Weekly Virtual Museum Events – Berlin Neon, Japanese Rap, Master Photographers, and Alice Neel

Commercial neon in Berlin under discussion at Poster House Monday

This week, NYC museums are offering more than 40 on-line events (mostly free) that will take you to Berlin in the Twenties, the music scene in Tokyo, studios of acclaimed photographers, and an opening at the Met.  See the full list on our virtual events page.

Tonight (Monday, March 22) at 6:30pm, join Poster House and photographer Thomas Rinaldi for Interwar Neon: Commercial Illumination in Weimar-Era Germany to look back on the electric art that flourished alongside the freewheeling nightlife scene for a brief time between the wars.

Dawoud Bey’s Birmingham series at the New Museum.

On Tuesday (March 23) at 4pm, join the New Museum to meet Dawoud Bey, a photography legend (and MacArthur genius) whose moving 2012 tribute, The Birmingham Project, is featured in the acclaimed exhibition, Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America

At 7pm, join Japan Society for 333 Contemporaries – Looking for the Next Global Rap Star in Japan, the kickoff to its new on-line series which talks about how US rap music adopted and adapted by the next generation of Japanese artists.

Parlor of the Merchant’s House Museum, New York’s only intact 19th c. home

On Wednesday (March 24) at 6pm, if Monday’s session got you curious, Join the Merchant’s House for 19th Century Domestic Lighting: 100 Years of Change. It will be an in-depth look at the technology behind the historic home’s lighting fixtures from 1835 forward, a time when candles and oil lamps gave way to electric lighting.

Anthony Barboza’s 1972 Kamoinge Workshop portrait of Ming Smith

At 7pm, meet Kamoinge Workshop photographer Ming Smith in a live online event, discussing the publication of her recent Aperture monograph and the influence of music upon her work. Ming’s work features prominently in the current exhibition at The Whitney, Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop. She is the first African-American female photographer to have her work enter MoMA’s collection.

On Thursday (March 25) at 6pm, get your fashion fix at the Museum at FIT with a special program, From Louis Armstrong to Dizzy Gillespie: Jazz and Black Glamour. The pre-recorded program will feature vintage performer Dandy Wellington, a deep-dive into the influence of jazz on 1920s menswear, and a live Q&A with FIT during the YouTube stream.

Alice Neel’s 1978 portrait Geoffrey Hendricks and Brian

At 7pm, join the Met for the online opening of its new exhibition, Alice Neel: People Come First, which features over 100 works by this beloved New York artist, considered one of America’s greatest 20th century portrait painters. You’ll find out all about how an artist who labored for decades in relative obscurity was drawn to document political movements, people, styles, and community in paint.

At 8pm, join MoMA for Virtual Views: Alexander Calder, a Live Q&A in honor if its new exhibition about Calder, MoMA’s founding, and modernism. The event will feature conversation with the artist’s grandson, who leads the Calder Foundation.

There’s a lot more happening, so check the complete schedule. Most of the events are free, but it’s always nice to add a thank-you donation.

Museum Update

1539 box for crossbow bolts made for the Bavarian duke. Value = 6 cows

We’re glad to report that the Met has extended its exhibition on the value of Renaissance art through the end of the 2021!  See it on the way to the Lehman Wing and the Dutch masters exhibition, and read about it (and the cows) in our February post The Met Asks What the Renaissance Thought It Was Worth.

 

Weekly Virtual Museum Events – Green Book Trip, Willi Smith, Ice Cores, Revolutionary Design, and Museum Scavenger Hunt

NYC fashion designer Willi Smith, ca. 1981. Courtesy: Kim Steele

Mark your calendars for any (or all) of fifty special on-line events sponsored by NYC museums, including a trip inspired by The Green Book, a tribute to a fashion designer who electrified runways in the Eighties, a look under Greenland’s ice, a Q&A on MoMA’s revolutionary design show, and a game-night trip to 18 American museums (with prizes!).

There are many other Black History Month events, discussions, art tours, and previews, so check the week’s listings on our virtual events page. For starters:

Sights along the road trip Driving the Green Book at MAD Museum Monday.

Today (February 22) at 6pm, hit the road with Alvin Hall, Janée Woods, and MAD Museum to learn about a 2,021-mile road trip that they took, inspired by the historic Green Book, which guided Black American motorists on family road trips for decades. The event will be an extension of their podcast, “Driving the Green Book” and feature lots of photos of what they found along the way.

CITIC Tower talk at the Skyscraper Museum

On Tuesday (February 23) at 12:30pm, join the Cooper-Hewitt in its tribute to Willi Smith, the beloved, exuberant fashion designer who dressed all the fun people in the Eighties. Since the museum has been shuttered nearly a year, few were able to see the Willi’s retrospective inside the Carnegie Mansion. So, our national design museum has declared “Willi Smith Day” so that it can shine a light on this historic Black designer for the world to see.

Get inside a supertall building. At 6pm, jet off to Beijing with the Skyscraper Museum and Robert Whitlock, the architect of the city’s tallest buildings. Hear about the design and construction of the CITIC Tower, whose shape is inspired by an ancient ritual vessel from China’s Bronze Age. This is just one of several upcoming talks at the museum on supertall buildings.

African Burial National Monument program at the Tenement Museum

Want to travel back a few centuries? On Wednesday (February 24) at 1pm, visit the Tenement Museum and the African Burial Ground National Monument for a talk on lifestyles of two African families living in old New Amsterdam. Using original source materials, you’ll get a fresh understanding of everyday life in mid-1600s Manhattan.

NYBG’s edible archway

At 6pm, take a trip around the country with a preview of the latest exhibition at the International Center for Photography. Join photographer-curator Paul Graham to walk through the exhibition But Still, It Turns: Recent Photography from the World. Celebrate unexpected journeys and enjoy the nondocumentary approach (no stories, just looking).

On Thursday (February 25) at 11am, start the morning with the New York Botanical Garden’s program with Leslie Bennett of Pine House Edible Gardens on creating gardens of sanctuary. Learn how she creates inspirational gardens that are organic and yield plenty of food, flowers, and medicinal herbs.

Icebergs now, but what happens if Greenland melts?

Thinking about climate patterns recently? Get a completely different perspective.  At 2pm, join a glacier scientist in Beneath the Ice at the American Museum of Natural History to learn what happens when Greenland’s ice melts. You’ll look at how ice core samples are taken, what they show, and how they are being used to predict what’s next with the climate.

Rodchenko’s 1923 Russian airline poster at MoMA

At 8pm, visit revolutionary Russia and see what role designers played with Jodi Hauptman, MoMA’s senior drawings and prints curator, and Ellen Lupton, Cooper Hewitt’s senior curator. Angles, fonts, photos, montage, social issues, and politics will be flying fast and furious as Jodi and Ellen answer your questions about the lives and fates of the artists behind the hundreds of 1920s and 1930s ads, posters, brochures, and magazines showcased in Engineer, Agitator, Constructor: The Artist Reinvented­.

Haven’t you been dying to take a vacation? On Saturday (February 27) at 8pm, join the New York Historical Society and Watson Adventures for a live, virtual scavenger hunt that will take you to 18 different museums across America to search for clues among the history, art, and design collections. Get a team! Have fun! Win prizes!! Co-sponsored by the Museum of the American Revolution and Missouri Historical Society.

There’s a lot more art, history, and discussion, so check the complete schedule. Most of the events are free, but it’s always nice to add a thank-you donation.

Museum Updates

2020 painting by Henry Taylor at New Museum

We were able to get a ticket to the New Museum’s acclaimed exhibition this opening week, Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America, and were happy to attend last week’s on-line curators’ panel (available here).

It’s a beautifully installed show, filled with top-notch painting, sculpture, music, performance art, and films that deliver on so many levels.

Still from Gone Are the Days of Shelter and Martyr, a 2017 video by ©Theaster Gates. Courtesy: White Cube and Regen Projects, Los Angeles

We’ll be reporting on this show soon, but in the meantime, we want to draw your attention to the weekly (and bi-weekly) panels that New Museum is offering on-line with many of the participating artists. This week, New Museum is speaking with South Side Chicago artist Theaster Gates, represented in the show by a performance video recorded in a church in the process of being demolished. Viewers inside the video gallery were mesmerized.

We’ll be featuring New Museum’s upcoming events on our weekly listing, but check out everything coming up over the next six weeks here under Conversations.

