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 February 28.

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.

Virtual NYC Museum Events – Contemporary Crafts, William Blake, Lost Cities, and Tiffany Lamps

2018 furniture by Christopher Kurtz

With so many stuck inside during the deep freeze, why not tune into an ever-growing list of great virtual NYC museum events this week – meet curators that keep their finger on the pulse of great contemporary design, see works by William Blake and hear musical interpretations, find out why four civilizations were lost to history, and hear about the woman behind iconic Tiffany lamps.

There’s so much more coming out of our museums right now, so check the week’s listings on our virtual events page. Some highlights:

Glenn Adamson at MAD this week. Photo © Monacelli Press

Today (February 15) at 6pm and Wednesday (February 17) at 2pm, reserve a seat (virtually) at MAD Museum to hear Glenn Adamson speak about his downtown gallery exhibition at R & Company that showcases masterpieces of modern design and how it was inspired by the historic 1969 exhibition that introduced crafts as fine art in America. It’s a great chance to see what’s new in the context of art history.

On Wednesday (February 17) at 3pm, take a trip to the Morgan Library to see books and prints by visionary William Blake and new classical compositions inspired by it in Exuberance is Beauty: William Blake, the Viol, and the Book.

James M. Mannas Jr.’s 1964 No Way Out, Harlem, NYC

At 7pm, meet James M. Mannas Jr., one of the celebrated artists of the Whitney’s acclaimed exhibition, Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop. He and the panel will screen and discuss King is Dead, a documentary he shot in Harlem about the reactions of people in his community to the 1968 assassination. His photographs of this are unforgettable, so don’t miss this chance to learn more about how he captured a moment of historic importance.

Calling all archaeology and history fans! At 8pm, join a discussion with journalist Annalee Newitz at the New York Public Library on her book, Four Lost Cities. She’ll fill you in on the rise and fall of Çatalhöyük in Central Turkey, Pompeii, Angkor Wat, and the mysterious Cahokia in our own Midwest – a deep dive into the lessons to be learned about urban life.

Designed by Clara Driscoll, the head of Tiffany’s Women’s Glass Cutting Department

On Thursday (February 18), do you know about Clara Driscoll, the woman behind the Tiffany lamps?  If not, join the New-York Historical Society’s history happy hour at 6pm to find out one of the most amazing stories showcased in their stunning galleries of Tiffany lamps.

Do you want to ride a subway car deep into the ocean to see what’s there?  Did you even know that old MTA subway cars are providing homes for sea life off the coast of South Carolina? Join the New York Transit Museum on Wednesday at 6:30pm to hear about what it took to turn the cars into an artificial ocean reef.

Some museums are doubling up on programs this week, so if you’re looking to celebrate George Washington’s birthday, Fraunces Tavern is offering two opportunities – Wednesday at 7pm with the Morris-Jumel Mansion to hear about New York’s impact on him and Thursday at 6:30pm on his “final battle” to build a capital city.

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

Museum Updates

Fragonard is moving to Madison Avenue as part of Frick Madison.

This week, the Frick Collection announced March 18 as its official opening on Madison at the Breuer. While Mr. Frick’s Fifth Avenue mansion is being refreshed and renovations happen, the curators are reinstalling their classics in the former Whitney Museum building (and former Met Breuer) for the next two years. Here’s the news about what’s planned. Tickets on sale this week.

There were long lines of members at the opening preview for the Met’s new show, Goya’s Graphic Imagination. If you want to get a peek inside, join the virtual opening online this Thursday (February 18) at 7pm.

Tameca Cole’s collage at MoMA PS1’s Marking Time: The Age of Mass Incarceration

Despite the weather, MoMA PS1 had a steady stream of visitors to see the acclaimed show presenting works by incarcerated artists, Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration. It’s a major show that The New York Times cited as one of the best of the year.  If you want to meet one of the artists, join MoMA PS1 on Thursday (February 18) at Noon in their program, “Chosen Family: Marking Time.”

MoMA PS1 is open five days a week, and its expanded book store is now so large that you should think of it as a destination all on its own. (And in case you were wondering…as of this weekend, the corner diner is open and serving inside.)

Virtual NYC Museum Events – Tarot, Japanese Pancakes, A Swiss Trip, and More Andre

Learn about tarot at El Museo del Barrio on Monday

Still snowing or freezing cold where you live? Escape with some great virtual NYC museum events this week – learning a little tarot, talking trends with celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson, cooking soufflé pancakes, hanging out in a Swiss print studio, and joining MAD for a second night of conversation between Andre Leon Talley and Darren Walker.

Check the daily listings on our virtual events page. Here are a few highlights:

Marcus Samuelsson talks about art and cuisine at The Whitney on Tuesday

Want to see what the future holds? Today (February 8) at 4pm, see how to figure that out by popping in on Tarot 101 with Chiquita Brujita, courtesy of El Museo del Barrio.

On Tuesday (February 9) at 6pm, get in on a celebrity chef and art world mash-up when Whitney museum director Adam Weinberg speaks with culinary superstar Marcus Samuelsson about “Food, Culture, and What’s Next.” It’s free to listen in.

Visit Dafi Kuhn’s print studio in Switzerland with Poster House

At 7pm, if more practical kitchen projects are your thing, join Japan Society to learn how to make Japanese Soufflé Pancakes and be ready to whip out a special Valentine’s Day treat.

On Wednesday (February 10), why not run off to Switzerland and spend time with seeing the old-fashioned presses used by a cutting-edge designer to make astonishing work. At 6pm, join Poster House for a letterpress studio tour with Dafi Kühne.

At 8pm, join the Museum of Food and Drink for an evening of “Black Smoke,” a history of African-American barbeque. You know you want to meet these BBQ historians and find out why it’s all so good!

Tour PHOTO | BRUT at American Folk Art on Thursday

On Thursday (February 11) at 1pm, take a tour of the new photography show that is getting raves at the American Folk Art Museum – PHOTO | BRUT: Collection Bruno Decharme & Compagnie.

At 2pm, go behind the scenes with scientists at the American Museum of Natural History to learn what’s in the bone collection – one of the largest repositories of prehistoric life in the world.

Talley and Walker meet again at MAD on Thursday

At 7pm at MAD Museum, it’s an encore performance!  Everyone thought the previous conversation between fashion icon Andre Leon Talley and Ford Foundation president Darren Walker was legendary.  So, the duo is back for a follow-on talk, with Leon asking the questions. See what everyone was talking about.

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

Museum Updates

Kusama opens April 10 at NYBG

In case you haven’t heard, the New York Botanical Garden has just announced its opening date for its outdoor extravaganza withs the Queen of Dots – Kusama: Cosmic Nature opens April 10!  You’ll be able to see her new monumental works, her outside Infinity Room, and floral arrangements through October 31.

Walking into the Countryside and its Future at The Guggenheim

An innovative, continuous exploration about rural areas along the futuristic ramps

Want to go for a trip around the world? Visit out-of-the-way places? Meet interesting people?

There’s no better trip than hanging out with Rem Koolhaas and his think tank, AMO, in their all-encompassing exhibition, Countryside, The Future, on display at The Guggenheim through February 15.

It’s a colorful, engaging, data-driven, and provocative show that began as a response to the fact that population projections show indicate that in the not-too-distant future only 20 percent of people will live in the countryside.

1909 photo of three peasant women in Kirilov, Russia

Rem, Samir Bantal of AMO, and their university collaborators believe that many of the most important, exciting, and radical innovations are happening outside cities, and this is their way of taking you there.

You’ll zip into the past, zoom into current village experiments, watch videos, and meet robots as you swirl your way up the Guggenheim’s ramps.

Listen to famed architect Rem Koolhaas explain the context for the project and research that make up this extraordinary experience:

As this promo notes, this exhibition opened just a few days before New York City and all the museum shut down to mitigate the pandemic. The team did not foresee the impact that the pandemic would have, but the exhibition could not be more of the moment.

1,000 Koolhaas questions about the countryside and society

In the audio guide, the curators say that you can view the exhibit like a buffet (just snacking on this and that) or dive in and read/see everything.  When we experienced Countryside, everyone was digging in, reading, watching, absorbing, and interacting with everything.

View part of the exhibition in our Flickr album.

The show begins with Rem’s 1,000 questions about the world and the future. He makes it clear that he and the team are not there to provide answers – that’s up to you.

How “countryside” has been equated with leisure since Roman times

There’s a walk through history on the next level by way of fun floor-to-ceiling collages filled with Romans from murals, Chinese people from scrolls, quotes, and fun facts – all to drive home the fact that for 2,000 years, major urban sophisticates have seized upon the idea that city people need to visit the country for peace, quiet, contemplation, leisure pursuits, and artistic inspiration.

The history walk continues by exploring Marie Antoinette’s decision to create a rural “hamlet” on the Versailles grounds, the desire of Sixties Hippies to create communes in the country, and the emergence of today’s rural “wellness” spas and retreats.

Qatar’s solution to achieving national food security after the June 2017 border closure

The story continues by presenting details about efforts by famous political leaders to “redesign” their countries rural regions on a large scale – Jefferson’s adaptation of the 640-acre grid for developing the West, how the Soviets scaled up collective farming, FDR’s “shelterbelt” policy to minimize soil erosion in the Thirties, and the agricultural emphasis in Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

The most startling story is how Qatar, which imported the majority of its food, did years of research into ways it could be self-sustaining. When the Saudis jammed Qatar’s border in 2017, the country already had a plan. Within 36 hours, it airlifted in 4,000 cows and milking machines, a move that immediately (and successfully) started its domestic dairy industry.

Chinese service that lets city dwellers select apples from trees

The exhibition takes you to villages in China where interesting things are happening – a dying farming town that transformed itself into a “wellness” tourist destination, and an apple-growing region that uses livestreaming on mobile phones to let city-dwellers pick out the specific apples that the villager will pick and ship to them overnight.

The exhibition includes mini-galleries on the move to “preserve” nature, presenting facts and posing land-use questions related to mountain gorilla habitats in Central Africa, permafrost melts that are exposing mammoth fossils, and American billionaires buying and preserving Patagonian land.

Humanoid PALRO robot from Fujisoft in action

The top floor is alive with roaming robots powered by Roombas, who invite you to enter mini-theaters to see worlds beneath the ocean, developments of industrial facilities run completely by robots, and vast expanses of industrial-level agriculture. You’ll even meet PALRO, Fujisoft’s humanoid robot who hangs out with seniors in Japan, and Prospero, a little robot farmer that’s designed to work in swarm teams.

Hear all about the research and collaborations behind the exhibition and how the exhibition design brings it all to life:

To take a leisurely stroll through the future, listen to the audio guide.

For the full report, purchase the book (a steal at $12).

Virtual NYC Museum Events – Harlem Heavyweights, Design Disrupters, Rap History, and Gulla Cooking

Darryl McDaniels of Run-DMC talks with Kevin Burke at MCNY

Despite the massive nor’easter moving through New York, we’re assuming that the virtual NYC museum events are happening as planned – an opportunity get behind the scenes of New York’s hottest photography show, visit a West Coast design archive, meet a Rock legend, and dive into historic Southern cuisine.

Check the daily listings on our virtual events page to for these events and details on many, many others.

The Kamoinge workshop show at The Whitney. Meet the artists this week.

We want to alert you all to the upcoming opportunities that the Whitney is offering to showcase the photographers and work featured in Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop. On Wednesday (February 3) at 7pm, you can meet the Kamoinge artists live and hear them talk about how Harlem influenced their work. On Friday (February 5) at 3pm, see which artists used “the body” for inspiration and which contemporary photographers take on similar themes.

Two tours of the Morgan’s David Hockey show this week.

Also, just a reminder that there are two opportunities to walk through the Morgan Library’s David Hockney life-drawing show – on Wednesday, February 3 at 3pm and on Thursday, February 5 at 12:30pm.

Here’s how the rest of this week will shape up, with just a few suggestions (see the entire list here):

On Tuesday (February 2) at 4pm, take a trip to California with the Poster House to hear Letterform Archive’s Stephen Coles talk about (and show examples of) what happens when graphic designers break the rules of what typically constitutes good design.

Close-up of Swiss grid at Poster House. What happens when designers ignore it?

At 7pm at the Museum of the City of New York in the Your Hometown series, meet Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Darryl McDaniels of Run-DMC who will talk about growing up in Queens during the Sixties and Seventies and how the lessons learned contributed to becoming a rap icon atop the music industry.

On Wednesday (February 3), you can join two programs that take you inside museum collections and exhibitions to ask questions about how indigenous cultures and artists are represented, and what is changing.  At 6pm at Bard Graduate Center, hear about “Indigenous Arts in Transition” from two Native American curators in Minnesota and Oklahoma.

Boy’s hide shirt made by female Crow artist in 1870-1900 displayed at the Met in 2017

At 7pm, join the SciCafe crowd for a talk and Q&A on “Museums and Race” at the American Museum of Natural History that has a long (and current) history of grappling with these issues. Anthropologist Monique Scott will focus on African objects in the collection in New York and other museums around the world.

At 8pm, join the Museum of Food and Drink (collaborating with the Smithsonian Folklife Festival) for a fun dive into regional cooking in “Sustaining Gullah Geechee Cooking across Land and Sea.” You’ll hear a fascinating migration story told through food and learn how to make crab fried rice.

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

Museum Updates

Toxic Titan program at the AMNH Hayden Planetarium last week was a hit

We dropped in on fun virtual events last week at the AMNH, Fraunces Tavern Museum, and the NYPL’s discussion with Amber Ruffin, and couldn’t have enjoyed them more!

The Toxic Titan show with the Hayden Planetarium crew had nearly 400 viewers from around the world!  Congratulations to the virtual team, who even un-muted everyone to give the crazy-good speaker a live round of virtual applause!

Get to the Guggenheim by February 14!!

Before the storm hit, we were able to visit the Guggenheim to see Countryside, the Future, the spectacular show by AMO/Rem Koolhaas. Although the curators say you can either breeze through or read through it slowly, the crowds were definitely making the most of their time and digesting everything – the history of our obsession with country and leisure, the ways 20th-century leadership tried to reshape vast swaths of their countries, and the efforts going on today to reimagine non-urban environments in Africa, the Middle East, the Arctic, and everywhere.  It’s a must-see. Two more weeks.

About Fashion and Time at The Met

An 1885 American walking dress with 1986 Yamamoto overcoat

What day is it? What year is it? If we’re going forward in time, should we be moving counterclockwise?

As ten months of pandemic disruption sink in, there’s no better exhibition in New York to experience than the Metropolitan’s Costume Institute extravaganza, About Time: Fashion and Duration, on view through February 7.

Curator Andrew Bolton had the task of organizing a show in honor of the Met’s 150th anniversary, but wanted to take an exhibition approach that wasn’t simply a “greatest hits” showcase.  He wondered what would it be like to mount a show that lets visitors see, feel, and experience how fashion sometimes folds back on itself – like time in Virginia Woolf novels.

Queen Alexandra’s 1902 riding jacket with 2018 Vuitton ensemble by Ghesquière

Stepping into the first gallery, sixty black dresses are arranged like minutes on a clock. The exhibition begins with an example from 1870, the year that the Met was founded, and progresses in time from there.  At each point, you see an ensemble from that year, paired with a designer look from a different year that echoes it – bustles, princess lines, gigot sleeves, tailored jackets, flourishes of 18th-century aristocratic opulence.

It’s all in the Met’s gallery guide.

The inspiration for the first room is a grandfather clock – warm wood colors, a constantly swinging pendulum, and the monotonous, even tick. As you slowly work around the room, the time is even, rhythmic, and set – just like the pace of fashion from 1870 to 1950.

1895 dinner dress by Mrs. Arnold with Rei Kawakubo’s deconstructed 2004 ensemble

The 19th century garments are solid black, with masterful tailoring, swags, trims, and embellishments. In a tribute to the home town, two were created in Brooklyn: the 1885 silk satin dinner dress by Mrs. Arnold (paired with Rei Kawakubo’s equally elaborate but deconstructed 2004 ensemble) and an 1897 riding habit from Brooklyn’s acclaimed department store, Frederick Loeser & Co. (paired with a 1968 equestrian-style suit by Victor Joris).

Some of our other favorite pairings in this room are the 1912 artistic dinner dress with its leather pannier clone by Rick Owens, the 1928 alphabet flapper dress paired with Galliano’s 1997 spider-web frock, and the 1947 Christian Dior “New Look” jacket paired with Watanabe’s 2011 experimental motorcycle jacket.

Dior’s 1947 “New Look” with Watanabe’s 2011 motorcycle jacket

The second room is a shocker – mirrors everywhere, blinding white, undulating pathways, a fractured sense of time, and fashions morphing at breakneck speed – minis, maxis, minimalism, glitter, punk, pleats, unconventional materials, technology, and 3-D printing. (And it’s no surprise that so many pairings include visionary works by Charles James!)

The displays follow the same convention – sequential years paired with a “disrupter” dress or ensemble – but the impact is enormously disorienting, since the “twin” piece could be from the past or future and the mirrored walls and ceiling turn the experience into something like Kusama’s “infinity” room.

“Shattered” gallery – evoking fashion’s accelerated pace

When you enter, it takes a few minutes to figure out where to go, how to move through the sequence, and find the continuing storyline of the exhibition. Is there another room in the exhibition that you missed? Did you just jump to the Seventies and Eighties and miss the Sixties? Is the “next garment” to the right or the left? What year are you in?

[The gallery security guards confirmed that this occurs all day long with visitors!]

To sort it out, take a look at this video – a sequential walk through fashion time punctuated by some out-of-time disrupters (or peruse some pairings on the web):

Some of our favorite pairings in the second room are the zipper twins from Gernreich (1968) and Alaia (2003), the red-edged jersey pairing of Stephen Burrows (1975) and Xuly.bet (1993), and Patrick Kelly’s simple pearl heart dress (1988) with Olivier Rousteing’s Versailles-inspired dress for Balmain lavished with pearls, crystals, and beads (2012).

2012 Iris van Herpen PVC dress with 1951 ball gown by Charles James

Check out more of our favorites in our Flickr album.

And congratulations for including an unexpected (and deserving) multi-part display – Donna Karen’s “Five Easy Pieces” mix-and-match knit separates (1985) with the totally chic, revolutionary, coordinated wool knit separates invented by the ready-to-wear sportswear founder herself, Claire McCardell (1934). Wow!

When you finish walking through this gallery, you’re left wondering if fashion ever truly changes ­– the last pair features a 2018 coat with a 3-D printed understructure alongside a strangely similar coat from 1889.  What just happened?

Sustainability – 2020 Viktor & Rolf’s dress of leftover samples

The exhibition finale is fitting – a small chapel where visitors can meditate on “slow fashion,” sustainability, and a return to basics before they exit to the gift shop.  It features a suspended (or ascending) figure clad in one of Viktor & Rolf’s sweet dresses made of leftover off-white fabric swatches.

When the Met chose the theme for the show and designed it to debut with the celebrity-filled First Monday in May event, no one envisioned that the doors would be sealed shut until August. Or that the exhibition would so perfectly mirror the sensation of endless time, interruption of cycles, and fashion disruption/rethinking happening right now.

Join the Met’s fashion collection curator, Andrew Bolton, for a tour:

Mexican Muralists and The Whitney Rewrite Art History

1932 Zapatistas by Alfredo Ramos Martínez. Courtesy: San Francisco Museum of Art

When you enter the Whitney Museum exhibition, you’re surrounded by tropical settings, Oaxacan beauties, lush floral compositions, and the romance of Mexico. But a few steps beyond, Vida Americana: Mexican Muralists Remake American Art, 1925–1945  delivers epic struggles, monumental murals, revolutionary fervor, inspirational triumphs, and heroic views of everyday people.

It’s the most important art exhibition currently on view in New York, on view through January 31, because it shows how three acclaimed, radical Mexican artists – Orozco, Rivera, and Siqueiros – influenced a generation of artists in the United States with their commitments to public works, no-holds-barred graphic depiction of social injustices, and masterful, innovative techniques.

Diego Rivera’s 1931 fresco The Uprising – everyday people showing heroism in extraordinary times. Private collection

Take a tour through the show on the Whitney exhibition site, listen to the audio guide, and see some of our favorite works here.

The paintings, photos, and films in the first gallery celebrate a romantic vision of Mexico’s native heritage alongside works evoking poignant, sometimes violent moments in the country’s recent revolution. It’s a rich experience, with modernist photos by Modotti, evocative footage by Eisenstein, and riveting works by Khalo, Rivera, and Alfredo Ramos Martínez.

Orozco’s 1930 mythic mural Prometheus for Pomona College, California

But just beyond, you’ll glimpse galleries that promise deeper stories of emotional, turbulent, modernist angst. A half-scale reproduction of Orozco’s mythic Prometheus mural occupies an alcove, surrounded by works by artists he inspired –Jacob Lawrence’s pictorial history of African-American northern migration in 1910-1940 and Jackson Pollack’s early Thirties paintings that channel Orozco’s depiction of writhing life forces.

Take a look at The Whitney’s introduction to Orozco, Rivera, and Siqueiros, which shows life in Mexico at the time they developed their distinctive styles, gained international acclaim, and came to the United States:

Another startling Pollack reveal lies in the Siqueiros gallery that tells the story of the experimental workshop that the Mexican master ran in New York, where New York artist were encouraged to experiment with airbrushes, stencils, and paint splatters.

Pollack’s 1937 airbrushed litho Landscape with Steer – influenced by his workshop with Siqueiros. Courtesy: MoMA

Siqueiros was big on pushing the boundaries and using modern materials to create truly revolutionary work. Pollack’s experiments are here, along with the revelation that workshop participants were encouraged to lay unstretched canvas down on the floor and work from above. Sound familiar?

The magic of this exhibition is the side-by-side mounting that allows visitors to ponder the many ways that young Depression-era US artists took so many of the lessons of the Mexican muralists to heart.

Detail of 1939-1940 Charles White Progress of the American Negro: Great American Negroes. Courtesy: Howard University

The exhibition goes on to chronicle artists who were inspired to tell epic stories of the American frontier and forgotten African-American success stories. In one room alone, you can pivot and take in expansive, monumental paintings by Thomas Hart Benton, Aaron Douglas, and Charles White.

Another section of the show looks at Diego Rivera’s fascination with American industrialization and assembly-line workers, including a wall-size video of Rivera’s 1932 mural of Detroit’s Ford assembly line. The adjacent gallery shows his influence through WPA-funded works by Ben Shahn, Phillip Evergood, Thelma Johnson Streat, Marion Greenwood, and others. Gears, machines, heroic workers, and strivers in an industrial age.

Reproduction of Rivera’s 1934 mural Man, Controller of the Universe, originally created for Rockefeller Center

A “wow factor” at the far end of the gallery is the reproduction of the infamous Rivera mural commission for Rockefeller Center that was destroyed due to Rivera’s refusal to take out Communist references. You experience the uproar it caused by reading original newspaper clippings and magazine articles. When his work was destroyed, Mexico City’s Palace of Fine Arts invited him to recreate it. That’s the reproduction at the Whitney, giving everyone a chance to experience a piece of lost New York art.

Many exhibition visitors miss one of the most satisfying components of the show – a three-channel video of the murals done by a host of painters (under Rivera’s direction) in a market in Mexico City. Walk to the right corner of the big Rivera mural and step inside the Abelardo L. Rodriguez Market to see murals created by Ramón Alva Guadarrama, Marion and Grace Greenwood, Noguchi, and others:

Virtual NYC Museum Events – Art, Activism, and Fun

Andre Leon Talley and Darren Walker at MAD on Tuesday

Nearly all of this week’s virtual museum events in New York are packed into Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday to make way for Martin Luther King’s birthday and the inauguration. So, check the daily listings on our virtual events page and dive into interesting sessions on African-American innovators and artists, art with a conscience, and flat-out fun.

1969 anti-Nixon poster from the Poster House archive

On Tuesday (January 19), it will be hard to choose: At 5pm, you can join MAD Museum at 5pm to hear a conversation on equity and design between author and style guru Andre Leon Talley and Ford Foundation president Darren Walker.

At 5:30pm, you can join Poster House and NY Adventure Club for Democracy on Paper to review political posters from the Sixties and Seventies from the museum archives.

At 6pm, New-York Historical Society hosts an in-depth look at Harriet Tubman’s life with biographer Erica Armstrong Dunbar, and the Whitney offers a program on art and social change, illustrated with works from its collection.

Book discussion on Tuesday at the Schomburg Center

At 6:30pm, join author Catherine E. McKinley at NYPL’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture to see and hear about 100 years of African women’s style and looks, as featured in The African Lookbook.

At 8pm, join the Museum of the City of New York for a special trivia contest with the MCNY curators.

On Thursday (January 21), several programs begin at noon – a lunch hour session at the Staten Island Museum on the work of famed social realist artist Raphael Soyer; a tour of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, courtesy of the Newark Museum of Art; and a tour of the Whitney’s amazing photography exhibition, Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop.

Take a tour of the Whitney’s Kamoinge Workshop show on Thursday

At 2pm, meet the New York Transit museum for Underground Heroesa look at how transit was portrayed in satirical cartoons, comic strips, and comic books.

At 6pm, join the American Folk Art Museum for a fun “drink and draw” session on New York landmarks.

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

Museum Updates

We joined the marathon on-line session with Neil deGrasse Tyson this week to hear his year-in-review on astronomical and planetary science. The AMNH chose to produce this via Zoom, so everyone was able to see who was asking the fascinating questions and allowed Neil to have some fun interactions, just as he does at his sold-out events.  Lots of geeky questions and answers for over two hours!

Diego Rivera’s 1931 fresco “The Uprising” in the Whitney’s Vida Americana: Mexican Muralists Remake American Art, 1925-1945

We also joined the weekend crowds at The Whitney to see the epic work again in Vida Americana and see the beautiful photographs of the Kamoinge Workshop.

To end the week, we watched Andrew Bolton describe the work behind creating the Met’s unusually prescient fashion exhibition, About Time: Fashion and Duration. Check out the YouTube (already posted!) on what it took to design this unforgettable exhibition.

MAD History of Modern Art Jewelry

45 stories about modern art jewelry, such as Greenwich Village designer Arthur Smith

Sleek, modern, space-age, intricate, architectural, political, satirical, and comic – all descriptions of the array of modern-art jewelry selected by the Museum of Arts and Design exhibition, 45 Stories in Jewelry: 1947 to Now, on display on the second floor.

The second-floor space features a tour through modern-art jewelry’s evolution from a craft pioneered by studio artists like Art Scott and Alexander Calder to its current status as a respected and valued sector of today’s international art market.

MAD has shown art jewelry since it was founded in 1956, and its full collection now numbers 930 pieces. After redesigning its art jewelry exhibition area, MAD decided to mount a show to honor the extraordinary scope of its collection and place selected artworks into the broader context of art history.

1966 sterling silver body ornament by Arlene Fisch

Two rings of white cases offer visitors opportunities to peer into each story, see a spectacular or provocative piece, and read about its designer and context.

In every visit to this show, we saw jewelry lovers fully engaged, pouring over every detail of the craftsmanship.

The first case that drew our attention was a Constructivist pin by Margaret De Patta, a passionate California artist became immersed in modernism through her New York art studies in the Twenties, but really hit her stride in the Forties after training with Moholy-Nagy in Chicago. (This spectacular pin is prominently depicted on the museum’s timeline of modern art jewelry.)

John Paul Miller’s 1969 molten gold Armored Polyp

The museum highlights the stories of Forties artists working in studios, like Art Scott, who created body-conscious pieces for the jazz artists and modern dance innovators who visited his Greenwich Village studio.

Another early innovator honored in the exhibition is John Paul Miller, who created stunning gold pieces using ancient, forgotten techniques discovered in his archeological research.

Stories from the Fifties show how an entire generation of American designers was influenced by Danish design, particularly the sleek work of master silversmith Henning Koppel, whose work was featured internationally through the Georg Jensen brand.

Charles Laloma’s 1968 inlaid silver bracelet and 1960 bracelet with inner turquoise inlay

Art works from the Sixties include the way-out sterling body ornament by Arlene Fisch, space-age jewelry by Danish designers Gijs Bakker and Emmy van Leersum, and modernist Hopi jewelry design Charles Laloma, a ground-breaking Native American artist.

Stories in the exhibition from subsequent decades show how designers used their work to tell stories, make clever social comments, turn recycled materials into wearable art, display technical virtuosity, make magic, and create conceptual wonders.

Gésine Hackenberg’s earthenware 2008 Kitchen Necklace

The timeline in the exhibition details how art jewelry grew in popularity, entered museum collections, and began being shown at international art fairs.

Take a look at some of our favorites in the exhibition in our Flickr album and be sure to visit MAD in person.

Meet the 45 Stories committee members, who selected which works in MAD’s collection that embody key developments in the evolution of the art form: