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.

Sinclair Dinosaur Sneaks In and Out of Grand Central

Entrance to the show, featuring the 1964 monorail, transport of the future

Entrance to the show, featuring the 1964 monorail, transport of the future

Although he’s featured at the back, the famous Sinclair dinosaur from the 1964 New York World’s Fair has generated a lot of attention inside the New York Transit Museum’s show Traveling in the World of Tomorrow: The Future of Transportation at New York’s World’s Fairs, closing today.

Drawn in by the spectacular photo of the monorail, commuters and tourists visiting Grand Central have been roaming through the gallery and gift shop, checking out the photos, murals, and Dinoland movie that whisk them back to the transportation pavilions of the history-making 1939 and 1964 New York world’s fairs. What’s a dinosaur doing in the World of Tomorrow? It’s all about the car.

The 1939 World’s Fair was built on top of the Corona garbage dump during the height of the Great Depression, putting visionary architects and day laborers to work.

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

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

A futuristic subway station was built to deliver visitors to the fairgrounds from the A Line. You could enter a spaceship-shaped Flash Gordon amusement ride and watch the first 3D Technicolor movie ever produced inside the Chrysler pavilion.

The best was the legendary Futurama, where people could imagine a time where everyone owned their own car. The ride took them to the faraway year of 1960. Superhighways and curly exit ramps bisect acres of tall skyscrapers, with cars traveling on autopilot at the amazing speed of 55 miles per hour. Incredible!

Dinoland brochure from the Queens Historical Society

Dinoland brochure from the Queens Historical Society

Fast forward: The Sinclair dinosaur is part of the 1964 experience. By then, every family owned its own car. Sinclair’s long-necked, supersized Brontosaurus was a familiar icon to any family stopping to gas up along the newly completed interstate highway system, so why not mix a little magic, promotion, and science?

Sinclair built Dinoland and populated it with life-size replicas of nine dinosaurs. The exhibition has plenty of Dinoland souvenirs along with a movie clip of families seeing the Jurassic giant for the first time.

Robert Moses and Walt Disney look at the model of the 1964 World’s Fair. From MTA Bridges & Tunnels archives

Robert Moses and Walt Disney look at the model of the 1964 World’s Fair. From MTA Bridges & Tunnels archives

The show also pays tribute to the man who also brought another group of Mesozoic superstars to life inside the fairgrounds. Walt Disney designed four of the fair’s animatronics displays, including the robot cavemen and dinosaurs glimpsed in the Ford Motor Company’s “Magic Skyway” ride. There’s a terrific photo of New York’s Robert Moses alongside Walt, looking out over the model of the 1964 fairgrounds, and you can see the actual model itself, right inside.

Missed the show? You won’t see all the movies and hear the soundtracks that made the exhibition so exciting, but you can take a look at the galleries on our Flickr feed.

The 1964 car that everyone wanted — the Ford Mustang, which debuted at the fair

The 1964 car that everyone wanted — the Ford Mustang, which debuted at the fair

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.

Groundbreakers App Ties History and Beauty Together

AppTitle

The New York Botanical Garden carved out an ambitious agenda in its Groundbreakers show – to tie the stories of six women of landscaping history, present a two-gallery recreation of an historic garden, pay tribute to the contributions of several landscapes within NYBG itself, create a poetry walk, and wrap it up with the history of early 20th-century photography and high-gloss publishing. They did it with GPS and an iPhone app, courtesy of Bloomberg.

Closing this weekend, Groundbreakers: Great American Gardens and the Women Who Designed Them is still worth downloading from iTunes, just to get a glimpse into the lives of six landscape-gardening pioneers, see their work, and understand the popularization of American gardening long before the dawn of HGTV or Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Here’s the link.

Photos of Ms. Johnston (left), lantern slides and projector, and Beals (right) on NYC street in 1902. Courtesy: NYBG

Photos of Ms. Johnston (left), lantern slides and projector, and Beals (right) on NYC street in 1902. Courtesy: NYBG

Here’s the story: back in the day (early 1900s), garden design and photography were two of the few career avenues available to women.