About Fashion and Time at The Met

An 1885 American walking dress with 1986 Yamamoto overcoat

What day is it? What year is it? If we’re going forward in time, should we be moving counterclockwise?

As ten months of pandemic disruption sink in, there’s no better exhibition in New York to experience than the Metropolitan’s Costume Institute extravaganza, About Time: Fashion and Duration, on view through February 7.

Curator Andrew Bolton had the task of organizing a show in honor of the Met’s 150th anniversary, but wanted to take an exhibition approach that wasn’t simply a “greatest hits” showcase.  He wondered what would it be like to mount a show that lets visitors see, feel, and experience how fashion sometimes folds back on itself – like time in Virginia Woolf novels.

Queen Alexandra’s 1902 riding jacket with 2018 Vuitton ensemble by Ghesquière

Stepping into the first gallery, sixty black dresses are arranged like minutes on a clock. The exhibition begins with an example from 1870, the year that the Met was founded, and progresses in time from there.  At each point, you see an ensemble from that year, paired with a designer look from a different year that echoes it – bustles, princess lines, gigot sleeves, tailored jackets, flourishes of 18th-century aristocratic opulence.

It’s all in the Met’s gallery guide.

The inspiration for the first room is a grandfather clock – warm wood colors, a constantly swinging pendulum, and the monotonous, even tick. As you slowly work around the room, the time is even, rhythmic, and set – just like the pace of fashion from 1870 to 1950.

1895 dinner dress by Mrs. Arnold with Rei Kawakubo’s deconstructed 2004 ensemble

The 19th century garments are solid black, with masterful tailoring, swags, trims, and embellishments. In a tribute to the home town, two were created in Brooklyn: the 1885 silk satin dinner dress by Mrs. Arnold (paired with Rei Kawakubo’s equally elaborate but deconstructed 2004 ensemble) and an 1897 riding habit from Brooklyn’s acclaimed department store, Frederick Loeser & Co. (paired with a 1968 equestrian-style suit by Victor Joris).

Some of our other favorite pairings in this room are the 1912 artistic dinner dress with its leather pannier clone by Rick Owens, the 1928 alphabet flapper dress paired with Galliano’s 1997 spider-web frock, and the 1947 Christian Dior “New Look” jacket paired with Watanabe’s 2011 experimental motorcycle jacket.

Dior’s 1947 “New Look” with Watanabe’s 2011 motorcycle jacket

The second room is a shocker – mirrors everywhere, blinding white, undulating pathways, a fractured sense of time, and fashions morphing at breakneck speed – minis, maxis, minimalism, glitter, punk, pleats, unconventional materials, technology, and 3-D printing. (And it’s no surprise that so many pairings include visionary works by Charles James!)

The displays follow the same convention – sequential years paired with a “disrupter” dress or ensemble – but the impact is enormously disorienting, since the “twin” piece could be from the past or future and the mirrored walls and ceiling turn the experience into something like Kusama’s “infinity” room.

“Shattered” gallery – evoking fashion’s accelerated pace

When you enter, it takes a few minutes to figure out where to go, how to move through the sequence, and find the continuing storyline of the exhibition. Is there another room in the exhibition that you missed? Did you just jump to the Seventies and Eighties and miss the Sixties? Is the “next garment” to the right or the left? What year are you in?

[The gallery security guards confirmed that this occurs all day long with visitors!]

To sort it out, take a look at this video – a sequential walk through fashion time punctuated by some out-of-time disrupters (or peruse some pairings on the web):

Some of our favorite pairings in the second room are the zipper twins from Gernreich (1968) and Alaia (2003), the red-edged jersey pairing of Stephen Burrows (1975) and Xuly.bet (1993), and Patrick Kelly’s simple pearl heart dress (1988) with Olivier Rousteing’s Versailles-inspired dress for Balmain lavished with pearls, crystals, and beads (2012).

2012 Iris van Herpen PVC dress with 1951 ball gown by Charles James

Check out more of our favorites in our Flickr album.

And congratulations for including an unexpected (and deserving) multi-part display – Donna Karen’s “Five Easy Pieces” mix-and-match knit separates (1985) with the totally chic, revolutionary, coordinated wool knit separates invented by the ready-to-wear sportswear founder herself, Claire McCardell (1934). Wow!

When you finish walking through this gallery, you’re left wondering if fashion ever truly changes ­– the last pair features a 2018 coat with a 3-D printed understructure alongside a strangely similar coat from 1889.  What just happened?

Sustainability – 2020 Viktor & Rolf’s dress of leftover samples

The exhibition finale is fitting – a small chapel where visitors can meditate on “slow fashion,” sustainability, and a return to basics before they exit to the gift shop.  It features a suspended (or ascending) figure clad in one of Viktor & Rolf’s sweet dresses made of leftover off-white fabric swatches.

When the Met chose the theme for the show and designed it to debut with the celebrity-filled First Monday in May event, no one envisioned that the doors would be sealed shut until August. Or that the exhibition would so perfectly mirror the sensation of endless time, interruption of cycles, and fashion disruption/rethinking happening right now.

Join the Met’s fashion collection curator, Andrew Bolton, for a tour:

Virtual NYC Museum Events – Art, Activism, and Fun

Andre Leon Talley and Darren Walker at MAD on Tuesday

Nearly all of this week’s virtual museum events in New York are packed into Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday to make way for Martin Luther King’s birthday and the inauguration. So, check the daily listings on our virtual events page and dive into interesting sessions on African-American innovators and artists, art with a conscience, and flat-out fun.

1969 anti-Nixon poster from the Poster House archive

On Tuesday (January 19), it will be hard to choose: At 5pm, you can join MAD Museum at 5pm to hear a conversation on equity and design between author and style guru Andre Leon Talley and Ford Foundation president Darren Walker.

At 5:30pm, you can join Poster House and NY Adventure Club for Democracy on Paper to review political posters from the Sixties and Seventies from the museum archives.

At 6pm, New-York Historical Society hosts an in-depth look at Harriet Tubman’s life with biographer Erica Armstrong Dunbar, and the Whitney offers a program on art and social change, illustrated with works from its collection.

Book discussion on Tuesday at the Schomburg Center

At 6:30pm, join author Catherine E. McKinley at NYPL’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture to see and hear about 100 years of African women’s style and looks, as featured in The African Lookbook.

At 8pm, join the Museum of the City of New York for a special trivia contest with the MCNY curators.

On Thursday (January 21), several programs begin at noon – a lunch hour session at the Staten Island Museum on the work of famed social realist artist Raphael Soyer; a tour of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, courtesy of the Newark Museum of Art; and a tour of the Whitney’s amazing photography exhibition, Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop.

Take a tour of the Whitney’s Kamoinge Workshop show on Thursday

At 2pm, meet the New York Transit museum for Underground Heroesa look at how transit was portrayed in satirical cartoons, comic strips, and comic books.

At 6pm, join the American Folk Art Museum for a fun “drink and draw” session on New York landmarks.

There’s a lot more, so check our complete schedule. Most of the events are free, but it’s always nice to add a thank-you donation.

Museum Updates

We joined the marathon on-line session with Neil deGrasse Tyson this week to hear his year-in-review on astronomical and planetary science. The AMNH chose to produce this via Zoom, so everyone was able to see who was asking the fascinating questions and allowed Neil to have some fun interactions, just as he does at his sold-out events.  Lots of geeky questions and answers for over two hours!

Diego Rivera’s 1931 fresco “The Uprising” in the Whitney’s Vida Americana: Mexican Muralists Remake American Art, 1925-1945

We also joined the weekend crowds at The Whitney to see the epic work again in Vida Americana and see the beautiful photographs of the Kamoinge Workshop.

To end the week, we watched Andrew Bolton describe the work behind creating the Met’s unusually prescient fashion exhibition, About Time: Fashion and Duration. Check out the YouTube (already posted!) on what it took to design this unforgettable exhibition.

MAD History of Modern Art Jewelry

45 stories about modern art jewelry, such as Greenwich Village designer Arthur Smith

Sleek, modern, space-age, intricate, architectural, political, satirical, and comic – all descriptions of the array of modern-art jewelry selected by the Museum of Arts and Design exhibition, 45 Stories in Jewelry: 1947 to Now, on display on the second floor.

The second-floor space features a tour through modern-art jewelry’s evolution from a craft pioneered by studio artists like Art Scott and Alexander Calder to its current status as a respected and valued sector of today’s international art market.

MAD has shown art jewelry since it was founded in 1956, and its full collection now numbers 930 pieces. After redesigning its art jewelry exhibition area, MAD decided to mount a show to honor the extraordinary scope of its collection and place selected artworks into the broader context of art history.

1966 sterling silver body ornament by Arlene Fisch

Two rings of white cases offer visitors opportunities to peer into each story, see a spectacular or provocative piece, and read about its designer and context.

In every visit to this show, we saw jewelry lovers fully engaged, pouring over every detail of the craftsmanship.

The first case that drew our attention was a Constructivist pin by Margaret De Patta, a passionate California artist became immersed in modernism through her New York art studies in the Twenties, but really hit her stride in the Forties after training with Moholy-Nagy in Chicago. (This spectacular pin is prominently depicted on the museum’s timeline of modern art jewelry.)

John Paul Miller’s 1969 molten gold Armored Polyp

The museum highlights the stories of Forties artists working in studios, like Art Scott, who created body-conscious pieces for the jazz artists and modern dance innovators who visited his Greenwich Village studio.

Another early innovator honored in the exhibition is John Paul Miller, who created stunning gold pieces using ancient, forgotten techniques discovered in his archeological research.

Stories from the Fifties show how an entire generation of American designers was influenced by Danish design, particularly the sleek work of master silversmith Henning Koppel, whose work was featured internationally through the Georg Jensen brand.

Charles Laloma’s 1968 inlaid silver bracelet and 1960 bracelet with inner turquoise inlay

Art works from the Sixties include the way-out sterling body ornament by Arlene Fisch, space-age jewelry by Danish designers Gijs Bakker and Emmy van Leersum, and modernist Hopi jewelry design Charles Laloma, a ground-breaking Native American artist.

Stories in the exhibition from subsequent decades show how designers used their work to tell stories, make clever social comments, turn recycled materials into wearable art, display technical virtuosity, make magic, and create conceptual wonders.

Gésine Hackenberg’s earthenware 2008 Kitchen Necklace

The timeline in the exhibition details how art jewelry grew in popularity, entered museum collections, and began being shown at international art fairs.

Take a look at some of our favorites in the exhibition in our Flickr album and be sure to visit MAD in person.

Meet the 45 Stories committee members, who selected which works in MAD’s collection that embody key developments in the evolution of the art form:

The Man Who Revolutionized US Rock

Bonnie McLean poster for Fillmore Auditorium July 1967. Courtesy: Bahr Gallery

It’s a trip back to the birth of Sixties youth culture, guitar virtuosos, the Fillmore, and multimedia extravaganzas in the New-York Historical Society exhibition, Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution, on display through January 3.

The show, originally organized by LA’s Skirball Cultural Center, tells the story of the man who created the Fillmore, catapulted legendary bands to fame, grew concert audiences to stadium size, and gave back to society by organizing once-in-a-lifetime benefit concerts televised throughout the world.

Photos, show posters, videos, rock and soul music, and even a wall from the legendary Joshua Light Show bring the story of Bill Graham to life.

Bill Graham in 1968 Fillmore Auditorium office. Gene Anthony photo in Graham collection

Graham’s life was saved by Kindertransport during World War II – a dramatic story told inside the entry to the exhibition. He was adopted and grew up in the Bronx, moved to San Francisco, and had the right skills in the right place at the right time to bring bands like Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, Hendrix, and Big Brother and the Holding Company to a larger audience.

In preparing the exhibition, the curators did original research into Graham’s early life and pulled artifacts, paraphernalia, and stories related to each decade of his concert-promotion career – leasing the Fillmore Auditorium in a largely African-American neighborhood, creating events that interspersed rock-and-roll acts with poets and new-age philosophers, securing larger venues in the Bay Area, opening the Fillmore East in 1968 in New York inside a former Yiddish vaudeville house on Second Avenue.

Joshua Light Show backs 1968 Mothers of Invention at Fillmore East. Courtesy: Joshua White

The show has plenty of the Fillmore’s promotional posters, and pays tribute to the artists who created them, such as Wes Wilson and Graham’s wife, Bonnie McLean. The curators also provide a few side-by-side displays of the original ink drawings for the psychedelic broadsides with the full-color printed versions. See some of our favorites in our Flickr album.

Despite the legendary status of the Graham’s two Fillmore stages, they only lasted until 1971. Although they were highly profitable, the writing was on the wall – the demand (particularly after Woodstock) to see the Stones, The Who, Santana, and other frenzy-inducing performers was too big to be satisfied inside the constraints of traditional theaters.

Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Paige in 1977 and 1985 Metallica fans. Photos: Michael Zagaris and Ken Friedman

Through it all, Graham managed some stars, like Santana; created festivals featuring bands like Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, Metallica, the Eagles in the Seventies; organized Dylan’s historic 1974 tour; and produced The Last Waltz for The Band’s farewell.

The exhibition lets visitors savor these memories and moments through behind-the-scenes stories about Bill’s relationships with the artists, who often said yes to Bill’s ideas because they knew he was a perfectionist who would deliver his promises, understood what made fans happy, and always saw the epic, historic perspective behind that moment in culture.

1986 Live Aid T-shirt with Ken Regan’s photo of US benefit stars. Graham and Regan collections

The exhibition puts special focus on Bill’s willingness to tackle the monumental challenges of producing nationally televised benefit concerts, such as Live Aid, and taking tours and bands to places in the world that had never seen super-sized rock events before – Moscow’s 1987 concert for peace and the 1988 five-continent tour for Amnesty International with Bruce Springsteen, Peter Gabriel, and Sting to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Watch the trailer for the show:

If you’re in NYC, go over to hear the music and see the show before it closes January 3.  If not, take this “Curator Confidential” walk through the exhibition with the people behind the Bill Graham Memorial Foundation, who talk about the life of Bill Graham and the history they lived with him – a Zoom session produced by NYHS last August while the museum was still closed.

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.

Selfies for the 99%

1800 black-ink portrait of Alexander Hamilton painted by itinerant silhouettist William Bache

Before cameras or iPhones were invented, Americans yearned for a cheap, quick way to record an image of themselves.  Enter the 18th-century physiognotrace invention and masterful cutter, who could produce a likeness in just a few seconds with a flick of the scissors.

It’s the story told by the New-York Historical Society in its exhibition, In Profile: A Look at Silhouettes, on display through November 29.

Drawn from the NYHS collection, the show tells the story of how the mania for classical images (think Greek urns) morphed into a democratic art form practiced by itinerant artists, French Revolution expats, showy raconteurs, and everyday people in the early part of the 18th century.

510-510 B.C. Greek amphora – a classical inspiration for 18th c. artists in a new democracy.

Silhouettes were cheaper than having your portrait painted, so nearly everyone could afford to have one.  In the beginning, 18th-century painters painted black-on-white silhouettes, but later moved toward cutting profiles into white paper and backing the cut-out with black paper. The show’s first gallery presents a who’s who of early America – Alexander Hamilton, Colonel Henry Luddington on horseback (who helped create General Washington’s “secret service”), and memorials of the General himself.

But a close read of the label copy reveals a greater surprise – the artists creating the images, including Robert Fulton (later inventor of the steamship) and Major John André, the popular party-circuit man-about-town in British-occupied New York and Philadelphia who was famously hanged as a spy by the Continentals.

1795 painted portrait by French expats Valdenuit and Saint-Mémin, pioneers in using the physiognotrace

The emphasis here is on inexpensive, everyday art for the 18th and 19th-century home. A contraption invented in France by a court musician, and brought to America by two noblemen-engineers fleeing the revolution in their home country, captivated the attention of the newly democratized land.

The physiognotrace machine illuminated the shadow of a sitter’s profile on a wall. Using a pantograph, the artist could quickly scale down the life-size image, trace it, and deftly cut four silhouettes at once from folded paper.  What a performance!

Famed portraitist, naturalist, and museum-creator Charles Wilson Peale, whose natural history museum was located on the second floor of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, just had to have it.  From 1802 on, crowds flocked to the museum, paid 25 cents admission, and created their own selfies amidst the mammoth skeleton, minerals, wax figures, Indian artifacts, and fossils on display.

1802-1815 album from the Peale Museum

Mr. Peale charged one penny for the paper, and if you wanted a professionally cut small silhouette, you paid an additional 6 cents to Moses Williams, one of Peale’s sons, or a visiting silhouette virtuoso. Museum visitors would gather to watch the show and marvel at the furiously fast likenesses. In his first year, Willliams cut about 8,000 silhouettes, providing a really decent income for the former slave.

1824 portrait by famed freehand scissors artist William James Hubard

Since four images were made at each 6-cent sitting, the Peale Museum often asked to keep one of the duplicates. A full album of these is displayed in the second gallery, with names, dates, and likenesses of what could be called America’s first selfies.

Before photography’s invention in the 1840s, silhouettes were considered the way to go for inexpensive likenesses, and several cutting virtuosos received national acclaim, commissions, and fame.

Master Hubard, a renowned child-artist prodigy, built a highly successful gallery business cutting silhouettes and painting portraits, and William Bache, who roamed from Maine to New Orleans, offering a sliding scale of options to patrons from the most basic silhouette portrait to embellished works in gilded frames.

1841 Édouart portrait of congressman Millard Fillmore, later the US president

NYHS devotes an entire gallery to the master silhouettist of all time,  Augustin Édouart, who specialized in cutting full-length silhouette portraits freehand. His artworks placed the figures into painted settings, and the most spectacular works depicted rooms in the grand salons of America, populated with up to a dozen figures, including visiting celebrities.

The illusions and details were celebrated by art critics and the public, and ranked on a par with the most skillful portrait painters of his day. Unfortunately, just as he was concluding his US tour, photography was catching the public’s eye and the mania for black-and-white likenesses began to fade.

1870 machine-cut silhouette created for tourists flocking to Saratoga Springs

The exhibition concludes with a nod to the last wave of silhouette-making in America ­– a revival of interest in European folk-art paper cutting, the introduction of inexpensive black-on-white machine-cut silhouettes for the tourist trade, and work by contemporary artists who use silhouettes.

Enjoy looking through our Flickr album to see some of our favorites, including the epic wall-sized silhouettes of the five NYC boroughs cut by Béatrice Coron.

1870 machine-cut silhouette created for tourists flocking to Saratoga Springs

NYHS is to be congratulated on this fun, revealing presentation of this forgotten art form in the context of country’s growth into a vibrant democracy – likenesses of everyday people that could be had by anyone with either a penny or 25 cents to spare.

Weekly Virtual Museum Events in Music, Fashion, Science, and Dance

Ed Ruscha’s “Our Flag” in Brooklyn Museum. Photo: Jonathan Dorado

Since it’s been serving as one of New York City’s early-voting site, the Brooklyn Museum is kicking the week off (today at noon) with a lively conversation on the role art plays in a democracy with artist Ed Ruscha, music entrepreneur Jimmy Iovine, and music producer/art collector Swizz Beatz.

Find the link on our events page.

On Thursday, Brooklyn follows up with another live power panel to wrap up the final week of its Studio 54 exhibition.

2019 Norma Kamali ensemble in Studio 54 at Brooklyn Museum

At 6pm, meet its creator, Ian Schrager, to look back with fashion innovator/icon Norma Kamali on the music, style, theatrics, and people that made the club an international sensation.

Also on Thursday, the Museum at FIT will host a conversation on Native America Fashion with designer Korina Emmerich and Choctaw-Cherokee artist Jeffrey Gibson, who currently has a three-gallery exhibition in Brooklyn. Although FIT pre-recorded this panel, YouTube viewers will be able to participate in the live Q&A.

Find the links to these and other museum events on our virtual events page here. Some serious science, history, and discussions are also happening:

2018 “Tribes File Suit to Protect Bears Ears” by artist Jeffrey Gibson at Brooklyn Museum

  • On Wednesday (November 4) at 7:00pm, the American Museum of Natural History hosts its popular monthly SciCafe. This month, a geophysicist will explain what happened when a comet hit the Earth 65 million years ago, weigh in on Cretaceous extinction theories, and explain how life recovers after a ground-zero impact.
  • At 8:00pm, the Tenement Museum will host a program explaining how Lower East Side immigrants dealt with the 1918 flu pandemic.
  • To round out the week on Friday (November 7) at 5:00pm, the Rubin Museum is co-hosting an online Himalayan heritage event in honor of Diwali, the Festival of Lights. At 7:30pm, the Guggenheim team will host a rough-cut viewing of some of the dance projects commissioned and developed during the pandemic in its Works & Process series.

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

Entrance to Making the Met exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

If you missed, the Met’s event last week that previewed its current exhibitions and live events, the YouTube is available here, featuring short tours of Making the Met and About Time: Fashion and Duration.

This week at the Met, there were long lines of people waiting to get into the Jacob Lawrence exhibition on the last day and into the new fashion exhibition in its first week.

Screenshot of The Queen and the Crown online exhibition on the Brooklyn Museum website

If you don’t want to wait in line to see fashion, check out the Brooklyn Museum’s new on-line exhibition – The Queen and The Crown: A Virtual Exhibition of Costumes from “The Queen’s Gambit” and “The Crown”. Take a look at the way you can walk through Brooklyn Museum’s gallery and take a 360-degree view at each of the costumes. It’s really a lot of fun!

Studio 54 Designers Turn Swimsuits into Evening Wear

Studio 54 fashion: Fiorucci blouse by Antonio, Stephen Burrows dress, and Zandra Rhodes gown. Courtesy: Pat Cleveland

The Seventies fashions in Studio 54: Night Magic, on display through November 8 at the Brooklyn Museum, slip, slide, drape, glitter, and sometimes seem like they’re not even there.

The entire point of going to the Studio 54 nightclub – assuming you could get in – was to shimmer, startle, reveal, exude fabulousness, and shine, shine, shine in the crowd and on the dance floor.

The Brooklyn Museum exhibition, a masterful curatorial achievement, pumps the music, flashes the lights, and runs the videotape while showing off the wunderkinds that made the Seventies 54 scene drip with glamour – Halston, Calvin, Kamali, and Burrows.

See our photos in our Flickr album.

Norma Kamali’s swimsuit top and skirt made for dancing

Although Halston and others made custom gowns for clients (and there are plenty for Liza and Liz in the exhibition), the show highlights one of their other fashion innovations that the 99 percent adopted in the Seventies ­– the swimsuit. If you had a great body, fantastic hair, and dramatic make-up, you could just throw on a bathing suit, tie on a net skirt with little sparkle, and you were ready for the club!

Designers like Kamali and Sant’Angelo partnered with fabric companies to innovate body-hugging solutions, and turned out sexy bathing suits that doubled as disco-ready separates.

One of the galleries features the fun, transparent dance skirts Antonio designed for Fiorucci that he featured in the 1977 “Fiorucci Fantasy” event he staged at Rubell and Schrager’s Queens club, The Enchanted Garden, which predated Studio 54. A video shows how Antonio’s supermodels set the New York fashion and nightlife scene ablaze.

Studio 54 coverage in the Daily News, May 4, 1977. Courtesy: Ian Schrager

For all of its influence in pop culture, it’s hard to think that Studio 54 had a lifespan of only 33 months between 1977 and 1979. The exhibition explores all of facets of the phenomenon – paparazzi, the daily tabloid fodder, Grace Jones, Andy Warhol’s goings-on, disco jeans, Interview magazine, fashion shows, and product launches.

It’s surprising to think that Doris Duke, Alan Greenspan, Lillian Carter, and Bella Abzug were just as likely to be in the club as street performance artists, Bianca Jagger, and Yves Saint Laurent.

Halston’s 1979 beaded chiffon ensemble for Liza Minelli.

To transform the old Twenties theater and TV studio into Studio 54, Schrager and Rubell tapped into the technical and artistic community to figure out how flying disco poles, set changes, and special effects could be orchestrated into a continual surprise for the partygoers. When the musical Chicago closed, designer Tony Walton repurposed his dramatic neon “Roxy” sign as a centerpiece for 54’s stage.

Some of our favorite items are the opening night guest list, Ron Galella’s celebrity photos, Antonio’s costume sketches for opening-night show by the Alvin Ailey dancers, the slideshow of their rehearsal by Juan Ramos, and the giant sapphire that Elizabeth Taylor famously wore to the club in 1979 (it’s in a safe).

Original celebrity photo portraits and Richard Bernstein illustrations for Warhol’s Interview magazine covers

Congratulations to the Brooklyn Museum staff who found and presented this amazing exhibition that lets everyone into Studio 54 to celebrity-watch nearly 40 years after the door closed on the party, and to show us how its influence still reverberates today.