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.

It’s a Happening at NYU Grey Art Gallery

Charlotte performs a John Cage piece at a 1965 Paris art festival

Charlotte performs a John Cage piece at a 1965 Paris art festival.

In Grey Art Gallery’s gleaming white space on Washington Square East, you can take a walk-through of the gritty lofts and performance spaces of the 1960s, when the avant-garde was being born in Lower Manhattan

A Feast of Astonishments: Charlotte Moorman and the Avant-Garde, 1960s – 1980s is a tribute to the avant-garde’s poster girl, who transformed classical cello into a spectator sport. Trained at Julliard, Moorman came under the sway of the genre-busting, performance-loving artistic collaborators Nam June Paik, Yoko Ono, Alan Kaprow, and others. See the show through this weekend.

The show chronicles her early collaborations with Nam June, the artist who turned early portable video on its head. The centerpiece of the first-floor gallery is Paik’s “portrait” of Moorman, studded with an electrified cello and the tiniest video monitors. It’s quite a presence. Good work, Nam June.

Charlotte Moorman II, a 1995 sculpture-portrait by Nam June Paik. Collection: Brandies

Charlotte Moorman II, a 1995 sculpture-portrait by Nam June Paik. Collection: Brandies

On the audio system, you hear her voice, recounting her night in jail as a result of a police raid on a Village art cinema where she happened to be performing her own art piece topless. Ooops!

Cage might not have been crazy about Moorman’s interpretation of his at-the-edge contemplative works (too theatrical, he thought), but that didn’t stop her.

The show also highlights her friendship and support for Yoko Ono, another up-and-comer at the time. Moorman paid Ono the highest compliment by performing her legendary piece hundreds of times.

A fearless performer, she continued throughout the Sixties and Seventies as quite a producer too. From early performances of composers’ works, staged with all-star casts (Ginsberg et al.), she ended up getting a decade’s worth of permits to host an annual Avant-Garde Festival in New York City.

1989 Neon Cello sculpture by Charlotte Moorman

1989 Neon Cello by Charlotte Moorman

Some years, it was on the Staten Island Ferry. Others, it was Wards Island. Others, it was a parade, way before the Village Halloween Parade became a family favorite.

Charlotte and Paik toured well throughout the Seventies, everywhere art-loving Germans would have them.

Take a walk through the downtown underground with a classically trained musician who made performance-art history. Here are the exhibition photos and our Flickr album.

When Modernism Met Folk Art at NYHS

Elie Nadelman’s painted cherrywood Circus Girl sculpture (1920-1924)

Elie Nadelman’s painted cherrywood Circus Girl sculpture (1920-1924)

What do 19th-century tobacco-store Scotsmen and Spanish-clad dancers mounted on the fronts of tall-masted trading ships have to do with the rise of Modernism in the United States and the 1913 Armory Show?

Find out through August 21 at the New-York Historical Society’s exhibition, which traces the path of one of America’s modern-art pioneers in The Folk Art Collection of Elie and Viola Nadelman. Take a look on our Flickr feed.

The engaging show is largely drawn from the NYHS collection and tells the story of how a Polish immigrant fused his love of European and American woodworking tradition with Picasso’s love of “the primitive” and developed his own pop-culture-infused modernist sculpture style.

Feisty figurehead from the shipwrecked clipper ship Rosa Isabella, carved in Hamburg in 1865

Feisty figurehead from the shipwrecked clipper ship Rosa Isabella, carved in Hamburg in 1865

The show, which travels next to the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, Massachusetts, is a delightful window into how modernism crept onto America’s 20th century radar as 19th-century traditions were becoming a thing of the past.

Nadelman’s sculptures were included in the ground-breaking Armory Show in 1913 and showcased in one-man shows at Stieglitz’s 291 Gallery and other NYC Modernist hotspots.

As the NYHS show makes clear, the whitened faces and painted-to-look-weathered bodies of his circus girls, tango dancers, and vaudevillians echoed back to shapes, colors, and styles he favored from carved tobacco-store Indian sculptures, figureheads salvaged from sailing ships, chalkware busts, and untrained American portraitists of years gone by.

Milliner heads 1820 – 1870

Milliner heads 1820 – 1870

First made in plaster (like popular chalkware tchotchkes) and later in painted cherry wood, Nadelman’s whimsical figures dance, prance, high kick, and entertain in a vaudevillian and Jazz-Age way that their folk-art counterparts never do. Encountering the show’s monumental woodworks at the entrance to the show showcase Edelman’s brilliance in packaging New American rhythms into tabletop sculpture works a sly, backward-looking wink at the past.

Elie shared his love of rapidly disappearing woodcarving, hand-painted boxes and chests, and wooden kitchen objects with his wife, Viola, who led the charge in amassing one of the greatest collections of American folk art ever. The couple scooped up over 15,000 European and Americana work at a rapid pace – so rapid that Elie dropped his art career and concentrated full time on collecting.

Nadelman’s high-kicking cherry wood “Dancer” sculpture (1922) on loan from the Jewish Museum

Nadelman’s high-kicking cherry wood “Dancer” sculpture (1922) on loan from the Jewish Museum

The show is a tribute to their vision and energy (move over, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller!). They were among the first to coin the term “folk art” and opened their own folk art museum in Riverdale in 1924.

When the Depression hit, the couple was forced to sell and the bulk of the collection became the core of the NYHS “everyday history” collection – kitchen implements, toys, miniatures, hat-shop heads, paintings, weathervanes, and you-name-it. Indeed, the back half of the show is a glimpse into everyday life, culinary arts, and domestic entertainments.

It’s an important look into American history, the history of collecting, and the birth of Modernist sensibilities in New York – a show that pays fitting tribute to a core component of one of New York’s storied institutions.

See Hamilton No Waiting

Taking their Shot in the lobby of the Public Theater in 2015

Taking their Shot in the lobby of the Public Theater in 2015

If you really want to experience Hamilton before the Tony Awards, it’s not that hard. Get up to New-York Historical Society at 77th Street and Central Park West and check out the life-size bronze statues of Hamilton and Burr one second before The Shot.

If you went to see Hamilton last year at the Public, you had to pass right between Kim Crowley’s bronze recreations when you entered the theater — a bespectacled Hamilton (wearing tinted glasses because he was facing the sunrise) and an intense Burr who was branded for all time in the history books one second later.

These action figures were initially installed at NYHS in 2004 as part of its ground-breaking Hamilton show…a magnificent installation that drew both raves (for the classy reimagining of NYHS and its exhibitions program after a near-collapse of that institution) and criticism (was it pandering to New York’s besmirched banking community?).

Their 1797 dueling pistols in the NYHS lobby

Their 1797 dueling pistols in the NYHS lobby

Interesting that 2004 was the 300th anniversary of both the duel and the year that NYHS was founded. In fact, Hamilton’s attending doctor that day was one of the founders.

NYHS Ham

Hamilton takes aim inside NYHS

After three hundred years and countless tries at the Hamilton’s pre-show lottery at the Richard Rodgers Theater, it will be a little disconnect to realize that the two facing off in the white marbled lobby are not Lin Manuel and Leslie Odom, Jr. The intensity and the historical dress are there, but the faces are different. Just stand there and run through all the lyrics you’ve memorized from the show.

Walk a few steps further and gaze down at the actual pistols – not stage props – and Angelica Schuyler’s letter to her brother, conveying the terrible news. All real, in her own hand, dated July 11, 1804.

OK, that’s just the lobby. By now, you’ve probably heard that NYHS has just announced its Summer of Hamilton, replete with a large gallery show of all the Hamilton-related documents, artifacts, and portraits plus special clips from Hamilton, movie musicals that inspired Lin, Ron Chernow’s book, and costumed performers on July 4 weekend.

But why not visit right now and have Ham and Burr all to yourself? To fill in the blanks about Ham’s life or prep to see the Broadway show, treat yourself to an exploration of the 2004 Ham show website. It’s full of all types of fun things – a quiz to test your Ham knowledge, a map of where Hamilton hung out in New York City, and real-life historical portraits of all the Schuyler sisters and everyone else in the Broadway show.

Lin's Ham 4 Ham reading outside the theater during the preview lottery

Lin’s Ham 4 Ham reading outside the theater during the preview lottery

There’s even a handy timeline of Hamilton’s “strange and amazing life,” which is a nice reference for things you’ve seen (or hope to see) in the show. For true fans (or curiosity-seekers), there’s even a small selection of short academic papers on Hamilton, including an interview with Ron Chernow, whose book inspired the current Broadway smash hit, and other brief treatises on his schooling, the duel, and the hours before his death.

Although it’s not inside the museum (or the Richard Rodgers), you can check out other Hamilton excitement at the Ham4Ham shows performed at lottery time on 47th Street, many of which have been taped by fans and put up on YouTube. Check out the recreation of the cabinet meeting by the Tony-nominated crew:

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:

Warhol Moved Out So Picasso Could Play

Bronze She-Goat, 1950, who usually lives outside in MoMA’s garden.

Bronze She-Goat, 1950, who usually lives outside in MoMA’s garden.

To mount the blockbuster Picasso Sculpture show, closing February 7, MoMA cleared out Andy, Roy, Jasper, and all the Judds from the Fourth Floor and let in an array of whimsical animals, personnages, and concoctions. If you couldn’t get in the front door of the show or were discouraged by the crowds, take a look at our favorites in our Flickr album.

The surprise is that every one of the dozen or so galleries is filled with the most delightful Picasso creations. You don’t really need a guidebook or an understanding of the history of modern art. You can just look and smile. Just like Picasso did.

Even he needed a break from his Blue Period, and the first gallery shows two little wooden “dolls” carved in 1906 – a response to Gauguin’s shockingly primitive Tahitian wood carvings that rocked Picasso’s world when he encountered them in gallery. Rough, painted, angular, and shamanistic – a good way to work out the creative kinks at the same time you were creating the Demoiselles downstairs. Pure primitive…no gallery guide needed.

Carved wooden Doll inspired by Gauguin, 1907. From Gallery of Ontario.

Carved wooden Doll inspired by Gauguin, 1907. From Gallery of Ontario.

Next door (directly upstairs from the gallery where the Demoiselles hold court), Picasso’s having his fun with his crazily patterned and painted bronze absinthe glasses, spoons, and fake sugar. The curators have gathered together enough from different collections to have a party. Cubism with a twist of polka-dot fun.

Next, it’s monumental heads carved from plaster. Why do they all seem to be in on a joke? It’s the room where Andy and Roy’s Pop masterpieces usually hang, but Pablo’s big, bulbous curvy heads from the 1930s are just as wry and enjoyable. (See the videos below.)

Already declared “degenerate” by the Nazis in 1937 and featured in their historic touring show, Picasso had his own quiet joke on the oppressors as he lived through the occupation of Paris in 1940-1944. While the Nazis were melting down bronze statuary in Paris to use in their war manufacturing, Pablo somehow managed to sneak into a foundry to make a big, bronze sculpture of large kitty cat on the prowl and other metal works.

Figure, 1938, made of found stuff -- wood, nails, and screws with string, wire, and hardware

Figure, 1938, made of found stuff — wood, nails, and screws with string, wire, and hardware

The kitty, the bicycle-handlebar bull, and the napkin dog are just two among a host of lots of other contraban he defiantly created before liberation.

The rest of the galleries show how Picasso’s wartime scrounging spurred him on to new heights of making something out of nothing and finding delight in transforming somebody’s junk into funny, fool-the-eye sculptures. The She-Goat (usually found hanging outside in MoMA’s garden by The Modern), the car-baboon, a metal owl, goose, and other creatures hold court in the bigger galleries.

Well-wishers crowd around taking feel-good photos and parents show the kids how the artist took everyday objects and turned them into such fun critters.

The stick-people Bathers at the finale are partially made of pieces of painting frames and other found wood, painted and finished with the same rough technique and hand that characterized the “dolls” in the first room. It’s the great Modern Master going rogue channeling outsider art.

The Bathers, 1956. From the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart.

The Bathers, 1956. From the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart.

By the time you get to the model of the monumental head that’s become one of Chicago’s icons (in the last gallery), the crazy sculpture — Picasso’s last —  feels  kind of normal.

It’s telling that MoMA didn’t even put label copy on the stuff. Just a guidebook you can pick up at the entrance, or not. No wonder it’s been the most popular show in New York.

Just when you thought understanding modern art was “hard”, one of the masters comes along, kicks sand in your face, laughs, invites you to do a little beachcombing with him, throws a few sticks together, and asks you to look at what’s right around you in a new way.

Look at a few pieces that MoMA underscores with delightful music.

Stella Leaps Off Walls at The Whitney

Long view of gallery with The Grand Armada (IRS-6, 1X) (1989)

Long view of gallery with The Grand Armada (IRS-6, 1X) (1989)

Leaping loops of bendable pipes! If you’ve never seen paintings that jump off the wall, get over to the Whitney’s Frank Stella: A Retrospective before it closes on February 7.

As Frank himself says, “Painting does not want to be confined by the boundaries of edge and surface.” Ok, no argument here. Nothing up here looks “confined”.

You emerge from the elevator face-to-face with his monumental masterpiece that’s nearly as long as the AMNH Titanosaur. It’s full of more visual nooks and crannies than a walk through Central Park and as vast as Wyoming. It’s a dazzling performance of color, line, and expanse. Before jumping into the rest of the show, the sheer size demands that you slow down to see the detail.

Detail of baroque, monumental 1999 painting, The Earthquake in Chile

Detail of baroque, monumental 1999 painting, The Earthquake in Chile

Let’s admit, however, that the busy, unconfined artworks on the right form a gravitational force field that will lure even the most focused visitor away to explore the whirly color and 3-D protrusions. The label copy says Frank was inspired by Baroque music, letting his paintings function like soundless symphonies.

Through the bays, you catch glimpses of big Protractors and other Day-Glo creations that embody the over-the-top Eighties in New York.

You’ll also encounter of Frank’s most famous geometric meditations and early works from the pre-Soho days. From every angle and position, you see, feel, and meet some mighty heavy output. And it’s only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the full output of this 79-year-old powerhouse.

The Whitney’s solution to showing such a big, diverse, lively group of work was to take advantage of their new, moveable walls. The show’s designers moved all the walls away from the edges of the gallery so that visitors can see from one end to the other and glimpse the full spectrum of Frank’s artistic output.

Wall with works from the 1980s Moby Dick series

Wall with works from the 1980s Moby Dick series

Look through the show on our Flickr feed of the show, with the works sorted into chronological order, and enjoy the curator audio guide on the Whitney website.

On the far east section of the gallery, the 3-D might comes into full view with selections from the Moby Dick series, roaring, raging works that push out from the white wall. The selections are impressive, but are only a small portion of Frank’s total output from that era.

For every one of the 95 works on the wall, there are dozens and dozens of works in each series – just as big and monumental – that didn’t get into the show. The curators told us that it was the biggest problem in mounting Frank’s retrospective: Their size demands that they be bolted into place, so to borrow them for the show, the parts of each huge work must be carefully disassembled and then reassembled. Installing each piece was a challenge akin to moving the Amenemhat II colossus into the Great Hall at The Met. Thank goodness that Frank’s team provided elaborate instruction manuals and how-to drawings.

Circus of Pure Feeling for Malevich, 4 Square Circus, 16 parts, 2009 has a view of the Hudson

Circus of Pure Feeling for Malevich, 4 Square Circus, 16 parts, 2009 has a view of the Hudson

Stella’s most recent work is situated in two special places of honor: His diminutive 2009 creations are parked right next to the Hudson River view – sixteen little curvy sculptural tributes to the collision between the precision of absolute geometry (courtesy of Mr. Malevich) and whimsy playfulness, represented by Mr. Calder, the Whitney’s circus master.

At the other end of the floor, his Black Star dominates on the outdoor balcony overlooking the Meatpacking District and the Standard Hotel. See the video below.

Great tribute, great art, great show at the New Whitney. And thanks for publishing the full catalog and essays online.

Buried in New York – Divas and Rare Jewelry

Henut does Queen Neferu’s hair, 11th dynasty (2051-2000 B.C.) Courtesy: Brooklyn Museum

Henut does Queen Neferu’s hair, 11th dynasty (2051-2000 B.C.) Courtesy: Brooklyn Museum

While New York City is digging out from record snowfalls, there’s some great news about a few items that have been buried for centuries and are none the worse for wear – cosmetic boxes, bracelets, belts, and styling tips of the great divas (male and female) of ancient Egypt. The Metropolitan Museum of Art moved some gems out of the cavernous Egyptian wing – and borrowed a few things from Brooklyn and elsewhere – for its monumental tribute to the 12th dynasty, Ancient Egypt Transformed: The Middle Kingdom, closing today.

Usually buried among the collections on the first floor, the curators pulled out some of our favorites from the galleries (along the way to the Costume Institute) and presented them as the spectacular showpieces they are. It warrants a shout-out to the effort it took to conceive, mount, and present this terrific show. What a way to leverage the collections that are right inside the city limits!

Queen or Princess as a Sphinx, 12th dynasty (1981-1802 B.C.) Once owned by Emperor Hadrian , later by a Cardinal. From Brooklyn Museum

Queen or Princess as a Sphinx, 12th dynasty (1981-1802 B.C.) Once owned by Emperor Hadrian , later by a Cardinal. From Brooklyn Museum

The story of the transformations happening in Egypt’s 11tth to 13th Dynasties (ca. 2030–1650 B.C.) is big (enough to fill twelve galleries), so we’re just highlighting a few of the things we noticed that modern People of Style might enjoy. Check out our Flickr site.

First, Brooklyn is in the house in the gallery dedicated to royal women: off to the side, there’s a limestone relief fragment (normally at the Brooklyn Museum of Art) showing Queen Nefuru having her tresses done by 11th Dynasty celebrity stylist, Henut. The curators point out that a telltale sign of royals (men and women) is the distinctive winged-eye look that her makeup artist achieved in kohl. The styling is incised in limestone, showing the Queen getting ready to emulate Hathor, the goddess of love and romance. In those days (2051-2000 B.C.), only royals could sport the jeweled necklace or eye makeup style.

Nearby, Brooklyn also contributes a beautifully sculpted head, said to be broken off from a larger sphinx statue from the 12th Dynasty – a protective guardian featuring a fantastic coif that only a queen or a princess would sport. It was all wigs, all the time.

372-piece cloisonné pectoral of Princess Sithathoryunet. Gold, carnelian, lapis lazuli, turquoise, and garnet. 12th dynasty (1887-1878 B.C.).

372-piece cloisonné pectoral of Princess Sithathoryunet. Gold, carnelian, lapis lazuli, turquoise, and garnet. 12th dynasty (1887-1878 B.C.).

One of the most spectacular pieces is the 372-piece cloisonné pectoral worn by Princess Sithathoryunet. It’s a 12th Dynasty masterwork (1887-1878 B.C.). of gold, carnelian, lapis lazuli, turquoise, and garnet. The piece is magical and protective, but instead of being inlaid with the name of the princess, it features the name of the king. The idea is that the king himself is being protected when the royal daughter wears it – not the diva herself. You get what you pay for.

She also had another set of formal jewelry — a cowerie shell girdle and matching bracelet of gold, carnelian, feldspar, and crystal. The imitation shells had small pellets inside, which would have made a tinkling sound when she walked. The same is true for the feline-headed set of jewelry of gold and amethyst.

Feline-Headed Girdle of gold and amethyst from 12th Dynasty (1887-1813 B.C.).

Feline-Headed Girdle of gold and amethyst from 12th Dynasty (1887-1813 B.C.).

Sithathoryunet kept these and other treasures in a beautiful jewelry box, which is displayed nearby alongside a cosmetic box. The Met reconstructed the wood boxes by putting the ebony, ivory, gold, carnelian, blue faience, and silver back into place. Magnificent. Look for it all when these spectacular items go back on display at the back of the Egyptian Wing later this year.

By this time in Middle Kingdom culture, the elites started copying the royals, so some of the buried treasures that the Met found on its early 20th century expeditions belonged more to aspirational upper classes than the royals themselves. Check out the cosmetic case and mirror belonging to Amenemhat IV’s royal butler, Kemeni. Or the faience necklace worn by Wah, the overseer who served Meketre, the royal chief steward serving kings in both the 11th and 12th Dynasties.

The Met found a bonanza of fantastic reality art in Meketre’s tomb – so much that only a few pieces were brought up to the second floor for the special show. The show features a real-life depiction of a grainery and sport fishing boat, but if you look on the first floor as you walk through to the Costume Institute, you’ll see many more boats and several more rooms of day-to-day life – all meant to serve Meketre in the next world.

Cosmetic box of the royal butler, Kemeni, with four ointment jars and a mirror. 12th dynasty (1814-1805 BC.)

Cosmetic box of the royal butler, Kemeni, with four ointment jars and a mirror. 12th dynasty (1814-1805 BC.)

The Met has meticulously documented this show online. Spend a snow day (or not) by taking a tour through all twelve galleries on the Met’s web site and listening to the curators’ take on the on-line audio guide, which also features photos of each of the objects. Here’s where you can search the exhibition objects and find more detail.

Hear the behind-the-scenes chit-chat from the curators on the museum’s blog, including how the Egyptians feasted and how the digital team created the replica of the pyramid complex at the center of the show.