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

Dissident Artist Leaves Brooklyn for Second Time

The artist in Williamsburg, 1983. From his New York Photograph Series (1983-1993). Courtesy: the artist

Then: Ai Weiwei in Williamsburg, 1983. From his New York Photograph Series (1983-1993). Courtesy: the artist

If you haven’t yet trekked to Brooklyn to see one of the world’s most famous international provocateurs, go this weekend to see Ai Weiwei: According to What? and get to know the work of the artist who was incarcerated a few years ago by the Chinese government for pulling the veil off its bureaucratic repression and dishonesty. Closing August 10, it’s the last stop on the show’s North American tour – a fitting finale since Ai Weiwei first lived in Williamsburg when he moved to New York back in 1983.

You know him either from his collaboration on the famous “bird nest” stadium at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, smashing Han Dynasty vases as an art project, or from having bulldozers sent by the Chinese government to eradicate his studio in 2011 and being put into house arrest for 81 days – an event that made front-page news and sparked an international outcry – museums and political leaders took out protest ads, made videos, placed flowers on his public works, and called for his release all over the world.

Close-up of R itual, one of the six dioramas of S.A.C.R.E.D. (2011-2013), inspired by his 2008 incarceration. Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio. © Ai Weiwei

Now: Close-up of R itual, one of six dioramas of S.A.C.R.E.D. (2011-2013), showing his 2008 incarceration. Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio. © Ai Weiwei

Even before you hit the admissions booth, you’ll see his response to all of this – a series of six large, mysterious boxes that make up his work, S.A.C.R.E.D. You climb up to peer into them, right inside Brooklyn’s entrance. Inside, you’ll see everyday depictions of what it was like for him in detainment – eating, sleeping under the watch of the uniformed guards, and interrogations.

Upstairs, you’ll see an expansive show filled with thought-provoking works along with some black-and-white photos of his East-Village life in the 1980s, where he hug with Tan Dun, Xu Bing, and other artists-on-the-move and artists-on-the-run from a conformist Mainland.

At a distance, his sculptures seem like simple, cool contemporary installations. Read the label copy and you realize the subversive is at work. It looks like some found-art piece, but the room is actually filled with the full contents of a young woman’s home. Ai Weiwei found her and all her stuff on the side of a road after the authorities evicted her.

Straight (2008-2012) is made from 70 tons of rebar reclaimed from the Sichuan earthquake and hammered straight back into rods. © Ai Weiwei

Straight (2008-2012) is made from 70 tons of rebar rods, reclaimed from the Sichuan earthquake and hammered straight. © Ai Weiwei

A single room is devoted to Straight, a monumental installation made up of rebar, metal rods used to strengthen concrete calls. Except that this is the actual rebar from the 2008 earthquake that claimed 5,400 young lives in Sichuan Province when the schools collapsed due to shoddy construction practices. He bought the scrap rebar from those buildings, spent four years hammering to straighten them out, and assembled the rods into a 70-ton sculpture. Nearby, he’s listed the names of every school child – something that the Chinese government never did.

Performance art: dropping a Han dynasty vase (206 BC-220 AD), along with other historic ceramic pieces altered by a dip into modern industrial paint (2007-2010). Photo: C. Carver. Courtesy: the artist

Performance art: dropping a Han dynasty vase (206 BC-220 AD), along with other historic ceramic pieces altered by a dip into modern industrial paint (2007-2010). Photo: C. Carver. Courtesy: the artist

How and why does he do it? Find out by listening to Ai Weiwei’s answers to visitors’ questions. You’ll have quite an insight to his thought process, since there are 45 pages of video Q&A. Well worth the time to meet this brave, inspirational artist-activist.

He’s simply one of the top contemporary artists working today and you owe it to yourself to experience work that literally takes on the world. Kudos to the Brooklyn Museum for also publishing the amazing teacher’s guide, which asks students to ponder and think about news, authority, and speaking out.

