Fronteras del Futuro in the Southwest

Pow! Wham! What? It’s superheroes, avatars, and mixed-media channeling sci-fi social consciousness in an engaging, colorful, thought-provoking mix in the super-fun Fronteras del Futuro: Art in New Mexico and Beyond exhibition at Albuquerque’s National Hispanic Cultural Center through March 12.

These artists love mixing pop culture images, found objects, and historic iconography to question where we’ve been and where we’re going. Take a look at our favorites in our Flickr album.

Some artists use pop culture to get our attention on deeper issues. The back-to-the-future B-movie poster series by Angel Cabrales prompts reflection on societal attitudes about immigrants and border issues.

2016 B-movie poster by Angel Cabrales to spur discussion on immigration and border issues. Courtesy: the artist.

Gilbert “Magú” Luján’s silkscreen merges the epic scope of Mesoamerican history into a contemporary context. A stylish Aztec couple takes a cross-border journey from Aztlán to Texas in a pre-Columbian-styled low rider.

1983 silkscreen Return to Aztlán by Gilbert “Magú” Luján; a cross-border journey and reflection on pre-Columbian roots and heritage.

One of the most epic achievements is a wall-length, accordian-folded letterpress codex – a collaboration by Enrique Chagoya, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, and Felicia Rice. Codex Espangliensis features pop-culture superheroes, pre-Columbian imagery, comics, and social declarations to explore New World history from 1492 to the present.

Designed to be read right to left: cover and first pages of Codex Espangliensis from Columbus to the Border Patrol, a hand-colored letterpress accordian-folded book.
Pages from 1999 Codex Espangliensis from Columbus to the Border Patrol, a hand-colored letterpress book by Enrique Chagoya, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, and Felicia Rice.

Another set of artists rummages around to find tossed-off computer parts, circuit boards, skateboard parts, and other found items to create their works.

Marion Martinez’s 2002 Pierced Heart/Milagro; circuit boards and wood. Courtesy: the artist
Esteban Borjorquez’s 2018 Zena of Urion – a sci-fi creation from discarded items. Courtesy: the artist.

Marion Martinez grew up near Los Alamos National Laboratory, and started visiting its salvage area to find components from which to assemble her artworks – transforming discarded tech into beautiful icons of Northern New Mexican heritage.

Eric J. Garcia’s 2005 lithograph Tamale Man.

Roswell political cartoonist Eric J. Garcia takes another angle on mixing New Mexico’s cultural, culinary, and nuclear history. His Tamale Man series features the transformation of a guy munching a tamale at the first blast at the Trinity Site into a radioactive superhero.

Ryan Singer’s painting series blends his childhood fascination with Star Wars and other futuristic sagas with his Navajo heritage and upbringing.

Ryan Singer’s 2021 acrylic, Rainbow Flavor.

Meet Ehren Kee Natay, a Diné artist, whose work opens the exhibition with a loving tribute to his grandfather, the first Native American to release a commercial record:

Whitney Resurrects American Optimism from Storage

To get a taste of exuberant optimism, travel back with the Whitney Museum of American Art in At the Dawn of a New Age: Early Twentieth-Century American Modernism, on view through February 26.

It’s a showcase for art created at the beginning of the 20th century – a time when European experimentation in abstraction, urban skyscrapers and other engineering marvels, Einstein’s breakthroughs, and the success of the women’s suffrage movement made artists optimistic about the future.

The show features work by well-known (and well loved) artists like lyrical abstractionist Georgia O’Keefe (Music, Pink and Blue No.2) and transcendentalist Agnes Pelton (Ahmi in Egypt).

Georgia O’Keeffe’s 1918 oil, Music, Pink and Blue No. 2. © 2022 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

But the news story here is the Whitney’s interest in pulling work by their contemporaries out of storage to provide a more expansive look at early American modernism. Nearly half of the works on display have not been out of the stacks for more than 30 years!

Look at Albert Bloch’s 1916 Mountain, which hasn’t been shown at The Whitney in 50 years. It’s somewhat shocking when you consider that Bloch was the only American invited to join the ground-breaking Der Blaue Reiter in 1911. It’s fitting that Bloch’s nearly forgotten, expressionist landscape was resurrected and featured as the show’s icon – a traveler on an upward journey toward a town on the hill amidst modernist peaks.

Albert Bloch’s 1916 Mountain.

The Whitney’s also pulled Carl Newman’s 1917 Bathers out of storage for this show and hung it side-by-side with Bloch.

Newman was an Academy-trained artist from Philly, but after getting swept up in the Parisian avant-garde one summer, he tried throwing art conventions out the window. 

Color, rainbows, naughty nudes, pleasure craft – a scandalous and joyous mix!

Carl Newman’s 1917 oil on linen painting, Untitled (Bathers)

And what about another “forgotten” convention-breaker? The vibrant 1926 Street Scene is by Yun Gee, a Chinese immigrant modernist who started his art career in San Francisco, but found more acceptance and exhibition opportunities in Paris. Gee was the only Chinese artist running in European modernist circles, and it’s nice to see his cubist expression of San Francisco’s Chinatown right where it belongs in the Whitney’s pantheon.

Yun Gee’s 1926 oil of San Francisco’s Chinatown, Street Scene. Courtesy: estate of Yun Gee.

Works by some of our modernist favorites are also featured – synchronist master Stanton Macdonald Wright, shape-shifter Arthur Dove, and former Brancusi studio assistant and abstracted design leader, Isamu Noguchi.

Henrietta Shore’s 1923 oil, Trail of Life – a recent acquisition by the Whitney to add Shore to its collection.

The stories and careers go on. The exhibition features artists from the West Coast, artists that fled to Paris and found success there, and some modernists that just couldn’t make a go of it and stopped making art entirely.

Henrietta Shore, the Los Angeles innovator who Edward Weston credits as a great influence on his style, was one who eventually opted out.

It’s a beautiful walk through the early 20th century to meet a new set of painters using abstraction to channel an optimistic future – E.E. Cummings (yes, the poet!), Blanche Lazzell of Provincetown, Aaron Douglas of the Harlem Renaissance, and Pamela Colman Smith of Tarot card fame.

Installation view of great modernists. In vitrine: Pamela Colman Smith’s 1909 Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot Deck. Left to right: O’Keeffe’s 1918 Music, Pink and Blue No. 2; Stettheimer’s 1931 Sun; E.E. Cummings’s 1925 Noise Number 13; Macdonald-Wright,’s 1918 Oriental – Synchromy in Blue-Green; Richmond Barthé,’s 1933 African Dancer; Jay Van Everen’s 1924 Abstract Landscape. Photograph by Ron Amstutz.

Here’s a short video by curator Barbara Haskell where she talks about what it was like to find “forgotten” paintings and other stories behind the Whitney’s fascinating modernist reveal:

Scandinavian Folk Dressing Takes a Stand

Forget about the picturesque fjords and pastoral views reindeer herders that we imagine when we envision Scandinavia. Completely different stories of history, revolution, oppression, and cultural revival are told by the array of colorful, decorative, embellished and loved clothing in Dressing with Purpose: Belonging and Resistance in Scandinavia, on view at the International Folk Art Museum in Santa Fe through February 19.

You’re introduced to the iconic folk clothing of three cultures when you enter the exhibition – Sweden, Norway, and Sápmi, the homeland of the indigenous Sami people that stretches across the northern boundaries of Russia and the three other Scandinavian countries.

Detail of mid-19th to early 20th century woman’s dräkt from Sweden’s Delsbo parish in Häsingland historical province.
Young Swedish man’s dräkt, made in 1992 by Birgitta Lördal and Maj-Lis Halvarsson of Häsingland historical province.

But then it’s a deep dive into what each of these colorful creations represent.

The story behind Sweden’s folk costumes (folksdräkt) extends back into the 19th century, when rural peasants lived in a fairly hierarchical society and relied on their church clothes to signify where they ranked on the status ladder. Each community developed its own details and styling. In some communities, women used almanacs to help them keep track of various clothing combinations.

The exhibition displays an array of men’s and women’s country ensembles.

There are also examples of striking, elaborately silk-embroidered shawls that were essential to women’s status dressing.

In the 1800s, a series of economic and agricultural misfortunes caused rural Swedes to leave their communities and either migrate to the United States or to middle-class jobs in the city.

Swedish intellectuals worried that the rural population drain meant that country traditions and craftsmanship would vanish. Around 1900, cultural leaders prompted a craft awareness and revival movement ­– retail shops, showcases for hand-crafted clothing, and national museums.

Detail of woman’s 1834 silk-embroidered linen shawl, a status symbol worn on specified occasions; Leksand parish in Sweden’s Dalarna province.

Today, many Swedes gladly purchase and buy kits to make folksdräkt for festivals, parades, and other events.

The curators have even included items from a new cottage industry – protective garment bags specifically designed to store your folk costume!

In a whimsical touch, the curators have included a contemporary take from artist Heidi Mattsson – the Swedish national costume made from Ikea shopping bags, a cotton nightshirt and napkin, and sodacan pop tops!

And the curators have included several other inventive modern takes on national wear.

Heidi Mattsson’s 2018 Swedish national costume fashioned from napkin, soda can pop tops, cotton nightshirt, and Ikea shopping bags. I
Täpp Lars Arnesson’s 2016 winter dräkt for his young daughter in Malung parish in Sweden’s Dalarna province; blended decorative elements from other parishes.
2017 embroidered baseball cap created in Leksand parish in Sweden’s Dalarna province, using traditional symbols. Private collection.

The story told by Norweigan folk dress is more tightly linked to the long revolutionary fight for independence throughout the 19th century. Rural Norwegian peasants were land owners. To city dwellers laboring under Danish and Swedish domination in the 1800s, rural people epitomized the “independent everyman” who had more control over their personal destinies.

During Norweigans’ century-long fight for independence, political activists began adopting bunader, contemporary clothing inspired by preindustrial rural clothing as a sartorial statement about their desire for freedom. It popped up at youth rallies and dances.

1900 national costume – red bodice with beaded insert and dark skirt – typical of Norway’s Hardanger district, depicted in photo.
Hans Kristiansen Lybeck’s fantasy drakt, worn in Oslo’s National Constitution Day parade in 1906. Courtesy: Vesterheim Norweigan-American Museum, Decorah, Iowa.

In 1903, activist and regional dance expert, Hulda Garborg, outlined a philosophy for nationalized clothing and popularized it.  Everyone’s enthusiasm for and pride in the national costume kept going, even after independence in 1905. Even in the 21st century, it’s a sure-fire tourism draw up in Norway’s fjord country.

Close-up of Reidun Dahle Nuquist’s embroidered red-jacket bunad, made in East Telemark, Norway by a relative in 1960-1963. She wore it for her wedding and throughout her life.
Man’s 2018 bunad by Inger Homme and other artists in Valle in Norway’s Setesdal district; silver, gold, brass jewelry by Hasla AS.

In the Sápmi portion of the exhibition, the clothing and art is mostly contemporary, with a focus on making declarative statement about indigenous rights.

Long an oppressed minority, the Sámi people have been subject to racial injustice, forced relocation of children to boarding schools, and industrialization of their traditional lands north of the Arctic Circle. In many jurisdictions, they were forbidden to wear their traditional garb.

Symbol of Sámi pride: Jenni Laiti’s 2017 gákti creation from Karasjok – in Finnmark, the Norwegian side of Sápmi. Courtesy: the artist.

Around 1970, the Sámi were able to organize and raise public awareness about their status and why they opposed government dam building in Sápmi. Across their land, people began proudly wearing the traditional gákti and other symbols of their culture and engaging in direct political action on issues affecting them.

1966 summer gákti for a Sámi couple – wool tunics embellished with rose-colored ribbons and rickrack; made in Guovdageaidnu in Finnmark (Norwegian side of Sápmi)
Contemporary Sámi design: 2017 ready-to-wear cotton and poly “party outfit” by Stoorstålka (clothing line by Lotta W. Stoor and Per Niila Stålka) of Norrbotten (Swedish side of Sápmi).

The exhibition has posters and artwork proudly proclaiming native rights and identity, including an appropriated Sámi-style Rosie the Riverter image. For the contemporary eye, some of the most exciting clothing in the exhibition are by young Sámi designers and activists – ranging from Sámi-inspired home goods, modern woven designs, and even ready-to-wear party dresses from Sámi clothing lines.

The examples from Sámi makers demonstrate how design and fashion can help to reconnect young people with their ancestors’ heritage that society blotted out.

Jorunn Lokvold’s 2020 Igvu gákti with geometric applique, a style reconstructed in 1995.
Outi Pieski’s 2020 Ladjogahpir, a revival of a headdress symbolic of Sámi women’s resistance; from Utsjoki (Finnish side of Sápmi).

This wonderful exhibition demonstrates exactly how old traditions can be reinvented to gain traction, even in the 21st century. Take a look through our Flickr album.

Resistance and revival continue in the far North. Meet Jenni Laiti, one of the Sámi artists, activists, and change-makers, who introduces you to art-making in the Arctic:

Virtual Museum Events – Julie Mehretu, Craft in Art, Viennese Lettering, and Niki de Saint Phalle

Kick off April by choosing from many virtual museum events about the latest art shows, women’s history events, and what’s happening here! Here are just a few highlights:

On Tuesday (April 6) at 6pm, meet Julie Mehretu at the Whitney Museum’s annual Annenberg Lecture. Julie will have a conversation with the Whitney’s director about how history, architecture, cities, protest, maps, and geography have influenced her work. Her magnificent mid-career retrospective is a must-see.

Julie Mehretu’s 2003 Transcending: The New International at The Whitney

Also at 6pm, the Skyscraper Museum presents Wright and New York: The Making of America’s Architect – an illustrated talk by Anthony Alofsin on how an early visionary design for a cathedral and skyscraper set the stage for the Wright’s later success.

At 6:30pm, bring your own pint to celebrate National Beer Day in this month’s Tavern Tastings series with Fraunces Tavern Museum and Connecticut’s Keeler Tavern Museum. The gals will tell you everything you ever wanted to learn about beer in 18th century taverns.

Simone Leigh’s 2008 Cupboard VIII in Making Knowing Craft in Art at The Whitney

On Thursday (April 8) at noon, join one of the Whitney’s teaching fellows in Art History from Home: Making Knowing to discuss how four artists use the materials and methods of craft to turn the idea of “fine art” on its head. Examples that you’ll discuss are selected from artworks featured in the Whitney’s expansive, fun exhibition, Making Knowing Craft in Art, 1950 – 2019. You’ll enjoy all of the twists and turns.

At 6:30pm, join Paul Shaw at Poster House for a tour of Viennese Lettering by some of the greats of the Vienna Secession movement. Paul will show examples of innovative lettering on posters, ads, and books and explain how all of this had an impact on artists of the Sixties and Seventies. The lecture is part of a series in honor of Julius Klinger: Posters for a Modern Age, currently on view at Poster House.

Letters on Vienna’s Secessionist Building – hear more at Poster House on Thursday

At 7pm, MoMA PS1 hosts Niki de Saint Phalle and the Art of Tarot to explore tarot’s influence on modern art and why the artist was inspired to create her monumental installation in Tuscany, Tarot Garden.

Niki de Saint Phalle’s life project in Tuscany, Tarot Garden.

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

Museum Update

This week we checked out the new modern ceramics show at the Met, Shapes from Out of Nowhere: Ceramics from the Robert A. Ellison Jr. Collection, which showcases 75 works that are promised gifts to the Met. Among the highlights ­– several works by celebrated ceramicist George Ohr, whose late 19th century works predate midcentury shape, form, and abstraction. Lots of fans present when we visited. 

Rare George Ohr ceramics 1890–1900 in Out of Nowhere at The Met

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.

Big Sixties Color at The Guggenheim

Detail of 1964 Trans Shift acrylic by Kenneth Noland

If you need a pop of color, head over to the Guggenheim and spend some time inside The Fullness of Color: 1960s Painting, on display through March 15.

The Sixties were a time when painting was going through a big shift, and the exhibition will take you back to a time when up-and-coming painters were going big, seeing what lay beyond expressionist brushwork, and taking a cool, cool approach to color.

Helen Frankenthaler’s 1963 Canal

Although the world knew that Jackson Pollack was splattering oil paint across canvas on the floor of his East Hampton studio, other abstractionists in Manhattan, Washington, D.C., and art hot spots around the world were trying radical approaches to painting, too – exploring the expressive and expansive use of color.

Acrylic paints were new on the scene, and could be applied thick or thinned out like watercolor. Canvas was often laid out without primer, allowing the paint to soak into the canvas or blend in watercolor-like ways.

Helen Frankenthaler was the inspirational innovator in this regard, saturating her canvases with big washes of color. Although she began as a gestural painter, her big experiment was to work directly on the floor and spread paint around to eliminate any gestural marks. The results are spectacular.

1959 Saraband poured acrylic work by Morris Louis

Morris Louis, for example, experimented further by pouring paint on the unprimed canvas and letting gravity do the work of spreading it in different ways.

His 1959 work in the Guggenheim exhibition is a perfect example of his innovation ­– the “new” medium of acrylic washes, monumentally sized work, and a grand veil of color.

Getting close to this giant canvas lets you appreciate that this was not a sloppy or haphazard approach. It was masterful manipulation of chance on a large scale.

Detail freehand work in 1971 Wheelbarrow by Gene Davis

Other big canvases in the show exemplify other process experiments of the time: Jules Olitski used spray-paint techniques to eliminate gesture while giving the canvas bits of texture.  Getting close to his 1970 canvas lets you see the tiny, grainy splatters and the straight-line color bars he places at the edge; step back, and colors blend into a subtle, uninterrupted haze.

The gigantic Gene Davis canvas appears to be uniform pinstripes, but closer inspection allows you to appreciate the fact that he painted each tiny vertical mark freehand. The marks aren’t “gestural” but the full work is a monument to a hand-crafted, exacting process.

The curators also give us a chance to enjoy works by artists that we haven’t seen in a while ­– the saturated, thick geometric marks by Japan’s Toshinobu Onosato and the mesmerizing, oscillating presence of color created by Wojcietch Fangor, a Polish artist that the Guggenheim honored with an exhibition in 1970.

Oscillating 1969 M 37 oil by Wojcietch Fangor

See some of our favorite works in our Flickr album, and listen to the audio tracks about Sixties color painting and Helen Frankenthaler.

The Guggenheim is in the process of changing its primary exhibition on the ramp (farewell, Countryside!), so the museum discounting its admission price for this terrific color show and other shows in its smaller galleries.

Be sure to see Marking Time: Process in Minimal Abstraction, also open through March 15, which includes works by Agnes Martin and other kindred spirits. For fun, here’s a link to our album from Agnes’s 2016-2017 Guggenheim retrospective.

And if you want to read (and see) more color artistry in the collection of The Whitney and how NYC influences were being adapted by the new generation of contemporary Native American artists, read our review of the 2019 show at the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in Santa Fe here.

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.