How Cakes and Pies Got into the Museum

Thiebaud’s 1964 watercolor, Nine Jelly Apples

Treat yourself to a non-fattening way to enjoy all the cakes, pies, and goodies packed into the Morgan’s show, Wayne Thiebaud: Draftsman, on display a through September 23.

As soon as you enter, you’ll see a wall of masterful drawings of the desserts that made Thiebaud famous – luscious candy apples, cupcakes, and candy lightly sketched and drawn in watercolor in a way that makes them shimmer and glow.

The Morgan’s show is the first to turn a spotlight on Thiebuad’s works on paper, where he experimented and played.

Lunch Table, Thiebuad’s 1964 watercolor

Each section of the show illuminates how he mixed commercial art, popular culture, Old Masters techniques, and abstraction to create a unique, colorful, and joyful body of work.

Taking leave of sunny California in the Sixties, Thiebaud took his sketchbook to New York and embedded himself among New York abstractionists who were just starting to claim their place on the world stage.

Thiebuad’s 1964 pastel

He always loved pop culture, storefronts, and cartooning the lighter side of life. When confronted with the grit and angst of the New York abstractionists, he tried giving an AE spin to the storefront windows and rows of food that entertained him as he walked the streets of New York.

But with advice from the most passionate painters at The Cedar Tavern, he was encouraged to paint what he loved and what he knew.

 1964 cross-hatch drawing

Taking that advice, he used traditional techniques and a deft hand to create works that people wanted the minute they saw them. His first New York City exhibition catapulted him to instant recognition. Every painting sold.

During the Seventies, he began to teach, using old masters drawing techniques as a grounding for his students – an approach that he himself used every time he embarked upon a new subject.

The show has side-by-side examples of an ice-cream cone meticulously rendered in cross-hatch technique with more gestural pen-and-ink and watercolors of the same.

1970s Cityscape drawing

The show also includes an impressive wall of streetscape drawings inspired by the up-and-down streets of San Francisco.  The cityscape resembles tectonic plates shifting beneath finely rendered blocks of architecture.

Take a look at our Flickr album here and see more of the pieces from the show here.

Listen to a recollection on how Franz Kline’s admonishment to a young artist turned into a legacy:

Statues Converse in “Like Life” at Met Breuer

Two “ballerinas” — a costumed 1880 Degas bronze and a clothed 2007 mannequin by Yinka Shonibare. Collection: The Met and private.

Can statues talk to one another? If you visit the Met Breuer’s exhibition, Like Life: Sculpture, Color, and the Body (1300 – Now) before July 22, you’ll find out. The 120 sculptures on display across two floors are having some pretty major conversations among themselves.

For starters, just witness the dialog between everyone’s favorite, the dressed bronze Degas ballerina, and Yinka Shonibare’s little girl statue who mimics the ballerina’s pose with a gun hidden behind her back.

Or the “conversation” between modern installations, such as the hyper-real day-in-the-life illusions by Duane Hanson, and the Renaissance statues evoking a more classical human “ideal”.

Is “white” better than color? Does one statue appear more “noble” than other? Do you “like” one better than another? The questions in your head keep flowing as you make your way around corners and bump into other provocative pairings.

Duane Hanson’s 1984 bronze, “Housepainter II.” Private collection

In the galleries devoted to the “presumption of white” theme, you will see and experience what happens when classicists decided apply colored wax to otherwise “white” statues’ to create a more “real” illusion. Does it work?

Witness John Gibson’s 1850s “Tinted Venus.” Victorian audiences were shocked that it looked like a “naked lady” and not like the popular, idealized goddess.

Will this show be the first time you encounter the contemporary life-size Jeff Koons porcelain of Michael Jackson and his pet primate, Bubbles? If so, it will probably stop you in your tracks. It’s right next to an 18th-century painted plaster experiment by Canova. Just what is it about this pairing that seems so “off”?

1894 marble sculpture of Louise Gould by Saint-Gaudens with wax version commissioned to “bring her back to life”. Private collection.

The show pulls from a wide range of collections within the Met – contemporary, European, and the Cloisters – and beyond. It’s all designed to pull art out of its historical context, ask questions, and encourage you to look at historical sculpture in a new way.

What happens when Medieval sculptures of the saints become overtly muscle-bound? How do artists incorporate clothes, hair, and real human teeth to give their creations a different form of life? How to contemporary artists riff on ancient forms to start a new conversation?

1989 reproduction of 1765 mechanized “Sleeping Beauty”. From Madame Tussaud’s, London.

Look at some intriguing selections from the show in our Flickr album.

The Met has convinced other museums to contributed show-stoppers that normally don’t travel – a costumed 18th-century bullfighter from Spain, an eerie 16th-century Florentine “Saracen” mannequin used for jousting, and a highly disturbing life-sized sculpture of 19th-century UK philosopher Jeremy Bentham, which contains his actual body.

The other floor explores “proxies” for the human body, such as life-size mannequins and sometimes creepy artist “dolls.” Sculpting in wax is a tried and true artist technique that gives the appearance of flesh.

Examine the light-breathing mechanized wax beauty from Madame Tussaud’s of London, and the bust of Mrs. Gould that Saint-Gaudens crafted for her bereaved husband so that he could pretend that she was still there.

The journey through the show evokes a range of genuine emotion, strange attraction, and shock, just as the artists intended.

Listen as the curators provide a brief tour of the exhibition:

Grant Wood Puts Sophisticate Spin on American Myths

1930 American Gothic, which Grant Wood modeled on his sister and dentist – an “invented” couple. Collection: Art Institute

Travel the world, but paint what you know.

It seems to be the philosophy that guided the artistic development of our homegrown American painting virtuoso, as told in the Whitney’s revealing exhibition, Grant Wood: American Gothic and Other Fables, on view through June 10.

Although the Art Institute never lets American Gothic leave the Windy City, the famous couple has been having quite a time on the High Line, surrounded by a wealth of beautiful paintings, crafts, furniture, magazine covers, book illustrations, drawings, and lithographs. See our favorites in our Flickr album.

Since Wood’s iconic masterwork burst upon the scene at the Chicago Art Institute in 1930, it’s surprising to know that this is only the third time that Wood has had a one-man show in New York. Whitney curator Barbara Haskell and her staff decided to give Wood the props he deserved by assembling this satisfying and revealing tour of his life’s work.

1930 Arnold Comes of Age, a European-inspired birthday portrait of his studio assistant froom Lincoln’s Sheldon Museum

It’s clear from the start (after you pass the corn chandelier) that Cedar Rapids, Iowa treasured their native son, handing him design and ad commissions galore. Although he always lived close to his mom and sister (the model for the mysterious “Gothic” gal), his artistic direction was solidified fairly early on by trips to Paris and Germany as a young man.

Forget impressionism and expressionism. Wood was captivated seeing the works of Durer and Memling, whose style matched his own precise painterly tendencies.

Returning home, he embarked upon a series of portraits that were completely local (e.g. his mom, art students, neighbors), but harkened back to the centuries-old European style – precisely rendered central figures and metaphorical symbols scattered across shrunken landscapes. Straight out of the 1400s.

1931 folk-inspired The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere from The Met’s collection

When Gothic appeared on the cover of the Chicago Evening Post in 1930, his fate as the quintessential “American” painter was sealed. And he committed himself to staying in the Midwest, painting what surrounded him.

The show takes us through his journey from there: interpreting and busting American myths, celebrating the hometown and ordinary, and sometimes veering into the visual language of folk art to create a feeling of a simplified time.

Cover illustration for Time magazine commemorating famed aviator Wiley Post, September 23, 1940.

When World War II began to brew, Woods was even more convinced that the power of his images could be harnessed to engender a call for action among everyday Americans. Deceptive simplicity on the canvas only underscores his highly sophisticated understanding of the power of symbols, craft, and art history.

Woods embraced many types of WPA and commercial commissions, while keeping up his fine-art output, including selling lithographs (“affordable art”) by mail order. Although one of a naked farmworker got him in hot water with the United States Postal Service, the accusation of “porn in the mail” really didn’t hurt his reputation.

The final two galleries of the show assemble his highly precise, fully modern farm landscapes from a ten-year period – rich, colorful, and geometric until they aren’t. The curators have interspersed gorgeous but melancholy graphite drawings of barren, snow-covered fields. Their presence captures the melancholy of Grant Wood’s final years – grappling with illness and life in Iowa as a closeted man, who died far too young.

1940 charcoal drawing March from Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Even with the somewhat sobering feel, it’s a glorious gallery to end the show – one that leaves visitors marveling about the skill, talent, and magic wrought by an artist whose they feel as if they are discovering for the first time.

The Whitney persuaded lots of other Iowa museums to contribute to the show, too. They shipped everything but the WPA building mural (click here to see a silent video) at the University of Iowa Ames library.

Take a virtual walk through the show with the audio guide and see photos of the different work as the curators talk.

Listen to the brilliant curator Barbara Haskell, as she puts this man’s work into context:

The Skies Have It: Thomas Cole Paints to Protect Nature

Cole’s 1936 panoramic masterpiece The Oxbow – a call to preserve the rapidly disappearing American wilderness. Collection: The Met

Awestruck by the magnificence of nature, romantic painter Thomas Cole set out to create visions so powerful that they would convince development-obsessed American to preserve landscapes and vistas for future generations.

Although the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition chronicles his artistic journey, Thomas Cole’s Journey: Atlantic Crossings, on view through May 13, the subtext of the show is how he leveraged the romantic thrill of nature for a higher purpose.

Cole was battling pro-development sensibilities back then, in the same way environmentalists are fighting eco-battles today — 200 years after Cole started sketching upstate New York.

Detail from Turner’s 1829 Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus that Cole sketched in London. Collection: National Gallery

The exhibition sums up how British painters in the early 1800s were rebelling against the horrors of the Industrial Revolution, how Cole romanticized the drama views of nature, and then took the techniques that he learned on his trip to Europe to turn his painting into a call to action.

The most famous Cole works showcased at the Met – The Oxbow and The Course of Empire – are from New York City collections, but the curators have placed Cole’s artistic development into a global context by showing us the powerful Turners and Constables that actually inspired Cole on his Grand Tour of Europe in the 1820s and 1830s. Visitors get to experience them as he did.

Constable’s 1824-28 expressive oil sketch Rainstorm Over the Sea. Collection: Royal Academy

The presence of these landscape giants is exquisite – enormous masterworks with overpowering skies, majestic vistas, mythological allegories, and poignant ruins. The show also includes ethereal and dramatic cloud studies that Constable did out in the open air – works that inspired Cole to do the same.

Back in America, he founded the Hudson River school of painting – the first great art movement of the United States — and encouraged students to learn from nature. They certainly did, as shown by the dramatic landscape paintings by Chuch and Durand.

Take a look at all 76 paintings and studies in the exhibition on the Met’s website and see closeups of our favorite Cole, Turner, and Constable paintings in our Flickr album.

Cole’s 1832-1841 paint box used when he worked outdoors. Collection: Bronck Museum

The Met has given The Oxbow and The Course of Empire series positions of honor at the center of the show. To prepare these six paintings for their showcase, the conservation team did investigative work that uncovered some insights to Cole’s thinking (the video below shows what’s beneath the painted surface).

In the concluding section of the show, the curators point out that Cole’s students and followers didn’t always see eye-to-eye with the preservationist instincts of their teacher.

Cole’s romantic vision of nature fell out of fashion (for a while), replaced by big-sky and big-vista landscapes that elevated the “beauty” of building roads, harnessing nature, and seeding new towns and industries.

Industrial progress in 19th-century America was inevitable, but the experience of seeing Cole’s unspoiled vision of wilderness still shows visitors that there is value in keeping up the fight.

Take a look at the Met’s insightful film about Cole, his inspirations, and what it was like to paint in the Age of Jackson:

And for a glimpse into what the Met’s curatorial team found, watch this silent movie about about Cole’s thought process as he created his masterpiece:

If you miss this magnificent show, you can visit the room where it happened at Thomas Cole National Historic Site in Catskill, New York. More about that trip here.

Church’s 1849 Above the Clouds at Sunrise, a tribute to Cole

How William Wegman Turned His Dog Into a Conceptual Artist

Still from 1972 video “Man Ray, Do You Want To…” featuring Man Ray’s reaction to various questions

Sometimes losing a job is a good thing. Or at least that seems to be what happened to William Wegman, when his contract to teach in the art department didn’t get renewed by the University of Wisconsin – Madison back in 1970.

Like so many others Midwesterners, he packed up and moved to sunny Los Angeles, where the contemporary art scene was just starting to take off.

