Nick Mauss Brings NYC Modern Art/Dance Influences to Life at The Whitney

Dancers strike poses inspired by the surrounding works of art in a piece collaboratively choreographed with Nick Mauss

Cecil Beaton’s 1937 Vogue photo of poet Charles Henri Ford in a costume by Salvador Dali

Go when the dancers are there. Entering Nick Mauss: Transmissions, installed on the top floor of the Whitney through May 14, you’ll see them moving behind a transparent scrim as the elevator doors open.

The artist had a vision and the Whitney curators gave him the freedom to scour their deep-storage archives, delineate a space for dancers, install works of art, and write scintillating details about the fruits of his research.

Nick’s vision was to create a visual conversation about the collisions between modern art and dance in New York between 1930 and 1950 – a time when bon vivants, peripatetic painters, scandalous artistes, and boundary-pushing dancers expressed themselves in every manner possible.

He succeeds spectacularly. But the show isn’t laid out in a chronological manner like a history show. It’s more of a curated, free association experience that genuinely works.

Visitors encounter Whitney works that are almost never displayed, photos from the Kinsey Institute, works from the NYPL’s Jerome Robbins Division archive, ephemera from personal collections, and Nick’s own creations.

1928 dancer-inspired sculptures by Elie Nadelman stand in front of Nick’s mirrored mural.

Nick’s put a quartet of live dancers at the center of the swirl, encouraging and challenging visitors to explore clues surrounding them – private artistic photos, Diaghilev’s calling card, costume designs by Dorothea Tanning, a video of Balanchine in rehearsal.

As dancers quietly assume poses, visitors are left to move about and make their own connections. Do the dance poses echo the quiet Gaston Lachaise or Elie Nadelman sculptures, or the over-the-top expressions of NYC ballet superstars in Carl Van Vechten’s slide show splashed across the opposite wall?

Nick’s research unearthed an extraordinary wealth of information about relationships among artists, cross-currents of artistic influence, intimate social circles, and gay life. His idea was to inject a little more color to the American modern-art narrative.

One of 830 slides taken of American Ballet Theatre dancers by Carl Van Vechten, America’s first dance critic.

When the Whitney staff read the captivating associations that Nick uncovered as he selected objects for the installation, they decided that it was too rich to simply identify things in the traditional cut-and-dried museum label card format

The curators mounted Nick’s extraordinary background stories next to the artworks, photos, stage set mock-ups, and costume designs to let visitors get inside Nick’s head and share in his fun.

The stories – like the dance quartet – encourage visitors to connect their own knowledge about the origins of modern dance and modern art in New York with what they see and read:

What impact did modern dance pioneers Loie Fuller and Ruth St. Denis have on 1920s sculpture? How did a Ballet Russe-obsessed cultural impresario convince George Balanchine to start the New York City Ballet?

Reflected in Nick’s mirrored mural, a monitor shows videos of Balanchine rehearsing the New York City Ballet.

What was a sophisticated dance critic doing in his studio with props, costumes, Agnes de Mille, and stars of the New York ballet world?

The beauty of Nick’s installation is that people wandering about the space are able construct their own visual and mental narratives and understand the swirl of modernism from that time in a new way. Take a look at our Flickr album to view some of our favorite works in the show.

The choreographed piece was developed collaboratively by Nick and the dancers. The complete experience is poetic, revelatory, interactive, and constantly in motion.

The dancers perform from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. daily, and also on Friday nights from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Here’s a short clip of the quartet of dancers performing in the gallery:

And another short clip of duets:

How William Wegman Turned His Dog Into a Conceptual Artist

Still from 1972 video “Man Ray, Do You Want To…” featuring Man Ray’s reaction to various questions

Sometimes losing a job is a good thing. Or at least that seems to be what happened to William Wegman, when his contract to teach in the art department didn’t get renewed by the University of Wisconsin – Madison back in 1970.

Like so many others Midwesterners, he packed up and moved to sunny Los Angeles, where the contemporary art scene was just starting to take off.

It ended up being a career-making move that he didn’t see coming.

Photo of 1971 performance-art piece by California artist John Baldassari, “Hands Framing New York Harbor, from Pier 18”

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition, “Before/On/After: William Wegman and California Conceptualism”, on view through July 15, harkens back to the three years that Wegman lived in SoCal, populated by other up-and-comers like Ed Ruscha, John Baldassari, David Salle, and Vija Celmins.

The Seventies-era Chicago, Madison, and California art scenes generally had more wit, whimsy, and lightheartedness than the super-serious East Coast art scene, which was showcasing droves of red-hot Conceptual and series artists from New York and Europe, such as Hanne Darboven, Lawence Weiner,  and the Belchers.

William Wegman recollecting his early California years in January 2018

At the time, New York gallery walls were full of framed mathematical series and formulas, endlessly rigorous permutations, semiotic variations, deconstructed analyses, and meticulously documented minimalist photo series. California was the antithesis, with artists poking gentle fun and creating works that were more pop-culture-oriented head-fakes.

By 1970, artists were experimenting with video for the first time, courtesy of Sony’s invention of the Portapak. It was grainy, but you could monitor what you were shooting as you were doing it.

When Wegman arrived in LA, he planned to continue his work, including making short, witty performance videos involving props and sets. But he had an unexpected problem: his wife’s insistence on getting a large dog in LA saddled him with babysitting Man Ray, a big, busy Weimaraner that continuously investigated the props in the studio and gave him spooky, soulful looks as he performed.

Wegman’s 1972 photo series where he tries to teach Man Ray about Conceptual Art practice

When Wegman decided to involve Man Ray in the set-ups and teach him about the serial nature of East-Coast conceptual art, the short videos became insightful and engaging. The first canine art-world star was born.

Although Wegman and Man Ray left California to move back East a few years later, the collaboration was a watershed moment in Wegman’s career.  Every New York and European gallery clamored to include works with Man Ray alongside Wegman’s other photos and performance videos.

1972 Wegman photo “Dull Knife/Sharp Knife”, referring both to the object and the viewer’s own mental acuity in deciphering art

The Met’s show, near the second-floor photography galleries, is a tribute to the fun, inquisitive nature of the Southern California art scene at this turning point in Wegman’s life and was created to honor a special gift: Wegman and Christine Burgin, his wife, donated 174 of these short videos to the Met, along with some of the California photographs and drawings.

To honor this bequest, the Met has created a small black-box theater inside the gallery, where everyone can delight to 99 minutes of less-than-two-minute videos featuring Man Ray and his owner, mostly from the early years.

It’s a chance to see what everyone saw at The Kitchen and Sonnebend when Soho was still an industrial neighborhood.

Still from 1972 video of Man Ray methodically investigating a biscuit trapped inside a glass bottle

The videos are all rough low-resolution snippets that seem to have several layers of meaning. In one, Man Ray propels a glass bottle around the floor of the studio in an effort to extract a biscuit that is trapped inside. In another, the camera stays tight on Man Ray’s face to record the subtle changes in expression as he silently responds to a series of Wegman’s questions, which all begin with “Man Ray, do you want to….?”

East Coast audiences for painstaking methodological investigation and serial word-art never had it so good! Man Ray was everyone’s favorite canine conceptual artist.

The rest of the show features books and photographs from the Met’s collection by Ed Ruscha, Baldessari, and other artists that Wegman knew when he was just starting out.

Still from 1972 video featuring William Wegman in his LA studio, where Man Ray became an art star

Take a look at all of the work in the exhibition on the Met’s website, which also includes stills from many of the videos in the show. Check out the photos on our Flickr site.

But spend some time on the second floor of the Met, enjoying the early work of a witty, shaggy, out-of-the-box artist and his clever, not-so-shaggy dog.

The Met — and Wegman’s black-box cinema — is open 7 days a week and until 9pm Friday and Saturday.

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.

Curtain Up on Theater’s Best at NYPL

All the Playbills you ever collected

The excitement of Broadway and West End theater is fully on display at the New York Public Library’s show at Lincoln Center, Curtain Up: Celebrating the Last 40 Years of Theatre in New York and London, closing July 30.

It’s a theater-lover’s fantasy journey through four decades of smash hits that cross-pollinated two shores – costumes, stage sets, video clips, lights, sound, and awards. And as the curators point out, the two theatrical epicenters are mirror images of one another.

The Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum in London, the Society of London Theaters, and our own NYPL assembled this extravaganza with the help of producers, costume designers, actors, theaters, and other owners theatrical history.

The foyer is awash in Playbills, hanging from the ceiling and piled up in corners. It feels like home. It’s hard to know where to look or what to process first. Is it Michael Crawford’s Phantom mask (direct from his own collection)? Is it the overscale streetplan of Times Square or Shaftsbury Avenue? Lola’s thigh-high hot pink Kinky Boots?

A Chorus Line finale top hats by Theoni V. Aldridge from TDF’s Costume Collection.

Take a short walk-through of the show on our Flickr album.

Look closely for windows into innovative set designs (An Inspector Calls, War Horse) amid towering costumed mannequins. But the overpowering sound throughout is One. Who can concentrate on anything else once you see a corridor sprinkled with glittery top hats overhead and Broadway-sized media screen showing the multi-mirrored finale of A Chorus Line.

Besides being everyone’s favorite musical (the first to win London’s coveted Olivier award), the show ushered in the digital age of theater. When it debuted at the Public Theater, the lighting was the first musical to depend on an electronic light board, which made the transitions just as precise at the choreography.

There are backstage notes for The History Boys, box office totals from Evita, period costumes from the theater’s grande dames, and a brief video showing one of the all-time great moments of inspiration and awe onstage — the seconds-long flash accompanying the finale appearance of the magnificent angel in Angels in America.

Julie Taymor’s 1997 masks for The Lion King’s Scar, Simba, and Nala

The most dramatic encounter is an area populated with costumes and masks from The Lion King and the swan costume from Matthew Bourne’s all-male Swan Lake.

The “fliers” are aloft, too – Marry Poppins and Elphaba – with a big-finish wall of televisions showing coverage of the Olivier Awards, currently celebrating their 40th anniversary.

The result is a theatrical show together that sings, dances, and reminds everyone of what a life in the theater – either as an actor, technician, or audience member – can be.

To prepare for your next visit to the West End, here’s a short primer on the stats, lingo, and facts about theater culture on both sides of the Atlantic:

Dreamlands Immersion at The Whitney

1970 video recreation of Oskar Schlemmer’s groundbreaking 1922 Triadic Ballet at the Bauhaus

1970 video recreation of Oskar Schlemmer’s groundbreaking 1922 Triadic Ballet at the Bauhaus

As soon as you walk into the Whitney’s show, Dreamlands: Immersive Art and Cinema, 1905-2016, you are face-to-face with a giant screen on which stylized robotic dancers perform what seems like a space-age, mechanized dance.People are lounging on giant foam blocks, watching the colorful piece unfold. But most of the visitors are unaware that the seeds of this startlingly modern performance, shot in 1970 for German television, is a recreation of an innovative, theater-dance piece that’s 95 years old — The Triadic Ballet that Bauhaus director Oskar Schlemmer created in 1922.

2012 recreation of Fischinger’s 1926 three-screen abstract movie Ramlichtkunst

2012 recreation of Fischinger’s 1926 three-screen abstract movie Ramlichtkunst

There’s a lot of history-tripping in this exciting retrospective, which closes this weekend. Everything in the show is pulled from the Whitney’s own collection – a rare chance to experience hard-to-display movies, slide shows, and interactive experiences. Take a look in our Flickr album to glimpse some of our favorites.

To see it all, you twist and turn through labyrinths, enter through darkened curtains, and explore mysterious giant boxes positioned throughout the 18,000 square-foot space.

Sometimes you’re wading through mountains of discarded 16mm film from the Sixties by Jud Yalkut. Sometimes you’re watching others whirl in the dark to activate light patterns on the walls and ceiling. Sometimes you’re staring into a wall-size projection of the mushroom cloud in Bruce Conner’s Crossroads montage.

Still from Porter’s 1905 film of a real-life electrified dreamland Coney Island at Night

Still from Porter’s 1905 film of a real-life electrified dreamland Coney Island at Night

At every juncture, there’s something new, exciting, provocative, and challenging. The big surprise is that the pieces are from the entire span of the 20th century, beginning with Edison’s double whammy – the invention of the electric light bulb and motion-picture camera – as presented in the 1905 film he commissioned, Coney Island at Night.

In addition to Triadic Ballet, 1920s Germany is also represented by a colorful three-screen abstract movie installation by Oskar Fischinger, who was later hired by Disney to create some of the initial concept art for Fantasia, the animated concert-movie extravaganza that is also represented in the show.

Vanderbeek’s 1963 Movie Mural screens flashing with abstract and pop images

Vanderbeek’s 1963 Movie Mural screens flashing with abstract and pop images

Stan Vanderbeek’s roomful of projectors represents the Sixties, displaying a cacophony of simultaneous pop-culture images and abstract films on a crazy array of mismatched screens.

Bringing the collection up to date, visitors stop for selfies in front of the neon-flanked exterior of “Easternsports”, an immersive, candy-colored 2014 installation by Philadelphia artists Alex Da Corte and Jayson Musson. Just sit and smell the oranges as robotic actors go through their potty-mouthed paces in the four-screen room.

Peek into Easternsports via The Whitney’s look-about YouTube video. Move the arrows on the upper left navigator to look around and find the skateboarder crossing all the screens.

Steyerl’s 2015 immersion room showing Factory of the Sun, where avatars mimic YouTube dancers

Steyerl’s 2015 immersion room showing Factory of the Sun, where avatars mimic YouTube dancers

 

Enter a futuristic lounge to watch Hito Steyerl’s 2015 “Factory of the Sun,” a fake newscast-documentary about workers who are forced to dance to generate sunlight. The mysterious, high-energy saga has everything from anarchists at the World Bank to YouTube sensations inspiring Japanese avatars.

The giant video is a challenging and provocative burst of energy to end your Dreamlands odyssey and nice bookend to the Triadic Ballet rebooting next door.

It’s a Happening at NYU Grey Art Gallery

Charlotte performs a John Cage piece at a 1965 Paris art festival

Charlotte performs a John Cage piece at a 1965 Paris art festival.

In Grey Art Gallery’s gleaming white space on Washington Square East, you can take a walk-through of the gritty lofts and performance spaces of the 1960s, when the avant-garde was being born in Lower Manhattan

A Feast of Astonishments: Charlotte Moorman and the Avant-Garde, 1960s – 1980s is a tribute to the avant-garde’s poster girl, who transformed classical cello into a spectator sport. Trained at Julliard, Moorman came under the sway of the genre-busting, performance-loving artistic collaborators Nam June Paik, Yoko Ono, Alan Kaprow, and others. See the show through this weekend.

The show chronicles her early collaborations with Nam June, the artist who turned early portable video on its head. The centerpiece of the first-floor gallery is Paik’s “portrait” of Moorman, studded with an electrified cello and the tiniest video monitors. It’s quite a presence. Good work, Nam June.

Charlotte Moorman II, a 1995 sculpture-portrait by Nam June Paik. Collection: Brandies

Charlotte Moorman II, a 1995 sculpture-portrait by Nam June Paik. Collection: Brandies

On the audio system, you hear her voice, recounting her night in jail as a result of a police raid on a Village art cinema where she happened to be performing her own art piece topless. Ooops!

Cage might not have been crazy about Moorman’s interpretation of his at-the-edge contemplative works (too theatrical, he thought), but that didn’t stop her.

The show also highlights her friendship and support for Yoko Ono, another up-and-comer at the time. Moorman paid Ono the highest compliment by performing her legendary piece hundreds of times.

A fearless performer, she continued throughout the Sixties and Seventies as quite a producer too. From early performances of composers’ works, staged with all-star casts (Ginsberg et al.), she ended up getting a decade’s worth of permits to host an annual Avant-Garde Festival in New York City.

1989 Neon Cello sculpture by Charlotte Moorman

1989 Neon Cello by Charlotte Moorman

Some years, it was on the Staten Island Ferry. Others, it was Wards Island. Others, it was a parade, way before the Village Halloween Parade became a family favorite.

Charlotte and Paik toured well throughout the Seventies, everywhere art-loving Germans would have them.

Take a walk through the downtown underground with a classically trained musician who made performance-art history. Here are the exhibition photos and our Flickr album.

See Hamilton No Waiting

Taking their Shot in the lobby of the Public Theater in 2015

Taking their Shot in the lobby of the Public Theater in 2015

If you really want to experience Hamilton before the Tony Awards, it’s not that hard. Get up to New-York Historical Society at 77th Street and Central Park West and check out the life-size bronze statues of Hamilton and Burr one second before The Shot.

If you went to see Hamilton last year at the Public, you had to pass right between Kim Crowley’s bronze recreations when you entered the theater — a bespectacled Hamilton (wearing tinted glasses because he was facing the sunrise) and an intense Burr who was branded for all time in the history books one second later.

These action figures were initially installed at NYHS in 2004 as part of its ground-breaking Hamilton show…a magnificent installation that drew both raves (for the classy reimagining of NYHS and its exhibitions program after a near-collapse of that institution) and criticism (was it pandering to New York’s besmirched banking community?).

Their 1797 dueling pistols in the NYHS lobby

Their 1797 dueling pistols in the NYHS lobby

Interesting that 2004 was the 300th anniversary of both the duel and the year that NYHS was founded. In fact, Hamilton’s attending doctor that day was one of the founders.

NYHS Ham

Hamilton takes aim inside NYHS

After three hundred years and countless tries at the Hamilton’s pre-show lottery at the Richard Rodgers Theater, it will be a little disconnect to realize that the two facing off in the white marbled lobby are not Lin Manuel and Leslie Odom, Jr. The intensity and the historical dress are there, but the faces are different. Just stand there and run through all the lyrics you’ve memorized from the show.

Walk a few steps further and gaze down at the actual pistols – not stage props – and Angelica Schuyler’s letter to her brother, conveying the terrible news. All real, in her own hand, dated July 11, 1804.

OK, that’s just the lobby. By now, you’ve probably heard that NYHS has just announced its Summer of Hamilton, replete with a large gallery show of all the Hamilton-related documents, artifacts, and portraits plus special clips from Hamilton, movie musicals that inspired Lin, Ron Chernow’s book, and costumed performers on July 4 weekend.

But why not visit right now and have Ham and Burr all to yourself? To fill in the blanks about Ham’s life or prep to see the Broadway show, treat yourself to an exploration of the 2004 Ham show website. It’s full of all types of fun things – a quiz to test your Ham knowledge, a map of where Hamilton hung out in New York City, and real-life historical portraits of all the Schuyler sisters and everyone else in the Broadway show.

Lin's Ham 4 Ham reading outside the theater during the preview lottery

Lin’s Ham 4 Ham reading outside the theater during the preview lottery

There’s even a handy timeline of Hamilton’s “strange and amazing life,” which is a nice reference for things you’ve seen (or hope to see) in the show. For true fans (or curiosity-seekers), there’s even a small selection of short academic papers on Hamilton, including an interview with Ron Chernow, whose book inspired the current Broadway smash hit, and other brief treatises on his schooling, the duel, and the hours before his death.

Although it’s not inside the museum (or the Richard Rodgers), you can check out other Hamilton excitement at the Ham4Ham shows performed at lottery time on 47th Street, many of which have been taped by fans and put up on YouTube. Check out the recreation of the cabinet meeting by the Tony-nominated crew:

New York Artists Celebrate Coney Island

Steeplechase Funny Face, the symbol of a famous amusement park.

Steeplechase Funny Face, the symbol of a famous amusement park.

How did a strip of pristine, white-sand beach turn into one of the most fantastical, lurid, menacing, and whimsical destinations in the United States? You won’t find a sociological essay, but you’ll experience a lot of evidence in the Brooklyn Museum’s Coney Island extravaganza.

See Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861–2008 through March 13 and visit Stephen Powers: Coney Island Is Still Dreamland (To a Seagull) on the Fifth Floor through August 21.

The crowds filling the galleries last Saturday night savored the experience of the sky-high towers of contemporary hand-painted, Coney-inspired signs by the collaborative, ICY SIGNS. You could stand for an hour, just taking in all the messages, philosophy, and witty send-ups of contemporary life, curated by TED-talking artist Stephen Powers.

Through the door, however, another world waits. Seeing Coney Island’s gaudy jumble today from the air or Q train, it’s hard to imagine how it looked in the mid-1800s in the post-Civil War era.

Chase’s 1886 oil, Landscape, Near Coney Island

Chase’s 1886 oil, Landscape, Near Coney Island

The show, organized by Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, opens with tranquil landscapes of the aspiring middle-classes enjoying the salt air and low-key entertainments and diversions on the beach – maybe having a photo taken by an itinerant photographer, or sampling some sweet treats. Back in these more genteel times, the sandy shores were open to a mix of races and nations, or so the oils by William Merritt Chase and John Henry Twachtman attest.

How times changed! A giant vintage black-and-white film clip of romance on a roller coaster draws you into a world of more visceral wonder – carousel horses and gambling wheels interspersed with a hundreds of works by famous American artists that explore the magic, mayhem, and malevolence that made Coney such a phenomenon.

Detail of Joseph Stella’s 1913-1914 Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras from Yale University.

Detail of Joseph Stella’s 1913-1914 Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras from Yale University.

Figurative work from Reginald Marsh and others catapult you back to bawdy bathers and burlesque scenes brought to life last year in Broadway’s On the Town. Photographs by Arbus, Weegee, and Walker Evans provide close-up views of what it was like above and under the boardwalk.

Much of the shows’s fun is driven by the jarring injection of super-cool modern abstraction next to the flotsam and jetsam of the actual historic artifacts.

Edwin Porter’s 1905 silent movie Coney Island at Night gave nickelodeon viewers a novel way to see Edison’s incandescent lights in all their glory.

It’s startling to see Joseph Stella’s Futurist-inspired tribute to Coney Island’s Mardis Gras and realize that it’s from the same 1910-1914 era in which Jimmy Durante played honkey tonk piano for newcomer Mae West. It was all happening at the same time as the Armory Show.

1991 acrylic painting featuring iconic Spook-A-Rama Cyclops by Arnold Mesches.

1991 acrylic painting featuring iconic Spook-A-Rama Cyclops by Arnold Mesches.

Frank Stella’s 1950’s abstraction holds its own amidst the sideshow banners and relics that inspired his jarring color bars and mystery portal. Maybe it’s not a coincidence that right around the corner you come face-to-face with the real-life Coney landmark – the Cyclops who lured riders into America’s largest dark ride, Spook-A-Rama. The curators have placed him right next to his menacingly large portrait by Arnold Mesches.

Take a walk on the wild side of history, art, and sideshow performance while you can in person or via our Flickr album.

The Stephen Powers installation runs through the summer. Here he is explaining the allure of Coney Island as a contemporary inspiration:

FIT Honors Transatlantic Nightlife Queen

1990 Mathu & Zaldy body suit and attached boots that Susanne wore to an Armani party

1990 Mathu & Zaldy body suit and attached boots that Susanne wore to an Armani party

If you think the music and fashion stopped after Studio 54 shut its doors to Liza, Liz, Andy, Calvin, Halston, and Yves, FIT’s club-scene exhibition, Fashion Underground: The World of Susanne Bartsch, presents evidence to the contrary through December 5.

The show features nightlife splendor (with all the trimmings) from Susanne’s clothes-to-be-seen-in archive. Plus, you’ll get the thrill of pretending that you’ve stepped into one of her over-the-top parties, filled with celebrities, outrageous clothes, spectacle, and glitter.

Wielding "the list" in a 2008 Jean-Paul Gaultier jacket and Patricia Fields hat

Wielding “the list” in a 2008 Jean-Paul Gaultier jacket and Patricia Fields hat

Right downstairs at the gallery entrance, you’ll be taken back to a graffiti-splashed Nineties club entrance with a dolled-up doorkeeper sizing you up and holding “the list”. But there’s no anxiety about whether you’ll be let inside…Just walk in and be transported back to 1981.

 As the glittery disco 54 era was coming to an end in New York in 1981, Bartsch arrived from London and opened up a shop in Soho filled with up-and-coming London designers that were creating the “new look” catching on in clubs across the pond.

In the early 1980s, Japanese and British designers experimented with crinkly natural fibers and oversized smocks – which looked fresh and hip after a decade of form-fitting, glitzy disco looks.

The Eighties -- Vivienne Westwood looks with Galliano linen ensembles

The Eighties — Vivienne Westwood looks with Galliano linen ensembles

Susanne sold the oversized, anti-disco baggy look of nightlife trendsetters Boy George and Leigh Bowery, imported dandy mix-and-match men’s and women’s looks from Vivienne Westwood, and featured flowing frocks by London’s Rachel Auburn.

The first part of the FIT show walks down this part of memory lane, including linen frocks by Mr. Galliano. Smocks are punctuated with dramatic hats (decades before fascinators) or beads from Portobello Road.

By the late Eighties, all that had given way to raggedy and accessorized mash-ups sported by the Material Girl and by the Nineties, bejeweled and bedazzled clubwear reigned again. Susanne was regularly hosting parties clad in an ever-evolving array of embellished corsets, fashioned by the master of form and shape, Mr. Pearl.

Two Mr. Pearl corset ensembles (1989, 1991) with 1992 Mugler Cowgirl ensemble, worn by Naomi Campbell Installation view of “Fashion Underground: The World of Susanne Bartsch” September 18 – December 5, 2015 The Museum at FIT New York, New York

Mr. Pearl corset ensembles (1989, 1991) with 1992 Mugler Cowgirl ensemble for Naomi Campbell

In a well-deserved tribute to his creations, FIT has installed a carousel of Mr. Pearl’s work on a turntable in the show’s back room of the show, next to a corner where mannequins form a towering tribute to the magic of Mr. Mugler, another of Ms. Bartsch’s favorites. After she introduced Mr. Pearl to Mr. Mugler, the rest was fashion history.

Fashion designers flocked to her parties and she did justice to them all – working in their hats, jackets, shoes, bags, and separates into her never-ending array of special occasion get-ups. When you peruse the specific looks on display in the show, it’s an all-star line-up of New York, Paris, and London fashion heavyweights.

Gareth Pugh 2015 ensemble of paper, Lycra and leather

Gareth Pugh 2015 ensemble of paper, Lycra and leather

The show screams of creativity and it’s wonderful that curator Valerie Steele put a spotlight on this Queen of Nightlife and her impact on the underground/high fashion scene for the last three decades. A lot of Susanne’s featured clubwear is credited to Mathu & Zaldy, who turned out plenty of over-the-top looks when designer ready-to-wear just didn’t pack enough punch for a special occasion.

Another charming touch in the show is the ensemble of paper, Lycra and leather contributed by Gareth Pugh. Susanne asked him to send something she could (and would) wear.

As always, FIT provides lots of history and photographs of Susanne and friends in action at multitudes of balls and parties on its exhibition website. Spend time looking at Susanne in action and at snapshots of her historic Love Ball. For close-ups of the clothes and costumes, visit our Flickr feed.

Take 360 spin around each room of the show courtesy of FIT’s virtual tour produced by Synthescape. The arrows appearing on the floor will take you to all three rooms.

Do you wish you could have been at the opening of this exhibit? Not to worry – her friends and fans let you in on the party and remember unforgettable nights in this celebratory video. Even Calvin’s there:

Daring Docent Dishes with Digital Adam at The Met

Digital Adam and the Docent reenact what Paradise was like before The Fall

Digital Adam and the Docent reenact what Paradise was like before The Fall

There’s no need to check into the Met after hours to see a classical statue come to life. In Renaissance gallery 504 on the main floor, a digital version of Tullio Lombardo’s 15th-century Adam is interacting with visitors and a knowledgeable Docent in Reid Farrington’s The Return performance through August 2.

The Return is quite a production and its illusions created in the Italian Renaissance gallery would make any animation fan jump for joy.

Classical Adam (the marble one) is installed prominently in the gallery where half the performance takes place. Its presence is a miracle, since the beautiful Renaissance sculpture totally shattered in a freak fall in 2002.

To repair it – a complex undertaking — Met team made a digital replica of all the pieces to decide how to fit everything back together again and spent years making it whole.

Tullio Lombardo’s Adam (1490-1495), which fell and shattered in 2002, but has been exquisitely repaired

Tullio Lombardo’s Adam (1490-1495), which fell and shattered in 2002, and is now repaired

Now, it’s Digital Adam who’s the fascinating co-star of the show, brought back to life by performance artist Reid Farrington who envisioned a tribute to the virtuosity of the Met’s conservation team who so flawlessly reassembled Tullio’s Adam.

The other half of the performance involves an improv actor, a motion sensor suit, and a crew of digital engineers and prop masters, all camped out on the stage of the Met’s auditorium in the Egyptian wing. As the stage actor moves in the auditorium, Digital Adam moves, speaks, answers questions, and holds up a Warhol and a Van Gogh inside his lifesize digital frame in the Renaissance gallery to the delight of the audience and his sidekick, The Docent. See photos on our Flickr feed.

The audience decides what part of Classical Adam’s renovation will get discussed next, but the witty duo soon veer off into other fascinating topics:

Actor in motion-capture portrays Digital Adam, whose image is simulcast at the right and in gallery 504

Actor in motion-capture portrays Digital Adam, whose image is simulcast at the right and in gallery 504

What does it feel like to always look good and never age? Does Classical Adam remember back to the marble quarry? Does Biblical Adam remember what Garden of Eden was like before the Fall? Adam’s clever responses reveal that his Eden experience was a lot about infinity pools and the good life.

At one point, Digital Adam invites the Docent to portray Eve in his telling of what happened after the Serpent appeared with that apple. Then the attention turns back to Classical Adam, as the Docent shows Lombardo’s thinking about that particular moment portrayed in marble.

Digital Adam shows drawing of where the breaks in Lombardo’s Adam occurred

Digital Adam shows drawing of the breaks in Lombardo’s Adam

These two need their own ongoing talk show about history, time and space in some corner of the Met. Until August 2, ask the information desk for The Return’s program and go marvel at both the gallery and the behind-the-scenes performances. Or go to the live stream on the Met Museum’s website.

After meeting Digital Adam, you’ll never again wonder about what’s going on inside Classical Adam’s cool, calm, beautiful marble head.