Mark Leckey Mixes It Up at MoMA PS1

Mark Leckey’s 2013 Felix the Cat, a tribute to TV’s first celebrity.

Mark Leckey’s 2013 Felix the Cat, a tribute to TV’s first celebrity.

It’s the last weekend to take a walk through the output of the creative mind of an award-winning British artist MoMA PS1, which has dedicated its top two floors of the schoolhouse to Mark Leckey: Containers and Their Drivers. Film assemblages, appropriated pop images, and funky juxtapositions are served up to everyone plucky enough to climb the stairs and peek around corners.

Visitors take an eclectic journey through a labyrinth of video galleries, movie rooms, and installations. The highlight is his 1999 breakthrough film about UK trance-dance culture, Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore, using found footage.

Several small rooms include meditations on RCA’s first TV transmission in 1928 using a Felix the Cat. For added punch, Leckey adds his own inflatable oversize Felix to the gallery.

Mark Leckey’s 2001-2001 Sound System sculptures, which communicate all on their own

Mark Leckey’s 2001-2001 Sound System sculptures, which communicate all on their own

The intimate viewing experience is punctuated by large-scale installations of provocative work that asks visitors to reconsider their experience of everyday objects.

One major room contains towers of low-range, mid-range and high-range frequency speakers that emit tweets and signs, programmed to converse. Their range of sounds make one recollect times in Leckey’s early career, when he used his speaker-towers in showdowns with other large, inert behemoths, such as gigantic quarry rocks or Henry Moore sculptures. Visitors slow down to get close to the structures and wait for them to speak.

Installation view of The Universal Addressability of Dumb Things (Machine), with costume, Lego ship, copy of a 1959 Soviet space dog suit

Installation view of The Universal Addressability of Dumb Things (Machine), with costume, Lego ship, copy of a 1959 Soviet space dog suit

Other large-scale installations are from Leckey’s recent project to “collect” interesting art and artifacts inside his computer, assemble them into virtual installations, and then reproduce it all in 3D. Leckey’s multi-part project, The Universal Addressability of Dumb Things, is depicted in the Flickr album here. The objects are carefully placed but it takes a (literal) scorecard in the gallery to discern what you’re seeing – a copy of a work by another young artist, an engineering model, or fantastical emanation of Leckey’s own mind.

The two ends of a mysterious, dark gallery with fluorescent painted figures are anchored by archeological fragments of the mythological past, except that the fragments are 3D-printed copies.

Traversing one floor, sounds emanate from Leckey’s 2010 green room/shrine. Enter to find a large fluorescent fixture above, a quiet crowd just taking it all in, and the focal point — a talking Samsung smart refrigerator that steals the show. The refrigerator holds court, surrounded by fantasy videos of itself hurtling through time and the cosmos.

Check out Leckey’s 2010 video of the GreenScreenRefrigerator to hear what’s inside the mind of his smart appliance and contemplate a future dominated by the Internet of Things.

Stuart Davis: Way Before Pollack and Warhol

Little Giant Still Life (1950), which predates Pop Art. Collection: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Little Giant Still Life (1950), which predates Pop Art. Collection: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Jazzy colors and Pop Art fun are run amok in the joyful Americana tribute Stuart Davis: In Full Swing at the Whitney Museum of American Art through this weekend. The Whitney curators have 75 of his best, extending back to the Edison lightbulb years, but mostly from Davis’s post-1950s output.

You’d never know from the flat-out modernity that this Whitney favorite had his start in the Armory Show era in New York at a time when The Eight (Ash Can School) still ruled. In fact, at 21, he was the youngest painter to exhibit in the Armory Show, encouraged by his teacher, Robert Henri, who impressed him with the need to depict everyday life in his art.

1924 painting of electric bulb and package. Collection: Dallas Museum of Art

Electric Bulb (1924) with package. Collection: Dallas Museum of Art

But the exposure to the European avant-garde was profound. As you walk through the gallery, you see and feel his exhilaration about how the European upstarts were shaking things up.

Picasso and Matisse inspired Davis to start depicting everyday objects with a flattened, multiview twist. He used packages of Lucky Strikes, Edison lighbulbs, and eggbeaters instead of absinthe glasses, interpreting them on funnily upturned tabletops.

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, who founded the Whitney in 1931, was a fan. She included his work in a group show in 1915, welcomed him into the Whitney Club in 1918 (alongside Edward Hopper and Mr. Prendergast) and facilitated the talented Davis’s sojourn to Paris ten years later.

When he returned to New York, he repaid Gertrude in paintings – just the beginning of The Whitney’s portfolio of his work. Captivated by the magic of movies, the birth of radio, and air travel, technology seemed to be transforming America.

 House and Street (1931) with two simultaneous views of Lower Manhattan.

House and Street (1931) with two simultaneous views of Lower Manhattan.

He went on to experiment with simultaneous city views, jamming the Third Avenue El into corners of lower Manhattan where it really didn’t belong. All was fair in the jazzy, roaring New York Twenties.

Stuart struggled financially through the Depression, but not artistically. Inspired by improvisational riffs in jazz, he created canvases using line as music, twisting real objects and landscapes into primary-color layerings that remained flat as a pancake.

Twisting and turning ribbons of color pre-dated Mr. Pollack’s all-over style by at least a decade. The centerpiece of the show is an all-over mural, “Swing Landscape”, that twists Gloucester fishing schooner masts into a kind of “Broadway Boogie-Woogie”. This flat-style masterpiece was way too energetic for the WPA Art Project, which declined to hang it in the subsidized Williamsburg apartment complex for which it was intended. Thankfully, it’s in the place of honor here.

Swing Landscape (1938), a mural commission for the WPA Federal Art Project. Collection: Indiana University

Swing Landscape (1938), a mural commission for the WPA Federal Art Project. Collection: Indiana University

When he saw Matisse’s big-size cut-outs in 1949, Davis was inspired return to his roots. He focused on unexciting, everyday objects but added brand names and super-sized everything. Way before Warhol, Davis was doing improvisations with Champion sparkplugs and matchbook covers, toying with color, gray, and repetition.

Did Davis pave the way for Pollack’s all-over approach and totally branded pop-art masters of the late 20th century? Take a walk through the Whitney, admire the output of one of Gertrude’s favorites, and decide for yourself.

The Paris Bit (1959), a retro Twenties Leger riff. Collection: The Whitney

The Paris Bit (1959), Davis’s retro Twenties Leger riff. Collection: The Whitney

Check out some of our favorites on our Flicker album.

See the show at The National Gallery in Washington, D.C., running November 20 through March 5, 2017.

Hear the curators talk about different works in the exhibition on the Whitney’s “Watch and Listen” section of the exhibition page.

Meditative Eyeful at El Museo del Barrio

Detail of Argentine painter Miguel Vidal’s 1975 Equilibrium from the OAS Museum

Detail of Argentine painter Miguel Vidal’s 1975 Equilibrium from the OAS Museum

Mystical, transcendent, hypnotic visions from the Sixties and Seventies dot the white walls, all part of The Illusive Eye at El Museo del Barrio, closing this weekend. It’s a tribute to a corner of modern art history that’s sometimes overshadowed by the larger-than-life, attention-grabbing Pop Art movement – the global movement of Op Art and Kinetic Art.

The inspiration for the show is MoMA’s 1964 ground-breaking show, The Responsive Eye, which paid tribute to the global community of painters and sculptors using geometric purity to dazzle and confound the eye.

Many of the same artists are reunited here, with an emphasis on the spectacular contributions from Latin American artists who shuttled between South America and Europe, mixing it up with superstars like Vasarely and Biasi. Click here to see our Flickr album.

Other works seen through the1965-2009 plexiglass and steel piece by Carlos Cruz-Diez

Other works seen through the 1965-2009 plexiglass and steel installation by Carlos Cruz-Diez

American color-field legends Stella and Albers are featured, but the curators have put the spotlight on stars from Argentina, Cuba, Brazil, Venezuela, and Colombia as well. As the artist biographies demonstrate, most were leading geometric art revolutions in their own countries – like Chilean artist Matilde Perez and Venezuelan artist Carlos Cruz-Diez, who wrote an influential book on color theory in the Eighties and whose works essentially open and close the show here.

Except for the dramatic room-sized vinyl spiral by Italy’s Marina Apollonio, most of the works are on a small scale that invites close inspection. Move back and forth in front of Cruz-Diez’s entryway work and see the colors appear and disappear.

Walk past the shimmering black-and-white lines of Venezuelan artist Jesus Rafael Soto’s 1975 mixed media work of paint, wire, nylon, and wood. Spend time with the barely-there tower of gold thread by Brazilian sculptor Lygia Pape in the back gallery.

Detail of Generative Painting Transparencies (1965), by Argentine innovator, Eduardo Mac Entyre

Detail of Generative Painting Transparencies (1965), by Argentine innovator, Eduardo Mac Entyre

The American and European works were gathered from a variety of small and personal collections, but the curators have pulled from the extensive holdings of two museums to populate the rest of the show – the OAS Art Museum of the Americas in Washington, D.C. and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Buenos Aires (MACBA).

You’ll find meditation and stillness at every stop in this beautiful, contemplative, and exciting show that mesmerizes the eye and brings together a body of work that will be enjoyed by anyone who takes the time to get to Fifth and 104th. No content, no distraction — just pure, simple, engaging form that quiets the mind and shifts the attention to your own, inner capability to perceive and get lost in line.

Take a walk through the exhibition with the museum director and see what we’re talking about:

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:

Warhol Moved Out So Picasso Could Play

Bronze She-Goat, 1950, who usually lives outside in MoMA’s garden.

Bronze She-Goat, 1950, who usually lives outside in MoMA’s garden.

To mount the blockbuster Picasso Sculpture show, closing February 7, MoMA cleared out Andy, Roy, Jasper, and all the Judds from the Fourth Floor and let in an array of whimsical animals, personnages, and concoctions. If you couldn’t get in the front door of the show or were discouraged by the crowds, take a look at our favorites in our Flickr album.

The surprise is that every one of the dozen or so galleries is filled with the most delightful Picasso creations. You don’t really need a guidebook or an understanding of the history of modern art. You can just look and smile. Just like Picasso did.

Even he needed a break from his Blue Period, and the first gallery shows two little wooden “dolls” carved in 1906 – a response to Gauguin’s shockingly primitive Tahitian wood carvings that rocked Picasso’s world when he encountered them in gallery. Rough, painted, angular, and shamanistic – a good way to work out the creative kinks at the same time you were creating the Demoiselles downstairs. Pure primitive…no gallery guide needed.

Carved wooden Doll inspired by Gauguin, 1907. From Gallery of Ontario.

Carved wooden Doll inspired by Gauguin, 1907. From Gallery of Ontario.

Next door (directly upstairs from the gallery where the Demoiselles hold court), Picasso’s having his fun with his crazily patterned and painted bronze absinthe glasses, spoons, and fake sugar. The curators have gathered together enough from different collections to have a party. Cubism with a twist of polka-dot fun.

Next, it’s monumental heads carved from plaster. Why do they all seem to be in on a joke? It’s the room where Andy and Roy’s Pop masterpieces usually hang, but Pablo’s big, bulbous curvy heads from the 1930s are just as wry and enjoyable. (See the videos below.)

Already declared “degenerate” by the Nazis in 1937 and featured in their historic touring show, Picasso had his own quiet joke on the oppressors as he lived through the occupation of Paris in 1940-1944. While the Nazis were melting down bronze statuary in Paris to use in their war manufacturing, Pablo somehow managed to sneak into a foundry to make a big, bronze sculpture of large kitty cat on the prowl and other metal works.

Figure, 1938, made of found stuff -- wood, nails, and screws with string, wire, and hardware

Figure, 1938, made of found stuff — wood, nails, and screws with string, wire, and hardware

The kitty, the bicycle-handlebar bull, and the napkin dog are just two among a host of lots of other contraban he defiantly created before liberation.

The rest of the galleries show how Picasso’s wartime scrounging spurred him on to new heights of making something out of nothing and finding delight in transforming somebody’s junk into funny, fool-the-eye sculptures. The She-Goat (usually found hanging outside in MoMA’s garden by The Modern), the car-baboon, a metal owl, goose, and other creatures hold court in the bigger galleries.

Well-wishers crowd around taking feel-good photos and parents show the kids how the artist took everyday objects and turned them into such fun critters.

The stick-people Bathers at the finale are partially made of pieces of painting frames and other found wood, painted and finished with the same rough technique and hand that characterized the “dolls” in the first room. It’s the great Modern Master going rogue channeling outsider art.

The Bathers, 1956. From the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart.

The Bathers, 1956. From the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart.

By the time you get to the model of the monumental head that’s become one of Chicago’s icons (in the last gallery), the crazy sculpture — Picasso’s last —  feels  kind of normal.

It’s telling that MoMA didn’t even put label copy on the stuff. Just a guidebook you can pick up at the entrance, or not. No wonder it’s been the most popular show in New York.

Just when you thought understanding modern art was “hard”, one of the masters comes along, kicks sand in your face, laughs, invites you to do a little beachcombing with him, throws a few sticks together, and asks you to look at what’s right around you in a new way.

Look at a few pieces that MoMA underscores with delightful music.

Stella Leaps Off Walls at The Whitney

Long view of gallery with The Grand Armada (IRS-6, 1X) (1989)

Long view of gallery with The Grand Armada (IRS-6, 1X) (1989)

Leaping loops of bendable pipes! If you’ve never seen paintings that jump off the wall, get over to the Whitney’s Frank Stella: A Retrospective before it closes on February 7.

As Frank himself says, “Painting does not want to be confined by the boundaries of edge and surface.” Ok, no argument here. Nothing up here looks “confined”.

You emerge from the elevator face-to-face with his monumental masterpiece that’s nearly as long as the AMNH Titanosaur. It’s full of more visual nooks and crannies than a walk through Central Park and as vast as Wyoming. It’s a dazzling performance of color, line, and expanse. Before jumping into the rest of the show, the sheer size demands that you slow down to see the detail.

Detail of baroque, monumental 1999 painting, The Earthquake in Chile

Detail of baroque, monumental 1999 painting, The Earthquake in Chile

Let’s admit, however, that the busy, unconfined artworks on the right form a gravitational force field that will lure even the most focused visitor away to explore the whirly color and 3-D protrusions. The label copy says Frank was inspired by Baroque music, letting his paintings function like soundless symphonies.

Through the bays, you catch glimpses of big Protractors and other Day-Glo creations that embody the over-the-top Eighties in New York.

You’ll also encounter of Frank’s most famous geometric meditations and early works from the pre-Soho days. From every angle and position, you see, feel, and meet some mighty heavy output. And it’s only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the full output of this 79-year-old powerhouse.

The Whitney’s solution to showing such a big, diverse, lively group of work was to take advantage of their new, moveable walls. The show’s designers moved all the walls away from the edges of the gallery so that visitors can see from one end to the other and glimpse the full spectrum of Frank’s artistic output.

Wall with works from the 1980s Moby Dick series

Wall with works from the 1980s Moby Dick series

Look through the show on our Flickr feed of the show, with the works sorted into chronological order, and enjoy the curator audio guide on the Whitney website.

On the far east section of the gallery, the 3-D might comes into full view with selections from the Moby Dick series, roaring, raging works that push out from the white wall. The selections are impressive, but are only a small portion of Frank’s total output from that era.

For every one of the 95 works on the wall, there are dozens and dozens of works in each series – just as big and monumental – that didn’t get into the show. The curators told us that it was the biggest problem in mounting Frank’s retrospective: Their size demands that they be bolted into place, so to borrow them for the show, the parts of each huge work must be carefully disassembled and then reassembled. Installing each piece was a challenge akin to moving the Amenemhat II colossus into the Great Hall at The Met. Thank goodness that Frank’s team provided elaborate instruction manuals and how-to drawings.

Circus of Pure Feeling for Malevich, 4 Square Circus, 16 parts, 2009 has a view of the Hudson

Circus of Pure Feeling for Malevich, 4 Square Circus, 16 parts, 2009 has a view of the Hudson

Stella’s most recent work is situated in two special places of honor: His diminutive 2009 creations are parked right next to the Hudson River view – sixteen little curvy sculptural tributes to the collision between the precision of absolute geometry (courtesy of Mr. Malevich) and whimsy playfulness, represented by Mr. Calder, the Whitney’s circus master.

At the other end of the floor, his Black Star dominates on the outdoor balcony overlooking the Meatpacking District and the Standard Hotel. See the video below.

Great tribute, great art, great show at the New Whitney. And thanks for publishing the full catalog and essays online.

Buried in New York – Divas and Rare Jewelry

Henut does Queen Neferu’s hair, 11th dynasty (2051-2000 B.C.) Courtesy: Brooklyn Museum

Henut does Queen Neferu’s hair, 11th dynasty (2051-2000 B.C.) Courtesy: Brooklyn Museum

While New York City is digging out from record snowfalls, there’s some great news about a few items that have been buried for centuries and are none the worse for wear – cosmetic boxes, bracelets, belts, and styling tips of the great divas (male and female) of ancient Egypt. The Metropolitan Museum of Art moved some gems out of the cavernous Egyptian wing – and borrowed a few things from Brooklyn and elsewhere – for its monumental tribute to the 12th dynasty, Ancient Egypt Transformed: The Middle Kingdom, closing today.

Usually buried among the collections on the first floor, the curators pulled out some of our favorites from the galleries (along the way to the Costume Institute) and presented them as the spectacular showpieces they are. It warrants a shout-out to the effort it took to conceive, mount, and present this terrific show. What a way to leverage the collections that are right inside the city limits!

Queen or Princess as a Sphinx, 12th dynasty (1981-1802 B.C.) Once owned by Emperor Hadrian , later by a Cardinal. From Brooklyn Museum

Queen or Princess as a Sphinx, 12th dynasty (1981-1802 B.C.) Once owned by Emperor Hadrian , later by a Cardinal. From Brooklyn Museum

The story of the transformations happening in Egypt’s 11tth to 13th Dynasties (ca. 2030–1650 B.C.) is big (enough to fill twelve galleries), so we’re just highlighting a few of the things we noticed that modern People of Style might enjoy. Check out our Flickr site.

First, Brooklyn is in the house in the gallery dedicated to royal women: off to the side, there’s a limestone relief fragment (normally at the Brooklyn Museum of Art) showing Queen Nefuru having her tresses done by 11th Dynasty celebrity stylist, Henut. The curators point out that a telltale sign of royals (men and women) is the distinctive winged-eye look that her makeup artist achieved in kohl. The styling is incised in limestone, showing the Queen getting ready to emulate Hathor, the goddess of love and romance. In those days (2051-2000 B.C.), only royals could sport the jeweled necklace or eye makeup style.

Nearby, Brooklyn also contributes a beautifully sculpted head, said to be broken off from a larger sphinx statue from the 12th Dynasty – a protective guardian featuring a fantastic coif that only a queen or a princess would sport. It was all wigs, all the time.

372-piece cloisonné pectoral of Princess Sithathoryunet. Gold, carnelian, lapis lazuli, turquoise, and garnet. 12th dynasty (1887-1878 B.C.).

372-piece cloisonné pectoral of Princess Sithathoryunet. Gold, carnelian, lapis lazuli, turquoise, and garnet. 12th dynasty (1887-1878 B.C.).

One of the most spectacular pieces is the 372-piece cloisonné pectoral worn by Princess Sithathoryunet. It’s a 12th Dynasty masterwork (1887-1878 B.C.). of gold, carnelian, lapis lazuli, turquoise, and garnet. The piece is magical and protective, but instead of being inlaid with the name of the princess, it features the name of the king. The idea is that the king himself is being protected when the royal daughter wears it – not the diva herself. You get what you pay for.

She also had another set of formal jewelry — a cowerie shell girdle and matching bracelet of gold, carnelian, feldspar, and crystal. The imitation shells had small pellets inside, which would have made a tinkling sound when she walked. The same is true for the feline-headed set of jewelry of gold and amethyst.

Feline-Headed Girdle of gold and amethyst from 12th Dynasty (1887-1813 B.C.).

Feline-Headed Girdle of gold and amethyst from 12th Dynasty (1887-1813 B.C.).

Sithathoryunet kept these and other treasures in a beautiful jewelry box, which is displayed nearby alongside a cosmetic box. The Met reconstructed the wood boxes by putting the ebony, ivory, gold, carnelian, blue faience, and silver back into place. Magnificent. Look for it all when these spectacular items go back on display at the back of the Egyptian Wing later this year.

By this time in Middle Kingdom culture, the elites started copying the royals, so some of the buried treasures that the Met found on its early 20th century expeditions belonged more to aspirational upper classes than the royals themselves. Check out the cosmetic case and mirror belonging to Amenemhat IV’s royal butler, Kemeni. Or the faience necklace worn by Wah, the overseer who served Meketre, the royal chief steward serving kings in both the 11th and 12th Dynasties.

The Met found a bonanza of fantastic reality art in Meketre’s tomb – so much that only a few pieces were brought up to the second floor for the special show. The show features a real-life depiction of a grainery and sport fishing boat, but if you look on the first floor as you walk through to the Costume Institute, you’ll see many more boats and several more rooms of day-to-day life – all meant to serve Meketre in the next world.

Cosmetic box of the royal butler, Kemeni, with four ointment jars and a mirror. 12th dynasty (1814-1805 BC.)

Cosmetic box of the royal butler, Kemeni, with four ointment jars and a mirror. 12th dynasty (1814-1805 BC.)

The Met has meticulously documented this show online. Spend a snow day (or not) by taking a tour through all twelve galleries on the Met’s web site and listening to the curators’ take on the on-line audio guide, which also features photos of each of the objects. Here’s where you can search the exhibition objects and find more detail.

Hear the behind-the-scenes chit-chat from the curators on the museum’s blog, including how the Egyptians feasted and how the digital team created the replica of the pyramid complex at the center of the show.

MoMA Salute to Sixties Art World Transmissions

Announcement for Allan Kaprow’s 1968 Three Country Happening with collaborators in Germany and Argentina, one of the earliest artworks to incorporate an international telecast.

Announcement for Allan Kaprow’s 1968 Three Country Happening in NYC, Germany and Argentina, one of the earliest telecast international performance pieces.

Before restaurants and shops populated Tribeca and Soho in the 60s and 70s, edgy New York City artists were experimenting with happenings, video art, performance pieces, mail art, and assorted ephemeral pieces – Cage, Moorman, Kaprow, Ono, Paik, Grooms, Oldenberg and Maciunas to name a few.

In the pre-Internet days they might have been unaware that half a world away, Eastern European and Latin American artists were catching wind of this new art wave and stamping their own brand on their local art scene.

MoMA’s show, Transmissions: Art in Eastern Europe and Latin America, 1960-1980, captures the zeitgeist and shines a light on the artists, movements, and pieces from important avant-garde artists whose names are not as well known in the States. See it through January 3.

Organized into several rooms and themes, it’s a great collaboration among MoMA’s Departments of Media and Performance Art, Photography, and Drawings and Prints. The result puts a lot of MoMA’s huge Fluxus collection into a proper world context.

Socially relevant art posters from Poland, Cuba, Czech Republic, Yugoslavia

Socially relevant art posters from Poland, Cuba, Czech Republic, Yugoslavia

The first half of the show deals with geometry and its spiritual significance, offbeat artist publications, and mash-us between mail art and street performance.

Favorites include post-minimalist pieces from Brazil, Suprematist-style wall works by Yugoslavia’s Mangelos and an entire wall of photos documenting push-the-envelope street art many Eastern European countries. See our Flickr feed for a walk-through and click the links below for glimpses into MoMA’s show blog.

The next section turns more socio-political with works from the Argentine collective, Instituto Torcuasto di Tella – a center of the avant garde in Buenos Aires from 1959 to 1970. The centerpiece is a large installation for the Venice Biennal by David Lameles – Office of Information about the Vietnam War at Three Levels: The Visual Image, Text and Audio. The glass-walled newsroom is a stage from which performers read “breaking news” from the Vietnam War, just as they did when the collective debuted this in 1968. When the performers aren’t present, visitors can listen to archival recordings in three languages to feel transported back in time and reflect on how and if things have changed.

Installation for the 1968 Venice Biennal by Argentina’s David Lameles – Office of Information about the Vietnam War at Three Levels

Installation for the 1968 Venice Biennal by Argentina’s David Lameles – Office of Information about the Vietnam War at Three Levels

Nearby, visitors see clips from Marta Minujin’s Simultaneity in Simultaneity part of Allen Kaprow’s 1968 Three Country Happening, which was one of the first international telecasts of performance art.

Other galleries feature the blossoming of feminist art and performance art, social-commentary painting and sculpture, and poster art on these two continents. Artists that are familiar in US collections — like Botero (Colombia), Marisol (Venezuela), Marina Abramonovic (Serbia), and Ana Mendieta (Cuba) – are displayed in galleries that introduce other stellar artists to entirely new US audiences.

Oscar Bony’s photo documentation of his 1968 performance piece, The Working Class Family, which displayed an actual Argentine family at an exhibition

Oscar Bony’s photo his 1968 performance piece, The Working Class Family, which put an actual Argentine family on display

Consider Oscar Bony’s photo documentation of his controversial 1968 performance piece, The Working Class Family, where an actual Argentine family displayed themselves for the run of an exhibition at Instituto Torcuasto di Tella. Or Romanian graphic designer Geta Bratescu’s Medea IV, a 1980 sewing-machine drawing made and displayed privately in her studio at the height of a repressive political regime when most artists retreated underground.

The show ends with a spectacular installation: Juan Downey’s 1975-76 masterwork, Video Trans Americas. The gallery floor is painted with an outline map of the Western Hemisphere with banks of video monitors placed atop countries to which he traveled from the tip of South America to New York City, showing the life and times of indigenous people.

Chilean artist Juan Downey’s 1975-76 Video Trans Americas, documenting native peoples from his travels from the tip of South America to New York City

Chilean artist Juan Downey’s 1975-76 Video Trans Americas, documenting his travels from the tip of South America to New York City

Inspired by the idea of a transnational identity, Downey’s piece beautifully sums up the feeling of the entire show – artists and people engaged in a cultural dialogue across time and space.

Thankfully MoMA has given these artists a timeless showcase and home.

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.