Whitney Biennial Takes America’s Pulse in New Home

Larry Bell’s Pacific Red II

Moving into a new home often gives a new perspective on life, and it’s true of this year’s Whitney Biennial. The open, flexible spaces allowed significantly more creativity above the High Line than at the old confines of the Madison Avenue building — Larry Bell’s 2017 “Pacific Red II” installation lording it over The Standard, Asad Raza’s 26-tree installation with the skyline beyond, Cauleen Smith’s banners in the daylight downstairs, and light streaming through the faux “stained glass” window by Raul de Nieves.

Yes, interior spaces are filled with concept art, video installations, slide shows, and paintings, but the glimpses of light and sky serve like punctuation breaks from the sometimes-intense experiences about race, society, rising personal debt (even for artists!), and a throw-away cuture.

Caretaker explains growing trees for Asad Raza’s Root sequence, Mother tongue

The word on the street is that this is one of the most enjoyable Biennials in the show’s history, which is not to say that the curators have avoided challenging work. They haven’t.

Tension…disorientation…protest are all there in reflections on today’s social issues, censorship, social memory, marginalization of populations, and obsessions over the role that too-much-digitalization plays in our hectic lives.

But there are aspirational pieces, too – hopefulness, sincerity, and healing.

Classroom inside the Whitney by Chemi Rosado-Seijo

Think about the (concept art) school set up inside the Whitney. It’s the idea of Puerto Rican artist and educator Chemi Rosado-Seijo, who tried the same displacement between school and museum in his hometown – an experiment that the kids there are still talking about. For the Biennial, Chemi arranged for Lower Manhattan Arts Academy high school students come to the Whitney for classes one day a week; in exchange, work by Whitney artists is moved to the school.

Take a look at our Flickr album, which includes photos of Chemi and some of the other artists from the press preview.

The Whitney has done a spectacular job of documenting all the artists, their statements, and work on their website.

The museum has produced a beautiful testament to this year’s survey. Take a look and witness art history. Seventy-eight years and going strong:

Fast Forward to the Eighties at The Whitney

Kenny Scharf’s When the Worlds Collide, 1984, atop Keith Haring Pop Shop design

When the elevator doors open at the Whitney, you almost feel blown back by Kenny Scharf’s super-sized painting hanging atop Keith Haring’s busy black-and-white wall. So much action, color, and crazy coming right at you.

In the Whitney’s tribute to a decade of no-holes-barred life at full tilt, Fast Forward: Painting from the 1980s, closing May 14, the oversized, in-your-face welcome seems right.

For painters entering the world of the punked and burned-out East Village scene in the 1980s, their medium – paint on canvas — was supposed to be dead, eclipsed by performance, ephemeral, and trash-assemblage art. As this show demonstrates, painting indeed lived.

Close-up of Keith Haring felt-tip marker drawing on synthetic leather

What’s a curator to do with a vast archive of stuff that the Whitney collected in the Eighties? A brilliant solution: Give the superstars (Basquiat, Scharf, and Haring) top billing at the entrance and pull audiences back into the galleries that illuminate three themes – the heroic, the personal journey, and the abstract.

First, the mega-famous: Basquiat’s LNAPRK is a selfie-magnet, but the surprise is Haring’s felt-tipped-marker-inscribed synthetic leather hide. The Whitney snapped it up when they saw it mounted it in an early Eighties downtown gallery, and it hasn’t seen the light of day since. It’s everything that everyone loves about Keith – whimsical, meticulous, imaginative, mesmerizing, hand-drawn line interlocked with social commentary. How did he do it?

Close up of brushwork on Julien Schnabel’s 1982 velvet on velvet painting, Hope

Monumental history-painting-sized canvases by Golub, Fischl, and Schnabel dominate one gallery. Troubling topics are portrayed at a scale typically reserved for the Louvre. Getting up close to the Schnabel, however, reveals his sheer joy of paint, colorful swaths of brushwork swooshing across lush blue velvet. They could only have been painted with broad, heroic strokes. Painting, even in the rapidly transforming Soho, was not dead.

Salon-sized paintings and drawings dot the wall in the second gallery, evoking the roaring East Village art scene of the Eighties. Larger works hang on the surrounding walls, all personal narratives with a smattering of pop culture – a series evoking the troubles of Elizabeth Taylor, the internal journeys of Jonathan Borofsky, and the cultural conundrums that fueled crash-and-burn work by David Wojarowicz.

Detail of Moira Dryer’s 1988 Portrait of a Fingerprint

Abstraction rules the third gallery, personal and grand – the thick impasto of bio-inspired works by Terry Winters, Susan Rothenberg’s painterly eminences, and Moira Dryer’s fingerprint abstractions.

For more about the painters’ personal journeys, listen in on the audio tour of this satisfying trip back in time. To see the brushwork, go up close on our Flickr site.

Magical Masterworks End Tour at Met

Boy’s 1870-1900 hide shirt decorated in glass beads in geometric pattern by female Crow artist

Exquisite detail and spiritual power are evident in every item showcased in the Metropolitan’s show, Native American Masterpieces from the Charles and Valerie Diker Collection, closing March 31.

The Dikers have spent a lifetime collecting objects of incredible detail, spirit, and beauty and sharing truly dazzling works with the public, most recently in the Indigenous Beauty show which ends its national tour here in New York.

Every time we have visited the small showcase inside the Met’s African and Mesoamerican galleries, visitors have been pouring over every detail of the weave, beadwork, paint, inlay, and woodcarving on the masks, clay jars, baskets, shirts, coats, hats, headdresses, war shields, and hide canvases on display.

Magical colors, geometric patterns, attached talismans, and even mysterious paint splotches pack powerful messages as animals, spirit-creatures, and half-human beings emerge in two and three dimensions.

1840s man’s European-style hide coat created by a female Naskapi artist in Labrador

The majority of artwork and clothing dates from the 19th and early 20th centuries, but pieces are earlier, such as a nearly perfect Anasazi clay pot from 1100 A.D., which uses geometric 2-D wizardry on the curved surface to convey the interconnection of underground water reservoirs that enable agricultural communities to thrive in the Southwestern desert.

Native designs and magical powers are sometimes merged with European style, as in a man’s painted hide summer coat, which was created by a female Naskapi artist from Labrador, Canada. Designed inspired by European coats, with images for a good hunt, but worn by the hunter for only one season

The curators have taken care to cite the artists in cases where they are known, such as an1880s buffalo-hide shield painted by Joseph No Two Horns, a Lakota artist who participated in the 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn.

1910 woven quilled basket and 3D lid by Elizabeth Hickox of Northern California

The show puts a spotlight on innovators, who began making monumental works for collectors, such as the large pottery jar by Nampeyo, the first well-known Hopi artist and Elizabeth Hickox, who became known for her three-dimensional embellishments in woven basketry in Northern California.

Enjoy all of the details of our favorites from this show in our Flickr album.

Sixties Bus and Jag Pulling Out of MoMA

1967 bus by Mason Williams and Max Yavno with designer autographs from MoMA’s 1968 Word and Image show, with Joshua Light Snow’s 1967 Liquid Loops

Big alert to baby boomers: Only a little time left to catch MoMA’s big Sixties bus that’s parked on the fourth floor in a room filled with psychedelic posters and a Fillmore-style rock show light extravaganza. It’s all part of the crowd-pleaser of a show that’s been in residence for about a year – From the Collection: 1960-1969, closing March 19.

The curators cleared out the floor and organized their permanent collection year by year, taking you through every movement, ism, and trend in contemporary art of the Sixties, from Rauchenberg’s combines from his downtown loft, to Christo’s wraps, to Warhol’s Pop, the psychedelic revolution in poster and cover art, and the rise of women taking on the art establishment (go, Eva Hesse and Lynda Benglis!). Except for the room with the Beatles and the bus, it’s like vintage Artforum come to life.

Wall of 1967 psychedelic posters publicizing East and West coast rock bands

MoMA called upon six of its departments to assemble the look, touch, and feel of the decade, from scrappy mix-it-up works to minimal plastic design and flat-out revolts to the museum world.

The first room features an sleek Jaguar roadster from the design department, the first commercially produced car to resemble racers. It’s a reminder that aerodynamic lines of 1961 swinging London were a harbringer of things to come as imaginations and images turned to space, rockets, and the future as the years of the Sixties ticked by.

See shots of some of our favorites in a chronological gallery walk in our Flickr album. The decade begins with Bubble wrap (thanks again, design department!) and concludes with NASA Apollo photographs.

The aforementioned bus is actually a flat 1967 display that MoMA kept in its warehouse that was designed by Mason Williams and Max Yavno MoMA’s 1968 poster show Word and Image. It’s covered with autographs of Milton Glaser and other famous designers whose work was featured in the original show.

Jaguar’s aerodynamic 1961 E-Type Roadster sharing space with a Lee Bonticou work

For the rest of the weekend, the bus serves as kind of a boomer hangout. The Avedon Beatles (distributed in magazines worldwide to promote their Sgt. Pepper transition) and other iconic rock images are in the room.

Other hang-outs for different populations include the cushion-cubes near the video monitors showing analog reel-to-reel videos from the years when Portapak video cameras were born (remember when video cameras weren’t on your phone?) an cool art hounds entranced by all four walls of Mr. Rosenquist’s mind-blowing F-111 masterwork. It’s installed just as Mr. Castelli did way back when.

Hear what James Rosenquist was thinking in 1964 as he created his iconic wraparound painting, F-111. Thank you, MoMA!

 

Revolution Inside MoMA

1915-1917 Suprematist works by Kazimir Malevich

1915-1917 Suprematist works by Kazimir Malevich

The Museum of Modern Art has pulled 260 paintings, films, magazines, books, drawing, porcelain, posters, and paraphernalia from its collection to take us back 100 years and tell the story of one of the most astonishing artistic and political breakthroughs of the 20th century in A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde, closing March 12.

While Picasso and company were breaking boundaries in Paris, the Russians exited the war years by overthrowing their monarchy, getting rid of classical style, inventing non-objective picture making, and creating forms of revolutionary works that could reach the masses.

Lyubov Popova’s 1917-1919 print showing Cubo-Suprematist style

Lyubov Popova’s 1917-1919 print with Cubo-Suprematist style

Creativity, artistic manifestos, photo mash-ups, new cinematic forms, and philosophical inventions poured forth like an avalanche between 1913 and 1923.

The curators at MoMA have organized the show chronologically to try to give context to the players and the “isms” that were being invented and then upended by the next new thing – Rayonism, Cubo-Futurism, Suprematism, Constructivism.

The artists truly believed that abstraction and upheaval from classic style would usher in the utopia envisioned by the fall of the Czar, hence the profusion of experimentation in theater, film, photography, cinema, books, textiles, household goods, and publishing.

Easel painting was a no-no. Manifestos, how-to-do-it manuals, and Suprematist road shows were the norm. Due to MoMA’s dedicated collecting in this almost-forgotten period, all of the art, tools, passions, and beliefs are brought to life in the show.

1928 magazine covers by Rodchenko for New LEF: Journal of the Left Front of the Arts

Rodchenko’s 1928 magazine covers for New LEF: Journal of the Left Front of the Arts

MoMA allows gallery goers to peek inside two of its most notable books in its Russian collection through digital touchscreens – Malevich’s 1920 portfolio of Suprematist drawings and El Lissitzky’s 1922 illustrated children’s book Of Two Squares.

El Lissitsky’s unbound prints from his historic Proun manifesto are mounted across the wall of the fourth gallery, allowing close examination of the masterful lithographer.

The latter galleries focus on 1920s Cubo-Futurist theater costumes and stage sets, breakthrough cinema techniques (with three films screening simultaneously in an immersion room), mass-market publications, and posters advertising films and sporting extravaganzas. See examples of all on Flickr.

El Lissitzky 1923 litho honoring the 1920 restaging of the Cubo-Futurist opera “Victory Over the Sun”

El Lissitzky 1923 litho honoring the 1920 restaging of the famed Cubo-Futurist opera Victory Over the Sun

Everywhere you look, Rodchenko’s innovative typography, photographs, and layouts are jumping out, demanding attention. Among the more unusual surprises are Rodchenko’s branding for the state airline and the modernist  layouts in the 1925 Kino-Pravda films used to tell the public the status of Lenin’s vital signs during his final days.

The innovations created by this group of artist-revolutionaries would soon be undone by the Stalin’s preference for social realism. But although he stamped out Russian modernism in his day, the white-on-white Malevich, El Lissitsky’s fourth dimension, Vertov’s lightening fast film edits, and Rodchenko’s tilting letters still pack the punch on MoMA’s white walls nearly 100 years after they were created.

Take a look at some of our favorite pieces on Flickr, and watch a brief orientation to the show by MoMA curator Sarah Suzuki.

Dreamlands Immersion at The Whitney

1970 video recreation of Oskar Schlemmer’s groundbreaking 1922 Triadic Ballet at the Bauhaus

1970 video recreation of Oskar Schlemmer’s groundbreaking 1922 Triadic Ballet at the Bauhaus

As soon as you walk into the Whitney’s show, Dreamlands: Immersive Art and Cinema, 1905-2016, you are face-to-face with a giant screen on which stylized robotic dancers perform what seems like a space-age, mechanized dance.People are lounging on giant foam blocks, watching the colorful piece unfold. But most of the visitors are unaware that the seeds of this startlingly modern performance, shot in 1970 for German television, is a recreation of an innovative, theater-dance piece that’s 95 years old — The Triadic Ballet that Bauhaus director Oskar Schlemmer created in 1922.

2012 recreation of Fischinger’s 1926 three-screen abstract movie Ramlichtkunst

2012 recreation of Fischinger’s 1926 three-screen abstract movie Ramlichtkunst

There’s a lot of history-tripping in this exciting retrospective, which closes this weekend. Everything in the show is pulled from the Whitney’s own collection – a rare chance to experience hard-to-display movies, slide shows, and interactive experiences. Take a look in our Flickr album to glimpse some of our favorites.

To see it all, you twist and turn through labyrinths, enter through darkened curtains, and explore mysterious giant boxes positioned throughout the 18,000 square-foot space.

Sometimes you’re wading through mountains of discarded 16mm film from the Sixties by Jud Yalkut. Sometimes you’re watching others whirl in the dark to activate light patterns on the walls and ceiling. Sometimes you’re staring into a wall-size projection of the mushroom cloud in Bruce Conner’s Crossroads montage.

Still from Porter’s 1905 film of a real-life electrified dreamland Coney Island at Night

Still from Porter’s 1905 film of a real-life electrified dreamland Coney Island at Night

At every juncture, there’s something new, exciting, provocative, and challenging. The big surprise is that the pieces are from the entire span of the 20th century, beginning with Edison’s double whammy – the invention of the electric light bulb and motion-picture camera – as presented in the 1905 film he commissioned, Coney Island at Night.

In addition to Triadic Ballet, 1920s Germany is also represented by a colorful three-screen abstract movie installation by Oskar Fischinger, who was later hired by Disney to create some of the initial concept art for Fantasia, the animated concert-movie extravaganza that is also represented in the show.

Vanderbeek’s 1963 Movie Mural screens flashing with abstract and pop images

Vanderbeek’s 1963 Movie Mural screens flashing with abstract and pop images

Stan Vanderbeek’s roomful of projectors represents the Sixties, displaying a cacophony of simultaneous pop-culture images and abstract films on a crazy array of mismatched screens.

Bringing the collection up to date, visitors stop for selfies in front of the neon-flanked exterior of “Easternsports”, an immersive, candy-colored 2014 installation by Philadelphia artists Alex Da Corte and Jayson Musson. Just sit and smell the oranges as robotic actors go through their potty-mouthed paces in the four-screen room.

Peek into Easternsports via The Whitney’s look-about YouTube video. Move the arrows on the upper left navigator to look around and find the skateboarder crossing all the screens.

Steyerl’s 2015 immersion room showing Factory of the Sun, where avatars mimic YouTube dancers

Steyerl’s 2015 immersion room showing Factory of the Sun, where avatars mimic YouTube dancers

 

Enter a futuristic lounge to watch Hito Steyerl’s 2015 “Factory of the Sun,” a fake newscast-documentary about workers who are forced to dance to generate sunlight. The mysterious, high-energy saga has everything from anarchists at the World Bank to YouTube sensations inspiring Japanese avatars.

The giant video is a challenging and provocative burst of energy to end your Dreamlands odyssey and nice bookend to the Triadic Ballet rebooting next door.

Stuart Davis: Way Before Pollack and Warhol

Little Giant Still Life (1950), which predates Pop Art. Collection: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Little Giant Still Life (1950), which predates Pop Art. Collection: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Jazzy colors and Pop Art fun are run amok in the joyful Americana tribute Stuart Davis: In Full Swing at the Whitney Museum of American Art through this weekend. The Whitney curators have 75 of his best, extending back to the Edison lightbulb years, but mostly from Davis’s post-1950s output.

You’d never know from the flat-out modernity that this Whitney favorite had his start in the Armory Show era in New York at a time when The Eight (Ash Can School) still ruled. In fact, at 21, he was the youngest painter to exhibit in the Armory Show, encouraged by his teacher, Robert Henri, who impressed him with the need to depict everyday life in his art.

1924 painting of electric bulb and package. Collection: Dallas Museum of Art

Electric Bulb (1924) with package. Collection: Dallas Museum of Art

But the exposure to the European avant-garde was profound. As you walk through the gallery, you see and feel his exhilaration about how the European upstarts were shaking things up.

Picasso and Matisse inspired Davis to start depicting everyday objects with a flattened, multiview twist. He used packages of Lucky Strikes, Edison lighbulbs, and eggbeaters instead of absinthe glasses, interpreting them on funnily upturned tabletops.

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, who founded the Whitney in 1931, was a fan. She included his work in a group show in 1915, welcomed him into the Whitney Club in 1918 (alongside Edward Hopper and Mr. Prendergast) and facilitated the talented Davis’s sojourn to Paris ten years later.

When he returned to New York, he repaid Gertrude in paintings – just the beginning of The Whitney’s portfolio of his work. Captivated by the magic of movies, the birth of radio, and air travel, technology seemed to be transforming America.

 House and Street (1931) with two simultaneous views of Lower Manhattan.

House and Street (1931) with two simultaneous views of Lower Manhattan.

He went on to experiment with simultaneous city views, jamming the Third Avenue El into corners of lower Manhattan where it really didn’t belong. All was fair in the jazzy, roaring New York Twenties.

Stuart struggled financially through the Depression, but not artistically. Inspired by improvisational riffs in jazz, he created canvases using line as music, twisting real objects and landscapes into primary-color layerings that remained flat as a pancake.

Twisting and turning ribbons of color pre-dated Mr. Pollack’s all-over style by at least a decade. The centerpiece of the show is an all-over mural, “Swing Landscape”, that twists Gloucester fishing schooner masts into a kind of “Broadway Boogie-Woogie”. This flat-style masterpiece was way too energetic for the WPA Art Project, which declined to hang it in the subsidized Williamsburg apartment complex for which it was intended. Thankfully, it’s in the place of honor here.

Swing Landscape (1938), a mural commission for the WPA Federal Art Project. Collection: Indiana University

Swing Landscape (1938), a mural commission for the WPA Federal Art Project. Collection: Indiana University

When he saw Matisse’s big-size cut-outs in 1949, Davis was inspired return to his roots. He focused on unexciting, everyday objects but added brand names and super-sized everything. Way before Warhol, Davis was doing improvisations with Champion sparkplugs and matchbook covers, toying with color, gray, and repetition.

Did Davis pave the way for Pollack’s all-over approach and totally branded pop-art masters of the late 20th century? Take a walk through the Whitney, admire the output of one of Gertrude’s favorites, and decide for yourself.

The Paris Bit (1959), a retro Twenties Leger riff. Collection: The Whitney

The Paris Bit (1959), Davis’s retro Twenties Leger riff. Collection: The Whitney

Check out some of our favorites on our Flicker album.

See the show at The National Gallery in Washington, D.C., running November 20 through March 5, 2017.

Hear the curators talk about different works in the exhibition on the Whitney’s “Watch and Listen” section of the exhibition page.

Meditative Eyeful at El Museo del Barrio

Detail of Argentine painter Miguel Vidal’s 1975 Equilibrium from the OAS Museum

Detail of Argentine painter Miguel Vidal’s 1975 Equilibrium from the OAS Museum

Mystical, transcendent, hypnotic visions from the Sixties and Seventies dot the white walls, all part of The Illusive Eye at El Museo del Barrio, closing this weekend. It’s a tribute to a corner of modern art history that’s sometimes overshadowed by the larger-than-life, attention-grabbing Pop Art movement – the global movement of Op Art and Kinetic Art.

The inspiration for the show is MoMA’s 1964 ground-breaking show, The Responsive Eye, which paid tribute to the global community of painters and sculptors using geometric purity to dazzle and confound the eye.

Many of the same artists are reunited here, with an emphasis on the spectacular contributions from Latin American artists who shuttled between South America and Europe, mixing it up with superstars like Vasarely and Biasi. Click here to see our Flickr album.

Other works seen through the1965-2009 plexiglass and steel piece by Carlos Cruz-Diez

Other works seen through the 1965-2009 plexiglass and steel installation by Carlos Cruz-Diez

American color-field legends Stella and Albers are featured, but the curators have put the spotlight on stars from Argentina, Cuba, Brazil, Venezuela, and Colombia as well. As the artist biographies demonstrate, most were leading geometric art revolutions in their own countries – like Chilean artist Matilde Perez and Venezuelan artist Carlos Cruz-Diez, who wrote an influential book on color theory in the Eighties and whose works essentially open and close the show here.

Except for the dramatic room-sized vinyl spiral by Italy’s Marina Apollonio, most of the works are on a small scale that invites close inspection. Move back and forth in front of Cruz-Diez’s entryway work and see the colors appear and disappear.

Walk past the shimmering black-and-white lines of Venezuelan artist Jesus Rafael Soto’s 1975 mixed media work of paint, wire, nylon, and wood. Spend time with the barely-there tower of gold thread by Brazilian sculptor Lygia Pape in the back gallery.

Detail of Generative Painting Transparencies (1965), by Argentine innovator, Eduardo Mac Entyre

Detail of Generative Painting Transparencies (1965), by Argentine innovator, Eduardo Mac Entyre

The American and European works were gathered from a variety of small and personal collections, but the curators have pulled from the extensive holdings of two museums to populate the rest of the show – the OAS Art Museum of the Americas in Washington, D.C. and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Buenos Aires (MACBA).

You’ll find meditation and stillness at every stop in this beautiful, contemplative, and exciting show that mesmerizes the eye and brings together a body of work that will be enjoyed by anyone who takes the time to get to Fifth and 104th. No content, no distraction — just pure, simple, engaging form that quiets the mind and shifts the attention to your own, inner capability to perceive and get lost in line.

Take a walk through the exhibition with the museum director and see what we’re talking about:

Whitney’s Left the Building — Turner and Friends Move In

Marcel Breuer building on Madison, once the Whitney, now The Met

Marcel Breuer building on Madison, once the Whitney, now The Met

Start your engines – the doors to the Met Breuer swung open last week, and it’s a celebrity-studded, jazz-filled opening. The Met has turned Marcel Breuer’s brutalist masterpiece on Madison into a showcase for everything that’s cool, digital, live, and happening.

First, the art: Superstars from the last 500 years of art history are throwing it down in a big, bold, can-you-believe-who’s-here, two-floor mash-up extravaganza, Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible.

Imagine turning a corner and finding a room packed with the Holy Grail of 19th-century “abstraction” – five barely-there masterworks by Mr. Turner, fresh off the plane from London. It’s not taking anything away from Titian, El Greco, or German Expressionists, who are in the show. It’s just that it’s rare for Gothamites to get up close and personal with this painter’s painter without buying a ticket to London and trekking to Millbank. Once word gets out, hopefully the Breuer downstairs admissions desk will be as jammed as the return line for Hamilton.

One of five late masterworks by Mr. Turner from the Tate

One of five late masterworks by Mr. Turner from the Tate

Yes, it’s strange to encounter Renaissance masters or a monumental Picasso when the gigantic elevator doors open on the upper floors. The fresh juxtapositions of old and new, familiar and unknown make your head spin, but in a good way.

The show features Renaissance masters, 19th century gods (see Matisse and Van Gogh’s side-by-side country cottages), and 20th century hot shots from international collections, MoMA, and 81st Street. The curatorial throw-down is something only the Met can do – scale, scope, and smarts – asking accessible questions and responding with wit from its own collection and other top institutions that have agreed to give their masterworks a trip to New York.

First view of Unfinished

First view of Renaissance masters in Unfinished

Eight years ago, when the Whitney Museum of American Art began planning its move to the Meatpacking District, its board approached the Met and asked if it wanted to take over the famous Breuer building on Madison Avenue.

The answer was “yes” but only if the takeover would be done the Met way – using the full scope of the Met’s holdings, leveraging its interest in new digital and performing arts, and showcasing international modern artists who might not have received the recognition here (in the United States) that they deserved. In other words, turn old-world institutionalism on its head. And they’ve done that.

Just look at the first one-woman show in the United States for Indian modernist, Nasreen Mohamedi. The delicate drawings evoke Klee, Malevich, and Agnes Martin purity and line and shed a whole new light on how modernism was being transformed on the subcontinent in the Seventies and Eighties.

 

Coffee CupSecond, the live arts element: Since it will be open late on Thursday and Friday evenings, hopefully it will become new Upper East Side’s version of the Rubin’s K-2 Lounge two nights a week – a fun, lively hang-out for music, performance, and art lovers. The rear first-floor gallery has been turned into a contemplative, cool showcase for jazz, programmed by Met Live Arts. Take a look at what’s up through the end of the month with Relation: A Performance Residency by Vijay Iyer.

 

Welcoming crew with the digital wall

Welcoming crew with the digital wall

Third, the new: So what else has changed at 75th and Madison? The pile-up of art books is gone from the reception desk, and the welcome wall is ablaze with a classy digital marquee offering glimpses of the world’s most precious treasures at each of the Met’s (now) three locations.

In a nod to those stupendous Lila Acheson Wallace bouquets in the Met’s Grand Hall, there’s also an oversize spring arrangement gracing the welcome area.

Fourth, the familiar: People who know the old Whitney well remember the tiny clay colony that resided in a corner of the stairwell next to a window overlooking Madison Avenue. At the press preview, art critics kept pausing on the stairwell landing to marvel at the fact that the beloved Charles Simmonds piece, Dwellings, is still there on loan from the Whitney.

Dwellings, an installation by Charles Simmonds in the stairwell (and across the street), still on loan from the Whitney

Look for Dwellings, a 1982 installation by Charles Simmonds, in the stairwell (and across the street), still on loan from the Whitney

Look out the window and you’ll see the tiny clay and sand Dwellings nestled into the chimney and roof of the Apple Store across the street, same as they have been since 1982. Like the rest of the new Met Breuer, it might be the same place, but you’ll see lots of well-loved modern art in a new, fresh way.

And be sure to download Soundwalk 9:09 by John Luther Adams, commissioned by MetLiveArts for visitors to enjoy as they trek between 81st Street to the Met Breuer — two audio tracks from which to choose, depending on whether you’re making the nine-minute walk uptown or downtown.

New York Artists Celebrate Coney Island

Steeplechase Funny Face, the symbol of a famous amusement park.

Steeplechase Funny Face, the symbol of a famous amusement park.

How did a strip of pristine, white-sand beach turn into one of the most fantastical, lurid, menacing, and whimsical destinations in the United States? You won’t find a sociological essay, but you’ll experience a lot of evidence in the Brooklyn Museum’s Coney Island extravaganza.

See Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861–2008 through March 13 and visit Stephen Powers: Coney Island Is Still Dreamland (To a Seagull) on the Fifth Floor through August 21.

The crowds filling the galleries last Saturday night savored the experience of the sky-high towers of contemporary hand-painted, Coney-inspired signs by the collaborative, ICY SIGNS. You could stand for an hour, just taking in all the messages, philosophy, and witty send-ups of contemporary life, curated by TED-talking artist Stephen Powers.

Through the door, however, another world waits. Seeing Coney Island’s gaudy jumble today from the air or Q train, it’s hard to imagine how it looked in the mid-1800s in the post-Civil War era.

Chase’s 1886 oil, Landscape, Near Coney Island

Chase’s 1886 oil, Landscape, Near Coney Island

The show, organized by Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, opens with tranquil landscapes of the aspiring middle-classes enjoying the salt air and low-key entertainments and diversions on the beach – maybe having a photo taken by an itinerant photographer, or sampling some sweet treats. Back in these more genteel times, the sandy shores were open to a mix of races and nations, or so the oils by William Merritt Chase and John Henry Twachtman attest.

How times changed! A giant vintage black-and-white film clip of romance on a roller coaster draws you into a world of more visceral wonder – carousel horses and gambling wheels interspersed with a hundreds of works by famous American artists that explore the magic, mayhem, and malevolence that made Coney such a phenomenon.

Detail of Joseph Stella’s 1913-1914 Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras from Yale University.

Detail of Joseph Stella’s 1913-1914 Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras from Yale University.

Figurative work from Reginald Marsh and others catapult you back to bawdy bathers and burlesque scenes brought to life last year in Broadway’s On the Town. Photographs by Arbus, Weegee, and Walker Evans provide close-up views of what it was like above and under the boardwalk.

Much of the shows’s fun is driven by the jarring injection of super-cool modern abstraction next to the flotsam and jetsam of the actual historic artifacts.

Edwin Porter’s 1905 silent movie Coney Island at Night gave nickelodeon viewers a novel way to see Edison’s incandescent lights in all their glory.

It’s startling to see Joseph Stella’s Futurist-inspired tribute to Coney Island’s Mardis Gras and realize that it’s from the same 1910-1914 era in which Jimmy Durante played honkey tonk piano for newcomer Mae West. It was all happening at the same time as the Armory Show.

1991 acrylic painting featuring iconic Spook-A-Rama Cyclops by Arnold Mesches.

1991 acrylic painting featuring iconic Spook-A-Rama Cyclops by Arnold Mesches.

Frank Stella’s 1950’s abstraction holds its own amidst the sideshow banners and relics that inspired his jarring color bars and mystery portal. Maybe it’s not a coincidence that right around the corner you come face-to-face with the real-life Coney landmark – the Cyclops who lured riders into America’s largest dark ride, Spook-A-Rama. The curators have placed him right next to his menacingly large portrait by Arnold Mesches.

Take a walk on the wild side of history, art, and sideshow performance while you can in person or via our Flickr album.

The Stephen Powers installation runs through the summer. Here he is explaining the allure of Coney Island as a contemporary inspiration: