Walking into the Countryside and its Future at The Guggenheim

An innovative, continuous exploration about rural areas along the futuristic ramps

Want to go for a trip around the world? Visit out-of-the-way places? Meet interesting people?

There’s no better trip than hanging out with Rem Koolhaas and his think tank, AMO, in their all-encompassing exhibition, Countryside, The Future, on display at The Guggenheim through February 15.

It’s a colorful, engaging, data-driven, and provocative show that began as a response to the fact that population projections show indicate that in the not-too-distant future only 20 percent of people will live in the countryside.

1909 photo of three peasant women in Kirilov, Russia

Rem, Samir Bantal of AMO, and their university collaborators believe that many of the most important, exciting, and radical innovations are happening outside cities, and this is their way of taking you there.

You’ll zip into the past, zoom into current village experiments, watch videos, and meet robots as you swirl your way up the Guggenheim’s ramps.

Listen to famed architect Rem Koolhaas explain the context for the project and research that make up this extraordinary experience:

As this promo notes, this exhibition opened just a few days before New York City and all the museum shut down to mitigate the pandemic. The team did not foresee the impact that the pandemic would have, but the exhibition could not be more of the moment.

1,000 Koolhaas questions about the countryside and society

In the audio guide, the curators say that you can view the exhibit like a buffet (just snacking on this and that) or dive in and read/see everything.  When we experienced Countryside, everyone was digging in, reading, watching, absorbing, and interacting with everything.

View part of the exhibition in our Flickr album.

The show begins with Rem’s 1,000 questions about the world and the future. He makes it clear that he and the team are not there to provide answers – that’s up to you.

How “countryside” has been equated with leisure since Roman times

There’s a walk through history on the next level by way of fun floor-to-ceiling collages filled with Romans from murals, Chinese people from scrolls, quotes, and fun facts – all to drive home the fact that for 2,000 years, major urban sophisticates have seized upon the idea that city people need to visit the country for peace, quiet, contemplation, leisure pursuits, and artistic inspiration.

The history walk continues by exploring Marie Antoinette’s decision to create a rural “hamlet” on the Versailles grounds, the desire of Sixties Hippies to create communes in the country, and the emergence of today’s rural “wellness” spas and retreats.

Qatar’s solution to achieving national food security after the June 2017 border closure

The story continues by presenting details about efforts by famous political leaders to “redesign” their countries rural regions on a large scale – Jefferson’s adaptation of the 640-acre grid for developing the West, how the Soviets scaled up collective farming, FDR’s “shelterbelt” policy to minimize soil erosion in the Thirties, and the agricultural emphasis in Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

The most startling story is how Qatar, which imported the majority of its food, did years of research into ways it could be self-sustaining. When the Saudis jammed Qatar’s border in 2017, the country already had a plan. Within 36 hours, it airlifted in 4,000 cows and milking machines, a move that immediately (and successfully) started its domestic dairy industry.

Chinese service that lets city dwellers select apples from trees

The exhibition takes you to villages in China where interesting things are happening – a dying farming town that transformed itself into a “wellness” tourist destination, and an apple-growing region that uses livestreaming on mobile phones to let city-dwellers pick out the specific apples that the villager will pick and ship to them overnight.

The exhibition includes mini-galleries on the move to “preserve” nature, presenting facts and posing land-use questions related to mountain gorilla habitats in Central Africa, permafrost melts that are exposing mammoth fossils, and American billionaires buying and preserving Patagonian land.

Humanoid PALRO robot from Fujisoft in action

The top floor is alive with roaming robots powered by Roombas, who invite you to enter mini-theaters to see worlds beneath the ocean, developments of industrial facilities run completely by robots, and vast expanses of industrial-level agriculture. You’ll even meet PALRO, Fujisoft’s humanoid robot who hangs out with seniors in Japan, and Prospero, a little robot farmer that’s designed to work in swarm teams.

Hear all about the research and collaborations behind the exhibition and how the exhibition design brings it all to life:

To take a leisurely stroll through the future, listen to the audio guide.

For the full report, purchase the book (a steal at $12).

About Fashion and Time at The Met

An 1885 American walking dress with 1986 Yamamoto overcoat

What day is it? What year is it? If we’re going forward in time, should we be moving counterclockwise?

As ten months of pandemic disruption sink in, there’s no better exhibition in New York to experience than the Metropolitan’s Costume Institute extravaganza, About Time: Fashion and Duration, on view through February 7.

Curator Andrew Bolton had the task of organizing a show in honor of the Met’s 150th anniversary, but wanted to take an exhibition approach that wasn’t simply a “greatest hits” showcase.  He wondered what would it be like to mount a show that lets visitors see, feel, and experience how fashion sometimes folds back on itself – like time in Virginia Woolf novels.

Queen Alexandra’s 1902 riding jacket with 2018 Vuitton ensemble by Ghesquière

Stepping into the first gallery, sixty black dresses are arranged like minutes on a clock. The exhibition begins with an example from 1870, the year that the Met was founded, and progresses in time from there.  At each point, you see an ensemble from that year, paired with a designer look from a different year that echoes it – bustles, princess lines, gigot sleeves, tailored jackets, flourishes of 18th-century aristocratic opulence.

It’s all in the Met’s gallery guide.

The inspiration for the first room is a grandfather clock – warm wood colors, a constantly swinging pendulum, and the monotonous, even tick. As you slowly work around the room, the time is even, rhythmic, and set – just like the pace of fashion from 1870 to 1950.

1895 dinner dress by Mrs. Arnold with Rei Kawakubo’s deconstructed 2004 ensemble

The 19th century garments are solid black, with masterful tailoring, swags, trims, and embellishments. In a tribute to the home town, two were created in Brooklyn: the 1885 silk satin dinner dress by Mrs. Arnold (paired with Rei Kawakubo’s equally elaborate but deconstructed 2004 ensemble) and an 1897 riding habit from Brooklyn’s acclaimed department store, Frederick Loeser & Co. (paired with a 1968 equestrian-style suit by Victor Joris).

Some of our other favorite pairings in this room are the 1912 artistic dinner dress with its leather pannier clone by Rick Owens, the 1928 alphabet flapper dress paired with Galliano’s 1997 spider-web frock, and the 1947 Christian Dior “New Look” jacket paired with Watanabe’s 2011 experimental motorcycle jacket.

Dior’s 1947 “New Look” with Watanabe’s 2011 motorcycle jacket

The second room is a shocker – mirrors everywhere, blinding white, undulating pathways, a fractured sense of time, and fashions morphing at breakneck speed – minis, maxis, minimalism, glitter, punk, pleats, unconventional materials, technology, and 3-D printing. (And it’s no surprise that so many pairings include visionary works by Charles James!)

The displays follow the same convention – sequential years paired with a “disrupter” dress or ensemble – but the impact is enormously disorienting, since the “twin” piece could be from the past or future and the mirrored walls and ceiling turn the experience into something like Kusama’s “infinity” room.

“Shattered” gallery – evoking fashion’s accelerated pace

When you enter, it takes a few minutes to figure out where to go, how to move through the sequence, and find the continuing storyline of the exhibition. Is there another room in the exhibition that you missed? Did you just jump to the Seventies and Eighties and miss the Sixties? Is the “next garment” to the right or the left? What year are you in?

[The gallery security guards confirmed that this occurs all day long with visitors!]

To sort it out, take a look at this video – a sequential walk through fashion time punctuated by some out-of-time disrupters (or peruse some pairings on the web):

Some of our favorite pairings in the second room are the zipper twins from Gernreich (1968) and Alaia (2003), the red-edged jersey pairing of Stephen Burrows (1975) and Xuly.bet (1993), and Patrick Kelly’s simple pearl heart dress (1988) with Olivier Rousteing’s Versailles-inspired dress for Balmain lavished with pearls, crystals, and beads (2012).

2012 Iris van Herpen PVC dress with 1951 ball gown by Charles James

Check out more of our favorites in our Flickr album.

And congratulations for including an unexpected (and deserving) multi-part display – Donna Karen’s “Five Easy Pieces” mix-and-match knit separates (1985) with the totally chic, revolutionary, coordinated wool knit separates invented by the ready-to-wear sportswear founder herself, Claire McCardell (1934). Wow!

When you finish walking through this gallery, you’re left wondering if fashion ever truly changes ­– the last pair features a 2018 coat with a 3-D printed understructure alongside a strangely similar coat from 1889.  What just happened?

Sustainability – 2020 Viktor & Rolf’s dress of leftover samples

The exhibition finale is fitting – a small chapel where visitors can meditate on “slow fashion,” sustainability, and a return to basics before they exit to the gift shop.  It features a suspended (or ascending) figure clad in one of Viktor & Rolf’s sweet dresses made of leftover off-white fabric swatches.

When the Met chose the theme for the show and designed it to debut with the celebrity-filled First Monday in May event, no one envisioned that the doors would be sealed shut until August. Or that the exhibition would so perfectly mirror the sensation of endless time, interruption of cycles, and fashion disruption/rethinking happening right now.

Join the Met’s fashion collection curator, Andrew Bolton, for a tour:

No Monolith but Judd’s Works at MoMA Deliver the Power

1968 stainless steel and Plexiglass tower (Froehlich Collection)

For anyone lamenting the disappearance of the Monolith and yearning to experience its minimalist magic, walk through MoMA’s Donald Judd retrospective before January 3 to understand how big, gleaming, super-sleek objects create such electrifying force fields.

Initially, journalists speculated that the Utah Monolith was the work of West Coast artist John McCracken. It wasn’t, but Judd was one of McCracken’s art-world heroes – a master who reveled in pure shape, pure color, and (when he wanted to) pure transparency. Judd also built repeating rectangles (seemingly not created by human hands) in remote western landscapes (Marpha, Texas).

On MoMA’s top floor, you’ll encounter wide, open spaces with spare, clean hard-edged objects inhabiting four galleries.

1964 construction of orange pebbled Plexiglass and hot-rolled steel. Private collection.

In the first room, you’ll see cadmium-red shapes from the early Sixties that Judd made in his Soho studio. The idea was to remove any gestures or evidence of craft in the work – just present the pure painted shape.

But to get the perfection he craved, Judd went one step further – engaging industrial fabricators to create large-scale works from his meticulous drawings. Industrial materials like aluminum, iron, and Plexiglass are transformed into magical rectangles, epic towers, and airy channels. See our favorites in our Flickr album.

In each gallery, visitors are invited to circumnavigate and explore the monumental works. One orange box seems to glow; another has a transparent surface that lets you peer inside. An enticing series of blue and silver boxes seem to let you peek through to an entirely different dimension.

1969 “channel” of aluminum and Plexiglass units (Saint Louis Art Museum)

Towers emerge from walls in each room – neat stacks of monumental rectangles, separated by exact amounts of space. It’s quite a sensation to approach one, look up, and feel its commanding presence. One silver tower seems to be emitting yellow light. A copper tower gleams a little from a subtle spotlight.

Judd wanted it this way – no interpretation. Just you and the large, beautiful, perfect form, as this short video demonstrates:

MoMA cautions visitors to remain at least six feet away from each of the works, but most admirers are cautious and reverent, taking it all in and giving everything its space.

Here, curator Ann Temkin talks about Judd’s work and the joy of bringing such a monumental exhibition to New York:

Take a trip through the installation on MoMA’s website here, and hear artists describe their experience of the show here.

Artists Crunch NYC Census Numbers

Herwig Sherabon’s 2019 Landscapes of Inequality NYC No. 2, showing median income per block

As the 2020 Census winds down across New York City, it’s nice to be reminded of the history and impact of what’s been revealed since 1790, when census-data gathering began. Who We Are: Visualizing NYC by the Numbers, on view at the Museum of the City of New York through October 18, presents not only rich archival material but an intriguing display of new data-visualizations that were commissioned specifically for this show.

Although the museum shutdown curtailed in-person viewing until a few weeks ago, the curators wisely transported the story and some of the works to an on-line exhibition that explained the history of the decennial census, why it matters to New York, and how new stories are told when artists get their hands on the data.