Watch as the Brooklyn crew assembles Stacked, Ai Weiwei’s 2014 sculpture made from 700 bicycles, a comment on the transportation traditionally used by Chinese commuters until the dawn of the smog-inducing automobile. It’s all happening under the watchful Egyptian eye on Brooklyn’s main floor:

Before LeBron: Historic Tribute to Basketball Pioneers

Claude Johnson of the Black Fives Foundation in the New-York Historical Society's "Black Fives" gallery.

Claude Johnson of the Black Fives Foundation, surrounded by memorabilia, in The Black Fives show at New -York Historical Society.

With LeBron James’s big announcement in the news, it’s a good time to trek over to the New York Historical Society to learn about how it all started – basketball, African American domination of the sport, and pro trades — in the fascinating second-floor show, The Black Fives, running through July 20.

When basketball really took off in the 1910s and 1920s, the top starting players were known as “fives.” Pre-integration, when African-Americans had their own teams, the amateur club starters were known as “black fives.” NYHS produced this show in collaboration with Claude Johnson, director of the Black Fives Foundation, who has been leading the charge to collect, document, and interpret the unknown or forgotten history of African American participation in one of America’s favorite games.

Recap: Basketball began in 1891, using peach baskets, as a game to keep youngsters occupied during long winters in the Northeast. in 1904, Harvard-educated Edwin “EB” Bancroft Henderson introduced the game to African-Americans through the public-school phys ed classes he taught  in Washington, D.C. Physical activity was seen as a way to combat TB and pneumonia, which were rampant in cities. Here’s a short clip about Henderson:

It wasn’t long before basketball came to Harlem, Cleveland, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Atlantic City, and Pittsburgh, where there were large populations of young African American men and coach/role models ready to start something new in public schools, churches, and colleges.

Charles “Tarzan” Cooper (1907-1980), the star center who won the World Pro Basketball Tournament championship with the Rens in 1939. Photo: courtesy Black Fives Foundation.

Charles “Tarzan” Cooper (1907-1980), the star center who won the 1939 World Pro Basketball Tournament championship with the Rens. Photo: Black Fives Foundation.

Johnson’s collection of original cotton jerseys, trunks, stop-clocks, balls, and shoes from the 1910-1920 era is amazing, and really brings you back to the days when basketball courts were surrounded by wire mesh to protect fans (“cage match”, anyone?). You’ll see original, handmade basketball shoes, crafted of canvas and kangaroo leather and a life-size photo of how these snazzy sportsmen dressed.

Since NYC gymnasiums were still racially segregated, African-American clubs had to find alternate spaces to play. Uptown, the rise of basketball just happened to coincide with the Harlem Renaissance. Solution: use a ballroom and combine dancing, jazz orchestras, and basketball.

Ballrooms and basketball boomed, with “black five” teams now having really nice home courts. In 1923, Bob Douglas created the first Black-owned pro team for Harlem’s 2,500-seat-capacity Renaissance Ballroom at 138th Street. Douglas christened them the New York Renaissance Big Five (fans called them the “New York Rens”), and promptly started offering big-time contracts to the best players in town. By luring top talent with lucrative pay, the Rens would dominate basketball for decades to come.

Since they couldn’t compete at first in white leagues, the Rens went barnstorming across the country to play white teams, averaging 130 games per season. Some venues were as large as 10,000 seats. Fans went wild during the Depression to see the amazing Rens. From 1923 on, the Rens won 1,673 out of 1,944 games, led by Charles “Tarzan” Cooper. By 1939, they captured the first World Championship of Pro Basketball in Chicago, defeating the top white team in the country, the Oshkosh All Stars. The Rens were hailed as the top team of the decade, black or white.

This 1971 Milton Bradley game , in the NYHS collection, celebrates the Harlem Globetrotters, who were a team  that started on Chicago's South Side

This 1971 Milton Bradley game , in the NYHS collection, celebrates the Harlem Globetrotters, who were a team that started on Chicago’s South Side

To learn more about this history, visit NYHS or go to the foundation’s web site and click through each section of the exhibition in the pull-down menu. In the Depression Era section, you’ll get the entire backstory on how the Harlem Globetrotters were actually from South Side Chicago and how even they got creamed by The Rens in ‘39. (The Globetrotters didn’t actually play a game in Harlem until 1968!)

Check out the exhibition video:

Here, you’ll see more about the Black Fives and Brooklyn, and how the Barclay Center is commemorating the “Black Five” era:

Last Day for Art & Industrial History: Kara Walker’s “Sugar Baby”

Crowds surround Kara Walker’s monumental sugar sculpture

Crowds surround Kara Walker’s monumental sugar sculpture

The crowds lined up yesterday on Kent Avenue all the way beyond the Williamsburg Bridge, almost to Schaeffer’s Landing, waiting to enter the rusted, aromatic, tumble-down confines of the old Domino Sugar Factory on one of the last days to see Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety, or The Marvelous Sugar Baby”, commissioned by Creative Time.

Today is the last day, so take a look at history in person, on our Flickr page, or in the video below.

Security was in full force to keep the Williamsburg bike path clear and drivers were slowing down to ask, “What’s going on and what are people waiting for?” only to be told by patient fans, “They’re lined up to see art!”

Once inside, the marvelous, gigantic Sugar Baby sculpture was on hand to preside over the far end of the abandoned several-block-long 1851 industrial space that once refined over half the sugar consumed in the entire United States.

One of her many attendants throughout the factory

One of her many attendants throughout the factory

As readers of Friday’s front-page article in The New York Times knew, Walker was again pushing the buttons with her homage to the brutal history of the sugar trade from the 1700s until today by giving us an experience that isn’t really all that sweet. Witnessing Kara’s witnessing is what had people – including some elderly visitors on canes — flocking to the sticky-floored, slightly ominous space. You could smell the sugar and molasses before you even entered the door.

Leading up to the gigantic white sculpture, people encountered all sorts of molasses-children, toting baskets full of…well…looks/smells like molasses. The experience evokes everything that Kara wished for…history, economics, society, race, abuse, industrial profit, and industrial scale.

Take a look at how it was made, and read about the history behind her thinking. Click on this link to Vimeo, look on the Creative Time website to see her sketches and graphic inspirations, and be sure to check out the various stages of Kara’s 3D digital sphinx up close.

If you go to Brooklyn today, expect to wait about an hour in line; once inside, there’s plenty to think about.

FIT Students Digitize and Unzip Biker Jacket History

The 1980 version of The Perfecto, which debuted in 1928 and is still sold by Schott Bros. Source: FIT

The 1980 version of The Perfecto, which debuted in 1928 and is still sold by Schott Bros. Source: FIT

The FIT fashion and textile grad students always pull out the stops on their shows in the Museum at FIT’s side gallery, turning mini-shows into main events, as in their current exhibition, Beyond Rebellion: Fashioning the Biker Jacket. The gallery installation highlights the jacket’s role in history, culture, couture, and street fashion, but the team makes its history come alive even further on their superb companion digital site featuring photos, videos, and the historical context. See the jackets in person and touch the leather swatches before April 5, and go play with the web site at any time.

The digital timeline begins with the birth of the motorcycle in the UK in 1902, but the fashion story starts in 1928 with the debut of the leather riding jacket, The Perfecto by the Schott Bros. It’s the template upon which all other cool looks – street, couture, punk, ready-to-wear – are based. It combines the swag of a WWI aviator jackets with the utility and protection needed by one of the original road warriors. Retail: $5.50.

From Rei Kawakubo’s 2005 Biker + Ballerina collection (leather, gingham, and tulle) for Comme des Garcons. Source: FIT.

From Rei Kawakubo’s 2005 Biker + Ballerina collection (leather, gingham, and tulle) for Comme des Garcons. Source: FIT.

In the first gallery next to The Perfecto, fashionable visitors were hovering to take in all the information in Paula Sim’s excellent illustrated deconstruction of the jacket’s iconic design features as if it were the Rosetta Stone. How and why did the details we know so well all originate? The asymmetrical zip thwarts wind, epaulets secure riding gloves during breaks, the belt keeps wind from whistling up your back, and zips at the wrist do the same for the glove-sleeve juncture. The extensive use of hardware was a desirable touch inspired by chrome and metal features on the just-taking-off auto industry. Want or need?

It didn’t take long for motorcycle-loving vets to start applying patches and insignias to the aviator-inspired jackets, just as they had done with patches, insignias, and pins during the war. By the 1930s, as shown on the timeline, club patches gradually became associated with “outlaw” clubs. Nevertheless, the popularity of motorcycle riding grew, documented by the curators with a 1951 Sears catalog showing a premium $33.95 leather moto jacket featuring a snap-off lamb collar and “built-in kidney support”.

Screenshot from the FIT show timeline

Screenshot from the FIT show timeline

As the curators note, the watershed year for this utility bomber was 1953, when Brando sported cuffed-jeans-and-jacket attire in The Wild One. Banned initially in the UK, the film (and Brando) became a sensation, giving mass audiences a pop-culture version of what happened in the 1947 Hollister, California motorcycle club riots.

The style went viral, pushed further into street-style consciousness by emerging rock-and-rollers and The King himself, Elvis. Take a look at some iconic 50s performances that the digital curators included on the show’s website. Scroll up to 1956 in the timeline to see Gene Vincent tear it up onstage and to 1968 to see Elvis rocking his leather look doing Jailhouse Rock in his NBC comeback special.

It's so Schott: Stefano Pilati’s Fall 2009 jumpsuit for YSL. Source: FIT, gift of YSL.

It’s so Schott: Stefano Pilati’s Fall 2009 jumpsuit for YSL. Source: FIT, gift of YSL.

In 1960, YSL became the first high-fashion designer to bring the biker look to the runway – a move that contributed to his exit from the House of Dior. Never mind, though. When he opened his own house two years later, he continued riffing on the bad-girl theme.  The rest was history, with plenty of rock musicians, high-end designers, and Vogue stylists following suit.

The curators feature New York’s own Ramones as the epitome of the 1970s motorcycle-jacket-wearing punk-music rebels, and present lots of album covers as evidence of the jacket’s enduring presence.

As for fashion from the FIT collections, the team has pulled together a dozen high-end interpretations, beginning with Mr. Versace’s 1993 gold-stitched biker jacket with pull-tab logo hardware and a more subdued version by Emporio Armani. Fashion lovers have plenty of other versions to savor from Ms. Herrera, Rick Owens, JPG, Rei Kawakubo, and others.

All the techniques rolled into one in Jean Paul Gaultier’s 1987 creation of leather, fake fur, suede, and wool. Note the trapunto, elbow studs, fringe, and pin stripes. Source: FIT, gift of Anne Zartaian.

All the techniques rolled into one: Jean Paul Gaultier’s 1987 leather, fake fur, suede, and wool jacket with trapunto, elbow studs, fringe, and pin stripes. Source: FIT, gift of Anne Zartaian.

In the far corner, the team offers a wall where you can touch and compare different types of hides and treatments used for jackets, marvel at the trapunto-on-leather techniques Mr. Versace and JPG used so extensively, and learn that patent leather was invented in 1811.

If you can’t get to FIT in person, browse through the fantastic exhibition site, listen to the nine-minute audio tour, and download the exhibition brochure. Better yet, do both.

As for the current popularity of the biker jacket on the Streets of New York, enjoy the slide show by the FIT student team, shot on the only warm weekend day so far this year in Williamsburg:

Mutu Takes Art-Lovers on a Fantastic Brooklyn Journey

Le Noble Savage, 2006. Ink and collage on Mylar (over 7 feet tall). Collection: Martin and Rebecca Eisenberg. Image: courtesy of the artist. © Wangechi Mutu

Le Noble Savage, 2006. Ink and collage on Mylar (over 7 feet tall). Collection: Martin and Rebecca Eisenberg. Image: courtesy of the artist. © Wangechi Mutu

The Saturday night crowd at the Brooklyn Museum was intent on exploring every inch, sketchbook, plastic-wrapped ball, and cut-out supplied by the born-in-Kenya Brooklyn vision-artist in her one-woman show, Wangechi Mutu: A Fantastic Journey. Explore her world (installed right next to The Dinner Party) before March 9.

Wangechi has been turning out thought-provoking work for the last 15 years, and the show, originally created by the Nasher Museum on the Duke University campus, presents the gigantic collage images that made her famous with collectors as well as a brand-new video and on-site installation.

Ladies’ fashion lips, stiletto-heeled shoes, African totems, African animals, high-fashion eyes, and magical shapes and patterns are interworked onto large-scale pieces portraying Amazons that are pushed, puzzled, and probed in fantasy landscapes, surrounded by plants and creatures from different worlds.

She’s a visual virtuoso who knows that how things look from a distance are nothing like what you’ll see when you get up to her images very, very close. For example, when you come into the gallery, you see a wall-sized work that Wangechi created that looks like a she-centaur being chased by who-knows-what-in-3D flying into the frame. Up close, you’ll see that her “hooves” are collages of African sculptures and engine parts. The furtive creature flees atop a huge root system of “earth” created out of masses of folded felt. Take a look at how she assembled it:

Walking up to each piece, shapes shift right in front of you, conjuring mixed messages and forms associated with female beauty, African “otherness”, the fallout from colonialism, and the disassociation with the natural world. Wangechi wants everyone and everything to exist harmoniously, but her techniques constantly remind you of the dissonance and difficulty in achieving this.

Funkalicious fruit field, 2007. Ink, paint, mixed media, plastic pearls, and collage on Mylar. Collection of Glenn Scott Wright. Courtesy: Victoria Miro Gallery, London. © Wangechi Mutu

Funkalicious fruit field, 2007. Ink, paint, mixed media, plastic pearls, and collage on Mylar. Collection of Glenn Scott Wright. Courtesy: Victoria Miro Gallery, London. © Wangechi Mutu

In a 2007 piece titled Funkalicious fruit field, the far-away feeling is organic, dense, watery, and surreal. But when you get right up close, you’ll discover three jackals, a sacred cow, and a white rhino floating around, and you’ll start scouring the weeds for more surprises. Her female portraits can sometimes feel scary as you recognize the genesis of some of the cut-up images creating the illusion – medical textbooks whose components aren’t pretty.

The crowd was captivated by her first animated film, The End of eating Everything. A female-headed magical creature belches volcano steam from her misshapen body, eating everything in sight. Thankfully, it has a bit of a surreal, happy ending as hopeful, intelligent heads eventually prevail, framed by a cloud-filled blue sky.

Listen to a discussion of her work at the Brooklyn Museum via YouTube, and enjoy this beautiful 9-minute documentary produced by Arise Entertainment 360. You’ll meet this fascinating artist, see close-ups of her collages, and experience what’s so great about this show:

The Corset that Changed Cultural History and the Man Who Made It

JPG’s creation for Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” segment of her 1990 tour. Made from vintage 1930s lame

JPG’s creation for Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” segment of her 1990 tour. Made from vintage 1930s lame

Amidst the light, glamour, glitter, and mystery sending shock waves and awe through the masses crowding into the Brooklyn Museum’s show, The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk, a hush falls as each person realizes they’re only an arm’s length away from the Icon’s icon. Lovingly crafted from vintage lame, JPG and Madonna had no idea (according to Madonna) what a sensation their underwear-as-outerwear statement would create in fashion, performance, pop, and culture when JPG designed her get-ups for the Blond Ambition World Tour. Get out to Brooklyn to experience this über-tribute before Feb 23.

Madonna’s lent her JPG corsets to the section of the show where the walls are covered in quilted satin, and JPG dug into his archives, too: You’ll see the series of illustrations he did to show the looks he would create for the tour, as well as JPG’s personal Polaroids shot during the initial fittings. If you’re very quiet in this part of the show, you’ll also hear visitors gasp when they realize that they’re looking back at artifacts from 1990!

Crowds listen to the mannequin sing in the Metropolis gallery during the show’s final week.

Crowds listen to the mannequin sing in the Metropolis gallery during the show’s final week.

This genuinely theatrical tribute to JPG is chock full of corsets and cages made from silk, leather, raffia, wheat, and enough other stuff to win the Unconventional Materials challenge hands-down. O ye of Project Runway, worship at the mannequins of the Master!

At the entrance to the show, there are two small photo portraits of JPG taken by Mr. Warhol himself. They’re at a dance club in 1984 and JPG is in one of his Boy Toy collection outfits. Andy is quoted as saying, “What he does is really art.” It’s a curatorial anointment that offers a subtle, quiet, reflective moment to what you’re about to experience.

Dealing with the recent blizzards would have been more fun if you had shopped JPG’s Voyage Voyage ready-to-wear collection (2010-2011). These are styled with pieces from older collections.

Dealing with the recent blizzards would have been more fun if you had shopped JPG’s Voyage Voyage ready-to-wear collection (2010-2011). These are styled with pieces from older collections.

Room after room of gender-bending, mind-altering, color-crazy, history-twisting looks, gowns, shoes, bodysuits, and haute handwork reminds us that JPG has been pushing the boundaries for over 40 years, inspired by French sailors, French culture, 50s TV, global culture, his grandmothers unmentionables drawer, and the ever-inspiring gritty street. How do you use embroidery, neoprene, stuffed silk tubes, tulle, and illusion in a subversive manner? Take a stroll through JPG’s master class.

You’ll find mermaids worn by Beyoncé, a French sailor-striped gown worn by Princess Caroline, red carpet looks worn by Ms. Cotillard, a Mongolian shearing coat sported by Bjork, and photos of supermodels and superstars sporting outrageous and inventive looks. The names of the collections alone tell you the scope of his interests – Haute Couture Salon Atmosphere, Ze Parisienne, Flower Power and Skinheads, Paris and Its Muses, So British, Forbidden Gaultier, and Great Journey collections.

Close-up of corset from JPG’s Countryside Babes collection, prêt-à-porter spring/summer 2006. Made of wheat and braided straw, created in 84 hours

Close-up of corset from JPG’s Countryside Babes collection, prêt-à-porter spring/summer 2006. Made of wheat and braided straw, created in 84 hours

The show features 140 ensembles in all, enough to fill the entire wing. Mr. Gaultier even tells us that he expanded it a little for Brooklyn’s gigantic space, adding a “Muses” section with American icons and runway looks for big-boned, curvy girls.

Oh, and did I mention that the mannequins talk? (We can’t even begin on that, so here’s a video to explain how that magic happened.)

Brooklyn is the last stop on JPG’s North American tour, which was organized by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and Maison Jean Paul Gaultier.

If you can’t visit, take a walk through the show via our Flickr photos, and listen in on an hour-long discussion between JPG himself and the show’s curator Thierry-Maxime Lorio, where they talk about his “express yourself” philosophy.

The special promo video will give you a taste of the creative genius behind 40 years of memorable, challenging fashion as art:

Brooklyn Museum Shows What Rich Americans Buy to Impress

Cabrera

Miguel Cabrera oil (1760) of Dona Maria de la Luz Padilla y Gomez de Cervantes sporting velvet beauty marks and bling

Conspicuous consumptions is nothing new, according to the Brooklyn Museum’s spectacular show, Behind Closed Doors: Art in the Spanish American Home 1492-1898, and they’ve gathered (mostly from their collection) four centuries of blindingly beautiful stuff to show how earlier generations of status-seekers showed off how special and rich they were. Catch it before January 12.

The Fourth-Floor show fills two huge galleries that have been partitioned by the curators into areas corresponding to rooms in a traditional Spanish-American home, where they’ve displayed the stuff that the colonial high and mighty would have put there.  Although two-thirds of the United States was once under Spanish rule, the paintings, furniture, textiles, and other treasures you’ll see are from homes south of the border, including the Caribbean and south of the Isthmus. Check out our Flickr feed.

Silver Pins

Giant 18th century silver status pins for women, slightly Incan-style

First, you’d dress to impress and make sure that everyone knew that you were somehow aligned with the upper classes back in Spain. The show puts English and Spanish-American portraits side-by-side in the first gallery to illustrate that the latter weren’t shy about applying ostentatious tiaras and pearls to themselves, slapping on the velvet faux-beauty marks, and shoving royal proclamations into the frame to convey your wealth, status, and privilege. Wealthy English colonials and their portrait painters took a more austere, understated approach.

Second, if you were of mixed race but possibly had some Incan royalty in your blood, you’d hang gold-flecked portrait series of Incan chieftains where everybody could see them in your home. The lady of the house might wrap herself in a locally woven textile sporting mixes of South American deities with that oh-so-familiar-to-Europeans Hapsburg double eagle. Then she’d bling it up with a giant oversize pin made out of solid silver.

Visitor inspects painted screen in exhibit area with the objects from the grand reception room of an upscale home.

Visitor inspects painted screen in exhibit area with the objects from the grand reception room of an upscale home.

Third, you’d emphasize your casual elegance by actually draping the rugs and tapestries all over the floor, stairs, and risers in the ladies’ sitting room.  After gold, silver, and jewels, textiles were about the biggest luxury anyone could find, and Spanish Americans made and bought a lot. In British America, carpets were only used to cover tables, so the casual distribution of so much wealth below your feet was something only Spanish Americans could afford.

Because the Caribbean and coastal cities of South and Central America were right in the center of shipping and trade routes for centuries, wealthy people could buy pretty much anything they wanted and the curators show it to us – gorgeous Japanese screens, custom-printed Chinese porcelain, English-style sitting chairs, and Turkish rugs. No pennies were pinched in upwardly mobile, Spanish-speaking homes.

Peruvian bed of gilt wood (1700-1760) that would be shown off in a state bedroom.

Peruvian bed of gilt wood (1700-1760) that would be shown off in a state bedroom.

And let’s not forget what treasures were produced right inside the Spanish protectorates – silver shaving basins, polychromed statues of the saints, gigantic gold-framed “statue paintings”, gilded beds, embellished leather traveling trunks (to go to your country home), solid mahogany furniture, and custom-made books of your family’s geneaology. We won’t even get started on the private chapel décor.

This show throws open a window on the first wave of high-status interior design and decoration – a story that is normally confined to the castles in Europe or the palace at Versailles, and one that is perfectly suited to be told by Brooklyn’s extensive Latin American holdings with a couple of key pieces from the sumptuous collections uptown at the Hispanic Society of America.

Chinese import: 1770 porcelain featuring South American animals, purchased by Ignazio Lemez de Cervantes

Chinese import: 1770 porcelain featuring South American animals, purchased by Ignazio Lemez de Cervantes

If you want to do a deep dive into upscale living of past centuries, visit the exhibition archive on the Museum’s website and click on the Objects tab. Or, see it all in person when it goes on the road: it opens at the Albuquerque Museum on February 16, the New Orleans Museum of Art on June 20, and the Ringling Museum in Sarasota on October 17.

And congratulations to Brooklyn for making it onto the cover of the winter edition of Humanties, the NEH magazine.

Meet American Legends at The Whitney

Charles Demuth’s precisionist take on the grain elevators in his hometown, My Egypt, 1927.

Charles Demuth’s precisionist take on the grain elevators in his hometown, My Egypt, 1927.

Five reasons to cozy up with the stars in the American Art Walk of Fame in the Whitney’s top-floor show, American Legends: From Calder to O’Keefe before December 15 when they come down to make room for the next batch of legends from the Whitney’s massive collection:

#1: Charles Demuth. See how he turned the industrial landscape of his Lancaster, Pennsylvania hometown and flowers from his garden into magic. Experience Demuth’s oil, My Egypt, a pristine oil that looks like it was painted yesterday. He captures the monumentality of the local grain elevators and uses his title to channel the greatest architectural feats of the ancient world. The beautiful floral watercolors were some of Ms. Whitney’s favorites.

A Joseph Stella masterpieces: The Brooklyn Bridge: Variation on an Old Theme, 1939.

A Joseph Stella masterpieces: The Brooklyn Bridge: Variation on an Old Theme, 1939.

#2: Joseph Stella’s interpretation of 1930s New York, including one of his best-known works, The Brooklyn Bridge: Variation on an Old Theme, 1939. Here, the painting evokes a cathedral’s stained glass window but it’s actually a love letter to the iconic structure that he painted so many times in his career. If you’ve never walked across this bridge, listen to a civil engineer interpret Mr. Stella’s work on the Whitney’s audio guide.

#3: Immersion into bygone New York. Check out Coney Island’s main attraction in 1913 via Mr. Stella’s Luna Park (here’s the audio). Also, the show has many Reginald Marsh works of life during the depression, including Why Not Take the “L”?, and the original “ten cents a dance” girls in his 1933 portrait of taxi dancers.

#4: The whimsy of sculptor Elie Nadelman, whose large, rounded, folk-art-inspired figurative sculptures could certainly work in Mr. Calder’s crazy circus (which is here, too), if they could only be shrunk down to fit into his tiny, tiny circus ring.

Reginald Marsh asks commuters a question in Why Not Use the “L”?, 1930

Reginald Marsh asks commuters a question in Why Not Use the “L”?, 1930

Mr. Nadelman looms large in the Whitney collection, and it’s nice to have a great, big room to dance around all his sculpted people.

#5: Georgia O’Keefe shares a gallery room with Marsden Hartley, a nice pairing of visual mystics captivated by symbols, nature, mysterious abstractions, and the evocative power of landscapes.

There’s a lot to enjoy about many of the other featured legends, so hurry over to drink in the colors of Stuart Davis, watercolors of John Marin, the sharp visions of Ralston Crawford, and eight other anchors of the Whitney collection.

Stella’s 1913 take on the magic of Coney Island’s main attraction, Luna Park

Stella’s 1913 take on the magic of Coney Island’s main attraction, Luna Park

Who will be featured next on the top floor? We’ll see who the curators pick on December 21, when they reveal their next group of Legends.

History Twist in Brooklyn’s Period Rooms

Hegarty’s “activation” of the Cane Acres Plantation dining room: Still Life with Peaches, Pear, Grapes and Crows; Still Life with Watermelon, Peaches and Crows; and Table Cloth with Fruit and Crows. Photo: Brooklyn Museum

Hegarty’s “activation” of the Cane Acres Plantation dining room including Still Life with Watermelon, Peaches and Crows. Photo: Brooklyn Museum

The Brooklyn Museum’s Period Rooms are again the focus of a rip-roaring, history-tearing, upside-down interpretation by an installation artist. Go before December 1 to see what’s happened to three rooms up on the museum’s Fourth Floor in Valerie Hegarty: Alternative Histories.

The dining room from the South Carolina’s Cane Acres Plantation is alive with dozen or so papier-mâché crows that are chowing down on the faux watermelons and peaches that you imagine to have been so beautifully arranged on the long, grand table.

Peering into either of the two plantation doorways, it’s disconcerting to see how the delicacies are being ripped apart and strewn about. The fruit literally pops out of the frames in this cross-referenced mash-up of Hitchcock terror, racial segregation issues, and classic still life painting.

Hegarty’s Pendleton carpet in the Cupola House parlor.

Hegarty’s Pendleton carpet is growing in the Cupola House parlor.

See how Hegarty created it all out of wire, glue, foil, foam, and everything else you can purchase at Michael’s on the Brooklyn Museum’s Flickr feed.

She was equally ambitious in two other rooms from the Cupola House, originally built in Edenton, North Carolina: The 1725 parlor room focuses on a visual “conversation” between General George Washington and Pawnee Chief Sharitarish, featuring a Native American-style Pendleton parlor rug that is “growing” grass, flowers, and roots to make you think about what happened to the native culture over the last few centuries.

She kicks the Manifest Destiny discussion right where it hurts in the Cupola House “hall” (where guests socialized) by letting two Pileated and Downy Woodpeckers have their way with everything valuable in the room, including (a reproduction of) Thomas Cole’s 1846 painting The Pic-Nic. Nature is getting out of hand.

The Downey Woodpeckers take over the Cupola House hall. Photo: Brooklyn Museum

The Downey Woodpeckers take over the Cupola House hall. Photo: Brooklyn Museum

Get over to Brooklyn and encounter a new twist on what you were taught in grade school history, but watch out for Hegarty’s flying bullets and birds.