Dreamlands Immersion at The Whitney

1970 video recreation of Oskar Schlemmer’s groundbreaking 1922 Triadic Ballet at the Bauhaus

1970 video recreation of Oskar Schlemmer’s groundbreaking 1922 Triadic Ballet at the Bauhaus

As soon as you walk into the Whitney’s show, Dreamlands: Immersive Art and Cinema, 1905-2016, you are face-to-face with a giant screen on which stylized robotic dancers perform what seems like a space-age, mechanized dance.People are lounging on giant foam blocks, watching the colorful piece unfold. But most of the visitors are unaware that the seeds of this startlingly modern performance, shot in 1970 for German television, is a recreation of an innovative, theater-dance piece that’s 95 years old — The Triadic Ballet that Bauhaus director Oskar Schlemmer created in 1922.

2012 recreation of Fischinger’s 1926 three-screen abstract movie Ramlichtkunst

2012 recreation of Fischinger’s 1926 three-screen abstract movie Ramlichtkunst

There’s a lot of history-tripping in this exciting retrospective, which closes this weekend. Everything in the show is pulled from the Whitney’s own collection – a rare chance to experience hard-to-display movies, slide shows, and interactive experiences. Take a look in our Flickr album to glimpse some of our favorites.

To see it all, you twist and turn through labyrinths, enter through darkened curtains, and explore mysterious giant boxes positioned throughout the 18,000 square-foot space.

Sometimes you’re wading through mountains of discarded 16mm film from the Sixties by Jud Yalkut. Sometimes you’re watching others whirl in the dark to activate light patterns on the walls and ceiling. Sometimes you’re staring into a wall-size projection of the mushroom cloud in Bruce Conner’s Crossroads montage.

Still from Porter’s 1905 film of a real-life electrified dreamland Coney Island at Night

Still from Porter’s 1905 film of a real-life electrified dreamland Coney Island at Night

At every juncture, there’s something new, exciting, provocative, and challenging. The big surprise is that the pieces are from the entire span of the 20th century, beginning with Edison’s double whammy – the invention of the electric light bulb and motion-picture camera – as presented in the 1905 film he commissioned, Coney Island at Night.

In addition to Triadic Ballet, 1920s Germany is also represented by a colorful three-screen abstract movie installation by Oskar Fischinger, who was later hired by Disney to create some of the initial concept art for Fantasia, the animated concert-movie extravaganza that is also represented in the show.

Vanderbeek’s 1963 Movie Mural screens flashing with abstract and pop images

Vanderbeek’s 1963 Movie Mural screens flashing with abstract and pop images

Stan Vanderbeek’s roomful of projectors represents the Sixties, displaying a cacophony of simultaneous pop-culture images and abstract films on a crazy array of mismatched screens.

Bringing the collection up to date, visitors stop for selfies in front of the neon-flanked exterior of “Easternsports”, an immersive, candy-colored 2014 installation by Philadelphia artists Alex Da Corte and Jayson Musson. Just sit and smell the oranges as robotic actors go through their potty-mouthed paces in the four-screen room.

Peek into Easternsports via The Whitney’s look-about YouTube video. Move the arrows on the upper left navigator to look around and find the skateboarder crossing all the screens.

Steyerl’s 2015 immersion room showing Factory of the Sun, where avatars mimic YouTube dancers

Steyerl’s 2015 immersion room showing Factory of the Sun, where avatars mimic YouTube dancers

 

Enter a futuristic lounge to watch Hito Steyerl’s 2015 “Factory of the Sun,” a fake newscast-documentary about workers who are forced to dance to generate sunlight. The mysterious, high-energy saga has everything from anarchists at the World Bank to YouTube sensations inspiring Japanese avatars.

The giant video is a challenging and provocative burst of energy to end your Dreamlands odyssey and nice bookend to the Triadic Ballet rebooting next door.

Hamilton Still Onstage at NYPL in Digital Form

Hamilton’s 42nd Street show

Hamilton’s 42nd Street show

Hamilton’s had quite a year, and he has taken his final bow at the New York Public Library’s show Alexander Hamilton: Striver, Statesman, and Scoundrel at year end. But don’t worry — the NYPL is providing most of its Hamilton treasure trove online.

Throughout the holiday season, crowds jammed into the tiny first-floor gallery, pouring over Hamilton’s books, records, letters, and inspirations as they worked their way through the various facets of the founding father’s sometimes upside-down life.

Pulling from the NYPL’s divisions for maps, rare books, and picture collections, the curators did a fantastic job of retelling Ham’s story from the non-hip-hop perspective.

What was he thinking? NYPL highlights the core of Hamilton’s Reynolds pamphlet

What was he thinking? NYPL highlights the core of Hamilton’s Reynolds pamphlet

But if you hanker to read the full Reynolds pamphlet or leaf through Ham’s draft of the General’s farewell address, click here to experience the full majesty of the NYPL’s page-turning digital collection. Click on each image to explore the details of the engravings and zero in on the handwriting. It’s a unique chance to get up close and personal with Hamilton, like a backstage pass to everyone’s must-see show.

Download the exhibition brochure and walk through the NYPL’s fantastic digital archive of their Hamilton papers. Here is our Flickr album of some of our favorite sights in the beautifully staged first-floor showcase to this revolutionary Broadway superstar.

Politics gets ugly in 1804

Politics gets ugly in 1804

It’s a Happening at NYU Grey Art Gallery

Charlotte performs a John Cage piece at a 1965 Paris art festival

Charlotte performs a John Cage piece at a 1965 Paris art festival.

In Grey Art Gallery’s gleaming white space on Washington Square East, you can take a walk-through of the gritty lofts and performance spaces of the 1960s, when the avant-garde was being born in Lower Manhattan

A Feast of Astonishments: Charlotte Moorman and the Avant-Garde, 1960s – 1980s is a tribute to the avant-garde’s poster girl, who transformed classical cello into a spectator sport. Trained at Julliard, Moorman came under the sway of the genre-busting, performance-loving artistic collaborators Nam June Paik, Yoko Ono, Alan Kaprow, and others. See the show through this weekend.

The show chronicles her early collaborations with Nam June, the artist who turned early portable video on its head. The centerpiece of the first-floor gallery is Paik’s “portrait” of Moorman, studded with an electrified cello and the tiniest video monitors. It’s quite a presence. Good work, Nam June.

Charlotte Moorman II, a 1995 sculpture-portrait by Nam June Paik. Collection: Brandies

Charlotte Moorman II, a 1995 sculpture-portrait by Nam June Paik. Collection: Brandies

On the audio system, you hear her voice, recounting her night in jail as a result of a police raid on a Village art cinema where she happened to be performing her own art piece topless. Ooops!

Cage might not have been crazy about Moorman’s interpretation of his at-the-edge contemplative works (too theatrical, he thought), but that didn’t stop her.

The show also highlights her friendship and support for Yoko Ono, another up-and-comer at the time. Moorman paid Ono the highest compliment by performing her legendary piece hundreds of times.

A fearless performer, she continued throughout the Sixties and Seventies as quite a producer too. From early performances of composers’ works, staged with all-star casts (Ginsberg et al.), she ended up getting a decade’s worth of permits to host an annual Avant-Garde Festival in New York City.

1989 Neon Cello sculpture by Charlotte Moorman

1989 Neon Cello by Charlotte Moorman

Some years, it was on the Staten Island Ferry. Others, it was Wards Island. Others, it was a parade, way before the Village Halloween Parade became a family favorite.

Charlotte and Paik toured well throughout the Seventies, everywhere art-loving Germans would have them.

Take a walk through the downtown underground with a classically trained musician who made performance-art history. Here are the exhibition photos and our Flickr album.

See Hamilton No Waiting

Taking their Shot in the lobby of the Public Theater in 2015

Taking their Shot in the lobby of the Public Theater in 2015

If you really want to experience Hamilton before the Tony Awards, it’s not that hard. Get up to New-York Historical Society at 77th Street and Central Park West and check out the life-size bronze statues of Hamilton and Burr one second before The Shot.

If you went to see Hamilton last year at the Public, you had to pass right between Kim Crowley’s bronze recreations when you entered the theater — a bespectacled Hamilton (wearing tinted glasses because he was facing the sunrise) and an intense Burr who was branded for all time in the history books one second later.

These action figures were initially installed at NYHS in 2004 as part of its ground-breaking Hamilton show…a magnificent installation that drew both raves (for the classy reimagining of NYHS and its exhibitions program after a near-collapse of that institution) and criticism (was it pandering to New York’s besmirched banking community?).

Their 1797 dueling pistols in the NYHS lobby

Their 1797 dueling pistols in the NYHS lobby

Interesting that 2004 was the 300th anniversary of both the duel and the year that NYHS was founded. In fact, Hamilton’s attending doctor that day was one of the founders.

NYHS Ham

Hamilton takes aim inside NYHS

After three hundred years and countless tries at the Hamilton’s pre-show lottery at the Richard Rodgers Theater, it will be a little disconnect to realize that the two facing off in the white marbled lobby are not Lin Manuel and Leslie Odom, Jr. The intensity and the historical dress are there, but the faces are different. Just stand there and run through all the lyrics you’ve memorized from the show.

Walk a few steps further and gaze down at the actual pistols – not stage props – and Angelica Schuyler’s letter to her brother, conveying the terrible news. All real, in her own hand, dated July 11, 1804.

OK, that’s just the lobby. By now, you’ve probably heard that NYHS has just announced its Summer of Hamilton, replete with a large gallery show of all the Hamilton-related documents, artifacts, and portraits plus special clips from Hamilton, movie musicals that inspired Lin, Ron Chernow’s book, and costumed performers on July 4 weekend.

But why not visit right now and have Ham and Burr all to yourself? To fill in the blanks about Ham’s life or prep to see the Broadway show, treat yourself to an exploration of the 2004 Ham show website. It’s full of all types of fun things – a quiz to test your Ham knowledge, a map of where Hamilton hung out in New York City, and real-life historical portraits of all the Schuyler sisters and everyone else in the Broadway show.

Lin's Ham 4 Ham reading outside the theater during the preview lottery

Lin’s Ham 4 Ham reading outside the theater during the preview lottery

There’s even a handy timeline of Hamilton’s “strange and amazing life,” which is a nice reference for things you’ve seen (or hope to see) in the show. For true fans (or curiosity-seekers), there’s even a small selection of short academic papers on Hamilton, including an interview with Ron Chernow, whose book inspired the current Broadway smash hit, and other brief treatises on his schooling, the duel, and the hours before his death.

Although it’s not inside the museum (or the Richard Rodgers), you can check out other Hamilton excitement at the Ham4Ham shows performed at lottery time on 47th Street, many of which have been taped by fans and put up on YouTube. Check out the recreation of the cabinet meeting by the Tony-nominated crew:

FIT Honors Transatlantic Nightlife Queen

1990 Mathu & Zaldy body suit and attached boots that Susanne wore to an Armani party

1990 Mathu & Zaldy body suit and attached boots that Susanne wore to an Armani party

If you think the music and fashion stopped after Studio 54 shut its doors to Liza, Liz, Andy, Calvin, Halston, and Yves, FIT’s club-scene exhibition, Fashion Underground: The World of Susanne Bartsch, presents evidence to the contrary through December 5.

The show features nightlife splendor (with all the trimmings) from Susanne’s clothes-to-be-seen-in archive. Plus, you’ll get the thrill of pretending that you’ve stepped into one of her over-the-top parties, filled with celebrities, outrageous clothes, spectacle, and glitter.

Wielding "the list" in a 2008 Jean-Paul Gaultier jacket and Patricia Fields hat

Wielding “the list” in a 2008 Jean-Paul Gaultier jacket and Patricia Fields hat

Right downstairs at the gallery entrance, you’ll be taken back to a graffiti-splashed Nineties club entrance with a dolled-up doorkeeper sizing you up and holding “the list”. But there’s no anxiety about whether you’ll be let inside…Just walk in and be transported back to 1981.

 As the glittery disco 54 era was coming to an end in New York in 1981, Bartsch arrived from London and opened up a shop in Soho filled with up-and-coming London designers that were creating the “new look” catching on in clubs across the pond.

In the early 1980s, Japanese and British designers experimented with crinkly natural fibers and oversized smocks – which looked fresh and hip after a decade of form-fitting, glitzy disco looks.

The Eighties -- Vivienne Westwood looks with Galliano linen ensembles

The Eighties — Vivienne Westwood looks with Galliano linen ensembles

Susanne sold the oversized, anti-disco baggy look of nightlife trendsetters Boy George and Leigh Bowery, imported dandy mix-and-match men’s and women’s looks from Vivienne Westwood, and featured flowing frocks by London’s Rachel Auburn.

The first part of the FIT show walks down this part of memory lane, including linen frocks by Mr. Galliano. Smocks are punctuated with dramatic hats (decades before fascinators) or beads from Portobello Road.

By the late Eighties, all that had given way to raggedy and accessorized mash-ups sported by the Material Girl and by the Nineties, bejeweled and bedazzled clubwear reigned again. Susanne was regularly hosting parties clad in an ever-evolving array of embellished corsets, fashioned by the master of form and shape, Mr. Pearl.

Two Mr. Pearl corset ensembles (1989, 1991) with 1992 Mugler Cowgirl ensemble, worn by Naomi Campbell Installation view of “Fashion Underground: The World of Susanne Bartsch” September 18 – December 5, 2015 The Museum at FIT New York, New York

Mr. Pearl corset ensembles (1989, 1991) with 1992 Mugler Cowgirl ensemble for Naomi Campbell

In a well-deserved tribute to his creations, FIT has installed a carousel of Mr. Pearl’s work on a turntable in the show’s back room of the show, next to a corner where mannequins form a towering tribute to the magic of Mr. Mugler, another of Ms. Bartsch’s favorites. After she introduced Mr. Pearl to Mr. Mugler, the rest was fashion history.

Fashion designers flocked to her parties and she did justice to them all – working in their hats, jackets, shoes, bags, and separates into her never-ending array of special occasion get-ups. When you peruse the specific looks on display in the show, it’s an all-star line-up of New York, Paris, and London fashion heavyweights.

Gareth Pugh 2015 ensemble of paper, Lycra and leather

Gareth Pugh 2015 ensemble of paper, Lycra and leather

The show screams of creativity and it’s wonderful that curator Valerie Steele put a spotlight on this Queen of Nightlife and her impact on the underground/high fashion scene for the last three decades. A lot of Susanne’s featured clubwear is credited to Mathu & Zaldy, who turned out plenty of over-the-top looks when designer ready-to-wear just didn’t pack enough punch for a special occasion.

Another charming touch in the show is the ensemble of paper, Lycra and leather contributed by Gareth Pugh. Susanne asked him to send something she could (and would) wear.

As always, FIT provides lots of history and photographs of Susanne and friends in action at multitudes of balls and parties on its exhibition website. Spend time looking at Susanne in action and at snapshots of her historic Love Ball. For close-ups of the clothes and costumes, visit our Flickr feed.

Take 360 spin around each room of the show courtesy of FIT’s virtual tour produced by Synthescape. The arrows appearing on the floor will take you to all three rooms.

Do you wish you could have been at the opening of this exhibit? Not to worry – her friends and fans let you in on the party and remember unforgettable nights in this celebratory video. Even Calvin’s there:

Times Square Time Machine at the Skyscraper Museum

Poster from the Schubert archives of “The City at 42nd Street”, the never-built 1979 mall-superblock plan

Poster from the Schubert archives of “The City at 42nd Street”, the never-built 1979 mall-superblock plan

Two weeks ago, the eyes of the world were on Times Square, but how did it get that way? Take a walk through history at The Skyscraper Museum’s exhibition — Times Square, 1984: The Post Modernist Moment through February 15.

You’ll find out that the crazy, frenetic, chaotic landscape of this town square and its surrounding theaters was nearly lost when the City Fathers and the real-estate community thought Times Square should be “sanitized”. It took wrecking balls destroying several historic theaters to bring activists, celebrities, actors, historians, and preservationists into the streets and paddy wagons to reverse course.

The skyscrapers that were finally built at Times Square, including the Times Towers of 1997 and 2004

The skyscrapers that were finally built at Times Square, including the Times Towers of 1997 and 2004

The Skyscraper Museum has assembled the architectural models, videos, personal memorabilia collections, and planning sketches to resurrect this nearly forgotten war story. See the installation views on our Flickr site.

The show opens with a 1905 Mutoscope film showing the panorama from the top of the new Times Tower – the first skyscraper in that part of town. See it here on the exhibition web site. The Times started the ball drop in 1907, and it’s continued as one of the City’s most famous traditions.

The “Great White Way” name became popular in the 1920s and 1930s to indicate the glow from theater marquees lining Broadway, Seventh Avenue, and the side streets. The second skyscraper wasn’t built until 1927 (the Paramount Building/ Hard Rock Café), and remarkably, no other skyscrapers popped up until 1972.

Cutaway drawing of the Portman/Marriott Marquis Hotel (1973-1985), which kept focus inward away from tawdry Times Square

Cutaway drawing of the Portman/Marriott Marquis Hotel (1973-1985), which kept focus inward away from tawdry Times Square

The Portman Hotel (now Marriott Marquis) project was sketched out in 1973, but it took until 1985 to open. The fortress-like complex was designed to look inward on purpose – away from the tawdry street life that characterized Times Square in the “bad old” days when drug pushers, crime, pickpockets, loudmouths, and fistfights were the norm. The atrium and rotating rooftop restaurant were marvels to tourists, who were happy to have an inside-escape route.

By 1979, it was so bad outside that the City proposed some drastic plans to make it all better: Why not tear down a few blocks and make an indoor entertainment mall, complete with a 15-story indoor Ferris wheel and the world’s biggest movie screen? Why not make Times Square look more like Sixth Avenue by building monolithic skyscrapers on each corner of Broadway at 42nd?

Real estate deals ruled the city at the time, and the bonanza created by tourism was still decades away.

Save the Theaters study with 1982 photos of Joe Papp and others protesting the destruction of the Helen Hays and Morosco to build the  Portman. Courtesy: Lee Harris Pomeroy

Save the Theaters study and 1982 photos of Joe Papp protesting the destruction of the Helen Hays and Morosco to build the Portman. Courtesy: Lee Harris Pomeroy

The actors, preservationists, and architects were aghast at plans to tear down so many historic theaters for the Portman/Marriott Marquis and began staging street protests and galvanizing public opinion to save Broadway. Through a lot of community organizing, a Save the Theaters study, and a night where all the theaters turned the lights out, the battle was won. Yes, new towers would be built, but the demolition of theaters would stop.

In 1993, Disney pledged to take over and restore the New Amsterdam, the study identified theater features of historic value (including backstage areas), and a 42nd Street redevelopment effort commenced. Julian Eltinge’s theater (now AMC Empire 25) was moved 130 feet down the street, rehearsal studios were built, and the New Victory brought children’s theater to a house that used to be Minsky’s (and the Belasco).

Today, the crossroads is dominated by tall, sparkling skyscrapers and bustling with high-spending visitors. The TKTS island serves as a concrete village green for the entire area.

Looking north today toward Times Square and 42nd Street

Looking north today toward Times Square and 42nd Street

Insiders at the Skyscraper Museum’s winter program at Columbia University let us in on the fact that the there are actually design requirements for flashing signs and billboards in Times Square to be at off-angles and tilts to maintain the slapped-together look of the area – design elements flouted by Vornado’s new block-long HD video billboard.

This short synopsis is only the tip of the iceberg on Times Square. For the full story and history, get to the show and take time to watch Carol Willis’ historic, all-star panel from last November, where you’ll meet the people who saved the Theater District, remade 42nd Street, and created the landscape of Times Square that the world knows today. You’ll never look at it the same way again:

 

For more, click here to read the exhibition story online and see more photos, videos, and artifacts.

The Paper Bag Was Her Design

MoMA honors Margaret Knight, 1870s inventor of the flat-bottomed paper bag

MoMA honors Margaret Knight, 1870s inventor of the flat-bottomed paper bag

What will the MoMA curators pull out of the design collection next? Designing Modern Women 1890–1990, running through October 19, puts the spotlight on furniture, textiles, graphics, performance, kitchens, and even inflatables designed by some innovative women over the last century. How can you not love a show that begins with 1890s modern-dance provocateur Loïe Fuller and ends with 1980s pop icon Grace Jones?

The crowd last weekend was loving every bit of it, pausing to watch videos sprinkled throughout the show and marvel at designs – some 80 to 100 years old that are as modern today as they were at their creation.

The next time you carry away your morning muffin from the coffee counter in that little white paper bag, ponder that the flat-bottomed paper bag was invented in the 1870s by Margaret E. Knight and Charles B. Stilwell. Ms. Knight not only invented this classic, but also invented the machine that made it and was one of the first American women ever to receive a patent.

1901 dinner service by Jutta Sika and Koloman Moser

1901 dinner service by Jutta Sika and Koloman Moser

No, the dinner service is not from Pottery Barn. It was created in 1901 by the Austrian design team of Jutta Sika and Koloman Moser. Didn’t I just see a copy of Eileen Gray’s 1927 adjustable table at the D & D Building? Open shelving in your new, modern kitchen? Yes, that was Charlotte Perriand’s idea, and MoMA has (for the first time) installed this full-size, fully efficient, ground-breaking kitchen from her 1952 project with Le Corbusier.

And what about the Slinky? Invented by Betty and Richard James in 1945. You’ll have fun peering into the design cases and learning more about the women behind some remarkable things.

Slinky was designed by Betty and Richard James in 1945

Slinky was designed by Betty and Richard James in 1945

In the 1960s portion of the show, you’ll see those famous Fillmore posters designed by Bonnie Maclean. And there’s an entire wall filled with iconic pop and punk graphics – all created by female designers – that should be familiar to anyone that traversed the downtown CBGBs scene.

There’s no digital media to accompany this fantastic show, so take a walk through our Flickr site. All of the items are from MoMA’s own collection, and we’ve taken slight liberties by arranging the photos in the show album in chronological order of the year that each design debuted.

And to bring it all back to the beginning of this design innovation tribute: Here’s a glimpse of 1897 Art Nouveau performance art by Loïe Fuller, courtesy of the Lumiere Brothers. The color you see here is a result of hand-tinting the film, but her actual perfomances used new theatrical stage lighting for which she held numerous patents. Listen to the MoMA curators explain her influence, but get over to MoMA (or the Flickr site) to take in this super-fun tribute to 100-plus years of smart women who thought differently and made it happen.

Oldest Painted Theater Curtain in America on View in NC

The original 1858 William Russell Smith drop curtain, displayed in Thalian Hall’s Parquet Hall

The original 1858 William Russell Smith drop curtain, displayed in Thalian Hall’s Parquet Hall

Lincoln was prepping for his sixth debate with Douglas in Illinois when the curtain went up on October 12, 1858 at Thalian Hall in Wilmington, North Carolina – the same curtain, still on display, that is considered to be the oldest existing theater drop in America, painted by Philadelphia-trained landscape artist William Russell Smith.

Back in the 1850s, major theaters up and down the East Coast were in pursuit of the classically trained Smith to create romantic, ethereal landscape images on the gigantic canvas curtains that audiences saw when they entered opera houses. Typically framed by an ornate proscenium, the drop transported theatergoers to the work of make-believe, Moliere, and Macbeth – staples of the touring companies and troupes of the time.

Detail of original drop curtain, done in distemper on 30-foot canvas

Detail of 1858 curtain, distemper on a 30-foot canvas

Today, except for Wilmington’s Thalian Hall treasure, those grand masterpieces are gone, victims of time, decay, and impermanence like the superstars of yesteryear. It’s quite a miracle that Thalian’s original curtain has still survived, considering that it’s not painted in oil, but distemper – a less permanent, water-soluable medium, essentially colors ground into glue. When an artist applies the wet pigment, he sees the opposite color, which gradually turns into the “true” color when the paint dries. It’s a process that could only be executed by a skilled master, particularly on a 30-foot wide canvas. The surface of the curtain holds the granules (like a piece of paper holds pastel fragments).

Wilmington, NC’s Thalian Hall, built 1855-1858, one of the oldest continuously operating theaters in the South

Wilmington, NC’s Thalian Hall, built 1855-1858, one of the oldest continuously operating theaters in the South

No wonder Smith purpose-built a huge studio in his home with poles that could be raised and lowered as he worked on a gigantic scale first with a charcoal sketch, then with distemper (move over, Chuck Close!). When Smith finished painting his commission, he carefully folded the canvas, rolled it on a long pole, and had it delivered to the opera house.

Thalian Hall received its long-distance delivery this way, because Smith never set foot in North Carolina. The new opera house was designed by New York architect John Trimble, who built Barnum’s Museum and many New York theaters of the mid-1800s, including the New Bowery. Smith’s curtain was the finishing touch, depicting an Aegean sailing ship arriving at classical islands filled with temples dedicated to Apollo, evoking commencement of the ancient Olympiad.

Detail of Thalian Hall's beautifully restored proscenium and box

Detail of Thalian Hall’s beautifully restored proscenium and box

The curtain was in service from 1858 until 1909, when a restoration was planned. Historians know it was hung again by 1938 (see the photo in our Flickr feed). It got hurt a little in the 1940 WPA renovations, and was known to be back in place in 1947, but disappeared after 1963. It was rediscovered in 1979, when Mrs. Juanita Menick, the president of the board, told the new Thalian director that she might still have an old curtain that she took years ago to her home for safekeeping. Thank goodness for those large, Southern homes.

Although only 15 feet of the original 30-foot drop remained, tribute was paid to the historic artwork. The fragile canvas was used as part of the set for Thanlian Hall’s 125th anniversary celebration, and now hangs, ready for its closeup, in the luxurious entry to the theater’s orchestra section.

Hear how executive director Tony Rivenbark rediscovered it, and watch historian David Rowland’s talk about the life of William Russell Smith (at 4:20), whose romantic landscapes of New England somewhat predated the Hudson River School; the imagery used in the magnificent theater curtains (at 30:22); and the astonishing discovery recently made in Smith’s grand studio (at 35:30) in this YouTube video.

Thalian Hall's balconies and orchestra

Thalian Hall’s balconies and orchestra

You can read more about the historic theater on its website (and check out the video on Thalian’s “thunder roll” device, another “only remaining in America” theatrical wonder). Glimpse more of this theater’s grandeur and photos of the illustrious performers who have trod its boards on our Flickr feed.

In Wilmington, you can view this remarkable piece of theater history any time during box office hours.

See New York Through Hopper’s Eyes

Hopper’s easel holds his painting, Early Sunday Morning (1930) at the Whitney.

Hopper’s easel holds his painting, Early Sunday Morning (1930) at the Whitney.

If you thought you knew about Edward Hopper, think again. The Whitney’s show, Hopper Drawing, provides surprises galore from curator Carter Foster, who has presented the museum’s trove of Hopper drawings in a fresh, new context. The Whitney has more Hopper drawings (made for his private use) than any other museum in America, and about half are up on the walls. Go before October 6.

Although Hopper’s representational work is considered by his fans to signify “realism”, Foster has unearthed and organized zillions of preparatory drawings that demonstrate that this is hardly the case. Hopper, as he often said, worked “from fact” but added improvisational touches that pretty much made the canvases perfect. A case in point is New York Movie, where one side of the canvas is “real”, and the other side is completely imaginary. His sketchbook from the Palace Theater proves it.

Whitney exhibition card showing map and 1914 photograph of the West Village storefronts depicted in the above oil painting

Whitney exhibition card showing map and 1914 photograph of the West Village storefronts depicted in the above oil painting

To prove this point, you’ll see the most famous Hopper paintings right alongside his preparatory sketches and sketchbooks to see his meticulous decision making process. Go to the exhibition web site (or our Flickr feed) and flip through images of Hopper’s iconic oils (such as New York Movie  and Chicago’s Nighthawks), followed by sketches and studies where Hopper worked out all the compositional kinks.

Hopper lived and worked right inside the row of gorgeous 1830s townhouses along Washington Square North. It’s a complete surprise to find that NYU still preserves Hopper’s studio intact, complete with his print press and easel.

Foster convinced NYU to loan it to the show, and it’s an electrifying reminder that artists once walked the streets of the Village and then came back to paint. You’ll stand face-to-face with the working easel that Hopper used to paint every one of his great works. Early Sunday Morning is perched, right where it sat in 1930, facing the Hopper’s other icon Nighthawks, on loan from Chicago’s Art Institute. The width of those canvases precisely matches the width of the easel.

Installation view of Hopper’s New York Movie (1939), on loan from MoMA

Installation view of Hopper’s New York Movie (1939), on loan from MoMA

So, that left a question: Where these real places, or fictions made up entirely in Hopper’s mind? Foster spent time trying to figuring it out, and thankfully the Whitney recorded the answers on its YouTube video. Take a walk with him and see the Village and the Flatiron through Hopper’s eyes back in the 1930s. You’ll never look at Nighthawks the same way again. Genius.

For theater fans: It’s not in the video, but Hopper’s sketchbooks are also filled with drawings of Times Square theaters — the Palace, the Globe (now the Lunt-Fontanne), the Republic (now the New Victory; formerly Minsky’s Burlesque),  and the Strand (where Morgan Stanley now sits).

First Ladies of Spanish Dance at NYPL Performing Arts

PosterThere’s no way to cool off the Spanish heat you’ll experience at the dance-til-you-drop exhibition Flamenco: 100 Years of Flamenco in New York, currently in the last weeks at NYPL’s Library of Performing Arts at Lincoln Center (until August 3).

NYPL gives us videos, recordings, a few costumes, and other memorabilia, but mostly you’ll hear the castanets and rapid-fire footwork of the best of the best. Who knew that the first woman to appear in front of Edison’s movie camera was Carmencita, the Spanish sensation who debuted at Niblo’s Garden in 1889, and had a fairly good run at Koster & Bial’s Music Hall on 24th and Sixth Avenue. Her portrait by Sargent is at the Musee d’Orsay and her portrait by Chase at the Met. Here’s a link to Edison’s 1894 flick.

Carmencita’s fan photo (c. 1890). Source: NYPL Billy Rose Collection

Carmencita’s fan photo (c. 1890). Source: NYPL Billy Rose Collection

This first Spanish-dance craze was further fueled in 1916 by the arrival in New York of La Argentina (Antonia Merce), Spain’s first modernist dance artist who fused classical dance, regional styles, and Flamenco. A decade later, she returned with a full company and presented New York’s first full-length Spanish dance-theater piece. By then, Ruth St. Denis, Martha Graham, and Ted Shawn were already incorporating Latin moves, gestures, and rhythms into their performances, and La Argentina’s company had a spectacular run. Here she is in a solo.

Although there’s lots more to the story, one of the best parts of the exhibition features photos, albums, videos, and recordings of the fast footwork of Carmen Amaya, who Sol Hurok billed as “The Human Vesuvius” in her 1941 New York debut. She could kick the 15-foot train of her dress right into the air.Carmen Amaya Record Album

Amaya’s innovation is that she injected a bit of the Gypsy style into Flamenco and was somewhat of a Spanish-dance rule-breaker – sporting tight-fitting trousers to show off her super-fancy footwork. Superstars Dietrich and Hepburn were also wearing trousers at the time, but it was a first in Amaya’s field of work.

Good move, Carmen, as shown in this clip from Follow the Boys, a 1944 all-star vehicle released by Universal to boost morale during the War. It’s like watching a great jazz tapper at work. Move over, Riverdance people.

Source: Archival clip, Follow the Boys, from the DVD, Queen of the Gypsies, A Portrait of Carmen Amaya.