Jeffrey Gibson at SITE Santa FE

What happens when a Native American MacArthur genius is asked by SITE Santa Fe to create an art exhibition during a time of a global pandemic and social justice marches? And invite him to a location where Native Americans make up a significant percentage of the population?

The result is Jeffrey Gibson: The Body Electric – a constantly surprising gallery journey where shape-shifting, cultural disassociation, beadwork, kitsch-image appropriation, gender-identity questions, and science-fiction inspiration reigns.

The show is filled with life-size beaded dolls and garments, films, pulsing papered walls, mysterious film experiences, and social statements either woven or stamped onto clothes (or are they banners?).

Gibson’s 2021 White Swan mixed-media painting in wall-papered gallery with a beaded, life-size, genderless “doll”
2020 Red Moon and Desert Sky minimalist sculptures created from strands of dance fringe.

Gibson, who is based in New York, is an intertribal artist who is a member of Mississippi Band of Choctaw and half Cherokee. However, his influences were forged from prestigious art schools, international travel, and living in non-Native societies.

The opportunity to come to Santa Fe, host a cinema series and several performances, and stay out West for a while was an open door to explore inter-cultural influences, host discussions with appreciative audiences, and show off his wide intellectual and artistic breadth.

In many of his works, Jeffrey mixes traditional “Indian” materials like beads or fringe with slogans, sayings, dime-store “Indian” images, and big-time art-world references.

See some our favorites from this exhibit in our Flickr album and hear Jeffrey explain his influences in SITE Santa Fe’s audio guide.

The little beaded birds that greet visitors in the first gallery and the big beaded life-sized “dolls” in the second were inspired by Jeffrey’s early work in the ethnographic collections of the Field Museum, where he encountered Haudenosaunee-made beaded tourist-trade whimsies and traditional “third gender” dolls for the first time. Why not make his own, but over-size them?

2021 My Joy My Joy My Joy, a mixed-media beaded bird inspired by Victorian-era Native American tourist whimsies

The nearby video gallery features a kaleidoscopic multichannel video of Sarah Ortegon, an award-winning Eastern Shoshone/Northern Arapaho jingle dress dancer, performing to the energetic Sisters track by A Tribe Called Red. This piece – She Never Dances Alone – refers to the dancers who came to the Standing Rock Reservation and lent their support to the 2016 pipeline protests though dance.

Here’s Sarah Ortegon in Gibson’s 2019 Times Square installation of She Never Dances Alone here…wait for it:

2021 They Play Endlessly mixed-media crazy quilt of paint, beads, words, and found objects.

And here’s another look at Gibson’s 2020 exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, where he mixed works from his studio with artifacts and art from Brooklyn’s own collection.

And check out Gibson’s work our album documenting the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian exhibition of Native painting, Stretching the Canvas.

Dior Brings Opulent Extravagance to Brooklyn

With lights dancing across dozens of floral dresses and sequined classical gowns in an over-the-top Beaux-Arts setting, visitors to the Brooklyn Museum generally stand speechless in awe of the extravagance before them in, Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams, closing February 20.

It takes a minimum of two hours to travel through the galleries, and much more time to absorb the wonders of this must-see fashion exhibition, drawn largely from the Dior archives in Paris.

Take a look at some of our favorites in our Flickr album.

Haute couture in Brooklyn’s Beaux Arts court. Courtesy: Dior heritage collection.
Nevelson’s 1956 sculpture and 1952 Dior dinner dress. Courtesy: Dior.

The exhibition begins in a traditional gallery format, showcasing Dior’s epic haute couture works of the Forties and Fifties.

Print and film media document Dior’s ecstatic reception in America, including custom client fittings and retail showings in New York and San Francisco.

Some of the most spectacular evening and cocktail looks are paired with modern sculpture by Nevelson and design by Eames from the Brooklyn Museum’s collection.

Turning the corner into the photography gallery, visitors encounter the full spectrum of photographers who have documented Dior couture from the Forties until today.

Visitors are ecstatic when they see the dress next to the Avedon photo that is one of the most iconic fashion images of the 20th century – Dovima modeling Dior’s spectacularly sinuous black-and-white gown, caressing massive, animated elephants that surround her.

After Dior’s untimely death, a succession of fashion superstars led the creative side of the house. The show pays tribute to YSL, Bohan, Ferré, Galliano, and Simons with dramatic installations showing their inspirations from French film noir, modern art, opera, and art history. 

1955 haute couture, worn by Dovima for Avedon. Courtesy: Dior.

The garments are over-the-top, highly embellished, and smartly paired with Egyptian and Gilded Age works from the museum’s extensive permanent collection.

John Galliano haute couture for Christian Dior, inspired by ancient Egypt, the Belle Epoque, and other historical references. From the Dior Legacy gallery. Courtesy: Dior heritage collection.
Three 2020 ensembles by Maria Grazia Chiuri against Judy Chicago banners. Courtesy: Dior

There’s a special installation reserved for Dior’s current artistic director, Marie Grazie Chiuri, who has long used her platform in the fashion world to ask probing questions about culture, society, and women.

In this gallery, her dramatic haute couture work is surrounded by shimmering banners that she commissioned from Judy Chicago, whose epic The Dinner Party is the centerpiece of Brooklyn’s feminist art center.

A major set of galleries evokes the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles – a source of inspiration for Mr. Dior.

The curators use the space to show off Dior’s Miss Dior perfume product displays and pairings of old and more recent haute couture inspired by 18th century glamour of the French court. If the exhibition ended right there, you’d be satisfied.

Haute couture from House of Dior: John Galiano’s 2000 dress in embroidered antique satin and Christian Dior’s 1952 satin cocktail ensemble. In the 18th-century gallery. Courtesy: Dior heritage collection.

But there’s much more – a gallery segmented by color to show off fashions, accessories, shoes, and miniatures; and an Instagram-ready all-white infinity room with dozens of white toilles made by the Dior ateliers from the designer’s sketches.

It’s another unforgettable gallery experience that pays proper tribute to the teams of behind-the-scenes experts who bring these fashion visions to life. 

Although the gallery of celebrity Dior looks is the final stop in the show, it almost feels like an after-thought compared to the magical displays of the Beaux-Arts Court.

Wall of 2007-2020 toiles for haute couture dresses, jackets and coats.

Haute couture is everywhere – clustered in the center, surrounding you on all sides, and artfully displayed on two-story-high walls and balconies.  One area features floral gowns, another shimmering gold ensembles, and another mysterious, dramatic black drama.

Haute couture dresses inspired by the divining arts surrounded by dresses inspired by nature, flowers, and gardens. Courtesy: Dior heritage collection.
2010 haute couture hand-painted embroidered evening dress by John Galliano for Christian Dior.

The show is a breathtaking array of light, sound, and visual riches – possibly the greatest feast for the fashion eye since the McQueen show at the Met.  Thanks to Dior for letting us see these amazing works from the archive, and to Brooklyn for giving us such an unforgettable fashion experience in its 125-year-old court.

Next up for Brooklyn’s galleries: a tribute to Virgil Abloh, opening July 1.

Jasper Johns Takes Victory Lap at The Whitney

Iconic imagery, big statements, technical mastery, and long-distance endurance are all on display from the second you enter Jasper Johns: Mind/Mirror at The Whitney – the mind-bending retrospective of one of the century’s most celebrated artists.

Then you realize that this 12-part extravaganza is only half the story ­– a mirror image of the Whitney retrospective that is also on display 90 minutes south at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

1961 Map by Jasper Johns. Courtesy: MoMA
1982 Savarin monotype of Johns’ 1960 bronze.

Each has different works and minutely different themes (the number paintings vs. the flag), but reflect the same scale and scope of the artist’s astonishing 70-year career.

Most art lovers know that the early work of Johns and Rauschenberg in the late 1950s and early 1960s helped to redirect the New York art scene from Abstract Expressionism toward Pop. But show puts a much-needed spotlight on the rest of Johns’ career – how he kept experimenting with media, pushing his own boundaries, manipulating paint to evoke an emotional response, and not letting any art-world “ism” impede his creative journey over the next 50 years.

Hear what the show’s two curators, Scott Rothkopf (NYC) and Carlos Basualdo (Philly), have to say about Johns, the “rules” he “broke,” and the mark his work left upon 20th century American art:

The sheer magnitude and quality of the artist’s output is on full display as you take the journey through the Whitney – masterful paintings, prints, drawings, watercolors, and sculptures

See some of our favorite works in our Flickr album.

Exhibition entrance with full scope of Johns prints.

As soon as the elevator doors open at The Whitney, viewers are confronted with a curved wall that contains dozens of surprises – a chronology of prints stretching from Johns’ early days in New York through works completed as recently as 2019.  Walking left to right, the wall serves as a mini-retrospective as well as the intro to the larger show.  Bravo to the team for this brilliant, engaging welcome.

It’s joyful to poke through the first few galleries and experience Johns’ early experimentations with stenciled lettering, disappearing letters, collaged newsprint, and maps enlivened by painterly gestures and swipes.

But then you see works done in South Carolina, where Johns took in the beach and sky and recollected back to his childhood in the South. Big, bold, mystical, evocative puzzles taking the form of large-scale canvases, small intimate sculptures, and all forms of drawing and mark making.

1964 Studio with paint cans, created at the South Carolina beach.
1967 Harlem Light from Johns’ 1968 Leo Castelli gallery show. Courtesy: Seattle Art Museum.

You experience a room where the team has brought together work originally shown by Leo Castelli in his New York townhouse gallery in 1968. The exhibition designers mimic the size of the original gallery to let you experience the same thrill of interacting with these big, colorful, slightly conceptual, architectural paintings.

The centerpiece of the Whitney exhibition is a spectacular gallery created by the exhibition team to showcase the retrospective’s theme – how Johns used doubles and “mirroring” to explore perception and entice viewers to ponder the works more carefully.  The exhibition designer explains and shows how the famed bronze Ballantine ale cans are the fulcrum around which Johns’ subsequent work revolves:

There are hundreds of loans from other museums and private collectors, and the two museums even swapped some of their own holdings.

And Johns himself has loaned never-before-exhibited works, including watercolors and drawings that he did in the 1980s. Although the colors draw you in, they represent the artist’s process of working through the ravages of HIV and loss inside the art community.

The curatorial precision of the show allows you to experience an evolving appreciation of Johns’ later work – experimental monotypes in the print studio, contemplation of the arc of life in monumental elegiac grey paintings, and sculptures completed in the 2000s. See more on the Whitney website about the works in the show.

1990 watercolor from Johns’ collection with mysterious, surreal, personal imagery.

The latter are displayed in natural light, which allows you to enjoy the cast bronze and aluminum number blocks as the sun shines over the Hudson from different angles. The changes illuminate the hand work, gestures, and conceptual rigor over time – a fitting encapsulation of this two-city tribute to Mr. Johns.

Reverse side of 2008 bronze 0-9 sculpture. Private collection.

Kamoinge Workshop Photographers Show NYC in a Different Light

Anthony Barboza’s 1972 Kamoinge Workshop Portraits and multifold Kamoinge Artist’s Book.

When fourteen photographers decided to get together in 1963 to for regular critiques, history was happening in Harlem, Mississippi, and on the Capitol Mall and life was bursting at the seams in down-and-out neighborhoods all around them.

The collaboration, influence, mutual support, and artistic output of their first 20 years is the story told in Working Together: Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop, an exhibition on view at the Whitney Museum of American through March 28.

Two by Beuford Smith, a 1978 self-portrait and 1972 Wall, Lower East Side.

The show, originally produced by the Virginia Museum of Fine Art in Richmond, shines a light on the work of the workshop’s founders. It’s a master class in black-and-white photography, experimentation, and community spirit. Everyone has their own style and path, all the works you’ll see here provide a window into community and life in New York during the Sixties and Seventies with a different slant than you’ve seen before.

The Kamoinge Workshop artists were keenly aware that they had access to people and events either ignored by mainstream media or at least invisible to it. Plus, they all had keen awareness and appreciation for artistic heroes, like Cartier-Bresson, Dorothea Lange, and other legendary photographers, and used the workshop to push one another forward – to make art that went beyond basic photojournalism, and use formal composition and other imaginative techniques.

Abstractions in the city –1973 Untitled (Harlem) by Ming Smith and 1966 Shadows by Adger Cowans.

When they began meeting in the Sixties, Herb Randall showed photos of Southern life taken the summer he accompanied the Freedom Riders to Mississippi; Adger Cowans showed his abstracted, from-a-rooftop image of the crowd listening to Malcom X; Herb Randall showed images of Harlem kids cutting up for his camera; James Mannes Jr. showed formally composed portraits evoking African royalty.

Share the excitement that they felt at the time:

The quality of the work and the unlikely prospects of being selected for shows in elite museums or high-end commercial galleries inspired them to get it out there a different way – by issuing portfolios that they donated to museums, libraries, and universities.

C. Daniel Dawson’s 1978 Olaifa and Egypt, taken at The Met

Anthony Barboza’s group portrait of the founding members is the welcome image for the Whitney show. Inside the space, the work is loosely grouped into areas featuring emerging political movements in Harlem, abstraction, experimentation, journeys to Africa and the Caribbean, and cityscapes during a time when New York was going downhill.

Every time we visited, viewers were studying each work closely, somewhat transfixed by each window into the past. Each image has a special twist to it – shadows creating abstractions across bodies or buildings, the unexpected jolt of the pattern of a man’s jacket, or the panorama of life in a fleeting moment on a street in Senegal.

Look at some of our favorites in our Flickr album, and meet each of the artists on the museum’s exhibition page. Click on each artist’s portrait to see some of their work in the exhibition, and listen to them speak about their work on the audio guide.

Meet the artists and listen to what this group meant to them in the Seventies and today:

Next stops on the exhibition tour – the Getty in Los Angeles (June 29 – September 26, 2021) and the Cincinnati Art Museum (February 25 – May 15, 2022).

On Wednesday, March 24, meet Ming Smith in a live online event, discussing the publication of her recent Aperture monograph and the influence of music upon her work.

Weekly Virtual Museum Events – Berlin Neon, Japanese Rap, Master Photographers, and Alice Neel

Commercial neon in Berlin under discussion at Poster House Monday

This week, NYC museums are offering more than 40 on-line events (mostly free) that will take you to Berlin in the Twenties, the music scene in Tokyo, studios of acclaimed photographers, and an opening at the Met.  See the full list on our virtual events page.

Tonight (Monday, March 22) at 6:30pm, join Poster House and photographer Thomas Rinaldi for Interwar Neon: Commercial Illumination in Weimar-Era Germany to look back on the electric art that flourished alongside the freewheeling nightlife scene for a brief time between the wars.

Dawoud Bey’s Birmingham series at the New Museum.

On Tuesday (March 23) at 4pm, join the New Museum to meet Dawoud Bey, a photography legend (and MacArthur genius) whose moving 2012 tribute, The Birmingham Project, is featured in the acclaimed exhibition, Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America

At 7pm, join Japan Society for 333 Contemporaries – Looking for the Next Global Rap Star in Japan, the kickoff to its new on-line series which talks about how US rap music adopted and adapted by the next generation of Japanese artists.

Parlor of the Merchant’s House Museum, New York’s only intact 19th c. home

On Wednesday (March 24) at 6pm, if Monday’s session got you curious, Join the Merchant’s House for 19th Century Domestic Lighting: 100 Years of Change. It will be an in-depth look at the technology behind the historic home’s lighting fixtures from 1835 forward, a time when candles and oil lamps gave way to electric lighting.

Anthony Barboza’s 1972 Kamoinge Workshop portrait of Ming Smith

At 7pm, meet Kamoinge Workshop photographer Ming Smith in a live online event, discussing the publication of her recent Aperture monograph and the influence of music upon her work. Ming’s work features prominently in the current exhibition at The Whitney, Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop. She is the first African-American female photographer to have her work enter MoMA’s collection.

On Thursday (March 25) at 6pm, get your fashion fix at the Museum at FIT with a special program, From Louis Armstrong to Dizzy Gillespie: Jazz and Black Glamour. The pre-recorded program will feature vintage performer Dandy Wellington, a deep-dive into the influence of jazz on 1920s menswear, and a live Q&A with FIT during the YouTube stream.

Alice Neel’s 1978 portrait Geoffrey Hendricks and Brian

At 7pm, join the Met for the online opening of its new exhibition, Alice Neel: People Come First, which features over 100 works by this beloved New York artist, considered one of America’s greatest 20th century portrait painters. You’ll find out all about how an artist who labored for decades in relative obscurity was drawn to document political movements, people, styles, and community in paint.

At 8pm, join MoMA for Virtual Views: Alexander Calder, a Live Q&A in honor if its new exhibition about Calder, MoMA’s founding, and modernism. The event will feature conversation with the artist’s grandson, who leads the Calder Foundation.

There’s a lot more happening, so check the complete schedule. Most of the events are free, but it’s always nice to add a thank-you donation.

Museum Update

1539 box for crossbow bolts made for the Bavarian duke. Value = 6 cows

We’re glad to report that the Met has extended its exhibition on the value of Renaissance art through the end of the 2021!  See it on the way to the Lehman Wing and the Dutch masters exhibition, and read about it (and the cows) in our February post The Met Asks What the Renaissance Thought It Was Worth.

 

Weekly Virtual Museum Events – Broadway Memories, Irish History, French Culinary Getaway, and Black Rock

Joe Allen’s West 46th Street Broadway institution on Restaurant Row.

This week, NYC museums are offering 45 on-line events (mostly free) on Broadway, St. Patrick’s Day-inspired programs, music, and artist talks…even magic!  See the full list on our virtual events page.

Have you ever wanted to spend time at a Broadway hang-out with all the show people?  Today (March 15) at 5:30pm, drop in on a 2016 interview with the late Joe Allen, whose Restaurant Row spot provided a home since for decades of Broadway stars, fans, actors, dancers, and producers. Hits, flops, feuds, gossip, deals, and more each night at the bar. The New York Public Library of Performing Arts at Lincoln Center is showing this video for the first time to commemorate a true Broadway original.

Meet MoFAD Tuesday to explore the diverse flavors of Marseilles.

On Tuesday (March 16) at 6pm, travel to abroad with the Museum of Food and Drink in A Taste of Marseille: A Virtual Tour and Tasting with Culinary Backstreets. Enjoy a guided tour of Marseille’s diverse neighborhoods and foods. It’s too late to order the ingredients from MoFAD, but you can still be a fly on the wall for the food prep, and enjoy early evening apéro and Provençal snacks.

Irish servants’ quarters at Merchant’s House.

At 7pm, learn about the women of rock in a special performance and panel at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the Women’s Jazz Festival 2021. Enjoy Black Women in Rock & Roll and meet author Maureen Mahon, DJ Lynnée Denise, and Amythyst Kiah for performances and conversation.

On St. Patrick’s Day (Wednesday) at 6pm, see what working life was like for the first generation of young Irish women to make New York City their home. The Merchant’s House Museum takes you on a virtual historic home tour, In the Footsteps of Bridget Murphy, emphasizing what it took for servants to keep an 18th century townhouse humming and the lady of the house happy.

Installation view of 2015 painting by Kerry James Marshall at New Museum

At 8pm, enjoy a mix of Irish history with a little magic in a special program at the New-York Historical Society – Celtic Magic: Exploring Irish History through Grand Illusion. Illusionists Daniel GreenWolf and Bella GreenWolf will take you on an entertaining, surprising journey from the ancient Celts to Irish immigrants

On Thursday at 4pm, the New Museum continues its series of conversations with artists featured in its exhibition, Grief and Grievance. This week, do not miss acclaimed artist Kerry James Marshall in conversation with New Museum artistic director Massimiliano Gioni.

There’s a lot more happening, so check the complete schedule. Most of the events are free, but it’s always nice to add a thank-you donation.

Museum Updates

Calder’s 1934 sculpture A Universe at MoMA

This week, we were able to do a quick spin around MoMA’s new exhibition, Alexander Calder: Modern from the Start. The new show had a steady flow of visitors, with everyone loving it!  People were taking selfies with the larger sculptures and standing mesmerized by the Snow Flurries mobile dancing with its shadow.

We’re also looking forward this week to the Whitney’s preview of the Julie Mehretu retrospective, opening March 25, and the Met’s opening of the Alice Neel retrospective, opening March 22.

Weekly Virtual Museum Events – Jim Dine, Niki de Saint Phalle, and Frida Khalo and New Artists

Jim Dine talking drawings online at The Morgan on Wednesday

This week, NYC museums are offering 35 on-line events (mostly free) on design, art, history, architecture, fashion, and performance.  See the full list on our virtual events page.

But we want to alert you to several events in connection with some of the brand-new exhibitions in town:

On Wednesday (March 10) at Noon, the Morgan Library is sitting down with Jim Dine to talk about classical and contemporary drawing. The program is being held in association with the Morgan’s new exhibition, Conversations in Drawing: Seven Centuries of Art from the Gray Collection. Register here for the on-line session (free, but limited seats). Jim will be talking about his own work that’s in the show and how his commitment to drawing relates to work by other artists included, such as Rubens, Ingres, Picasso, and Matisse.

Niki de Saint Phalle arrives at MoMA PS1. Interior view of Empress, Tarot Garden, Italy

On Thursday (March 11) at 1pm, join MoMA PS1 for the launch of the catalogue for its newest exhibition, Niki de Saint Phalle: Structures for Life. Although Niki’s work was everywhere in the latter part of the 20th century, this exhibition marks her first New York retrospective. Curators, admirers, and artists come together at this panel to discuss the exhibition and her daring, provocative installations, ideas, and work.

At 2pm, the Cooper-Hewitt will host another conversation in honor of Willi Smith’s passion for making art outside of the dressmaking atelier – Art, Fashion, Performance: Seeing Through Creative Collaboration.

1939 portrait of Frida by Nickolas Muray. © Nickolas Muray Archives

At 6pm, the Museum at FIT is debuting a pre-recorded video with the curator of the acclaimed exhibitions in Brooklyn in 2019 on Frida Khalo’s style and art. Fashion curators from FIT will be running a live Q&A during the YouTube premiere of Curating Frida Kahlo: Fashion & Prosthetics.

On Friday (March 12) at 6pm, join the curators at El Museo del Barrio for an on-line tour of their important, new show on emerging artists – Estamos bien – La Trienal 20/21. The pandemic delayed the in-gallery opening of this important survey of new art, so El Museo put the work on line, and is just now welcoming in-person visits to its Fifth Avenue home. Check it out and see what’s new.

LaToya Ruby Frazier’s story in Grief and Grievance at the New Museum

At 7pm, join the New Museum to meet with another incredible artist participating in Grief and Grievance, the exhibition that has all of New York buzzing. LaToya Ruby Frazier, who has a compelling, wall-sized autobiographical work in the show, will be talking with Margot Norton – a discussion that you shouldn’t miss.

And in the run-up to St. Patrick’s Day, the Tenement Museum will be hosting a special on-line tour of the Moore family’s flat on Saturday (March 13) at 7pm and on Sunday (March 14) at 4pm.  Next week, too!

There’s a lot more happening, so check the complete schedule. Most of the events are free, but it’s always nice to add a thank-you donation.

Museum Updates

KAWS: WHAT PARTY © KAWS. Photo: Michael Biondo

New York has some exciting new shows coming on line right now! Last week, the Brooklyn Museum opened its big art-commerce-culture exhibition, KAWS: What Party, to celebrate 25 years of audacious work by Brooklyn’s own Brian Donnelly.

On March 11, Japan Society finally reopens its exhibition space with When Practice Becomes Form: Carpentry Tools from Japan. In honor of the earthquake’s tenth anniversary, the exhibition is a tribute to the resilient spirit of Japanese architecture and craftsmanship.

On March 14, MoMA opens Alexander Calder: Modern from the Start. We saw the workmen putting on the finishing touches on the third floor when we swung by MoMA this week to check out the other new show in the design galleries – Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America.

Weekly Virtual Museum Events – Meditation, Museum March Madness, and Exhibition Tours of Acclaimed Shows

Meditate with the Rubin on Monday.

As you start the week, take a look at the range of on-line events, discussions, art tours, and previews being offered by NYC museum on our virtual events page. Mediate, check out the March Madness museum playoffs, and tour acclaimed shows at the New Museum and the Whitney. Some highlights:

Today (March 1) at 1pm, get centered with a meditation at the Rubin Museum. Join Lama Aria Drolma for a 45-minute program that begins with a discussion of an inspiring work of Himalayan art that will be used for the meditation, a 20-minute sitting session, and a closing discussion. Donations graciously accepted.

Will the Newark Museum win the March Madness playoff against Brooklyn?

Want to get in on the art museum playoffs?  On Tuesday (March 2) at 8pm, there will be an on-line “playoff” for you to help decide whether the Newark Museum or the Brooklyn Museum have the top art collection.  Each institution will be pulling out their top pieces to garner your votes to see who will proceed to the national finals.

The same day at 2:00pm, join the New Museum director for a conversation with Melvin Edwards, the first African-American artist to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Listen in to hear him talk about body of work and his dramatic, moving installation in the Grief and Grievance exhibition.

Work by Melvin Edwards in Grief and Grievance at the New Museum

On Wednesday (March 3) at 4pm, go inside the New Museum to take a virtual tour of this must-see exhibition.

There are two opportunities this week to virtually tour two terrific exhibitions at the Whitney. On Wednesday (March 3) at 7pm, take a tour of the amazing photography show Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop. On Thursday (March 4) at noon, take a tour of Making Knowing: Craft in Art, 1950–2019, an entertaining walk through the myriad of ways that artists have used traditional craft approaches to making a statement.

On Thursday (March 4) at 8pm, the Newark Museum is hosting another night of competition in the Museum March Madness – the Milwaukee Art Museum vs. Columbus Museum of Art. Weigh in on your favorite!

Liza Lou’s amazing kitchen in Making Knowing at The Whitney

On Saturday (March 7) at 7pm, join the Museum of the City of New York for a “hometown” conversation with acclaimed playwright Lynn Nottage about what it was like to come of age in Brooklyn in the Sixties and Seventies.

There’s a lot more art, history, and discussion, so check the complete schedule. Most of the events are free, but it’s always nice to add a thank-you donation.

Museum Updates

T Rex babies headed to Peoria after March 14

Have you ever wanted to go on one of the sleepovers at the American Museum of Natural History and have the whole place to yourself at night?  The sleepovers are on hold at the moment, but the next best thing is to sign up for an AMNH membership and take advantage of their Thursday Members Nights, where you can have a run of the place for two hours.

Last week, we had the Dinosaur Halls (and everywhere else!) to ourselves and were able to spend one-on-one time with old friends the Titanosaur, the starry-blue Coelacanth, Allosaurus, and Deinonychus. Maybe there were one or two other people wandering through, but you there is plenty of time and space.

Alone with Allosaurus at AMNH on Thursday nights

We checked in on the special T Rex: The Ultimate Predator exhibition, closing March 14.  If you haven’t seen it, it will be your last chance to see the first full-size, scientifically accurate sculpted versions of T Rex as a baby, four-year-old, and adult.  Next stop on his tour: the museum in Peoria, Illinois.  Midwesterners should get ready!

The Met Asks What the Renaissance Thought It Was Worth

1608 chalice by Otto Meier, Germany. Value = 255 cows.

What kind of art and collectables were Northern Europeans buying in the 16th century? How much were they paying?

The Metropolitan Museum of Art answers that question in a highly creative way in its exhibition, Relative Values: The Cost of Art in the Northern Renaissance, on view through January 2022.

The gallery is filled with a wide range of beautiful objects made in the Renaissance – ceramic containers, cups made from natural shells, bejeweled chalices, gorgeous drinking glasses, fancy sporting boxes, and portable desktop personal shrines. At a distance of 400 years, museums and modern viewers regard them as priceless treasures.

1530-1535 glass painted by Dirck Vellert, Flanders. Value = 12 cows

But the Met curators wondered how much these items cost in their day. How rare were these items in the collection? How much did collectors value them? And how did Renaissance makers market them?

The curators dug into assessments of royal holdings, craft guild price lists, and estate inventories. But understanding pricing was complicated because each price list used different regional European currencies (gilders, shillings, florins, and so forth). Then a light bulb went off.

Across Europe, the price of a cow was stabilized at 175 grams of silver. So, the cost of every item in the show is shown in cows!

15th c. British or French pilgrims’ badge with Saint Leonard. Value = ½ cow

It’s fun to view the museum’s treasures from this perspective – how many cows was each piece of art worth? Take a look at our Flickr album, which shows some of our favorite treasures from low to high value.

Two of the least expensive items in the show are the ceramic jug used for a silly drinking game (value = 1/8 cow) and the sought-after pilgrim pins that you could pin to your hat to show that you had actually made and completed your pilgrimage across Europe (value = ½ cow). The mass-produced traveler pins seem a little pricey, but probably not compared to the cost of the trip itself. In any case, the pin was probably the only piece of art owned by the lower classes.

Nobleman’s multi-game board made in 16th c. Spain. Value = 14 cows

Wealthy patrons were attracted to over-the-top virtuoso pieces made from high-priced materials – elaborate traveling game board sets with exotic inlays (14 cows) and silver utilitarian art pieces (10 cows). Commissioning a work from a well-known goldsmith, glass painter, or locksmith drove up the price, especially if you wanted upscale materials.

If you ordered something in solid silver, you could melt it down in a pinch if you needed the cash.

Just like the latest smart device, collectors went wild over buying the latest technological marvel, like automaton clocks (21 cows) or rare natural wonders.  Unusual natural materials and virtuosity really drove up the price. Coconut-shell cups with silver (11 cows) or ruby-eyed rock-crystal carved birds (275 cows), anyone?

1602 nautilus shell cup, Netherlands. Value = 18 cows.

High-end collectors created cabinets to store their “curiosities” and reveled in showing guests how their advanced mechanical wonders worked or talking about where in the world the unusual materials were sourced.

With economies booming, the merchant and the middle classes desperately wanted to emulate the upper classes, so over the course of the 16th century, demand for fabulous objects only grew. Some makers began using molds to decorate or replicate sculptures to create attractive, but less expensive works for middle-market buyers, such as decorative molded German stoneware (1/2 to ¾ cow).

Some cities began hosting annual art markets, drawing buyers from across Europe. Guilds enhanced distribution by setting up trading posts for their wares in key market towns.

1580 rock crystal bird ruby eyes, Nuremburg. Value = 275 cows

Different from today’s art market that sees paintings at auction in the millions, classical paintings during the Renaissance were relatively inexpensive (5 cows).  Works that emanated and reflected “divine light” were highly prized – painted glass (12 cows), alabaster sculptures (40 cows), and bejeweled chalices (255 cows). And tapestries, which took forever to make, were considered the ultimate luxury.

To capitalized on the demand, the design/art stars of the day worked across media, elevating value of less expensive works by putting their highly prized monograms on prints and ceramics as well as high-end masterpieces, channeling their inner Andy Warhol.

Take a look at all of the wonders in the show on our Flickr album and on the Met website, were you can click on each work and then click to see where it falls on the museum’s incredible, feature-rich Timeline of Art History.

Weekly Virtual Museum Events – Green Book Trip, Willi Smith, Ice Cores, Revolutionary Design, and Museum Scavenger Hunt

NYC fashion designer Willi Smith, ca. 1981. Courtesy: Kim Steele

Mark your calendars for any (or all) of fifty special on-line events sponsored by NYC museums, including a trip inspired by The Green Book, a tribute to a fashion designer who electrified runways in the Eighties, a look under Greenland’s ice, a Q&A on MoMA’s revolutionary design show, and a game-night trip to 18 American museums (with prizes!).

There are many other Black History Month events, discussions, art tours, and previews, so check the week’s listings on our virtual events page. For starters:

Sights along the road trip Driving the Green Book at MAD Museum Monday.

Today (February 22) at 6pm, hit the road with Alvin Hall, Janée Woods, and MAD Museum to learn about a 2,021-mile road trip that they took, inspired by the historic Green Book, which guided Black American motorists on family road trips for decades. The event will be an extension of their podcast, “Driving the Green Book” and feature lots of photos of what they found along the way.

CITIC Tower talk at the Skyscraper Museum

On Tuesday (February 23) at 12:30pm, join the Cooper-Hewitt in its tribute to Willi Smith, the beloved, exuberant fashion designer who dressed all the fun people in the Eighties. Since the museum has been shuttered nearly a year, few were able to see the Willi’s retrospective inside the Carnegie Mansion. So, our national design museum has declared “Willi Smith Day” so that it can shine a light on this historic Black designer for the world to see.

Get inside a supertall building. At 6pm, jet off to Beijing with the Skyscraper Museum and Robert Whitlock, the architect of the city’s tallest buildings. Hear about the design and construction of the CITIC Tower, whose shape is inspired by an ancient ritual vessel from China’s Bronze Age. This is just one of several upcoming talks at the museum on supertall buildings.

African Burial National Monument program at the Tenement Museum

Want to travel back a few centuries? On Wednesday (February 24) at 1pm, visit the Tenement Museum and the African Burial Ground National Monument for a talk on lifestyles of two African families living in old New Amsterdam. Using original source materials, you’ll get a fresh understanding of everyday life in mid-1600s Manhattan.

NYBG’s edible archway

At 6pm, take a trip around the country with a preview of the latest exhibition at the International Center for Photography. Join photographer-curator Paul Graham to walk through the exhibition But Still, It Turns: Recent Photography from the World. Celebrate unexpected journeys and enjoy the nondocumentary approach (no stories, just looking).

On Thursday (February 25) at 11am, start the morning with the New York Botanical Garden’s program with Leslie Bennett of Pine House Edible Gardens on creating gardens of sanctuary. Learn how she creates inspirational gardens that are organic and yield plenty of food, flowers, and medicinal herbs.

Icebergs now, but what happens if Greenland melts?

Thinking about climate patterns recently? Get a completely different perspective.  At 2pm, join a glacier scientist in Beneath the Ice at the American Museum of Natural History to learn what happens when Greenland’s ice melts. You’ll look at how ice core samples are taken, what they show, and how they are being used to predict what’s next with the climate.

Rodchenko’s 1923 Russian airline poster at MoMA

At 8pm, visit revolutionary Russia and see what role designers played with Jodi Hauptman, MoMA’s senior drawings and prints curator, and Ellen Lupton, Cooper Hewitt’s senior curator. Angles, fonts, photos, montage, social issues, and politics will be flying fast and furious as Jodi and Ellen answer your questions about the lives and fates of the artists behind the hundreds of 1920s and 1930s ads, posters, brochures, and magazines showcased in Engineer, Agitator, Constructor: The Artist Reinvented­.

Haven’t you been dying to take a vacation? On Saturday (February 27) at 8pm, join the New York Historical Society and Watson Adventures for a live, virtual scavenger hunt that will take you to 18 different museums across America to search for clues among the history, art, and design collections. Get a team! Have fun! Win prizes!! Co-sponsored by the Museum of the American Revolution and Missouri Historical Society.

There’s a lot more art, history, and discussion, so check the complete schedule. Most of the events are free, but it’s always nice to add a thank-you donation.

Museum Updates

2020 painting by Henry Taylor at New Museum

We were able to get a ticket to the New Museum’s acclaimed exhibition this opening week, Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America, and were happy to attend last week’s on-line curators’ panel (available here).

It’s a beautifully installed show, filled with top-notch painting, sculpture, music, performance art, and films that deliver on so many levels.

Still from Gone Are the Days of Shelter and Martyr, a 2017 video by ©Theaster Gates. Courtesy: White Cube and Regen Projects, Los Angeles

We’ll be reporting on this show soon, but in the meantime, we want to draw your attention to the weekly (and bi-weekly) panels that New Museum is offering on-line with many of the participating artists. This week, New Museum is speaking with South Side Chicago artist Theaster Gates, represented in the show by a performance video recorded in a church in the process of being demolished. Viewers inside the video gallery were mesmerized.

We’ll be featuring New Museum’s upcoming events on our weekly listing, but check out everything coming up over the next six weeks here under Conversations.