CURATOR'S CHOICE SM
Museums and Exhibitions in New York City and Vicinity
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CONTENTS, March 2004
Caricature of Glenn Loney
by Sam Norkin.Focus on the Soul: The Photographs of Lotte JacobiAt the Metropolitan MuseumEchoing Images: Couples in African SculptureAt the Dahesh MuseumStaging the Orient: Visions of the East at La Scala & the Metropolitan OperaAt the Asia SocietyParadise Now? Contemporary Art from the PacificAt the Guggenheim MuseumBoccioni's Materia: A Futurist Masterpiece and the Avant-garde in Milan & ParisSingular Forms (Sometimes Repeated)At the New York Botanical GardenThe Orchid Show & The New Visitors' Center & ShopAt the Brooklyn Museum of ArtNew Post-Modernist Entrance Being Readied for OpeningAt the Jewish Museum
Focus on the Soul: The Photographs of Lotte Jacobi
LOTTE JACOBI'S LOTTE LENYA!
Photo: ©Lotte Jacobi Archives/Univ of New Hampshire.[Closing April 11, 2004]Not to be missed are the remarkable photo-portraits of Lotte Jacobi now on view in the magnificent Felix Warburg mansion on Fifth Avenue. In a time when it was unusual for women to make careers as photographers—especially in Europe—Jacobi came by her profession almost naturally.Jacobi's great-grandfather was one of the first men in Eastern Europe to foresee the future made possible by Louis Daguerre's new invention. Instructed & licensed by the inventor himself, he returned to practice his new trade in Prussia. In 1927, Jacobi took over the family studio in Berlin from her father.She soon found herself making portraits of most of the influential figures in the innovative arts explosions of the Weimar Republic. Poets, playwrights, painters, philosophers, dancers, film-makers, actors, political activists: all sat for her lenses. Because she knew them and empathized with their works & ideas, she was able to create some of the most sympathetic & powerful photos of these people and this period, especially in Berlin. She attended rehearsals and premieres; Jacobi and her cameras were everywhere.But, instead of memorializing the Great Men & Women of her time, she disclosed their human, vulnerable spirits and hearts.When the rise of the Nazis forced her to flee Berlin for New York, she was soon in the center of the cultural ferment created by the sudden rush of European cultural & racial refugees—just as she was in Berlin. Among her memorable portraits is a charming shot of Lotte Lenya, as well as a suite of photographs of Albert Einstein at ease in his home. These were commissioned by LIFE Magazine, but were not used as they did not show Einstein as The Greatest Scientific Mind of the Age.Later, Jacobi made some wonderful experiments with objects and light directly exposed on photographic print-paper, totally without lens or camera. These are known as "photogenics," and are sensuous abstractions, quite different from her previous work.When Jacobi was still in Berlin, her fame was so well established that she and the American photo-journalist Margaret Bourke-White were the only two women photographers to be invited to make pictures in Soviet Union. Among her revelations of Soviet life before the Stalinist Purges began are some unsettling visions of ordinary people in the streets. And in Soviet Asia, Jacobi photographed the tall dark shadow of the Tower of Death looming over the market-place of Bukhara. Unfortunates—convicted under harsh Muslim Shariah Law—were thrown to their deaths from the top of this minaret/watch-tower. That was, of course, before the advent of Soviet Communism in Asia. With the conquest of Communism, they would be sent to Siberian Gulags…At the Metropolitan Museum
Echoing Images: Couples in African Sculpture
AFRICAN COUPLINGS--Chieftan's Throne from Cameroons with Male & Female figures.
Photo: Courtesy Met Museum/2004.[Closing September 5, 2004]
In the Central Court of the Michael Rockefeller Wing at the Met Museum, some 60 twinned-works from 28 African cultures are now on display. These images are variously worked in wood, clay, beads, and metal.
And though they are often considered artworks outside Africa—naive or brut, compared with Western creations—few, if any, of the objects in this show were consciously fashioned for aesthetic contemplation. They are primarily Ritual & Functional—functional, for they fulfill traditional demands and obligations of both the Gods & Society. Nonetheless, the Met refers to the objects as demonstrating: "a dynamic range of artistic commentaries on human duality."The most imposing of the duos is the Primordial Couple, a Dogon pairing of a male and female which may date from the 16th century. The centrality and the necessity of the coupling of Male & Female in African cultures—as everywhere else, as well—is repeatedly invoked in many of the matched-sets.One group of twinned figures, however, is not always gender-opposites. These are the Ibedjis of the Yoruba Peoples in Nigeria. They are sets of small wooden figures which may be boy-girl, but can as well be boy-boy or girl-girl. These are not Fertility Figures, in the way that most of the other couples in this show are.It is a genetic peculiarity of the Yoruba that an abnormally high number of twin-births occur. Unfortunately, until fairly recently—with the advent of modern medical & sanitary provisions for childbirth and post-partum care—there was also an abnormally high rate of infant deaths among the twins. In fact, the noted Yoruba artist and musician, Twins Seven-Seven, is the only surviving twin of seven sets of twins his mother bore. When I was in the heart of Yorubaland in 1972, I was able to visit him and obtain one of his distinctive artworks.The twins are carved to the order of the bereaved family. They are clothed and decked with necklaces. They are placed in a house-shrine, with offerings of food & flowers placed before their images. This is not merely a pious demonstration of the family's sadness at their too-early-deaths. Any twins are believed to be gods who have come down to earth. When they die in childbirth or soon after, it's thought they were not pleased with the family or the tribe, so their spirits must be placated—and urged to return in future births.When I was traveling around in Nigeria, not only did I meet Twins Seven-Seven, but I also was able to acquire my own set of twins. A Trader from Dahomey—now Benin—came by our house in Lagos with a suitcase filled with necklaces, carved ivory divining-pointers, various ritual objects, and a remarkable set of Ibedjis. These were given me in exchange for some American clothing.Because it was against Nigerian law to take such historic or cultural patrimony out of the country without permission, I brought my twins to Dr. Ekpo Eyo, Director of the Nigerian National Museum in Lagos. He had already permitted me to photograph its extensive ethnic collections, so I assumed obtaining an export license would be a mere formality. On the contrary: he had never seen Ibedjis with the distinctive blue-tinted hair-styles on both twin-heads. He offered me my choice of any of the 5,000 pairs of Ibedjis in museum-storage, all of which had varied but fairly common tribal hairstyles.This made my twins all the more special to me, so I begged to keep them. In the event, I had to leave them behind for photographing and documentation. Six months later, a British friend—who had been working at the museum—called me from London to let me know she'd brought out my twins, and I could pick them up on my next trip to Britain.When I brought the Twins to Manhattan, I wrote about them and this adventure for Smithsonian magazine. The Managing Editor asked his old friend and longtime LIFE photographer, Eliot Elisofon, to take some shots of them for my report. Eliot promised me a color-print, but he died shortly after, so I never got it. His brother later told me I could have a print for $5,000! But I decided I could make my own Ibedji portraits.So check out the Met's Ibedjis! You can't own them, but you can look…At the Dahesh Museum
Staging the Orient: Visions of the East at La Scala & the Metropolitan Opera
SPLENDOR IN MILAN--La Scala's 1892 set-design for long-forgotten opera, Rodope.
Photo: Courtesy Museo Teatrale alla Scala, Milan/2004.[Closing May 30, 2004]Opera-lovers—as well as art-lovers—will want to explore the treasures now on view at the Dahesh Museum on Madison Avenue. Not only have the Archives of Milan's La Scala and Manhattan's Metropolitan Opera been plundered for outstanding set & costume designs for major operas with a Middle Eastern or Asian Theme, but so have the archives of Columbia University Library, where the drawings and models of the noted Viennese artist/designer Joseph Urban are preserved.Urban—already famed for his Jugendstil designs in Vienna—brought his unique gifts for Art Nouveau renderings to New York City. He designed for the Ziegfeld Follies as well as for the Met & Broadway. The wonderful but wantonly destroyed Ziegfeld Theatre on Sixth Avenue was an Urban design. He also designed a new Met for Rockefeller Center, but the onset of the Depression gave New Yorkers Radio City Music Hall instead. Urban's most impressive New York architecture—the Hearst Building, on Eighth Avenue & 57th—is now nothing but a three-sided shell. A Post-post-Modernist high-rise horror will soon sprout from its remains.But Urban's Orientalism is only one aspect in this eclectic display of varied artistic visions of China, Japan, India, and points West. Designs range from the late 18th century to the present, but they also help emphasize the aesthetic connections between La Scala and the Metropolitan. There are even two large models of La Scala: one the handsome neo-classic exterior and the other showing the fabulous Golden Horseshoe of the historic Milan auditorium.Even though the Dahesh concentrates on masterpieces of 19th & early 20th century salon & academic artwork, its spacious new Madison Avenue venue invites showpieces which are not limited to two-dimensional art or to sculptures. So—in addition to the opera-house models, there are sturdy set-models for major operas and some works now largely forgotten. When was the last time you saw The King of Lahore? As that fabled Moghul capital is now in Pakistan, you won't be seeing it or the opera any time soon…Set-designs and set-models are interesting. But what goes on inside the settings is surely more important. So there are a number of handsome and very colorful opera costumes on display as well. Cecil Beaton's glittering costume for Birgit Nilsson in the Met's Turandot is a high point.As you move through this exhibition—noting in passing some beautiful period illustrations of the Middle East & the Orient—you can also hear the arias and choruses of some of the great operas which celebrate such distant places. Aida is not to be idly dismissed! Nor Turandot or Butterfly… Franco Zeffirelli's film of Turandot will also be shown in the Dahesh's auditorium.In all, there are some 200 works on paper, as well as 20 costumes, and of course the models. This show was initially limited to La Scala and shown in Amsterdam at the Van Gogh Museum.The possible connexion between La Scala and Van Gogh remains a riddle. But the connection of Oriental Opera Art with the Dahesh is easy to establish. Some of the most impressive of academic paintings featured Turkish Harems, Egyptian Ruins, and Rajasthani Palaces. Relive those thrilling days of yesteryear at the Dahesh!At the Asia Society
Paradise Now? Contemporary Art from the Pacific
PARADISE NOW?--Shane Cotton's metaphoric Needlework.
Photo: Courtesy Asia Society/2004.
[Closing May 9, 2004]Art from the Antipodes—which of course includes the Continent of Australia—whether ancient or modern, is not well known in the Americas. Australian Aborigine Dreamtime bark-paintings are perhaps the most familiar—and the Asia Society recently showed some impressive examples of this art.Now the emphasis is on New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, and upon modern creations, rather than historic museum-pieces. Nonetheless, Maori artistic traditions—including tattooing—live on in contemporary works from New Zealand, even in video-installations.The questioning title of this show suggests that the South Pacific is not the Paradise many imagine it to be. There are environmental, population, immigration, ethnic, tribal, and economic issues of real concern, some of which are addressed—or inspired by—artworks in this exhibition.This show is the first in the US to introduce 15 leading contemporary artists from such exotic spots as Fiji, Samoa, New Caledonia, Niue, and even Hawaii. In fact, the exploitation of the island of Hawaii as a Tourist Paradise is artistically satirized in Historic Waikiki, an amusing multi-media production—with its own website.The Lord of the Rings has certainly introduced the World to New Zealand's natural paradise, but it was no showcase for modern island art, Maori or otherwise. The Asia Society's lobby is filled with 15 big fiberglass figures of a Maori security-guard. This multi-image is the work of Michael Parekowhai and is titled—all 15 of them—as KapaHaka.Fascinating fetish-filled canvases by New Zealand's Shane Cotton looked familiar to me. Then I realized I'd seen some of his haunting work in galleries in Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth. Other challenging artists in the show include Ruth Watson, John Ioane, John Pule, Ken Thaiday, Peter Preyer, Nicki Hastings-McFall, and Denise Tiavouane.
At the Guggenheim Museum
Boccioni's Materia: A Futurist Masterpiece and the Avant-garde in Milan & Paris[Closing May 9, 2004]In itself, Umberto Boccioni's powerful painting of his mother—Materia—comes close to the turmoil & spirituality of a dynamic Crucifixion in its turbulent Cubist/Futurist geometries. The immense folded hands—extended from a darkly bulked body, beneath a fractured face—suggest not so much peace & resignation as they do strength & life-experience waiting to be unleashed.This small but visually & theoretically potent show offers examples of the developments in Parisian Cubism which influenced—but did not importantly alter—Boccioni as the foremost Italian apostle of Futurism in the arts. For Boccioni—as for Futurism's Prophet, Marinetti—the arts were important in advancing and popularizing the Futurists' almost fanatic embrace of Modernist technologies and new social modalities.Speed & streamlining were of the essence—unfortunately pointing toward Modern War Machines and Mussolini's Fascism—but the distinctive visual deconstruction of object and motion developed in Cubism served very well for suggesting a series of sequential movements in some of Boccioni's paintings. Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase is similar to some of Boccioni's celebrations of turbulent modern movement. It makes an important visual statement in this show.Even in Materia there is a very strong sense of billowing clouds, gusts of fire, raw power, machines in motion, even modern architectural forms. Boccioni has brought the teeming world of the Outside into his mother's room.Before Boccioni adopted Futurism—with a dash of Cubism—he was a Divisionist: Divided brush-strokes of colors which melded into an image from a distance. Similar to the effects of the Pointillisme of Seurat. His development as both theorist and painter is demonstrated in this fine show. But there are also important Paris canvases by Robert Delaunay, Juan Gris, Fernand Léger, Picasso, and Braque. Giacomo Balla's powerful Portrait of My Mother offers a brilliant balance to Boccioni's vision of his mother.
Singular Forms (Sometimes Repeated)
GUGGENHEIM'S SINGULAR FORMS--James Turrell, Afrum 1. 1967. Salomon R. Guggenheim Museum.[Closing May 19, 2004]The base of the Great Rotunda of Frank Lloyd's Wright's greatest Minimalist Sculpture—the Guggenheim Museum on Fifth Avenue—is handsomely furnished with Rachel Whiteread's translucent pastel plastic-resin semi-cubic forms. They are indeed singular forms, sometimes repeated. They also look like inviting places to sit and look up at the rotunda's great white Minimalist Spiral, with bits & pieces of Minimalist & Conceptualist sculpture & installations just visible over the spiral's sloping ramparts.But Real Art-Lovers Do Not Sit On The Works-of-Art!This is unfortunate—at least in the instance of Whiteread's 100 inviting forms—for reducing artworks to the barest of design essentials can provide the dividend of suggesting elemental practical uses for elemental constructions or conceptions. The concept of bolting two large porcelain-on-iron white wash-tubs to a white wall of the Guggenheim may well remind the viewer of the practical uses to which such tubs can be put.Art-Cynics could of course insist that this is merely a Marcel Duchamp knock-off of that enfant terrible's Concept of exhibiting a porcelain urinal on its side as a sculpture. But there is more to this Guggenheim installation than Duchamp offered a shocked public: You get two wash-tubs for the price of one!Actually, if one is to credit the curatorial explanation of Post-Minimalism, it is the very act of the viewer viewing the object or objects which "completes the work." It is—according to the Received Texts—only in the Actual Act of Viewing that "the implicit phenomenological aspects of Minimalist sculpture…become explicit."This means you really must go to the Guggenheim and study each of the works on display to give them the "completion"—and, perhaps, significance—they so obviously need.The sub-title of this subliminally titillating show is: Art from 1951 to the Present. The exhibition can be viewed [sic] as a paradigm—or even a Visual Metaphor—for everything that has gone wrong in Western Culture & Society since the Closure of World War II. Or, alternatively, this show may be seen as a chronological visual documentation of a Seismic Change in American Art & Life.Most of the canvases, constructions, objects, & installations on view are drawn from the Guggenheim's permanent collections. Some are by now ikons in their own right. Others suggest a kind of artistic desperation to find a new form, subject, material, idea, or technique to set them apart from other desperate Post-War artists. When you see some glowing fluorescent-tubes standing against a wall or strewn about the floor, you know this is a Dan Flavin Installation. If you see a white-on-white canvas, you are seldom wrong to ascribe it to Ad Reinhardt. Unless it is by one of his imitators…Among the Modern Masters on display are Brice Marden, Bruce Nauman, Ellsworth Kelly, Tony Smith, Agnes Martin, Walter De Maria, Frank Stella, Gerhard Richter, Richard Serra, Roni Horn, Glenn Ligon, Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, Robert Rauschenberg: All the Usual Suspects!Regular museum & gallery-goers have surely noticed in recent decades the Primacy of the Wall-Texts: The Curator As Creative Artist. This artistry can be practiced on classic masterpieces as well as on artworks which consist of little cones of colored sand. Feminist curators have raised this to a High Art. You can never look at a Ruebens nude in the same way after you have read a feminist wall-text about a buxom Flemish beauty.The curatorial materials for this new Guggenheim show explain that Conceptualist Art "…interrogate(s) the ontological category of art itself." Of Joseph Kosuth & Lawrence Weiner, it is noted that they have "shared in Minimalism's extreme reductionism. Eschewing the actual construction of objects in favor of written description, inquiry, and analysis, these artists extrapolated from the critical dimensions of Minimalism to create an essentially non-visual art form." Oh, so that's what it's all about…What this suggests is that, if you do not read their writings—or go to the Guggenheim to "complete the artworks" by looking at them—they will fail of their function as art.What does not fail is the massive spiraling interior of the Guggenheim Museum itself: A Singular Form Repeated in Descending/Ascending Curves! Its Minimalism eclipses—or engulfs entirely—the many Minimalist modernities strewn about it.At the New York Botanical Garden
The Orchid Show & The New Visitors' Center & Shop
NEW VISITORS' CENTER AT BOTANICAL GARDEN-[Orchids: Closing March 28, 2004]Even out-of-season, there's always something botanical and wonderful to see in the splendidly restored Enid Haupt Conservatory up in the Bronx. Orchids, thousands of them, are the Order of the Day in this fabulous Victorian Glass-Palace. Some of these blooms are Miniatures—which can be as small as one inch tall. And some are so large they look like near-relatives of Little House of Horrors' man-eating Audrey II.Did you know that vanilla comes from an orchid? If you find tiny black spots in real vanilla ice-cream, they are orchid seeds! You can glean such tidbits of information from the lucid plant-labels and often illustrated wall-texts in the Conservatory.But you can learn a lot more by buying one or more of the many handsome books & brochures now available in the bookshop of the New Visitor Center Pavilions. There are even some rare botanical books on sale. Fortunately, not from the NY Botanical Gardens' own impressive archival collections.In the new garden-shop, you can buy a wide variety of living orchids to take home with you. When the Pavilions open formally in April, there will be an outside shop featuring plants germinated or cloned from the Botanical Garden for your porch or yard. For the compulsive indoor/outdoor home-gardener, the shop features almost every kind of tool, glove, moisturizer, fertilizer, pot, or vase you could imagine. There is even a line of gardener's mitts called Fox-Gloves!At the recent press-preview of the new center, almost all of the four large modern structures at the Main Conservatory Gate were completed. As well as new landscaping for the three-acre-plus site. Architect Hugh Hardy was on had to discuss how he had met the needs of the public and of the Garden's administration & staff. He appears to have succeeded so handsomely that he might be in line for another Brendan Gill Award. I nominated him for that prestigious Municipal Art Society award—for the most important artistic contribution to New York City in a given year—for his ingenious restoration of David Belasco's historic New Victory Theatre on New 42nd Street. And he won!At the Brooklyn Museum of ArtNew Post-Modernist Entrance Being Readied for OpeningIt's just possible, however, that Hugh Hardy might have some strong competition for the Brendan Gill Award in 2004. James Polshek and his partners will certainly be harvesting kudos for his design of the new glass entrance and forecourt for the Brooklyn Museum of Art, as well as the reconformation and color-conformation of major exhibition areas.From the designs and the work now nearing completion, it's clear that the Museum's neo-classic McKim, Mead, & White facade will be enhanced, rather than diminished, by this handsome modern addition—which also encourages outdoor performances. Until 1934, the Eastern Parkway facade looked much as the Met Museum's does now: A great staircase rising to a portico with six Corinthian columns supporting a fako-greco pedimental frieze. Your Basic First National Bank—only bigger.Then someone got the idea to remove the steps so patrons could enter at the ground-level and head straight for the elevators. Few are eager, even now, to clamber up long flights of steps. During the Depression, it was a mitzvah to take the elevators. Unfortunately, this thoughtless demolition left the once-handsome museum facade with an ugly truncation below the noble columns. It looked savaged—for seven long decades.That will all officially be over on April 17, with OPEN! This is a gala weekend of exhibitions and events to celebrate the new plaza and entrance. Admission will be entirely free all weekend. On Saturday, April 18, the Museum will be open from 11 am to 11 pm. Arnold Lehman, the Museum's Artistic Director, who brought you Damien Hirst's sliced dead cows and Chris Ofili's Virgin Mary with an elephant-turd for a breast—has promised a two-day-long Brooklyn Block Party at the BMA. There will even be a Dance-Party in the spacious museum halls!Those fortunate enough to preview all this also had tours of the construction, the newly installed galleries, and the remarkably improved library facilities. As a frequent donor of art & science books to the BMA Library, this is a special interest of mine. Dierdre Lawrence, Principal Librarian and coordinator of research services, will be pleased to show you the library and help you with any research projects which relate to the Museum's collections. She will also be very grateful for donations of money and art-books to the library!Although the Brooklyn Museum is second only to the Metropolitan in its collections for the entire country, it ranks only #46 among American museums in endowment income.As the new plaza and entrance are only initial steps in the Master Plan for the new BMA in the 21st century, donations are needed not only to the Library. The goal for 2005 is to raise some $130 million for construction, endowment, & other capital projects. At present, there are some $103 million in pledges. But pledges are not hard cash, only the promise of it. Fortunately, the construction pledges have almost all been paid.If you want to contribute—or simply learn more about the Brooklyn Museum of Art and its collections and services—get online with: www.brooklynmusuem.org.Copyright © Glenn Loney 2004. No re-publication or broadcast use without proper credit of authorship. Suggested credit line: "Glenn Loney, Curator's Choice." 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