Folk Art Museum Tells 85 American Stories

Eliza Gordon, as she arrived in 1833 for her first job at a New Hampshire textile mill

When you enter the exhibition American Perspectives: Stories from the American Folk Art Museum Collection, on view at Lincoln Square through January 3, you may experience a nostalgic feeling seeing images of early Americans, spectacularly pieced quilts, and finely carved wooden relics of bygone eras.

But the purpose in bringing all of these small masterpieces together is to present the in-depth stories behind the creators and subjects, which adds a completely different, lively layer to the journey through the three galleries – tales of itinerant portrait painters, stagecoaches along America’s first turnpikes, independent women surviving husbands and adventures in the Wild West, and back-country singing masters making their own teaching tools from roots and berries.

1790 love letter drawn by Christian Strenge, a former Hessian mercenary who settled in Pennsylvania

The stories make each work come alive, taking you back to the founding of America, looking at how people moved around in the Nation’s early years, made social-justice and political statements through their art, and used their artistic skills to transform their lives. 

The first section of the show has several works with early German immigrants, many of whom came to America as Hessian mercenaries fighting for the British and stayed as citizens, using their artistic skills to pen intricate love letters and embellish important documents.

Portraits come alive as you see the fresh face of a 20-year-old mill worker (Eliza Gordon) who just arrived to take on her first independent job after leaving the family farm, portraits of new arrivals from the East Coast (the Bosworth siblings) who were starting new lives in up-and-coming Illinois, or a wife (Mrs. Bentley) committed to abolition who ran a famous spa in upstate New York in the early 1800s.

1983 Freedom quilt by Jessie B. Telfair of Parrott, Georgia

It’s not always easy to tell just from looking when works were made, and many come from the 20th century, often from a period later in the artist’s life – the drawing made by a Romanian immigrant (Ionel Talpazan) who used his art to work out his experience with a UFO as a child, the artist (Jessie B. Telfair) who made quilts in the Eighties to channel her feelings about being punished for registering to vote in Georgia in the Sixties, and a painter (Lorenzo Scott) whose portraits cast Atlanta beauties as Renaissance royalty whose style impressed him when he hung out at the Met in the years he lived in New York.

1918 Coney Island carousel horse by Charles Carmel and 1965 Workers’ Holiday by Ralph Fasanella

In the stories told about artworks involving far-away destinations, we learn that sea captain portraits were used as substitutes for husbands gone for years at a time, that many 18th-century students learned geography by copying intricate maps of exotic animal habitats, and that overhead rail was the magical mechanism that brought working-class people to the over-the-top fantasy destination of Coney Island.  

The curators point out that the grand 1888 Grover Cleveland quilt was created by a woman who was a passionate political supporter. The quilt was her way of casting a vote for her favorite candidate, even though she did not yet have the right to vote. She even used the red-bandana campaign swag as the center!

Next to this, there’s a masterful “quilt” made out of wood by New Orleans artist Jean-Marcel St. Jacques, an Afro-Creole artist living in Treme.

Detail of 2014 wood “quilt” by Katrina survivor Jean-Marcel St. Jacques, Mother Sister May Have Sat in That Chair When She Lived in This House Before Me

The spectacular wall-sized work is pieced together from pieces of furniture that he salvaged from his home following his neighborhood’s devastation by Hurricane Katrina. Some of it pre-dated his residency, so the assemblage contains layers and layers of local history.

The final gallery contains works by people who used art to transform their lives ­– one of the thousands of abstract drawings made each night in West Virginia by Eugene Andolsek to relieve his workplace stress, and a large tiger with a personality carved and painted by Felipe Benito Archuleta, who was out of work in the Sixties and began carving animals to sell in Santa Fe.

1977 Tigere by Felipe Benito Archuleta

His whimsical creations not only led to a wildly lucrative art career, but jump-started an entirely new direction for the New Mexico art market.

These tales are only a few of the 85 told by this exhibition.  Download all the stories here, and enjoy some of our favorite works of art in our Flickr album.

Exhibition curator Stacy C. Hollander provides a virtual tour and shares some of her favorite stories about early-American artists and 19th-century travelers in this video below.

Stacy provides lots of background on Eliza Gordon and what her work was like in the textile industry. The video also tells the incredible story of Emma Rebecca Cummins (maker of the crazy-quilt trousseau robe), who was married four times, lived in five Eastern and frontier states (also Canada!), and worked as one of the first female Western Union telegraphers out West.

Enjoy getting to know the backstories of some of the incredible artists among the 85 featured in this tribute to American working artists, activists, and visionaries:

Genius Artist Reinterprets Brooklyn’s Native American Archives

Moccasins at the feet of 1904 Dying Indian sculpture by Charles Cary Rumsey. On Gibson’s mural, a study for Rumsey’s Manhattan Bridge buffalo-hunt frieze.

The Brooklyn Museum invited a MacArthur genius to dig through its vast Native American collection and archives, use it alongside his own thought-provoking contemporary art work, and take visitors minds for a spin. The colorful, creative, memorable results are on display across three galleries in Jeffrey Gibson: When Fire Is Applied to a Stone It Cracks, on view through January 10. Take a look in our Flickr album.

Gibson, a big thinker whose heritage is Choctaw/Cherokee, does work that challenges people to think differently about Native Americans today and to question the assumptions about their “disappearance” from the national dialogue. Flying above art-world silos, he works at large and small scales, employs colleagues who are experts in beadwork and mural making, and shows art-gallery works as well as more conceptual projects.

Custom 19th and early 20th-century moccasins from the Brooklyn Museum collection.

His Brooklyn show begins by presenting a monumental 1904 “Dying Indian” bronze by Victorian-era classical artist, Charles Cary Rumsey, and an array of moccasins from the museum’s collections made by unknown tribal artists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

To the right, there’s a giant stained-glass work that says, “Whose World Is This? It’s Yours It’s Mine.” To the left, there’s a colorful gallery packed with Gibson’s contemporary art work, and historic beaded, painted, and pieced items made by tribal artists.

Scores of museum visitors who exited Brooklyn’s Studio 54 show were captivated by Gibson’s dynamic installation, entered, and explored.

Gibson’s stained-glass Whose World Is This? It’s Yours It’s Mine. Private collection.

Below the massive statue, Gibson wants us to witness how carefully Native American makers created and customized footwear for specific practical purposes and ceremonial occasions for specific individuals. Unfortunately, the beautiful beadwork and deft, custom designs by tribal craftsmen are unattributed – a contrast to the society artist’s imposing vision of Native Americans who are sad, vanquished, and gone.

To change the statue’s narrative, Gibson asked contemporary Pawnee/Cree artist John Little Sun Murie to design moccasins for the figure atop Rumsey’s horse, so the rider is now presented as an individual member of an historic tribe – not just a generalized stereotype. Listen as Jeffrey talks about moccasins:

To drive home the point that Victorian-era artists and anthropologists incorrectly generalized and romanticized Native Americans, Gibson adds two other small bronzes and a study for Rumsey’s buffalo-hunting frieze made to embellish the entrance to the Manhattan Bridge. (Just ignore the fact that the Lenape didn’t hunt buffalo on our shores!) His beaded works say it all – “I Don’t Belong to You” and “You Don’t Belong to Me.”

Gibson’s 2018, Tribes File Suit to Protect Bears Ears.

In the second gallery, Gibson shows his own recent creations with those bought on early 20th-century expeditions and added to Brooklyn’s ethnographic collection.

Gibson’s bright, geometric murals – which complement the museum’s vintage geometric-patterned tiled floors – provide a joyful backdrop for a brightly colored Seminole jacket, beaded hats, and other art. Gibson’s new paintings, sculptures, and patchwork garments use beads, colors, and messages on fabric – contemporary statements that hearken to the creativity and innovation of these unattributed artists. Take a look:

Ba:lawahdiwa, Zuni’s governor, and his family in 1890

The final gallery presents other artifacts and art that Gibson curated from museum’s vast Native American holdings, expedition records, and archives, and contrasts them with some of Gibson’s recent photography.

A large case displays a range of commercial, ancient, and ceremonial pots, expedition photographs, and drawings of Pueblo life made by expedition artists over 100 years ago. In one instance, Gibson reunites several photos of a Zuni family, normally stored apart from one another the museum’s archives.

Gibson relishes showing how Native American artists still thrive today and how over the centuries they have adapted their materials and creativity for both commercial art-markets and their own expressive purposes.

Gibson’s 2019 photo Regan De Loggans. Courtesy: Gibson & Sikkema Jenkins

For example, he features a photograph of a young early 20th-century Navajo weaver, creating traditional Indian” rugs for a trading post with new, more colorful materials that Mr. Hubbell supplied. Gibson also unearthed a tourist map on where to find different California tribes and buy their wares – a direct rebuke to the concept that all these people “vanished.”

Best of all, Gibson also features several gorgeous recent photographs, including tribal artist-activists.

Visit Jeffery’s studio in this video produced for the 2019 Whitney Biennial. Hear him talk about his evolution, his creative process, and his team up in Hudson:

No Monolith but Judd’s Works at MoMA Deliver the Power

1968 stainless steel and Plexiglass tower (Froehlich Collection)

For anyone lamenting the disappearance of the Monolith and yearning to experience its minimalist magic, walk through MoMA’s Donald Judd retrospective before January 3 to understand how big, gleaming, super-sleek objects create such electrifying force fields.

Initially, journalists speculated that the Utah Monolith was the work of West Coast artist John McCracken. It wasn’t, but Judd was one of McCracken’s art-world heroes – a master who reveled in pure shape, pure color, and (when he wanted to) pure transparency. Judd also built repeating rectangles (seemingly not created by human hands) in remote western landscapes (Marpha, Texas).

On MoMA’s top floor, you’ll encounter wide, open spaces with spare, clean hard-edged objects inhabiting four galleries.

1964 construction of orange pebbled Plexiglass and hot-rolled steel. Private collection.

In the first room, you’ll see cadmium-red shapes from the early Sixties that Judd made in his Soho studio. The idea was to remove any gestures or evidence of craft in the work – just present the pure painted shape.

But to get the perfection he craved, Judd went one step further – engaging industrial fabricators to create large-scale works from his meticulous drawings. Industrial materials like aluminum, iron, and Plexiglass are transformed into magical rectangles, epic towers, and airy channels. See our favorites in our Flickr album.

In each gallery, visitors are invited to circumnavigate and explore the monumental works. One orange box seems to glow; another has a transparent surface that lets you peer inside. An enticing series of blue and silver boxes seem to let you peek through to an entirely different dimension.

1969 “channel” of aluminum and Plexiglass units (Saint Louis Art Museum)

Towers emerge from walls in each room – neat stacks of monumental rectangles, separated by exact amounts of space. It’s quite a sensation to approach one, look up, and feel its commanding presence. One silver tower seems to be emitting yellow light. A copper tower gleams a little from a subtle spotlight.

Judd wanted it this way – no interpretation. Just you and the large, beautiful, perfect form, as this short video demonstrates:

MoMA cautions visitors to remain at least six feet away from each of the works, but most admirers are cautious and reverent, taking it all in and giving everything its space.

Here, curator Ann Temkin talks about Judd’s work and the joy of bringing such a monumental exhibition to New York:

Take a trip through the installation on MoMA’s website here, and hear artists describe their experience of the show here.

Holiday Season Virtual Museum Events with Food, Drink, and Discussion

Everyone loves chocolate. Here, a Staffordshire chocolate pot (1755-1770). Collection: The Met

Ramp up for the holidays by joining in some special (and delicious) virtual events hosted this week by New York City museums. Find the daily listings for everything on our virtual events page.

Tomorrow (December 8) at 6:30pm, come to a tavern tasting with chocolate! Join the program by Keeler Tavern Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut (co-hosted by Fraunces Tavern Museum), who will explain the history of chocolate in the colonies (and beyond!) and share a recipe you can make and sip during the program.  Be sure to sign up a day ahead of time.

Illustration of 19th c. holiday food to be discussed at Merchant’s House Museum

On Wednesday (December 9) at 6pm, travel back to 1843 with the Merchant’s House Museum to see how holiday food cited in A Christmas Carol was adapted to 19th century American kitchens. In “From the Kratchit’s Kitchen,” you’ll not only meet a food historian but hear selected readings by Mr. Dickens himself!!

Poster House virtual event held inspired by  The Swiss Grid exhibition

At 7pm, take a winter break with the crew at Poster House, featuring a scintillating blend of mixology and posters!  In honor of the exhibition, The Swiss Grid, you’ll be whisked away to fabulous Alpine ski chalets (via posters), while you learn how to create four great cocktails. Everything you need to mix cocktails is posted on the event page.

Also at 7pm ­– the Museum of Food & Drink hosts “A Sweet Mexican Hanukkah” with chef Fany Gerson (the artist behind Fan-Fan Doughnuts), who will share the culinary connections between her Mexican and Eastern European heritage, and show how to make strawberry jelly doughnuts.

1930s Macy’s Christmas truck toy at NYHS

Are you wishing you could visit New York for the holidays to see the decorations?  At 8pm (December 9) sign up with the New-York Historical Society and let the Bowery Boys lead you on a virtual tour to explore how people celebrated the holidays in old New York at all the familiar places – department store windows, ice rinks, and Times Square.

If you want to participate in virtual events on a more serious note:

Today (December 7) at 5pm, the New-York Historical Society is hosting a discussion on how revising “American history” while the American revolution was happening affected the course of events.

Climate change wall at AMNH, which hosts a panel on the Paris accord on Wednesday

At noon on Wednesday (December 9), the American Museum of Natural History hosts an international powerhouse panel on climate change, climate goals, and the Paris agreement. Don’t miss this global discussion with Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland, and performance by music icon-activist Patti Smith.

Many more programs are on the schedule, so register for as many of the topics and events that you can fit into your schedule.

Most of the events are free, but it’s always nice to add a thank-you donation.

1928 Demuth painting, I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold, part of the Alfred Stieglitz Collection at The Met – which resisted modernism for a long time

Museum Updates

This week online, we went to the premiere of the film that portrays Washington’s farewell at Fraunces Tavern, and got to meet the director and from three amazing Revolutionary actors who portrayed Washington, Knox, and Tallmadge.

We also attended the Tenement Museum’s program discussing the lives of an Irish family living on the Lower East Side in the 1860s, the Met’s Making the Met discussion on 1929 and modernism (now on YouTube), and a special members-only event on the Rubin’ Museum’s new online digital collection of Himalayan art. Check it all out.

ICP Reveals What’s Been Going On since March 2020

2020 photographs displayed by month

For months, people have noticed that days get blurred, months speed by, and time feels warped. Why is this happening?  The answer is on the walls of the International Center of Photography in a must-see exhibition, #ICPConcerned: Global Images for Global Crisis, on view through December 31.   

You’ll see images contributed from 70 countries between March and October 2020. ICP simply reached out to its network in March and April (when the museum had to close) to request images via the hashtag that showed was happening in their part of the world.

March images by Brooklyn’s Farras Abdelnour and NYC’s Claudine Williams

By April, 10,000 images had been submitted to ICP, mostly dealing with pandemic response, adjustments to routines, the need to quarantine, and at-home isolation pods. By May, the number of submissions had doubled.

But in the coming months, social-justice protests filled the streets, hurricanes swept shores, wildfires turned night skies orange, Beirut exploded, the pandemic kept grinding on, and the photos just kept flowing to the inbox at 79 Essex and onto the Instagram page.

Artists contributed thousands of photographs illustrating the ways COVID has changed life around the world, and images of hospital workers, families cocooning at home, and life in the public space. The exhibition is an affirmation how artists sustain creativity in troubled times and during protest.

Listen to David Campany, managing director of ICP’s programs, explain:

If you visit the museum in person at 79 Essex, you’ll experience why you’ve been feeling a little time-disoriented.  As you walk through the months, you’ll be amazed to see how many disruptive or charming events everyone has been experiencing on an extremely compressed time scale.

April images from Karen Epstein (Kingston, NY), Morfi Jiménez Mercado (Lima, Peru), René Treece Roberts (Ashville, NC), and Lisa Sorgini (Australia)

It’s enormously satisfying to look through the #ICPConcerned images on ICP’s website and Instagram feed, but visiting the exhibit in person is the only way to experience fully the time-compression effect – walking, seeing, reading, reflecting, letting your eyes scan floor to ceiling, noting the places and dates. By the time you hit August and September, you’ll wonder, “Did all of that really happen since May?”

Also, the playlist wafting in from Tyler Mitchell’s nearby show only enhances your journey through the participatory show.

September photo by Janet Sternburg of Los Angeles

See the ICP installation of 1,000 contributed photos in our Flickr album.

#ICPConcerned has such a simple installation, but walking through it has a powerful effect. The only other museum installation that offers this much temporal disassociation is the Met’s About Time, but that’s done with a giant pendulum, hall of mirrors, a Phil Glass score, and intonations by renowned actresses.

It’s quite a credit to the ICP and the thousands of sharing photographers that they’re able show the weight (and whimsey) of the world as we’re living it in such spectacular form with just a hashtag, a free-spirited community deep-dive, and a push-pin budget.

In October  – Teach Peace | Greenwich Village by Eli Haies-Grunwald and Keepers of the Land by Rehab Eldalil of South Sinai, Egypt

See all the captions and images on the exhibition website. Have fun looking at the submissions by country here.

Many photographers contributed stories about their images and experiences. See and hear them here.

Want to be part of it all? Share your own images on Instagram with the tag #ICPConcerned

150 Years of Splendor at The Met

Entrance with Noguchi’s 1945 Kouros and Rodin’s controversial 1876 sculpture

The Met has pulled out all the stops on its 150th birthday show, Making the Met, 1870-2020, on view at Fifth Avenue through January 3 – incredible installation, intriguing stories, and a phenomenal digital showcase. So even if you can’t come to New York to see it in person, the Met website has it all!

The exhibition tells the story of the Met over the last 150 years – from its first incarnation in a house on 14th Street to its ever-expanding footprint in Central Park – shows the incredible art that benefactors donated, and relays the stories of the men and women who made it happen.

Head of a Hindu god, Bhairava, made by 16th c. Nepalese artists 

Walking into the dramatic exhibition entrance, you’re surrounded by figures from different eras and cultures – a little girl from 5th century Greece holding two doves, a gilded mask of a Hindu god beautifully crafted by Nepalese masters of the 16th century, and Avedon’s 1957 portrait of a pensive Marilyn Monroe.

At the press opening, senior researcher associate Laura Corey explained that these were chosen to encourage visitors to think about the people behind the Met – collectors, curators, artists, restoration experts, and other staff. According to Laura, the African power figure from the Republic of Congo was one of the first artworks chosen for the welcome gallery.  He’s looking right across to Marilyn, and they are sharing a similar expression and mood.

1906 photo of The Great Hall 

At Noguchi’s Kouros sculpture, you can look left or right down a “street” lined with arches – portals that beckon you to step into different chapters of the Museum’s history. Each arch proclaims the decade and the theme. In between, there are huge slideshows from the museum’s past ­– how the Great Hall used to look, ladies in turn-of-the-century hats taking their art appreciation classes, Fifties moms and kids looking at art.

We’ve included our favorite artworks in our Flickr album, but the Met has produced a spectacular multimedia walk-through (posted on Google Arts & Culture), where you can experience all ten stories through photos, films, and links to blogs. Definitely watch the silent 1928 “Behind the Scenes” film showing museum shops, painters, gilders, and photographers at work. No surprise that the museum was into multimedia way back then!

Houdon’s 1778 bust of Franklin and reflection of Manet’s Young Lady in 1866

Through the first arch titled “The Founding” (the 1870s), you pass a huge Cypriot head (the first director was into archaeology) and the first paintings donated by the founding trustees. Houdon’s spectacular Ben Franklin gazes quietly (and slyly) at Manet’s Young Lady in 1866 – the first contemporary painting in the Met’s collection. It depicts a life-size, modern gal in her dressing gown – an image that shocked early visitors to the Met’s classical galleries! Of course, Ben looks on approvingly.

Next, you’ll see a 15th-century Turkish turban helmet and 17th-century Japanese armor. The story here is that the Met green-lighted Bashford Dean, a zoologist and world traveler working at the AMNH, to begin the arms and armor collection. Other curators began collecting works on paper, textiles, lace, wallpaper, musical instruments, and contemporary designs. In the Twenties, curators headed straight to the UK to scoop up samples from Morris & Company.

1479-1458 B.C. statue of Hatshepsut, and Cleopatra’s Needle (1450 B.C.) in Central Park

Around the corner is a tribute to the deep-pocketed donors like Morgan and B. Altman, who gave the Met lots of upscale, princely treasures ­– paintings by Vermeer and Ingres, fancy furniture, and tapestries. A treasure trove gifted by generous benefactors fills a wall – pistols for kings, cosmetic cases for Egyptians, bedazzled tablewear, and Middle Eastern glass.

Back into the main “street,” you’re right next to an imposing, reconstructed sculpture of Egypt’s female pharaoh Hatshepsut with a stunning view of Central Park’s Egyptian obelisk through the window.

These lead to the stories of how the Met collected art via excavations of archaeological sites – the Kharga Oasis (1908), Egypt (1880-1931) with Wah’s tomb stuff, Nimrud (Iraq), and along an ancient trade route (1934). The intrepid Bashford Dean enters the story again – excavating a Crusader castle, but only bringing back “dismal finds,” such as Crusader lamps, melted chain mail, and shards of stained glass, and (our favorite!) a projectile from a Crusades-era catapult (1250).

1864 A Gorge in the Mountains by Sanford Robinson Gifford

Apparently, it took a lot for a fancy museum to turn its attention from Europe to collecting art from the Western Hemisphere, but wealthy patrons had the goods. The American room features Sargent’s best-dressed “Madame X” and an enormous 1830 honeycomb quilt by Elizabeth Clarkson, the first quilt to enter the Met’s collection in 1923. There’s also a gorgeous Catskill Mountain landscape by Sanford Robinson Gifford, once owned by AMNH’s long-serving president, Mr. Jessup.

A gallery packed with work by Degas, Monet, Cassatt, Cezanne, and their Japanese masters tells the story of the Havemeyers, the Met patrons who lavished the museum with Tiffany glass (likely picked out by Mr. Tiffany himself), impressionist masters (picked out by Ms. Cassatt herself), and much more.

I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold (1928) by Demuth

At the midpoint of the exhibition, you learn that Stieglitz had a rough time trying to convince the Met to honor contemporary photography. The Met also refused Ms. Whitney’s collection in 1929. Gertrude’s response was to start her own museum, which joined MoMA (which debuted in 1929) in celebrating modernism. The Met finally did accept modern works through Georgia O’Keeffe’s 1949 gift, and proudly displays a Demuth and Kandinsky in the show.

The Monuments Men story looms large, with Met curators playing a major role in discovering and returning art looted during World War II. There’s a 1945 model of an Army helmet prototype designed by the Met’s armor expert, hand-crafted in solid aluminum.

1965 Yves Saint Laurent Mondrian dress and 1966 Balenciaga coat

The largest gallery in the show tells the story of how the Met beefed up its collections and expanded gallery space during what it calls “The Centennial Era” – Islamic art, fashion, Asian and African art, and modern art from the 20th century.

The final story about the Museum’s current focus ­– adding works by artists and from regions that are underrepresented in its collections – is represented by a large El Anatsui piece, an embellished Tibetan saddle, a wall of art guitars, a large Faith Ringgold story quilt, and other intriguing works.

The museum’s done a tremendous job online telling all the stories via its digital primer.  Click here to hear in-depth stories on the Met’s audio guide with Steve Martin, check out this video with his narration, get the backstory on every artwork in the show, and definitely visit the multimedia walk-through .

And check out this exhibition video showing how the museum’s architecture evolved to house these growing collections. In the 1880s, Olmstead and Vaux assigned a spot in Central Park for the Met. It’s interesting that one of the initial designs (which no one liked) was not scheduled for completion until 1990!! It’s a microcosm of 150 years of architecture and history.

Virtual Visits This Week to the Guggenheim, Whitney, and a 19th Century Irish Home

If you can’t do an in-person trip to your favorite museums just yet, why not walk some terrific exhibitions with curators at the Guggenheim, Merchant’s House, Poster House, the Morgan Library, and the Whitney. The links to this program and other museum events are on our virtual events page here.

Chen Zhen’s 1999 Precipitous Parturition installed inside the Guggenheim in 2017

Some of the highlights we think you’ll enjoy:

Today (November 30) at 5:00pm, visit the Guggenheim for a conversation about art, exhibitions, and installations in the iconic building. The Zoom session will feature works by Hilma af Klint, Felix Gonzales-Torres, and Pipilotti Rist to get the discussion rolling.

At 7:00pm today, join the International Center of Photography to meet photographer and filmmaker Danny Lyon, whose book documenting Lower Manhattan’s architectural past was named one of the best art books of the year by The New York Times.

Hear jazz on The Four Seasons guitars by John Monteleone December 1 at the Met

Tomorrow (December 1) at 7:00pm, you will not want to miss the guitar quartet concert from the Metropolitan Museum’s MetLiveArts. It’s going to feature four  acclaimed jazz guitarists playing the spectacular “Four Seasons” set of guitars made by master luthier John Monteleone, which are currently featured in the finale gallery of the Met’s 150th anniversary spectacular, Making the Met, 1870-2020.

Learn about 19th century lighting inside the Merchant’s House Museum on December 2

Of, if you haven’t had enough of feasting, join the Tenement Museum at the same time to hear from Leah Koenig about making holiday treats and her book Little Book of Jewish Sweets.

On Wednesday (December 2) at 6:00pm, take a trip back to the past with Merchant’s House Museum to experience 19th-century domestic lighting and talk about how home lighting has changed in the last 100 years.

Artists Kay WalkingStick and Jaune Quick-to-See Smith discuss contemporary art at NMAI on December 3

Thursday (December 3) events include:

A 6:00pm discussion of contemporary art at the Museum of the American Indian with Kay WalkingStick and Jaune Quick-to-See Smith.

At 6:30pm, an evening at Poster House that provides an insider’s look at collecting Swiss posters.

Photographers of Brooklyn’s Kamoinge Workshop, honored in the Whitney’s new show

At 7pm, a curator’s tour of the Whitney’s latest exhibition about the photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop in Brooklyn.

On Friday (December 4), get over to the Morgan Library at 12:30pm for a collections tour, and to MAD Museum at 3:00pm for a program on film-title design.

We’re particularly excited about the special free program that the Tenement Museum is hosting next Saturday (December 5) at 1pm with I.NY, a virtual celebration of connection between Ireland and New York, featuring a tour of an Irish family’s home on the Lower East Side in 1860 and a discussion with the University of Limerick’s Professor David Coughlan.

Visit the Moore family home with the Tenement Museum and I.NY on December 5

Many more programs are on the schedule, so register for as many of the topics and events that you can fit into your schedule.

Most of the events are free, but it’s always nice to add a thank-you donation.

Museum Updates

Just a reminder that MoMA has just reinstalled its permanent collection in its new building. When the museum re-opened a year ago, the intent was to keep its collection moving, with refreshed galleries several times a year.  Be sure to visit and see what’s new!

 

The Man Who Revolutionized US Rock

Bonnie McLean poster for Fillmore Auditorium July 1967. Courtesy: Bahr Gallery

It’s a trip back to the birth of Sixties youth culture, guitar virtuosos, the Fillmore, and multimedia extravaganzas in the New-York Historical Society exhibition, Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution, on display through January 3.

The show, originally organized by LA’s Skirball Cultural Center, tells the story of the man who created the Fillmore, catapulted legendary bands to fame, grew concert audiences to stadium size, and gave back to society by organizing once-in-a-lifetime benefit concerts televised throughout the world.

Photos, show posters, videos, rock and soul music, and even a wall from the legendary Joshua Light Show bring the story of Bill Graham to life.

Bill Graham in 1968 Fillmore Auditorium office. Gene Anthony photo in Graham collection

Graham’s life was saved by Kindertransport during World War II – a dramatic story told inside the entry to the exhibition. He was adopted and grew up in the Bronx, moved to San Francisco, and had the right skills in the right place at the right time to bring bands like Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, Hendrix, and Big Brother and the Holding Company to a larger audience.

In preparing the exhibition, the curators did original research into Graham’s early life and pulled artifacts, paraphernalia, and stories related to each decade of his concert-promotion career – leasing the Fillmore Auditorium in a largely African-American neighborhood, creating events that interspersed rock-and-roll acts with poets and new-age philosophers, securing larger venues in the Bay Area, opening the Fillmore East in 1968 in New York inside a former Yiddish vaudeville house on Second Avenue.

Joshua Light Show backs 1968 Mothers of Invention at Fillmore East. Courtesy: Joshua White

The show has plenty of the Fillmore’s promotional posters, and pays tribute to the artists who created them, such as Wes Wilson and Graham’s wife, Bonnie McLean. The curators also provide a few side-by-side displays of the original ink drawings for the psychedelic broadsides with the full-color printed versions. See some of our favorites in our Flickr album.

Despite the legendary status of the Graham’s two Fillmore stages, they only lasted until 1971. Although they were highly profitable, the writing was on the wall – the demand (particularly after Woodstock) to see the Stones, The Who, Santana, and other frenzy-inducing performers was too big to be satisfied inside the constraints of traditional theaters.

Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Paige in 1977 and 1985 Metallica fans. Photos: Michael Zagaris and Ken Friedman

Through it all, Graham managed some stars, like Santana; created festivals featuring bands like Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, Metallica, the Eagles in the Seventies; organized Dylan’s historic 1974 tour; and produced The Last Waltz for The Band’s farewell.

The exhibition lets visitors savor these memories and moments through behind-the-scenes stories about Bill’s relationships with the artists, who often said yes to Bill’s ideas because they knew he was a perfectionist who would deliver his promises, understood what made fans happy, and always saw the epic, historic perspective behind that moment in culture.

1986 Live Aid T-shirt with Ken Regan’s photo of US benefit stars. Graham and Regan collections

The exhibition puts special focus on Bill’s willingness to tackle the monumental challenges of producing nationally televised benefit concerts, such as Live Aid, and taking tours and bands to places in the world that had never seen super-sized rock events before – Moscow’s 1987 concert for peace and the 1988 five-continent tour for Amnesty International with Bruce Springsteen, Peter Gabriel, and Sting to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Watch the trailer for the show:

If you’re in NYC, go over to hear the music and see the show before it closes January 3.  If not, take this “Curator Confidential” walk through the exhibition with the people behind the Bill Graham Memorial Foundation, who talk about the life of Bill Graham and the history they lived with him – a Zoom session produced by NYHS last August while the museum was still closed.

Mexican Artist Builds Wall Atop The Met

Zamora’s wall with southern skyline view from the Met terrace

The rooftop mojito bar is missing, but it doesn’t matter to the art lovers trekking up to the Met’s rooftop.  The Roof Garden Commission: Héctor Zamora, Lattice Detour, on view through December 7, invites you to stroll around Héctor’s undulating wall and experience what it feels like to have your ideal, verdant view of Central Park and the soaring skyline partially interrupted.

On a bright, sunny day (and New York as had many recently), Metropolitan Museum visitors are taking the time contemplate this simple, provocative, statement by a Mexican installation artist. Héctor’s wall is only 11 feet high and made of see-through bricks – the kind created to let air and sun pass through courtyard walls in steamy Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Latin American climates.

Partial view through blocks made from Mexican earth

For this Met installation, Héctor had the blocks for the wall made from Mexico’s earth and asked a crew of Mexican and Latin American builders to hand-craft it the traditional way. As you circumnavigate Héctor’s wall, you have to position yourself just right to get a good view, and then it’s only a tiny, tiny fraction of what lies beyond.

And you have to be close, which lets you appreciate the artistry of the patterns and tunnels of the lattice, which also casts geometric patterns on the roof.

Héctor’s hope is that his installation enables quiet contemplation on thinking about the world that lies just beyond the walls of the Met. If you free-associate about walls, national borders, or larger societal issues, OK, but Héctor presents his architectural statement in a straightforward manner – basic building blocks that originated in ancient times.  You can create the experience what you want.

Take a tour of the installation in our Flickr album, enjoy the spectacular rooftop views in this Met’s video, and hear Héctor Zamora talk about this work with Met curator Iria Candela:

Anarchist Revolutionizes Modern Art at MoMA

1890 pointillist portrait of Fénéon by Paul Signac

He wasn’t an artist, but MoMA has given him a show that has everything – joyous post-Impressionist canvases, Moulin Rouge posters, color wheels, African masterworks, Italian futurists, street riots, manifestos, explosions, and mug shots. 

Félix Fénéon: The Anarchist and the Avant-Garde – From Signac to Matisse and Beyond, an exhibition on view through January 2, will introduce you to a writer, critic, anarchist, and dealer living in turn-of-the-century Paris who championed Seurat, gave Matisse his start, coined the term neo-Impressionism, and went to jail for a few months after he was accused of setting off a bomb in a restaurant frequented by government big shots.

1891 painting by Paul Signac, Setting Sun, Sardine Fishing, Adagio, Opus 221

This gorgeous show was inspired by Signac’s pointillist portrait of Fénéon, which features swirling color wheels referencing their shared passion for Japanese design, pattern, and the science behind art. Books and ephemera by influential color theorists are displayed nearby, but it’s hard to keep your attention there when paintings by so many modernist masters are vying for your attention around every turn.

1894 Bonnard poster for the avant-garde journal Fénéon edited

Fénéon used his critical bullhorn to turn many artists into household names. Think Seurat and Signac, two of Fénéon’s early favorites. The first gallery is full of their beautiful seascapes and figurative work. Read the curator’s essay about the artists he promoted, and see our favorites in our Flickr album.

The curators let us know that these peaceful images and exuberant dance-hall posters were made at a time of serious social unrest and profound economic hardship for working-class Parisians by interspersing Fénéon politics-charged writings and socially conscious works by Vallottin and Pissarro.  Disruptive protests, nightlife, zines, and art all went hand-in-hand during the 1890s.

1905-1906 painting by Matisse Interior with a Young Girl (Girl Reading)

Fénéon spent several years as the editor-in-chief of a leading avant-garde journal, orchestrating contributors such as Bonnard, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Vallotton, and collecting their work along the way.  So, it came as quite a shock to everyone when the independent critic announced that he was taking a full-time job with a prestigious but conservative gallery in Paris.

Entering the second gallery of the exhibition, you see immediately how Fénéon used his notoriety and avant-garde chops to build up a contemporary art business and lure old-line clients into taking a chance on something new and modern.  He signed contracts with artists he had long championed, and gave an up-and-comer named Henri Matisse his first show in 1910.

Late 19th-c mask by a Guro artist from Cote d’Ivoire with 1920 Bonnard. Private collection; Musee d’Orsay.

It’s exciting to see a room full Matisse’s early work (including three that were in that initial show) and work by other artists that Fénéon both collected and sold, including a wall full of ethereal Seurat drawings.

Like many others in the avant-garde, Fénéon was a passionate collector of art from Africa and Oceana, and it’s thrilling to see so much of his original collection – now scattered throughout the world – reassembled inside MoMA.

Fénéon hated colonialism and railed against calling this portion of his collection “primitive art.” He lamented that the names of the artists who created such dynamic, inventive work were unknown and disliked having such evocative pieces relegated to ethnographic museums. 

19th-c cap by Tin Dama artist from Papua New Guinea (Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac) and Balla’s 1910-1911 futurist work.

He hoped that one day “art from faraway places” could take its place in the art pantheon right up there with works in the Louvre.

It’s satisfying to examine dramatic, powerful sculptures and masks from Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, and Democratic Republic of the Congo against the backdrop of Modigliani, Matisse, and Italian Futurist paintings.

The worlds of ancient mythic power, modernism, and emotive color seem to be spending their time at MoMA having an active conversation – just the way Fénéon would have wanted.

Enjoy MoMA’s fast-pace introduction to this revolutionary modernist:

And now meet MoMA director Glenn Lowry and Starr Figura, curator of the exhibition, who show works from the exhibition and discuss why they mounted this show:

If you can’t get to MoMA, listen to the audio guide here, and enjoy the “colors”  playlist that MoMA designed.