Way before Instagram, Photoshop, and two-way phone cameras, documenting the lush gardens involved lugging a gigantic, large-format camera up and down garden paths and around water features, processing black-and-white negatives into prints, turning some into newly-invented lantern slides, and having each slide painstakingly colored by hand. It helped if you had a car and an able-bodied assistant to help navigate the flagstone-lined paths with all the heavy gear.

Six American landscape pioneers who changed the course of American gardening. Courtesy: NYBG

Six American landscape pioneers who changed the course of American gardening. Courtesy: NYBG

Also, after the Industrial Revolution, aesthetically minded women (predating Lady Bird Johnson) felt it was time for American homescapes to get a little more spruced up.

The rich and famous were beginning to hire landscape designers to fix up the areas behind their East Side townhomes and acreages around their country estates. Why not document this and inspire upper middle class homeowners to follow suit?

The exhibition gives us a look at how artist visionaries, authors, and the publishing industry worked in tandem to record how landscape architects were creating romantic backyard landscapes and popularize beautification. Although seeing actual lantern slides, projectors, and gigantic tripods is amazing, one of the highlights is a recreation of the slide show by Frances Benjamin Johnston that basically blazed the trail of a new vision of what was possible – one image after another of gorgeous, visionary landscapes on the grounds of homes on the East Coast, California, England, and France.

NYBG recreated the evocative Moon Gate from the Rockefeller garden, inspired by their experience of the Forbidden City and designed by Beatrix Farrand

NYBG recreated the evocative Moon Gate from the Rockefeller garden, inspired by their experience of the Forbidden City and designed by Beatrix Farrand

In the Conservatory, the team at NYBG recreated Mrs. Rockefeller’s garden, originally designed by Beatrix Farrand, to highlight how the garden was conceived, used, and enhanced by the Asian art Mr. and Mrs. John D. collected. Since Farrand took on this project in 1926, NYBG has the sounds of America’s Jazz Age wafting through the galleries. Take a look on our Flickr page.

Another great feature of this show and the app – NYBG’s GPS feature shows you where you are in the expansive garden and encourages you to visit features where these groundbreakers had a hand – such as Marian Coffin’s ornamental conifer collection and Ferrand’s Rose Garden.

Get a closer view of the spectacular Groundbreakers in NYBG’s news-style video:

If you have a bit more time, listen to this curator lecture on the Beautiful Garden movement in America in 1900 and see the photos used by Johnston home to show suburbanites exactly how it should be done. You’ll witness garden images that hadn’t been seen since 1930. Take a look and get inspired:

Click here for other videos: a lecture about Beatrix Farrand created Mrs. Rockefeller’s garden and how the NYBG team recreated it in the stunning Victorian conservatory.

Folk Art Geniuses Take a Trip

Brooklyn’s Lion, carved in 1910 by Marcus Charles Illions, who worked at the carousel shop and later set up his own studio

Brooklyn’s Lion, carved in 1910 by Marcus Charles Illions, who worked at the carousel shop and later set up his own studio

The American Folk Art Museum knows how to put on a show and take it on the road. After today, the staff will be packing up Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum and letting the Brooklyn Lion, Connecticut’s Weathervane Elephant, Chicago’s Sideshow “Radium Girl”, and a baseball old-timer from Centre Street see what’s up in Davenport, San Diego, Fort Worth, New Orleans, Saint Louis, and Tampa. We’re betting that there will be crowds waiting to greet them.

The museum’s staff has brought out its best to show off four centuries of made-in-America maker art – furniture, sculptures, textiles, painting, and what-not. It’s genius that they’ve put the spotlight on “genius” because their collection is jam-packed with some truly remarkable artists, visionaries, and craftsmen. Get the full view on the Museum web site and some close-ups on our Flickr page.

The curators say that the United States was a make-it-up-as-you-go-along democracy, so they felt “self taught” was right in line with this unique Americana theme – having a vision and making a masterwork.

Empire State Building, carved in New Jersey in 1931 from precious cherry wood. Auriti's Palace is just behind.

Empire State Building, carved in New Jersey in 1931 from precious cherry wood. Auriti’s Palace is just behind.

Yes, there are some true eccentrics in the mix, but let’s momentarily focus on the People with a Plan from the section of the show on “Achievers”. Their works are immensely pleasurable and intense, and they’re right inside the entry.

