Art of the In-Between at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Every May, regular visitors to the Metropolitan Museum of Art know that one of the best exhibitions of the year is about to open –  the Costume Institute’s Spring Exhibition. The exhibition begins with a grand, star-studded gala. Famous musicians, actors, and public figures dress in festive attire inspired by that year’s exhibition theme, and then throughout the summer visitors flock to the museum to explore it. This year’s exhibition is a real treat, a fashion-based art exhibition that requires visitors to interrogate their own assumptions as their ideas of fashion are challenged. Titled Comme des Garçons – Art of the In-Between, the exhibition focuses on the avant-garde work of designer Rei Kawakubo.

Here’s the museum’s overview description of the exhibition (you can find the full exhibition guide here on the museum’s website.):

The galleries illustrate the designer’s revolutionary experiments in “in-betweenness”—the space between boundaries. Objects are organized into nine aesthetic expressions of interstitiality in Kawakubo’s work: Absence/Presence, Design/Not Design, Fashion/Anti-Fashion, Model/Multiple, Then/Now, High/Low, Self/Other, Object/Subject, and Clothes/Not Clothes. Kawakubo breaks down the imaginary walls between these dualisms, exposing their artificiality and arbitrariness.

There are approximately 140 designs in the exhibition, making it a feast for the eyes. I’ve included photos of some of the designs below, with notes about what aesthetic themes they are associated with. As you can see, there is a real range of ideas represented in Kawakubo’s work.

First, we have Object/Subject:

This one is Good Taste/Bad Taste:

Here, we have Elite Culture/Popular Culture:

Now, Male/Female:

This striking piece is an example of Fact/Fiction:

And this one is War/Peace:

I love the contrasts between these next two, labeled Beautiful/Grotesque:

And finally, ending with my favorite gallery in the exhibition, Order/Chaos:

Comme des Garçons – Art of the In-Between is open to the public through September 4, 2017, so there is still plenty of time to see the full exhibition in person.

Touring an Assyrian Palace at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Since the recent announcement of the travel ban here in the United States, a number of museums in New York City have found several ways to show dissent or show solidarity with people from the seven countries affected by the ban. For example, the Museum of Modern Art has a special exhibition of art by Muslim artists from the countries included in the travel ban. The Museum of the City of New York has focused on curating images of activism in the city, such as the use of the #activistny hashtag on Instagram, as part of an ongoing exhibition titled Activist New York. MCNY also has a new photography exhibition opening soon titled Muslim in New York.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a rich collection of art from Muslim countries, as well as other art from the ancient world that comes from the countries included in the ban. The Met programming has been more subtle than other NYC museums in this respect, but there is always great art on display from the ancient Middle East and historical Islamic world. And the museum regularly offers a tour of those galleries called Arts of the Islamic World.

Today, I thought I would take you on a tour of one of my favorite galleries in this part of the museum, Gallery 401. This gallery present carved stone reliefs from the palace of Ashurnasirpal II, who ruled over the Assyrian empire (located in modern-day Iraq) from 883 to 859 B.C. Although the reliefs from a variety of locations within the palace originally, they are displayed as a single reception room with a high ceiling.

The first thing you are likely to notice as you enter the room are the statues on either side of the entrance – a winged bull and a winged lion, each with human heads.

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There are also some magnificent reliefs along the other walls of the room. Here is just a sample of what you will see.

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Although this isn’t a great photo of the reliefs, I thought the view of the group tour would give a better sense of the size of the room and the art.

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If you get the chance to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I recommend that you explore this gallery in person – it’s worth the visit. The museum is located on Fifth Avenue at East 82nd Street.

Kerry James Marshall at the Met Breuer

One of the wonderful things about art is that it offers so many different perspectives of the human experience. As an art lover, I appreciate that museums in recent years have worked to make art offerings more inclusive, allowing visitors to be exposed to those different perspectives. That is one reason why one of the current exhibitions at Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Met Breuer annex excites me. The exhibition, titled Mastry, offers almost 80 works by African-American artist Kerry James Marshall. Mastry covers two full floors of the Met Breuer building, and the artwork reflects Marshall’s unique perspectives of African-American life.

I found this description, taken from the museum’s website, very appropriate: “[T]his … exhibition reveals Marshall’s practice to be a complex and compelling one that synthesizes a wide range of pictorial traditions to counter stereotypical representations of black people in society and reassert the place of the black figure within the canon of Western painting.” As I looked at the paintings, I was struck by Marshall’s choice of very dark pigment for the figures – accentuating their blackness in a compelling and beautiful way. Most paintings had multiple layers – paint, then pieces of text, advertising, photos, or other images, then more paint. The closer you look, the more symbolism and detail you’ll discover.

Here are some of my favorite paintings from the exhibition:

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I also really liked the series of paintings contrasting the dream versus the reality of public housing projects. The paintings are known as the “Garden Project” series, as the housing projects all had the word “garden” in their names. Here are three of the paintings from the “Garden Project.”

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To give you a sense of the scale of Marshall’s artwork, here is one of the paintings with museum visitors in front of it. (This one also shows how much patience I had to have in order to get the other photos I took!)

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Want to see Kerry James Marshall’s Mastry for yourself? The exhibition is only open through January 29, 2017, so you’ll have to hurry. The Met Breuer is located on Madison Avenue at 75th Street. If traveling by public transportation to the museum, you can take the 4 or 6 train to the 77th Street Station. There is also a bus stop for the M1, M2, M3, and M4 buses close by.

Celebrating Diwali at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Tomorrow is Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. Each year, there are numerous celebrations of Diwali in New York City. Last year, one of those celebrations took place at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and I stumbled upon it during a visit to the museum. Although the museum is not hosting a Diwali celebration this year (at least, I haven’t been able to find anything about it if it is), I thought that revisiting last year’s festival activities would be a great way to celebrate the holiday this weekend.

To celebrate Diwali, the Met offered numerous activities, including henna painting, lantern-making, and children’s dance activities. I met some visitors who were willing to share their experiences with me, as you can see from these photos.

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In one room, children were being taught some traditional dance steps – guaranteed to burn off some youthful energy, and fun to watch!

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There was also a dance performance, difficult to capture in photographs because of the crowds, dark light, and fast movement, but so beautiful.

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One of the benefits of hosting this event in the Met Museum is the proximity to a wonderful collection of Indian art. I made sure to explore some of it while I was there, and here are photos of a few of my discoveries.

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And don’t forget to look up!

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Although the Met Museum may not be holding Diwali festivities this year, I recommend visiting to see its Indian and Southeast Asian art collections, which are primarily located on the second floor of the museum. There’s also a small special exhibition of Indian art on display at the Met through December 4, 2016: Poetry and Devotion in Indian Painting: Two Decades of Collecting. More information about that exhibition is available here.

Unfinished Art at Met Breuer

What does it mean for a piece of art to be “finished”? What does finished art look like? Who decides when art is finished? These are among the thought-provoking questions asked in The Met Breuer’s current exhibition, Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible, on display until September 4, 2016.

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Sir Thomas Lawrence, Emilia, Lady Cahir, Later Countess of Glengall, ca. 1803-1805

Unsurprisingly, much of the art in the exhibition is unfinished. Often, that means that there are blank spaces on the canvas, areas sketched but not painted, or significant differences in how complete some parts of a piece of art looks versus surrounding areas. But not everything looks unfinished to the non-discerning eye, and it is only by reading the card next to each piece of art that the visitor learns that the artists considered some works unfinished.

What complicates the analysis even further is the fact that some artists made deliberate choices to leave parts of their work unfinished, a technique known as non finito. And other pieces were never intended to be finished works of art, instead serving as “sketches” or preliminary studies for a later project.

Here are some of my favorite paintings from the exhibition. Unfinished includes 197 works in all, so this is really just a small sample of what you will see if you visit. I’ve deliberately not noted which category each painting may fall into – see if you can figure it out yourself! (I welcome readers’ thoughts about the paintings in the comment section!)

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Vincent Van Gogh, Street in Auvers-sur-Oise, 1890
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Benjamin West, American Commissioners of the Preliminary Peace Negotiations with Great Britain (begun 1783)
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Gustav Klimt, Posthumous Portrait of Rita Munk III, 1917-1918
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Pablo Picasso, Woman in a Red Armchair, 1931
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Pablo Picasso, Harlequin, 1923
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Paul Cezanne, Bouquet of Peonies in a Green Jar, ca. 1898

I was also excited to see this particular work, by Leonardo da Vinci. (As you can see, it was very well-protected, creating quite a challenge to get a good photo without too much reflection.)

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Leonardo da Vinci, Head and Shoulders of a Woman (La Scapigliata), ca. 1500-1505

The exhibition included more than just paintings – here is one of my favorite sculptural pieces.

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Bruce Nauman, Andrew Head, Andrew Head Reversed, Nose to Nose, 1990

The Met Breuer is part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of three separate Met Museum campuses. Only open since this past Spring, The Met Breuer primarily supports The Met’s contemporary and modern art programming. The Met Breuer is located at 945 Madison Avenue, at the corner of Madison Avenue and 75th Street on the Upper East Side, in an incredible building designed by architect Marcel Breuer. The building was formerly the home of the Whitney Museum of American Art until that museum recently moved to a new home in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District.

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If traveling by public transportation to The Met Breuer, you can take the 4 or 6 train to the 77th Street Station. There is also a bus stop for the M1, M2, M3, and M4 buses close by. (The buses travel uptown towards the Bronx, or north, along Madison Avenue. If coming from areas north of The Met Breuer, you take take the same buses traveling south or downtown along Fifth Avenue.)

Note: Unlike the other Met locations, The Met Breuer is not open on Mondays. If you purchase a ticket at any Met Museum location (including The Met Breuer, the Cloisters, and the main museum on Fifth Avenue), you can get into all 3 museums on the same day for one entrance fee! It’s not a far walk from The Met Breuer to The Met, which is located on Fifth Avenue between 80th Street and 84th Street.

Rooftop Views from the Met Museum

Many visitors to the Metropolitan Museum of Art don’t realize that there’s a hidden gem on the roof of the museum – the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden. The Roof Garden is open from May through October each year, and there is a special rooftop exhibition each season. This year’s exhibition is a single, large sculpture by British artist Cornelia Parker titled Transitional Object (PsychoBarn).

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The sculpture reminded me of a haunted house, which made a lot of sense once I read the museum’s description of it:

“A large-scale sculpture by acclaimed British artist Cornelia Parker, inspired by the paintings of Edward Hopper and by two emblems of American architecture—the classic red barn and the Bates family’s sinister mansion from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho—comprises the fourth annual installation of site-specific works commissioned for The Met’s Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden.

Nearly 30 feet high, the sculpture is fabricated from a deconstructed red barn and seems at first to be a genuine house, but is in fact a scaled-down structure consisting of two facades propped up from behind with scaffolding. Simultaneously authentic and illusory, Transitional Object (PsychoBarn) evokes the psychological associations embedded in architectural spaces.”

When I turned around and looked the other direction, I captured this reflection of the sculpture in the museum’s windows.

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Beyond the sculpture, the Roof Garden offers some amazing views of Central Park and the Manhattan skyline. If you look northwest across Central Park, you can capture a glimpse of the Eldorado’s double towers. The Eldorado, with its art deco architectural details, was constructed as a luxury apartment building in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Some of the Eldorado’s residents over the years have included author Sinclair Lewis; actors Alec Baldwin, Faye Dunaway, and Michael J. Fox; radio personality Garrison Keillor; and musician Moby.

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The lush green of Central Park is even more evident as you look south from the roof, and you will have even more city skyline views. (It was a bit hazy when I took this photo, but still beautiful views.)

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And then to the southeast there are the luxury apartment buildings that line Fifth Avenue on the Upper East Side.

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The rooftop is open in the evenings on Fridays and Saturdays (until 8:00 pm), like the rest of the museum (although the rest of the museum is open until 9:00 pm on those days). On those evenings, the Roof Garden even offers a bar where visitors can purchase a variety of alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks.

As a reminder, the best way to get to the Metropolitan Museum of Art is by public transportation. If traveling by subway, take the 4, 5, or 6 train to 86th Street, and then walk west to Fifth Avenue. You can also reach the museum by bus on the M1, M2, M3, or M4 routes. If taking one of these routes going north, you will travel up Madison Avenue to the 83rd Street stop. If coming from points further north, take one of these bus routes south along Fifth Avenue to the 82nd Street stop, right next to the museum.

Fashion at the Met Museum: Manus x Machina

Every May the Costume Institute at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art sponsors a special fashion exhibition. This year’s exhibition, titled Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology, is on view through August 14, 2016. [Update: The exhibition has now been extended through September 5, 2016!] The exhibition explores the evolution of hand-made and machine-made haute couture and avant-garde ready-to-wear fashion from the 20th and 21st centuries.

The centerpiece of the exhibition is this stunning wedding dress by designer Karl Lagerfeld, part of Chanel’s Autumn/Winter 2014-2015 collection. The dress is constructed of hand-sculpted scuba knit, and the magnificent 20-foot train is embellished with gold hand-painting, machine-attached rhinestones, and hand-embroidered pearls and gemstones. The people in the photos below give you some idea of the scale of the train. As the first thing visitors see when they enter the exhibition, it raises expectations of what’s to come.

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Much of the exhibition was divided up into techniques used to add details to designs. One section explored flower-making techniques, and included numerous dresses from the past 100 years to illustrate the evolution of those techniques. I found these two dresses, by British designer Alexander McQueen, very interesting. The flower petals were made of metal and had synthetic pearl centers. The dresses were part of his Spring/Summer 2009 collection.

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There was also this striking dress by Christian Dior, part of Dior’s Autumn/Winter 1949-1950 collection. Although the dress itself was machine-sewn, the 45 petals that make up the skirt were hand-embroidered with sequins.

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This next dress, Yves Saint Laurent’s 1983 “sardine” dress, has a machine-constructed foundation but required approximately 1500 hours of handwork to create the appearance of fish scales.

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Another section of the exhibition demonstrated the use of feathers in design. There were some amazing dresses in this part of the exhibition, but because they were behind glass it was difficult to photograph. I did get a good shot of this evening dress by Spanish designer Cristóbal Balenciaga, part of his Autumn/Winter 1965-1966 collection. The dress is trimmed in pink-dyed ostrich feathers.

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As visitors continue to explore, there is another section focusing on pleating. Here, technological innovations really contrast with more traditional forms of embellishment. One display shows three dresses from two designers and three different time periods, from left to right: Madame Gres (Alix Barton), from 1968; Madame Gres, from 1950-1955, and Iris van Herpen, from her Spring/Summer 2010 collection.

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Here’s a close of view of van Herpen’s design, with its 3-D printed details.

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These 2014 designs by Israeli designer Noa Raviv, which also contain 3-D printed details, captured my attention.

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These hand-pleated, hand-sewn, and hand-embroidered dresses from the 1920s and 1930s were gorgeous – the designer was Mariano Fortuny, from Spain.

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There were also several elegant dresses like this one from 1980, by American-born designer Mary McFadden. Unlike the Mariano Fortuny dresses, the McFadden dresses were machine-sewn and pleated, but then hand-embroidered and finished. I loved the McFadden’s choices of jewel tones, and the designs looked like they would not have been out-of-place in the English royal court centuries past.

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Those more traditional designs are contrasted with those of Japanese designer Issey Miyake. Here are a couple of my favorites, from the Spring/Summer 1990 and 1993 collections.

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The contrast between innovation and traditional techniques continues in the section of the exhibition that focuses on lace. Visitors will find beautiful examples of traditional lacework, such as this Spring/Summer 1963 suit by Yves Saint Lauren.

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But there are again numerous designs incorporating 3-D printing technology, such as the “Bahai” Dress by American designer Threeasfour, from the Spring/Summer 2014 collection. This dress is an interesting example of the exhibition’s overall theme, as the 3-D printed “lace” has been hand-embroidered onto a machine-sewn dress.

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Here is a detailed look at the “lace” from this dress.

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And here is another incredible example of a technologically-inspired design. This one is from Iris van Herpen’s Spring/Summer 2015 collection and is hand-embroidered with thermoformed laser-cut acrylic.

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There are so many more designs to see in the exhibition, but I thought I would end with this one last dress by Iris van Herpen, from her Autumn 2012 collection. On the surface, this dress may seem like it only represents the “machina” part of the exhibition theme, as it is obviously 3-D printed. But from the exhibit description I learned that the dress was hand-sanded and hand-sprayed with a special resin, so it actually represents both aspects after all. This dress really captures the imagination, even if it doesn’t fit our expectations of traditional fashion.

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If you are in New York City before the exhibition ends in August, I encourage you to see Manus x Machina for yourself. What I’ve included in this post is just a small sample of what you will see during your visit, and my photographs can’t fully capture how striking these designs really are. (Note: all special exhibitions are included in the Met Museum’s recommended ticket price of $25.00, so you can see both Manus x Machina and the many other incredible works on display at the museum.)

The best way to get to the Metropolitan Museum of Art is by public transportation. If traveling by subway, take the 4, 5, or 6 train to 86th Street, and then walk west to Fifth Avenue. You can also reach the museum by bus on the M1, M2, M3, or M4 routes. If taking one of these routes going north, you will travel up Madison Avenue to the 83rd Street stop. If coming from points further north, take one of these bus routes south along Fifth Avenue to the 82nd Street stop, right next to the museum. There is a parking garage for those who prefer to drive themselves, but the rates are pretty expensive.

Fashion at the Jewish Museum: Isaac Mizrahi Exhibition

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute has some pretty amazing exhibitions, and as a result most people who decide to go to a museum to explore fashion design immediately think of the Met. But there are other great options in the city as well, including the Fashion Institute of Technology’s museum and a wonderful temporary exhibition at the Jewish Museum. The Jewish Museum’s exhibition, on view through August 7, 2016, is titled Isaac Mizrahi: An Unruly History, and includes numerous beautiful designs, as well as some behind-the-scenes exhibits about his design process.

Here are a few photos showing some of the designs in the exhibition.

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I particularly liked this dress from 1994, made of hand-created aluminum “sequins” cut from Coca-Cola cans. I thought the design was innovative and resourceful. The dress has an interesting story behind it as well. According to the exhibition description next to this dress, a charity called “We Can” paid homeless New Yorkers to collect and flatten the Coca-Cola cans, before the cans were then sent to Paris to be turned into sequins for the dress.

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I also enjoyed these costumes designed for opera and theater productions.

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And here’s one shot of a few of Mizhari’s design sketches. I found this part of the exhibition very interesting.

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How can you get to the Jewish Museum? The museum is located at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 92nd Street on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The closest subway stop is the 96th Street station, accessible from the 6 train. You can also take the M1, M2, M3, or M4 bus to the Madison Ave./E. 91st St. stop if heading uptown, or the 5th Ave./E. 92nd St. stop if heading downtown. Note: The Jewish Museum is free to the public on Saturdays, although its cafe is closed on Saturdays in observation of the Jewish Sabbath.

Fashion at the Met Museum: The Jacqueline de Ribes Exhibition

If you are interested in fashion, then the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s current Costume Institute exhibition is something that you will enjoy. Titled Jacqueline de Ribes: The Art of Style, the exhibition includes more than sixty haute couture and ready-to-wear designs as well as artifacts from de Ribes’s personal archives. An international fashion icon spanning several decades in the 20th century, De Ribes inspired prestigious designers to create haute couture gowns for her to wear for special events and media ops beginning in the 1960s, and she eventually ran her own design business in the 1980s and 1990s. The exhibition includes elegant examples of both her own and others’ elegant fashion designs – in the process also illustrating some of the major fashion trends decade by decade.

Here’s just a sample of what you will find at the Costume Institute’s exhibition. It really is a feast for the eyes, and the photos can’t really do it justice. First, although there were many beautiful gowns, there were also examples of luxurious daywear. I particularly loved the lines of this ensemble (even if I’m personally opposed to the use of fur).

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There are so many evening gowns, it’s hard to choose just one to feature here. But I want to leave plenty of surprises for when you visit the exhibition. For now, I’ve chosen this fuchsia gown, with its unusual silhouette and sparkling diamond ornamentation. You can see a few other colorful gowns in the background. Because the exhibition spans several decades, there are gowns of practically every color, solid and patterned, and with quite a variety of silhouettes.

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I learned one thing from my visit to the exhibition that I found particularly interesting. De Ribes is not constrained by a particular outfit as it is originally designed. Instead, she sometimes develops accessories or alter dresses and other clothing items so that she can create something entirely new, even mixing the work of multiple designers (including her own designs) to create something special and unique. Among the examples of her creative, artistic approach to design in the exhibition are some fabulous ensembles for costume balls, including the one in this photo:

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The Jacqueline de Ribes exhibition continues at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through February 21, 2016. Museum curators periodically lead  guided tours of the exhibition as well (free with the cost of admission to the museum); check the museum calendar to see if a tour will be offered on the date of your visit.

The best way to get to the Metropolitan Museum of Art is by public transportation. If traveling by subway, take the 4, 5, or 6 train to 86th Street, and then walk west to Fifth Avenue. You can also reach the museum by bus on the M1, M2, M3, or M4 routes. If taking one of these routes going north, you will travel up Madison Avenue to the 83rd Street stop. If coming from points further north, take one of these bus routes south along Fifth Avenue to the 82nd Street stop, right next to the museum. There is a parking garage for those who prefer to drive themselves, but the rates are pretty expensive.

Metropolitan Museum of Art Christmas Tree

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Looking for something holiday-themed to do in New York City? One of the city’s wonderful Christmas traditions is the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual Christmas tree. The Christmas tree is decorated with a beautiful Neapolitan nativity scene that dates back to the eighteenth century. The figurines in the nativity scene – including the accompanying townspeople, shepherds, kings, animals, and angels – number more than 200.

The tree can be viewed from all sides, and by doing so one can see so many beautiful details. Here are several photographs that show some of those details, but the tree is even better when viewed in person.

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The Christmas Tree is set up in the Museum’s Medieval Sculpture Hall, making a visit to see the tree a great opportunity to also view some of the pieces in the Museum’s medieval religious art collection. The Christmas Tree exhibition is included your regular admission ticket.