When Advertising was Revolutionary

Abstraction was being invented, monarchies were falling, wars were raging, and modern 20th century artists decided to turn advertising on its head, too. Artists left studios in droves and began making posters, brochures, billboards, traveling agit-prop theater wagons, and new-fangled telecommunications towers.

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Modernist Russian billboards and works from Rodchenko and Mayakovsky’s 1923-1925 Advertising-Constructor agency

That’s just the first gallery of Engineer, Agitator, Constructor: The Artist Reinvented, on view at MoMA through April 10 – a show that investigates how artists change their focus to meet the moment of social, technical, commercial, and political change.

The focus is the period between WWI and WWII, when the avant-garde began mixing it up to bring about a whole new world for consumers, city planners, publishers, and the proletariat. Take a look at our favorite works in our Flickr album.

The first gallery provides a broad view of how other avant-garde abstractionists first inspired by Malevich’s Suprematism experimented now used pure, kinetic shapes to dance across children’s books, pavilions, costumes, and posters in the earliest days after the Russian Revolution.

El Lissitzky’s 1922 book About Two Squares: A Suprematist Tale of Two Squares in Six Constructions

The 300 works in the show are principally works on paper, collected by and donated to MoMA by Merrill Berman – a treasure trove that includes particularly rare and unique items that the curators use to tell quite a story.

A 1922 costume design by Popova, inspired by workers’ uniforms

One entire wall is dedicated to Ms. Popova, where you can stroll by paintings, covers for sheet music, and prints – all the ways she applied her genius. Another long wall displays dynamic work by Rodchenko and Mayakovsky, whose Advertising-Constructor agency mixed poetry and innovative, angled constructivist style to sell chocolate and other consumer products.

Mixed-media plays a major role in the exhibition, with several galleries showing how European artists embraced collage and photomontage both in their personal studio work and in graphic designs that shook up the look of mass market publications, industrial marketing, postcards, and political posters.

Dynamic photo montage 1928 postcards by Gustav Klutsis to promote the All-Union Spartaklada Sporting Event

Another section of the show provides an introduction to innovative Polish, Hungarian, and Dutch indie zines shared, collected, and treasured by cutting-edge writers and designers excited by possibilities of the early 20th century.

Creative European magazines published in the late Twenties

Angled, geometric, and loaded with innovative typography, these rare magazines share the space with paintings by Mondrian, sculpture by Moholy-Nagy, and other geometric shape-shifters.

1924 photo of Henryk Berlewi and his exhibition at a Warsaw Austro-Daimler showroom with works from his Mechano Facture series, inspired by industrial technology

Women are prominently showcased in every gallery of the exhibition, including the massive wall of Soviet posters by female designers whose images celebrate the contributions of women to the industrial workforce.

1931 poster by Natalia Pinus acknowledging female farmers and other collective workers

Visionary drawings, watercolors, and poster posters are around every corner – and most are never-before-seen surprises. Before WWII brought it all to an end, the curators show the modern innovations that these creatives had in mind – new architecture, advertising constructions, and modern furniture fairs.

Walter Dexel’s 1928 design combines an airshaft, ad kiosk, and telephone booth. Herbert Bayer’s design for an electrified ad tower for an electricity company, done when he was just a student at the Bauhaus. Willi Baumeister’s 1927 poster that directly declares interior designs of the past are over.

Elena Semenova’s 1926 design sketch for a Russian worker’s lounge looks like a precursor to WeWork.

1927 poster by Willi Baumeister promoting a modern furniture exhibition in Stuttgart
Vision for model communal space: Elena Semenova’s 1926 design watercolor for a Russian worker’s club lounge

Enjoy this special program with Ellen Lupton and curator Jodi Hauptman in a fascinating discussion about work by several revolutionary designers and how so many intermingled careers in graphic and fine arts during tumultuous times:

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

Virtual Museum Events – New Show Tours at MoMA, The Whitney, Poster House, and American Folk Art

For Easter Week, you’ll have an opportunity to join online tours of the new architecture show at MoMA, Julie Mehretu’s retrospective at The Whitney, the Lincoln Center poster show at Poster House, and a look at visionary photography at the Museum of American Folk Art.  See the full list of activities this week on our virtual events page.

Today (March 29) at 6:30pm, join MoMA to hear a panel of high-powered Black architects and designers to discuss Cities and Spatial Justice – one of the themes presented in MoMA’s new exhibition Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America. How are Black urban spaces created and protected? How do communities reckon with the past to create a future? Join in to participate in this timely discussion.

At 9pm, join the New Museum for a talk with Rachel Rossin, an artist whose work is part of World on a Wire, an online visual exhibition that is the first exhibition in a new partnership between Hyundai Motor Company and Rhizome, the museum’s digital art affiliate. The later (US) time was set to allow art lovers in Seoul and Beijing to join in at a reasonable time, too.

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Rachel Rossin work at Hyundai Motorstudio Beijing and World on a Wire digital project.

On Tuesday (March 30) at 7pm, join a tour for the new Julie Mehretu mid-career retrospective at the Whitney Museum. See the giant, genius, multilayered canvases with the curator and find out how maps, revolutions, social justice, and architecture have inspired her to create such monumental works. (And for the tour of Julie’s show in Spanish, join the tour online at noon on Friday, April 2.)

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Pondering Julie Mehretu’s Invisible Line at the Whitney

At 8pm, take a trip to Tokyo’s An’yo-in Temple to hear one of the earliest forms of meditative, chanting vocal music reimagined in a new work by the young composer. Japan Society, the University of Chicago, and Carnegie Hall present Shomyo: Buddhist Ritual Chant – Moonlight Mantra, followed by a live Q&A with the composer.

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Traditional Buddhist chanting in Tokly’s An’yo-in Temple on Tuesday, courtesy of Japan Society and Carnegie Hall

The temple is created in a traditional method of joining wood without nails or glue, and ties into the society’s current exhibition, When Practice Becomes Form: Carpentry Tools from Japan.

On Wednesday (March 31), join Poster House for its program, For the Many: the Public Art of Lincoln Center, which is being held in association with the museum’s current exhibition, Vera List & The Posters of Lincoln Center. The program includes an introduction to Lincoln Center’s poster project – the landmark series pioneered by Vera List –and goes on to showcase the full range of public art commissioned for this New York cultural landmark.

Dorothy Gillespie’s 1989 Lincoln Center information center poster.

On Thursday (April 1) at 11am, take another trip to Japan to visit the Tokachi Millennium Forest ecological project on Hokkaido with experts from the New York Botanical Garden. Hear them talk about the master plan for this project, how they merged the “new Japanese horticulture” with wild nature, and how they created not only a beautiful garden but a gorgeous new book.

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Travel to the Tokachi Millennium Forest in Japan with NYBG and Dan Pearson and Midori Shintani

At 6pm, join the Museum of American Folk Art for a panel discussion (Re)Turning the Gaze, on the relationship of “the gaze” to gender, race, and sexuality. The panelists will feature photographs from the provocative current exhibition, PHOTO | BRUT: Collection Bruno Decharme & Compagnie.

Adam Pendleton at New Museum. Photo: Dario Lasagni

At 7pm, join the conversation at the New Museum with Adam Pendleton, who’s transformed the museum lobby into an exciting environment for the acclaimed Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America exhibition. He often talks about “Black dada” – art that incorporates blackness, abstraction, and the avant-garde. If you can’t get to New York, take an online tour of the exhibition at 11am on Saturday, April 3.

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

The crowds were at the Whitney to get their first look at the Julie Mehretu retrospective and to take a last look at the Kamoinge Workshop photographs from the Sixties and Seventies in the last weekend of Working Together. We saw lots of conversations and contemplations happening inside the Kamoinge gallery.  Although the show closed yesterday, the Whitney is offering one final virtual tour at noon on Thursday (April 1).

This past week, we went to the Met’s virtual opening of the Alice Neel retrospective, which is now posted online. Take a look.

We also joined MoMA’s online event with the Calder Foundation to take a closer look at the new exhibition, Alexander Calder – Modern from the Start.

The program is now posted on MoMA’s YouTube channel. Nearly 4,700 people have listened to Calder’s grandson Sandy Rower (and head of the Calder Foundation) shatter some Calder myths and show decades-old color 16mm film of Tanguy, Duchamp, and his grandmother hanging out with Calder in MoMA’s garden on 54th Street. (Don’t break that sculpture with the cat, Marcel!)

And while you’re on that YouTube channel, check out MoMA Virtual Cinema’s discussions with the directors, crews, and actors associated with some of their top picks for the film-awards season – Nomadland, Borat, Mank, Sound of Metal, and Minari.

Calder’s 1934 sculpture A Universe at MoMA

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 – Jim Dine, Niki de Saint Phalle, and Frida Khalo and New Artists

Jim Dine talking drawings online at The Morgan on Wednesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Museum Updates

KAWS: WHAT PARTY © KAWS. Photo: Michael Biondo

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

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

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

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.

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.)

MoMA Drawings Show How to Reboot

Detail of Chryssa’s 1959 Drawing for Stock Page

How do you start over when life is disrupted, everything is rearranged, and the world seems upside down? How do artists respond? A quiet show at MoMA lays out the answers in 80 works in its post-WWII exploration, Degree Zero: Drawing at Midcentury, on view through June 5.

Drawn from the museum’s archive of works on paper, the show illuminates the ways artists were seeking new means of expression following the traumatic years of the world war – turning to contemplative traditions of Asian culture, channeling under-the-surface emotions through abstraction, embracing chance in the process, and trying processes that no one had tried before.

Kline’s 1952 ink and oil drawing on cut-and-pasted paper

Visitors always seem to be taking the time to study each work and consider the ways each artist responded during a time of profound disruption, change, and promise. The works in the show, from across disciplines and continents, provide a contemplative window into the expressive ideas germinating between 1948 and 1961.

One of the first stories told by the beautiful, light abstract washes in the first gallery focuses on calligraphy-based experiments by post-war Japanese artists and their American counterparts. You’ll encounter beautiful, spiritual work by avant-garde Japanese artists that pay tribute to their culture’s calligraphic tradition.

Osawa Gakyu’s 1953 The Deep Pool, featured in MoMA’s 1954 avant-garde Japanese calligraphy show

In occupied Japan, students were prohibited practicing traditional calligraphy, so the surviving artists, such as Osawa Gakyu, took it underground, producing 100% abstract work inspired by the brushwork and style of the ancient tradition. Since New York artists were gaining global attention with their spiritual and expressive abstraction, the Japanese artists wondered if putting a modern spin on traditional techniques could gain them an international audience.

1956 ink and watercolor made by Pierre Alechinsky during his trip to Japan

They formed groups like Bokujinkai (People of the Ink) and began publishing a journal, Bokubi (Beauty of Ink). They found an eager international readership among forward-looking European and American artists who felt it was the right time to incorporate cross-cultural influences into their art.

In 1954, MoMA showcased avant-garde Japanese calligraphy in a special exhibition that brought wider recognition to the reinvention happening overseas.

1957 drawing by Kenzo Okada, done seven years after his move to The Village

Some artists, like France’s Pierre Alechinsky, were up front in his enthusiasm for avant-garde calligraphy and traveled to Japan to study. Others, like Franz Kline, eagerly absorbed exciting techniques from the new movement, but kept his enthusiasm quiet to avoid stirring up still-simmering anti-Japanese sentiments. Chryssa simply applied calligraphic strokes to the grid-like columns of newspaper stock listings.

MoMA also shows that influences were a two-way street, citing Kenzo Okada, who ultimately decided to move from Tokyo to Greenwich Village in 1950, give up realist painting, immerse himself in the AE scene, and set up a long, successful career in America. The show features one of his acclaimed abstract works.

1957 oil on paper by inspired abstractionist Joan Mitchell

The show also features works on paper by emerging abstractionists known for their hard-edge style, such as Ellsworth Kelly, Latin American modernist Willys de Castro, and Hungarian artist Vera Molnar.

In the latter half of the show, there’s an emphasis on joyous marks, color and process – a trio of crayon scribble drawings by Cy Twombly, gestural drawings (like mini-paintings) by Jackson Pollack and Joan Mitchell, and intense pastels by Beaufort Delaney. There are lots of examples of how visual artists used humble, small-scale materials to channel complex feelings onto a page. Often the results look just as epic as their big canvases elsewhere in the museum.

1953-54 Tomb by Sari Dienes, a gravestone rubbing with a flag

The process section of the exhibition features music notations by chance-master John Cage, but also showcases highly engaging work by artists who aren’t as well known today. Sari Dienes loomed large in the downtown experimental (Black Mountain/Fluxus) art scene of the Fifties and Sixties, and the presence of her large gravestone rubbing with flag explains directly why Rauchenberg and Johns felt they had learned from a master in their found-object forays through Lower Manhattan.

Experimental processes abound in the final gallery, evidence that artists everywhere were searching for new means of expression, letting chance take its course, and trying to usher in a new era of art making. Otto Piene’s dramatic drawing looks like he made tire track across the paper, but he actually created it by holding his paper over a candle flame and letting the soot make the marks.

Otto Piene’s 1959 drawing made by holding paper above a candle flame and letting the soot make its mark

Otto’s also the artist that founded Dusseldorf’s Zero group in 1958, stating “Zero is the incommensurable zone in which the old state turns into the new.”

Thanks to curator Samantha Friedman for taking his inspiration and creating such a satisfying, revealing show that’s perfect for making the transition from 2020 to 2021.

See our favorite works on our Flickr album and walk through the show with the curator here.

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).

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: