How Ancient Tablets and Scrolls Became Books via Socks

Show curator, Georgios Boudalis, and map of how new book technology spread in the ancient world

How did people make the transition from reading and writing on scrolls to creating bound books? And what did it have to do with making socks and sewing?

You’ll take the journey across several centuries in The Codex and Craft in Late Antiquity, an exhibition on early bound book forms on display at the Bard Graduate Center Gallery through July 8.

Curator Georgios Boudalis of Thessaloniki’s Museum of Byzantine Culture explains how papyrus (or parchment) packages were joined together and modified over time by sewing, thread-looping, cutting, gilding, and fancy leather embellishments.

“Poetess of Pompeii” with her tablet, 50-70 A.D. Fresco photo: National Archeological Museum, Naples, Italy

Modern readers constantly debate the pros and cons of reading on tablets versus bound books, so it’s relevant that the exhibition’s story begins with fourth-century tablets.

Ancient tablets are about the same size as iPad minis, evidence that young people were using portable re-writable (i.e. wax) media long before the modern era. Just look at the portrait of the “Poetess of Pompeii.”

Boudalis makes the case that the technological transition to the “big book” idea began when craftsmen started to modify wax tablet frames (i.e. holes and grooves) so they could stitch and loop several together in a stack. After that, the stacks began to sport wooden covers.

The show includes some rare, early ninth-century manuscripts, when this type of book production was mainly commissioned by monastic religious orders.

Tooled and cut leather on 9th c. Gospel uses similar techniques as footwear. Collection: Morgan Library

In 1911 on his annual pilgrimage to Egypt, J.P. Morgan seized the opportunity to buy several old bound manuscripts discovered in a dry well in the Fayum oasis. The bound pages, most likely a Coptic monastery’s entire library, were hidden a thousand years earlier by monks to save their literature and gospels from destruction by invading armies.

The Morgan Library generously allowed Boudalis to examine the fragile bindings on this ninth-century treasure and lent it to Bard for the exhibition.

Along with ancient, fragile works from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum, American Museum of Natural History, Yale, and other American collections, the exhibition’s digital animations and modern replicas vividly demonstrate how craftsmen bound books, embellished covers, and protected sacred writings.

Modern sample of cross-knit looping technique for ancient socks

Complex looped-thread techniques were used to join sections of these early books – technology application used by many ancient cultures. As evidence, the exhibition features ancient woven leather belts and creative looped-knit socks next to woven book straps and looped-thread bindings of the manuscripts.

Complicated textile patterns and interlocking designs on textile fragments are shown next to similar gilded and tooled leather book covers.

Modern facsimile of the Morgan’s 5th century Glazier Codex. By Ursula Mitra

Gilded and tooled leather shoes were likely made by the same craftsmen who cut, tooled, and gilded leather book covers. Take a look at more on our Flickr album.

As ancient people sought more convenient and artistic packages of their intellectual property, they turned to skilled craftsmen to create it.

Listen to the Boudalis speak about the art of sewing and craft in the birth of books and see his examples of Peruvian feathered blankets, Parcas textiles, and fish nets from Camaroon – which all use simple, one-thread loop techniques to create astonishing things:

Native Inventions in Spotlight as imagiNATIONS Center Debuts in New York

Sixth graders listen to explanation of Native American innovation map

The sixth-graders were having the time of their lives cramming into the rocking kayak, finding secret treasures from far-away cultures in the drawers, and comparing sturdy lacrosse sticks made from natural materials.

It was all part of the joyous opening day of the new imagiNATIONS Activity Center, on the ground floor of the Smthsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, right off Bowling Green in downtown Manhattan.

NMAI officials blessed the proceedings with percussion and chant, but the genuine thrill was seeing the kids pour into the new center to listen to and experience a new take on science, math, and engineering.

Tip of a contemporary surfboard – originally invented by Hawaiians.

When you walk inside, a wonderful wall summarizes the story – a map of North and South America populated with technical inventions by Native Americans over the last several thousand years! It’s a brilliant summary of the fresh ideas that you’ll encounter around the corner.

Although this sparkling, new, inspirational ImagiNATIONS Activity Center was conceived for children, rest assured that any adult museum lover will be blown away by discovering the technical innovation story too.

Although the first settlements in Manhattan and Broadway itself were created by native populations, city dwellers often get so overwhelmed by towering skyscrapers that they don’t immediately connect native cultures with what exists downtown.

Yup’ik kayak frame created by Bill Wilkinson of Kwigillingok, Alaska from spruce, cedar, driftwood, and walrus bone

OK, maybe no one is reading the news on steles in Mayan hieroglyphics anymore, but the much of the work displayed here is made by living, breathing native artists. The next time you’re stuck on a subway because of a signal malfunction, consider the fact that in the Andes, the community assembles each year to repair their chasm-crossing fiber foot bridges. Now, that’s a commuter maintenance plan!

Or consider that Arctic kayaks are custom designed to suit each individual’s weight and shape.  Or that cool surfer dudes in Hawaii are simply carrying on a wave-riding tradition that extends back thousands of years.

Cold weather waterproof kayak-hunting system

Every step makes you stop and think.  How is it that the Mayans were one of three cultures to invent concept of zero in mathematics? What brilliant minds perfected making waterproof parkas from carcass leftovers or salmon skin?  Or the engineering it takes to design watercraft that doesn’t tip?

Sixth graders learn how igloos are engineered.

The mannequin in the corner displays recently crafted components of “system dressing” for hunting from kayaks in freezing waters.  The parka has waterproof stitching and attaches to the kayak opening.  The visor includes walrus whiskers that aren’t just decoration – they transmit subtle, silent vibrations to the visor that tell expert hunters that their prey has shifted course.

Everything you experience in the center was designed to help teachers inject something new to supplement schools’ math and science curriculums. But the fun factor for learners of all ages is truly off the charts.

You’ll experience how all the significant contributions made by native people in food, architecture, sports clothing, agriculture, and engineering really add up in day-to-day modern life. You’ll want to get into the kayak and open all the drawers yourself.

Port Authority executive Janice Stein and colleague who loaned steel cables from the Bayonne Bridge

From attending the opening, we were able to meet the people from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who donated a piece of repair cable from the recently upgraded Bayonne Bridge for the engineering display. Perfect for seeing and touching to see how Andean fiber cables compare to urban steel.

We also heard the story of how the kayak overhead made a 4,000 journey on a sea plane, a ship, and a truck from the workshop of Bill Wilkinson in Kwigillingok, Alaska to Anchorage to Seattle and to New York City.

Take a look at our Flickr album and make a trip to the Battery as soon as you can. The center, like the NMAI, is free, fully staffed, and open seven days a week.

Exploring drawers of textile samples.

Take your own kids, your neighbor’s kids, or your inner child and get your hands on that igloo downtown and think about what you owe the people living south of the border for the invention of chocolate.

Americas Prehistory Revealed in Places No One Has Looked

Fun Greater Coclé monkey plate from Panama’s Rio Coclé del Sur (AD 700 – 850)

It’s easy to think that that prehistory in America is all about the grand architecture of the Mayans, Incas, and Aztecs. But the National Museum of the American Indian wants you to think differently.The current show at NMAI’s Customs House in New York, Cerámica de los Ancestros: Central America’s Past Revealed, on view through May 20, takes you deep into the rain forests of several countries to show how colorful clay pots reveal a rich story of artistic complexity, style, and cross-cultural trends.

The achievement of the show – a multiyear exhibition that began its run at the NMAI in Washington, DC in 2013 – is telling a story through the humble material that nearly every village home knew how to shape. The everyday nature of the items stands in sharp contrast to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s current Golden Kingdoms show that focuses on the luxury trade.  Yet, it tells a similar tale.

Mayan rain god Chaac makes an appearance on a Guatemalan incense burner (AD 250 – 900)

In skilled hands, artisans over the last three thousand years transformed their clay into whimsical daily objects, powerful ritual tributes, technological implements, and shockingly intricate storytelling media.

NMAI took a ground-up approach to uncovering history, focusing on six relatively unknown sites where discoveries are being made by universities and students in Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Panama.

The focus is on the pottery, although you also see jade pendants that the Mayans threw into cenotes as offerings in Guatemala and upscale gold and spondylus shell necklaces excavated in Panama’s Greater Coclé sites.

The show emphasizes the style that each cultural group brought  –Mayan incense burners from Guatemala with dramatic portraits of the rain god Chaac, storytelling painted vessels from Honduras, and vessels, plates, and icons depicting monkeys, tapirs, vultures, frogs, and birds of the surrounding rain forest.

Ulúa River jaguar-paw bowl from Honduras (AD 850 – 950)

The sites where these clay treasures were found functioned primarily as agricultural villages, not grand palaces; however, many sites show paved roads leading in and out.

The artistic and archeological evidence makes it clear that local artists were adapting and interpreting the lore, myths, histories, and styles picked up along the bustling trade routes through Central America, where birds, jade, gold, cacao, and humble pots were being traded, used, and refashioned.

Lempa River artists from El Salvador near Palacio, Cuscatlán made armadillo pots and lots of other animals (AD 900 – 1200)

You don’t often link ancient pottery and mass-market production, but at least one case shows a ceramic mold from El Salvador that was used by the artist to crank out Mayan-style pendants about 1,500 years ago.

There’s also a case showing how pottery stamps were used to embellish textiles even further back in time. These stamps are from Honduras and Costa Rica, but you can be sure that techniques to make your everyday cotton tunic a little nicer was fairly widespread.

View some of our favorite items on our Flickr album.

The introductory gallery of the show describes some of the early archeological activities in Central America, which were often spurred by the powerful agri-businesses (e.g. United Fruit) that set up shop in Central America in the early 20th century.

Examples of how pottery stamps were used to print fabric since 300 BC. Here, a Honduran monkey stamp and two others from Costa Rica.

The show makes the point that the next wave of amateur treasure-hunters in the Sixties and Seventies swept a lot of the archeological finds out of the county and into US and European museums.

Today, however, the NMAI salutes the universities, professors, and students throughout Central America that are discovering ancient histories in their own backyards and developing the scientific skills to contribute to the scientific dialogue about the past.

The show leaves you with a sense that the discoveries are just beginning. Watch this video and travel deep into the rainforests and meet the next generation of Central American archeologists on the cusp of making new discoveries:

Download the catalog here to see maps of the area and get to know more about bustling prehistoric cultural production centers you never knew, like the Ulúa river valley in Honduras and the vibrant Gran Cocle in western Panama.

2012 painted Lenca vessel from Honduras — showing that artists are still going strong after 2,000 years

Club 57 Rejects at MoMA 35 Years Later

Music poster for Club 57

They didn’t fit in to any of the scenes back in the Eighties, but now they have their own show at MoMA in a basement club all their own – just like in the old days.

Entering Club 57: Film, Performance, and Art in the East Village, 1978–1983, on view at the Museum of Modern Art through April 8, you’ll be required to find the right way downstairs, peek behind curtains, and lurk around corners where transgressive, challenging art is on display.

The show is a tribute to the ultimate DIY art scene in Alphabet City at a time in New York when things were just plain tough.

Housed in the basement of the Polish National Church on St. Mark’s Place, the misfits invited their friends to imagine and create performance art on a regular basis.

Klaus Nomi’s cape, from his 1978 New Wave Vaudeville finale

Although Danceteria and The Pyramid Club were contemporaneous music scenes, Club 57 was the place to create characters, imagine scenarios, revel in kitsch, celebrate “bad” art, and create performance art or a DIY film festival every night.

The kids – many classmates from School of the Visual Arts – created and handed out flyers to entice the adventurous to witness the uncensored experimentation.

It’s where Keith Haring, Joey Arias, Ann Magnuson (MoMA’s guest curator), and others spent their formative years dressing up, wigging out, and pushing boundaries.

The show displays ephemera from those years and experiments, from Klaus Nomi’s transparent cape (when he appeared as the closing act in New Wave Vaudeville in 1978) to Clayton Patterson’s flyers based on the latest in new technology in 1983, the color Xerox. See it, start to finish, in our Flickr album.

Kenny Scharf’s recreation of his 1979 Cosmic Closet

The installation is on two levels, but downstairs is where it’s all happening. Silkscreened posters by John Sex poke out of the dark. A secret hideaway reveals Kenny Scharf’s black-light psychedelia “Cosmic Closet.”

Hand-crafted calendars by Ann Magnuson illustrate the variety of activities that took place nightly – film screenings, performance, music, and lady wrestling.

Collaged and Xeroxed zines, drag performances with small casts of thousands, and graffiti art jolted life into a subculture struggling to make ends meet, live in a city clawing its way back from financial ruin and high crime, and trying to make sense of the mysterious illness that was plaguing the gay community.

Richard Hambleton’s 1983 Shadowman series

One person’s trash is another one’s art. And the reverse is true — Basquiat was busy sprinkling his moniker all over the decaying walls of the East Village, and Richard Hambleton’s epic Shadowman paintings were popping up in the neighborhood where you’d least expect them. The street and the art were in an ever-renewing cycle.

This immersive journey back in time is stupendous. Be sure to hang out in the basement to watch two or three of the videos from Club 57’s heyday.

For now, take a walk through the show with Frank Holliday, one of the founding members of Club 57.

Also, watch and listen to the artists recollect club experiences during MoMA’s opening night party.

MoMA Picks Fashion Items with Modern Impact

1970 looks envisioned by Rudi Gernreich people in the Year 2000

The MoMA design department came up with a list of 111 clothing items that have had an impact on the world and is presenting them for your reflection through January 28  in Items: Is Fashion Modern?

Capri pants, graphic T-shirts, jumpsuits, backpacks…they’re easy to identify, but do you really know where they came from or where they’re going?

The design team dug deep, interviewing experts, commissioning new designs, and taking you on quite a journey from what seems familiar but has deeper implications and meanings.

Each item on the list gets more-or-less the same treatment: familiar examples, a little historic context, audio by experts intimately familiar with the prototype and its societal significance, and maybe videos providing a little more background. (Go, Beatnik video, next to the felt berets and black turtlenecks!)

Close-up of MoMA-commissioned jumpsuit by Richard Malone, made from recycled acrylics

There are sections on shaping undergarments, luxury items, expedition wear, and power dressing. Check out our Flickr album of some of our favorites, and be sure to check out the video of the graphic T-shirt installation.

The MoMA team gets the digital gold star for using sound, video, social media, and social platforms to explore each item on the list. Hear the many voices who contributed to the show – designers, curators, fashionistas – on MoMA’s terrific audio tour.

For example, everyone knows “the little black dress” but MoMA calls it “a concept” and then displays everything from Gabby Chanel’s original 1920s bugle-beaded innovation to Gianni’s safety-pin number to subversive top-shorts combos for a hip-hop crowd by Rick Owens.

It’s nice to see all the versions while listening to FIT’s Valerie Steele on the audio tour and to watch the gallery video of how the laser-cut nylon pieced dress by Nervous System symbolizes the LBD’s future.

1997 A-POC Queen by Miyake Design Studio — one tubular piece of cloth knitted by an industrial machine from one thread.

And as for the future, there are plenty of visions: Gernreich’s 1960s take on what people would be wearing in the Year 2000. Donna’s Seven Easy Pieces from the Eighties are still being treasured as components for a totally modern dressing solution.

It’s remarkable to think that the Miyake Design Studio’s innovative, red-hot one-thread tubular computer-knit everything-in-one piece first debuted in 1997 and that paper shift-dresses weren’t born yesterday.

A soft, doe-colored Halston Ultrasuede shirtdress is featured in one of the final galleries, but there’s nothing about its demure look to suggest the societal fashion mania that ensued during the Seventies for this washable suede-like innovation.  It was one of the decade’s had-to-have items.

There’s plenty of flash, surprise, and history to go around. Sign up for MoMA’s free course on Fashion as Design on Coursera and poke through MoMA’s YouTube channel for insights on Saville Row suits, fashion lifecycles, digital dresses, and more.

Take a walk with MoMA’s design curator Paola Antonelli though this enjoyable, provocative show:

Also, MoMA produced a set of videos to provide a behind-the-scenes look at some of the garments commissioned especially for the show, such as futuristic biker jacket by Asher Levine and James DeVito. Step into their atelier as they enhance their design:

Bard Resurrects NYC’s Crystal Palace

The domed Crystal Palace depicted on a commemorative window shade

With its exhibition New York Crystal Palace 1853, the Bard Graduate Center gallery is offering an exquisite experience of one of the 19th century marvels of New York – the enigmatic 1,500-paned glass structure that rose on what is now Bryant Park.

In 1853, New York was trying to claim its place as a culture capital. Two years prior, London had mounted its world-class exhibition in its beautiful Crystal Palace, and New York wanted to do Europe one better.

By this time, New York was dominating in global trade, so the City thought it could elevate American taste (and spur consumer appetite for luxury goods) by assembling technology innovations, art, and manufactured items all under one big domed glass roof.

Why not build the world’s largest cast iron and glass exhibition hall on the edge of the city at 42nd Street next to the Croton Reservoir? For 50 cents, visitors could spend the day inside and people watch to their heart’s content.

Showpiece parlor furniture, an 1853 armchair by Julius Dessoir

It would be the largest building that anyone had ever experienced – so big that it had its own police force and you had to buy a guidebook.

The exhibition selects some choice items from New York collections – many which were indeed exhibited under the dome in 1853 – to tell the story of the endeavor, give a feeling of what a wonder it was, and bring you back to a time in New York when parlor furniture was the rage, ladies were just venturing out for ice cream on their own, and oysters were still so plentiful in the harbor that they reigned as the best quick snack for lunch.

Take a look at the galleries exhibition on the Bard website, but see a close-up view on our Flickr album.

Although the physical exhibition ends July 30, the Bard team offers a through-the-looking glass digital site, where you can actually stroll through the interior and examine different items along the way. The journey takes you by evocative sculptures, beautifully crafted musical instruments, spectacular parlor furniture, and vitrines filled with over-the-top ladies’ hats.

High-tech Singer sewing machine for home and business

The technology section features the latest in fire engines, Eli Whitney’s original model of his 1794 cotton gin, Colt’s revolvers, a pyramid made of innovative cotton rope, and the revolutionary iron sewing machine. To show how it worked for industry and the home, Singer had women demonstrate this new labor-saving device.

In-gallery and online interactive walk-through tour of the Crystal Palace

The scope of the exhibition was so massive – the footprint of Bryant Park between 40th and 42nd Streets – that publishers offered guide books so that visitors wouldn’t miss a thing.

Helpfully, Bard provides you with digital access to the free July 23, 1853 Crystal Palace supplement from the Illustrated News, modeled upon a period newspaper.

For a thrilling view, you can go up to the 270-foot tall, 8-foot wide platform of the Latting Observatory (New York’s first authentic skyscraper) and get a bird’s eye view of the city all the way out to Jamaica Bay. Or duck into the saloon below for smash, the cocktail of the day, a shaken-not-stirred icy mix of brandy, lemon, mint, and sugar. (And consult the guidebook to find out which saloons allow ladies to sip alcohol.)

There’s also a digital guide to other 1853 attractions, including how to take an omnibus over to the Hippodrome and where to find Matthew Brady’s studio.

Must-have tophat displayed and available from John Genin’s downtown mega-store

It’s all so lively, that it’s sad to learn that the entire edifice came crashing down in a dramatic fire in 1858, which likely adds to the mystery. The curators have found a tiny, insignificant piece of its melted glass from the Museum of the City of New York’s collection. Treasure it.

If you have three hours, watch Bard’s symposium on how it all came together – the palace, the exhibition, and the digital experience that will provide everyone with hours of 19th century summer fun in the City:

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:

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.