest anyone underestimate the reverence in which art fans hold Mr. Basquiat, just observe which paintings are the biggest selfie magnets at The Armory Show or in the survey galleries at MoMA.  You’ll see a constant stream of excited fans posing one by one to record their presence with any canvas by Jean-Michel – rough, gestural, colorful, graffiti-smeared, topical, socially conscious, channeling voices and ideas in a way that’s his alone.

The Brooklyn Museum’s 2005 retrospective of Basquiat was just like that – legions coming to celebrate one of the borough’s greatest stars. Now the museum’s turned the tables – giving everyone a view of their favorite son in a completely different, audacious setting.

“Untitled”, the focal point of the show, acrylic and oil stick

One Basquiat, on view through March 11 at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, provides an almost church-like atmosphere with stark white benches reverently set where fans can sit quietly and contemplate the work of this legendary Brooklyn artist. No flash, no drama – just you and a singular sensation by Jean-Michel.

Japanese collector and Basquiat super-fan Yusaku Maezawa paid a fortune for this painting at auction last May and decided to collaborate with the museum to spread the joy with other fans in Basquiat’s hometown.

Never mind that his bid was the sixth-highest ever made for a contemporary painting – when you buy something that no one else has seen in over 30 years, why not give props to its creator in the classy way he deserves – white room, solitary contemplation, just one work.

James Van Der Zee’s 1982 portrait of Basquiat

A few discrete wall panels explain Jean-Michel’s importance and context, and the little vitrine with his Brooklyn Museum junior membership card says it all about the artist-as-youngster. His mom enrolled him when he was six.

The show is lovingly bookended (outside the white room) with a monumental James Van Der Zee portrait of Jean-Michel and clips from a 1981 film showing the creative genius in action, making his mark on unadorned walls. See our Flickr album.

Get out to Brooklyn immediately to see the hometown hero’s work before it takes flight to Chibu, Japan.

Close up of Basquiat’s brushwork and drawing

Hockney Shows Flying Colors at The Met

David Hockney at the press preview of his retrospective

Through his entire life, commemorated in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s retrospective, David Hockney has always let the colors fly, from his earliest years as a UK phenom to his most recent digital iPad sketches. Take a look in our Flickr album.

Hockney’s works are hung in chronological order in this big, colorful show, closing February 25 – the only US stop for this joyous celebration of one artist’s life.

The earliest paintings represent the time Hockney burst upon the UK art scene, going from grad student to gallery star in a hot second. Large canvases that explore the still-banned gay lifestyle are followed by colorful, joyful road-trip paintings that mix words, puns, flattened geography, and many exotic personnages of the American West.

Detail of A Bigger Splash, an LA acrylic from 1967

These works represent the launching pad for Hockney’s most iconic period – large canvases of lawns, pools, and sprinklers of growing and glamorous Los Angeles. Big flat Sixties spaces with blue or white water punctuated with remnants of abstract brushwork.

A gorgeous acrylic of Mount Fuji is drenched in Frankenthaler washes. It’s kind of a joke, since Hockney traveled to Japan to enjoy the scenery, but was so disappointed by all the industrial landscape that he settled on commemorating the trip by just doing a painting from a postcard and flower-arrangement guide book. Interestingly, Hockney’s Fuji-and-flower image holds the honor of being the Met gift shop’s best-selling postcard, outselling even Matisse’s haystacks or lily pads.

1990 oil Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica

Hockney’s biographical journey continues through galleries that are polar opposites – monumental, famous double portraits of celebrities and benefactors followed by a more intimate space peopled with little drawings of Warhol, other friends, and himself.

The color, size, and character of the rest of the work really crank the show up a notch. It’s like looking at Los Angeles landscapes, the Grand Canyon, or a friend’s colorful living room from the perspective of a drone hovering over it all. Every painting here makes a big, bold statement.

Hockney’s 2010-2013 iPad drawings

When the scale of the landscapes simply gets too big to manage (think Thomas Moran’s masterworks), Hockney just paints it all on a grid of smaller canvases that he can just hang in a grid. Brilliant solution .

The final room showcases Hockney’s most recent work – colorful iPad drawings. At age 80, he wakes up every morning, looks out the window, picks up the tablet, and translates his thoughts into bright, bold beautiful color.

Take a look with curator Ian Altaveer as he walks you through the show:

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.

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 of 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: