Georgia O’Keeffe’s Always-Modern Style

Modern black-and-white dressing even in 1917. Photo: Stieglitz.

Like any home sewer, she was fond of certain fabrics and put a lot of love and care into crafting something she wore (and wore out) through important decades of her life.

In Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern, on view at the Brooklyn Museum of Art through July 23, you will experience the pristine care this home sewer gave her hand-tucked tunics for over 60 years after she made them – crème silk, tiny stitches, thin bow ties, and shortened hems, all from the 1920s.

Brooklyn’s had a blockbuster season with this O’Keeffe show. It’s where Georgia had her first museum show in 1927, when she was a fixture on the high-art scene in New York, wearing a dramatic evening wraparound coat with rainbow-surprise lining – an upscale step from the loden cape that was her signature look a few years earlier.

Although many knew her for her Southwestern landscapes, she studied at the Art Students League and got her teachers training at Columbia in New York City. Only then did she take a teaching gig out west at Texas A&M. Stieglitz, her future husband was already showing her work in New York.

Clean lines of handmade silk dresses that Georgia made in the early 1920s.

For years, Georgia lived in Midtown, not too far from Bergdorf’s and other fancy shops. Although she chose an austere, modern look, the proximity to luxury and knowing the detail behind how elegant clothes was part of who she was.

Glimpse items from the show on our Flickr feed.

Once she moved out west permanently after Stieglitz passed, she adopted a select portfolio of western wear – denim shirts, 501s or Lady Levis, and rubber-soled PF sport shoes. No crazy fringe or cowboy frou frou.

Although there are no photos of it in the show, the curators say that her iconic adobe home featured mid-century modern furniture. It’s interesting how she kept up with modern fashion and surrounded herself with sophisticated, sleek lines from her remote perch in New Mexico’s redlands.

Working McCardell and a concho belt in this 1956 Todd Webb photo

She acquired one of the first Puccis sold in the United States – a stark black-and-white “chute” dress — and had a beloved collection of Marimekko and Clare McCardell sport dresses. She felt that McCardell was the greatest designer America had ever produced. So much so, she had the designs copied by local seamstresses.

Georgia’s trips back to New York included stops at Bergdorf’s and at her favorite old neighborhood tailor. Although she wasn’t sewing anymore, she invested a lot of effort to work with meticulous artists who could fashion austere black wool suits into the perfect expression of her, with just a subtle detail added her or there.

The paintings, clothes, and photographs coexist throughout the show, informing your vision of one of the most famous artists of the 20th century.

It’s quite remarkable to realize that every great photographer (in addition to her husband) sought her out (or received an assignment) to capture her no-nonsense image – Ansel Adams, Bruce Weber, Richard Avedon, and Annie Liebowitz.

Sparkling 1980s Warhol shows how Andy feels about Georgia.

Appropriately, one of the highlights is the miniscule Polaroid that Andy snapped of Georgia some time in the Eighties. Her head is closely wrapped in her signature black scarf and she’s as serious-looking as she can be. Andy used it as the basis of a photo-silkscreen portrait that he sprinkled with diamond dust, which gives it an Interview magazine quality.

The piece is surrounded by fashion multiples, large-scale portraits by other famous photographers, big painted abstractions, and multiple images where she sports her Calder art-piece brooch. Her all-knowing, of-the-moment glittery visage peering out of the Warhol frame shows Georgia right in tune with the the modern, changing times.

Watch this brief overview of the show:

Georgia’s multiples from the 1960s — Balenciaga suit, copies, and custom pieces and slacks.

All in the Details: The Met’s Fashion Masterworks

French 1790s tailcoat with ombré silk satin stripes, typical of young men’s post-revolutionary fashion

French 1790s tailcoat with ombré silk satin stripes, typical of young men’s post-revolutionary fashion

When the Met unpacks masterpieces from its costume collection and talks about its acquisition strategy of late, it pays to take a very close look.

To celebrate 70 years of the Costume Institute, the Met has showcased its recent acquisitions in Masterworks: Unpacking Fashion, beginning with the 18th century when fashion-forward meant exquisite textiles, weaving, embroidery, and tailoring. In those days, all the rich textiles were loomed by hand.

The crisp, clean dresses and dressing gowns on display are in superb condition, showcasing the skill taken in the smallest jacquard, sheen, stripe, set-in sleeve, and pannier. See what we mean as we zero in on the fine details in our Flickr album.

Look closely and you’ll see the 18th-century silk gown embellished with three types of silver thread to maximize its glitter power by candlelight. Enjoy the dazzling stripes of post-Revolutionary menswear and gender-referenced ladies’ jackets.

Poiret’s 1911 kimono-inspired draped silk damask opera coat embellished with silk cord

Poiret’s 1911 kimono-inspired draped silk damask opera coat embellished with silk cord

The 19th-century was all about the rise of the designer label, even though ready-to-wear was rearing its head by the turn of the century. The Met showcases a gem acquired from the Brooklyn Museum collection in 2009, a butterfly gown by Worth, the first designer who truly became a household name. Check out the handwork on those butterflies.

In 1903, Poiret began a two-year stint at Worth, but recognized that as he saw well-heeled clients in crinolines, bustles, and coronation-worthy garb, a new revolution in style was percolating.

In record time, Poiret founded his own fashion house, offering women more ease and artistry as they adopted a more liberated, 20th-century lifestyle. Poiret’s 1911 opera coat shows his unique combination of luxurious fabrics, the column-shape kimono look, and bold artisan knotting for women looking for a fashion-forward twist.

Azzedine Alaia’s 1994 slinky, downy knit dress next to its inspiration, “La Sirene” (1951-52) by legend Charles James

Azzedine Alaia’s 1994 slinky, downy knit dress next to its inspiration, La Sirene (1951-52) by Charles James

Nearby, Madame Vionnet’s transparent Twenties frock with Futurist embroidery still looks right today.

Throughout the show, closing this weekind, the Met pairs contemporary looks with the more classic and iconic styles that inspired them –  Galliano with 1780s French dandies, the 2015 House of Dior with the original “New Look,” and Alaia next to Charles James. How does Mr. James do it? A close look at the pairings reveals new takes on pleating, finely turned collars, custom-created textile, and engineering marvels.

Look at Balenciaga’s perfectly cut minimal silk gazar dress that billows out as one enters a room. Or Thom Browne’s masterful appliques on men’s and ladies’ looks from last year. Or Sarah Burton’s fool-the-eye butterfly dress for McQueen. The wings are really feathers.

Sarah Burton’s 2011 McQueen dress uses feathers cut, dyed, and painted to resemble butterfly wings

Sarah Burton’s 2011 McQueen dress uses feathers cut, dyed, and painted to resemble butterfly wings

Many stunning recent works were donated by designers to honor the retirement of legendary Met curator Harold Koda, who turned over the reins of the Costume Institute to Andrew Bolton. What a tribute!

Donatella donated a reproduction of her brother’s iconic safety-pin dress. Comme des Garcons donated a mind-bending crochet-and-lace frock by Rei Kawakubo.

Visit the exhibition site to see the gallery installations, check out the Flickr album for details, and join assistant curator Jessica Regan in a brief video overview of this exquisite show.

New York Artists Celebrate Coney Island

Steeplechase Funny Face, the symbol of a famous amusement park.

Steeplechase Funny Face, the symbol of a famous amusement park.

How did a strip of pristine, white-sand beach turn into one of the most fantastical, lurid, menacing, and whimsical destinations in the United States? You won’t find a sociological essay, but you’ll experience a lot of evidence in the Brooklyn Museum’s Coney Island extravaganza.

See Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861–2008 through March 13 and visit Stephen Powers: Coney Island Is Still Dreamland (To a Seagull) on the Fifth Floor through August 21.

The crowds filling the galleries last Saturday night savored the experience of the sky-high towers of contemporary hand-painted, Coney-inspired signs by the collaborative, ICY SIGNS. You could stand for an hour, just taking in all the messages, philosophy, and witty send-ups of contemporary life, curated by TED-talking artist Stephen Powers.

Through the door, however, another world waits. Seeing Coney Island’s gaudy jumble today from the air or Q train, it’s hard to imagine how it looked in the mid-1800s in the post-Civil War era.

Chase’s 1886 oil, Landscape, Near Coney Island

Chase’s 1886 oil, Landscape, Near Coney Island

The show, organized by Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, opens with tranquil landscapes of the aspiring middle-classes enjoying the salt air and low-key entertainments and diversions on the beach – maybe having a photo taken by an itinerant photographer, or sampling some sweet treats. Back in these more genteel times, the sandy shores were open to a mix of races and nations, or so the oils by William Merritt Chase and John Henry Twachtman attest.

How times changed! A giant vintage black-and-white film clip of romance on a roller coaster draws you into a world of more visceral wonder – carousel horses and gambling wheels interspersed with a hundreds of works by famous American artists that explore the magic, mayhem, and malevolence that made Coney such a phenomenon.

Detail of Joseph Stella’s 1913-1914 Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras from Yale University.

Detail of Joseph Stella’s 1913-1914 Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras from Yale University.

Figurative work from Reginald Marsh and others catapult you back to bawdy bathers and burlesque scenes brought to life last year in Broadway’s On the Town. Photographs by Arbus, Weegee, and Walker Evans provide close-up views of what it was like above and under the boardwalk.

Much of the shows’s fun is driven by the jarring injection of super-cool modern abstraction next to the flotsam and jetsam of the actual historic artifacts.

Edwin Porter’s 1905 silent movie Coney Island at Night gave nickelodeon viewers a novel way to see Edison’s incandescent lights in all their glory.

It’s startling to see Joseph Stella’s Futurist-inspired tribute to Coney Island’s Mardis Gras and realize that it’s from the same 1910-1914 era in which Jimmy Durante played honkey tonk piano for newcomer Mae West. It was all happening at the same time as the Armory Show.

1991 acrylic painting featuring iconic Spook-A-Rama Cyclops by Arnold Mesches.

1991 acrylic painting featuring iconic Spook-A-Rama Cyclops by Arnold Mesches.

Frank Stella’s 1950’s abstraction holds its own amidst the sideshow banners and relics that inspired his jarring color bars and mystery portal. Maybe it’s not a coincidence that right around the corner you come face-to-face with the real-life Coney landmark – the Cyclops who lured riders into America’s largest dark ride, Spook-A-Rama. The curators have placed him right next to his menacingly large portrait by Arnold Mesches.

Take a walk on the wild side of history, art, and sideshow performance while you can in person or via our Flickr album.

The Stephen Powers installation runs through the summer. Here he is explaining the allure of Coney Island as a contemporary inspiration:

Buried in New York – Divas and Rare Jewelry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sneaker Culture Wows Brooklyn

Nike’s original Air Jordan I (1985) and the 25th anniversary Run-DMC Adidas brings joy to Brooklyn fans

Nike’s original Air Jordan I (1985) and the 25th anniversary Run-DMC Adidas bring joy to Brooklyn fans

Crowds in Brooklyn are levitating with excitement as they explore their own sartorial history in The Rise of Sneaker Culture, an exhibition running at the Brooklyn Museum through this weekend. Finally, a fashion history and technology show that really resonates with the men in the room!

The hundreds of historic sneakers, mostly from the Bata Shoe Museum collection in Toronto, tell the story of how casual sports footwear came to be so dominant in today’s high-fashion landscape.

Although there are a few examples of women’s footwear – early Keds from 1916 and iconic Reeboks from the Jane Fonda-fitness era – the focus is squarely on the men, their sports, and their athletic-inspired designer footwear.

The history section of the show shows some of the earliest rubberized sports shoes from UK collections, but quickly moves into familiar New York City territory when colorful creations began appearing at pick-up games on basketball courts around the city in the 1970s, and when the tide really turned through sports and music licensing.

No one forgets the first time they saw Reebok’s Shaqnosis in 1995 (reissue)

No one forgets the first time they saw Reebok’s Shaqnosis in 1995 (reissue)

Crowds and docents jockey for space to worship at the altar of Nike’s 1985 Air Jordan I alongside the autographed reissue of Run-DMC’s 1986 Adidas. After Michael Jordan inked that deal and hip-hop video was distributed worldwide on MTV, sneaker fashion went viral. Electrifying images of loosely laced footwear were seen and copied by fans from the Bronx to Kathmandu. The right shoes and lacing style could wordlessly convey to others in the know, “I know what’s going down.”

Beautifully installed, Brooklyn crowds could work their way through men’s footwear history down one side and up the other – the original P.F. Flyers, original Chuck Taylors, streamlined European designs from the 1970s, Adidas’s early fitness shoes with built-in microprocessors, Nike’s Air Force 1, and Magic Johnson’s Weapons for Converse.

Nike’s 2009 limited edition for LeBron

Nike’s 2009 limited edition for LeBron

After the awesome case with the entire evolution of Air Jordans, the curators lined up a riot of color, technology, status, and design with evidence of so many subsequent licensing deals. Kanye’s new Yeezy Boot for Adidas was interesting, but the Reebock’s Shaqnosis and Nike’s limited edition for LeBron really stopped people in their tracks.

High-fashion sneakers by design and art luminaries Damien Hirst, Jeremy Scott, Chanel, Pierre Hardy, Raf Simons, Giuseppi Zanotti, and Rick Owens brought visitors right into the present day – when guys wear sneakers and tuxes to the Emmys, just as Michael Jordan predicted they would three decades ago.

A great touch at the show’s exit was the opportunity for visitors to leave a note about their own personal “sneaker story” and draw their favorite one.

Take a look at our favorite footwear from the show on our Flickr feed, all presented in chronological order. And enjoy this brief presentation on men’s contemporary footwear in this behind-the-scenes peek into the collections of the Bata Shoe Museum with senior curator Elizabeth Semmelhack:

Saints in the ‘Hood in Brooklyn

Kehinde Wiley’s Saint Amelie in stained glass, 2014

Kehinde Wiley’s Saint Amelie in stained glass, 2014

Take a look at the saints as you’ve never seen them in Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic through this weekend at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

They’re not saints, exactly, but Mr. Wiley is asking you to look at the young African American men you pass in your everyday life in a slightly different way – through the lens of Byzantine icons and Medieval stained glass. The icons and would-be saints are magnificent, proud, and mysterious, just like his slightly earlier portraits that are grace the walls of Lucious Lyon’s mansion in the hit series Empire.

The Cantor Gallery is filled with these men of higher purpose, and the crowds love it. Bronze busts echo the 18th century marble work of Houdon, and visitors check them out from all angles.

The Archangel Gabriel, Wiley’s 22-karat gold leaf and oil on wood painting from his Iconic series

The Archangel Gabriel, Wiley’s 22-karat gold leaf and oil on wood painting from his Iconic series

Beyond this gallery, the curators have assembled a survey of Mr. Wiley’s 14-year career – dominated by his giant canvases in which guys from the neighborhood take on the heroic poses of European aristocrats and conquerors. In fact, when he began, Wiley would scan neighborhood streets for handsome, statuesque subjects and ask them if they would feel comfortable posing as other-era men of means in his painting studio. Those who said yes were asked to select the person they felt comfortable emulating from Wiley’s library of art books on European portraiture.

Elsewhere in the show are Wiley’s first-ever bronze sculpture of female subjects and selections from his world tour, where he found portrait subjects in Israel, Palestine, Africa, and the Indian subcontinent. Check out some of the works in our Flickr feed and on the museum website.

Although it’s common to see a gigantic Wiley portrait in another museum these days, Brooklyn is proud that it was among the first to collect his work. If you journey to another floor, you’ll see a five-panel painting installed on a ceiling like some Renaissance master’s and several portraits from his Passing/Posing series in 2003.

If you can’t get to Brooklyn to see this show, let Mr. Wiley take you through the exhibition via video:

Killer Heels as Art in Brooklyn

Gaultier’s 2012 Nude Tattoo Boot displayed next to its inspiration, a Chinese porcelain Ming vase (1573-1619)

Gaultier’s 2012 Nude Tattoo Boot displayed next to its inspiration, a Chinese porcelain Ming vase (1573-1619)

The hottest show in New York right now is Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe, a curatorial masterwork that the Brooklyn Museum has decided to extend through March 1.

As soon as you enter the first-floor gallery, you’ll encounter Zach Gold’s mesmerizing Spike video, a wall-sized video extravaganza of high fashion, high glamour, and high heels. Why rush into the first room of the exhibition when your eye is trying process all the lush details? This digital kaleidoscope genuinely sets the tone for what lies ahead – an historical mash-up of style, fashion, and design all seen through the lens of ladies’ shoes.

What an eyeful – carefully composed vitrines where you can behold golden Baroque curliques on Prada platforms, 1920s evening shoes, and a 19th century gilded table. What about silver-and-pearl Chanel boots whose heels mimic the 1890s Gorham candlestick right next to them? Or the red-hot strappy Miu Miu shoes whose ornament is identical to the handles on a 18th-century Wedgewood ice cream cup? Check out our Flickr feed to see some of our favorites.

2008 Heels by Miu Miu next to a Wedgewood ice cream cup and saucer (1790-1800)

2008 Heels by Miu Miu next to a Wedgewood ice cream cup and saucer (1790-1800)

Everywhere you look, there are delightful juxtapositions across time, culture, and material – embellished pointy-toed heels from the 1690s, iron-and-leather pallets that boosted the feet of ladies above the muck of 18th-century city streets, and sky-high mother-of-pearl-inlay stilt shoes that Syrian beauties sported in the Twenties. It’s interesting that the latter are displayed in proximity to those dangerous purple Vivienne Westwood gillies that gave Naomi Campbell such problems on the runway.

Nothing’s chronological. It’s all designed to unfold in your mind by pinging unexpected references and associations – designer shoes next to concoctions from another place and time, fantastical embellishments, and streamlined perfection.

Fashionable, embellished pointy-toed 1690 French and 1720 British heels

Fashionable, embellished pointy-toed 1690 French and 1720 British heels

Provocative, room-sized videos commissioned for this show and small historical films only heighten the pizzazz. Check out Edison’s 1903 short, The Gay Shoe Clerk, or snippets from Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette or other Hollywood classics. Don’t miss Eve A.D. 2000, shot in 1939 to predict what fashions and footwear of the future would look like. You’ll have fun evaluating whether those Thirties visionaries got it right.

There’s simply too much to describe – glass slippers by Georgina Goodman, political-statement heels, shoes that seem to take Metamorphoses at its word, and architectural-engineering wonders. Go see for yourself. You’ll find shoes by Ford, Ferragamo, Prada, Gaultier, and unknown Italian, French, and British craftsmen of long ago.

Watch curator Lisa Small’s video but make the trip out to Brooklyn to immerse yourself in one of the best adventures of the season:

Sending a Message by Dressing in Black

Dramatic 1861 British mourning attire in black silk moiré.

Dramatic 1861 British mourning attire in black silk moiré.

When the curators at the Metropolitan Museum of Art were researching collections for last year’s Impressionism-fashion show, they noticed something curious – a disproportionate number of luxurious 19th century American dresses in black. The black silhouettes found in the Costume Institute’s collection formed the basis for their first fall exhibition in seven years, Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire, closing this weekend.

The show is a sumptuous walk-through of the years spanning the 1840s to the early 20th century, when fashionable women telegraphed their status as widows, paid tribute to fallen heroes, and acknowledged the passing of a member of the British royal family through dress, hats, parasols, rings, brooches, and other purchases. Click here to see our Flickr feed, and here for the Met’s own gallery views.

1868 wedding ensemble designed by West Virginia bride to honor casualties of the Civil War

1868 wedding ensemble designed by West Virginia bride to honor casualties of the Civil War

Fashion became such a rich language that the women in the 19th century felt “forced” to conform, according to associate curator Jessica Regan. It was an expensive proposition, and during the hard times of the American Civil War, many women stopped worrying about what others might think if they didn’t conform. If you didn’t have the cash to commission a new frock, it seemed to be OK just to dye an old one black.

As fashion magazines and periodicals became ubiquitous, middle-class and elite-status women eagerly sought styles that telegraphed sorrow while maintaining an up-to-the-minute silhouette.

Men of the 19th century were essentially wearing all-black suits, so the show’s focus is squarely on the ladies and the complex codes of mourning-attire etiquette. For example, after a sufficient period of time, a woman could introduce a bit of grey into her wardrobe, then mauve.

1894-1896 half-mourning dress purchased at James McCreery at 180 Broadway,when machine sewing was more common

1894-1896 half-mourning dress purchased at James McCreery at 180 Broadway,when machine sewing was more common

The team has assembled stunning examples of each from local collections (the now in-house Brooklyn collection, New-York Historical Society, and the Museum of the City of New York) as well as from the V&A’s collection in London. The most dramatic all-black look is the sweeping silk moiré gown from 1861 Britain. Perhaps the most startling is the 1868 a all-black bridal gown designed for a West Virginia bride who chose to pay tribute to fallen Civil War soldiers on her happy day.

Boutiques within department stores catered to mourning clothes buyers. Entire warehouses were filled to the brim with essential accouterments for the correct “look”. By the 1860s, mass-production of fabric increased the accessibility of the raw materials. A few decades later, heavy fabrics fell out of fashion in favor of lighter weight, more flowing options.

The 1890s fashions feature the best from New York department stores, including a mourning dress emblazoned with a bold geometric design.

1902 dresses worn by Queen Alexandra to mourn Queen Victoria’s death. French tulle, chiffon, and sequins.

1902 dresses worn by Queen Alexandra to mourn Queen Victoria’s death. French tulle, chiffon, and sequins.

A conservative black dress worn by Queen Victoria stands in stark contrast to the sparkly mauve gowns worn in tribute to her by Queen Alexandra – exquisite and subtle, but not really subdued. The spotlights emphasize the delicate pizzazz of these French confections.

By 1910, wearing all black became fashionable, decoupling the color from its sorrowful past. The show concludes by noting that World War I essentially brought an end to mourning-attire traditions and fashions in Europe.

Enjoy this lecture by associate curator Jessica Regan here, posted on the exhibition home page.

Next up at the Costume Institute, Spring 2015: Chinese Whispers: Tales of the East in Art, Film and Fashion. Get out your cheongsams.

1915 Mme. Boué-Debat mourning hat with silk grapes from Brooklyn Museum collection at the Met

1915 Mme. Boué-Debat mourning hat with silk grapes from Brooklyn Museum collection at the Met

Sailing Life Rafts into Brooklyn’s Submerged Motherlands

The tree touches the top of the Cantor Gallery. Photo: Brooklyn Museum

The tree touches the top of the Cantor Gallery. Photos: Brooklyn Museum

The view is dramatic, but the story is it evokes is even bigger than what’s in the room. There’s still time to travel out to the Brooklyn Museum to have the immersive experience of Swoon’s Submerged Motherlands, closing August 24.

The pictures here just don’t do justice to the super-high wrap-around effect of this walk-through take on the emotional side of rising tides throughout the world. A photo can’t take it all in — a sheltering, 60-foot tree with cut-out paper leaves with some day-after-the-Flood rafts parked down below, all decorated with sketches of the peoples and mothers of the world.

And did we mention that Brooklyn visionary Callie Curry (a.k.a. Swoon) actually built and lived on those rafts for a while? Several years ago, she sailed them up and down the Hudson, on the Mississippi, and across the Adriatic.

Close-up of one of Callie’s rafts. Photo: Brooklyn Museum

Close-up of one of Callie’s rafts.

You’ll get to see these jerry-rigged but seaworthy concoctions up close, and examine the drawings, cut paper, and torn, coffee-stained textiles draping walls, floor, and shelters in this dramatic space.

The feeling it evokes makes you wonder if we’re ready for rising seas and climate change. It’s beautiful, monumental, and reminiscent of our recent lights-out experience of Hurricane Sandy, which tore at the edges of Brooklyn, Long Island, and Staten Island just two years ago – exactly what inspired Callie to take this work in this direction.

Hear what it took for Callie to create this fantastic walk-through installation on Brooklyn’s top floor:

 

You may also want to hear what Callie has to say about being a working artist in the real world – outside the four walls of a gallery – in her talk from TEDxBrooklyn in 2010. She will show you her rafts in action at Minute 5 and tell you what it felt like to arrive on a hand-built raft in Venice, her projects in post-earthquake Haiti, and interacting with people from the neighborhood as she creates art on the sides of Brooklyn buildings. Truly inspirational.

Folk Art Geniuses Take a Trip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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