It ended up being a career-making move that he didn’t see coming.

Photo of 1971 performance-art piece by California artist John Baldassari, “Hands Framing New York Harbor, from Pier 18”

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition, “Before/On/After: William Wegman and California Conceptualism”, on view through July 15, harkens back to the three years that Wegman lived in SoCal, populated by other up-and-comers like Ed Ruscha, John Baldassari, David Salle, and Vija Celmins.

The Seventies-era Chicago, Madison, and California art scenes generally had more wit, whimsy, and lightheartedness than the super-serious East Coast art scene, which was showcasing droves of red-hot Conceptual and series artists from New York and Europe, such as Hanne Darboven, Lawence Weiner,  and the Belchers.

William Wegman recollecting his early California years in January 2018

At the time, New York gallery walls were full of framed mathematical series and formulas, endlessly rigorous permutations, semiotic variations, deconstructed analyses, and meticulously documented minimalist photo series. California was the antithesis, with artists poking gentle fun and creating works that were more pop-culture-oriented head-fakes.

By 1970, artists were experimenting with video for the first time, courtesy of Sony’s invention of the Portapak. It was grainy, but you could monitor what you were shooting as you were doing it.

When Wegman arrived in LA, he planned to continue his work, including making short, witty performance videos involving props and sets. But he had an unexpected problem: his wife’s insistence on getting a large dog in LA saddled him with babysitting Man Ray, a big, busy Weimaraner that continuously investigated the props in the studio and gave him spooky, soulful looks as he performed.

Wegman’s 1972 photo series where he tries to teach Man Ray about Conceptual Art practice

When Wegman decided to involve Man Ray in the set-ups and teach him about the serial nature of East-Coast conceptual art, the short videos became insightful and engaging. The first canine art-world star was born.

Although Wegman and Man Ray left California to move back East a few years later, the collaboration was a watershed moment in Wegman’s career.  Every New York and European gallery clamored to include works with Man Ray alongside Wegman’s other photos and performance videos.

1972 Wegman photo “Dull Knife/Sharp Knife”, referring both to the object and the viewer’s own mental acuity in deciphering art

The Met’s show, near the second-floor photography galleries, is a tribute to the fun, inquisitive nature of the Southern California art scene at this turning point in Wegman’s life and was created to honor a special gift: Wegman and Christine Burgin, his wife, donated 174 of these short videos to the Met, along with some of the California photographs and drawings.

To honor this bequest, the Met has created a small black-box theater inside the gallery, where everyone can delight to 99 minutes of less-than-two-minute videos featuring Man Ray and his owner, mostly from the early years.

It’s a chance to see what everyone saw at The Kitchen and Sonnebend when Soho was still an industrial neighborhood.

Still from 1972 video of Man Ray methodically investigating a biscuit trapped inside a glass bottle

The videos are all rough low-resolution snippets that seem to have several layers of meaning. In one, Man Ray propels a glass bottle around the floor of the studio in an effort to extract a biscuit that is trapped inside. In another, the camera stays tight on Man Ray’s face to record the subtle changes in expression as he silently responds to a series of Wegman’s questions, which all begin with “Man Ray, do you want to….?”

East Coast audiences for painstaking methodological investigation and serial word-art never had it so good! Man Ray was everyone’s favorite canine conceptual artist.

The rest of the show features books and photographs from the Met’s collection by Ed Ruscha, Baldessari, and other artists that Wegman knew when he was just starting out.

Still from 1972 video featuring William Wegman in his LA studio, where Man Ray became an art star

Take a look at all of the work in the exhibition on the Met’s website, which also includes stills from many of the videos in the show. Check out the photos on our Flickr site.

But spend some time on the second floor of the Met, enjoying the early work of a witty, shaggy, out-of-the-box artist and his clever, not-so-shaggy dog.

The Met — and Wegman’s black-box cinema — is open 7 days a week and until 9pm Friday and Saturday.

Basquiat: A Singular Sensation

Visitors contemplate Basquiat’s 1982 Untitled

One painting in a white room in a quiet corner is all anyone really needs to contemplate the life, art, and brilliance of Brooklyn’s most celebrated art-world superstar, Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Lest anyone underestimate the reverence in which art fans hold Mr. Basquiat, just observe which paintings are the biggest selfie magnets at The Armory Show or in the survey galleries at MoMA.  You’ll see a constant stream of excited fans posing one by one to record their presence with any canvas by Jean-Michel – rough, gestural, colorful, graffiti-smeared, topical, socially conscious, channeling voices and ideas in a way that’s his alone.

The Brooklyn Museum’s 2005 retrospective of Basquiat was just like that – legions coming to celebrate one of the borough’s greatest stars. Now the museum’s turned the tables – giving everyone a view of their favorite son in a completely different, audacious setting.

“Untitled”, the focal point of the show, acrylic and oil stick

One Basquiat, on view through March 11 at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, provides an almost church-like atmosphere with stark white benches reverently set where fans can sit quietly and contemplate the work of this legendary Brooklyn artist. No flash, no drama – just you and a singular sensation by Jean-Michel.

Japanese collector and Basquiat super-fan Yusaku Maezawa paid a fortune for this painting at auction last May and decided to collaborate with the museum to spread the joy with other fans in Basquiat’s hometown.

Never mind that his bid was the sixth-highest ever made for a contemporary painting – when you buy something that no one else has seen in over 30 years, why not give props to its creator in the classy way he deserves – white room, solitary contemplation, just one work.

James Van Der Zee’s 1982 portrait of Basquiat

A few discrete wall panels explain Jean-Michel’s importance and context, and the little vitrine with his Brooklyn Museum junior membership card says it all about the artist-as-youngster. His mom enrolled him when he was six.

The show is lovingly bookended (outside the white room) with a monumental James Van Der Zee portrait of Jean-Michel and clips from a 1981 film showing the creative genius in action, making his mark on unadorned walls. See our Flickr album.

Get out to Brooklyn immediately to see the hometown hero’s work before it takes flight to Chibu, Japan.

Close up of Basquiat’s brushwork and drawing

Hockney Shows Flying Colors at The Met

David Hockney at the press preview of his retrospective

Through his entire life, commemorated in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s retrospective, David Hockney has always let the colors fly, from his earliest years as a UK phenom to his most recent digital iPad sketches. Take a look in our Flickr album.

Hockney’s works are hung in chronological order in this big, colorful show, closing February 25 – the only US stop for this joyous celebration of one artist’s life.

The earliest paintings represent the time Hockney burst upon the UK art scene, going from grad student to gallery star in a hot second. Large canvases that explore the still-banned gay lifestyle are followed by colorful, joyful road-trip paintings that mix words, puns, flattened geography, and many exotic personnages of the American West.

Detail of A Bigger Splash, an LA acrylic from 1967

These works represent the launching pad for Hockney’s most iconic period – large canvases of lawns, pools, and sprinklers of growing and glamorous Los Angeles. Big flat Sixties spaces with blue or white water punctuated with remnants of abstract brushwork.

A gorgeous acrylic of Mount Fuji is drenched in Frankenthaler washes. It’s kind of a joke, since Hockney traveled to Japan to enjoy the scenery, but was so disappointed by all the industrial landscape that he settled on commemorating the trip by just doing a painting from a postcard and flower-arrangement guide book. Interestingly, Hockney’s Fuji-and-flower image holds the honor of being the Met gift shop’s best-selling postcard, outselling even Matisse’s haystacks or lily pads.

1990 oil Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica

Hockney’s biographical journey continues through galleries that are polar opposites – monumental, famous double portraits of celebrities and benefactors followed by a more intimate space peopled with little drawings of Warhol, other friends, and himself.

The color, size, and character of the rest of the work really crank the show up a notch. It’s like looking at Los Angeles landscapes, the Grand Canyon, or a friend’s colorful living room from the perspective of a drone hovering over it all. Every painting here makes a big, bold statement.

Hockney’s 2010-2013 iPad drawings

When the scale of the landscapes simply gets too big to manage (think Thomas Moran’s masterworks), Hockney just paints it all on a grid of smaller canvases that he can just hang in a grid. Brilliant solution .

The final room showcases Hockney’s most recent work – colorful iPad drawings. At age 80, he wakes up every morning, looks out the window, picks up the tablet, and translates his thoughts into bright, bold beautiful color.

Take a look with curator Ian Altaveer as he walks you through the show:

Divine Michelangelo at The Met

Detail of Zuccaro’s 1600 Portrait of Michelangelo as Moses

Crowds at the Metropolitan Museum of Art have been jamming into the galleries on the second floor to get a close-up look at rarely seen works by the Divine Mr. M – drawings, sketches, and sculptures pulled together from 48 institutions from across the world, including the Louvre and Queen Elizabeth’s own private collection.

Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer, in New York through February 12, is a blockbuster that tells the story of the master’s life, loves, teachers, students, and clients from his early-prodigy works through portraits of the legend late in life through 200 works, reunited here in a once-in-a-lifetime show.  See some of our favorites on our Flickr site.

Although Michelangelo thought of himself primarily as a sculptor, the assembled works principally illustrate his mastery in two dimensions – red chalk and pen-and-ink sketches where sculptural illusions are built up on handmade rag paper in studies of nude models that would later make it into larger commissioned works.

Pen-and-ink study of a model for the 1504 Battle of Cascina

Although he burned most of this prep sketches, the 133 drawings that you see in the Met’s show evoke a studio-lab that might not be so dissimilar to Warhol’s Factory – assistants everywhere, celebrity-artists dropping in, muscled models ever-present, up-and-comers asking for guidance, and teams preparing large-scale cartoons for the next fresco that the master would finish.

Crowds make it necessary to visit the show multiple times to see all of the fine, delicate work and examine sheets where he would whip off a small drawing and ask his students to copy it. The small scale of so many works makes it easy to miss a masterpiece.

For many visitors, the high point is the spacious central gallery with a scaled-down replica of the Sistine Chapel hanging overhead and matching preparatory studies displayed below.

Red chalk study for the Sistine Chapel’s Libyan Sibyl

The crowd dissipates as people waft toward the drawings distributed across the floor. It’s quite a pleasurable path of discovery as you meet the earlier incarnations of the Libyan Sybil and even the Hand of God.

The Met curators have helpfully added diagrams to the label copy to help you find the section of the ceiling that matches the sketch you are perusing. Seeing the early and finished versions together is nothing you can otherwise experience, even if you travel to Rome.

The massive show includes several unfinished marble statues, luxury works by others that were inspired by Michelangelo’s better-known drawings, and an architectural model of his portion of Saint Peter’s Cathedral in the Vatican.

Best times to visit this show at the Met are Monday mornings and dinnertime on Friday or Saturday, when the crowds thin out.

Look through works in the exhibition on the Met website, and learn about each section of the show here.

Get a preview before your visit by stepping through the audio guide of the show here.

Hear the curator Carmen Bambach speak about the joy of curating this show and how the master used drawing in his wider work:

Disorienting Delirious Art at Met Breuer

Detail of Jim Nutt’s 1967 Miss E. Knows, representing twisted expressions of Sixties angst

Do you believe that delirious times call for delirious art? This was the impetus for the Met Breuer to create “Delirious: Art at the Limits of Reason, 1950-1980,” to take viewers on an experience of vertigo, excess, nonsense, and twisted sensibilities through January 14.

About a third of the show is drawn from the Met’s own collections, but there are plenty of surprises around each corner – art from lesser-known artists who were channeling their times as well as little-known pieces from well-known artists.

The first rooms of the show explore vertigo by catapulting you back in time to the 1960s, when psychedelia and altered, fractured states drove artists to experiment and translate the feelings of social change and upheaval.

Peering into Robert Smithson’s 1965 Three Mirror Vortex

Works include the stunning, ultra-controlled, and visually disorienting op-art canvases of Edna Andrade as well as a fractured inside-out sculpture by Robert Smithson. You can even put your head inside of it and experience worlds within worlds.

In case you miss the point of all this early Sixties experimentation, the curators have the Met’s copy of Timothy Leary’s psychedelic tome on display, along with drawings done by his colleagues under trance-like conditions.

From there, the curators accelerate the feeling of delirium and disorientation by grouping works according to excess (read obsessive), nonsense (gibberish), and twisted.

Detail of Alfred Jensen’s obsessive 1978 work

You’ll see highly obsessive, ordered works, such as a monumental Alfred Jensen systems painting with rows of numbers caked in oil impasto and an all-white 3-D see-through grid installation by Sol Lewitt. All very precise but irrational, regardless whether the work is messy or clean.

Turn the corner and find that obsessive Kusama is at it again with her self-titled “compulsion furniture,” plastering an ordinary ladder with high-heeled shoes and who-knows-what. It feels as though her work is the opposite of the previous group, but it’s just as over-the-top.

Punched-paper details in Howardina Pindell’s 1977 collage

In a nice surprise, the Met pairs Kusama with obsessive, joyous, and glittering works by former curator Howardena Pindell, who channeled her experience of a 1970s African odyssey into an abstract riot of punched-out paper holes, colors, and stuff. Bravo, Howardena! (Note: Her work is also featured on the walls of the Whitney right now in “An Incomplete History of Protest.”)

The nonsense portion of the galleries feature word-play and an unusual early Oldenburg totem inspired by his old neighborhood – “Letter Tenement” is a mish-mash sturdily assembled from oil and rags. An abstract Stan VanDerBeek video pulses nearby.

Impermanence and found-object inspirations are represented by letterset, photocopy art, and large-scale works made from torn Parisian posters by Jacque Mahé de la Villegié from the Tate collection. Layers upon layers of jumbled, dazzling fragments that you can get lost in.

For a walk on the wild side, visit this stimulating show. Take a look at some of our favorite works on our Flickr feed, and listen in as the curator presents highlights of the show:

Surrealist Nature Walk and Space Trip at MoMA

One of 147 images from Ernst’s first collage novel in 1929, The Hundred Headless Woman

Drawn mostly from its own collections, MoMA’s Surrealist tribute show “Max Ernst: Beyond Painting,” running through January 1, takes visitors on a nature walk and space trip through the eyes of one of the 20th century’s wildest art innovators.

Ernst cross-pollinated his Data and Surrealist works on paper with his lifelong fascination with natural history, microscopic life, and the furthest reaches of the Universe. MoMA’s showcase of Ernst’s collages, mixed-media mash-ups, and books serve up science and nature in increasingly idiosyncratic ways.

Recovering from his years of service in the German army during World War I, the mysteries of nature, science, and outer space worked their ways into Ernst’s body of work as he founded the Dada movement and transitioned into a leading light of the Surrealist art movement.

Ernst’s 1921 overpainted and embellished science teaching chart.

In the first gallery, Ernst embellished and cut up found illustrations. At a distance, they look charming, but take a closer look. In a small work from 1920, he mixes a dissected beetle and a see-through fish with an illustration from a German military manual about how to conduct chemical warfare from the air.

Nearby, an arresting, colorful painting with meticulous writhing biomorphic forms, who seem to be dancing, is not what it seems. Ernst painted over an otherwise dull science teaching chart showing yeast-cell mutation, turning it into an absurd micro-world where microscopic forms dance, flirt, and carry on.

Slightly surreal bird frottage from Ernst’s 1926 Natural History print portfolio.

A 1924 “Natural History” portfolio in the show demonstrates Ernst’s use of his frottage technique. He creates visions of animals and plants by rubbing crayon on paper over different textured surfaces. It was his contribution to the Surrealist fascination with using unfiltered “automatic” techniques for picture making and novel writing.

Painted rocks, biomorphic forms, and cut-up illustrations made into surreal picture books are on display, along with a Moonrise work. Ernst took burlap, plastered it, spray painted a moonscape, and slathered on thick coats of paint. See this, his butterfly drawing and more in our Flickr album.

Ernst kept drawing inspiration from the natural world as he and his Paris collaborators fled World War II in Europe, tried to adjust as refugees in the United States, and ultimately returned to the Continent.

“Invisible to the naked eye, it appeared in its family to be the furthest from the sun.” An etching in Ernst’s 1964 art book 65 Maximiliana or the Illegal Practice of Astronomy.

The show closes with a magnificent portfolio of work from 1964 that is inspired by a nineteenth-century astronomer’s discovery of a small planetoid. Ernst seriously and whimsically considered what it must have been like to peer into the void of space and find what lies beyond our normal field of vision. In one work, he writes:

“It would be poetic to give the last planets 97 98 and 99 the 3 Fates Clotho Lachesis and Atropos not to cut the thread of research but to wrap up the first hundred of the little planets.”

Ernst spent his life pushing the limits on the edge of discovery.

Here’s a walk though Ernst’s fascinating work with MoMA curator Anne Umland: