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:

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.

Giving Photography’s Last Century to the Met

1927-1929 reverse-print experimentation by Bauhaus master Lazlo Moholy-Nagy

Although the Metropolitan Museum’s 150th anniversary year did not go as planned during the months-long shutdown of 2020, there’s a silver lining that you can experience for yourself – sixty important promised gifts to honor the occasion in Photography’s Last Century: The Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Collection, on view at Fifth Avenue through November 30 and available for viewing in the Met’s online gallery.

If you go in person, there’s lots of space to wander, relax, and look through three large galleries. It’s a who’s who of 20th century photography – everyone from Stieglitz, Weston, Atget, and Arbus to more contemporary photographers like Cindy Sherman, Nan Goldin, and collaborators Fischli & Weiss.

One of Nan Goldin’s earliest photographs, a 1973 study of her performer friend Ivy strolling home from a drag bar

The show isn’t hung chronologically, but that works to the exhibition’s advantage.  You’ll required to approach each piece more or less like the collectors did – meeting each image on its own terms and enjoying what you see.

Each work is accompanied by a short text that puts the photographer into the context of art history and explains how this particular work relates to the artist’s best-known work. Read each one on the Met’s website.

Often, Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee collected work from the start of an artist’s career, or an image that’s goes against the grain of what we’ve come to expect – Avedon’s early work, Mapplethorpe’s ocean image of the aircraft carrier Midway, and Andy’s first foray into a photo booth for magazine piece on emerging New York artists for Harper’s Bazaar.

Two of Andy Warhol’s 1963-64 photo booth self-portraits

It’s almost as if you are walking through the last 100 years of photography with the collectors themselves, understanding why they collected certain works and the reason that this is such a phenomenal addition to the Met’s holdings.

Tenenbaum and Lee also paid attention to filling out the ranks of less-well-known female photographers, such as Florence Henri who studied at the Bauhaus, Ilse Bing, Bunny Yeager, and New York’s own Mickalene Thomas.

The collectors are also providing the Met with attention-grabbing, large-scale works that show that artists are still experimenting with this art form.

2015 inkjet print by Daisuke Yokota

Met visitors were taking selfies in front of the gigantic digitally manipulated print by Andreas Gursky that uses a Prada in-store display as its jumping-off point. Visitors were also stopped in their tracks by Daisuke Yokota’s colorful abstraction so big and spectacular that it had to be mounted in the hallway! Avoiding even a camera or lens, Daisuke just manipulated the layers of pigment.

The exhibition is a loving tribute to these collectors’ passion for artists and image making.

Enjoy some of the highlights with the Met’s curator of photography, Jeff Rosenheim:

Artists Crunch NYC Census Numbers

Herwig Sherabon’s 2019 Landscapes of Inequality NYC No. 2, showing median income per block

As the 2020 Census winds down across New York City, it’s nice to be reminded of the history and impact of what’s been revealed since 1790, when census-data gathering began. Who We Are: Visualizing NYC by the Numbers, on view at the Museum of the City of New York through October 18, presents not only rich archival material but an intriguing display of new data-visualizations that were commissioned specifically for this show.

Although the museum shutdown curtailed in-person viewing until a few weeks ago, the curators wisely transported the story and some of the works to an on-line exhibition that explained the history of the decennial census, why it matters to New York, and how new stories are told when artists get their hands on the data.

Tenement House Committee of 1894 map of nationalities inhabiting Lower Manhattan

When we visited in person, it was nice to see historic documents (or facsimiles of them) up close, like the page listing people and occupations (attorneys, stone cutters, boat makers) along Nassau Street in 1812 and the detailed illustrations of the “counting machines” used by men and women tallying the census on the cover of 1890 Scientific American. Take a look at our Flickr album.

But it’s also nice to see data visualizations from past decades, when no one had digital tools at their disposal and everything was drawn pen-and-ink and embellished with watercolor. And to see evidence of Congressional trailblazers, like Shirley Chisholm, getting out into the street to show their constituents the importance of being counted.

Detail of Jill Hubley’s 2019 Race in NYC from neighborhood data

Today’s news is full of stories about whether an undercount is happening in New York, but the MCNY collection shows newspaper after newspaper from the past, where politicians, social-justice advocates, and everyday citizens have voiced the same concerns. It’s useful to see the pie chart of the types of Federal programs whose dollars are apportioned based upon the census.

But the star attractions are the enormously compelling contemporary visualizations displayed in the “Art of Data” gallery. It’s a clean, modern, immersive experience walking among the giant projections of work.

Take a look at three of the works featured in MCNY’s on-line exhibition:

Here is the tree-ring-inspired Simulated Dendrochronology of Immigration to New York City, 1840 – 2017, created in 2019 by Northeast University designers Pedro Cruz, John Wihbey, and Felipe Shibuya. Left and right growth reflects immigration flow to the US from either Asia-Pacific or Europe.

Here, see how artist Neil Freeman uses 2017 American Community Survey data to reconstitute population blocks in New York City according to inequality and injustice in his 2019 video The Grid Series.

The shape of New York’s population blocks make another appearance in artist/developer Jill Hubley’s 2019 visualization Languages of New York.

Read more about each of these works on the MCNY’s site.

World-Class Design Inspired by Nature

Mischer’Traxler’s Curiosity Cloud installation

Visitors are immediately drawn into front room of the Carnegie Mansion to enter a magical environment in which insects appear to be fluttering inside hand-blown glass bulbs in the entry to Nature: Cooper-Hewitt Design Triennial, on display through January 20.

But it’s actually artificial insects that are creating the commotion, programmed to activate as a visitor approaches – all replicas of extant and extinct species of New York State created by Austrian design team Mischer’Traxler.

This Curiosity Cloud installation serves as the introduction to an expansive show that presents how innovative designers are applying new technical solutions inspired by nature to architecture, agriculture, textiles, construction materials, and robotics.

In cooperation with the Cube Design Museum in Kerkrade, Netherlands, the show highlights the work of over 60 international design teams who explore biomimicry, new materials, and artificial intelligence as they create solutions to climate challenges and sustainability in the real world.

2019 Fantasma garment by design studio Another Farm from transgenetic glowing silk

Among the highlights, shown in our Flickr album – textiles printed by rain and pigment-producing microbes, a fruit tree grafted with dozens of fruit varieties, a biodegradable Michelin tire, a personal food computer, and a robotic bionic ant programmed to interact autonomously with other similar ants, just like they do in real life.

The showpiece on the second floor of the exhibition is the concept garment by design studio Another Farm from transgenetic glowing silk, manufactured by Kyoto’s Hosoo textile company. The silk was engineered by injecting DNA from bioluminescent coral into silkworm eggs and using it to create the fabric. Visitors used special glasses to see the other-worldly glow.

Another favorite is the Cosmic Web project by Kim Albrecht, based upon the scientific research on 24,000 galaxies. Take a look:

To spread the good work, the Cooper Hewitt and Cube are installing a portion of the show at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January, hoping to inspire global thinkers to look into the future of possibilities for a changing world.

Listen as one of the Cooper-Hewitt curators introduces the exhibition and hear contributing artists talk about their work in a video produced by ALL ARTS as part of the documentary series Climate Artists.

Back in Time with Wolf Nation at the Whitney

1-4 Wolf Nation at The Whitney

2018 Wolf Nation video, featuring endangered red wolves in New York and evoking the vanished Lenape (Wolf Clan) of Manhattan and New Jersey

The darkened room with the plaintive cries of the wolves is the heart of Alan Michelson: Wolf Nation, at the Whitney Museum of American Art through January 12, but the other three installations created by the internationally renowned Mohawk artist take you back to experience what the Lenapes saw over 400 years ago on the very ground upon which you stand.

It’s subtle and it’s outside the pace of today’s bustling Meatpacking District, so take your time and slow down.

1-1 Wolf Nation at The Whitney

Sapponckanikan (Tobacco Field) that allows visitors to walk among ritual tobacco plantings in the museum lobby, near the Lenape’s original field

The first experience is right inside the entrance – an augmented reality (AR) piece that transforms the busy lobby into a tobacco field that historians say was planted over 400 hundred years ago by the Lenape people where Ganesvoort Street ends today.

Through an iPad (or by downloading AR co-creator Steven Fragale’s app), visitors can watch and walk through a field of lush tobacco plants that the original inhabitants of Manhattan used for rituals and ceremonies.  Different from the commercial tobacco that was grown for export, the virtual plants are based upon the type grown by Michelson’s sister in her upstate garden.

It’s an effective experience that causes visitors to stop and think about nature, history, indigenous cultures, and cycles of life in an ultra-modern, hyperactive environment that is typically untethered to the ancient or natural.

On the fifth floor, the experiences continue in a hallway and theater just off the Rachel Harrison retrospective.

1-5 Wolf Nation at The Whitney

Mt. Vernon-inspired wallpaper backdrop for 2019 Town Destroyer AR installation that evokes memory of 1779 destruction of the Haudenosaunee people in New York State

A second AR installation, Town Destroyer, uses a genteel, upscale, Mount Vernon-inspired colonial interior to educate visitors about a particularly gruesome removal of 60 settlements of Native people during the early years of the American Revolution in upstate New York.

The wallpaper image of General Washington becomes a 3D marble bust when seen through the AR app, upon which is projected a map of the lands taken from the Haudnosaunee, upon his orders, by the Sullivan Expedition in 1779. Projections of State historical markers tell the sad tale, reminding viewers of the forgotten history of displacement, violence, and greed endured by New York’s First Nations…even at the hands of our Revolutionary heroes.

Visitors who see the installation rush over to read the label copy to get better informed about this forgotten history and to wonder what else was left out of American history books about the vanquished people.

Wolf Nation_AR Images

Historical markers and maps about 1779 Continental Army aggression against Native Americans in Town Destroyer AR installation

The large, comfortable dark theater has an enormous wide-screen video of several of New York’s most endangered species – red wolves. You’re seeing them at night in their native habitat upstate, or so it seems. In actuality, you are seeing residents of a captive breeding colony maintained in the hopes of increasing the remaining population of 17.

It looks like a mysterious nighttime scene, shot with a surveillance camera. The pace is slow, with different members of the group arriving, listening, and leaving, fully alert. Sounds of their calls in the distance fill the room.

The effect is hypnotic, allowing viewers to slow down, see the wolves at their eye level, and reflect upon status of our indigenous wildlife and people.  The Lenape, who first colonized Manhattan and New Jersey, identified as Wolf Clan. The color and shape of the cinema projection evokes wampum, the purple and white clamshell beads strung by the Lenape as gifts or to seal treaties.

All of Michelson’s work here requires visitors to slow down their pace and see their surroundings through the eyes of people who stood right there 400 years ago.

1-3 Wolf Nation at The Whitney

Shattemuc video in which a boat’s searchlight illuminates the Hudson River shoreline at night

Shattemuc, a quiet video does just that.  Sit for a while, and see what the Hudson River looks like, illuminated only by a circle of light from a boat that is making its way slowly through the waters in the dead of night. No skyscrapers, no water taxis, no giant clocks.  Just shoreline, trees, cliffs, an occasional small settlement, small boats, and a small, up-close personal feeling.

Then later, as you take in the magnificent view Hudson from the west windows of the fifth-floor Whitney, Michelson’s work allows you to envision what the Lenape saw.

So, despite the distance in time, did Native Americans truly vanish from the shores of New York? Actually, the city today hosts one of the largest populations among big cities in the United States, including many working artists and cultural scholars.

Michelson is one of the leading voices advocating that museums and galleries reflect the work of the first Americans, and congratulations to The Whitney for making this a priority. See Michelson’s seminar on this here.

Urban Indian: Native New York Now at the Museum of the City of New York, running through March 8, testifies to the continuing vibrancy of the First Americans in the cultural capital.

Cardin Sees the Future Through Fashion

The Brooklyn Museum’s latest blockbuster fashion exhibition Pierre Cardin: Future Fashion, open through January 5, presents the work of a French designer who continues to be inspired by the belief that simplicity, design, and science are essential ingredients for a world that lives in peace, treats men and women equally, and looks to the horizon.

Geometric minidresses and men’s ensembles worn with tights and over bodysuits from the revolutionary 1964 Cosmocorps collection

Cardin came of age as a designer in the 1950s creating luscious swing coats, lasso-backed draped suits, and prim (but red-hot) looks for Jackie Kennedy. But he shot to “influencer” status in the early 1960s with unisex looks, bodysuits, collarless jackets for the Beatles, reliance on a fashion-forward Japanese model, turtlenecks (for men and women), hoods, felt helmets, and body jewelry – in other words, all the basic building blocks that would be used to clothe the crew of the Starship Enterprise.

1957 “lasso back” suit, 1968 bodysuit ensemble, and Cosmocorps photo with video showing the unisex Star Trek costumes it inspired in 1966

The Brooklyn show begins with a chronology of Cardin’s young life – soldier, costumer, and Christian’s first employee at the House of Dior in 1946 – but rapidly gives way to a sensational array of tubular, unisex clothing from his mind-blowing Cosmocorps collection, which had so much impact on Sixties culture. Take a look at our favorites in Flickr album.

1968 wool and vinyl minidress, 1966 aluminum statement jewelry, a 1970 wool crepe “Kinetic” dress, and Avedon photo of Penelope Tree wearing a 1968 evening dress and collar

Although several other European designers could be credited with the evolution of the miniskirt, no one channeled the Space Age like Pierre Cardin when it came to shape, form, and use of new fabrics and materials – lenticular plexiglass, vinyl, Dynel pressed into 3D forms and shaped for the body, and parabolic structures that underpinned evening gowns, men’s jackets, and skirts. Pierre even went so far as to visit Houston and slip on an Apollo 11 astronaut’s suit.

1969 lenticular plexiglass and vinyl “armor” dress, 1968 heat-molded Dynel dress, 2007 jersey coat and suit with rubber, and 1991 jersey evening ensemble with parabolic shoulders and hat

It’s clear that the Sixties and Seventies fashions in the show reflect what was going on in the art world at the time – bright, bold colors of Pop Art, pared-down minimalism, an embrace of non-traditional materials, and kinetic art. (Carwash dresses, anyone?)

Even Cardin’s forays into furniture design reflect his belief that his hand-made contemporary works genuinely functioned as art first and utilitarian additions to the home second.

1968 circle coat and hat, next to 1979 Junior Unit, and 1977 Serge Manzon lamp

The final gallery in the Brooklyn show is a darkened room populated with mannequins in shimmering gowns and suits, electrified dresses and sportswear, and pieces embellished with parabolic hoops and flourishes – sheer Space Age magic. Slight swoops across the space, framing the last 20 years of Cardin’s output with an other-worldly, visionary feel.

2008 evening dress with parabolic hem, 2003 evening gown with plastic tubes, 1994/2000 velvet evening dress with Swarovski crystals on the orbital sleeves, and 2013 silk/lame evening dress with Swarovski crystals

A surprise inspiration is the revelation that Cardin at 97 is still designing and looking toward the future.  His predictions? That people will be on the Moon in 2069 wearing his Cosmocorps look, women will be sporting tube clothing and Plexiglass cloche hats, and that men will be wearing kinetic tunics and elliptical trousers.  Why not?

Watch as the curator explains how Cardin envisioned the future…

…and why this retrospective of his work is just right right now:

Beer Makes Pots Sing at Met Breuer

Vessels from a range of eras, wired to amplify their ambient tone

Take 5,000 years of ceramic vessels from the Met’s collection, give them to art-installation genius Oliver Beer, and he’ll create something that will never let you think about fired clay or cast bronze the same way again.

Beer has unleashed the “voices” of 32 precious objects in the beautiful, unforgettable installation Oliver Beer: Vessel Orchestra, in a fifth-floor showcase at the Met Breuer through August 11.

Beer recognized that ceramic and metal containers each have their own distinctive ambient note. It took him three years of searching through the Met’s collection to find which vessels among thousands could emit precise notes.

Oliver Beer at the mixing board and keyboards, demonstrating how the voices of the vessels are activated.

When you enter the Met Breuer gallery, you’ll meet his perfect cast. Beer has a sound mixer and keyboard to activate and amplify different combinations of sound from the 32 installation stars. A single microphone captures the natural, ambient sound of each vessel.

After spending decades on the Met’s shelves and in storage, each vessel’s distinctive voice is brought life in contemporary performance. As Beer and other artists play the keyboard, objects created in different eras and cultures blend their singular voices. They sound perfect.

Met LiveArts has invited guest artists to perform on Friday nights throughout the run of the show. When we were there, Helga Davis, a soloist who has triumphed in avant-garde operas like Einstein on the Beach, explained why she found the sensation so satisfying.

Vocalist Helga Davis

She said that she loved feeling her own voice “disappear” when the note she sang blended with a vessel’s own singular note. Listen in on our video clip.

Recently, the Brooklyn Raga Massive collaborated with the vessels in live performance to create a meditative, transcendental experience. Upcoming collaborators include composers Nico Muhly (August 4) and John Zorn and company (August 9).

Vessels in the orchestra — Qing Dynasty porcelain vase (1644-1911) and the back of one of Betty Woodman’s 2003 series The Ming Sisters.

When live performers are not present, Beer has programmed the keyboard to activate his ensemble. A little light on the cord running to each vessel illuminates when the vessel is singing, so viewers can see exactly who’s contributing to the ambiance at any given moment.

The vessels are quite an elegant crew, including a sinuous art nouveau porcelain, a sleek modern bronze portraits by Lachaise, and a monumental angular slab pot by American master William Daley.

Visually, the vessel presentation is clever. Betty Woodman’s whimsical 2003 ceramic trio The Ming Sisters knocks a bit of seriousness off their otherwise tightly controlled neighbor — turquoise-and-gold Qing Dynasty porcelain masterwork.

Vessels wired to amplify their ambient tone, including a female effigy (7th – 6th c. B.C.), Beatrice Wood’s fish, an Iranian storage jar (3800 – 3700 B.C.), and a Canaanite jar (1500 – 1400 B.C.).

And Beatrice Wood’s 1947 fish pot is swimming, singing, and bringing the fun out of a totally ancient threesome – an old, tipped-over Canaanite jar, an ibex wandering across a 4th millennium B.C. Iranian pot, and a 7th century B.C. lady.

Some things that look ancient aren’t. A simple, unassuming, unembellished creation seems to have been made at a more primitive, far-away time. But it’s a 1975 stoneware pot created by artist Juan Hamilton, Ms. O’Keefe’s friend and assistant, who taught her how to make pots in her later years at Ghost Ranch.

There’s so much to hear and see in this show, so be sure to experience this extraordinary ensemble before August 11. See close-ups of some of our favorite Met singers on Flickr.

Here, the engaging and brilliant Oliver Beer explains how it all comes together:

When the Avant-Garde Took over Corporate Branding

Entrance to the show at Bard Graduate Gallery

With the world turned upside down by World War I, artists in the European avant-garde eagerly embraced new ways of looking, thinking, and creating.

Museum-goers are familiar with the innovative edge that Constructivism and Bauhaus thinking brought to painting and architecture, but few realize it extended so directly into corporate identity and industrial sales in those post-war years.

Bard Graduate Center tells this previously untold story through a young man’s collection who was at the center of it all in its exhibition, Jan Tschichold and the New Typography: Graphic Design Between the World Wars, on display through July 7.

Cover of 1923 Bauhaus exhibition catalog by Herbert Bayer. Courtesy: MoMA.

Recent grad Jan Tschichold, a talented young typeface designer calligrapher steeped in the art of fifteenth-century letterforms, took a quick trip to the Bauhaus in 1923 and was blown away by what he saw coming out of the print shop and the minds of artists at the interdisciplinary hothouse.

Being a works-on-paper kind of guy, Jan was entranced by the book designs and letterheads – modern san serif letters, asymmetrical page layouts, and letters used as design elements on the page. In particular, he saw an essay by Moholy-Nagy that coined the term “new typography”.

El Lissitzky’s 1920 children’s book About Two Squares, which teaches post-revolutionary ideals through interactions of abstract shapes. Courtesy: MoMA.

These rule-based design principles clearly appealed to him, and Jan soon began corresponding, organizing, sharing, and exhibiting with an energetic network of innovators like Schwitters, Moholy-Nagy, and El Lissitzky. Starting in 1925, Jan was the most vocal proponent of this “new typography.”

“Graphic design” was starting to become a “thing” and Jan found himself in the center of it. Jan began collecting anything with asymmetrical layouts, eye-catching photo-montages, and letters running wild — postcards, catalogues, book designs, business cards, brochures, promotional catalogs, and posters.

By 1928, Jan had seen and designed so much ground-breaking work that he decided to write a book that would summarize how any graphic-arts practitioner could blow up past conventions of graphic design, letters, and photography and repurpose them for industries and pop culture.

Title page of Jan Tschichold’s 1928 book, “The New Typgraphy,” which had essays by Moholy-Nagy, Dexel, and others.

Jan’s book, Typographische Gestaltung, went viral among the 80,000 members of the German print workers union, showing everyone how to juice up advertising layouts, movie posters, and industrial brochure designs in a more modern way.

German industries were just beginning to make a comeback after the war. Brochures about pumps, valves, and machinery all had a modern twist that created an identity for corporations to make a comeback. Inexpensive designs on paper — what a way to make a statement! What a way to glamorize and sell ergonomic chairs, new motorcycle engines, lathes, and metal parts!

“Dwelling and Workplace” poster – an event identity campaign by Johannes Molzhan for the 1929 exhibition by Deutscher Werkbund, the German design association. Courtesy: MoMA

Curator Paul Stirton’s show shines a spotlight on this early move toward modern corporate branding, identity, industrial brochures, and the day-to-day business of simply selling things. Just like today, even avant-garde designers had to make a living!

One of our favorites is Dadaist-in-chief Kurt Schwitters’ marketing brochure to explain his design agency’s services for corporate logos, brochures, and and other types of design.

Eventually, Hungarian and Czech designers started adopting what Jan was advocating. His influence largely bypassed the United States and the English-speaking world (except by osmosis), since it took decades for his book to be translated into English.

1930 marketing brochure by Kurt Schwitters to potential corporate clients. Courtesy: MoMA

Perhaps one of the most intriguing features of this show is that nearly everything on display is from Jan’s own collection, which is labeled as in the Museum of Modern Art’s collection. But ironically, much of the corporate marketing stuff on display here (and seen for the first time!) almost didn’t survive.

Jan amassed acres of his colleagues’ work in the Twenties, but had to leave the majority of his collection behind when he fled Germany in the run-up to World War II and ultimately landed in the United States.

Strapped for cash, Jan happily sold his poster collection to MoMA in the 1930s, but in the 1950s, MoMA said no to the rest of Jan’s remaining collection. Who needed that much work on paper from the Twenties when you were collecting wall-sized post-war American abstraction?

Jan Tschichold’s 1927 movie poster “The Woman Without a Name,” for Berlin’s Pheobus-Palast.

When Philip Johnson heard that MoMA refused to take Jan’s letters, catalogs, books, postcards, and other ephemera from Europe’s greats, he tracked down the California bookseller who acquired it, paid $350 for 800 pieces, and donated it to MoMA.

So, although MoMA’s closed for the summer, you can still see a capsule collection by a 20th century innovator that’s never been displayed as a whole before.

Take a look at our favorites on Flickr and watch the curator’s talk here.

Photo-Science Pioneer Atkins Debuts Work in New York

Plate from Anna Atkins’ 1849-1850 Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions.

The New York literary and art world have spoken: nearly 150 years after photography pioneer Anna Atkins faded into obscurity, her work is receiving the tribute it deserves in the NYPL’s Wachenheim Gallery off Fifth Avenue – gorgeous, hand-crafted compositions of ephemeral marine flora in hand-stitched volumes, using a untested, new technology.

Volumes of Anna Atkins’ Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions, 1849-1850

Blue Prints: The Pioneering Photographs of Anna Atkins, on display through February 17, is a show that has it all – an artistic first, a publishing breakthrough, Victorian time travel back to Darwin’s day, and a resurrection story of a visionary woman rescued from history’s dustbin. Although this innovator was born in 1799, it’s the first full full-blown retrospective of her work.

The show centers on the achievements of a female amateur botanist, who came up with an ingenious method to use one of the latest technology breakthroughs to transform her specimen collection of British algae into the world’s first book illustrated entirely through photographs. It’s also the first scientific book illustrated that way.

In a day where smartphones have made image taking (and making) ubiquitous, Anna’s show takes you back to the time before photographs, where meticulously observed drawings, sketches, and a watercolor box were the only means available to record the floral wonders of the world.

Anna’s 1823 spondylus shell illustrations

As a talented young artist, her scientist father commissioned her to illustrate his translations of Lamarck.

In 1842, Anna heard about a family friend’s accidental discovery of cyanotypes – basically blueprint technique – and she had a brainstorm. Instead of making drawings of plants that would require tedious hours of replications by hand, maybe the new technique could let the sun do the work.

She treated paper with a mix of chemicals, arranged her botanical specimens on top, and exposed it to the sun.

1860s printing frame with prepared cyanotype paper and specimen

The photographic impressions were incredible – detailed and beautiful. The task of documenting her collection of complex, seaside plants now didn’t seem so overwhelming.

Although this is a tiny show, the gallery experience delivers quite an aesthetic impact  – rows of rare prints in blazing blue, delicate images of marine plants that compel close study, and exquisite hand-stitched bindings on multiple volumes, lovingly created for family and friends. It’s a maker tour de force.

In her day, Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions was considered a triumph of technology, art, and science.

From an artistic perspective, you simply can’t stop admiring Anna’s work. Seaside stuff simply never looked this good. Take a look at our Flickr album.

Volume III of Anna Atkins’ 1853 publication

Most of the gorgeous books and artworks in the show have been acquired by NYPL. The curators have added a range of other items to put Anna’s achievement in context – early herbariums, Anna’s own watercolors, a frame used for making cyanotypes, and Henry Talbot Fox’s first book promoting all the ways that his “photographic drawing” invention could be applied.

To drive the last point home, the curators included a 1839 magazine that wrote about Talbot’s invention. But upon closer inspection, there’s something quite curious: No one had yet figured out how to use photographs as publication illustrations, so the magazine commissioned a woodcut to replicate what a “photographic drawing” looked like!!

Album of 74 artistic cyanotypes created in 1861 by Anna Atkins and her friend, Anne Dixon

Anna’s cyanotype techniques allow her pages to still dazzle 175 years after they were made, compared to other early photo techniques whose images have faded and remain barely visible to the modern eye.

Later in life, Anna collaborated with her childhood friend on artistic arrangements of botanical specimens that went way beyond algae.

The show is dazzling and should serve as an inspiration to anyone with a passion, a collection, and the creativity and drive to take a personal project and see it through to the end.

Walk through the show with our Flickr album.