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:

For Royals Who Have Everything

Intricately carved boxwood rosary owned by King Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon, 1509-1526

What do you get royals who have everything? If you lived in the early 16th century in Europe, you get a Netherlandish woodcarver to create an amazing, theatrical scene inside a prayer bead or a letter of the alphabet. Fifty amazing treasures from Europe are currently on display at the Met’s Cloisters in the exhibition Small Wonders: Gothic Boxwood Miniatures, closing May 21.

The artists worked on a microscopic scale and packed enough figures into a tiny space that you’d think you were seeing a replication of the finale to a grand opera – main characters, side stories, worlds within worlds.

If you owned one, you’d receive an exquisitely carved boxwood bead that opened to reveal a dramatic scene (usually Biblical), a protective case, and a leather-lined velvet pouch. If you had something like a boxwood altarpiece for your private chapel, the whole thing would fit into a custom-fitted custom case in case you wanted to transport it to your country castle.

You can take it with you; from the Rijksmuseum

Right as you enter the lower-level gallery at the Cloisters, you encounter the largest object in the show, a rosary with 12 immaculately carved multi-sided beads that was owned by Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon. The theme was the Apostle’s Creed, with each bead telling the story of one of the first apostles – obviously received by the newlyweds before their historic split, which created the Church of England.

The stories behind the fascinating works cannot hold a match to the wonder of seeing these masterpieces in person. One of J.P. Morgan’s donations to the Cloisters – a single bead that reveals layers and layers of figurative sculptures – is always a highlight. It’s incredible that the Cloisters and its partners pulled together some of the best boxwood carvings in the world.

Take a look at the Met’s photo archive, where their high-res digital wizardry allows you to enlarge the photo on your screen to see all of the fine, intricate, tiny detail. Each one of the nearly 50 objects. Also, take a look at our Flickr album of the show.

Letter P opens to reveal the legend of Saint Philip, 1500-1506

Click on the link below to see the video that shows how these incredible small worlds were made: http://players.brightcove.net/911432378001/SkBUku4V_default/index.html?videoId=5249656214001.

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.

Tiffany Again Illuminates the Carnegie Mansion

Tiffany’s glass vases against De Forest’s stenciled walls of the Teak Room

If you’d like to experience a few moments surrounded by the splendors of the Gilded Age in America, climb the staircase inside the Carnegie Mansion (Cooper Hewitt) and enter another world. As a tribute to the mansion’s second-floor renovation, Cooper Hewitt mined its own collection and borrowed key pieces as part of the installation, Passion for the Exotic: Louis Comfort Tiffany and Lockwood de Forest, closing March 26.

You’ll find yourself in a quiet mystical room that served as the Carnegie family library when it was first designed in 1902 by Lockwood de Forest, a superstar of the Aesthetic movement. The Smithsonian has brought the room back to its original glory, carved teak, stenciled walls, and all.

Paying tribute to Mr. Carnegie’s passion for all things Tiffany, the curators have brought out their lamps, lit them up, and borrowed a magnificent turtleback Tiffany chandelier that is close to original. The effect of low light emanating through all the iridescent glass and illuminating the walls and built-in cabinet is unusually magical.

Painted bronze and blown glass Turtleback glass chandelier by Tiffany Studios, 1910

The design triumph is even more interesting when you think that at the time, 92 percent of New Yorkers did not even have electricity. So, this installation is not only beautiful, but stands as a 1902 example of cutting-edge technology and avant-garde design.

Take a look at our Flickr album, showing the objects in the room, and explore each one and its provenance on a special page on the Cooper Hewitt website.

So, how did this seemingly perfect collaboration interior embellishment, light, and the exotic happen? De Forest and Tiffany, who began working together in the 1880s, both shared a passion for the intricate designs of the Middle East and India. Each globetrotter had seen Indian interiors firsthand and felt their American design practices would benefit from exotic infusions.

Electrified Dragonfly Lamp designed by Clara Driscoll, who led the Women’s Glass Cutting Department

Tiffany and de Forest once were business partners, but after that dissolved, they kept working together on a project-by-project basis. De Forest brokered a deal with a workshop in Ahmedabad in Gujarat, India, to manufacture decorative teak wood and brass panels that he designed for his own and Tiffany’s interior-design clients.

So the installation at the Cooper Hewitt is your chance to experience the magic of one of America’s great design collaborations.

To give the room a unique aesthetic glow, De Forest stenciled the wall in yellow lacquer to create an illusion that he associated with Indian screens. The teak details, inspired by Indian design, and the built-in cabinet inside Mr. Carnegie’s room came from the Gujarat workshop.

The Teak Room is currently the most complete De Forest interior still in existence in the site for which it was created. Seeing this work, lit by the glow of the Tiffany lamps and decorated with other Tiffany decorative objects, is a must.

Japanese-inspired Tiffany desk set, 1910-1920.

And when you climb the grant staircase to the second floor, you can also take advantage of the interactive display at the top of the stairs, which is loaded with history about the mansion and photos showing the original interiors.

If you want to soak in more of Tiffany’s prowess, watch Ben Macklowe’s Cooper Hewitt livestream on the master’s background, influences, technology, and business and find out what happened to the Tiffany-designed rooms at the White House:

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.

Mark Leckey Mixes It Up at MoMA PS1

Mark Leckey’s 2013 Felix the Cat, a tribute to TV’s first celebrity.

Mark Leckey’s 2013 Felix the Cat, a tribute to TV’s first celebrity.

It’s the last weekend to take a walk through the output of the creative mind of an award-winning British artist MoMA PS1, which has dedicated its top two floors of the schoolhouse to Mark Leckey: Containers and Their Drivers. Film assemblages, appropriated pop images, and funky juxtapositions are served up to everyone plucky enough to climb the stairs and peek around corners.

Visitors take an eclectic journey through a labyrinth of video galleries, movie rooms, and installations. The highlight is his 1999 breakthrough film about UK trance-dance culture, Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore, using found footage.

Several small rooms include meditations on RCA’s first TV transmission in 1928 using a Felix the Cat. For added punch, Leckey adds his own inflatable oversize Felix to the gallery.

Mark Leckey’s 2001-2001 Sound System sculptures, which communicate all on their own

Mark Leckey’s 2001-2001 Sound System sculptures, which communicate all on their own

The intimate viewing experience is punctuated by large-scale installations of provocative work that asks visitors to reconsider their experience of everyday objects.

One major room contains towers of low-range, mid-range and high-range frequency speakers that emit tweets and signs, programmed to converse. Their range of sounds make one recollect times in Leckey’s early career, when he used his speaker-towers in showdowns with other large, inert behemoths, such as gigantic quarry rocks or Henry Moore sculptures. Visitors slow down to get close to the structures and wait for them to speak.

Installation view of The Universal Addressability of Dumb Things (Machine), with costume, Lego ship, copy of a 1959 Soviet space dog suit

Installation view of The Universal Addressability of Dumb Things (Machine), with costume, Lego ship, copy of a 1959 Soviet space dog suit

Other large-scale installations are from Leckey’s recent project to “collect” interesting art and artifacts inside his computer, assemble them into virtual installations, and then reproduce it all in 3D. Leckey’s multi-part project, The Universal Addressability of Dumb Things, is depicted in the Flickr album here. The objects are carefully placed but it takes a (literal) scorecard in the gallery to discern what you’re seeing – a copy of a work by another young artist, an engineering model, or fantastical emanation of Leckey’s own mind.

The two ends of a mysterious, dark gallery with fluorescent painted figures are anchored by archeological fragments of the mythological past, except that the fragments are 3D-printed copies.

Traversing one floor, sounds emanate from Leckey’s 2010 green room/shrine. Enter to find a large fluorescent fixture above, a quiet crowd just taking it all in, and the focal point — a talking Samsung smart refrigerator that steals the show. The refrigerator holds court, surrounded by fantasy videos of itself hurtling through time and the cosmos.

Check out Leckey’s 2010 video of the GreenScreenRefrigerator to hear what’s inside the mind of his smart appliance and contemplate a future dominated by the Internet of Things.

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.