Cooper Hewitt Serves Up Decade of Twenties Style

1923-1926 Callot Soeurs velvet evening dress, embroidered with pearls and metallic thread. Collection: MCNY

Booze-filled nights, cocktail artistry, designer scents, dancing the night away in half-hidden clubs, and high style provide the context for the Cooper-Hewitt’s gigantic show, The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s, closing on August 20. If you go, plan on spending some time contemplating two floors of beautiful things that made this decade a design stand-out.

From the time of New York’s first Armory Show in 1913, the appetite for primitive art, artistic dressing, and design innovations just kept growing. The end of World War I encouraged German, Austrian, and French designers to look west to find new markets and clients, and New York in the Twenties was ready for something completely different.

As the curators show, the trans-Atlantic influences, designers emigrating to New York from Europe, and newly liberated women enjoying the cigarettes, cocktails, music, and dance all added up to an explosion of change.

1927 silver coffee service, inspired by cubism and skyscrapers, designed by Eric Magnussen for Gorham

The Twenties became a watershed decade for innovations in fashion, jewelry, furniture, art, and design on both sides the Atlantic. View all the beautiful things in the show here.

The two-floor show is grouped by theme, chronicling the initial cross-pollination of new European designs into high-end American lifestyles and choices – modern geometric designs in diamond bracelets, hair bands replacing tiaras, cubism gone wild, the De Stijl and Wiener Werkstätte revolutions in design-think, and how everyone was interested in Frank Lloyd Wright.

1920s diamond geometric bracelet by Mauboussin with colorful clusters of rubies

New York high society could not get enough of the meticulous craftsmanship and new geometries in design emanating from Europe. If you had the cash, you traveled to Paris to scoop up designer duds and art glass, but the appetite for what each continent had to offer was a two-way street: Europe could not get enough of Josephine Baker, jazz, and New York’s new, ever-expanding skyline. The Jazz Age is loaded with vases, armchairs, and even a wastebasket drawing inspiration from super-tall buildings sprouting in Manhattan.

The show also highlights the craze for “primitive” elements of design, Egyptian motifs inspired by the discovery of King Tut’s tomb, and the stuff that started to be made when party goers discovered the joy of cocktails.

There are fabulous bracelets from Cartier worn by high-society style makers and celebrities (e.g. Mae West, Gloria Swanson) and perfume containers that doubled as collectible art.

1955 copy of 1918 Gerrit Rietveld chair, inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright

Couturier Jean Patou even commissioned a perfume presentation styled to look like a cocktail bar as a wink to the fact of Prohibition on the other side of the Atlantic. Of course, he offered ladies’ drinks when they came to his Paris salon, commiserating about alcohol deprivation in America.

The array of armchairs that have been assembled are a mini-exhibition on their own – from Gerrit Rietveld’s astonishing 1918 primary-color chair to Breuer’s iconic 1925 Barcelona chair to the 1929 steel-tube-and-rubber chair by René Herbst. It’s hard to look at them and see them as from an era different than our own today.

The curators make the point that a watershed moment in design was the 1925 Paris Exposition of International Arts. The excitement over the new designs was so intense that department stores in the United States offered to hold a traveling exhibition of 400 objects. After people across the US got a whiff of what new style was all about, the appetite for modern furniture, vanity table items, and textiles exploded.

1920s form-fitting “California” style wool knit bathing suit. Collection: Kent State

Clothing plays a role in the show, but the displays include more accessories and jewels. Beautiful evening dresses by Chanel and Callot Soeurs are featured, along with a pair of exquisitely preserved sparkly dancing shoes and a modern knit bathing suit that really revealed all of a woman’s curves.

Touring the show, you’ll learn how jewelry changed with the times during the Twenties. Shorter, looser-fitting dresses on ladies moving to the latest dance styles demanded longer, looser necklaces, or sautoirs, that swung in time to the music, too. More open T-strapped and ankle-strapped shoes were embellished to make those dance moves even more dazzling.

There’s a lot to the fashion story during this decade. Join two fashion historians and Cooper Hewitt curators, as they talk about the fashions of the Jazz Age in New York and Paris.


Bard Resurrects NYC’s Crystal Palace

The domed Crystal Palace depicted on a commemorative window shade

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

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

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

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

Showpiece parlor furniture, an 1853 armchair by Julius Dessoir

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

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

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

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

High-tech Singer sewing machine for home and business

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Build an Empire at The Met

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Behind the Scenes of the Revolution at NYHS

Women of the 3rd New Jersey Regiment, Continental Army, showing soldiers’ everyday life

To celebrate the anniversary of the United States, the New York Historical Society hosted the reenactors of the 3rd New Jersey Regiment of the Continental Army for a little show-and-tell about the private lives of the people who enlisted in the Revolution. Dressed in colonial garb, the men and women of the Third showed what the enlisted men were given as rations, how they cooked it, and what they carried into battle – beans, hard tack, and (maybe) tobacco to barter.

A small tent and campfire cooking pot were set up just feet away from portraits of Revolutionary heroes and the remnants of the statue of King George III that the citizens of New York had torn down by their African-American slaves moments after the Declaration of Independence was read to Washington’s troops in lower Manhattan on July 9, 1776. All that remains here is half the horse’s tail.

A Revolutionary soldier’s home and kitchen during maneuvers

At a nearby table, men and women of the Third showed how the soldiers made their own bullets and cartidges, and the range of apparatus to keep the hand-made ammunition dry — leather pouches and tin boxes. As far as supplies, muskets, and gun powder went, you were on your own during the 1776 skirmishes.

See it all close up in our Flickr album.

Upstairs from demonstrations on the everyday life of troops, you can glimpse the everyday life of the more famous patriots through July 13 in the exhibition, Thomas Jefferson: The Private Man, from the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

The show includes his inventory of books, crops, slaves, and letters – personal papers that he willed to his granddaughter and her husband, who lived in Massachusetts and eventually gave them to the historical society there.

Houdon’s 1789 portrait bust of 46-year-old Jefferson next to his handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence

The curators have displayed his architectural drawings of various iterations of Monticello, domed residences (never built) for friends, plans to improve the state capitol at Williamsburg (never built because the capitol was moved to Richmond), and an early plan for his summer residence at Poplar Forest (octagonal living room before he went all the way with a fully octagonal building with dramatic skylight).

Given the popularity of Hamilton, the gallery includes a copy of an 1801 letter to his granddaughter with an interesting postscript – a note telling her that Hamilton was doing everything in his power during the neck-and-neck presidential race between Jefferson and Burr to ensure Jefferson’s victory. We all know how that turned out from history and the plot arc of the show.

A nice touch of this small installation is the inclusion of Houdon’s famous 1789 portrait bust of 46-year-old Jefferson, which his granddaughter though made him look far too old. It’s a plaster copy of the marble original, and is positioned next to Jefferson’s own handwritten copy of the original, unedited Declaration of Independence (before the Continental Congress removed the part about slavery).

John Adams’ transcription of Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration — how scholars know what the Congress cut out to get it passed

The paper next to it is an even bigger surprise – a hand-written copy of Tom’s original grievances by John Adams, who was on the Declaration committee with Jefferson and Franklin. Apparently, during the hot summer of 1776 while Jefferson was toiling away putting the finishing touches on his masterpiece, Adams wrote out his own copy with which he could lobby the various state representatives in the days leading up to the controversial ratification.

Understandably, this copy from the Adams Family Archive also makes its home at the Massachusetts Historical Society, and here in New York visitors get to see it side-by-side with the version written by the Declaration’s original author.

Whitney’s Left the Building — Turner and Friends Move In

Marcel Breuer building on Madison, once the Whitney, now The Met

Marcel Breuer building on Madison, once the Whitney, now The Met

Start your engines – the doors to the Met Breuer swung open last week, and it’s a celebrity-studded, jazz-filled opening. The Met has turned Marcel Breuer’s brutalist masterpiece on Madison into a showcase for everything that’s cool, digital, live, and happening.

First, the art: Superstars from the last 500 years of art history are throwing it down in a big, bold, can-you-believe-who’s-here, two-floor mash-up extravaganza, Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible.

Imagine turning a corner and finding a room packed with the Holy Grail of 19th-century “abstraction” – five barely-there masterworks by Mr. Turner, fresh off the plane from London. It’s not taking anything away from Titian, El Greco, or German Expressionists, who are in the show. It’s just that it’s rare for Gothamites to get up close and personal with this painter’s painter without buying a ticket to London and trekking to Millbank. Once word gets out, hopefully the Breuer downstairs admissions desk will be as jammed as the return line for Hamilton.

One of five late masterworks by Mr. Turner from the Tate

One of five late masterworks by Mr. Turner from the Tate

Yes, it’s strange to encounter Renaissance masters or a monumental Picasso when the gigantic elevator doors open on the upper floors. The fresh juxtapositions of old and new, familiar and unknown make your head spin, but in a good way.

The show features Renaissance masters, 19th century gods (see Matisse and Van Gogh’s side-by-side country cottages), and 20th century hot shots from international collections, MoMA, and 81st Street. The curatorial throw-down is something only the Met can do – scale, scope, and smarts – asking accessible questions and responding with wit from its own collection and other top institutions that have agreed to give their masterworks a trip to New York.

First view of Unfinished

First view of Renaissance masters in Unfinished

Eight years ago, when the Whitney Museum of American Art began planning its move to the Meatpacking District, its board approached the Met and asked if it wanted to take over the famous Breuer building on Madison Avenue.

The answer was “yes” but only if the takeover would be done the Met way – using the full scope of the Met’s holdings, leveraging its interest in new digital and performing arts, and showcasing international modern artists who might not have received the recognition here (in the United States) that they deserved. In other words, turn old-world institutionalism on its head. And they’ve done that.

Just look at the first one-woman show in the United States for Indian modernist, Nasreen Mohamedi. The delicate drawings evoke Klee, Malevich, and Agnes Martin purity and line and shed a whole new light on how modernism was being transformed on the subcontinent in the Seventies and Eighties.


Coffee CupSecond, the live arts element: Since it will be open late on Thursday and Friday evenings, hopefully it will become new Upper East Side’s version of the Rubin’s K-2 Lounge two nights a week – a fun, lively hang-out for music, performance, and art lovers. The rear first-floor gallery has been turned into a contemplative, cool showcase for jazz, programmed by Met Live Arts. Take a look at what’s up through the end of the month with Relation: A Performance Residency by Vijay Iyer.


Welcoming crew with the digital wall

Welcoming crew with the digital wall

Third, the new: So what else has changed at 75th and Madison? The pile-up of art books is gone from the reception desk, and the welcome wall is ablaze with a classy digital marquee offering glimpses of the world’s most precious treasures at each of the Met’s (now) three locations.

In a nod to those stupendous Lila Acheson Wallace bouquets in the Met’s Grand Hall, there’s also an oversize spring arrangement gracing the welcome area.

Fourth, the familiar: People who know the old Whitney well remember the tiny clay colony that resided in a corner of the stairwell next to a window overlooking Madison Avenue. At the press preview, art critics kept pausing on the stairwell landing to marvel at the fact that the beloved Charles Simmonds piece, Dwellings, is still there on loan from the Whitney.

Dwellings, an installation by Charles Simmonds in the stairwell (and across the street), still on loan from the Whitney

Look for Dwellings, a 1982 installation by Charles Simmonds, in the stairwell (and across the street), still on loan from the Whitney

Look out the window and you’ll see the tiny clay and sand Dwellings nestled into the chimney and roof of the Apple Store across the street, same as they have been since 1982. Like the rest of the new Met Breuer, it might be the same place, but you’ll see lots of well-loved modern art in a new, fresh way.

And be sure to download Soundwalk 9:09 by John Luther Adams, commissioned by MetLiveArts for visitors to enjoy as they trek between 81st Street to the Met Breuer — two audio tracks from which to choose, depending on whether you’re making the nine-minute walk uptown or downtown.

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:

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.


New Views from/at The Whitney Museum

High Line and City views from the Whitney

Towering over the green esplanade of the High Line, the new Whitney Museum of American Art is a spectacular success, inside and out. The inaugural show, America is Hard to See, closing this weekend, features 600 works on all eight floors of the new Renzo Piano-designed landmark. Finally, Gertrude’s collection has room to breathe.

The inaugural installation distributed the massive collection into smartly themed galleries, but moving up and down between the floors is an equal delight – picture windows and balconies offering views of spectacular sunsets over the Hudson and Empire State Building views from entirely new vantage points. Peeking through the doors into the kitchen on the 8th floor reveals some of the best views (think Standard Hotel) offered to any sous chef in the City.

David Smith’s Cubi XXI (1961) enjoys its view of Meatpacking District nightlife from the balcony

David Smith’s Cubi XXI enjoys its balcony view of Meatpacking nightlife

Part of the fun is walking around on the balconies (on every floor) and experiencing the Whitney’s vertical outdoor sculpture park – Joel Shapiro’s playful bronze guy and David Smith’s towering Cubi totems, all against stunning City vistas. It’s Storm King for the urban soul.

Inside, it’s a walk through American art history with themes from the early 20th century (“Forms Abstracted”, “Music, Pink and Blue”, and “Machine Ornament”) with featuring the Whitney’s iconic works by Stella and Dove, O’Keefe and Macdonald-Wright, and Sheeler and Demuth. The clever mix of paintings and sculptures evoke times when American artists did their own takes on the modernist mix of African art and Cubism, colorful abstractions evoking symphonies for the eye, and the beauty of industrial techniques and landscapes in the heartland.

Gallery devoted to 1950s New York Abstract Expressionism with Chamberlain and diSuvero sculptures set against and Lee Krasner's 1957 Seasons

Gallery devoted to 1950s New York Abstract Expressionism with Chamberlain and diSuvero sculptures set against and Lee Krasner’s 1957 Seasons

The curators even pay tribute to early American filmmaking with a continuing mix of reels by 20th century innovators capturing the bustle and abstraction of modern life.

Calder’s “Circus” gets an expansive showcase, surrounded by jazz age depictions of vaudeville, clubs, movie palaces, and downtown edge by Benton, Hopper, Marsh, Weegee, and Cadmus. Around every corner, a new dimension to the American Experience is revealed – social-justice prints of the 1930s, heartland life in the 1940s, wartime calls to action, abstraction and color-field revolutions, and Pop.

Marisol’s Women and Dog group take in Lichtenstein’s Little Big Painting

Marisol’s Women and Dog group take in Lichtenstein’s Little Big Painting

One of the most stunning triumphs is the large gallery dominated by Mr. Chamberlain’s white car-crush tower, Mr. di Suvero’s primal hankchampion sculpture, and Ms. Krasner’s voluptuous 1957 pink and green mural. The clever curators gave Ms. Krasner her place in the spotlight, surrounded by works by Newman, Rothko, Kline, and Mr. Pollack, who is — at least for the run of this show – relegated to a few vertical drip canvases on the faraway opposite wall.

On a lower floor, the curators have hauled out the massive de Feo piece, “The Rose”, and installed it next to works by other female innovators, Lee Bontecou and Louise Nevelson.

If you missed the initial installation, take a look at the Whitney’s website (which features selected works from each of the 23 themed sections), listen to the audio guide introduction, and enjoy views of our favorites on our Flickr page.

Max Weber's Chinese Restaurant, painted in 1915 when Chinese restaurants and Cubism were first popping up in Manhattan

Max Weber’s Chinese Restaurant, made in 1915 when Chinese restaurants and Cubism were both new to Manhattan

The Whitney welcomes late-night guests (until 10 p.m.) every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Ride over to NYC’s newest subway station at 11th Avenue and 34th Street and walk down the High Line to the City’s latest hot spot in the Meatpacking District.


Killer Heels as Art in Brooklyn

Gaultier’s 2012 Nude Tattoo Boot displayed next to its inspiration, a Chinese porcelain Ming vase (1573-1619)

Gaultier’s 2012 Nude Tattoo Boot displayed next to its inspiration, a Chinese porcelain Ming vase (1573-1619)

The hottest show in New York right now is Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe, a curatorial masterwork that the Brooklyn Museum has decided to extend through March 1.

As soon as you enter the first-floor gallery, you’ll encounter Zach Gold’s mesmerizing Spike video, a wall-sized video extravaganza of high fashion, high glamour, and high heels. Why rush into the first room of the exhibition when your eye is trying process all the lush details? This digital kaleidoscope genuinely sets the tone for what lies ahead – an historical mash-up of style, fashion, and design all seen through the lens of ladies’ shoes.

What an eyeful – carefully composed vitrines where you can behold golden Baroque curliques on Prada platforms, 1920s evening shoes, and a 19th century gilded table. What about silver-and-pearl Chanel boots whose heels mimic the 1890s Gorham candlestick right next to them? Or the red-hot strappy Miu Miu shoes whose ornament is identical to the handles on a 18th-century Wedgewood ice cream cup? Check out our Flickr feed to see some of our favorites.

2008 Heels by Miu Miu next to a Wedgewood ice cream cup and saucer (1790-1800)

2008 Heels by Miu Miu next to a Wedgewood ice cream cup and saucer (1790-1800)

Everywhere you look, there are delightful juxtapositions across time, culture, and material – embellished pointy-toed heels from the 1690s, iron-and-leather pallets that boosted the feet of ladies above the muck of 18th-century city streets, and sky-high mother-of-pearl-inlay stilt shoes that Syrian beauties sported in the Twenties. It’s interesting that the latter are displayed in proximity to those dangerous purple Vivienne Westwood gillies that gave Naomi Campbell such problems on the runway.

Nothing’s chronological. It’s all designed to unfold in your mind by pinging unexpected references and associations – designer shoes next to concoctions from another place and time, fantastical embellishments, and streamlined perfection.

Fashionable, embellished pointy-toed 1690 French and 1720 British heels

Fashionable, embellished pointy-toed 1690 French and 1720 British heels

Provocative, room-sized videos commissioned for this show and small historical films only heighten the pizzazz. Check out Edison’s 1903 short, The Gay Shoe Clerk, or snippets from Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette or other Hollywood classics. Don’t miss Eve A.D. 2000, shot in 1939 to predict what fashions and footwear of the future would look like. You’ll have fun evaluating whether those Thirties visionaries got it right.

There’s simply too much to describe – glass slippers by Georgina Goodman, political-statement heels, shoes that seem to take Metamorphoses at its word, and architectural-engineering wonders. Go see for yourself. You’ll find shoes by Ford, Ferragamo, Prada, Gaultier, and unknown Italian, French, and British craftsmen of long ago.

Watch curator Lisa Small’s video but make the trip out to Brooklyn to immerse yourself in one of the best adventures of the season:

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.