Catholic Inspiration for Fashion at the Met

Balenciaga’s 1967 silk wedding dress in the Romanesque Chapel at the Met Cloisters

The brilliant installation of haute couture in the historic halls of the Met Cloisters, Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination, closing October 8, also serves as a surprising showcase for the spectacular medieval art residing in the same space.

Curator Andrew Bolton’s thoughtful placement and narrative creates a genuine conversation between European couture and religious-themed works made over 500 years ago at both the Cloisters and the Met’s Fifth Avenue location.

The Cloisters show starts spectacularly with Balenciaga’s 1967 wedding dress dramatically casting shadows across the floor of the largest room at the Cloisters, the Romanesque chapel with its outsized arch and crucifix.

Closeup of Jean Paul Gaultier’s 2007 evening ensemble printed with 15th c. image of the Virgin by Jean Fouquet.

The jeweled pieces of German stained glass are echoed by Gaultier gowns, and Craig Green’s avant-garde ensembles created from Islamic prayer rugs are at home amidst the 13th century tapestries in the Hall of Heroes. Looking at each contemporary expression fully reflects the magnificent artwork resting just a few feet away.

Hidden spaces, leafy cloisters, underground tombs, light-filled corridors, and dark, secret corners of the Treasury all provide surprises and context for exploring visitors – Valentino’s Garden of Eden dress, Galliano’s Machiavelli gown for Dior, Dolce & Gabbana’s gold silk-and-metal macramé wedding ensemble, and McQueen’s crown-of-thorns headpiece.  Seek and you will find.

Sleeve detail of monastic paper taffeta 1969 evening dress by Madame Grés.

Take a look at our Flickr album to see many close-up the details of all the clothes and surrounding artwork.

The Met has gone all out to make the connections between clothes and the Catholic themes explicit, providing innovative high-res photos, several brief videos and blog posts. Read more about the themes here.

Andrew Bolton, the show’s curator, gives an overview of all the inspiration and documentation of the exquisite clothing, jewelry, and inspirational art work in the show in this video here.

Closeup of Olivier Theyskens’ 1999 evening dress with a hook-and-eye closure in the shape of the cross. From the Crusades section of the show in the Gothic Chapel.

Click here to walk through every room of the Cloisters with Andrew Bolton and hear him explain how he made the selections according to the surrounding artworks.

The Fifth Avenue portion of the show is, like so much of Catholic pageantry, more of a public event, filling the Medieval hall with fashions inspired by angels, secular clergy, nuns, Mary, and saints, all dominated by an Ecclesiastical Fashion Show.

The Fifth Avenue portion of the show is, like so much of Catholic pageantry, more of a public event, filling the Medieval hall with fashions inspired by angels, secular clergy, nuns, Mary, and saints, all dominated by an Ecclesiastical Fashion Show.

Highlights include a procession of works from Gianni Versace’s last collection, Gaultier’s hologram votive dress, Mugler’s floating angel, and the loft high above it all, populated by ethereal figures wearing choir robes by Balenciaga.

1984 dress by Thierry Mugler from his Winter of Angels collection, part of the Celestial Hierarchy at Fifth Avenue

Here’s a link to the Met’s walkthrough video.

An important part of the Met’s undertaking is a spectacular mini-exhibition of incredible works of clothing art from the Vatican, which took significant negotiation. Here, Andrew shows highlights of the items on loan from the Vatican, some of which have never been displayed abroad before.

Walk through the Met’s Vatican section of the show here.

Native Inventions in Spotlight as imagiNATIONS Center Debuts in New York

Sixth graders listen to explanation of Native American innovation map

The sixth-graders were having the time of their lives cramming into the rocking kayak, finding secret treasures from far-away cultures in the drawers, and comparing sturdy lacrosse sticks made from natural materials.

It was all part of the joyous opening day of the new imagiNATIONS Activity Center, on the ground floor of the Smthsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, right off Bowling Green in downtown Manhattan.

NMAI officials blessed the proceedings with percussion and chant, but the genuine thrill was seeing the kids pour into the new center to listen to and experience a new take on science, math, and engineering.

Tip of a contemporary surfboard – originally invented by Hawaiians.

When you walk inside, a wonderful wall summarizes the story – a map of North and South America populated with technical inventions by Native Americans over the last several thousand years! It’s a brilliant summary of the fresh ideas that you’ll encounter around the corner.

Although this sparkling, new, inspirational ImagiNATIONS Activity Center was conceived for children, rest assured that any adult museum lover will be blown away by discovering the technical innovation story too.

Although the first settlements in Manhattan and Broadway itself were created by native populations, city dwellers often get so overwhelmed by towering skyscrapers that they don’t immediately connect native cultures with what exists downtown.

Yup’ik kayak frame created by Bill Wilkinson of Kwigillingok, Alaska from spruce, cedar, driftwood, and walrus bone

OK, maybe no one is reading the news on steles in Mayan hieroglyphics anymore, but the much of the work displayed here is made by living, breathing native artists. The next time you’re stuck on a subway because of a signal malfunction, consider the fact that in the Andes, the community assembles each year to repair their chasm-crossing fiber foot bridges. Now, that’s a commuter maintenance plan!

Or consider that Arctic kayaks are custom designed to suit each individual’s weight and shape.  Or that cool surfer dudes in Hawaii are simply carrying on a wave-riding tradition that extends back thousands of years.

Cold weather waterproof kayak-hunting system

Every step makes you stop and think.  How is it that the Mayans were one of three cultures to invent concept of zero in mathematics? What brilliant minds perfected making waterproof parkas from carcass leftovers or salmon skin?  Or the engineering it takes to design watercraft that doesn’t tip?

Sixth graders learn how igloos are engineered.

The mannequin in the corner displays recently crafted components of “system dressing” for hunting from kayaks in freezing waters.  The parka has waterproof stitching and attaches to the kayak opening.  The visor includes walrus whiskers that aren’t just decoration – they transmit subtle, silent vibrations to the visor that tell expert hunters that their prey has shifted course.

Everything you experience in the center was designed to help teachers inject something new to supplement schools’ math and science curriculums. But the fun factor for learners of all ages is truly off the charts.

You’ll experience how all the significant contributions made by native people in food, architecture, sports clothing, agriculture, and engineering really add up in day-to-day modern life. You’ll want to get into the kayak and open all the drawers yourself.

Port Authority executive Janice Stein and colleague who loaned steel cables from the Bayonne Bridge

From attending the opening, we were able to meet the people from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who donated a piece of repair cable from the recently upgraded Bayonne Bridge for the engineering display. Perfect for seeing and touching to see how Andean fiber cables compare to urban steel.

We also heard the story of how the kayak overhead made a 4,000 journey on a sea plane, a ship, and a truck from the workshop of Bill Wilkinson in Kwigillingok, Alaska to Anchorage to Seattle and to New York City.

Take a look at our Flickr album and make a trip to the Battery as soon as you can. The center, like the NMAI, is free, fully staffed, and open seven days a week.

Exploring drawers of textile samples.

Take your own kids, your neighbor’s kids, or your inner child and get your hands on that igloo downtown and think about what you owe the people living south of the border for the invention of chocolate.

Nick Mauss Brings NYC Modern Art/Dance Influences to Life at The Whitney

Dancers strike poses inspired by the surrounding works of art in a piece collaboratively choreographed with Nick Mauss

Cecil Beaton’s 1937 Vogue photo of poet Charles Henri Ford in a costume by Salvador Dali

Go when the dancers are there. Entering Nick Mauss: Transmissions, installed on the top floor of the Whitney through May 14, you’ll see them moving behind a transparent scrim as the elevator doors open.

The artist had a vision and the Whitney curators gave him the freedom to scour their deep-storage archives, delineate a space for dancers, install works of art, and write scintillating details about the fruits of his research.

Nick’s vision was to create a visual conversation about the collisions between modern art and dance in New York between 1930 and 1950 – a time when bon vivants, peripatetic painters, scandalous artistes, and boundary-pushing dancers expressed themselves in every manner possible.

He succeeds spectacularly. But the show isn’t laid out in a chronological manner like a history show. It’s more of a curated, free association experience that genuinely works.

Visitors encounter Whitney works that are almost never displayed, photos from the Kinsey Institute, works from the NYPL’s Jerome Robbins Division archive, ephemera from personal collections, and Nick’s own creations.

1928 dancer-inspired sculptures by Elie Nadelman stand in front of Nick’s mirrored mural.

Nick’s put a quartet of live dancers at the center of the swirl, encouraging and challenging visitors to explore clues surrounding them – private artistic photos, Diaghilev’s calling card, costume designs by Dorothea Tanning, a video of Balanchine in rehearsal.

As dancers quietly assume poses, visitors are left to move about and make their own connections. Do the dance poses echo the quiet Gaston Lachaise or Elie Nadelman sculptures, or the over-the-top expressions of NYC ballet superstars in Carl Van Vechten’s slide show splashed across the opposite wall?

Nick’s research unearthed an extraordinary wealth of information about relationships among artists, cross-currents of artistic influence, intimate social circles, and gay life. His idea was to inject a little more color to the American modern-art narrative.

One of 830 slides taken of American Ballet Theatre dancers by Carl Van Vechten, America’s first dance critic.

When the Whitney staff read the captivating associations that Nick uncovered as he selected objects for the installation, they decided that it was too rich to simply identify things in the traditional cut-and-dried museum label card format

The curators mounted Nick’s extraordinary background stories next to the artworks, photos, stage set mock-ups, and costume designs to let visitors get inside Nick’s head and share in his fun.

The stories – like the dance quartet – encourage visitors to connect their own knowledge about the origins of modern dance and modern art in New York with what they see and read:

What impact did modern dance pioneers Loie Fuller and Ruth St. Denis have on 1920s sculpture? How did a Ballet Russe-obsessed cultural impresario convince George Balanchine to start the New York City Ballet?

Reflected in Nick’s mirrored mural, a monitor shows videos of Balanchine rehearsing the New York City Ballet.

What was a sophisticated dance critic doing in his studio with props, costumes, Agnes de Mille, and stars of the New York ballet world?

The beauty of Nick’s installation is that people wandering about the space are able construct their own visual and mental narratives and understand the swirl of modernism from that time in a new way. Take a look at our Flickr album to view some of our favorite works in the show.

The choreographed piece was developed collaboratively by Nick and the dancers. The complete experience is poetic, revelatory, interactive, and constantly in motion.

The dancers perform from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. daily, and also on Friday nights from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Here’s a short clip of the quartet of dancers performing in the gallery:

And another short clip of duets:

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.