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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Iconic imagery, big statements, technical mastery, and long-distance endurance are all on display from the second you enter Jasper Johns: Mind/Mirror at The Whitney – the mind-bending retrospective of one of the century’s most celebrated artists.
Then you realize that this 12-part extravaganza is only half the story – a mirror image of the Whitney retrospective that is also on display 90 minutes south at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Each has different works and minutely different themes (the number paintings vs. the flag), but reflect the same scale and scope of the artist’s astonishing 70-year career.
Most art lovers know that the early work of Johns and Rauschenberg in the late 1950s and early 1960s helped to redirect the New York art scene from Abstract Expressionism toward Pop. But show puts a much-needed spotlight on the rest of Johns’ career – how he kept experimenting with media, pushing his own boundaries, manipulating paint to evoke an emotional response, and not letting any art-world “ism” impede his creative journey over the next 50 years.
Hear what the show’s two curators, Scott Rothkopf (NYC) and Carlos Basualdo (Philly), have to say about Johns, the “rules” he “broke,” and the mark his work left upon 20th century American art:
The sheer magnitude and quality of the artist’s output is on full display as you take the journey through the Whitney – masterful paintings, prints, drawings, watercolors, and sculptures.
As soon as the elevator doors open at The Whitney, viewers are confronted with a curved wall that contains dozens of surprises – a chronology of prints stretching from Johns’ early days in New York through works completed as recently as 2019. Walking left to right, the wall serves as a mini-retrospective as well as the intro to the larger show. Bravo to the team for this brilliant, engaging welcome.
But then you see works done in South Carolina, where Johns took in the beach and sky and recollected back to his childhood in the South. Big, bold, mystical, evocative puzzles taking the form of large-scale canvases, small intimate sculptures, and all forms of drawing and mark making.
You experience a room where the team has brought together work originally shown by Leo Castelli in his New York townhouse gallery in 1968. The exhibition designers mimic the size of the original gallery to let you experience the same thrill of interacting with these big, colorful, slightly conceptual, architectural paintings.
The centerpiece of the Whitney exhibition is a spectacular gallery created by the exhibition team to showcase the retrospective’s theme – how Johns used doubles and “mirroring” to explore perception and entice viewers to ponder the works more carefully. The exhibition designer explains and shows how the famed bronze Ballantine ale cans are the fulcrum around which Johns’ subsequent work revolves:
There are hundreds of loans from other museums and private collectors, and the two museums even swapped some of their own holdings.
And Johns himself has loaned never-before-exhibited works, including watercolors and drawings that he did in the 1980s. Although the colors draw you in, they represent the artist’s process of working through the ravages of HIV and loss inside the art community.
The curatorial precision of the show allows you to experience an evolving appreciation of Johns’ later work – experimental monotypes in the print studio, contemplation of the arc of life in monumental elegiac grey paintings, and sculptures completed in the 2000s. See more on the Whitney website about the works in the show.
The latter are displayed in natural light, which allows you to enjoy the cast bronze and aluminum number blocks as the sun shines over the Hudson from different angles. The changes illuminate the hand work, gestures, and conceptual rigor over time – a fitting encapsulation of this two-city tribute to Mr. Johns.
The drawings at the Morgan, David Hockney: Drawing from Life, on view through May 30, are a tribute to the friendships maintained and the artistic experimentations sustained over the artist’s 83-year lifetime.
The show was created by the National Portrait Gallery in London and centers on 100 portraits of five people who sat for Hockney across the decades – his mother and several close friends.
The exhibition is organized by person, so you can compare how each person looked from the beginning of Hockney’s studies, across the years, and most recently when they came to visit him in Normandy, where he lives now.
Most of the works are from the Hockney Foundation or from the artist’s own personal collection, which makes the show extra-special.
The exhibition begins with a series of self-portraits that Hockney did as a teen, and features his etching series about his first trip to America in the early 60s. Then it jumps to the many portraits he did of his mother in England.
Each series shows off his masterful accomplishments in precise colored pencil, mixed-media collage, watercolor, crayon, arranged Polaroid mosaics, etchings, ink washes, tight pencil sketches, and the biggest leap of all – digital drawings from his iPad.
Walking past the portraits, self-portraits, sketchbooks, and digital drawings, it’s quite a tribute to an artist who never stopped looking, wanting to sit with his favorite people, and slowed down to adopt techniques by other masters that he admired.
Take a look at works by a pop-culture virtuoso. Here’s a brief introduction to the exhibition by the Morgan’s director:
Take a walk through the exhibition on the Morgan’s website here, and join a YouTube tour with the curator here.
The curators pay tribute to these avid Aesthetic Movement collectors by framing these promised gifts with reproduction period wallpaper and fixtures, and it’s hard to decide where to look first.
The approach to this marvelous exhibition gives modern gallery-goers an experience of what Gilded Age interior designers had in mind – cramming foyers and drawing rooms with lush paintings, flashy techno brass furniture, Japanese-style ceramics, art pottery, and fringed upholstered seats decorated with Arts & Crafts tiles that throwback to mythical times.
The mix of styles and techniques – some old and some new – reflect a time when consumption of luxury goods ran wild with the ascension of New York City as the trading and shipping capital of the world. Many of the pieces reflect new machine-made technology mixed in with a bit of medieval nostalgia via the British Arts and Crafts movement.
Although the exhibition is slightly hidden away, the landscapes appearing throughout the show provide windows to lush valleys of the Rockies (thank you, Mr. Bierstadt!), autumn colors of the Catskills, and spectacular, tranquil shorelines on Maine’s rocky coast. All are either in their original fancy frames or reproductions from the era.
Most of the works are oil paintings, but (in case you didn’t know) New York was also the epicenter of the movement to make watercolor paintings the equal of any fine salon work. The curators have included work by the masterful William Trost Williams, so you can enjoy a side-by-side comparison of the techniques he used to give those oil painters a run for their money. Every time we’ve visited this show, visitors simply stand transfixed, drinking in the saturated, tranquil views of the faraway.
The ceramics, cloisonné tabletops, andirons, and many large-scale pieces reflect the period’s mania for anything with a hint of Japanese or Chinese style – delicate birds flitting through bamboo and fierce dragons swirling in magical space. Designers for the upper classes were captivated by images from kimonos, scrolls, screens, and ceramics from the East and made sure that custom commissioned pieces were on trend.
The mesmerizing beacon within the show is the spectacular array of Tiffany necklaces in the center – dramatic opals and sapphires, often encircled by intricate grapevines in gold or another nod to nature-by-design. The effect of these beauties side by side is magical, and you can imagine a Gilded Age beauty making an entrance with one of these dazzlers.
The Met just announced that its September 2022 Costume Institute exhibition would be displayed in the period rooms of the American Wing, so we’ll see if Mr. Bolton and his team deploy any period finery in the more-is-more 19th-century area.
Read more about pieces in this fantastic donation on the MetCollects blog and flip through close-ups of some the featured works.
New York museums are offering a full calendar of virtual events this week, including trips to Broadway history, hipster restaurants of the world, Buddhist virtual reality, and tributes to artistic genius. Take a look at the list here! Here are just a few highlights:
Do you miss Broadway? Learn about some little-known secrets behind hit shows today, Monday (April 12) at 5:30pm. It’s a rare chance to meet the president of the Rogers & Hammerstein Organization, Ted Chapin, who will be giving a behind-the-scenes look at the Great White Way in his program, From Follies to Flower Drum Song and Beyond. It’s the premiere of a conversation recorded last Fall with Broadway World’s Richard Ridge, courtesy of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.
Love restaurants? Especially ones with slightly nostalgic post-industrial interiors decorated with that hand-crafted look? At 7pm, join the Museum of Food and Drink to meet the authors who explored how the Brooklyn aesthetic for How a Restaurant Aesthetic Became a Global Phenomenon. Learn how restaurants around the world adopted the style, and find out if this brand of hip actually started in Brooklyn.
On Tuesday (April 14) at 6pm, join the architecture crowd at the Skyscraper Museum to hear Mark Sarkisian, the structural and seismic engineer who is a partner at SOM in San Francisco. Mark designed one of Shanghai’s first supertalls back in 1999. His talk Pivot to China: How Jin Mao Portended Future Supertalls will explain how this tower’s innovations influenced the generation of supertall skyscrapers that followed.
Also at 6:30pm – an opportunity to understand your karma. Join the Rubin Museum of Art for The Game of Life: An Interactive Virtual Experience. A contemplative psychotherapist will guide participants through a virtual Buddhist Wheel of Life to finding liberation from negative habits and patterns. The virtual game takes you throughout the different floors of the museum, and provides twists and turns. There are “Hell” and “God” Zoom rooms, but the payoff is higher awareness of one’s state of mind.
On Thursday (April 15) at 11am, it’s what all of New York has been waiting for! Mika Yoshitake, the curator of New York Botanical Garden’s KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature will provide a look at how Kusama’s blockbuster installation reflects nature, the earth, the microscopic, and the cosmos. Cosmic Nature: Embracing the Unknown will present Mike’s insights about Kusama’s artistic language and her unrelenting, lifelong journey into new territory.
Want to go backstage at a McQueen show? At 6pm you can. Join Vogue photographer Robert Fairer at Museum at FIT for a live Q&A about his new book, Alexander McQueen: Unseen. Experience memorable moments of fashion’s greatest, most outrageous showman and see what a genius at work backstage before the show.
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.
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.
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.
On Thursday (April 8) at noon, join one of the Whitney’s teaching fellows in Art History from Home: Making Knowingto 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.
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.
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.