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.

Dreamlands Immersion at The Whitney

1970 video recreation of Oskar Schlemmer’s groundbreaking 1922 Triadic Ballet at the Bauhaus

1970 video recreation of Oskar Schlemmer’s groundbreaking 1922 Triadic Ballet at the Bauhaus

As soon as you walk into the Whitney’s show, Dreamlands: Immersive Art and Cinema, 1905-2016, you are face-to-face with a giant screen on which stylized robotic dancers perform what seems like a space-age, mechanized dance.People are lounging on giant foam blocks, watching the colorful piece unfold. But most of the visitors are unaware that the seeds of this startlingly modern performance, shot in 1970 for German television, is a recreation of an innovative, theater-dance piece that’s 95 years old — The Triadic Ballet that Bauhaus director Oskar Schlemmer created in 1922.

2012 recreation of Fischinger’s 1926 three-screen abstract movie Ramlichtkunst

2012 recreation of Fischinger’s 1926 three-screen abstract movie Ramlichtkunst

There’s a lot of history-tripping in this exciting retrospective, which closes this weekend. Everything in the show is pulled from the Whitney’s own collection – a rare chance to experience hard-to-display movies, slide shows, and interactive experiences. Take a look in our Flickr album to glimpse some of our favorites.

To see it all, you twist and turn through labyrinths, enter through darkened curtains, and explore mysterious giant boxes positioned throughout the 18,000 square-foot space.

Sometimes you’re wading through mountains of discarded 16mm film from the Sixties by Jud Yalkut. Sometimes you’re watching others whirl in the dark to activate light patterns on the walls and ceiling. Sometimes you’re staring into a wall-size projection of the mushroom cloud in Bruce Conner’s Crossroads montage.

Still from Porter’s 1905 film of a real-life electrified dreamland Coney Island at Night

Still from Porter’s 1905 film of a real-life electrified dreamland Coney Island at Night

At every juncture, there’s something new, exciting, provocative, and challenging. The big surprise is that the pieces are from the entire span of the 20th century, beginning with Edison’s double whammy – the invention of the electric light bulb and motion-picture camera – as presented in the 1905 film he commissioned, Coney Island at Night.

In addition to Triadic Ballet, 1920s Germany is also represented by a colorful three-screen abstract movie installation by Oskar Fischinger, who was later hired by Disney to create some of the initial concept art for Fantasia, the animated concert-movie extravaganza that is also represented in the show.

Vanderbeek’s 1963 Movie Mural screens flashing with abstract and pop images

Vanderbeek’s 1963 Movie Mural screens flashing with abstract and pop images

Stan Vanderbeek’s roomful of projectors represents the Sixties, displaying a cacophony of simultaneous pop-culture images and abstract films on a crazy array of mismatched screens.

Bringing the collection up to date, visitors stop for selfies in front of the neon-flanked exterior of “Easternsports”, an immersive, candy-colored 2014 installation by Philadelphia artists Alex Da Corte and Jayson Musson. Just sit and smell the oranges as robotic actors go through their potty-mouthed paces in the four-screen room.

Peek into Easternsports via The Whitney’s look-about YouTube video. Move the arrows on the upper left navigator to look around and find the skateboarder crossing all the screens.

Steyerl’s 2015 immersion room showing Factory of the Sun, where avatars mimic YouTube dancers

Steyerl’s 2015 immersion room showing Factory of the Sun, where avatars mimic YouTube dancers

 

Enter a futuristic lounge to watch Hito Steyerl’s 2015 “Factory of the Sun,” a fake newscast-documentary about workers who are forced to dance to generate sunlight. The mysterious, high-energy saga has everything from anarchists at the World Bank to YouTube sensations inspiring Japanese avatars.

The giant video is a challenging and provocative burst of energy to end your Dreamlands odyssey and nice bookend to the Triadic Ballet rebooting next door.

Antonio Lopez: When Fashion Danced Off the Page

Antonio's 1986 Vanity illustration of Tina and Mick Jagger

Antonio’s 1986 illustration of Tina and Mick Jagger for Vanity

Music, fashion, and art were never mixed up so deliciously as when Antonio was working in the studio, surrounded by breakdancers, supermodels, street accessories, and couture. Glimpse the pulsing lines and beat at El Museo del Barrio’s celebratory exhibition Antonio Lopez: Future Funk Fashion through this weekend.

With his partner, Juan Ramos, the dynamic duo changed the way the fashion industry thought about drawing, line, color and style, infusing the typically staid haute couture with ethnic twists, flair, and celebrity in a way no one before had dared. Pencil or conte crayon in hand, Antonio broke down barriers and walls, infusing the New York and Parisian fashion worlds with lively banter, music, and beauty that only a savvy, streetwise Puerto Rican New Yorker could.

The show is a tribute to the 360-degree life that produced the America’s greatest fashion illustrator during the Mod- and disco-infused Sixties and Seventies.

Dynamic 1973-74 pencil drawing for Gentleman’s Quarterly magazine

Dynamic 1973-74 pencil drawing for Gentleman’s Quarterly magazine

The early work from the Seventies is tight, controlled, and more-or-less a jigsaw puzzle of drafting mastery. Witness the Gentleman’s Quarterly illustrations mixing menswear, muscle, and motorcycles, which were considered too racy for the day. Futurist angles, pointed pencils, and lavish details will blow you away.

Around the same time, American master Charles James took note of this FIT wunderkind, asking Antonio to document his entire archive of sumptuous gowns and daywear. Although this ten-year collaboration is not featured in the Fifth Avenue show, look here to see the digital library of Antonio’s work for James, now in the collection of the Chicago History Museum.

As the style cauldrons of Fiorucci, Max’s Kansas City, and Studio 54 amped up, Antonio and Juan began curating their entourage of uptown and downtown style divas, which included legends Jessica Lange, Jerry Hall, and Grace Jones.

Photo of Antonio surrounded by "Antonio's girls" in the 1980s Installation views of “Antonio Lopez: Future Funk Fashion” El Museo del Barrio New York, New York June 14 – November 27, 2016

Antonio’s Girls surround him in the 1980s

The message: live and draw large. Subjects for illustrated fashion spreads were styled, posed, and recorded in Antonio’s hand, all to a pulsing beat. To get everyone in the mood, innovative street dance crews were given free rein to spin, pop, and twirl during the sessions.

No wonder that Antonio’s mature work leaps off the page, lines swirling, accessories flying. Publications like Vogue, The New York Times, and Warhol’s Interview just had to have it, and published his drawings over and over.

In the age of Snapchat and Instagram, it’s hard to over-emphasize how revolutionary Antonio’s vision was at the time. His two-dimensional visualizations left fashion photography in the dust. As Ms. Missoni once said, “He transformed the clothes.” Take a look at the Flickr feed.

A 1983 pencil and gouache drawing of totally glorified Maria Snyder

A 1983 pencil and gouache drawing of totally glorified Maria Snyder. Collection: Narciso Rodriquez

El Museo is distributing copies of the Interview magazine issue that Antonio and Juan edited. Pick it up as you peruse the serious sampling of celebrity-infused work in the show – Tina Chow, Karl Lagerfeld, Billy Idol, and Tina, to name a few. To give exhibition goers a feel for the pizzazz in Antonio’s work and life, there are videos of break dancers in his studio and a great video of him working from a live model as part of a drawing demo for students at his alma mater, FIT.

Too bad that Valentin de Boulogne (Caravaggio’s follower, currently on view at the Met, who also styled and staged models) lived 350 years too early to enjoy this joyful, breakneck, vibrant 20th-century beautiful-people scene with subjects jumping out of the picture frame.

It’s hard to underestimate the influence Antonio had on the cultural beat of New York in the Seventies and Eighties. It was all about the mix – high art, pop art, high fashion, street style, and ethnic culture.

Take a look at Antonio’s 1983 workshop at Pasedena’s ArtCenter College of Design, and see the master at work creating, staging, and transforming what he sees and feels with gestures as large as Pollack’s:

FIT Matches Uniformity with Nonconformity

Detail from British Royal Rifle Corps “Mess Dress” Jacket (1900), a possible inspiration for Ralph Lauren

Detail from British Royal Rifle Corps “Mess Dress” Jacket (1900), a possible inspiration for Ralph Lauren?

Whether you pass a flight attendant in the airport, see an EMS pro at work on the street, watch a referee on TV, or place an order with the counterperson at your favorite fast-food chain, you may not immediately see the individual who is wearing the uniform. You just perceive that a professional is at work.

But how does the uniform design create your perception? And who designed the uniform? What signal does it send?

Conversely, how do designers take inspiration from uniforms and design looks that make us think that the wearer is a rule-breaker, a nonconformist, or chic, stylish person?

The Museum at FIT provides the answers on its website and in its first-floor show Uniformity through November 19, an illuminating tribute to history and fashion that shows how conformity and troubled times can serve as springboards for creativity, expression, and whimsy in the larger cultural landscape.

Michael Kors camouflage (2013)

Michael Kors camouflage (2013)

The introductory video features Thom Browne explaining how he took inspiration from executive and schoolboy uniforms for his groundbreaking Milan show in 2009.

The show then unfolds by juxtaposing high fashion with uniforms from FIT’s collection, organized into neat themes – military, domestic, sport, work, and school. Here’s our Flickr album of our favorites from these themes.

Right up front, the curators provide a visual backstory to the evolution of the US/European military uniforms with two galleries and an iPad that show what British and US soldiers wore over the last 240 years. The experience makes you think about who put the navy into Navy (it was adopted in 1802) and shows that ladies and kids wearing “sailor suits” is a 100-plus-year tradition in fashion.

Mainbocher’s well-cut 1942 uniform for the U.S. Navy W.A.V.E.S. (1942) and Chanel’s chic military-inspired ensemble (1960)

Mainbocher’s well-cut 1942 U.S. Navy W.A.V.E.S. uniform and Chanel’s chic military-inspired ensemble (1960)

Although the 21st-century gown by Galliano and the in-you-face statement by Kors demonstrates how transgressive camouflage can look on the runway, Claire McCardell’s little boxy 1947 jacket reminds us how Ike’s WWII U.S. Army Air Corps look kept going for nearly a decade as an icon in the booming US ready-to-wear sportswear market. Both guys and gals had to sport that neat, pulled together look atop their rompers, sport shorts, and khakis.

The hot pink Fiorucci jumpsuit that telegraphed hipness in NYC disco fashion in the Seventies is right at home next to the 1970s Coast Guard flight suit in fire-resistant orange synthetic. As these two electric pieces fight for attention, the curators leaves us to ponder their genesis in the 1940s olive wool Air Force flight suit.

A nearby juxtaposition switches to uniforms as muted, minimalist understatement – the soothing side-by-side designs for worn by WWI and WWII nurses with the barely-there Nineties work coat adopted by the seamstresses and magic-makers at Martin Margiela’s deconstructivist atelier.

1993 Vivienne Westwood baseball cap

1993 Vivienne Westwood baseball cap

Gernreich channels schoolgirls, Vivienne Westwood mimics logo-branded baseball caps, and Ungaro reinterprets collegiate-sports jerseys right across from vintage Princeton blazers from the Twenties and Forties.

The creative takes on all the different types of uniforms screams whimsy and fun for the fashion forward.

One of the show’s highlights, however, is a philosophical look back by the designer who made so many of America’s most familiar uniforms happen — Avis, TWA, FedEx, and McDonalds. Listen as FIT sits down with Stan Herman to talk about his work, life, and the uniforms he created and wore:

Mizrahi Shows His Colors at Jewish Museum

An early 1988 look in orange-orange wool – scarf, coat, and jumpsuit

An early 1988 look in orange-orange wool – scarf, coat, and jumpsuit

For a shot of color and inspiration to let creative impulses run free, trot up to the second floor of the Jewish Museum to see the closing day of the tribute to one of New York’s favorite sons — “Isaac Mizrahi: An Unruly History”. It’s open late tonight until 8 pm.

Isaac has filled four galleries with the results of his imagining in the worlds of fashion, theater, and film, showing how it’s done when you have so many talents, so many ideas, interest in everything, and so little time. You just do it all.

The entry to the show is a wall of organized color, all pulled from his meticulously organized archive of fabrics and color swatches – a great introduction to a brilliant mind harnessed to bring a little more beauty and whimsy into the world.

Inspired by elevator padding – silk quilting and grosgrain go to the ball in 2005

Inspired by elevator padding – silk quilting and grosgrain go to the ball in 2005

Beyond that, the first room – mostly from his early 1990 collections – is a riot of color   featuring his high-low approach to style: pair something everyday (like a T-shirt or bomber jacket) with silk-taffeta glamor (like a ball-gown skirt). This is where Isaac made his splash into the world of fashion, and it’s a fun, exciting introduction to the rest of the exhibit.

The curators have mounted his fashion sketches floor to ceiling in a small gallery, showing how Isaac maps out his fashion shows like storyboarding a movie. The room also reveals his passion for drawing, his favorite part of creating a collection.

Another gallery gives a nod to his theatrical costuming work and the next features two ensembles that demonstrate his interest in everyday style and good causes: Isaac was one of the first big-name designers work with Target, and here we see one of those 2004 sweaters.

Sketches with swatches organize the run of show

Sketches with swatches organize the run of show

His Coca-Cola sequined dress grew out of his collaboration with a charity that employed the homeless to collect and flatten discarded cans. Isaac had a Parisian couture house cut the smashed metal into sequins and had them hand-embroidered – another think-about-the-world creation.

Witty, wonderful, and full of life – Isaac’s accessories, film, fashions, and colors should inspire you to get a little more creative with your own day to day. Visit via our Flickr album, watch the Isaac video snippets, and listen to the audio tour the show.

For more Isaac right here, watch his conversation with editor Wendy Goodman on style and the pressures of starting out in the fashion industry.

Met Refuses to Draw Line Between Art, Technology, and Fashion

Sara Burton’s 2013 ensemble for McQueen: laser-cut pony skin bonded to leather, machine-sewn and finished with Mongolian lamb

Lasers: Sara Burton’s 2013 ensemble for McQueen: laser-cut pony skin bonded to leather, machine-sewn and finished with Mongolian lamb

As cool as an iPhone and as meticulously engineered, the Met’s new blockbuster Costume Institute show — Manus + Machina: Fashion in the Age of Technology — asks you to think about the frocks you’re seeing: does a designer’s reliance on technology diminish the artistic value of haute couture, which has for centuries relied upon handcrafted structure and embellishment?

See for yourself before August 14 and click here to look at the details in our Flickr album.

The show is a meditation on the beauty that can come when great design minds have centuries-old craft collide with technology. It helps to have gazzilions of resources (hands in Paris) at your disposal. The result: really good art and wondrous feats of engineering that just happens to be fashion.

There’s plenty to ponder and repeat visits are a must. Curator Andrew Bolton said that the idea came to him as he examined YSL’s iconic Mondrian dress and realized that this Sixties haute couture dress-that-went-viral was mostly stitched by sewing machine, a no-no in the rule-book of the Paris high-fashion syndicate.

Yves Saint Laurent’s hand-worked 1958 trapeze in his first collection at Dior.

Yves Saint Laurent’s hand-worked 1958 trapeze in his first collection at Dior. Five layers of tulle with hand embroidery

It made him ponder the extent to which handwork and machine intersect in the world of high fashion.

Underwritten by Apple, there are no digital iPads or robots on the scene (like the Met’s revolutionary Charles James show) – just classical domes and arches highlighting masterworks of craftsmanship that cry out for the closest of scrutiny. Although it’s fun to waft through the crowds, getting glimpses of dazzling beadwork and dreamy Grecian-pleated chiffon gowns, to join Bolton in his investigation, reading the label copy, wall copy, and close inspection is a must.

Your first glimpse sets the historic context: The stunning Chanel wedding ensemble under the main dome (a created space made from a false floor across the upper level of the usually empty atrium of the Lehman wing) is surrounded by books. Leather-bound volumes of Diderot’s 1762-71 encyclopedia on liberal and mechanical arts are open to engravings of lacemaking and embroidery.

Diderot’s 1762-71 encyclopedia on liberal and mechanical arts

Diderot’s 1762-71 encyclopedia on liberal and mechanical arts

By including these “métiers”, Diderot elevated fine dressmaking skills to the level of respect given to other types of 18th-century engineering.

Bolton chose Diderot’s encyclopedia categories as the sub-sections of the show and gave each métier can-you-believe-what-you’re-seeing treatment. Click here to read more about each métier on the Met’s website.

The pleating section of the show is a great example, beginning by displaying the masterful hand-formed pleats on Grecian gowns designed by Madame Grés and the still-mysterious processes used by Fortuny to clothe boho types in liquid charmeuse pleats at the dawn of the 20th century.

Issey Miyake ready-to-wear 1994 Flying Saucer dress fully extended; synthetic polyester that is machine pleated and stitched

Issey Miyake ready-to-wear 1994 Flying Saucer dress fully extended; synthetic polyester that is machine pleated and stitched

Across the way, you can compare Fortuny’s craftsmanship with machine-stitched and pleated versions, which are no less compelling. Mary McFadden’s pleated dresses were must-haves of the must-be-seen society set in the Seventies and Eighties. Mary’s synthetic pleated fabric was a pull-it-out-of-the-suitcase miracle in a world of jet-set travel and society parties.

And don’t ignore the works in the show by Issey Miyake, who wowed the design world with innovative pleated shapes that twisted and turned into avant-garde dresses and tops. Machine made from synthetic material, Miyake’s creations could fold flat and be popped into action in a nanosecond. His techno-trick was to make an entire, gigantic garment, position the fabric into pleats and run the entire garment through a heat press. Go, Flying Saucer dress!

In every section of the show, Bolton provides something historic (such as the 1870s hand-crocheted wedding gown) bookended by blazingly new creations, such as Iris Van Herpen’s 3-D-printed creations.

Close-up: Fortuny’s hand-pleated, hand-sewn 1920s charmeuse dress; Venetian-beads embroidery and hand-knotted silk trim

Close-up: Fortuny’s hand-pleated, hand-sewn 1920s charmeuse dress; Venetian-beads embroidery and hand-knotted silk trim

Muslins from Charles James reveal classic tailoring techniques by the master engineer, worked and re-worked by hand until perfection was achieved. Miyake pushed the boundaries of modern dressmaking one step further by using lasers to cut polyester monofilament, draping it, and shaping it with metal snaps –creating a dress without using any needles, thread, or scissors.

Laser cutting makes multiple appearances in the show with the work of Comme des Garcons, Iris van Herpen, Thom Brown, and Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen. However, traditional techniques by historic Parisian ateliers are on view, too – a Chanel embellished by Maison Lemarie with 2,500 fabric camellias that took 90 minutes each to create, Dior’s post-war embroidered floral dresses bursting with foilage, and YSL’s game-changing trapeze dress in his first collection for Dior. This last creation had five layers of tulle embellished with crystals, beads, and sequin clusters by Maison Rébé.

At the press opening, Apple’s designer extraordinaire, Jony Ive, cautioned viewers to remember that technology and craft are not at odds. The notion of care – whether by hand or machine – is intrinsic to everything in the show.

Enjoy Mr. Bolton’s walk-through.

The Goose Gets Loose at Grolier

The Pleasant Game of the Goose, a 1640 hand-colored Italian woodblock print. In the center, a fancy family dines on one! Courtesy: Morgan Library

The Pleasant Game of the Goose, a 1640 hand-colored Italian woodblock print. In the center, a fancy family dines on one! Courtesy: Morgan Library

The geese are running wild inside the historic Grolier Club on Madison and 60th Street – part of the tribute exhibition organized by curator-collector Adrian Seville, The Royal Game of the Goose: Four Hundred Years of Printed Board Games, running through this weekend.

The show is an historical overview of one of the most replicated and popular board-game entertainments of the Western world — The Goose, a board-game design that has existed since the Middle Ages.

It’s remarkable to see over 70 examples including hand-colored woodblock prints, games from copperplate engravings, chromolithographs, and commercially printed folding boards spanning the 1600s through today.

Most feature some form of The Goose. The Goose board is designed as a single track in which players move their markers toward the finish based on a dice roll. Sound familiar? The rules have been around since 1600.

Detail of The New Game of Aerostatic Balloons, a 1784 French hand-colored engraving depicting the early history of ballooning

Detail of The New Game of Aerostatic Balloons, a 1784 French hand-colored engraving depicting the early history of ballooning

Wildly popular across the European continent, the Goose game has survived and depicted the French Revolution, the fall of Napoleon, the various configurations of royal marriages, WWII, and the evolution of social mores.

After the French Revolution, Goose games appealing to the middle-class appear, providing graphic lessons about reading music notation, the Parisian theater, ethnicity in America states, and countries you’d visit on an round-the-world voyages. A late 18th century French game depicts the history of ballooning, featuring Ben Franklin’s witness to a spectacular liftoff in Paris.

At the end of the 19th century, the games featured subjects like British ships running the Union blockades in America’s Civil War, monuments of the world, and significant inventors like Edison and Roebling (complete with a picture of the brand new Brooklyn Bridge).

Game pieces for The Game of the Great Blockade, produced in 1863 London about the British ships that were helping the Confederacy by running through the Union blockade during the Civil War

Game pieces for The Game of the Great Blockade, produced in 1863 London about the British ships that were helping the Confederacy by running through the Union blockade during the Civil War

Commercials creep into the mix, too, but what else is new? The Grolier has again hit a home run with chronicle of Western culture’s time spent around a table, hanging with friends, and rolling the dice.

Click here to view some of our favorites in our Flickr album.

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:

Hands-On Style Taught by The Best Dressed Woman in the World

Jacqueline de Ribes on 1983 Town and Country cover by Victor Skrebneski

Jacqueline de Ribes on 1983 Town and Country cover by Victor Skrebneski

Does anyone want to be elegant anymore? If so, the exhibition about best-dressed-woman-in-the-word, Jacqueline de Ribes: The Art of Style featured at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through February 21, is the place to take an immersion course.

As curator Harold Koda noted, even though the garments in the show span several decades, it’s a little difficult to pin any one of them on a specific decade. Jacqueline was all about perfect elegance and creative expression – not just style for style’s sake. Go to our Flickr album to view our favorites from the show and click through the Met’s gallery slideshow.

Although she was photographed incessantly throughout the Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties, Jacqueline was not just a patron of the couture – she was a hands-on designer and style partner to haughtiest of the haute couture.

Her timeless 1988 design looks good from every angle

Her timeless 1988 design looks good from every angle

We’re talking about the likes of Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, and countless other designers at the top of their game. If Jacqueline wanted one of their dresses, they expected that she would make suggestions to enhance their creation. What about changing those sleeves? Moving that bow? Making it a little more dramatic?

And she wasn’t above a good copy, either. If Jackie O wore something that was truly spectacular, Jacqueline might have Cassini do one for her, too. Duplicates? No problem.

When Yves Saint Laurent announced that he was retiring, she put in an order for multiples of the same stunning dress in different colors.

Knowing one’s limits is important. When she was just starting out, she knew she was great at dramatic conceptions, but terrible at sketching.

Her own 1986 design in which the body and cape are from a single piece of fabric

Her own 1986 design in which the body and cape are from a single piece of fabric

It was her good fortune that she got a recommendation to hire a sketch artist that some older designers thought might work with her to illustrate some of her ideas. His name was Valentino, and he turned out to be a lifelong friend and eventual supplier of some of the best red eveningwear the world has ever seen.

When she began her own dress line, she didn’t rely upon family money. She traveled to New York and raised it herself, like any other up-and-coming designer. The galleries are filled with her own work, which hold up spectacularly well next to the giants of Paris fashion. The Costume Institute genuinely loves her look, style, fabrications, and full-out drama.

Moving through the different galleries of the show, it was clear that Jacqueline chose and designed clothes that looked great from any angle. No wonder someone called her a “living fashion drawing.” In the white-and-black section, there are several stunning creations where the dress fabric is brought up toward the shoulder in a flowing, elegant, dramatic sweep.

Her mix and match Lady Corsaire look with vintage, Cavalli, and Ralph Lauren

Her mix and match Lady Corsaire look with vintage, Cavalli, and Ralph Lauren

In the slide walls, she’s often shown working in jeans behind the scenes to bring a fashion show and collection to life. Although the focus is on eveningwear, there are marvelous mix-and-match get-ups where her love of vintage, ready-to-wear, and one-of-a-kind layering really shows.

It’s a joy to see how she refashioned her Laroche couture coat into masked-ball Mongolian princess costume and to see her mixing separates from the Express or Cache with turn-of-the-century tophats and Cavalli stuff. Yes, she spent a fortune on clothes, but also shows everyone how to cobble runway-ready looks from easily accessible parts if you have loads of creativity and style.

Bravo, Jacqueline!

Her dramatic 1967 silk chiffon and embroidered crystal evening dress by Marc Bohan for Dior

Her dramatic 1967 silk chiffon and embroidered crystal evening dress by Marc Bohan for Dior

Warhol Moved Out So Picasso Could Play

Bronze She-Goat, 1950, who usually lives outside in MoMA’s garden.

Bronze She-Goat, 1950, who usually lives outside in MoMA’s garden.

To mount the blockbuster Picasso Sculpture show, closing February 7, MoMA cleared out Andy, Roy, Jasper, and all the Judds from the Fourth Floor and let in an array of whimsical animals, personnages, and concoctions. If you couldn’t get in the front door of the show or were discouraged by the crowds, take a look at our favorites in our Flickr album.

The surprise is that every one of the dozen or so galleries is filled with the most delightful Picasso creations. You don’t really need a guidebook or an understanding of the history of modern art. You can just look and smile. Just like Picasso did.

Even he needed a break from his Blue Period, and the first gallery shows two little wooden “dolls” carved in 1906 – a response to Gauguin’s shockingly primitive Tahitian wood carvings that rocked Picasso’s world when he encountered them in gallery. Rough, painted, angular, and shamanistic – a good way to work out the creative kinks at the same time you were creating the Demoiselles downstairs. Pure primitive…no gallery guide needed.

Carved wooden Doll inspired by Gauguin, 1907. From Gallery of Ontario.

Carved wooden Doll inspired by Gauguin, 1907. From Gallery of Ontario.

Next door (directly upstairs from the gallery where the Demoiselles hold court), Picasso’s having his fun with his crazily patterned and painted bronze absinthe glasses, spoons, and fake sugar. The curators have gathered together enough from different collections to have a party. Cubism with a twist of polka-dot fun.

Next, it’s monumental heads carved from plaster. Why do they all seem to be in on a joke? It’s the room where Andy and Roy’s Pop masterpieces usually hang, but Pablo’s big, bulbous curvy heads from the 1930s are just as wry and enjoyable. (See the videos below.)

Already declared “degenerate” by the Nazis in 1937 and featured in their historic touring show, Picasso had his own quiet joke on the oppressors as he lived through the occupation of Paris in 1940-1944. While the Nazis were melting down bronze statuary in Paris to use in their war manufacturing, Pablo somehow managed to sneak into a foundry to make a big, bronze sculpture of large kitty cat on the prowl and other metal works.

Figure, 1938, made of found stuff -- wood, nails, and screws with string, wire, and hardware

Figure, 1938, made of found stuff — wood, nails, and screws with string, wire, and hardware

The kitty, the bicycle-handlebar bull, and the napkin dog are just two among a host of lots of other contraban he defiantly created before liberation.

The rest of the galleries show how Picasso’s wartime scrounging spurred him on to new heights of making something out of nothing and finding delight in transforming somebody’s junk into funny, fool-the-eye sculptures. The She-Goat (usually found hanging outside in MoMA’s garden by The Modern), the car-baboon, a metal owl, goose, and other creatures hold court in the bigger galleries.

Well-wishers crowd around taking feel-good photos and parents show the kids how the artist took everyday objects and turned them into such fun critters.

The stick-people Bathers at the finale are partially made of pieces of painting frames and other found wood, painted and finished with the same rough technique and hand that characterized the “dolls” in the first room. It’s the great Modern Master going rogue channeling outsider art.

The Bathers, 1956. From the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart.

The Bathers, 1956. From the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart.

By the time you get to the model of the monumental head that’s become one of Chicago’s icons (in the last gallery), the crazy sculpture — Picasso’s last —  feels  kind of normal.

It’s telling that MoMA didn’t even put label copy on the stuff. Just a guidebook you can pick up at the entrance, or not. No wonder it’s been the most popular show in New York.

Just when you thought understanding modern art was “hard”, one of the masters comes along, kicks sand in your face, laughs, invites you to do a little beachcombing with him, throws a few sticks together, and asks you to look at what’s right around you in a new way.

Look at a few pieces that MoMA underscores with delightful music.