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Posts tagged EXHIBITS
In their smaller, ground-floor gallery FIT has mounted an exhibit of notable pieces from their own collection. It opened with the title Great Designers but, after some controversy, was renamed, with less boldness and brevity, Fashion, A-Z: Highlights from the Collection of the Museum at FIT, Part One. The garments are displayed alphabetically by designer name, so that the show kicks off with a crystal-studded white gown by Giorgio Armani, and ends with outfits by Gianni Versace, Vivienne Westwood and XULY.Bet. In between there are pieces from all the usual suspects, including Fortuny, CocoChanel, Donna Karan and Alexander McQueen, as well as undersung heroes, like Lucien Lelong, and upstarts, like Gareth Pugh. Only John Galliano, riding out a scandal, is notably absent.
More than a comprehensive history of fashion, or a random sampling from FIT’s treasure trove, the show offers a convincing argument for the power of the dress. Even the ladies pantsuits and jackets on display have a dress-like logic, emphasizing a unified, ladylike profile over the drama of contrasting pieces. And all the pieces seem to emphasize the fall of fabric over a woman’s body rather than the architecture of the clothing itself. (Although there is one remarkable exception, a green Charles James gown that seems to be standing up on its own.) So Galliano is sorely missed. Nothing would have centered the exhibit more than a bias-cut confection from this master of the fancy dress. There was only one mens ensemble on display, an embellished, pimpish suit by Jean Paul Gaultier. And that drew attention to another omission — the entire world of mens fashion. Maybe FIT could have called this exhibit Dresses from the Collection at FIT and followed with another called Suits from the Collection at FIT. They would have gone swiftly to the heart of both mens and womens fashion.
If I had my own girl band I would call it The Glass Flowers, after the famous ones at the Harvard Museum of Natural History. Two Dresden glass blowers, Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka, crafted about 4,400 of these teaching models, for nearly 800 different species, between 1886 and 1936. The figures are uncanny in their fineness and faithfulness. All of the tiniest parts — filaments, pollen, petioles, stipules — are there, translated into glass. The effort that went into fabricating these models is mind-boggling. The Blaschkas must have gone mad, or at least blind.
The models are accurate in fact but not in spirit. There’s no doubt that all the parts of each plant are present and rendered with perfect accuracy. In fact, the glass flowers seem more complicated and biological than real flowers. But there’s something funereal about them. They’re lying on their sides in low, dimly-lit glass vitrines, coated with a fine layer of dust. And they’ve been painted with soft, matte colors, so that they don’t have the lush sheen of real plant parts, or even of glass. Their lifelessness is especially noticeable with familiar varieties. The daisy and the banana are at once real-looking and patently false. If Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs but the sex back in flowers, the Glass Flowers sucks the sex right out of them. They’re fascinating and inert.
In 1996 Damien Hirst displayed two sliced-up cows at the Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea. It was an act of art world bravado I believed would remain unmatched. I was wrong. Sculptor Maurizio Catellan, who’s career-ending installation All is on view at the Guggenheim now, tops it. Catellan, who also publishes magazines, says he’s done making art. So in lieu of a mid-career retrospective he’s suspended “140 or so” of his existing sculptures from the rotunda of the museum. It’s both audacious and enchanting. In taking over the rotunda he’s bludgeoned the iconic architecture and, at the same time, made perfect use of it. If he’s attempting, metaphorically, to hang his artistic self, he’s failed. Dangling in the air like this, his work looks terrific.
Catellan’s pieces, like that of the pope being hit by a meteor, have an appealing impishness. They’re not just political, they’re also weirdly personal. So statues of an elephant in a Klu Klux Klan robe, a kneeling Adolf Hitler, and a topless Stephanie Seymour, are funnier than you’d expect. Some of his works, like figures of horses, and boys in nooses, were meant to be hung. Some of them, when hung, take on an elegaic air, like JFK lying in an open coffin, and corpses draped with white sheets. You need to walk up (or down) the spiraling ramp to get a look at each piece and with every few steps the view shifts dramatically, pulling you along. The outer walls of the museum are left empty and visitors focus inwards, which makes absolute sense. There’s always been something odd about mounting artwork against the rounded, sloping walls of the Guggenheim, while the enormous space in the center remains empty. I think Catellan’s installation might have begun as an attack on Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture. It’s really a magnificent salute.
There’s been much ballyhoo about The New Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia and Later South Asia at the Met. None of the artwork is new; these objects have been part of the Met’s permanent collection for decades. But current geopolitics make it important to look at this part of the world (basically, the Muslim world) more attentively. And as we do we can congratulate ourselves for learning about another culture. The Times (unintentionally, I’m sure) captured the ambivalence perfectly in the title of their review, A Cosmopolitan Trove of Exotic Beauty. There’s the same faint condescension in it that there was when taste-makers first looked at African art.
In rebuilding these fifteen galleries, the Met had an extraordinary opportunity to restage works with contemporary museum protocol, and they had an extraordinary inspiration for design — Muslim architecture. But the new galleries aren’t so different from the Met’s other, older galleries: smallish, squarish, oatmeal-colored rooms, with ceilings cluttered with tracklights. There are small gestures here and there to the traditions of Muslim architecture: a white marble floor with colored inlay, two rows of hanging glass lamps, a magnificent gilded coffered ceiling, and an eighteenth century house from Damascus. As some kind of proof of historical continuity, the final gallery has been finished entirely (and handsomely) by eight craftsmen from Morocco. But none of the displays have the flair of those at the Neues Museum in Berlin, which shroud each object in magic. A generic all-white environment would have served the work better, and also offered a more sophisticated curatorial view. Over one of the explanatory wall texts, there’s a grainy black and white photo of the Great Mosque at Samarra, a huge rectangular hall with a cone-shaped ziggurat in front. There’s more architectural power here, in this small image, than in all of the new galleries combined.
No artwork manufactured before the nineteenth century was meant to be displayed in a museum; it was meant to be out in the world, and almost always integrated with architecture. We’re all accustomed to seeing classical Greek and Roman statuary as relics, and their oldness and brokenness makes them powerfully romantic. These ancient and precious things, we think, have been battered by history. But the show of Gandharan art at the Asia Society Museum is frustrating because the work is very literally fragmented. The bits of stone statuary on display are so small and so incomplete that it’s difficult to imagine what kind of power they originally possessed.
The exhibit included pieces of stone that once served as stair risers, room dividers, pillars, false dormers, and friezes. Each has been ripped from its original structure and pinned to the museum wall. Some, like the figures of Buddha, are effecting. Some, like the tiny panel above, that illustrates Maya’s dream of Buddha entering her womb in the form of an elephant, are tantalizing. But each piece is just one flash of something. Some pieces of sculpture, particularly those that were once part of friezes, were almost certainly intended to be appraised from below, from the side, or in dark shadow. When seen straight on, in bright lights, as they are now, their compositions become strangely distorted and overbearing. Each scrap is engaging, but hints at something much larger.
Can you build a building without a program? The Guggenheim’s summer pop-up inside the park along Houston Street at Bowery, designed by Atelier Bow-Wow, comes tantalizingly close. It’s a spare steel frame wrapped in metal mesh, stuffed with A/V equipment, and furnished with fold-out chairs. When I visited last weekend there was a trio of hippie chicks singing, and then a documentary about the politics of Central Africa. A small crowd had assembled, mostly passersby who were interested and stopped to find out more.
The space, the BMW Guggenheim Lab, is carefully programmed each day with socially-relevant performances and presentations. But what I liked best about the Lab is how porous it is, both literally and figuratively. It fills an empty lot between two existing, anonymous buildings, and opens onto both Houston and First Streets. People enter from both sides, sit down for an event, and then spill out into the park, where there’s a temporary cafe, and hang out a bit more. In a city that’s become riddled with empty storefronts, co-opting them seems like a perfect strategy. What if we mapped all the unoccupied spaces in New York and handed them over to artists, activists and performers? Their work and their noise would fill the city.