Tenement House Committee of 1894 map of nationalities inhabiting Lower Manhattan

When we visited in person, it was nice to see historic documents (or facsimiles of them) up close, like the page listing people and occupations (attorneys, stone cutters, boat makers) along Nassau Street in 1812 and the detailed illustrations of the “counting machines” used by men and women tallying the census on the cover of 1890 Scientific American. Take a look at our Flickr album.

But it’s also nice to see data visualizations from past decades, when no one had digital tools at their disposal and everything was drawn pen-and-ink and embellished with watercolor. And to see evidence of Congressional trailblazers, like Shirley Chisholm, getting out into the street to show their constituents the importance of being counted.

Detail of Jill Hubley’s 2019 Race in NYC from neighborhood data

Today’s news is full of stories about whether an undercount is happening in New York, but the MCNY collection shows newspaper after newspaper from the past, where politicians, social-justice advocates, and everyday citizens have voiced the same concerns. It’s useful to see the pie chart of the types of Federal programs whose dollars are apportioned based upon the census.

But the star attractions are the enormously compelling contemporary visualizations displayed in the “Art of Data” gallery. It’s a clean, modern, immersive experience walking among the giant projections of work.

Take a look at three of the works featured in MCNY’s on-line exhibition:

Here is the tree-ring-inspired Simulated Dendrochronology of Immigration to New York City, 1840 – 2017, created in 2019 by Northeast University designers Pedro Cruz, John Wihbey, and Felipe Shibuya. Left and right growth reflects immigration flow to the US from either Asia-Pacific or Europe.

Here, see how artist Neil Freeman uses 2017 American Community Survey data to reconstitute population blocks in New York City according to inequality and injustice in his 2019 video The Grid Series.

The shape of New York’s population blocks make another appearance in artist/developer Jill Hubley’s 2019 visualization Languages of New York.

Read more about each of these works on the MCNY’s site.

World-Class Design Inspired by Nature

Mischer’Traxler’s Curiosity Cloud installation

Visitors are immediately drawn into front room of the Carnegie Mansion to enter a magical environment in which insects appear to be fluttering inside hand-blown glass bulbs in the entry to Nature: Cooper-Hewitt Design Triennial, on display through January 20.

But it’s actually artificial insects that are creating the commotion, programmed to activate as a visitor approaches – all replicas of extant and extinct species of New York State created by Austrian design team Mischer’Traxler.

This Curiosity Cloud installation serves as the introduction to an expansive show that presents how innovative designers are applying new technical solutions inspired by nature to architecture, agriculture, textiles, construction materials, and robotics.

In cooperation with the Cube Design Museum in Kerkrade, Netherlands, the show highlights the work of over 60 international design teams who explore biomimicry, new materials, and artificial intelligence as they create solutions to climate challenges and sustainability in the real world.

2019 Fantasma garment by design studio Another Farm from transgenetic glowing silk

Among the highlights, shown in our Flickr album – textiles printed by rain and pigment-producing microbes, a fruit tree grafted with dozens of fruit varieties, a biodegradable Michelin tire, a personal food computer, and a robotic bionic ant programmed to interact autonomously with other similar ants, just like they do in real life.

The showpiece on the second floor of the exhibition is the concept garment by design studio Another Farm from transgenetic glowing silk, manufactured by Kyoto’s Hosoo textile company. The silk was engineered by injecting DNA from bioluminescent coral into silkworm eggs and using it to create the fabric. Visitors used special glasses to see the other-worldly glow.

Another favorite is the Cosmic Web project by Kim Albrecht, based upon the scientific research on 24,000 galaxies. Take a look:

To spread the good work, the Cooper Hewitt and Cube are installing a portion of the show at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January, hoping to inspire global thinkers to look into the future of possibilities for a changing world.

Listen as one of the Cooper-Hewitt curators introduces the exhibition and hear contributing artists talk about their work in a video produced by ALL ARTS as part of the documentary series Climate Artists.

Back in Time with Wolf Nation at the Whitney

1-4 Wolf Nation at The Whitney

2018 Wolf Nation video, featuring endangered red wolves in New York and evoking the vanished Lenape (Wolf Clan) of Manhattan and New Jersey

The darkened room with the plaintive cries of the wolves is the heart of Alan Michelson: Wolf Nation, at the Whitney Museum of American Art through January 12, but the other three installations created by the internationally renowned Mohawk artist take you back to experience what the Lenapes saw over 400 years ago on the very ground upon which you stand.

It’s subtle and it’s outside the pace of today’s bustling Meatpacking District, so take your time and slow down.

1-1 Wolf Nation at The Whitney

Sapponckanikan (Tobacco Field) that allows visitors to walk among ritual tobacco plantings in the museum lobby, near the Lenape’s original field

The first experience is right inside the entrance – an augmented reality (AR) piece that transforms the busy lobby into a tobacco field that historians say was planted over 400 hundred years ago by the Lenape people where Ganesvoort Street ends today.

Through an iPad (or by downloading AR co-creator Steven Fragale’s app), visitors can watch and walk through a field of lush tobacco plants that the original inhabitants of Manhattan used for rituals and ceremonies.  Different from the commercial tobacco that was grown for export, the virtual plants are based upon the type grown by Michelson’s sister in her upstate garden.

It’s an effective experience that causes visitors to stop and think about nature, history, indigenous cultures, and cycles of life in an ultra-modern, hyperactive environment that is typically untethered to the ancient or natural.

On the fifth floor, the experiences continue in a hallway and theater just off the Rachel Harrison retrospective.

1-5 Wolf Nation at The Whitney

Mt. Vernon-inspired wallpaper backdrop for 2019 Town Destroyer AR installation that evokes memory of 1779 destruction of the Haudenosaunee people in New York State

A second AR installation, Town Destroyer, uses a genteel, upscale, Mount Vernon-inspired colonial interior to educate visitors about a particularly gruesome removal of 60 settlements of Native people during the early years of the American Revolution in upstate New York.

The wallpaper image of General Washington becomes a 3D marble bust when seen through the AR app, upon which is projected a map of the lands taken from the Haudnosaunee, upon his orders, by the Sullivan Expedition in 1779. Projections of State historical markers tell the sad tale, reminding viewers of the forgotten history of displacement, violence, and greed endured by New York’s First Nations…even at the hands of our Revolutionary heroes.

Visitors who see the installation rush over to read the label copy to get better informed about this forgotten history and to wonder what else was left out of American history books about the vanquished people.

Wolf Nation_AR Images

Historical markers and maps about 1779 Continental Army aggression against Native Americans in Town Destroyer AR installation

The large, comfortable dark theater has an enormous wide-screen video of several of New York’s most endangered species – red wolves. You’re seeing them at night in their native habitat upstate, or so it seems. In actuality, you are seeing residents of a captive breeding colony maintained in the hopes of increasing the remaining population of 17.

It looks like a mysterious nighttime scene, shot with a surveillance camera. The pace is slow, with different members of the group arriving, listening, and leaving, fully alert. Sounds of their calls in the distance fill the room.

The effect is hypnotic, allowing viewers to slow down, see the wolves at their eye level, and reflect upon status of our indigenous wildlife and people.  The Lenape, who first colonized Manhattan and New Jersey, identified as Wolf Clan. The color and shape of the cinema projection evokes wampum, the purple and white clamshell beads strung by the Lenape as gifts or to seal treaties.

All of Michelson’s work here requires visitors to slow down their pace and see their surroundings through the eyes of people who stood right there 400 years ago.

1-3 Wolf Nation at The Whitney

Shattemuc video in which a boat’s searchlight illuminates the Hudson River shoreline at night

Shattemuc, a quiet video does just that.  Sit for a while, and see what the Hudson River looks like, illuminated only by a circle of light from a boat that is making its way slowly through the waters in the dead of night. No skyscrapers, no water taxis, no giant clocks.  Just shoreline, trees, cliffs, an occasional small settlement, small boats, and a small, up-close personal feeling.

Then later, as you take in the magnificent view Hudson from the west windows of the fifth-floor Whitney, Michelson’s work allows you to envision what the Lenape saw.

So, despite the distance in time, did Native Americans truly vanish from the shores of New York? Actually, the city today hosts one of the largest populations among big cities in the United States, including many working artists and cultural scholars.

Michelson is one of the leading voices advocating that museums and galleries reflect the work of the first Americans, and congratulations to The Whitney for making this a priority. See Michelson’s seminar on this here.

Urban Indian: Native New York Now at the Museum of the City of New York, running through March 8, testifies to the continuing vibrancy of the First Americans in the cultural capital.

Beer Makes Pots Sing at Met Breuer

Vessels from a range of eras, wired to amplify their ambient tone

Take 5,000 years of ceramic vessels from the Met’s collection, give them to art-installation genius Oliver Beer, and he’ll create something that will never let you think about fired clay or cast bronze the same way again.

Beer has unleashed the “voices” of 32 precious objects in the beautiful, unforgettable installation Oliver Beer: Vessel Orchestra, in a fifth-floor showcase at the Met Breuer through August 11.

Beer recognized that ceramic and metal containers each have their own distinctive ambient note. It took him three years of searching through the Met’s collection to find which vessels among thousands could emit precise notes.

Oliver Beer at the mixing board and keyboards, demonstrating how the voices of the vessels are activated.

When you enter the Met Breuer gallery, you’ll meet his perfect cast. Beer has a sound mixer and keyboard to activate and amplify different combinations of sound from the 32 installation stars. A single microphone captures the natural, ambient sound of each vessel.

After spending decades on the Met’s shelves and in storage, each vessel’s distinctive voice is brought life in contemporary performance. As Beer and other artists play the keyboard, objects created in different eras and cultures blend their singular voices. They sound perfect.

Met LiveArts has invited guest artists to perform on Friday nights throughout the run of the show. When we were there, Helga Davis, a soloist who has triumphed in avant-garde operas like Einstein on the Beach, explained why she found the sensation so satisfying.

Vocalist Helga Davis

She said that she loved feeling her own voice “disappear” when the note she sang blended with a vessel’s own singular note. Listen in on our video clip.

Recently, the Brooklyn Raga Massive collaborated with the vessels in live performance to create a meditative, transcendental experience. Upcoming collaborators include composers Nico Muhly (August 4) and John Zorn and company (August 9).

Vessels in the orchestra — Qing Dynasty porcelain vase (1644-1911) and the back of one of Betty Woodman’s 2003 series The Ming Sisters.

When live performers are not present, Beer has programmed the keyboard to activate his ensemble. A little light on the cord running to each vessel illuminates when the vessel is singing, so viewers can see exactly who’s contributing to the ambiance at any given moment.

The vessels are quite an elegant crew, including a sinuous art nouveau porcelain, a sleek modern bronze portraits by Lachaise, and a monumental angular slab pot by American master William Daley.

Visually, the vessel presentation is clever. Betty Woodman’s whimsical 2003 ceramic trio The Ming Sisters knocks a bit of seriousness off their otherwise tightly controlled neighbor — turquoise-and-gold Qing Dynasty porcelain masterwork.

Vessels wired to amplify their ambient tone, including a female effigy (7th – 6th c. B.C.), Beatrice Wood’s fish, an Iranian storage jar (3800 – 3700 B.C.), and a Canaanite jar (1500 – 1400 B.C.).

And Beatrice Wood’s 1947 fish pot is swimming, singing, and bringing the fun out of a totally ancient threesome – an old, tipped-over Canaanite jar, an ibex wandering across a 4th millennium B.C. Iranian pot, and a 7th century B.C. lady.

Some things that look ancient aren’t. A simple, unassuming, unembellished creation seems to have been made at a more primitive, far-away time. But it’s a 1975 stoneware pot created by artist Juan Hamilton, Ms. O’Keefe’s friend and assistant, who taught her how to make pots in her later years at Ghost Ranch.

There’s so much to hear and see in this show, so be sure to experience this extraordinary ensemble before August 11. See close-ups of some of our favorite Met singers on Flickr.

Here, the engaging and brilliant Oliver Beer explains how it all comes together:

Fashionable Fabric Takes Center Stage at FIT

Wool: Mila Schön’s 1968 double-faced wool coat and 1985 Azzedine Alaïa trench

The Fabric in Fashion exhibition at the Museum at FIT through May 11 makes a good point – people today do not pay much attention to the fabric in their clothing, but that’s a break with the consumer culture of the last several centuries.

Fabric telegraphed what status you had, what season it was, and how much money you might have spent on a fabulous outfit. In a clever twist, the show opens with a muslin dress in a period shape lit with all types of cross-cultural patterns and images, evoking fancy French, African, and American textiles.

FIT shines a light how traditional fabric and synthetic creations have been used in high fashion since the 18th century, starting with the stories of wool, silk, and cotton.

Take a walk through the show in our Flickr album and on FIT’s own website.

Silk sheath evening gowns – 1950 crepe by Guy Laroche and 1999 silk faille by Oscar de la Renta

Dresses from the FIT archives demonstrate the extreme flexibility of wool, which has been spun and woven since ancient times. Some wool fabrics are as light as silk, while others are molded, shaped, and bonded to create architectural forms that were as right for 19th-century women’s sportswear as they were for Carnaby Street.

The silk ensembles selected from the FIT archives show off a wide range of that fabric’s ability to drape, shape, and burst into dramatic architectural forms when buttressed by the right underlining and interfacing.  The show features silky satiny wedding attire, embellished damask gowns, stamped and gilded silk velvet Fortuny masterpieces, and sculpted Schiaparellis – demonstrating how a silk’s weight is key to its potential use.

High-fashion knit: Alexander Wang’s 2015 mesh dress inspired by Nike’s Flyknit

Side-by-side Claire McCardell dresses show how a single cut (in this case, her ubiquitous “popover” design) can be casually chic in cotton or elegant in silk.  Jersey dresses and synthetics – rayon and even Nike’s Flyknight by Wang – are featured, telling the story of how knits and synthetic went mass market by the 1970s.

Couture fabrics and innovative weaves, however, steal the show. An elaborate 1859 silk dress showcases how a single width of ottoman fabric morphs into velvet and fringe. It may not be to the taste of a contemporary eye, but is a true masterpiece of fabrication.

You are able to take a close-up look of how a strip of artfully printed metallic satin enhances a silk velvet Fortuny from the Thirties.

Couture textile: Bob Bugnand’s 1958 silk faille dress

Then turn to examine the high art of fabric from French fashion houses of the Fifties — Bob Bugnand’s matching silk faille dress and mink-trimmed coat and Jacques Griffe’s evening vision in Lurex jacquard.

But all the high-end fabric isn’t flashy. A standout is the austere, minimal evening cape, created from gazar silk developed by the Swiss textile house of Abraham specifically for Balenciaga – a key ingredient to the stunning architectural shapes for which the house was known in the Sixties.

Watch here to observe FIT’s behind-the-scenes work to make all the fabric exhibition magic happen:

Enjoy a glimpse of the multimedia that opens the show!

City Dreams by Bodys Isek Kingelez

Visionary Dorothea model created from cut paper and found objects in 2007 welcomes visitors to the show.

You can see what dreams are made of on MoMA’s upper floor when you walk into a world created by a self-taught artist from Zaire who saw all the possibilities of a new nation as his country transitioned from Belgian colonization.

Closeup of 1996 Ville Fantôme, a large utopian cityscape of cut paper, packaging, collage, and paint.

Bodys Isek Kingelez: City Dreams is a retrospective of visionary cities, skyscrapers, public buildings, stadiums, and monuments created from paper, cardboard, packaging, paint, ink, bottle caps, and other stuff over his lifetime. Experience the sheer genius of it all – and a virtual-reality tour – through January 1.

Three of his eight fully realized city models are featured at MoMA – examples of work that was eventually shown in (and collected by) art museums throughout the world.

Kingelez (1948-2015), who came from a small colonial village in the Congo, was taught by missionaries early on and went on to teach secondary school. But when political change came to the Belgian Congo in the Sixties, Kingelez became determined to contribute his vision to what his country could become.  And he used the materials at hand to create models of buildings that symbolized harmony, peace, and understanding.

After his work was shown in Paris, the international art world came calling, and Kingelez had the opportunity to work full time as an artists, creating ever more elaborate cities and models. Although he never traveled out of Zaire until 1989, Kingelez always imbued an international vision to his creations.

Detail of 1992 Reveillion Federal, a temple to democracy.

The models are precise, clean-cut visions of the future.  MoMA has created a VR-headset experience where you can walk through one of the cities, fly to the top of skyscrapers, and cross bridges to the future.  It’s a great way to enter 2019.

Take a look at our Flickr album of some of the work in this amazing show.

Enjoy this video of the artist himself showing how nature and lofty ideas can be put to work in architecture, engineering, and design:

 

For more on Kingelez and his life, click here. For a soundtrack, MoMA’s assembled a great one from Zaire here.

How Ancient Tablets and Scrolls Became Books via Socks

Show curator, Georgios Boudalis, and map of how new book technology spread in the ancient world

How did people make the transition from reading and writing on scrolls to creating bound books? And what did it have to do with making socks and sewing?

You’ll take the journey across several centuries in The Codex and Craft in Late Antiquity, an exhibition on early bound book forms on display at the Bard Graduate Center Gallery through July 8.

Curator Georgios Boudalis of Thessaloniki’s Museum of Byzantine Culture explains how papyrus (or parchment) packages were joined together and modified over time by sewing, thread-looping, cutting, gilding, and fancy leather embellishments.

“Poetess of Pompeii” with her tablet, 50-70 A.D. Fresco photo: National Archeological Museum, Naples, Italy

Modern readers constantly debate the pros and cons of reading on tablets versus bound books, so it’s relevant that the exhibition’s story begins with fourth-century tablets.

Ancient tablets are about the same size as iPad minis, evidence that young people were using portable re-writable (i.e. wax) media long before the modern era. Just look at the portrait of the “Poetess of Pompeii.”

Boudalis makes the case that the technological transition to the “big book” idea began when craftsmen started to modify wax tablet frames (i.e. holes and grooves) so they could stitch and loop several together in a stack. After that, the stacks began to sport wooden covers.

The show includes some rare, early ninth-century manuscripts, when this type of book production was mainly commissioned by monastic religious orders.

Tooled and cut leather on 9th c. Gospel uses similar techniques as footwear. Collection: Morgan Library

In 1911 on his annual pilgrimage to Egypt, J.P. Morgan seized the opportunity to buy several old bound manuscripts discovered in a dry well in the Fayum oasis. The bound pages, most likely a Coptic monastery’s entire library, were hidden a thousand years earlier by monks to save their literature and gospels from destruction by invading armies.

The Morgan Library generously allowed Boudalis to examine the fragile bindings on this ninth-century treasure and lent it to Bard for the exhibition.

Along with ancient, fragile works from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum, American Museum of Natural History, Yale, and other American collections, the exhibition’s digital animations and modern replicas vividly demonstrate how craftsmen bound books, embellished covers, and protected sacred writings.

Modern sample of cross-knit looping technique for ancient socks

Complex looped-thread techniques were used to join sections of these early books – technology application used by many ancient cultures. As evidence, the exhibition features ancient woven leather belts and creative looped-knit socks next to woven book straps and looped-thread bindings of the manuscripts.

Complicated textile patterns and interlocking designs on textile fragments are shown next to similar gilded and tooled leather book covers.

Modern facsimile of the Morgan’s 5th century Glazier Codex. By Ursula Mitra

Gilded and tooled leather shoes were likely made by the same craftsmen who cut, tooled, and gilded leather book covers. Take a look at more on our Flickr album.

As ancient people sought more convenient and artistic packages of their intellectual property, they turned to skilled craftsmen to create it.

Listen to the Boudalis speak about the art of sewing and craft in the birth of books and see his examples of Peruvian feathered blankets, Parcas textiles, and fish nets from Camaroon – which all use simple, one-thread loop techniques to create astonishing things: