How Textiles Became Modern at MoMA

1977 Águila Beige (Brown Eagle) by Spanish artist Aurèlia Muñoz

Dramatic fiber sculptures welcome visitors at the entry to MoMA’s modern textile history exhibition, Taking a Thread for a Walk, on view on the third floor through January 10.

When the show initially opened back in 2019, visitors were greeted by Magdalena Abakanowicz’s imposing Yellow Abakan textile sculpture; today, it’s the wall-size Red Marca by Aurèlia Muñoz in its place. Inside the main gallery, Aurèlia’s Brown Eagle spreads out to fill the entire corner. But these fiber sculptures are really the finale to the exhibition’s story.

Yarn, prints, and fabric in Vuillard’s 1896 painting of his mother at home

Your journey through 20th century textile art is fleshed out using MoMA’s unparalleled collection of modern paintings, furniture, posters, film, and ephemera. Every time we’ve visited the exhibition, we’ve observed museum goers who are fully engaged, taking in every detail of the big story told by quiet works – how textile craft transitioned from small-time “women’s work” to statements within the big-time worlds of fine arts, commercial furniture, and interior design.

The first thing you hear upon entering is the clacking sound of a working loom. The sound draws you right toward an actual loom. Nearby, there are fourth-century Coptic textile fragments that were the first textiles to enter MoMA’s collection and a delicate sculpture by Ed Rossbach that echoes weaving’s ancient origins.

1952 loom used by Anni Albers in Connecticut

The pristine loom was used by Anni Albers, who revolutionized how American artists began thinking about, making, and innovating with textiles. In a way, Anni’s educational philosophy is the “thread” that connects nearly every other section in the show – teach students to execute the basics but push them to experiment in unconventional ways.

Using fiber and weaving to “learn by doing” extends back to the 1850s and the beliefs of German early-childhood educator Friedrich Froebel, who suggested that parents and teachers use “playthings” – balls of yarn and colorful weaving slats to spur kids’ creativity. His ideas caught on, with toy manufacturers offering commercial creativity kits. MoMA has 1898 versions from Boston in the show.

Vienna: corner of 1905 tablecloth by Josef Hoffman and Berthold Löffler

Around the same time, the British Arts & Crafts movement and rampant industrialization inspired continental innovators to create new schools and interdisciplinary movements that elevated textile design in the design and art-school hierarchy.

MoMA displays a beautiful tablecloth by Hoffman and Loeffler that exemplifies the design direction Hoffman and colleagues took with the Wiener Werkstätte.  Fabric designs by Elena Izcue are nearby, showing how pre-Columbian textiles served as inspiration for artists and students exploring an “American” design direction.

An entire wall is devoted to the ground-breaking work by Anni Albers and others from the textile workshop at the Bauhaus, led by innovator Gunta Stölzl, who encouraged interdisciplinary students to experiment by incorporating unusual materials, proportions, and colors.

Bauhaus Weaving Workshop: 1923-1924 work by Benita Koch-Otte

A short black-and-white film that takes you inside the workshop is projected next to a dramatic large-scale woven modernist statement by Benita Koch-Otte.

The back wall tells the story of 20th-century textile production and commercialization – a Soviet children’s book to explain how cotton is grown and turned into mass-market fabric, and commercial brochures, posters, and catalogues created by graphic artists who founded branding agencies to help European manufacturers market stylish rugs, draperies, and furniture to buyers.

1964 wall hanging woven by Delores Dembus Bitterman, an Albers student at Yale

Like Anni Albers, many design innovators fled Europe in the Thirties, worked as educators in the United States, and influenced the next generation of textile modernists through Cranbrook, the New Bauhaus in Chicago, and Black Mountain College.

MoMA shows plenty of expressive wall-sized works, fabric-covered modern furniture, and textile room dividers used to stunning effect by architects and interior designers in commercial spaces and open-plan homes in the Fifties and Sixties. A Seventies poster promoting furniture by Knoll reminds you that Brazilian and other Latin American designers were fully on board, too.

Stretch fabric: Bruno Manari’s 1964 hanging lamp and Pierre Paulin’s 1967 Tongue chair

Finally, the story comes back to where it began – liberation for textile artists in the Sixties and Seventies, like Sheila Hicks and others, to create large-scale sculptural work.

Walk through the exhibition with MoMA on its website and look at our favorites in our Flickr album.

To get an idea of how one contemporary master thinks about creating with textiles, here is a short video with Sheila Hicks, featuring her Pillar of Inquiry installation last year for MoMA’s reopening:

Folk Art Museum Tells 85 American Stories

Eliza Gordon, as she arrived in 1833 for her first job at a New Hampshire textile mill

When you enter the exhibition American Perspectives: Stories from the American Folk Art Museum Collection, on view at Lincoln Square through January 3, you may experience a nostalgic feeling seeing images of early Americans, spectacularly pieced quilts, and finely carved wooden relics of bygone eras.

But the purpose in bringing all of these small masterpieces together is to present the in-depth stories behind the creators and subjects, which adds a completely different, lively layer to the journey through the three galleries – tales of itinerant portrait painters, stagecoaches along America’s first turnpikes, independent women surviving husbands and adventures in the Wild West, and back-country singing masters making their own teaching tools from roots and berries.

1790 love letter drawn by Christian Strenge, a former Hessian mercenary who settled in Pennsylvania

The stories make each work come alive, taking you back to the founding of America, looking at how people moved around in the Nation’s early years, made social-justice and political statements through their art, and used their artistic skills to transform their lives. 

The first section of the show has several works with early German immigrants, many of whom came to America as Hessian mercenaries fighting for the British and stayed as citizens, using their artistic skills to pen intricate love letters and embellish important documents.

Portraits come alive as you see the fresh face of a 20-year-old mill worker (Eliza Gordon) who just arrived to take on her first independent job after leaving the family farm, portraits of new arrivals from the East Coast (the Bosworth siblings) who were starting new lives in up-and-coming Illinois, or a wife (Mrs. Bentley) committed to abolition who ran a famous spa in upstate New York in the early 1800s.

1983 Freedom quilt by Jessie B. Telfair of Parrott, Georgia

It’s not always easy to tell just from looking when works were made, and many come from the 20th century, often from a period later in the artist’s life – the drawing made by a Romanian immigrant (Ionel Talpazan) who used his art to work out his experience with a UFO as a child, the artist (Jessie B. Telfair) who made quilts in the Eighties to channel her feelings about being punished for registering to vote in Georgia in the Sixties, and a painter (Lorenzo Scott) whose portraits cast Atlanta beauties as Renaissance royalty whose style impressed him when he hung out at the Met in the years he lived in New York.

1918 Coney Island carousel horse by Charles Carmel and 1965 Workers’ Holiday by Ralph Fasanella

In the stories told about artworks involving far-away destinations, we learn that sea captain portraits were used as substitutes for husbands gone for years at a time, that many 18th-century students learned geography by copying intricate maps of exotic animal habitats, and that overhead rail was the magical mechanism that brought working-class people to the over-the-top fantasy destination of Coney Island.  

The curators point out that the grand 1888 Grover Cleveland quilt was created by a woman who was a passionate political supporter. The quilt was her way of casting a vote for her favorite candidate, even though she did not yet have the right to vote. She even used the red-bandana campaign swag as the center!

Next to this, there’s a masterful “quilt” made out of wood by New Orleans artist Jean-Marcel St. Jacques, an Afro-Creole artist living in Treme.

Detail of 2014 wood “quilt” by Katrina survivor Jean-Marcel St. Jacques, Mother Sister May Have Sat in That Chair When She Lived in This House Before Me

The spectacular wall-sized work is pieced together from pieces of furniture that he salvaged from his home following his neighborhood’s devastation by Hurricane Katrina. Some of it pre-dated his residency, so the assemblage contains layers and layers of local history.

The final gallery contains works by people who used art to transform their lives ­– one of the thousands of abstract drawings made each night in West Virginia by Eugene Andolsek to relieve his workplace stress, and a large tiger with a personality carved and painted by Felipe Benito Archuleta, who was out of work in the Sixties and began carving animals to sell in Santa Fe.

1977 Tigere by Felipe Benito Archuleta

His whimsical creations not only led to a wildly lucrative art career, but jump-started an entirely new direction for the New Mexico art market.

These tales are only a few of the 85 told by this exhibition.  Download all the stories here, and enjoy some of our favorite works of art in our Flickr album.

Exhibition curator Stacy C. Hollander provides a virtual tour and shares some of her favorite stories about early-American artists and 19th-century travelers in this video below.

Stacy provides lots of background on Eliza Gordon and what her work was like in the textile industry. The video also tells the incredible story of Emma Rebecca Cummins (maker of the crazy-quilt trousseau robe), who was married four times, lived in five Eastern and frontier states (also Canada!), and worked as one of the first female Western Union telegraphers out West.

Enjoy getting to know the backstories of some of the incredible artists among the 85 featured in this tribute to American working artists, activists, and visionaries:

Genius Artist Reinterprets Brooklyn’s Native American Archives

Moccasins at the feet of 1904 Dying Indian sculpture by Charles Cary Rumsey. On Gibson’s mural, a study for Rumsey’s Manhattan Bridge buffalo-hunt frieze.

The Brooklyn Museum invited a MacArthur genius to dig through its vast Native American collection and archives, use it alongside his own thought-provoking contemporary art work, and take visitors minds for a spin. The colorful, creative, memorable results are on display across three galleries in Jeffrey Gibson: When Fire Is Applied to a Stone It Cracks, on view through January 10. Take a look in our Flickr album.

Gibson, a big thinker whose heritage is Choctaw/Cherokee, does work that challenges people to think differently about Native Americans today and to question the assumptions about their “disappearance” from the national dialogue. Flying above art-world silos, he works at large and small scales, employs colleagues who are experts in beadwork and mural making, and shows art-gallery works as well as more conceptual projects.

Custom 19th and early 20th-century moccasins from the Brooklyn Museum collection.

His Brooklyn show begins by presenting a monumental 1904 “Dying Indian” bronze by Victorian-era classical artist, Charles Cary Rumsey, and an array of moccasins from the museum’s collections made by unknown tribal artists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

To the right, there’s a giant stained-glass work that says, “Whose World Is This? It’s Yours It’s Mine.” To the left, there’s a colorful gallery packed with Gibson’s contemporary art work, and historic beaded, painted, and pieced items made by tribal artists.

Scores of museum visitors who exited Brooklyn’s Studio 54 show were captivated by Gibson’s dynamic installation, entered, and explored.

Gibson’s stained-glass Whose World Is This? It’s Yours It’s Mine. Private collection.

Below the massive statue, Gibson wants us to witness how carefully Native American makers created and customized footwear for specific practical purposes and ceremonial occasions for specific individuals. Unfortunately, the beautiful beadwork and deft, custom designs by tribal craftsmen are unattributed – a contrast to the society artist’s imposing vision of Native Americans who are sad, vanquished, and gone.

To change the statue’s narrative, Gibson asked contemporary Pawnee/Cree artist John Little Sun Murie to design moccasins for the figure atop Rumsey’s horse, so the rider is now presented as an individual member of an historic tribe – not just a generalized stereotype. Listen as Jeffrey talks about moccasins:

To drive home the point that Victorian-era artists and anthropologists incorrectly generalized and romanticized Native Americans, Gibson adds two other small bronzes and a study for Rumsey’s buffalo-hunting frieze made to embellish the entrance to the Manhattan Bridge. (Just ignore the fact that the Lenape didn’t hunt buffalo on our shores!) His beaded works say it all – “I Don’t Belong to You” and “You Don’t Belong to Me.”

Gibson’s 2018, Tribes File Suit to Protect Bears Ears.

In the second gallery, Gibson shows his own recent creations with those bought on early 20th-century expeditions and added to Brooklyn’s ethnographic collection.

Gibson’s bright, geometric murals – which complement the museum’s vintage geometric-patterned tiled floors – provide a joyful backdrop for a brightly colored Seminole jacket, beaded hats, and other art. Gibson’s new paintings, sculptures, and patchwork garments use beads, colors, and messages on fabric – contemporary statements that hearken to the creativity and innovation of these unattributed artists. Take a look:

Ba:lawahdiwa, Zuni’s governor, and his family in 1890

The final gallery presents other artifacts and art that Gibson curated from museum’s vast Native American holdings, expedition records, and archives, and contrasts them with some of Gibson’s recent photography.

A large case displays a range of commercial, ancient, and ceremonial pots, expedition photographs, and drawings of Pueblo life made by expedition artists over 100 years ago. In one instance, Gibson reunites several photos of a Zuni family, normally stored apart from one another the museum’s archives.

Gibson relishes showing how Native American artists still thrive today and how over the centuries they have adapted their materials and creativity for both commercial art-markets and their own expressive purposes.

Gibson’s 2019 photo Regan De Loggans. Courtesy: Gibson & Sikkema Jenkins

For example, he features a photograph of a young early 20th-century Navajo weaver, creating traditional Indian” rugs for a trading post with new, more colorful materials that Mr. Hubbell supplied. Gibson also unearthed a tourist map on where to find different California tribes and buy their wares – a direct rebuke to the concept that all these people “vanished.”

Best of all, Gibson also features several gorgeous recent photographs, including tribal artist-activists.

Visit Jeffery’s studio in this video produced for the 2019 Whitney Biennial. Hear him talk about his evolution, his creative process, and his team up in Hudson:

No Monolith but Judd’s Works at MoMA Deliver the Power

1968 stainless steel and Plexiglass tower (Froehlich Collection)

For anyone lamenting the disappearance of the Monolith and yearning to experience its minimalist magic, walk through MoMA’s Donald Judd retrospective before January 3 to understand how big, gleaming, super-sleek objects create such electrifying force fields.

Initially, journalists speculated that the Utah Monolith was the work of West Coast artist John McCracken. It wasn’t, but Judd was one of McCracken’s art-world heroes – a master who reveled in pure shape, pure color, and (when he wanted to) pure transparency. Judd also built repeating rectangles (seemingly not created by human hands) in remote western landscapes (Marpha, Texas).

On MoMA’s top floor, you’ll encounter wide, open spaces with spare, clean hard-edged objects inhabiting four galleries.

1964 construction of orange pebbled Plexiglass and hot-rolled steel. Private collection.

In the first room, you’ll see cadmium-red shapes from the early Sixties that Judd made in his Soho studio. The idea was to remove any gestures or evidence of craft in the work – just present the pure painted shape.

But to get the perfection he craved, Judd went one step further – engaging industrial fabricators to create large-scale works from his meticulous drawings. Industrial materials like aluminum, iron, and Plexiglass are transformed into magical rectangles, epic towers, and airy channels. See our favorites in our Flickr album.

In each gallery, visitors are invited to circumnavigate and explore the monumental works. One orange box seems to glow; another has a transparent surface that lets you peer inside. An enticing series of blue and silver boxes seem to let you peek through to an entirely different dimension.

1969 “channel” of aluminum and Plexiglass units (Saint Louis Art Museum)

Towers emerge from walls in each room – neat stacks of monumental rectangles, separated by exact amounts of space. It’s quite a sensation to approach one, look up, and feel its commanding presence. One silver tower seems to be emitting yellow light. A copper tower gleams a little from a subtle spotlight.

Judd wanted it this way – no interpretation. Just you and the large, beautiful, perfect form, as this short video demonstrates:

MoMA cautions visitors to remain at least six feet away from each of the works, but most admirers are cautious and reverent, taking it all in and giving everything its space.

Here, curator Ann Temkin talks about Judd’s work and the joy of bringing such a monumental exhibition to New York:

Take a trip through the installation on MoMA’s website here, and hear artists describe their experience of the show here.

150 Years of Splendor at The Met

Entrance with Noguchi’s 1945 Kouros and Rodin’s controversial 1876 sculpture

The Met has pulled out all the stops on its 150th birthday show, Making the Met, 1870-2020, on view at Fifth Avenue through January 3 – incredible installation, intriguing stories, and a phenomenal digital showcase. So even if you can’t come to New York to see it in person, the Met website has it all!

The exhibition tells the story of the Met over the last 150 years – from its first incarnation in a house on 14th Street to its ever-expanding footprint in Central Park – shows the incredible art that benefactors donated, and relays the stories of the men and women who made it happen.

Head of a Hindu god, Bhairava, made by 16th c. Nepalese artists 

Walking into the dramatic exhibition entrance, you’re surrounded by figures from different eras and cultures – a little girl from 5th century Greece holding two doves, a gilded mask of a Hindu god beautifully crafted by Nepalese masters of the 16th century, and Avedon’s 1957 portrait of a pensive Marilyn Monroe.

At the press opening, senior researcher associate Laura Corey explained that these were chosen to encourage visitors to think about the people behind the Met – collectors, curators, artists, restoration experts, and other staff. According to Laura, the African power figure from the Republic of Congo was one of the first artworks chosen for the welcome gallery.  He’s looking right across to Marilyn, and they are sharing a similar expression and mood.

1906 photo of The Great Hall 

At Noguchi’s Kouros sculpture, you can look left or right down a “street” lined with arches – portals that beckon you to step into different chapters of the Museum’s history. Each arch proclaims the decade and the theme. In between, there are huge slideshows from the museum’s past ­– how the Great Hall used to look, ladies in turn-of-the-century hats taking their art appreciation classes, Fifties moms and kids looking at art.

We’ve included our favorite artworks in our Flickr album, but the Met has produced a spectacular multimedia walk-through (posted on Google Arts & Culture), where you can experience all ten stories through photos, films, and links to blogs. Definitely watch the silent 1928 “Behind the Scenes” film showing museum shops, painters, gilders, and photographers at work. No surprise that the museum was into multimedia way back then!

Houdon’s 1778 bust of Franklin and reflection of Manet’s Young Lady in 1866

Through the first arch titled “The Founding” (the 1870s), you pass a huge Cypriot head (the first director was into archaeology) and the first paintings donated by the founding trustees. Houdon’s spectacular Ben Franklin gazes quietly (and slyly) at Manet’s Young Lady in 1866 – the first contemporary painting in the Met’s collection. It depicts a life-size, modern gal in her dressing gown – an image that shocked early visitors to the Met’s classical galleries! Of course, Ben looks on approvingly.

Next, you’ll see a 15th-century Turkish turban helmet and 17th-century Japanese armor. The story here is that the Met green-lighted Bashford Dean, a zoologist and world traveler working at the AMNH, to begin the arms and armor collection. Other curators began collecting works on paper, textiles, lace, wallpaper, musical instruments, and contemporary designs. In the Twenties, curators headed straight to the UK to scoop up samples from Morris & Company.

1479-1458 B.C. statue of Hatshepsut, and Cleopatra’s Needle (1450 B.C.) in Central Park

Around the corner is a tribute to the deep-pocketed donors like Morgan and B. Altman, who gave the Met lots of upscale, princely treasures ­– paintings by Vermeer and Ingres, fancy furniture, and tapestries. A treasure trove gifted by generous benefactors fills a wall – pistols for kings, cosmetic cases for Egyptians, bedazzled tablewear, and Middle Eastern glass.

Back into the main “street,” you’re right next to an imposing, reconstructed sculpture of Egypt’s female pharaoh Hatshepsut with a stunning view of Central Park’s Egyptian obelisk through the window.

These lead to the stories of how the Met collected art via excavations of archaeological sites – the Kharga Oasis (1908), Egypt (1880-1931) with Wah’s tomb stuff, Nimrud (Iraq), and along an ancient trade route (1934). The intrepid Bashford Dean enters the story again – excavating a Crusader castle, but only bringing back “dismal finds,” such as Crusader lamps, melted chain mail, and shards of stained glass, and (our favorite!) a projectile from a Crusades-era catapult (1250).

1864 A Gorge in the Mountains by Sanford Robinson Gifford

Apparently, it took a lot for a fancy museum to turn its attention from Europe to collecting art from the Western Hemisphere, but wealthy patrons had the goods. The American room features Sargent’s best-dressed “Madame X” and an enormous 1830 honeycomb quilt by Elizabeth Clarkson, the first quilt to enter the Met’s collection in 1923. There’s also a gorgeous Catskill Mountain landscape by Sanford Robinson Gifford, once owned by AMNH’s long-serving president, Mr. Jessup.

A gallery packed with work by Degas, Monet, Cassatt, Cezanne, and their Japanese masters tells the story of the Havemeyers, the Met patrons who lavished the museum with Tiffany glass (likely picked out by Mr. Tiffany himself), impressionist masters (picked out by Ms. Cassatt herself), and much more.

I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold (1928) by Demuth

At the midpoint of the exhibition, you learn that Stieglitz had a rough time trying to convince the Met to honor contemporary photography. The Met also refused Ms. Whitney’s collection in 1929. Gertrude’s response was to start her own museum, which joined MoMA (which debuted in 1929) in celebrating modernism. The Met finally did accept modern works through Georgia O’Keeffe’s 1949 gift, and proudly displays a Demuth and Kandinsky in the show.

The Monuments Men story looms large, with Met curators playing a major role in discovering and returning art looted during World War II. There’s a 1945 model of an Army helmet prototype designed by the Met’s armor expert, hand-crafted in solid aluminum.

1965 Yves Saint Laurent Mondrian dress and 1966 Balenciaga coat

The largest gallery in the show tells the story of how the Met beefed up its collections and expanded gallery space during what it calls “The Centennial Era” – Islamic art, fashion, Asian and African art, and modern art from the 20th century.

The final story about the Museum’s current focus ­– adding works by artists and from regions that are underrepresented in its collections – is represented by a large El Anatsui piece, an embellished Tibetan saddle, a wall of art guitars, a large Faith Ringgold story quilt, and other intriguing works.

The museum’s done a tremendous job online telling all the stories via its digital primer.  Click here to hear in-depth stories on the Met’s audio guide with Steve Martin, check out this video with his narration, get the backstory on every artwork in the show, and definitely visit the multimedia walk-through .

And check out this exhibition video showing how the museum’s architecture evolved to house these growing collections. In the 1880s, Olmstead and Vaux assigned a spot in Central Park for the Met. It’s interesting that one of the initial designs (which no one liked) was not scheduled for completion until 1990!! It’s a microcosm of 150 years of architecture and history.

Mexican Artist Builds Wall Atop The Met

Zamora’s wall with southern skyline view from the Met terrace

The rooftop mojito bar is missing, but it doesn’t matter to the art lovers trekking up to the Met’s rooftop.  The Roof Garden Commission: Héctor Zamora, Lattice Detour, on view through December 7, invites you to stroll around Héctor’s undulating wall and experience what it feels like to have your ideal, verdant view of Central Park and the soaring skyline partially interrupted.

On a bright, sunny day (and New York as had many recently), Metropolitan Museum visitors are taking the time contemplate this simple, provocative, statement by a Mexican installation artist. Héctor’s wall is only 11 feet high and made of see-through bricks – the kind created to let air and sun pass through courtyard walls in steamy Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Latin American climates.

Partial view through blocks made from Mexican earth

For this Met installation, Héctor had the blocks for the wall made from Mexico’s earth and asked a crew of Mexican and Latin American builders to hand-craft it the traditional way. As you circumnavigate Héctor’s wall, you have to position yourself just right to get a good view, and then it’s only a tiny, tiny fraction of what lies beyond.

And you have to be close, which lets you appreciate the artistry of the patterns and tunnels of the lattice, which also casts geometric patterns on the roof.

Héctor’s hope is that his installation enables quiet contemplation on thinking about the world that lies just beyond the walls of the Met. If you free-associate about walls, national borders, or larger societal issues, OK, but Héctor presents his architectural statement in a straightforward manner – basic building blocks that originated in ancient times.  You can create the experience what you want.

Take a tour of the installation in our Flickr album, enjoy the spectacular rooftop views in this Met’s video, and hear Héctor Zamora talk about this work with Met curator Iria Candela:

Weekly NYC Virtual Museum Events on What Came Before

Recreation of Manhatta by the Welikea Project, presenting virtually with NYPL

On Tuesday November 10, New York museums and cultural institutions have packed the digital schedule with events that look to the past to inform our understanding of nature, the history of fake news, and the sometimes-forgotten participants in Veteran’s Day – the millions of WWII home-front workers:

At 1pm, the New York Public Library hosts a session with the ground-breaking Welikia Project, which recreates ecosystems that existed in New York City before Henry Hudson sailed into the harbor 400 years ago. The program will explain how the city’s current built environment syncs with the marshes, ponds, rivers, and hills that the Lenape knew so well.

“A Warning to Libellers”, an 1804 broadside attacking vice-president Burr. Collection: NYPL

At 6pm, the New-York Historical Society is taking the long look at the relationships between presidents and the press, going back to the time of the Founding Fathers, investigating how their surrogates spread fake news, and comparing then and now.

At 6pm, the Brooklyn Historical Society will take you behind the gates of the Brooklyn Navy Yard to present the stories and voices of everyday New Yorkers who kept up the riveting, launching, and maintenance of the Atlantic fleet during WWII.

1942 Brooklyn Navy Yard worker. Collection: Brooklyn Historical Society

Find the links to these and other museum events on our virtual events page here. Poster House is having all sorts of virtual get-togethers this week centered around its Chinese and Swiss poster shows, so look through our list. On other days of the week:

  • On Wednesday November 11 at 7:00pm, the Museum of the City of New York explores the history of celebrations in the city – parades, marches, and spontaneous outpourings of emotion on the streets.
  • On Thursday November 12, the Museum at FIT presents a conversation on sustainability in fashion at 6pm, and the International Center of Photography will present the five young photographers it commissioned to make work in response to the COVID crisis at 7pm.

    David Hockney, Self Portrait with Red Braces, 2003. © David Hockney. Photography by Richard Schmidt. Courtesy: The Morgan

  • On Friday at 3pm, there’s another chance to go on a virtual tour of the Morgan Library’s David Hockney portrait show.

Take a look and register for as many of the topics and events that you can fit into your schedule. Most of the events are free, but it’s always nice to add a thank-you donation.

Museum Updates

Last week, we dropped into the Metropolitan Museum to see if we could take a quick peek at the “rediscovered” painting in the Jacob Lawrence American Struggle series, but that didn’t happen, since the lines through the 20th-century wing stretched all the way back to the Rockefeller Wing. Anyone needing to get their Lawrence fix can see his historic Migration series on MoMA’s Fifth floor, and his WWII War Series in its own gallery at The Whitney.

Donald Judd installation at MoMA

Anyone needing to chill out in a clean, white space can have the Donald Judd show at MoMA all to themselves weekdays (MoMA is open 7 days a week).  We swung by last Thursday and found a peaceful garden, empty Matisse Swimming Pool room, and acres of space around Persistence of Memory. Get there now!

If you missed the Museum at FIT conversation last week on Native America Fashion with designer Korina Emmerich and Choctaw-Cherokee artist Jeffrey Gibson, who currently has a three-gallery exhibition in Brooklyn, the conversation is now posted here on the museum’s YouTube channel.

Travel the Sahara Superhighway at The Met

12th – 14th c. terracotta equestrian statue from the Middle Niger civilization (Mali).

As you confront the stone monolith in the entry, get prepared to see art you’ve never before encountered, learn about empires you didn’t know existed, and fill in the blank spot on what you know about African history.

Beauty and cultural discoveries are everywhere in a first-of-its-kind exhibition on Saharan artistic legacies in Sahel: Art and Empires on the Shores of the Sahara, on view through October 26 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Large 12th – 13th c. gold pectoral, found at a burial in northwest Senegal, with elaborate filigree. Courtesy: IFAN, Senegal

The shifting sands of the Sahara are echoed in the centuries of shifting artistic traditions, migrations, civilizations, religions, and cultural affinities of the Saharan people. Take a look at our Flickr album.

This gorgeous show is one of the first to tie and unite the threads of the sub-Sahara’s nearly invisible history for Western audiences. Western approaches to art history have traditionally made it appear as if the people on a large content were a monoculture with no beginning, end, or history. The show brings a deeper artistic and historical context to work that has always suffered from just being lumped together as “African art,” or worse, “primitive art.”

Scholars on two continents are starting to piece the story together, reflected in the exhibition’s design. The alcoves are a primer to walk back through time to understand the region’s complex history, which covers deserts, oases, and farming areas that are the size of Europe. For centuries, the region was criss-crossed by trading routes (the “Saharan superhighway”) through which caravans delivered luxury goods, exotic raw materials, news, and new cultural influences.

Pre-1659 royal tunic, a European import from the Ardra kingdom (south Benin) via Mandé trade routes. Courtesy: Museum Ulm

Wooden or fired clay depictions of warrior kings on horseback from the 3rd through 19th centuries line the exhibition’s central path. Settlements, archeological sites, and kings are named, with the vast region’s artifacts, architecture, and traditions of storytelling joyously placed into a proper context.

There are plenty of national treasures, such as the gold pectoral from Senegal and lively terra cotta sculptures (likely made by women) from Mali, made with the highest levels of craftsmen between the 12th  and 14th centuries. Another highlight is the still-vibrant 8th-century woven tunic from Niger, one of Africa’s most ancient textiles.

The exhibition explains how Islam gradually, peacefully became the dominant religion in sub-Saharan Africa, displacing the previous belief systems. As is the case with other world cultures, artists continued to merge and adapt older, more traditional symbols and forms with the new.

Wood sculptures of Mali’s Bamana people, from the 15th to 20th century

An intriguing 15th-century Italian map-painting documents Mansa Musa, a 14th-century emperor from Mali, who achieved global celebrity status for his over-the-top pilgrimage to Mecca via Cairo and was inspired to develop Timbuktu into a center of Islamic scholarship.

The display of Bamana sculptures, dating from the 15th to 20th centuries, in the rear gallery is the show’s dramatic conclusion, although the walls depict incredible resist-dye textiles made by early 20th century women in Mali and couture-level embroidery on pure white status garments of the Timbuktu elite from the Sixties.

Senegalese kora made before 1878, used by griots to perform social narratives.

The show was an epic undertaking by the Met  – organizing a narrative and objects to tell two thousand years of relatively unknown history; first-time loans of national treasures from the museums in Niger, Mali, Senegal, and Mauritania; arranging for an 8,000-lb. monolith to be shipped across the Atlantic to New York.

The epic histories recounted by griots playing traditional instruments over the centuries play a large role in the exhibition. Koras and percussion instruments are on display, and music permeates the galleries.

Here’s a peaceful walk through the exhibition with music by Toumani Diabaté with Ballake Sissoko:

For an in-depth understanding of this ground-breaking show, join in on this conversation with Met curator Alisa LaGamma and scholar and writer Manthia Diawara:

Learn more about the epic history of the Sahara in the Met’s exhibition guide.

Amy Sillman Gets Shapes to Talk at MoMA

1957 Arp sculpture and view of works by Leger, Frankenthaler and Bonticou

A big, red blob on the fifth floor at MoMA is the welcome sign to one of the most engaging exhibitions in New York ­– the come-hither array of modern artworks in the latest Artist’s Choice show, Amy Sillman: The Shape of Shape, on display through October 4.

But here’s the catch for MoMA visitors – the show has more than 75 works but no labels, no identification, no dates. Just the clue that Amy chose works to explore the role of “shape” in modern art. Small artworks are arranged knee-level on risers (kind of like stadium seating), with larger paintings tilted against the wall.  A few are hung in the traditional way, but it feels as if MoMa’s collection is looking at you and hankering for a conversation. Check it out in our Flickr album.

Rectilinear frame conversation between 1989 Albert Oehlen painting and 1935 “Construction” by Gertrude Green

In our first visit back to the re-opened MoMA, visitors circulated through the room, looking intensively, talking about what they saw, and discussing how pieces might be connected. Although the gallery guide was available via QR code, no one during our visit appeared to seek it out. Everyone seemed quite content to parachute into 110 years of modern visuals and just go for the ride.

What did Amy choose? Abstracted forms, organic shapes, human bodies, and not-bodies – all arranged in a way that makes you feel that one is somehow related to its neighbor. You can’t quite describe why the entire room felt like a tight ensemble, even though one piece might feel like fun and the next a little scary.

It was interesting how unsettled visitors felt by 1970s works by Christina Ramburg and Julian Schnabel. This is exactly what Amy was going for, according to what we overheard her tell students in the gallery yesterday. She wanted to evoke the anxious feelings that most artists experience as they paint, draw, and sculpt and to reflect the times today without being didactic.

Along the east wall – 2008 acrylic by Charline von Heyl, 1920 Arp sculpture, and 1976 drawing by Jay DeFeo

Amy came of age during the Seventies when museums and intellectuals had given abstract expressionism its “heroic” status and crowned minimalists and conceptual artists as successors in the march of modernism. For this Artist’s Choice exhibition, Amy examined MoMA’s vast archive from a different perspective, looking at famous and not-so-famous creators whose work evoked myths, an interest in shadows, tension, anxiety, bodies, and whimsey.

Shadowy Black figures in a dark painting by Zimbabwean artist Thomas Mukarobgwa are echoed by a shadowy figure in a work by Leger. The tiny 1920 stacked Arp sculpture seems to be playing a “Mini-Me” role next to the large, layered 2008 Charline von Heyl acrylic.

Shadows also play key roles in a Lois Lane painting paired with a Kirschner wooduct. See for yourself and make a connection. Download Amy’s zine here to learn more about the works she chose and how she installed them. (She designed it during the quarantine months when the show was shut down.)

Here’s a short overview of the show hosted by MoMA painting/sculpture curator Michelle Kuo:

But you should really dig into the in-depth conversation (with over 10,000 views!) between Amy and Michelle, if you’ve ever been to art school or painted. They talk about art making, art history, Amy’s inspiration from Munch’s little-known litho of a woman hugging a bear, and the way she chose lesser-known works that could have a conversation with you in 2020:

More on MoMA’s reopening
MoMA on 53rd Street is open every day with timed ticketing, and now that the free-ticket offer has concluded, it seems easy to find a time to visit. The Queens outpost at P.S.1 is open until 8:00pm Thursday through Sunday, and is currently showing the acclaimed (and long-anticipated exhibition) Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration through April 4.

Join Live Virtual Events at NYC Museums

Tour “Sahel: Art and Empires on the Shores of the Sahara” at The Met this week

Are you missing your favorite New York museums? We’re happy to report that many of the cultural powerhouses, like the Whitney, The Met, and MoMA have reopened, although timed tickets in the opening weeks have been a little hard to get.

There’s a quick and easy way to get inside, however, by attending one of the live virtual programs being offered.  Check out our new page on events! As you can see, there’s a lot of opportunities to connect.

1929 “Calla Lily Vendor” by Alfredo Ramos Martinez in The Whitney’s must-see exhibition “Vida Americana”

New York museums have been keeping their events going online, and joining in is a great way to meet curators, docents, tour some blockbuster shows, and join in on the discussions happening around town about art and the social-justice movement (past and present), women’s issues and history, and even listen to ETHEL play classical music from the virtual Met balcony on Friday night.

For smaller museums, the virtual events have been a great way to broaden programming to a national or international audience.  In recent on-line programs produced by Fraunces Tavern, it’s been nice to see colonial history buffs from Virginia and New England join in on the discussion. At last week’s New York Transit Museum’s talk on the 20th Century Limited, a few UK railroad enthusiasts joined in the chat room!

Hear about the preservation of Washington and Hamilton’s hangout, Fraunces Tavern, one of NYC’s oldest buildings this week

So, it’s a great way to be in the virtual room where it’s happening with others who love history and conversation as much as you do!  Take a look at the array of topics and events and register.

Most of the events are free, although after the months-long shut down here, it’s always nice to give a thank-you donation.

Reopening Update

This week, we’ll welcome the opening of the Guggenheim and Jewish Museum along Fifth Avenue and the International Center of Photography at its new home on Essex on the Lower East Side, where the Tenement Museum has begun neighborhood walking tours again.

Welcome back!!

Enjoy this beautiful four-hour meditative Met Live Arts performance by Lee Mingwei and Bill T. Jones at The Met this week