New York Artists Celebrate Coney Island

Steeplechase Funny Face, the symbol of a famous amusement park.

Steeplechase Funny Face, the symbol of a famous amusement park.

How did a strip of pristine, white-sand beach turn into one of the most fantastical, lurid, menacing, and whimsical destinations in the United States? You won’t find a sociological essay, but you’ll experience a lot of evidence in the Brooklyn Museum’s Coney Island extravaganza.

See Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861–2008 through March 13 and visit Stephen Powers: Coney Island Is Still Dreamland (To a Seagull) on the Fifth Floor through August 21.

The crowds filling the galleries last Saturday night savored the experience of the sky-high towers of contemporary hand-painted, Coney-inspired signs by the collaborative, ICY SIGNS. You could stand for an hour, just taking in all the messages, philosophy, and witty send-ups of contemporary life, curated by TED-talking artist Stephen Powers.

Through the door, however, another world waits. Seeing Coney Island’s gaudy jumble today from the air or Q train, it’s hard to imagine how it looked in the mid-1800s in the post-Civil War era.

Chase’s 1886 oil, Landscape, Near Coney Island

Chase’s 1886 oil, Landscape, Near Coney Island

The show, organized by Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, opens with tranquil landscapes of the aspiring middle-classes enjoying the salt air and low-key entertainments and diversions on the beach – maybe having a photo taken by an itinerant photographer, or sampling some sweet treats. Back in these more genteel times, the sandy shores were open to a mix of races and nations, or so the oils by William Merritt Chase and John Henry Twachtman attest.

How times changed! A giant vintage black-and-white film clip of romance on a roller coaster draws you into a world of more visceral wonder – carousel horses and gambling wheels interspersed with a hundreds of works by famous American artists that explore the magic, mayhem, and malevolence that made Coney such a phenomenon.

Detail of Joseph Stella’s 1913-1914 Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras from Yale University.

Detail of Joseph Stella’s 1913-1914 Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras from Yale University.

Figurative work from Reginald Marsh and others catapult you back to bawdy bathers and burlesque scenes brought to life last year in Broadway’s On the Town. Photographs by Arbus, Weegee, and Walker Evans provide close-up views of what it was like above and under the boardwalk.

Much of the shows’s fun is driven by the jarring injection of super-cool modern abstraction next to the flotsam and jetsam of the actual historic artifacts.

Edwin Porter’s 1905 silent movie Coney Island at Night gave nickelodeon viewers a novel way to see Edison’s incandescent lights in all their glory.

It’s startling to see Joseph Stella’s Futurist-inspired tribute to Coney Island’s Mardis Gras and realize that it’s from the same 1910-1914 era in which Jimmy Durante played honkey tonk piano for newcomer Mae West. It was all happening at the same time as the Armory Show.

1991 acrylic painting featuring iconic Spook-A-Rama Cyclops by Arnold Mesches.

1991 acrylic painting featuring iconic Spook-A-Rama Cyclops by Arnold Mesches.

Frank Stella’s 1950’s abstraction holds its own amidst the sideshow banners and relics that inspired his jarring color bars and mystery portal. Maybe it’s not a coincidence that right around the corner you come face-to-face with the real-life Coney landmark – the Cyclops who lured riders into America’s largest dark ride, Spook-A-Rama. The curators have placed him right next to his menacingly large portrait by Arnold Mesches.

Take a walk on the wild side of history, art, and sideshow performance while you can in person or via our Flickr album.

The Stephen Powers installation runs through the summer. Here he is explaining the allure of Coney Island as a contemporary inspiration:

Warhol Moved Out So Picasso Could Play

Bronze She-Goat, 1950, who usually lives outside in MoMA’s garden.

Bronze She-Goat, 1950, who usually lives outside in MoMA’s garden.

To mount the blockbuster Picasso Sculpture show, closing February 7, MoMA cleared out Andy, Roy, Jasper, and all the Judds from the Fourth Floor and let in an array of whimsical animals, personnages, and concoctions. If you couldn’t get in the front door of the show or were discouraged by the crowds, take a look at our favorites in our Flickr album.

The surprise is that every one of the dozen or so galleries is filled with the most delightful Picasso creations. You don’t really need a guidebook or an understanding of the history of modern art. You can just look and smile. Just like Picasso did.

Even he needed a break from his Blue Period, and the first gallery shows two little wooden “dolls” carved in 1906 – a response to Gauguin’s shockingly primitive Tahitian wood carvings that rocked Picasso’s world when he encountered them in gallery. Rough, painted, angular, and shamanistic – a good way to work out the creative kinks at the same time you were creating the Demoiselles downstairs. Pure primitive…no gallery guide needed.

Carved wooden Doll inspired by Gauguin, 1907. From Gallery of Ontario.

Carved wooden Doll inspired by Gauguin, 1907. From Gallery of Ontario.

Next door (directly upstairs from the gallery where the Demoiselles hold court), Picasso’s having his fun with his crazily patterned and painted bronze absinthe glasses, spoons, and fake sugar. The curators have gathered together enough from different collections to have a party. Cubism with a twist of polka-dot fun.

Next, it’s monumental heads carved from plaster. Why do they all seem to be in on a joke? It’s the room where Andy and Roy’s Pop masterpieces usually hang, but Pablo’s big, bulbous curvy heads from the 1930s are just as wry and enjoyable. (See the videos below.)

Already declared “degenerate” by the Nazis in 1937 and featured in their historic touring show, Picasso had his own quiet joke on the oppressors as he lived through the occupation of Paris in 1940-1944. While the Nazis were melting down bronze statuary in Paris to use in their war manufacturing, Pablo somehow managed to sneak into a foundry to make a big, bronze sculpture of large kitty cat on the prowl and other metal works.

Figure, 1938, made of found stuff -- wood, nails, and screws with string, wire, and hardware

Figure, 1938, made of found stuff — wood, nails, and screws with string, wire, and hardware

The kitty, the bicycle-handlebar bull, and the napkin dog are just two among a host of lots of other contraban he defiantly created before liberation.

The rest of the galleries show how Picasso’s wartime scrounging spurred him on to new heights of making something out of nothing and finding delight in transforming somebody’s junk into funny, fool-the-eye sculptures. The She-Goat (usually found hanging outside in MoMA’s garden by The Modern), the car-baboon, a metal owl, goose, and other creatures hold court in the bigger galleries.

Well-wishers crowd around taking feel-good photos and parents show the kids how the artist took everyday objects and turned them into such fun critters.

The stick-people Bathers at the finale are partially made of pieces of painting frames and other found wood, painted and finished with the same rough technique and hand that characterized the “dolls” in the first room. It’s the great Modern Master going rogue channeling outsider art.

The Bathers, 1956. From the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart.

The Bathers, 1956. From the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart.

By the time you get to the model of the monumental head that’s become one of Chicago’s icons (in the last gallery), the crazy sculpture — Picasso’s last —  feels  kind of normal.

It’s telling that MoMA didn’t even put label copy on the stuff. Just a guidebook you can pick up at the entrance, or not. No wonder it’s been the most popular show in New York.

Just when you thought understanding modern art was “hard”, one of the masters comes along, kicks sand in your face, laughs, invites you to do a little beachcombing with him, throws a few sticks together, and asks you to look at what’s right around you in a new way.

Look at a few pieces that MoMA underscores with delightful music.

Navajo Jewelry Masters Offer Glittering World at Customs House

Bracelet of coral, opal, suglite, lapis, turquoise, gold, and silver by Raymond Yazzie. Courtesy: NMAI/Knight collection. Photo: S. Franks

Bracelet of coral, opal, suglite, lapis, turquoise, gold, and silver by Raymond Yazzie. Courtesy: NMAI/Knight collection. Photo: S. Franks

If you’d like an immersion into a chamber of glistening silver and gems, enter the National Museum of the American Indian’s exhibition of stunning beauty and tranquility — Glittering World: Navajo Jewelry of the Yazzie Family.

The Smithsonian is providing New York with a unique chance to view 300 remarkable necklaces, bracelets, rings, and buckles from a New Mexico family of artists known for catapulting Navajo symbols, colors, and gems into a modern-art context.

Lapis and gold bracelet by Lee Yazzie, 1984. Photo: E. Aboroso, NMAI.

Lapis and gold bracelet by Lee Yazzie, 1984. Photo: E. Aboroso, NMAI.

The focus is on Lee and Raymond Yazzi, brothers whose award-winning, intricate creations are sought by collectors worldwide. You’ll see five magnificent pieces as soon as you enter, including work by their sister, Mary Marie – representing lifetimes of master craftsmanship inspired by the mountains, sun, sky, spirits, and family in Gallup, New Mexico.

Photomurals inside the door will transport you to the red rock monuments of Navajo Nation, 1950s trading posts along the old Route 66, and maps to turquoise mines that have supplied native peoples with high-end bedazzlers since 300 A.D. The Smithsonian will be returning it all to private collectors after January 10, so be sure to enter this beautiful realm before then.

Watch this testament to artistic inspiration and dedication to beauty:

And take a trip to the Navajo world to hear more on a lifetime of creation:

AMNH Highlights Species Living at the Limits

Tartigrades rule the show -- the micro-animal can survive at high heat, high altitude, high pressure, inhospitable climates, without water, and even outer space.

Tartigrades rule the show — the micro-animal survives high heat, high altitude, high pressure, without water, and even outer space.

If you’ve ever wanted to take a magic carpet ride to visit all the animals, plants, and environments you’ve ever seen on National Geographic or Nova, spend some time inside the special exhibition Life at The Limits: Stories of Amazing Species, running through January 3 at the American Museum of Natural History.

The curators and exhibition staff take you to the absolute limits of life on Earth in a “wow factor” show, organized into topics sure to astound.

How high into the atmosphere do animals live? How deep in the ocean? Who is the world-record holder for bite force? Who makes the longest migratory journey? Who is the award-winner for survival in the extreme?

The show will take you into deep caves, to life among the black smokers in ocean depths, to high altitudes, and even into outer space.

A deep-sea diving champion -- the Southern elephant seal can hold its breath for 2 hours and dive to 5,000 feet

A deep-sea diving champion — the Southern elephant seal can hold its breath for 2 hours and dive to 5,000 feet

And they’ve even thrown in some live creatures, too – the popular Axolotls, who retain their juvenile amphibious form into adulthood, and swimmers using the jet-propulsion method – chambered nautilis. Check out a few views on our Flickr feed.

Not to give anything away, but you’ll find out that vultures have been known to fly at 37,000 feet and beaked whales have been known to dive at least 10,000 feet below the ocean’s surface.

Live Chambered nautilis demonstrates jet propulsion

Live Chambered nautilis demonstrates jet propulsion

Crocodiles have a bit force of 3,700 pounds, electric eels and hammerheads can deliver 600 volts, and eagles can subdue animals of up 20 pounds in weight using only their claws. Arctic Terns may migrate 25,000 miles.

There’s no doubt that the stars of the survivalist show are miniscule tartigrades (better known as “water bears” or “moss piglets”). These miniature eight-legged water creatures inhabit climates that no human could. They are able to survive at temperatures colder than Pluto and hotter than boiling water and have been known to survive in the void of space for up to 12 days.

Moreover, tartigrades are prolific: nearly 1,200 species inhabit Earth in lichen, moss, beaches, and dunes and hold the distinction of residing at the International Space Station and being part of Space Shuttle Endeavor’s final flight.

Artist recreation of tube worms absorbing chemicals from ocean vents three miles under the sea – an environment unknown until 1977

Artist recreation of tube worms absorbing chemicals from ocean vents three miles under the sea – an environment unknown until 1977

How did life evolve to adapt to such extremes? Darwin explains it in his theory of natural selection, which leads to gradual adaptations within animal populations.

But you are left to wander and wonder at the engaging displays, animals, specimens, and movies.

Glimpse some of this fascinating exhibition in this video with co-curators John Sparks and Mark Siddall. By the way, the cover photo below is the Axolotl featured in the show:

Texas Retirement for World Famous NYC Dinos

A 1964 New York Times photo of the Sinclair Dinosaur and Stegosaurus passing by the Empire State Building on their way to the Queens fairgrounds

A 1964 New York Times photo of the Sinclair Dinosaur and Stegosaurus viewing the Empire State Building on their way to the Worlds Fair fairgrounds

The Sinclair dinosaur was a sensation when he arrived in New York City to star in the 1964 World’s Fair. Millions of visitors queued to have their pictures taken with him and get a glimpse of life-size replicas of the scale and scope of the Mesozoic megafauna.

T. Rex, Stegosaurus, Triceratops, Trachodon…never mind that they lived millions of years apart – just to see them inspired science geeks, wonder seekers, and future paleontologists – an unforgettable childhood impression.

It may surprise you to learn that Sinclair and T. Rex are living a blissful retirement in Texas where there are no Unispheres, freeways, lines of tourists, or ticket booths…about 75 miles southwest of Fort Worth in a state park with another unique connection to New York.

Sinclair relaxes in a Texas corral

Sinclair relaxes in a Texas corral

The gargantuan dinosaur trackway up on the fourth floor of the American Museum of Natural History is from the Paluxy River in Dinosaur Valley State Park, where these two former New Yorkers have retired.

Back in the Thirties, AMNH field explorer Roland T. Bird told his boss, Barnum Brown, about the Texas trackways. In 1940, aided by WPA crews, the submerged tracks were excavated, cut into 1,200 pieces and shipped off to the AMNH, the Smithsonian, the University of Texas, and a few other places.The excavation was a media sensation, with chronicles appearing everywhere.

In New York, the jigsaw-puzzle track pieces were eventually reassembled and placed under the Apatosaurus/Brontosaurus, where they remain today.

Apatosaurus atop Paluxy trackway in New York at AMNH

Apatosaurus atop Paluxy trackway in New York at AMNH

The big, round blobby tracks that appear to match those of Apatosaurus are reckoned to be those of Sauroposeidon and the three-toed tracks running right alongside are those of Acrocanthosaurus, a predator.

Even though this spectacular trackway got moved to New York, there are still plenty in in the park. There are at least five big sites, which have all been documented in the Dinosaur Valley State Park footprint-mapping project. See the results here. When you click on each photo mosaics or track overlays, they will open in Google Earth. Find the R.T. Bird site under Track Site Area 2.

But how did the New York dinosaurs get to Glen Rose? The entire dinosaur group toured the United States for a few years after the Fair, right around the time that Texans lobbied to have the Paluxy Trackway declared a state park. No dinosaur fossils at the time, but there were lots of footprints, mostly underwater but a few on the shoreline. Neighboring ranchers donated the land, hoping to keep the site intact and spur tourism dollars.

Sauropod footprints underwater at the Paluxy River, Glen Rose, Texas

Sauropod footprints underwater at the Paluxy River, Glen Rose, Texas

When the Sinclair tour concluded, Atlantic Richfield’s idea was to donate all the dinosaurs to the Smithsonian, but when the Smithsonian said they didn’t want the group, the band broke up. One went to Vernal, one to Cleveland, but Glen Rose was the only location that managed to get the two biggest stars. Did the New York connection make the difference?

It’s hard to know, but the recently opened Perot Museum of Nature and Science features a pop culture corner in its dinosaur hall with replicas of all of the NYC’s World’s Fair dinosaurs!

For the complete story, check out this video of the tracksite and an introduction to the Google Earth mapping project, old videos of Mr. Bird’s historic 1940s excavation, and cameos by the Sinclair dinosaur and friends.

World’s Fair T Rex enjoying a quiet life in Texas

World’s Fair T Rex enjoying a quiet life in Texas

Frida Khalo Extravaganza Ending with Colorful Surprises

NYBG’s Haupt Conservatory is transformed into Frida’s Casa Azul

NYBG’s Haupt Conservatory is transformed into Frida’s Casa Azul

Ever since the New York Botanical Garden installed its Frida Khalo: Art, Garden, Life show, it’s been a nonstop party and feast for the eyes, ears, and tastebuds.

Not sufficient to import fourteen of Frida’s rarely seen paintings for the formal gallery upstairs in its library building, the creative NYBG team has made environments, commissioned artists, designed apps, booked acts, hosted special events, transformed the conservatory, made a wall of cactus, redesigned menus, and even brought in a taco truck to give everyone an immersion into her sophisticated Mexican lifestyle.

This blockbuster sensory experience is in its last week, going out with a bang with a Dia de los Muertos theme as this traditional Mexican holiday collides with our own Halloween. Sugar skulls and whimsical skeletons are taking over Frida and Diego’s pyramid that serves as the centerpiece of the garden portion of the show.

Tissue-paper dresses for The Two Fridas by artist Humberto Spindola

Tissue-paper dresses for The Two Fridas by artist Humberto Spindola

It’s an appropriate mix, given Frida’s own proclivity to merge the everyday with the surreal in her own works. The Library has an exquisite collection of her self-portrait and still life paintings, featuring flowers, animals, and deep-rooted Mexican myth and culture.

Downstairs in the Britton Rotunda, there’s a stunning installation of The Two Fridas by artist Humberto Spindola – side-by-side mannequins wearing tissue-paper dresses in colors that Frida sported, but with the surreal outer heart that she painted more than once. Visitors approach as if it were a shrine with special powers.

Frida’s workspace

Frida’s workspace

The Haupt Conservatory serves up a riot of color with floating blue containers of vivid flowers, the dynamic blue of the recreated Casa Azul, where she lived, pops of the types of flowers with which she adorned her table and sills, and the intensely painted Mexican-style pyramid in the center of it all.

The sensations are so bright that it’s easy to miss the recreation of Frida’s studio, tucked away in the trees to the left of the main event – brushes, paints, paint sticks, and other tools.

Outdoors, the curators have succulents jammed into every piece of oversize Mexican pottery near a “wall” of cactus, replicating a natural fence that Diego had outside his studio for decades.

Soloist from Capulli Danza Mexicana channels her inner Frida for the crowd

Soloist from Capulli Danza Mexicana channels her inner Frida for the crowd

The “Life” portion of the show’s title is represented by the generous schedule of music, performances, films, and events that the NYBG has featured throughout the show’s six-month run. Dance companies, all-female mariachi bands, chefs, and authors provide sensuous infusions of movement, wit, gaiety, and sophistication that Frida embodied her entire life. Flashing red skirts, exciting beats, fast footwork, dramatic flourishes, and meaty conversation all contribute to the experience of who Frida was, how she lived, and what she loved.

Download the exhibition panel to see all the parts of Mexico City that meant so much to Frida and Diego – images of parks, gardens, markets, and historic sites, including photos of Casa Azul.

Download the app for your visit, and go to our Flickr site to see the photos and a few videos of the dancers in action.

Take a look at what the NYBG team achieved:

If you have time, check out the YouTube of the all-star kick-off symposium dedicated to Frida last May.

 

10 Things to Know About Pluto’s Star Turn This Week

In real time, AMNH astrovisualization guru Carter Emmart notes the moment that humans reached the furthest point of exploration on Pluto on the big screen

In real time, AMNH astrovisualization guru Carter Emmart notes the moment that humans reached the furthest point of exploration, passing beyond Pluto

The American Museum of Natural History hosted a sold-out event at the crack of dawn this week to give Pluto fans (and Dr. Neil) a real time, play-by-play of what was happening on the edge of our solar system.

Check out our Flickr feed to see the visualizations created by Dr. Carter Emmart’s team at the Hayden Planetarium and glimpse some of the (human) stars at Mission Control and others who weighed in via Google Hangout from planetariums from around the world.

Here are 10 essential things you should know:

Pluto’s photo from earlier in the week appears on the Google Hangout, showing the “heart” area

Pluto’s photo from earlier in the week appears on the Google Hangout, showing the “heart” area

1) It was a fly-by. The New Horizons spacecraft flew by Pluto. It didn’t land or orbit around it.

2) Pluto has a reddish tint. The new color photos show that Mars isn’t alone.

3) Pluto has five moons. New Horizons is looking for more.

4) This marks the furthest point of human exploration to date. It happened just before 9 a.m. on Tuesday, July 14.

Just in -- the latest from New Horizons: July 17 photo of smooth frozen plains in Pluto’s “heart”

Just in — the latest from New Horizons: July 17 photo of smooth frozen plains in Pluto’s “heart”

5) The spacecraft, New Horizons, is the size of a grand piano. It traveled over 3 billion miles.

6) It took New Horizons 9-1/2 years to get to Pluto. It was launched January 17, 2006 and is expected to keep going out into space for another ten years. For the full story, click here.

7) The new photos confirm that Pluto is young and doesn’t have any craters (like our Moon or Neptune). Its 11,000-foot ice mountains are only 100 million years old (compared to the Rockies at 80 million years old). They formed during our Cretaceous period. More discoveries to come photos and data slowly stream in.

Fran Bagenal, New Horizons's co-PI, and Alice Bowman, the Mission Operation Manager — the first female Mission Operation Manager at APL Johns Hopkins

Fran Bagenal, New Horizons’s co-PI, and Alice Bowman, the first female Mission Operation Manager at APL

8) The transmission speed from the spacecraft is half the speed of an old dial-up modem. That’s why mission control will be receiving photos and other data from this fly-by for the next sixteen months or more.

9) Twenty-five percent of the people on the New Horizons project are women. Alice Bowman is the first female Mission Operations Manager at APL Johns Hopkins.

10) Dr. Neil keeps correcting people to call Pluto a “dwarf planet” but all of the scientists interviewed on the mission love it anyway. Some fans think it should be “grandfathered” into the solar system as an honorary planet.

Neil de Grasse Tyson reminds astrobiologist David Grinspoon at Mission Control to call Pluto a “dwarf” planet

Neil de Grasse Tyson reminds astrobiologist David Grinspoon at Mission Control to call Pluto a “dwarf” planet

Does Pluto have a molten core? What’s the topography of Charon? Are there geysers? Are there other moons? What’s going on with the Kuiper Belt? Stay tuned as New Horizons keeps going.

NASA has a TV channel featuring (now) daily media briefings on the photos and data and has a channel with all the updates on New Horizons, including links to new photos.

Also, tune into the New Horizons site hosted by mission control at APL Johns Hopkins. Next month, releases will be on a monthly basis.

Real-time visualization of how the New Horizons maps Pluto

Real-time visualization of how the New Horizons maps Pluto

Credit goes to Carter Emmart, AMNH’s director of astrovisualization, and the other creators of the Digital Universe for inventing this 4D open-source software and sharing it with planetariums around the world and applause for the scientists that made this expedition happen!

Nearly 11,000 people watched this live telecast from AMNH. If you have time, enjoy it for yourself by watching this YouTube recording of the event, currently at 46K views and counting:

 

Plains Indians Wearable Art at The Met

1780 Plains Indian horned headdress assembled from a powerful mix of materials including bison horns, deer and horsehair, porcupine quills, glass beads, wood, metal cones, cotton cloth, silk ribbon, and paint. From the Musée du quai Branly in Paris

1780 Horned headdress assembled from a powerful mix from mighty bison , deer, and horse. From Musée du quai Branly in Paris.

With all the attention this week on the couture gowns at the Metropolitan Museum of Art ball and Costume Institute show, don’t forget that some of the most elaborately embellished mixed-media wearable art is installed on the second floor in the expansive tribute, The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky, through this weekend.

The masterworks have been gathered from select European and North American collections and feature beadwork (mostly on leather), symbolic headdresses, and magical objects that directly telegraph the wearer’s connection to nature, the universe, and supernatural power.

The show was organized by the Musée du quai Branly, Paris, in collaboration with The Met, and in partnership with The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, and features works from the 18th century through today (like the China exhibition in the other wing).

All-over beading on contemporary platform shoes by artist Jamie Okuma, 2014.

All-over beading on 2014 platform shoes by artist Jamie Okuma.

The curators track changes in materials, styles, and concerns of the Osage, Quapaw, Omaha, Crow, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Lakota, Blackfeet, Pawnee, Kiowa, Comanche, and Meskwaki nations from the time they dominated the Midwest through the demise of the buffalo, the great wars, the transition to reservation life, and participation in 21st century art and culture.

Take a read through the curators’ story on this exhibition site and see some of our favorite looks on our Flickr feed, where we’ve organized the pieces in chronological order. We’re giving you a close-up view of some of the bead, quill, and embroidery work. You can see the transition from more shamanistic embellishment to use of imported Venetian glass beads, to the all-over bead style, and finally to current creations, such as Jaime Okuma’s beaded platform shoes.

Central painting on large-scale Mythic Bird robe from the Illinois Confederacy, 1700-1740. Courtesy: Musée du quai Branly in Paris

Central painting on Mythic Bird robe, Illinois Confederacy, 1700-1740. Courtesy: Musée du quai Branly in Paris

Much of the painting and handwork was divided according to gender – men painted figures and women did the beadwork and painted the geometric forms. This beautiful robe with a geometric mythological bird is one of the earliest surviving large-scale paintings from Plains tribes, and the beaded geometry of the 1895 Crow wedding robe is another marvel.

Compare the mixed-media horned headdresses from 1780s Missouri with Chief Red Cloud’s dramatic all-business trophy-feathered war bonnet of 1865. The fluffy-feathered 1925 creation from Cody’s Buffalo Bill Center almost makes you wonder if that version were strictly for wild west shows.

It’s also interesting to learn that the powerful symbolic paintings on shirts and shields were essentially “owned” by their creators.

Close up of the tiny Venetian seed beads used to decorate a Lakota woman’s dress (Teton Sioux), 1865. From the Smithsonian’s NMAI

Tiny Venetian seed beads decorate a Lakota woman’s 1865 dress. From the Smithsonian’s NMAI

Similar to what we learned about 1920s French couture designers’ concerns about unlicensed copies in FIT’s recent Faking It show, anyone wanting to replicate a particular war shirt or shield, had to be granted formal permission. The Met exhibition explains that replication permission of Plains Indian designs were closely held and protected for generations.

A full database of the amazing objects in the show is on the Met’s website, as well as the complete audio guide to the exhibit on the museum’s Soundcloud site. As you click on the audio tracks, you’ll see a small thumbnail of the object.

Listen to curator Gaylord Torrence, explain how French culture and embroidery techniques collided with Plains Indians culture three hundred years ago to such magnificent result:

 

Bird Watching with Audubon: Forget the Binoculars

Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea), Havell plate no. 307, 1832

Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea), Havell plate no. 307, 1832

If you climb up to the second story of the New-York Historical Society to see Audubon’s birds, grab the magnifying glass right inside the gallery door. See the magnificent details painted by the watercolor master of all time in  Audubon’s Aviary: The Final Flight (Part III of The Complete Flock), running through this weekend.

NYHS is the lucky owner of every watecolor JJA produced to make his historic Birds of America subscription project in the early 1800s, which documented over 700 species.

Scarlet Ibis (Eudocimus ruber), Havell plate no. 397, 1837

Scarlet Ibis (Eudocimus ruber), Havell plate no. 397, 1837

The watercolor collection – from which engravings were made – is so large that NYHS had to split the exhibition into three parts. It’s a joy to look at the life-size paintings that Audubon produced through the magnifying lens, seeing the tiny brushstrokes on lush feathers and miniscule detail on the small hummingbirds.

Paintings featured in all three shows are hung in the sequence that JJA painted them. Although JJA traveled extensively throughout the East and South, he never actually saw birds west of the Missouri in the wild.

American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos), Havell plate no. 311

American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos), Havell plate no. 311

By the time Audubon began cranking out the watercolors needed for his final installment of his masterwork, lots of new birds were being discovered out West. Scrambling to keep up – after all, he committed to documenting every American bird – he accessed specimens collected by recent Western expeditions, Lewis & Clark’s trove, and other American specimens archived in Europe.

He holed up in Charleston, South Carolina in the winter of 1836 and worked, worked, worked to finish all the watercolors, which would be shipped to Mr. Havell in the UK for engraving.

How did Mr. Auduon’s studio work compare to the real thing? See for yourself in this bird-watching documentary shown inside the gallery. The birds featured are from the previous installation of the exhibit, including the rare, rambunctious Prairie Chicken at 1:25.

For more, go to the show’s excellent website, explore some of JJA’s works in more depth, and listen to the bird calls for the exhibition, courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Nature Meditations in the Land of Fire and Ice

Katrín Sigurðardóttir, Haul IV (2004) travelling landscape-in-a-box on loan from private collector. Courtesy: The artist.

Katrín Sigurðardóttir, Haul IV (2004) travelling landscape-in-a-box on loan from private collector. Courtesy: The artist.

When the weather dips below freezing and people think they’re in the Arctic, there’s no better place to get out of the elements and meditate on the landscapes of long, dark winters than the third floor of Scandinavia House on Park Avenue. Until tomorrow, January 10, you’ll join eleven contemporary artists from the sub-arctic on their journeys in a show mounted by the Katonah Museum of Art, Iceland Artists Respond to Place.

Bjork may get all the media attention, but do yourself a favor and walk through this three-gallery show, which beautifully and simply presents the work of Iceland’s other leading visual artists. See the land of fire and ice through their eyes.

Olafur Eliasson, The Aerial River Series, 2000 on loan from private collector. Courtesy: The artist. Installation photo: Ben Blackwell

Olafur Eliasson, The Aerial River Series, 2000 on loan from private collector. Courtesy: The artist. Photo: Ben Blackwell

Olafur Eliasson takes you on an aerial journey along a 60-mile meltwater river, from the mouth to the source. Ragna Róbertsdóttir splatters miniscule lava rocks against a wall but it’s not what it sounds like. Far from a violent eruption, it’s an undulating, mesmerizing meditation that you’ll spend time contemplating.

For sheer romantic and modernist punch, enjoy Georg Guðni Hauksson’s two works – a large landscape memory and a solid dark blue canvas evoking the long winter nights (like an emotional Ad Reinhardt).

Lava rocks “talk” in Egill Sæbjörnsson’s Pleasure Stones installation (2008) on loan from private collector. Courtesy: The artist.

Lava rocks “talk” in Egill Sæbjörnsson’s Pleasure Stones installation (2008) on loan from private collector. Courtesy: The artist.

Egill Saebjornsson takes home the whimsy award with a multimedia installation in which rocks speak (seriously!). Eggert Pétursson zeros in the microscopic natural phenomenon – painting flowers (life sized) in patterns that read like tapestries. You’ll wish you were on some hikes with him. Katrín Sigurðardóttir simply packs up her landscapes into boxes. Tiny, tiny recreations of vast, romantic landscapes.

When we visited the galleries this week, visitors were asking if there was more they could see. Scandinavia House always hosts classy, elegant shows, so although the exhibition space is limited, we have to admit they always leave us wanting to see what’s next from that part of the world.

Seth Myers was recounting his Icelandic adventures this week on Late Night. If you can’t get to the country like Seth or visit the show, at least you can spend chilly days and nights like the natives do, courtesy of this instructional video produced by Scandinavia House: