Roundup | 8 Art Shows to See Over the Holidays in NYC

Since we’re all looking for some fun activities for the holiday season, either for ourselves or our guests, I thought I’d share a quick roundup of shows to visit in New York City.

CooperHewitt-DamianOrtega-Controller-of-the-Universe-photo-Fred-R-Conrad
1. Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

(Upper East Side)

The Cooper-Hewitt reopened this week after an extensive three-year renovation. In reimagining itself and what a museum can be for 21st century visitors, it serves as an experimental lab for all cultural institutions. Based on recent reviews (here and here), it seems to be loaded with innovation and opportunities for hands-on interaction with objects, design, and even rooms. It will, of course, be packed – we all want to visit – but go anyway, and then stroll down the street to the Neue Galerie for a restorative lunch.

Egon-Schiele-Self-Portrait-1911-NeueGalerie
2. Egon Schiele: Portraits

Neue Galerie (Upper East Side)
Until January 19, 2015

The Neue Galerie is one of my favorite museums in New York City. Housed in a mansion across from Central Park, the museum focuses on early twentieth-century German and Austrian art and design. Visiting is always a serene experience: the building’s small scale means the exhibitions are a manageable size, the curatorial approach celebrates both intellectual and visual engagement, and the well-regarded restaurant, Café Sabarsky, provides an elegant respite from gallery gazing.

I visited the Schiele show last month; while he is not my favorite artist, the show makes a compelling case for his significance in introducing modernism into portraiture. What surprised me was that he died at such a young age (at 28, of Spanish Flu); his artistic renown is such that I had envisioned a much older artist.

Fernand-Leger-Composition-1918-Metropolitan-Museum-of-Art
3. Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection

Metropolitan Museum of Art
(Upper East Side)
Until February 15, 2015

This show is a master class in Cubist art. Collector Leonard A. Lauder has promised these paintings, drawings, and sculpture (81 works in all) to the museum. The gift is a game-changer for the museum and a really interesting example of philanthropy: the collection was meticulously built by Lauder with a future bequest in mind. He has said, “Many people collect to possess. I collect to preserve, and no sooner do I have a collection put together than I am looking for a home for it in a public institution.”*

Give yourself time with this best-in-class show, and definitely get the audio guide. There’s a lot to see and learn, and it’s much easier and more interesting with the guide.

Met-Museum-Death-Becomes-Her-Princess-Alexandra-Half-Mourning-Gown-1
While you are at the Met, pop downstairs to the Costume Institute to see Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire, which I wrote about here. This small show displays mourning fashion and includes wonderful quotes on the trial and tribulations of maintaining a mourning wardrobe. Through February 1, 2015.

Verdura-Hippo
4. The Power of Style: Verdura at 75

Verdura (5th & 57th)
Until December 23, 2014

Just two weeks left to see this dazzling show of gem-encrusted jewels and objets. Read my take here.

Matisse-Memory-of-Oceana-1953
5. Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs

MoMA (Midtown)
Until February 8, 2015

A beautiful, happy show. The stained glass window above, Nuit de Noel, was made for a Christmas display in Rockefeller Center in 1953. The show is well worth seeing despite the hordes of visitors that will be there alongside you; again, take advantage of the audio guide to get the most out of the show and quiet the distractions around you. Read my full write-up here; tickets can and should be purchased in advance.

Chris-Ofili-Night-and-Day-Installation-View-New-Museum
6. Chris Ofili: Night and Day

The New Museum (Downtown)
Until January 25, 2015

This mid-career survey of Chris Ofili’s work left me eager to see what he does next. Ofili may be familiar to you from his first appearance on the art scene in New York City back in the 90’s, when then-Mayor Rudy Guiliani momentarily lost his mind over the fact that Ofili’s painting (on view in a group show at the Brooklyn Museum) incorporated elephant dung. Mind you, it was basically fossilized dung combined with resin, i.e. barely dung at all, as we think of it, but Guiliani’s sense of decency was so offended that he tried to pull all state funding from the Brooklyn Museum. As a result of this brouhaha, I learned about Ofili for the first time and have been interested in him ever since. You know the saying…there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

This show displays some the same series of paintings that were shown in Brooklyn as well as later works, and along the way we see Ofili exploring history, mythology and folklore. I was glad to learn about his process (start with something small each day before moving into the studio to work on the large-scale works) but enjoyed following his thinking, and seeing how he chooses to visualize it, the most.

Kara-Walker-Candy-Factory-2014
7. Kara Walker: Afterword
Sikkema Jenkins & Co. (Chelsea)
Until January 17, 2015

Kara Walker’s installation of the Sugar Sphinx at the Domino Sugar Factory was one of my favorite shows of 2014, as you can tell from my review. With this exhibition Walker shares preparatory sketches for the installation, reactions to how the public experienced the Sugar Sphinx (she was filming the show) and also introduces new works, including video, that relate to the themes introduced by the Sphinx. I am really looking forward to seeing this show myself.

Ellis-Island-Hospital-Building-with-Tree-photo-Tony-Sweet
8. “Hard Hat Tour” of Unrestored Hospital Buildings on Ellis Island

Ellis Island
Year-round

The weather may not be ideal for this one, but this new tour of Ellis Island’s abandoned hospital buildings sounds like an offbeat, potentially spooky adventure that is just a ferry ride away. According the site “Guided tours will take you to select areas such as the mortuary and autopsy room in the 750-bed Ellis Island Hospital Complex… At the time, this was the largest Public Health Facility in the United States.” Perfect for those who need a more active outing, and a great opportunity to use those photography skills. Tickets must be purchased in advance.

What would you add to this list?

 

Note: Leonard Lauder quote can be found here.

Review | The Power of Style: Verdura at 75

Verdura-Elephant-Brooch-c1957-photo-Jewels-du-Jour

This is not so much a review as it is a public service announcement for anyone who appreciates fine jewelry: Verdura is celebrating its 75th anniversary with a gorgeous exhibition of over 200 privately owned pieces that is on view for just two more weeks in New York City. I am sorry that I am only telling you about it now, but better late than never. Tickets are free and can be booked in advance here.

Verdura-Snail-and-Cherub-Brooches-1968-photo-credit-Jewels-du-Jour

Verdura, founded by Duke Fulco di Verdura, opened on Fifth Avenue in New York City on September 1, 1939 – the same day that Germany invaded Poland, the event that began World War II. While it may not have been an auspicious time to launch a luxury brand in the United States (or anywhere), Verdura thrived.

Already famous for his collaborations with Coco Chanel in Paris, Verdura opened the New York showroom with the backing of friends Cole Porter and Vincent Astor and a full roster of society and Hollywood clientele. Pictured above are Chanel’s famous Maltese Cross cuffs (1930) which you can see her wearing in the Man Ray portrait on the left. Chanel commissioned one-of-a-kind fine jewelry from Verdura which she then used as inspiration for costume jewelry  for her own line.

Verdura-Wrapped-Heart-Brooch-1949

Brooch, 1949. Commissioned by Tyrone Powers for his wife Annalisa. He reportedly wanted to give her his “heart, wrapped up in diamonds.”

The show, The Power of Style: Verdura at 75, is displayed across five small galleries that highlight Verdura’s creative drive and inventive design aesthetic. Here’s what stands out about Verdura for me:

A modern design aesthetic
Verdura’s designs are total departure from the platinum-and-diamond Art Deco aesthetic in vogue in the early twentieth century. His pieces exude warmth, whimsy, and fun, and celebrate the natural world with designs for flora and fauna, among other motifs.

Verdura-Hippo

Openness to new materials, shapes, and techniques
Vedura’s designs were brought life by an inventive use of materials. The materials – gemstones and precious metals – served the design, which is very different from a material-driven design, where a piece might be designed simply to showcase the gems. He worked with gold (not platinum), integrating it into designs appropriate for both day and night, and introduced colored stones while other jewelers were still working almost exclusively with diamonds.

Elegant whimsy
Verdura’s brand of luxury was not austere or serious, meant for special occasions only. He created custom pieces that were mini-spectacles – fun to wear, fun to see, and fun to talk about – that could be worn day or night. This seems very modern to me; Verdura designed personal adornments and objects for a world that was becoming less formal and more public, two trends that remain with us today in the beginning of the twenty-first century.

The Verdura archive holds approximately 10,000 original designs, of which only one-third have been produced thus far. What makes this massive holding even more extraordinary is that Verdura, who did not sell multiples of his designs, would apparently “throw away designs once his creations were complete.” The designs pictured here were saved from the trash by a former employee.

This emerald necklace was originally designed in 1941 for Dorothy Hearst Paley Hirshon, who had purchased emeralds in Russia while traveling. She asked Verdura to turn them into a necklace appropriate for day wear which meant without diamonds. The resulting “Scarf” Necklace alone is worth visiting this show. I love the play here; the fluid, draping form of a necklace mimics the liquid-y form of a scarf, but is made of solid stones! Seen here it looks sculptural, but imagine how each stone would have shifted slightly when the necklace was worn, catching the light and reflecting the wearer’s movement.

Apparently Verdura, “never chose his materials for their value or fashion, he chose them for the colors and shapes that complemented his designs” and I think these shell brooches exemplify that philosophy. He would buy the shells inexpensively at the Museum of Natural History and then adorn them in his studio; the mix of high and low delighted him.

Verdura-Lily-of-the-Valley-BroochSpeaking of unusual materials, isn’t this Lily of the Valley brooch delightful? Perhaps lovelier than the original version. Commissioned by Minnie Cushing Astor Fosburgh (one of the three famous Cushing sisters, along with Babe and Betsey), the original version featured the milk teeth of little Astors in place of the pearls. A mother’s love really does know no bounds.

Verdura-Dali-Medusa-Brooch-1941

Verdura was probably not daunted by the milk teeth; he was an innovator, open to inspiration and collaboration where he found it. In 1941 he launched a surrealist-inspired jewelery collection with Salvador Dali which included the Medusa Brooch pictured above.

This tiara was designed in 1957 for Betsey Cushing Whitney. Her husband, John Hay Whitney, was the newly appointed Ambassador to the Court of St. James, and protocol dictated that he and his wife be formally presented to Queen Elizabeth II. Verdura designed the tiara with the event and context in mind, drawing on Native American motifs to create this elegant piece.

Verdura-with-Scottie-Dog-at-Paley-Estate-Kiluna-Farm-Long-Island
Many pictures exist of Verdura at work or hobnobbing with famous clients, but I wanted to include this relaxed one of the jeweler chatting with a cute Scottie poolside at Kiluna Farm, the Paley estate on Long Island. Just below are a selection of the miniature paintings Verdura painted throughout his life. Subjects include land and seascapes, still lives, animals and interior scenes. Creatives need to create, and Verdura’s creative drive was clearly present in his leisure pursuits as well.

In honor of its 75th Anniversary, Verdura has re-issued select designs (including the emerald scarf necklace and the lion’s paw brooches) and debuted some new ones based on the firm’s extensive design archive. I can think of exactly no one who wouldn’t enjoy receiving this Cabochon Cluster bracelet:

Verdura-Basket-Cuff-Bracelet-photo-Quintessence

Photo via Quintessence

The Night and Day cufflinks, based on Cole Porter’s song of the same name, are classics and come in an earring version too:

Verdura-Night-and-Day-Cufflinks-2014Too small? Perhaps the Tiara Feather Bracelet, based on the design for the Whitney Tiara, would suit instead:

Verdura-Tiara-Feather-Bracelet-2014Alas, you probably cannot have this wonderful Pinecone Brooch, designed on the occasion of Verdura’s 70th Anniversary in 2009. Just one was made and “it took two years to research and eight months to make the brooch. A team of jewelers assembled 39 pieces of gold and platinum, and 10.27 carats of round-cut diamonds to create a pinecone slightly smaller than the original. To make the scales, artisans used tools coated on the inside with soft copper to protect the surface.”

Verdura-Pinecone-2009-photo-Christopher-Griffith

I know that having read this post you feel as if you’ve seen the show, but trust me you have not. Unlike many of the shows I cover, this exhibition is almost entirely made up of jewelry and objects that are privately owned which means most of these pieces will disappear from view once the show concludes on December 23, 2014. Book your tickets here and enjoy the show!

Update: the exhibition was showcased recently on CBS Sunday morning. Watch the six-minute video segment here.

Resources | A 4-step plan for learning about art (or anything) online

Header

How can we make better use of our time online, and use the internet in a focused way to learn about and discover things that truly interest us? I touched on this question last month during a presentation to arts educators in the Arlington, Virginia public school system, and thought it might be useful to post some of my suggestions here. Read on for top tips for learning about art, or anything, online.

Do note that for every resource or app I mention, alternatives exist. Likewise, the museums and galleries referenced below are larger ones with the wherewithal to invest in educational content. Smaller venues hold treasures as well and should be explored. My plan will evolve over time, and yours should too. Here goes:

1. Choose your favorite online channels (social media)

With few exceptions, any person, place, or publication with an online presence is online everywhere. By everywhere, I mean that you will find them on their website, via their email newsletter, and on many of the social media channels that exist, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. This is good news for readers because it means that following your favorites couldn’t be easier. The content is available to you in whatever platform you prefer.

Confused about the differences between social media channels? Here is a chart that summarizes how the audience differs between channels. And here is a handy guide to how create appropriate content for each channel.

2. Choose your favorite efficiency tools (apps)

I use two free apps to help streamline and save content: an rss reader, Feedly, and a “read it later” app called Pocket.

Feedly is a content aggregator that you are able to customize with rss feeds. The result is a single screen that lists the headlines of every website you’ve added as soon as they are posted. Currently I have about 80 feeds programmed into Feedly; there is no way I would be able to scan the same information on a daily basis without this app.

What about articles that you read or see online that you’d like to consult later? If you are still compiling links in a draft email or downloading pdf’s in order to save articles, I recommend switching to Pocket. This app, by means of an icon in your browser bar, lets you save articles from anywhere online for future reference. Pocket is integrated with Feedly, which means that if you’d like to save an article that you read in Feedly you have the option within the Feedly app to save the article to Pocket.

Note that Feedly and its ilk all have a “save to read later” function built in, but I prefer to have everything saved to a single location for efficiency’s sake.

3. Choose your favorite resources

Primary Sources

  • The online real estate of museums and galleries, populated with original content produced or curated in-house.
  • Note that museums have upped their online game lately and are now creating micro sites for bigger shows. Example: Italian Futurism show at the Guggenheim Museum.

Mainstream Media

  • Newspapers and magazines (arts sections). Examples: New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York Observer, Artnews.
  • Remember, you can follow these sections in many ways. The Los Angeles Times arts section, Culture Monster, also maintains a robust Twitter presence.

Independent Media

Individual journalists, bloggers & artists

  • Pick your favorites and follow them on Twitter – it is one of the best online venues for starting conversations with interesting people you might like to know. Examples: @Lafeeculturelle blogs about contemporary art in London & Paris. @TylerGreenDC produces the weekly Modern Art Notes podcast. @AndrewRusseth writes about contemporary art and art history. @Hragv is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Hyperallergic.

PR Firms

4. Put it all together, and check in regularly

Once you’ve populated your social media channel(s) and apps with resources, you need only check in regularly to stay in the know. Here’s what I do:

  • Seasonal scan of “best of” guides for the arts. I put shows of interest on my calendar. Examples: Newspapers and regional magazines (ie: New York Magazine) all have Fall & Spring Previews
  • Seasonal scan of museum & gallery sites for upcoming shows; these are also calendared.
  • Daily scan of my Feedly account
  • Daily scans of Twitter if/when I have a free minute

That’s it! It is so much easier to stay on top of things when the information comes straight to you, don’t you think?

Veterans Day | Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red

Poppies-TowerofLondon-Chelsea-Pensioner

Today is Veterans Day in the United States, a day that is no longer as well-recognized or publicly commemorated as it once was in this country. In honor of Veterans Day, I am sharing pictures of a remarkable art installation at the Tower of London: Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red.*

TowerofLondon-with-Poppies

Marking the centenary of England and the Commonwealth’s participation in World War I, 888,246 ceramic poppies – representing each British soldier killed during the war – have been “planted” in the moat of the Tower of London over the last few months. November 10 was to have been the final day, but the installation has proven so popular with the visiting public that a reprieve has been granted.

Poppies-TowerofLondon-QueenElizabeth

Poppies-Crowds-Tower-of-London

The individual poppies were available for purchase by the public, with part of the proceeds going to charities that provide support services for the armed forces.  The installation itself is so moving that it has inspired smaller memorials from visitors who have placed their personal remembrances on the fence surrounding the moat.

Poppies-TowerofLondon-Tribute-Cpl-Thomas-William-Belton

Poppies-TowerofLondon-Tributes-on-Fence

Poppies-TowerofLondon-Rain

Each poppy is handmade and therefore unique, as wonderfully individual as each one of the veterans commemorated by this installation.

Poppies-TowerofLondon-workshop

Tall-poppy-close-up-TowerofLondon

Poppies-TowerofLondon-photo-DanKitwood-for-Getty-Images

Poppies-at-night-TowerofLondon-2-photo-by-Nick-Harvey-REX

The gap between those who serve in the armed forces and the rest of us at home who just glimpse war on TV seems awfully wide these days. Wouldn’t it be nice if the United States veterans were represented by a project of similar scale and impact?

 

* The title is taken from a poem of the same name that was written during World War I. Read the full text here.

 

Review | Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire

Met-Museum-Death-Becomes-Her-Mourning-Gown-Moire

If you’ve ever worn a uniform, you know the appeal of fashion rules. The absence of sartorial choice can be a great relief, especially during the bewilderment of grief. And, really, what could be simpler than putting on a black outfit and turning to more important matters?

If only it were so easy. Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire, on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, shows that dressing for respectable mourning in the nineteenth-century was anything but simple. Grief, like so much else during this period, was codified into a set of socially acceptable behaviors and rituals and, as a result, the private mourning process became a public measure of social status.

Death-Becomes-Her-Met-Museum-Gallery-View

The thirty ensembles on display are a vision of black. From a modern perspective, they look dark, goth, edgy and mysterious, which is a big part of the show’s allure. Here are some other considerations to keep in mind:

Mourning was women’s work.
It fell to the women to adhere to the proscribed mourning rituals. Her comportment represented the entire family from both a social and economic perspective. She was responsible for outfitting every family member in appropriate mourning wear. While husbands and children wore mourning as well, all eyes were on her, following her progress from the initial gowns of heavy black matte crape through to later ensembles of silks and secondary colors.

Mourning was expensive.
Mourning could be a matter of months or years, requiring entirely new wardrobes for each member of the family. “Those who could not afford the change of dress often altered and dyed their regular garments black. The amount of black to be worn was dictated by several different phases of mourning; full mourning ensembles were solid black while half mourning allowed the wearer to add a small amount of white or purple.”* Half mourning signified a subsiding of grief and preparedness to rejoin the world.

advert-1876-link-to-graces-guide

Mourning was lucrative.
Mourning was firmly established as a ritual in the nineteenth century. The emergence of a middle class striving for upward mobility in this period brought with it an insatiable desire for guidance on proper deportment and dress in all matters, including mourning. New businesses sprung up to capitalize on this demand, from mourning jewelry to fabric mills specializing in production of mourning crape, and ultimately to emporiums like Jay’s Mourning Warehouse. Read more about Jay’s here.

Death-Becomes-Her-Met-Museum-Gallery-View-2

Mourning chafed.
While formalized mourning could serve a useful purpose, such as actually helping to process grief, or even, as noted in one memorable quote, eliminating the need to advertise for a husband, it was constraining. Expense aside, it went on too long, often outlasting any true feelings of grief and restricting social engagement.

Mourning attire could be chic.
Black dye was expensive, so clothing of this color signified success and chic long before twenty-first century urbanites adopted it as a daily uniform. Fashionable mourning attire incorporated up to date silhouettes and ornamentation. Believe it or not, because these elegant sequined evening gowns above are in the proscribed half mourning colors of mauve and grey they are considered entirely appropriate. Note: the photo on the left, taken in the gallery, show the colors of these gowns might have appeared in the lighting of the time.

Mourning-Gown-1-Queen-Victoria-Met-Museum-2014
A royal standard for mourning.
No discussion of mourning would be complete without mention of  England’s Queen Victoria, whose public expression of grief for her beloved husband, Prince Albert, set the standard for all others to follow. This dress is just one from what must have been her considerable mourning trousseau: Victoria wore mourning attire for forty years, from the time of Alberts death in 1861 until her own in 1901. Formalized mourning was on the decline in the early part of the twentieth-century and effectively came to an end with the Great War (World War I).

Visitor Experience
This elegant show lends itself to contemplation. The ensembles are chronologically arranged in one large gallery. The mannequins are set in the center of the gallery in groupings that add depth and contrast to each ensemble. The wall space is used to display projected quotes from the time period that reflect real attitudes towards mourning attire. Every so often the quotes change, offering new context for each display. A smaller gallery displays jewelry, mourning artwork, and period magazine commentary.

It’s too bad that more investment has not been made into an exhibition website. The information online is cursory, yet many of the ensembles are from the museum’s own collection so there is no reason for them not to be included individually as links on the exhibition site. This is the Costume Institute’s first Fall show in some time so perhaps the leaner approach was intentional. But it reads more as an out-of-character oversight from a museum that is usually so generous and comprehensive with its online resources. [Update: I found a more comprehensive page of ensembles by searching for “Gallery 980″ if you are curious.]

Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire delivers an impressive depth of information and beauty in a small package. It’s so nice to view a smart show that is not exhausting to visit. See it at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through February 1, 2015.

 

Photo credits: 
Photo of 2 sequined evening gowns by Daphne Nash
All other photos © The Metropolitan Museum of Art