Couture Nirvana at The Met

1957-58 satin “Du Barry” evening dress by Christian Dior

Walking through the Costume Institute’s show, In Pursuit of Fashion: The Sandy Schreier Collection, closing September 27, you can feel the care and attention that Sandy gave to choosing exquisite fabrics and impossibly precise handwork in the pieces she chose for her archive.

The dresses and accessories that Sandy’s chosen to donate to the Met are pristine – a tribute to her true love, appreciation, and care for couture masterworks. She didn’t collect to wear the clothes, but to preserve and admire them as genuine works of art – duchess satins, intricately painted velvets, and incredible beadwork from the best French embroidery houses. Take a look some of the details close-up in our Flickr album.

A transition to ease – a lavish 1913 evening dress by Jean Victorine Margaine-Lacroix for the House of Margaine-Lacroix

The beautiful show opens with an array of postwar couture by superstar designers Dior, Balenciaga, and Saint Laurent alongside creations by less shown couturiers, such as Jean Dessès and Jacques Griffe. It’s a joy to behold Sandy’s reverence for sumptuous fabrics and dramatic silhouettes.

It’s equally exciting to encounter lavish early 20th century gowns and discover new names, such as Madeline & Madeline or Jean Victorine Margaine-Lacroix, who were blazing the trail for a new kind of liberating dress for women at the same time that suffragettes were marching to gain the vote. Sandy’s gift brings these ground-breaking female designers into the Met’s collection for the first time, too.

The show also calls attention to at-home ease and glamour of the Thirties from innovative, sought-after American female designers – a tea gown of simplified perfection by Jessie Franklin Turner (who Poiret called “a genius”) and a virtually sheer dinner dress by Valentina created from layers and layers of netting.

1939 chiffon tea gown by Jessie Franklin Turner and 1940 net dinner dress by Valentina

Both pieces show masterful construction, nearly invisible handwork, and style that enabled an understated hostess to sweep through her own private event like a movie star.

The back of the gallery showcases some of Sandy’s earliest acquisitions – nearly a dozen coats, dresses, and capes from the Twenties by two legends of textile magic – Fortuny and Maria Monaci Gallenga. Each had their own secrets techniques for applying intricate, metallic Renaissance-inspired patterns on lush velvet and silk. The creations are a master class in artistic dressing.

Many couture feats demanding close examination are encountered in the third major portion of the show – delicate flowers on a tulle dress by Vionnet, diaphanous, layered embroidered chemises by Boué Soeurs, and sparkly flapper dresses by Poiret and others that are beaded beyond belief and look as if they were made yesterday.

1925 lame and lace dress by Paul Poiret and 1925-28 evening dress with paillettes, beads, and crystals

There’s a tongue-in-cheek gallery with Sandy’s collection of sartorial puns from the Eighties by Stephen Sprouse and Patrick Kelly, alongside and fool-the-eye hats and accessories by Stephen Jones and Philip Treacy. (Turkey feathers painted to look like butterflies, anyone?)

Alongside a watercolor portrait of Sandy, there’s another hint to what her collecting will add to the Met – a works-on-paper collection from the early 20th century, featuring pen-and-ink illustrations that were how fashion houses showed their clients what each season had to offer. It will be exciting to see more from the print portfolio that Poiret created with star illustrator Georges Lepape for his best clients.

Enjoy this brief glimpse into a space where Ms. Schreier’s gift provides beauty, delight, and reverence for masterful makers around every corner.

Resistance and Power via Fashion at FIT

2016 jacket by Kerby Jean-Raymond for Pyer Moss powerfully protesting racism in the fashion industry

Although the doors to the museum exhibition are shut tight, the Museum at FIT still allows full access to its spring show Power Mode: The Force of Fashion through its online exhibition.

The power of resistance and how clothes convey the message are among the themes explored. Hand-crafted items such as jackets slashed with anti-racist graffiti, T-shirts silkscreened with bold words, and pink pussy hats are shown (and discussed) alongside high-end designer appropriations of messages, causes, or culture.

The exhibition presents actual 19th– and 20th-century uniforms – templates of precision, force, and authority – next to creations in which high-fashion designers channel this concept of “power” through military colors or styling.

Power to resist 2017 – a T-shirt from the Women’s March T-shirt and a feminist statement by Maria Grazie Chiuri in her first collection for Dior

The show explores examples of economic power via “status dressing” over three centuries and shows how the authority of a man’s traditionally tailored suit was adapted to white-suit statements by women showing power – not only by the marching and protesting suffragettes of the last century, but also by the current crop of female politicians in the United States.

Take a close-up look at the details in our Flickr album and read more about individual items on the show’s website.

Curator Emma McClendon gave a lot of thought to the visual cues, economic issues, and shifting societal backdrops for as she selected the items for this show.  Join her on a walkthrough to find out what lies beneath the surface of everyday, extravagant, and elemental clothing choices :

Status dressing – 1991 gold-plated necklace by Karl Lagerfeld criticized for its cultural appropriation of hip-hop street culture

Building a Retail Empire on Wearable Art

Vera’s 1950 silk “Fish Scroll” scarf, featured on the cover Harper’s

So many of the great female entrepreneurial success stories begin at the kitchen table, and the story currently being told by the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) in Vera Paints a Scarf: The Art and Design of Vera Neumann, on view through January 26, is no exception.

Fashionistas today may be too young to remember when the American height of chic was to sport a scarf by Vera. Back in the Sixties and Seventies, Vera pretty much had a lock on the retail market for bold, colorful silk scarves through major department-store behemoths.

The exhibition is a tribute to a woman who took her love of painting, travel, nature, and culture to the wardrobe and accessory drawers of all fashionable American households, and ended up partnering with many top manufacturers to push her aesthetic and flare into mid-century modern homes.

Vera’s silk scarves, based upon watercolors, hung as art at MAD

Although her name is not well known by young people today, MAD’s exhibition is a fitting tribute to a woman who virtually invented the concept of “lifestyle” brand. It’s hard to believe that an aspiring artist born in Connecticut in 1907 would grow up and develop her company to pack such a punch in retail.

A graduate of Cooper Union and Traphagen in the 1920s, during the Depression, Vera and her husband set up a silkscreen on their little Manhattan kitchen table and began printing her paintings on surplus parachute silk. Within a few years, her beautiful silks were being retailed at B. Altman, Lord & Taylor, and other nice shops in the city. Her joyous prints were a success!

Vera’s 1960-1965 silk blouses with paintings of blue poppies and woodland images

Building her business through the war years, Vera took her first foray into fashion in the 1950s, creating tops and blouses that she came to market as “wearable art.” Rather than simply printing yards of repeating patterns, she went a step further – engineering prints in panels, so when pattern cutters and sewers assembled her shirts, her beautiful patters would strategically appear in the final product, enhancing cuffs, collars, edges, and hems.

Of course, everything was priced for the widest possible market, so a woman seeking a bit of fashion flair could buy a Vera without blowing her budget. She followed the art-plus-commerce philosophy – a Bauhaus innovation – and maximized accessibility of mid-century modern design by expanding into home textiles, tabletop accessories, and dishes.

1979 “The Birches” china dining set for Mikasa with matching tablecloth

As her business grew, Vera came to rely upon the next generation (Perry Ellis got his start with her) to keep the design development chugging along while she traveled to Asia and other parts of the world to feed the constant demand for new inspiration for her collections.

MAD has assembled a beautiful, loving exhibition of Vera’s output, showing how her original watercolor work made its way into her commercial ventures – scarves, clothes, and home décor. Perhaps most remarkable is that this powerhouse kept traveling, painting, and channeling joy into her textiles well into her eighties – an inspirational lesson in love of life, art, craft, and culture.

1971 “Northwest Coast” silk scarf

Thank you, Vera! Long may your prints wave!

And thank you to MAD for sharing Vera’s lifetime of creations and inspiring story!

See more photos of this wonderful exhibition in our Flickr album.

Back in Time with Wolf Nation at the Whitney

1-4 Wolf Nation at The Whitney

2018 Wolf Nation video, featuring endangered red wolves in New York and evoking the vanished Lenape (Wolf Clan) of Manhattan and New Jersey

The darkened room with the plaintive cries of the wolves is the heart of Alan Michelson: Wolf Nation, at the Whitney Museum of American Art through January 12, but the other three installations created by the internationally renowned Mohawk artist take you back to experience what the Lenapes saw over 400 years ago on the very ground upon which you stand.

It’s subtle and it’s outside the pace of today’s bustling Meatpacking District, so take your time and slow down.

1-1 Wolf Nation at The Whitney

Sapponckanikan (Tobacco Field) that allows visitors to walk among ritual tobacco plantings in the museum lobby, near the Lenape’s original field

The first experience is right inside the entrance – an augmented reality (AR) piece that transforms the busy lobby into a tobacco field that historians say was planted over 400 hundred years ago by the Lenape people where Ganesvoort Street ends today.

Through an iPad (or by downloading AR co-creator Steven Fragale’s app), visitors can watch and walk through a field of lush tobacco plants that the original inhabitants of Manhattan used for rituals and ceremonies.  Different from the commercial tobacco that was grown for export, the virtual plants are based upon the type grown by Michelson’s sister in her upstate garden.

It’s an effective experience that causes visitors to stop and think about nature, history, indigenous cultures, and cycles of life in an ultra-modern, hyperactive environment that is typically untethered to the ancient or natural.

On the fifth floor, the experiences continue in a hallway and theater just off the Rachel Harrison retrospective.

1-5 Wolf Nation at The Whitney

Mt. Vernon-inspired wallpaper backdrop for 2019 Town Destroyer AR installation that evokes memory of 1779 destruction of the Haudenosaunee people in New York State

A second AR installation, Town Destroyer, uses a genteel, upscale, Mount Vernon-inspired colonial interior to educate visitors about a particularly gruesome removal of 60 settlements of Native people during the early years of the American Revolution in upstate New York.

The wallpaper image of General Washington becomes a 3D marble bust when seen through the AR app, upon which is projected a map of the lands taken from the Haudnosaunee, upon his orders, by the Sullivan Expedition in 1779. Projections of State historical markers tell the sad tale, reminding viewers of the forgotten history of displacement, violence, and greed endured by New York’s First Nations…even at the hands of our Revolutionary heroes.

Visitors who see the installation rush over to read the label copy to get better informed about this forgotten history and to wonder what else was left out of American history books about the vanquished people.

Wolf Nation_AR Images

Historical markers and maps about 1779 Continental Army aggression against Native Americans in Town Destroyer AR installation

The large, comfortable dark theater has an enormous wide-screen video of several of New York’s most endangered species – red wolves. You’re seeing them at night in their native habitat upstate, or so it seems. In actuality, you are seeing residents of a captive breeding colony maintained in the hopes of increasing the remaining population of 17.

It looks like a mysterious nighttime scene, shot with a surveillance camera. The pace is slow, with different members of the group arriving, listening, and leaving, fully alert. Sounds of their calls in the distance fill the room.

The effect is hypnotic, allowing viewers to slow down, see the wolves at their eye level, and reflect upon status of our indigenous wildlife and people.  The Lenape, who first colonized Manhattan and New Jersey, identified as Wolf Clan. The color and shape of the cinema projection evokes wampum, the purple and white clamshell beads strung by the Lenape as gifts or to seal treaties.

All of Michelson’s work here requires visitors to slow down their pace and see their surroundings through the eyes of people who stood right there 400 years ago.

1-3 Wolf Nation at The Whitney

Shattemuc video in which a boat’s searchlight illuminates the Hudson River shoreline at night

Shattemuc, a quiet video does just that.  Sit for a while, and see what the Hudson River looks like, illuminated only by a circle of light from a boat that is making its way slowly through the waters in the dead of night. No skyscrapers, no water taxis, no giant clocks.  Just shoreline, trees, cliffs, an occasional small settlement, small boats, and a small, up-close personal feeling.

Then later, as you take in the magnificent view Hudson from the west windows of the fifth-floor Whitney, Michelson’s work allows you to envision what the Lenape saw.

So, despite the distance in time, did Native Americans truly vanish from the shores of New York? Actually, the city today hosts one of the largest populations among big cities in the United States, including many working artists and cultural scholars.

Michelson is one of the leading voices advocating that museums and galleries reflect the work of the first Americans, and congratulations to The Whitney for making this a priority. See Michelson’s seminar on this here.

Urban Indian: Native New York Now at the Museum of the City of New York, running through March 8, testifies to the continuing vibrancy of the First Americans in the cultural capital.

Cardin Sees the Future Through Fashion

The Brooklyn Museum’s latest blockbuster fashion exhibition Pierre Cardin: Future Fashion, open through January 5, presents the work of a French designer who continues to be inspired by the belief that simplicity, design, and science are essential ingredients for a world that lives in peace, treats men and women equally, and looks to the horizon.

Geometric minidresses and men’s ensembles worn with tights and over bodysuits from the revolutionary 1964 Cosmocorps collection

Cardin came of age as a designer in the 1950s creating luscious swing coats, lasso-backed draped suits, and prim (but red-hot) looks for Jackie Kennedy. But he shot to “influencer” status in the early 1960s with unisex looks, bodysuits, collarless jackets for the Beatles, reliance on a fashion-forward Japanese model, turtlenecks (for men and women), hoods, felt helmets, and body jewelry – in other words, all the basic building blocks that would be used to clothe the crew of the Starship Enterprise.

1957 “lasso back” suit, 1968 bodysuit ensemble, and Cosmocorps photo with video showing the unisex Star Trek costumes it inspired in 1966

The Brooklyn show begins with a chronology of Cardin’s young life – soldier, costumer, and Christian’s first employee at the House of Dior in 1946 – but rapidly gives way to a sensational array of tubular, unisex clothing from his mind-blowing Cosmocorps collection, which had so much impact on Sixties culture. Take a look at our favorites in Flickr album.

1968 wool and vinyl minidress, 1966 aluminum statement jewelry, a 1970 wool crepe “Kinetic” dress, and Avedon photo of Penelope Tree wearing a 1968 evening dress and collar

Although several other European designers could be credited with the evolution of the miniskirt, no one channeled the Space Age like Pierre Cardin when it came to shape, form, and use of new fabrics and materials – lenticular plexiglass, vinyl, Dynel pressed into 3D forms and shaped for the body, and parabolic structures that underpinned evening gowns, men’s jackets, and skirts. Pierre even went so far as to visit Houston and slip on an Apollo 11 astronaut’s suit.

1969 lenticular plexiglass and vinyl “armor” dress, 1968 heat-molded Dynel dress, 2007 jersey coat and suit with rubber, and 1991 jersey evening ensemble with parabolic shoulders and hat

It’s clear that the Sixties and Seventies fashions in the show reflect what was going on in the art world at the time – bright, bold colors of Pop Art, pared-down minimalism, an embrace of non-traditional materials, and kinetic art. (Carwash dresses, anyone?)

Even Cardin’s forays into furniture design reflect his belief that his hand-made contemporary works genuinely functioned as art first and utilitarian additions to the home second.

1968 circle coat and hat, next to 1979 Junior Unit, and 1977 Serge Manzon lamp

The final gallery in the Brooklyn show is a darkened room populated with mannequins in shimmering gowns and suits, electrified dresses and sportswear, and pieces embellished with parabolic hoops and flourishes – sheer Space Age magic. Slight swoops across the space, framing the last 20 years of Cardin’s output with an other-worldly, visionary feel.

2008 evening dress with parabolic hem, 2003 evening gown with plastic tubes, 1994/2000 velvet evening dress with Swarovski crystals on the orbital sleeves, and 2013 silk/lame evening dress with Swarovski crystals

A surprise inspiration is the revelation that Cardin at 97 is still designing and looking toward the future.  His predictions? That people will be on the Moon in 2069 wearing his Cosmocorps look, women will be sporting tube clothing and Plexiglass cloche hats, and that men will be wearing kinetic tunics and elliptical trousers.  Why not?

Watch as the curator explains how Cardin envisioned the future…

…and why this retrospective of his work is just right right now:

Fresh Look at Gertrude Whitney’s Collection

Lachaise 1912-1927 bronze Standing Woman with works acquired by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney herself

The Whitney’s Collection: Selections from 1900 to 1965 is a full-floor installation that focuses on the institution’s origin in 1930 as an eclectic, lively space where of-the-moment art could make a statement to the world – the same as today.

But rather than concentrate exclusively on all of the masterworks of American art that the museum owns, this show integrates some practically forgotten works and artists that the curators feel deserve a fresh look. So, walking through this chronological show, everyone gets a taste of something completely unexpected.

See some of our favorites here on Flickr.

When the elevator doors open, the first gallery is a tribute to the passion of Gertrude Whitney, the only American artist to establish a major museum. Lachaise’s bronze beauty beckons visitors to take a closer look at paintings that Gertrude herself acquired. Photographs of the Whitney’s earliest incarnation downtown are nearby to set the context.

Anne Goldthwaite’s 1926 Rebecca, purchased by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney 

It wasn’t a museum collection in the traditional sense, because Gertrude acquired paintings and sculptures by artists that she wanted to support. Better-known works by Bellows, Benton, and Bluemner are on display here, but so is a beautiful, rarely shown 1926 portrait by Anne Goldthwaite, a women’s rights activist from Alabama whose work was included in the 1913 Armory Show, but is not that well known today.

Subsequent galleries group artists inspired by uniquely American landscapes ­– urban engineering achievements of New York (Man Ray, Stella, Stettenheimer), O’Keeffe’s evocations of nature’s spirituality, and clean, idealized visions of modern industrial campuses (Demuth, Sheeler).

Andreas Feininger’s 1940 photo of the West Side Highway

Photographs dot the walls, including Herbert W. Gleason’s other-worldly 1908 images of Walden Pond and a modern 1940 image of the West Side Highway by Feininger, which anyone can see through windows in the Whitney’s Hudson-facing interior staircase.

A dark side gallery features one of the Whitney’s greatest treasures – Calder’s Circus, which has been newly conserved and restored. The ringmaster, bareback rider, and trapeze artists – all based upon actual performers from the Twenties ­– occupy the spotlight, surrounded by Calder’s performance props, Victrola, and whistles.

Here’s a recent video containing excerpts of how Circus was brought to life by the master himself and how it’s been conserved for posterity by a team at the Whitney:

An additional highlight in another gallery is the “show within a show” of Edward Hopper works and drawings – his early work from Paris, the solitary American townscapes, and a sketchbook in which he documented every painting he made. Everyone spends time here.

Edward Hopper’s ledger book documenting all his work 

A melancholy dark gallery is hung with paintings by American émigré artists whose work evokes surrealist experimentation, the war, urban isolation, and growing societal dissonance. A counterpoint (and surprise) is a 1939 animated film by experimental film pioneer Mary Ellen Bute, a symphonic short shown to the crowds at Radio City Music Hall before movie features.

The gallery devoted to Fifties abstraction showcases the usual suspects (Pollack, de Kooning, Kline), but intersperses new acquisitions and lesser-known players, such as a 1959 abstract canvas by Ed Clark, an African-American artist who trained in Paris courtesy of the GI Bill, which holds its own against the other AE powerhouses in the room.

Ed Clark’s 1959 abstract poured-acrylic painting 

Big David Smith and Barnett Newman sculptures reign on the outdoor terrace, right next to the joyful Pop Art gallery, dominated by a massive, four-panel 1964 Wesselmann and an engaging multi-person self-portrait (with dog) by Marisol in the corner.

The walk-through is a reminder of the riches that anchored the first 30 years of the Whitney and the efforts that the museum is taking to find powerful artwork from the archive that enhances the traditional narrative of 20th century American art history.

Go soon before the team changes it out for the next collection installation, and take the audio tour on the Whitney website.

Getting a breath of fresh air: Barnett Newman’s 1966 Here III and David Smith’s 1961 Lectern Sentinel

Minimal and Maximal Fashion at FIT

Minimal 2011 silk evening dress by Narciso Rodriguez next to wild 2018 Multidimensional Graffiti ensemble by Rei Kawakubo.

The Museum of FIT is having it both ways in Minimalism/Maximalism, on view through November 16. The first thing you see is a super-minimalist slip dress by Narciso Rodriguez alongside Rei Kawakubo’s semi-abstract ensemble filled with flourishes.

The show is an opportunity for the curators to present an historical case for the wild swings in fashion for the last 250 years, all drawn from FIT’s massive fashion archive.

Over-the-top, way-too-much fashion is shown alongside clean, spare, elevated statements, demonstrating how the fashion pendulum has swung between these two extremes, reflecting women’s liberation and high fashion’s societal mirror. Periods of excess, followed by understated silhouettes and statements.

18th century extravagance — an elaborate 1785 embroidered velvet French court suit

The chronological tour begins back in the mid-1700s, when continental courtiers had to keep up with the minutia and meanings behind the tiniest sartorial flourishes of court stylings. The right buckle, the proper embroidery, luxurious fabrics, and new silhouettes. FIT presents the excesses of luxurious brocades, incredible embroideries, and flounces required for both men and women.

By the 1800s, the taste for British simplicity overtook French excesses. Besides, revolutions elevating the common man and woman had jolted the world. The curators present a simple man’s suit created of luxury velvet and dresses made of largely under-stated muslin.

They make the point that the silhouette might be stripped down, but luxurious fabrics and complex layers were the subtle signals that elevated fashions worn by the upper classes were (literally) a cut above those worn by everyday people.

Close up of rich ornamentation, drapery, and embellishment on 1883 Worth gown from France

The next pendulum swing shows ever-wider ladies’ crinolines of the mid-19th century giving way to elaborately draped confections by Worth by century’s end. The curators underscore the fact that ladies’ high-end wear was expected to convey a sense of frivolity, while men’s suits remained serious, restrained, and constricted to more formal black-and-white.

The exhibition spotlights the revolution in simplicity that followed by the 1920s, when Chanel and her contemporaries introduced super-slim silhouettes, pulled jersey into sportswear, and liberated women from now-ancient-looking corseted frocks.

Giittery dancing shoes, feathers and beads, fringed accessories signaled the Jazz Age – kinetic, modern, and Deco. The embellishments could be excessive, but they all had sharp lines and clean looks.

Simplified sportswear from America – detail of a 1952 cotton dress by Clare McCardell

There’s a nod to the post-War structured silhouettes of the tour-de-force European eveningwear designers, but these elaborate sculptural forms are sit next to the blazingly modern, simple sporty shapes of Clare McCardell. American women adopted these clean-lined creations in droves, not only because they were perfect to popping in and out of suburban cars, but they were widely available as ready-to-wear in stores across the country.

The Sixties section of the show begins with ultra-modern space and art-inspired dresses and jumpsuits and works its way into the flip side – over-the-top psychedelic fabric creations.

Remember the Sevenites and Eighties? The minimal side is represented by Jordache jeans, Halston, Armani soft suits, and Donna Karan’s easy pieces.  The excessive counterpoint by Thierry Mugler’s theatrical, disco-inspired, big-shouldered to-be-seen dress and a studded-to-the-max ensemble by Versace.

Body-conscious simplicity – a 1973 jersey color-contrast T-shirt dress by Stephen Burrows and 1976 silk jersey jumpsuit by Halston

Filling in the chronology to today, the curators use accessories – -Murakami’s Vuitton bag, McQueen’s pheasant-claw necklace, and Iris van Herpen shoes – to demonstrate the maximalist mixed bag to which we’re now accustomed at the ultra-high end.

Styles are eclipsed at a record pace, as evidenced by the video in the gallery — John Galiano’s 2019 collection for Margiela, which starts with crazy, nearly unwearable experiments and transforms to stripped-down, utilitarian wear.

It drives home the point that maximalist and minimalist sometimes co-exist today in the same show and within the same garment.

See some of our favorites from show in our Flickr album, and take a deeper dive into FIT’s fantastic web exhibition.

Minimal shape + maximal print: a 2015 ensemble by Phoebe Philo for Céline and a 2019 dress in digitally printed silk chiffon by Wes Gordon for Carolina Herrera

The Met’s Deep Dive Under the Surface of Camp Fashion

2009 ensemble by Indian designer Manish Aurora.

The clothes are witty, glittery, and scandalous at the Met’s blockbuster fashion exhibition Camp: Notes on Fashion, on view through September 8, but make no mistake – the fun and frivolity are packaged (at least in the opening galleries of the exhibit) in a way that asks visitors to go deep beneath the surface and look at the three centuries of societal norms that provocateurs have shattered through style, clothes, and living large.

The kaleidoscope of outrageous fashion in the final gallery is the sensory payoff to the journey, but visitors who race through and don’t read the label copy in the first part of the show will have missed the point: the show is a chronology of how some brave (or rich) rule-breakers did things that have become stereotypes for gay and camp sensibilities and dress in the 21st century.

1998 ensemble by Jean Paul Gaultier merging menswear with a woman’s 18th c. corseted gown.

The pose of male models inspiring Renaissance bronze statuary, the balletic inclinations of Versailles’ Sun King, the cross-dressing Brit couple whose families shunned them, and the proclivities and scandals of literary genius Oscar Wilde are used to tell the roots story of “camp” sensibility that went viral in Madonna’s Vogue, RuPaul’s Drag Race, and Cardi B’s appearance in Mugler at this year’s Grammys.

To drive the point home, the curators have matched ancient treasures (Renaissance sketchbooks, Versailles costume sketches, and Wilde manuscripts from Oxford) with modern fashions by designers who spoof classical statuary (Westwood), out-do Versailles excess (Lagerfeld), and create dandies (YSL).

Peter Hujar’s 1975 photo of Sontag and her 1964 manuscript of “Notes on Camp.”

The beating heart of the show is the presentation of Susan Sontag’s 1964 listicle of “camp” sensibility. Her original marked-up manuscript is flanked by works and tributes by her fanboy Warhol.

Sontag and Andy hold court over a room filled with treasures of the Met’s collection that illustrate her definitions and classifications – Art Nouveau, 19th century Gothic sensation, 17th century court fashion, flapper dresses, Tiffany lamps, and wispy gowns created from all-over feathers. Dozens of divine objects are there to enjoy while listing to the stabbing rhythm of Sontag’s typewriter keys. It’s a brilliant deconstruction of her work that captivates visitors who diligently work their way around the room.

Judy Garland’s 1938 Ferragamo sandals and 2018 resort shoes by Alessandro Michele for Gucci.

A great approach is the “high camp” and “low camp” corridor, which illustrates designers’ unintentional icons of camp, paired with over-the-top takes and sartorial commentary.

Just compare Judy Garland’s Ferragamos with athletic-inspired Gucci resort shoes by Alessandro Michele, or Poiret’s 1912 touch of mink on an Asian-inspired evening ensemble with Mary Katrantzou’s blatant Orientalist snark in 2011.

An interesting curatorial decision: the celebrity fashion is not obviously identified – you have to “know” that it’s the Duke of Windsor’s evening suit, that the turban belonged to Carmen Miranda, or that the bejeweled Bob Mackie was worn by Cher.

Mugler’s 1995 Venus – an embroidered bodysuit + a velvet and satin dress.

Younger visitors have no trouble linking the vintage Mugler to Cardi B, but at least one young man pointed to a bejeweled suit and said, “That’s so reminiscent of Liberace” without realizing that the jacket had actually belonged to the iconic superstar.

The finale room is so packed with over-the-top couture and campy statement pieces that the IDs really don’t matter. It’s a Coney Island of camp with dozens of creations vying for your attention overhead, up and down, and in the middle of the room.

People wander every which way, trying to take it all in – a futile endeavor.  Even on the second, third, or fourth visit, you’ll find something you’ve never noticed before.

Fashions in the Camp Eye gallery, including Moschino’s TV Dinner dress.

The room is alive with color, quotes, cultural references, social statements, and an explosion of unconventional materials – Patrick Kelly channeling Josephine Baker’s banana dance, Jeremy Scott’s Moschino gown channeling Budweiser’s graphics, dresses that look like Tiffany jewelry pouches.  It’s over the top and all too much, which is the point.

Congratulations to the curators for presenting Wilde’s prison tome, De Profundis, on loan from the UK, and the vintage vogueing video that shows Pose fans the source material from the Harlem ballrooms.                                                                                 

Look at our favorites here. If you can’t get there, read the Met’s essays on each gallery, see their picks, and read the quotes on the walls.

Here’s the promo produced by the Met that explores answers to the question, “What is camp?”

And here’s a 2-minute look back to how this year’s celebrity invitees answered their invitation to the May gala. Bravo:

Raw Punk Graphics Kick It at MAD

The vibrant, irreverent, and rule-breaking cacophony of the London and downtown New York punk scenes is brought to life in the Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die: Punk Graphics, 1976 – 1986 exhibition, residing on two full floors of the Museum of Art and Design through August 18.

Being surrounded by black walls plastered with DIY flyers and silkscreened posters of famous acts in long-gone clubs brings back memories of prowling CBGBs in the 70s and 80s, leaning about the next great act playing in a hole-in-the-wall club from a screaming poster, and getting grimy from paging through cheap, low-budget music zines on newsprint.

1974 poster for Patti Smith’s six-night run at Max’s and Gary Panter’s logo on a 1978 poster for the LA electro-punk group Screamers

Looking around the room, you’ll see posters and flyers for Patti Smith at Max’s, Pere Ubu at Harrah’s, and an array of bands at Amsterdam’s Paradiso – some handmade, some barely drawn, and others that you’ll recollect as stand-out graphic signs of the times, like Gary Panter’s iconic logo for the Screamers.

In the center of the room, MAD has thoughtfully presented boxes of albums and turntables, allowing every visitor to experience the ultimate 1970s interactive music experience. Just flipping through the albums covers brings the excitement and wonder of this pre-Internet music era roaring back to life.

Cover of 1978 Punk Magazine Calendar designed by John Holmstrom and Legs McNeil

The show presents Andrew Krivine’s extensive collection of punk posters, buttons, and other stuff that he began as a teenager hanging out in his cousin’s punk shop Boy on the King’s Road in London. Fascinated by arresting designs and wild typography, his collection expanded beyond the DIY ethos of the early punk aesthetic to more thoughtfully designed creations by emerging graphic-design stars in the UK.

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

It’s easy to enjoy this show, which is not grouped by history or music styles; rather, it’s a celebration of the vast influences on graphic practice during the punk and New Wave era – newsprint, cut-and-paste collage, hand-crafted designs with rub-off Letraset letters, and high-art references to Russian Constructivist, Bauhaus, and Pop Art masters.

1979 album cover by Jill Mumford

Listening in to conversations among rapt visitors in the busy gallery provides additional reference to anyone too young to have lived through this era in New York. Music connoisseurs will point toward a poster and inform anyone listening, “That’s more ‘New Wave’ than ‘punk’…I don’t know why this is all on the same wall.”

But everyone is having a grand time seeing images, hearing the bands’ music, and watching film footage of this rebellious period that left its mark on music, fashion, and culture at large.

1977 poster by Jamie Reid and David Jacobs

The Sex Pistols, who started it all in 1976, are well represented in the show. John (“Johnny Rotten”) Lydon, who spoke at the opening, reflected back on the days when rule-breaking start-ups like his had no advance men, no tour promoters, no corporate backers, and created all their own posters, graphics, and flyers.

Forty years ago, he reminded, there were no computers or Google searches, so you had to be able to hand-stencil and hand-draw everything yourself.  “I went to the library and learned how to draw and paint and read,” he added, “and best of all, the library was free!”

1978 record cover by Laurie Rae Chamberlain using Xerox images

By the time bands from this era “grew up” and moved toward world tours and more commercial success, innovative graphic artists were tapped to create thought-provoking, stand-out work – Peter Saville, Malcolm Garrett, Tibor Kalman, and Barney Bubbles all have multiple works in the show.

Be sure to hang out and enjoy the raw energy bursting forth in the clips from the 16mm documentary “The Blank Generation,” featuring live 1976 club performances by the downtown legends who defined New York punk.

Jarring type and photo defacement on edgy 1983 Talking Heads poster

 Thanks to MAD and Andrew Krivine, who let Cranbrook Art Museum curator Andrew Blauvelt bring his collection to life for an appreciative audience.

Bigger Field of Vision in Sixties Color Painting

Color Field: Fritz Scholder’s 1965 oil New Mexico Number 21 in the MoCNA show

When curators from two different museums in two parts of the country wanted to tell new stories about paintings from their collections, both chose to look at big, bold colorful work done by known and less-well-known artists in the Sixties and Seventies.

The Whitney Museum of American art created Spilling Over: Painting Color in the 1960s, which is on view through August 18, to showcase new acquisitions that tell a more complete story about painters using splatters, drips, and jazzy figures with in-your-face colors.

The AIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (MoCNA) in Santa Fe created Action/Abstraction Redefined, on view through July 7, to highlight the way young Native American painters – some of whom went on to have major art careers – channeled the zeitgeist of the East-Coast gallery scene into something with which they could make a personal mark.

Sam Gilliam’s 1968 pored-paint, draped canvas at The Whitney

The curators at both institutions were thinking along similar lines.

Although Spilling Over features Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, Frank Stella, and other icons of the wall-sized color painting movement sweeping through New York galleries in the Sixties, the curators wanted to make sure that the public understood that there were female, Native American, and African-American color painters experimenting with these trends, too.

The Whitney has given Sam Gilliam’s draped and splattered canvas a place of honor at the end of the two-gallery vista. He was one of the few African-American artists to gain coverage in Artforum back in the day, but is largely unknown to younger art-going audiences.

At the opposite end of the space, the curators showcase an electrifying neon canvas by Alan Loving, the first African-American to have a solo show at the Whitney in the late Sixties.

1970 acrylic by Alan Loving, the first African-American given a solo show at the Whitney

Color-figure work by Cherokee artist Kay Walking Stick is featured alongside other painters like Harlem’s Edith Amos and Alex Katz, who slathered color across figurative canvases. It’s all about introducing art-lovers to new faces in the canon of American Art.

While women and artists of color were trying to get their work on the walls of New York museums and galleries, up-and-coming Native American abstractionists were waging a different type of battle for acceptance – a struggle that led to the birth of the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in the early Sixties.

Hard-edged 1968 acrylic by Hopi/Pima artist Frances Makil, incorporating cultural motifs in the MoCNA show

Contemporary abstract work by Native American Modernists in the late 1950s was typically rejected from competitive and museum-curated art shows. Juries and curators were clearly biased toward traditional forms of expression, and young innovators bristled at being told to “stay in their place.”

When the Institute of American Indian Arts opened in 1962, the next generation seized the opportunity to put their mark on what was setting the art market on fire – big, expressive abstraction; atmospheric color field works; and geometry.

These works, some of which were accessed into MoCNA from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, tell quite a compelling story about early-stage experimentation and the opportunity that the arts-education initiative provided to emerging artists out West. The years spent making work at IAIA gave a kick-start to careers of some of the best-known native artists today – T.C. Cannon, Fritz Scholder, and George Morrison. Judge by the results you see here.

Gesture and expression: 1965 pastel by Hopi/Choctaw artist Linda Lomahaftewa

The MoCNA curators also wanted to make space for women in their exhibition, too, such as Frances Makil. The 1965 pastel by Hopi/Choctaw artist Linda Lomahaftewa uses the artist’s own culture as inspiration, but the lines and spirals echo some of the Whitney’s own abstract, meditative canvases by Lee Krasner, who also drew energy from spirit worlds.

Both shows open the doors to new faces to widen the conversation about color-painting history, and these paintings all have a lot to say.

Listen to Whitney curator David Breslin and artists explain how a collection show can reframe conventional art history, and learn more about the artists in the audio tour here: