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.

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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.

Bard Resurrects NYC’s Crystal Palace

The domed Crystal Palace depicted on a commemorative window shade

With its exhibition New York Crystal Palace 1853, the Bard Graduate Center gallery is offering an exquisite experience of one of the 19th century marvels of New York – the enigmatic 1,500-paned glass structure that rose on what is now Bryant Park.

In 1853, New York was trying to claim its place as a culture capital. Two years prior, London had mounted its world-class exhibition in its beautiful Crystal Palace, and New York wanted to do Europe one better.

By this time, New York was dominating in global trade, so the City thought it could elevate American taste (and spur consumer appetite for luxury goods) by assembling technology innovations, art, and manufactured items all under one big domed glass roof.

Why not build the world’s largest cast iron and glass exhibition hall on the edge of the city at 42nd Street next to the Croton Reservoir? For 50 cents, visitors could spend the day inside and people watch to their heart’s content.

Showpiece parlor furniture, an 1853 armchair by Julius Dessoir

It would be the largest building that anyone had ever experienced – so big that it had its own police force and you had to buy a guidebook.

The exhibition selects some choice items from New York collections – many which were indeed exhibited under the dome in 1853 – to tell the story of the endeavor, give a feeling of what a wonder it was, and bring you back to a time in New York when parlor furniture was the rage, ladies were just venturing out for ice cream on their own, and oysters were still so plentiful in the harbor that they reigned as the best quick snack for lunch.

Take a look at the galleries exhibition on the Bard website, but see a close-up view on our Flickr album.

Although the physical exhibition ends July 30, the Bard team offers a through-the-looking glass digital site, where you can actually stroll through the interior and examine different items along the way. The journey takes you by evocative sculptures, beautifully crafted musical instruments, spectacular parlor furniture, and vitrines filled with over-the-top ladies’ hats.

High-tech Singer sewing machine for home and business

The technology section features the latest in fire engines, Eli Whitney’s original model of his 1794 cotton gin, Colt’s revolvers, a pyramid made of innovative cotton rope, and the revolutionary iron sewing machine. To show how it worked for industry and the home, Singer had women demonstrate this new labor-saving device.

In-gallery and online interactive walk-through tour of the Crystal Palace

The scope of the exhibition was so massive – the footprint of Bryant Park between 40th and 42nd Streets – that publishers offered guide books so that visitors wouldn’t miss a thing.

Helpfully, Bard provides you with digital access to the free July 23, 1853 Crystal Palace supplement from the Illustrated News, modeled upon a period newspaper.

For a thrilling view, you can go up to the 270-foot tall, 8-foot wide platform of the Latting Observatory (New York’s first authentic skyscraper) and get a bird’s eye view of the city all the way out to Jamaica Bay. Or duck into the saloon below for smash, the cocktail of the day, a shaken-not-stirred icy mix of brandy, lemon, mint, and sugar. (And consult the guidebook to find out which saloons allow ladies to sip alcohol.)

There’s also a digital guide to other 1853 attractions, including how to take an omnibus over to the Hippodrome and where to find Matthew Brady’s studio.

Must-have tophat displayed and available from John Genin’s downtown mega-store

It’s all so lively, that it’s sad to learn that the entire edifice came crashing down in a dramatic fire in 1858, which likely adds to the mystery. The curators have found a tiny, insignificant piece of its melted glass from the Museum of the City of New York’s collection. Treasure it.

If you have three hours, watch Bard’s symposium on how it all came together – the palace, the exhibition, and the digital experience that will provide everyone with hours of 19th century summer fun in the City:

Georgia O’Keeffe’s Always-Modern Style

Modern black-and-white dressing even in 1917. Photo: Stieglitz.

Like any home sewer, she was fond of certain fabrics and put a lot of love and care into crafting something she wore (and wore out) through important decades of her life.

In Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern, on view at the Brooklyn Museum of Art through July 23, you will experience the pristine care this home sewer gave her hand-tucked tunics for over 60 years after she made them – crème silk, tiny stitches, thin bow ties, and shortened hems, all from the 1920s.

Brooklyn’s had a blockbuster season with this O’Keeffe show. It’s where Georgia had her first museum show in 1927, when she was a fixture on the high-art scene in New York, wearing a dramatic evening wraparound coat with rainbow-surprise lining – an upscale step from the loden cape that was her signature look a few years earlier.

Although many knew her for her Southwestern landscapes, she studied at the Art Students League and got her teachers training at Columbia in New York City. Only then did she take a teaching gig out west at Texas A&M. Stieglitz, her future husband was already showing her work in New York.

Clean lines of handmade silk dresses that Georgia made in the early 1920s.

For years, Georgia lived in Midtown, not too far from Bergdorf’s and other fancy shops. Although she chose an austere, modern look, the proximity to luxury and knowing the detail behind how elegant clothes was part of who she was.

Glimpse items from the show on our Flickr feed.

Once she moved out west permanently after Stieglitz passed, she adopted a select portfolio of western wear – denim shirts, 501s or Lady Levis, and rubber-soled PF sport shoes. No crazy fringe or cowboy frou frou.

Although there are no photos of it in the show, the curators say that her iconic adobe home featured mid-century modern furniture. It’s interesting how she kept up with modern fashion and surrounded herself with sophisticated, sleek lines from her remote perch in New Mexico’s redlands.

Working McCardell and a concho belt in this 1956 Todd Webb photo

She acquired one of the first Puccis sold in the United States – a stark black-and-white “chute” dress — and had a beloved collection of Marimekko and Clare McCardell sport dresses. She felt that McCardell was the greatest designer America had ever produced. So much so, she had the designs copied by local seamstresses.

Georgia’s trips back to New York included stops at Bergdorf’s and at her favorite old neighborhood tailor. Although she wasn’t sewing anymore, she invested a lot of effort to work with meticulous artists who could fashion austere black wool suits into the perfect expression of her, with just a subtle detail added her or there.

The paintings, clothes, and photographs coexist throughout the show, informing your vision of one of the most famous artists of the 20th century.

It’s quite remarkable to realize that every great photographer (in addition to her husband) sought her out (or received an assignment) to capture her no-nonsense image – Ansel Adams, Bruce Weber, Richard Avedon, and Annie Liebowitz.

Sparkling 1980s Warhol shows how Andy feels about Georgia.

Appropriately, one of the highlights is the miniscule Polaroid that Andy snapped of Georgia some time in the Eighties. Her head is closely wrapped in her signature black scarf and she’s as serious-looking as she can be. Andy used it as the basis of a photo-silkscreen portrait that he sprinkled with diamond dust, which gives it an Interview magazine quality.

The piece is surrounded by fashion multiples, large-scale portraits by other famous photographers, big painted abstractions, and multiple images where she sports her Calder art-piece brooch. Her all-knowing, of-the-moment glittery visage peering out of the Warhol frame shows Georgia right in tune with the the modern, changing times.

Watch this brief overview of the show:

Georgia’s multiples from the 1960s — Balenciaga suit, copies, and custom pieces and slacks.

How to Build an Empire at The Met

Close up of Qin chariot horse replicas (221 – 206 B.C.). From: Qin Shihuangdi Mausoleum Site Museum, Lintong

You can’t take it with you, or can you? The Chinese emperor with the terra cotta army thought so. See for yourself in Age of Empires: Chinese Art of the Qin and Han Dynasties (221 B.C-A.D. 220), on view through July 16 at the Met.

There are only a few horses and men from that monumental undertaking on display, but the terra cotta visitors are stunners. They and the other luxury and art objects on loan from 32 museums and archeological institutions in China provide a vivid look into the culture and pride of a people who were just forming an identity as a nation in 221 B.C. Previously, the Chinese continent consisted of warring ethnic tribes.

Heavenly Han horse and military groom in bronze (25 – 220 A.D) from Mianyang City Museum.

About a century earlier, classical Greek style, art, and ideas washed over Europe and Asia due to Alexander’s empire-building success. At the time of the Qin dynasty, when the Great Wall was being built, scholars wonder whether the Chinese emperors had seen (or heard about) large-scale classical Greek sculptures and asked their artists to out-do their Mediterranean counterparts.

Why not build full armies, cities, entertainment troupes, cavalries, and watch towers and bury them in tombs of the emperors, princes, and princesses to serve them in the after life? Like the Egyptians, the Qin and Han emperors and princes wanted a lot of stuff to use in the afterlife. But unlike the Egyptian style, it was all about personality.

Each large-scale sculpture is imbued with individual flair in their apparel, expressions, hairstyles, and weapons. If you listen to the audio guide, the curators tell us that the large-scale terra cotta armies were mass-produced using molds, but the artists were told to give each sculpture-person a dose of individuality before they were done.

Terracotta cattle (206 B.C. – 9 A.D.) from the Yangling Mausoleum.

That holds true for the animals in the show, too. The Han dynasty had a thing for beautiful, spirited horses and the center gallery in the show displays some beauties. Grooms come along, too.

Apparently the conquering Han rulers kept menageries and ranches, as seen in the show’s room full of rhinos, elephants, cattle, pigs, and animals-turned-into-art-lamps. There’s a twinkle in each of their eyes, too.

Another highlight is the jade suit made for a princess, which was supposed to form added protection in the afterlife. Another is the money tree. Who wouldn’t want one of those?

The show’s objects reflect how many tribes and influences crossed paths over the course of the Han dynasty (think Silk Road) to create the modern view of a single, all-encompassing Chinese culture – diverse textiles, gems, inventions, and ideas.

Han Dynasty belt buckle (206 B.C. – 220 A.D.) from Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Museum

The final object, a bronze mirror from the Han dynasty, reflects it all – the first recorded inscription expressing the desire for the peoples of the “Central Kingdom” (a.k.a. China) prospering for generations to come. It’s the earliest inscription to reference many ethnic groups considering themselves as one people, one China. 

Take a look at all the objects in the collection on the Met’s site, or look at our favorites on Flickr.

Browse through the catalog to see more spectacular stuff that Han dynasty emperors just had to have:

 

Whitney Biennial Takes America’s Pulse in New Home

Larry Bell’s Pacific Red II

Moving into a new home often gives a new perspective on life, and it’s true of this year’s Whitney Biennial. The open, flexible spaces allowed significantly more creativity above the High Line than at the old confines of the Madison Avenue building — Larry Bell’s 2017 “Pacific Red II” installation lording it over The Standard, Asad Raza’s 26-tree installation with the skyline beyond, Cauleen Smith’s banners in the daylight downstairs, and light streaming through the faux “stained glass” window by Raul de Nieves.

Yes, interior spaces are filled with concept art, video installations, slide shows, and paintings, but the glimpses of light and sky serve like punctuation breaks from the sometimes-intense experiences about race, society, rising personal debt (even for artists!), and a throw-away cuture.

Caretaker explains growing trees for Asad Raza’s Root sequence, Mother tongue

The word on the street is that this is one of the most enjoyable Biennials in the show’s history, which is not to say that the curators have avoided challenging work. They haven’t.

Tension…disorientation…protest are all there in reflections on today’s social issues, censorship, social memory, marginalization of populations, and obsessions over the role that too-much-digitalization plays in our hectic lives.

But there are aspirational pieces, too – hopefulness, sincerity, and healing.

Classroom inside the Whitney by Chemi Rosado-Seijo

Think about the (concept art) school set up inside the Whitney. It’s the idea of Puerto Rican artist and educator Chemi Rosado-Seijo, who tried the same displacement between school and museum in his hometown – an experiment that the kids there are still talking about. For the Biennial, Chemi arranged for Lower Manhattan Arts Academy high school students come to the Whitney for classes one day a week; in exchange, work by Whitney artists is moved to the school.

Take a look at our Flickr album, which includes photos of Chemi and some of the other artists from the press preview.

The Whitney has done a spectacular job of documenting all the artists, their statements, and work on their website.

The museum has produced a beautiful testament to this year’s survey. Take a look and witness art history. Seventy-eight years and going strong:

For Royals Who Have Everything

Intricately carved boxwood rosary owned by King Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon, 1509-1526

What do you get royals who have everything? If you lived in the early 16th century in Europe, you get a Netherlandish woodcarver to create an amazing, theatrical scene inside a prayer bead or a letter of the alphabet. Fifty amazing treasures from Europe are currently on display at the Met’s Cloisters in the exhibition Small Wonders: Gothic Boxwood Miniatures, closing May 21.

The artists worked on a microscopic scale and packed enough figures into a tiny space that you’d think you were seeing a replication of the finale to a grand opera – main characters, side stories, worlds within worlds.

If you owned one, you’d receive an exquisitely carved boxwood bead that opened to reveal a dramatic scene (usually Biblical), a protective case, and a leather-lined velvet pouch. If you had something like a boxwood altarpiece for your private chapel, the whole thing would fit into a custom-fitted custom case in case you wanted to transport it to your country castle.

You can take it with you; from the Rijksmuseum

Right as you enter the lower-level gallery at the Cloisters, you encounter the largest object in the show, a rosary with 12 immaculately carved multi-sided beads that was owned by Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon. The theme was the Apostle’s Creed, with each bead telling the story of one of the first apostles – obviously received by the newlyweds before their historic split, which created the Church of England.

The stories behind the fascinating works cannot hold a match to the wonder of seeing these masterpieces in person. One of J.P. Morgan’s donations to the Cloisters – a single bead that reveals layers and layers of figurative sculptures – is always a highlight. It’s incredible that the Cloisters and its partners pulled together some of the best boxwood carvings in the world.

Take a look at the Met’s photo archive, where their high-res digital wizardry allows you to enlarge the photo on your screen to see all of the fine, intricate, tiny detail. Each one of the nearly 50 objects. Also, take a look at our Flickr album of the show.

Letter P opens to reveal the legend of Saint Philip, 1500-1506

Click on the link below to see the video that shows how these incredible small worlds were made: http://players.brightcove.net/911432378001/SkBUku4V_default/index.html?videoId=5249656214001.

Fast Forward to the Eighties at The Whitney

Kenny Scharf’s When the Worlds Collide, 1984, atop Keith Haring Pop Shop design

When the elevator doors open at the Whitney, you almost feel blown back by Kenny Scharf’s super-sized painting hanging atop Keith Haring’s busy black-and-white wall. So much action, color, and crazy coming right at you.

In the Whitney’s tribute to a decade of no-holes-barred life at full tilt, Fast Forward: Painting from the 1980s, closing May 14, the oversized, in-your-face welcome seems right.

For painters entering the world of the punked and burned-out East Village scene in the 1980s, their medium – paint on canvas — was supposed to be dead, eclipsed by performance, ephemeral, and trash-assemblage art. As this show demonstrates, painting indeed lived.

Close-up of Keith Haring felt-tip marker drawing on synthetic leather

What’s a curator to do with a vast archive of stuff that the Whitney collected in the Eighties? A brilliant solution: Give the superstars (Basquiat, Scharf, and Haring) top billing at the entrance and pull audiences back into the galleries that illuminate three themes – the heroic, the personal journey, and the abstract.

First, the mega-famous: Basquiat’s LNAPRK is a selfie-magnet, but the surprise is Haring’s felt-tipped-marker-inscribed synthetic leather hide. The Whitney snapped it up when they saw it mounted it in an early Eighties downtown gallery, and it hasn’t seen the light of day since. It’s everything that everyone loves about Keith – whimsical, meticulous, imaginative, mesmerizing, hand-drawn line interlocked with social commentary. How did he do it?

Close up of brushwork on Julien Schnabel’s 1982 velvet on velvet painting, Hope

Monumental history-painting-sized canvases by Golub, Fischl, and Schnabel dominate one gallery. Troubling topics are portrayed at a scale typically reserved for the Louvre. Getting up close to the Schnabel, however, reveals his sheer joy of paint, colorful swaths of brushwork swooshing across lush blue velvet. They could only have been painted with broad, heroic strokes. Painting, even in the rapidly transforming Soho, was not dead.

Salon-sized paintings and drawings dot the wall in the second gallery, evoking the roaring East Village art scene of the Eighties. Larger works hang on the surrounding walls, all personal narratives with a smattering of pop culture – a series evoking the troubles of Elizabeth Taylor, the internal journeys of Jonathan Borofsky, and the cultural conundrums that fueled crash-and-burn work by David Wojarowicz.

Detail of Moira Dryer’s 1988 Portrait of a Fingerprint

Abstraction rules the third gallery, personal and grand – the thick impasto of bio-inspired works by Terry Winters, Susan Rothenberg’s painterly eminences, and Moira Dryer’s fingerprint abstractions.

For more about the painters’ personal journeys, listen in on the audio tour of this satisfying trip back in time. To see the brushwork, go up close on our Flickr site.

Adrian Goes Beyond Hollywood at FIT

1949 Vogue magazine spread with Adrian’s dress of Bianchini-Férier silk taffeta

The FIT graduate students have hit the mark again in their show Adrian: Hollywood and Beyond, running through April 1 at the upstairs museum gallery.

Although there are film clips aplenty showcasing the Hollywood designer’s work, this exhibition explores the connection that Adrian made between his work on the silver screen, his collaboration with American and French fabric designers, and addressing the ready-to-wear market.

After achieving worldwide recognition for his glamorous Hollywood costumes and the iconic Americana gingham dress in The Wizard of Oz, Adrian thought he might go slightly more mass market. Why not capitalize on the ability to channel an American sensibility and Thirties glamour and make it more widely accessible?

Organic piecing in an artistic 1945 ready-to-wear evening ensemble

A lover of art and fan of surrealism, Adrian opened his first salon in Beverly Hills in 1942 and collaborated with American fabric manufacturers to give the added zing to his collections.

Right from the start, Adrian offered customers amazing cuts on sharp suits, intricate construction (go, mitered seams!), fool-the-eye appliques, and exquisite draping of innovative, bold prints.

The curators cleverly present swaths of uncut fabric next to print ads featuring Adrian’s creations using the same bold designs – leopard print, surrealist-inspired fantasy, and even festive chickens from the farm. It’s all flair from start to finish, and a nice focus on a time when fabrics were made in America, Seventh Avenue (and Hollywood) ruled, and consumers craved quality.

Although Adrian continued designing for Hollywood right through his ready-to-wear years, the show ends with Technicolor clips from films that include dramatic fashion shows featuring fantasy clothes for beach, sun, and salons.

1952 fashion-show costume from Lovely to Look At

As always, the FIT student crew has created a beautiful web exhibition for the show, but you can also look closely at the details on some of our favorite Adrian flourishes and fabrics in our Flickr album.

Great work, FIT graduates!