You could spend hours contemplating the detail and work that went into the monumental Empire State Building made from cut cherry wood pieces in New Jersey in 1931. No one knows who created it, but legend has it that it was an ironworker that actually worked on that 13-month wonder and couldn’t let go of the achievement.

Consider The Encyclopedic Palace of the World, created by Maurino Auriti, an auto body worker who just loved designing and building architecture. Mind blowing. If his visionary campus was actually constructed, the skyscraper would be taller than that spire in Dubai.

The Encyclopedic Palace, created by Maurino Auriti, an auto body mechanic, in the 1950s from from wood, plastic, glass, metal, hair combs, and hobby kit parts

The Encyclopedic Palace, created by Maurino Auriti, an auto body mechanic, in the 1950s from wood, plastic, glass, metal, hair combs, and hobby kit parts

If you get to Lincoln Square today, you’ll enjoy one amazing treasure after another, but if not, check it out the beautiful web site archive created by the museum team for the tour. Browse by time period, theme, or artist.

And check out the Museum’s other brilliant online solution to letting you in on the world’s interpretation of these works. They’ve assembled all the media written and produced about the pieces in the show, which have often served as a springboard for scholarly research. This is a fun, serious treasure chest of work, so probe to your heart’s content — baseball folk art, mourning pictures, 18th century folk-art Washington portraits, and even more recent works.

What will it take to take this show of masterworks on the road? Last year, Auriti’s The Encyclopedic Palace was chosen as the theme of the  55th International Venice Biennial, so it got to go on its first trip to Italy.

Get a glimpse of where the folk art lives when it’s not on display and see how art gets packed to take a trip.

Baseball statue from 114 Centre Street and the sideshow’s Radium Girl banner from Chicago in the 1930s

Baseball statue from 114 Centre Street and the sideshow’s Radium Girl banner from Chicago in the 1930s

The Sistine Chapel of Fashion Virtuosity

Clover Leaf Ball Gown – a 1953 silk faille, shantung, and black lace sculpture by Mr. James. Part of the Brooklyn Collection at The Met

Clover Leaf Ball Gown – a 1953 silk faille, shantung, and black lace sculpture by Mr. James. Part of the Brooklyn Collection at The Met

When the Brooklyn Museum handed its fashion archive over to the Met in January 2009, the first thought that crossed everyone’s mind was the mind-bending masterworks that would now be sheltered under the protective wing of the Costume Institute’s crack conservation team — “Oooh, maybe the Met will do a Charles James show!”

We’re glad to report that the Met has done this master proud and given his humble admirers a fitting place to worship in its triumphant two-gallery show, Charles James: Beyond Fashion, which ends this weekend, August 10.

1952 portrait by Michael A. Vaccaro / LOOK Magazine. Courtesy: The Met;  Library of Congress

1952 portrait by Michael A. Vaccaro / LOOK Magazine. Courtesy: The Met; Library of Congress

Mr. James is credited with being among the first to perfect the strapless gown in the 1930s, an inspiration for Mr. Dior’s “New Look” in the 1940s, and the epitome of Vogue glamour dressing in the 1950s. He could do things with fabric that others simply couldn’t do or wouldn’t dare…well, maybe except for Madame Gres. He pushed silhouettes and fabrics further than most anyone could conceive and had the temperamental nature, drive for perfection, and uncompromising attention to detail that characterize any of history’s greatest, most passionate artists.

You always look at his creations and ask yourself, “How did he do it?” How did he get a spiral of fabric to stand out as it wraps sinuously around a sleek, strapless electric green silk mermaid dress? Is that sexy Thirties frock actually cut from one scarf?  How did he create virtual moving sculptures from the world’s most expensive fabric?

Innovative digital display tells the back story of Mrs. Hearst’s Clover Leaf Gown – too big for Ike’s inaugural, but just right for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation

Innovative digital display tells the back story of Mrs. Hearst’s Clover Leaf Gown – too big for Ike’s inaugural, but just right for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation

Long known for his innovative engineering, the Met came to a brilliant solution to explain the magic that Mr. James wrought over his decades of no-two-alike work – hire an architectural firm to show us.

Enter Diller Scofidio + Renfro, who have mounted these sculptures in silk inside an infinity-room gallery and paired each masterpiece with its own personal robot and humongous iPad-type display. Look at the dress and refer to the screen as the dress digitally deconstructs and is assembled again.

Cecil Beaton’s 1955  photo of Nancy James in the Swan Gown. Courtesy: The Met; Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby's

Cecil Beaton’s 1955 photo of Nancy James in the Swan Gown. Courtesy: The Met; Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby’s

The crowds waft from dress to dress in no particular order, clustering silently to watch digital magic, see where the robot is pointing, and view photos of Mrs. Randolph Heart, Jr., Gypsy Rose Lee, or Josephine Abercrombie in said gown. The robot with the 1954 Swan Ball Gown captivates viewers by moving underneath to televise close-up views of some of the 1,080 square feet of tulle that Mr. James used to create the oomph.

The mirrored walls of the upstairs gallery and the see-through dividers downstairs are emblazoned with the wisdom of the man himself. He seems to be talking right to you as you wonder how he made the fabric do what it’s doing (“It’s the air that’s sculpted, not the silk”) or how he thought about the world of fashion (“We who have been ahead in style have usually been ahead in our thinking”).

Downstairs gallery, newly named for Ms. Wintour, filled with James creations

Downstairs gallery, newly named for Ms. Wintour, filled with James creations

The second gallery (welcome back, ground floor Costume Institute!) displays his wool creations and sharply shaped cocktail wear. It’s interesting that James considered some of these genuinely more innovative than his often-photographed gowns. The curators have placed another of his “first” in a room at the back – the predecessor of today’s puffer coat. On loan from the V&A, it remarkably dates from the 1930s – his soft, sensual, silky answer to the boxy fur jackets that Ms. Schiaparelli was showing in Europe at the time.

We have to thank Mr. James for his vision and for making sure the Brooklyn design lab had so many examples of his masterpieces to teach and inspire future generations of Seventh Avenue designers. As he says, “In fashion, even what seems most fragile must be built on cement.”  Lesson learned.

The Met’s a great steward. Just listen to the love in the tour of the show by its curators:

If you have more time, hear what Zac Posen has to say to the co-curator about The Master:

Last Day for Art & Industrial History: Kara Walker’s “Sugar Baby”

Crowds surround Kara Walker’s monumental sugar sculpture

Crowds surround Kara Walker’s monumental sugar sculpture

The crowds lined up yesterday on Kent Avenue all the way beyond the Williamsburg Bridge, almost to Schaeffer’s Landing, waiting to enter the rusted, aromatic, tumble-down confines of the old Domino Sugar Factory on one of the last days to see Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety, or The Marvelous Sugar Baby”, commissioned by Creative Time.

Today is the last day, so take a look at history in person, on our Flickr page, or in the video below.

Security was in full force to keep the Williamsburg bike path clear and drivers were slowing down to ask, “What’s going on and what are people waiting for?” only to be told by patient fans, “They’re lined up to see art!”

Once inside, the marvelous, gigantic Sugar Baby sculpture was on hand to preside over the far end of the abandoned several-block-long 1851 industrial space that once refined over half the sugar consumed in the entire United States.

One of her many attendants throughout the factory

One of her many attendants throughout the factory

As readers of Friday’s front-page article in The New York Times knew, Walker was again pushing the buttons with her homage to the brutal history of the sugar trade from the 1700s until today by giving us an experience that isn’t really all that sweet. Witnessing Kara’s witnessing is what had people – including some elderly visitors on canes — flocking to the sticky-floored, slightly ominous space. You could smell the sugar and molasses before you even entered the door.

Leading up to the gigantic white sculpture, people encountered all sorts of molasses-children, toting baskets full of…well…looks/smells like molasses. The experience evokes everything that Kara wished for…history, economics, society, race, abuse, industrial profit, and industrial scale.

Take a look at how it was made, and read about the history behind her thinking. Click on this link to Vimeo, look on the Creative Time website to see her sketches and graphic inspirations, and be sure to check out the various stages of Kara’s 3D digital sphinx up close.

If you go to Brooklyn today, expect to wait about an hour in line; once inside, there’s plenty to think about.