Club 57 Rejects at MoMA 35 Years Later

Music poster for Club 57

They didn’t fit in to any of the scenes back in the Eighties, but now they have their own show at MoMA in a basement club all their own – just like in the old days.

Entering Club 57: Film, Performance, and Art in the East Village, 1978–1983, on view at the Museum of Modern Art through April 8, you’ll be required to find the right way downstairs, peek behind curtains, and lurk around corners where transgressive, challenging art is on display.

The show is a tribute to the ultimate DIY art scene in Alphabet City at a time in New York when things were just plain tough.

Housed in the basement of the Polish National Church on St. Mark’s Place, the misfits invited their friends to imagine and create performance art on a regular basis.

Klaus Nomi’s cape, from his 1978 New Wave Vaudeville finale

Although Danceteria and The Pyramid Club were contemporaneous music scenes, Club 57 was the place to create characters, imagine scenarios, revel in kitsch, celebrate “bad” art, and create performance art or a DIY film festival every night.

The kids – many classmates from School of the Visual Arts – created and handed out flyers to entice the adventurous to witness the uncensored experimentation.

It’s where Keith Haring, Joey Arias, Ann Magnuson (MoMA’s guest curator), and others spent their formative years dressing up, wigging out, and pushing boundaries.

The show displays ephemera from those years and experiments, from Klaus Nomi’s transparent cape (when he appeared as the closing act in New Wave Vaudeville in 1978) to Clayton Patterson’s flyers based on the latest in new technology in 1983, the color Xerox. See it, start to finish, in our Flickr album.

Kenny Scharf’s recreation of his 1979 Cosmic Closet

The installation is on two levels, but downstairs is where it’s all happening. Silkscreened posters by John Sex poke out of the dark. A secret hideaway reveals Kenny Scharf’s black-light psychedelia “Cosmic Closet.”

Hand-crafted calendars by Ann Magnuson illustrate the variety of activities that took place nightly – film screenings, performance, music, and lady wrestling.

Collaged and Xeroxed zines, drag performances with small casts of thousands, and graffiti art jolted life into a subculture struggling to make ends meet, live in a city clawing its way back from financial ruin and high crime, and trying to make sense of the mysterious illness that was plaguing the gay community.

Richard Hambleton’s 1983 Shadowman series

One person’s trash is another one’s art. And the reverse is true — Basquiat was busy sprinkling his moniker all over the decaying walls of the East Village, and Richard Hambleton’s epic Shadowman paintings were popping up in the neighborhood where you’d least expect them. The street and the art were in an ever-renewing cycle.

This immersive journey back in time is stupendous. Be sure to hang out in the basement to watch two or three of the videos from Club 57’s heyday.

For now, take a walk through the show with Frank Holliday, one of the founding members of Club 57.

Also, watch and listen to the artists recollect club experiences during MoMA’s opening night party.

Mapping Roads to America’s Revolution

1761-1769 surveyor’s compass and chain, the way early America was mapped

How did anyone find their way around before GPS and digital mapping software?  The painstaking task of making maps fell to surveyors walking the land with compasses and chains, expert draftsmen, masterful engravers, and printmakers. If you wanted anything in color, you’d have to get out the watercolor set.

The show at the New-York Historical Society, Mapping America’s Road from Revolution to Independence, on display through March 11, presents glorious examples of the art of mapmaking during America’s colonial days, the fight for independence, and the aftermath of the British defeat.

Although the show was originally mounted by the Boston Public Library with key holdings from the Leventhal Map Center, the NYHS show adds items from its own collection – a letter from George Washington just before the Battle of Brooklyn, a beautifully illustrated journal of a French officer aboard the French ship Hercule, and delightful illustrations of life in Lower Manhattan 35 years after the Declaration of Independence was read to the troops.

Local maps carved into a powder horn in 1775 by a British soldier occupying Boston.

Check out our Flickr album of some of our favorites from the show.

The first gallery showcases the two-part 1754 Peter Jefferson-Joshua Frye map, which was the go-to cartography for everyone in the Tidewater and the Blue Ridge frontier throughout the 18th century.  Yes, it was created by Tom’s father and reproduced over a dozen times by European mapmakers.

The show features engravings by Paul Revere, broadsides vilifying the Stamp Act, announcements of New York’s would-be Tea Party, maps made by both the British and Continentals (even one carved on a powder horn), including the stupendous, famed, gigantic Ratzer map of Lower Manhattan.

1781 hand-colored French engraving showing the French armada and celebrations following the British surrender at Yorktown.

The central gallery features battleground maps, including the New Jersey standoff at Monmouth and evidence of the French blockade that won the war at Yorktown. (Is that partying in the streets?)

The final gallery celebrates post-war America: the creative 1789 New York City business directory (complete with fold-out map of the town) and a curious 1784 proposal for ten additional western states, as named by Thomas Jefferson. Anyone want to homestead in Polypotamia?

Close up of French 1776 engraved hand-colored map of Boston harbor.

Following a successful run in Colonial Williamsburg, this show brings the art, logistics, design, and scope of the Revolution to grand, colorful life.

If you can’t get to the show in person, take time to go through the incredible website for the 2015 edition of this show in Boston, which walks you through maps of Boston, including the showdown between the Americans and British when the city was still practically an island in the bustling bay. And don’t forget to check out the interactive of the Jefferson-Frye map here, and compare what Virginia and DC looked like when rivers were roads with the interstates today.

Modern Japanese Design from Humble Plants Blossoms at Met

2017 immersive bamboo sculpture by Tanabe Chikuunsai IV

Ancient grasses are the medium through which master craftsmen have made eye-popping, intricate statements, as evidenced in the Metropolitan’s exhibition, Japanese Bamboo Art: The Abbey Collection, running until February 4.

The show opens with a dynamic, undulating tiger-bamboo sculpture installation by Tanabe Chikuunsai IV, a modernist descended, trained, and influenced by three previous generations of acclaimed Japanese bamboo innovators.

In fact, families passing on the secrets and traditions in three different regions of Japan is a featured theme of the show. In many cases, work by fathers and sons is shown side-by-side, such as the intricate works by Tanabe’s own great-grandfather and grandfather, and the stunning sculptures by Honma Hideaki and his father, Honma Kazuaki.

Mid-19th c. hanging cicada-shaped basket collected by Moore

The show showcases contemporary and 20th-century bamboo art from the Abbey Collection (which will eventually be given to the Met) alongside 19th-century pieces collected and donated to the Met in different eras.

For example, the Met received a bonanza of Asian art from Tiffany’s artistic director of silver, Edward Moore – over 80 textiles, bamboo baskets, metal work, and ceramics – from his overseas journeys in the 1860s and 1870s.

Beautiful gold-and-lacquered bamboo pieces that he collected are displayed in this show, alongside kimonos, painted screens, and netsuke-toggled containers featuring images of bamboo growing wild.

Modern lines of 1940s Peony Basket by Maeda Chikubosai

There’s also a unique bamboo and rattan bowler hat from the 1880s, courtesy of the Abby Collection, which injects a bit of the “Pacific Overtures” feel to the show, demonstrating how Western influences began to creep into Japan and push artists, such as Shokosai, to use traditional materials in contemporary life. In this case, snappy items sported by fashionable celebrities.

Despite the centuries in which craftsmen shaped large and small specimens of some of the more than 600 species of these grasses, bamboo work remained classified as “craft” versus “art.”

By 1929, however, the up-and-coming generation of bamboo innovators finally accomplished what their artistic ancestors had not – full recognition by the Japanese art hierarchy that their creations were on a par with painting, other types of sculpture, and fashion.

2014 sculpture by Honma Hideaki next to 1983 panel by his father, Honma Kazuaki

An example is Sakaguchi Sounsai’s fruit tray, one of the first pieces of bamboo works accepted into a government-organized national art exhibition. Kudos to the Abbey Collection and the Met for showing how Japanese artists took a humble plant and made it blossom into a dramatic, rich, intricate statement reflecting modern times.

Take a look at everything on the Met’s website and our favorites on Flickr, which shows some of the Moore and Abbey-collected works in chronological order.

To get an idea of the skill involved in transforming these natural materials, watch this time-lapse video of The Gate, the dynamic, undulating installation dominating the show’s entrance, created by a team led by bamboo artist Tanabe Chikuunsai IV.

And listen to Hiroshi Sugimoto, the famed photographer, looks at Tosa Mitsunobu’s 15th-century Bamboo in the Four Seasons screen, also included in this show at the Met, describing how a two-dimensional work brilliantly uses nature to convey the passage of time.

MoMA Picks Fashion Items with Modern Impact

1970 looks envisioned by Rudi Gernreich people in the Year 2000

The MoMA design department came up with a list 111 clothing items that have had an impact on the world and is presenting them for your reflection through January 28  in Items: Is Fashion Modern?

Capri pants, graphic T-shirts, jumpsuits, backpacks…they’re easy to identify, but do you really know where they came from or where they’re going?

The design team dug deep, interviewing experts, commissioning new designs, and taking you on quite a journey from what seems familiar but has deeper implications and meanings.

Each item on the list gets more-or-less the same treatment: familiar examples, a little historic context, audio by experts intimately familiar with the prototype and its societal significance, and maybe videos providing a little more background. (Go, Beatnik video, next to the felt berets and black turtlenecks!)

Close-up of MoMA-commissioned jumpsuit by Richard Malone, made from recycled acrylics

There are sections on shaping undergarments, luxury items, expedition wear, and power dressing. Check out our Flickr album of some of our favorites, and be sure to check out the video of the graphic T-shirt installation.

The MoMA team gets the digital gold star for using sound, video, social media, and social platforms to explore each item on the list. Hear the many voices who contributed to the show – designers, curators, fashionistas – on MoMA’s terrific audio tour.

For example, everyone knows “the little black dress” but MoMA calls it “a concept” and then displays everything from Gabby Chanel’s original 1920s bugle-beaded innovation to Gianni’s safety-pin number to subversive top-shorts combos for a hip-hop crowd by Rick Owens.

It’s nice to see all the versions while listening to FIT’s Valerie Steele on the audio tour and to watch the gallery video of how the laser-cut nylon pieced dress by Nervous System symbolizes the LBD’s future.

1997 A-POC Queen by Miyake Design Studio — one tubular piece of cloth knitted by an industrial machine from one thread.

And as for the future, there are plenty of visions: Gernreich’s 1960s take on what people would be wearing in the Year 2000. Donna’s Seven Easy Pieces from the Eighties are still being treasured as components for a totally modern dressing solution.

It’s remarkable to think that the Miyake Design Studio’s innovative, red-hot one-thread tubular computer-knit everything-in-one piece first debuted in 1997 and that paper shift-dresses weren’t born yesterday.

A soft, doe-colored Halston Ultrasuede shirtdress is featured in one of the final galleries, but there’s nothing about its demure look to suggest the societal fashion mania that ensued during the Seventies for this washable suede-like innovation.  It was one of the decade’s had-to-have items.

There’s plenty of flash, surprise, and history to go around. Sign up for MoMA’s free course on Fashion as Design on Coursera and poke through MoMA’s YouTube channel for insights on Saville Row suits, fashion lifecycles, digital dresses, and more.

Take a walk with MoMA’s design curator Paola Antonelli though this enjoyable, provocative show:

Also, MoMA produced a set of videos to provide a behind-the-scenes look at some of the garments commissioned especially for the show, such as futuristic biker jacket by Asher Levine and James DeVito. Step into their atelier as they enhance their design:

When DIY Fashion and Couture Were the Same Thing

John Sebastian’s 1967 performance cape, jacket, and pants, which he tie-dyed himself

Imagine a time before designer logos, no one asked “who you are wearing,” and your sartorial status was ranked according to DIY embellishments and colorful, theatrical approaches to materials that telegraphed a strong social-political message.

The current show at Museum of Art and Design (MAD), Counter-Couture: Handmade Fashion in an American Counterculture, on display through August 20, is a tribute to the Sixties and Seventies when Hollywood, rock royalty, rich kids, hippies, and living-off-the-land types all marched to their distinctive fashion beats.

At Columbus Circle, two floors of fashion take you on a journey through hand-crafted masterworks of several copacetic subcultures who carried out the youth revolution over sixty years ago — acid trippers, antiwar protesters, peace-and-love advocates, commune dwellers, hashish users, Dashiki wearers, and the all-nature/all-natural advocates.

100% Birgitta’s crocheted 1969 Rainbow Ensemble with Large Pendant

In a war on conformity and Mad-Men style, the counterculture of Southern California, the San Francisco Bay, and the Village turned to wild color, hand-dyed fabric, tribal inspiration, oversize accessories, personalized embroidery, and repurposed materials to declare individuality and a better, more peaceful world.

John Sebastian’s tie-dyed cape, shirt, and pants on loan from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame remind you that long before Gwen Stefani, rock stars once styled themselves and made their own clothes. Theatrics and performance was important, whether it was Woodstock, street theater, or East Village happenings.

Apple Cobbler’s Mickey McGowan made custom shoes and boots from brocade (no leather) and traveled with a suitcase full of client foot patterns, ready to spring into action whenever a rock drummer needed to replace his favorite footwear. In the late Sixties, the must-have item for starlets was a colorful crocheted seaside ensemble by 100% Brigitta.

Nina Huryn’s 1971 painted tooled leather jacket, typical of custom pieces she made for rockstar clients

Take a look at the installation views on MAD’s website, and then go in for a closer look on our Flickr album.

By the late Seventies, some clothing artists, such as K. Lee Manuel, were making one-of-a-kind pieces and selling them through small wearable-art-style shops. Others like Nina Huryn continued doing custom pieces for Elton John, Freddie Mercury, and other rock superstars. At least one — Christopher Crookedstitch — had a team of craftspeople staining homespun cotton, making self-fringe, and applying beads in a teepee workshop.

On the other hand, you might just do your own thing, such as the hand-embroidered, appliqued U.S. Army coat made as a protest or the highly studded and embellished Levis jacket that transformed a machine-made uniform into a work of art. MAD shows a small collection of winners from its 1973 Levis contest (when it was still named the American Craft Museum).

1970 man’s vest from a rice sack by Sandra Van Meter, who dressed her family in humble handmade clothing

Although the clothing isn’t as flashy, the exhibit showcases the caftans and simple linen clothes favored by less-is-more commune dwellers. Although the curators feature some fairly fancy embellished pieces by designer Alexandra Jacopetti Hart, they also note that she founded the home-sewing pattern company, Folkways, which offered a template for anyone to take a slightly historical style (think pioneers and buccaneer shirts) and craft it into their own personal statement.

The do-it-yourself component is only emphasized by a framed Simplicity pattern from the Seventies.

Don’t miss the spectacular tie-dyed panels by Marian Clayden, who also had a fashion label and designed all the textiles for the original production of Hair. Although it’s not a technique in fashion today, confronting work by this master will let you experience why the mystery and transcendence of her craft led so many to get out the Rit dye and try it at home.

Close up of tie-dyed hanging by Marian Clayden

Thanks to the Bellevue Arts Museum in Washington State, who originated the show.

MoMA Makes Space for Women 70 Years Later

Epic 1966 Gaea painting by Lee Krasner

This show never happened…until now. Over the years, MoMA has been collecting the work of female artists, but in their prime, only a few had the chance to reach a wide audience, and certainly back in the Fifties this group would not have been assembled for an all-woman show.

MoMA corrects this oversight and gives these women the attention they deserve in Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction, closing August 13.

MoMA has burrowed into its collection to present the work of female painters and sculptors who largely worked in the shadows of the dominant male artists of the Fifties and Sixties, both in the United States and abroad.

Grace Hartigan’s 1957 Shinnecock Canal

The curators have segmented the artists by style, and it’s fun to discover better-known favorites alongside some women that you simply have never heard of. The first part features large ethereally stained canvases by superstar Helen Frankenthaler and swooping gestures by Lee Krasner (pretty in pink).

The gallery also showcases lesser-known Lebanese-born abstractionist Etel Adnan and Grace Hartigan, who briefly attempted to get her work into galleries by letting dealers think that “George” Hartigan did them. Grace did OK, however, becoming the only female painter that MoMA included in its Fifties European touring show New American Painting.

You can almost imagine critiques like “too feminine” and “paints like a girl” being uttered over shots at the Cedar Tavern. Joan Snyder was not ashamed to say that she drew inspiration from nature – instead of internal angst. Super-minimalist Agnes Martin did the same, drawing inspiration for her thin pencil grids from the majesty and stillness of nature.

Close up of Agnes Martin’s 1964 oil and pencil Big Tree

The “geometric” gallery is where the show expands away from New York’s home base to feature more of the Latin American contingent, like Venezuelan sculptural innovator Gego, a German refugee born Gertud Goldschmidt, and Cuban-born Carmen Herrera. Carmen, who lived in Paris and other world capitals, didn’t sell her first painting until 2004 when she was 89. To put that into perspective, black-and-white paining in MoMA’s collection was done in 1952. Well, at least the Whitney gave her a one-woman show this past year.

The curators hit a home run by also including textile artists and designers like Bauhaus artist Anni Albers and sculptural innovator Sheila Hicks. Seeing these and the process-art artists together is a treat – Eva Hesse and Polish art megastar Magdelena Abakanowicz. Both use found objects but Eva used industrial materials to create ephemeral sculptures and installations; Magdelena took lowly sisal and created a monumental textile presence.

On our Flickr album, we’ve arranged photos of the works in the show chronologically, so it was surprising to find that some of the earliest pieces of abstract art in the show were the 1951 bowl chair by Brazilian designer Bo Bardi and 1950 Stone on Stone textiles from Vera.

Two versions of Vera’s 1950 Stone on Stone pattern — prints on linen and silk by commercial manufacturers for the home market

Anyone decorating a home or buying a headscarf in the Fifties and Sixties knew of Vera, one of the first one-name household design names. The curators make a point to note that by hiring contemporary designers, commercial fabric houses were able to disseminate abstraction throughout the United States in curtains, upholstery, and daily items.

Big-time abstract painting and sculpture – whether expressionist, geometric, or minimal — might have been dominated by the guys, but the democratization of abstraction in the way of dress fabric and curtains was a realm that made female designers into brands.

To learn more about many of these innovators, listen in on MoMA’s audio tour via their website or app.

Here’s a quick spin through the show with curator Starr Figura here:

The Woman Behind the Beautiful Bags

Judith channels the era of the space race with a futuristic smoky Lucite egg with gold frame and chain, 1968

You’ve seen them on the red carpet, in the hands of First Ladies, and gleaming cases at Bergdorfs. Tiny glittery sculptures sized to fit in the palm of a hand.

The show at MAD, Judith Leiber: Crafting a New York Story, which closes August 6, gives a well-deserved look at the innovator behind these creations, showcases the many ways Leiber elevated the evening bag, and tells a dramatic story of how an immigrant came to the United States with technical knowledge and flair for an up-to-then unexploited corner of the accessories market.

Take a walk through the show with our Flickr album.

The exhibition in MAD’s Tiffany galleries is an ethereal, low-light showcase of some of Leiber’s most dazzling creations. Putting the primary focus on her lifetime output of handbags-as-art, her life story is conveyed discretely in an understated corner through a few photos and an illuminating timeline.

Leiber’s 21st century Mondrian-inspired bag, 2000

Growing up in Budapest, Judith went to London to take liberal arts courses and intended to study chemistry there to enter the booming European cosmetics business. But the 1939 outbreak of World War II forced her to go to Plan B – sticking close to home and working with the Hungarian luxury brand, the House of Pessl, learning the craftsmanship of fine ladies’ handbags.

As the show notes, with the advent of train travel and emphasis on ladies’ luggage, handbags became a fashionable accessory in the mid-to-late 19th century. With its spas, lavish restaurants, and pastry palaces, Budapest catered to the aristocratic trade in just about everything, including carrying cases and bags. Leiber was in a good spot to learn from the best and became the only female member of the local handbag guild.

Presented to Hillary Clinton in 1997 for her husband’s second inaugural.

When Germany took over Hungary in 1944, she and her family were relocated to a ghetto where they endured economic deprivation and witnessed persecutions that came to an end when Russia liberated the city in 1945.

Channeling her skills into creating bags for military buyers, Judith met and married a member of the U.S. Army Signal Corps – Gus – who would take her back to New York, encourage her to start her own business, and eventually run her company.

Her big break in the New York Garment District was supplying a handbag to First Lady Mamie Eisenhower at her husband’s 1956 inauguration. Although Judith was working for designer Nettie Rosenstein, everyone heard about the Judith Leiber-designed handbag and she made a splash.

Leiber’s first rhinestone bag 1967 – an ingenious solution to hide a discolored brass frame

Ten years later, Judith began her own handbag company. Good thing that she was able to do it all, from making a pattern, to designing the frames, and executing it all right down to the finish. When a brass frame arrived in her workshop with surface defects, she had the idea to cover the defects with rhinestones, and launched the look that would distinguish her at inaugural balls, New York society galas, and Hollywood premieres – the jewel-encrusted minaudière.

The side gallery is packed with her signature pieces, crystal-covered minaudières crafted to resemble animals, food, and Chinese-inspired dressing table items. On the other side of the exhibition is a small case with wax sculptures by Lawrence Kallenberg, who worked a lifetime with Judith to create the 3-D templates that the Italian foundry uses to fabricate the brass cases.

The exhibition is a beautiful display of her lifetime of work, featuring both the first bejeweled bag and her last design in 2004, emphasizing the inspiration she took from 20th century artists and textiles of world cultures. Among the most stunning creations are bags made from embroidered antique obis, Asian ribbons, and even American patchwork quilts.

Penguin minaudière, 1991

Suspended in air and shown off in mirrored cases, the curators create a mood that allows visitors to contemplate how Leiber’s eye, wit, and skill transformed the lowly carryall into a lifetime of unique, ingenious, dazzling art.

See the beautiful bags here.

How to Build an Empire at The Met

Close up of Qin chariot horse replicas (221 – 206 B.C.). From: Qin Shihuangdi Mausoleum Site Museum, Lintong

You can’t take it with you, or can you? The Chinese emperor with the terra cotta army thought so. See for yourself in Age of Empires: Chinese Art of the Qin and Han Dynasties (221 B.C-A.D. 220), on view through July 16 at the Met.

There are only a few horses and men from that monumental undertaking on display, but the terra cotta visitors are stunners. They and the other luxury and art objects on loan from 32 museums and archeological institutions in China provide a vivid look into the culture and pride of a people who were just forming an identity as a nation in 221 B.C. Previously, the Chinese continent consisted of warring ethnic tribes.

Heavenly Han horse and military groom in bronze (25 – 220 A.D) from Mianyang City Museum.

About a century earlier, classical Greek style, art, and ideas washed over Europe and Asia due to Alexander’s empire-building success. At the time of the Qin dynasty, when the Great Wall was being built, scholars wonder whether the Chinese emperors had seen (or heard about) large-scale classical Greek sculptures and asked their artists to out-do their Mediterranean counterparts.

Why not build full armies, cities, entertainment troupes, cavalries, and watch towers and bury them in tombs of the emperors, princes, and princesses to serve them in the after life? Like the Egyptians, the Qin and Han emperors and princes wanted a lot of stuff to use in the afterlife. But unlike the Egyptian style, it was all about personality.

Each large-scale sculpture is imbued with individual flair in their apparel, expressions, hairstyles, and weapons. If you listen to the audio guide, the curators tell us that the large-scale terra cotta armies were mass-produced using molds, but the artists were told to give each sculpture-person a dose of individuality before they were done.

Terracotta cattle (206 B.C. – 9 A.D.) from the Yangling Mausoleum.

That holds true for the animals in the show, too. The Han dynasty had a thing for beautiful, spirited horses and the center gallery in the show displays some beauties. Grooms come along, too.

Apparently the conquering Han rulers kept menageries and ranches, as seen in the show’s room full of rhinos, elephants, cattle, pigs, and animals-turned-into-art-lamps. There’s a twinkle in each of their eyes, too.

Another highlight is the jade suit made for a princess, which was supposed to form added protection in the afterlife. Another is the money tree. Who wouldn’t want one of those?

The show’s objects reflect how many tribes and influences crossed paths over the course of the Han dynasty (think Silk Road) to create the modern view of a single, all-encompassing Chinese culture – diverse textiles, gems, inventions, and ideas.

Han Dynasty belt buckle (206 B.C. – 220 A.D.) from Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Museum

The final object, a bronze mirror from the Han dynasty, reflects it all – the first recorded inscription expressing the desire for the peoples of the “Central Kingdom” (a.k.a. China) prospering for generations to come. It’s the earliest inscription to reference many ethnic groups considering themselves as one people, one China. 

Take a look at all the objects in the collection on the Met’s site, or look at our favorites on Flickr.

Browse through the catalog to see more spectacular stuff that Han dynasty emperors just had to have:

 

Behind the Scenes of the Revolution at NYHS

Women of the 3rd New Jersey Regiment, Continental Army, showing soldiers’ everyday life

To celebrate the anniversary of the United States, the New York Historical Society hosted the reenactors of the 3rd New Jersey Regiment of the Continental Army for a little show-and-tell about the private lives of the people who enlisted in the Revolution. Dressed in colonial garb, the men and women of the Third showed what the enlisted men were given as rations, how they cooked it, and what they carried into battle – beans, hard tack, and (maybe) tobacco to barter.

A small tent and campfire cooking pot were set up just feet away from portraits of Revolutionary heroes and the remnants of the statue of King George III that the citizens of New York had torn down by their African-American slaves moments after the Declaration of Independence was read to Washington’s troops in lower Manhattan on July 9, 1776. All that remains here is half the horse’s tail.

A Revolutionary soldier’s home and kitchen during maneuvers

At a nearby table, men and women of the Third showed how the soldiers made their own bullets and cartidges, and the range of apparatus to keep the hand-made ammunition dry — leather pouches and tin boxes. As far as supplies, muskets, and gun powder went, you were on your own during the 1776 skirmishes.

See it all close up in our Flickr album.

Upstairs from demonstrations on the everyday life of troops, you can glimpse the everyday life of the more famous patriots through July 13 in the exhibition, Thomas Jefferson: The Private Man, from the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

The show includes his inventory of books, crops, slaves, and letters – personal papers that he willed to his granddaughter and her husband, who lived in Massachusetts and eventually gave them to the historical society there.

Houdon’s 1789 portrait bust of 46-year-old Jefferson next to his handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence

The curators have displayed his architectural drawings of various iterations of Monticello, domed residences (never built) for friends, plans to improve the state capitol at Williamsburg (never built because the capitol was moved to Richmond), and an early plan for his summer residence at Poplar Forest (octagonal living room before he went all the way with a fully octagonal building with dramatic skylight).

Given the popularity of Hamilton, the gallery includes a copy of an 1801 letter to his granddaughter with an interesting postscript – a note telling her that Hamilton was doing everything in his power during the neck-and-neck presidential race between Jefferson and Burr to ensure Jefferson’s victory. We all know how that turned out from history and the plot arc of the show.

A nice touch of this small installation is the inclusion of Houdon’s famous 1789 portrait bust of 46-year-old Jefferson, which his granddaughter though made him look far too old. It’s a plaster copy of the marble original, and is positioned next to Jefferson’s own handwritten copy of the original, unedited Declaration of Independence (before the Continental Congress removed the part about slavery).

John Adams’ transcription of Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration — how scholars know what the Congress cut out to get it passed

The paper next to it is an even bigger surprise – a hand-written copy of Tom’s original grievances by John Adams, who was on the Declaration committee with Jefferson and Franklin. Apparently, during the hot summer of 1776 while Jefferson was toiling away putting the finishing touches on his masterpiece, Adams wrote out his own copy with which he could lobby the various state representatives in the days leading up to the controversial ratification.

Understandably, this copy from the Adams Family Archive also makes its home at the Massachusetts Historical Society, and here in New York visitors get to see it side-by-side with the version written by the Declaration’s original author.

Curtain Up on Theater’s Best at NYPL

All the Playbills you ever collected

The excitement of Broadway and West End theater is fully on display at the New York Public Library’s show at Lincoln Center, Curtain Up: Celebrating the Last 40 Years of Theatre in New York and London, closing July 30.

It’s a theater-lover’s fantasy journey through four decades of smash hits that cross-pollinated two shores – costumes, stage sets, video clips, lights, sound, and awards. And as the curators point out, the two theatrical epicenters are mirror images of one another.

The Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum in London, the Society of London Theaters, and our own NYPL assembled this extravaganza with the help of producers, costume designers, actors, theaters, and other owners theatrical history.

The foyer is awash in Playbills, hanging from the ceiling and piled up in corners. It feels like home. It’s hard to know where to look or what to process first. Is it Michael Crawford’s Phantom mask (direct from his own collection)? Is it the overscale streetplan of Times Square or Shaftsbury Avenue? Lola’s thigh-high hot pink Kinky Boots?

A Chorus Line finale top hats by Theoni V. Aldridge from TDF’s Costume Collection.

Take a short walk-through of the show on our Flickr album.

Look closely for windows into innovative set designs (An Inspector Calls, War Horse) amid towering costumed mannequins. But the overpowering sound throughout is One. Who can concentrate on anything else once you see a corridor sprinkled with glittery top hats overhead and Broadway-sized media screen showing the multi-mirrored finale of A Chorus Line.

Besides being everyone’s favorite musical (the first to win London’s coveted Olivier award), the show ushered in the digital age of theater. When it debuted at the Public Theater, the lighting was the first musical to depend on an electronic light board, which made the transitions just as precise at the choreography.

There are backstage notes for The History Boys, box office totals from Evita, period costumes from the theater’s grande dames, and a brief video showing one of the all-time great moments of inspiration and awe onstage — the seconds-long flash accompanying the finale appearance of the magnificent angel in Angels in America.

Julie Taymor’s 1997 masks for The Lion King’s Scar, Simba, and Nala

The most dramatic encounter is an area populated with costumes and masks from The Lion King and the swan costume from Matthew Bourne’s all-male Swan Lake.

The “fliers” are aloft, too – Marry Poppins and Elphaba – with a big-finish wall of televisions showing coverage of the Olivier Awards, currently celebrating their 40th anniversary.

The result is a theatrical show together that sings, dances, and reminds everyone of what a life in the theater – either as an actor, technician, or audience member – can be.

To prepare for your next visit to the West End, here’s a short primer on the stats, lingo, and facts about theater culture on both sides of the Atlantic: