If you step on it: Here’s the last chance to see a batch of great U.S. museum exhibitions that close by February 2. If you’re a fan of 19th and 20th century art, design and photography, this couldn’t be a better time to see stunning exhibitions: tantalizing shows of Kandinsky, Magritte, Chagall,and Leger set in the modernity of Paris.
Cast a wider net and there are medieval treasures from Hildesheim Cathedral (Germany) and 15 masterpieces on loan from The Mauritshuis in The Hague, including Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. And check out the Treasures from the Biblioteca Reale Turin, with Leonardo’s Codex on the Flight of Birds.
For photography connoisseurs, there’s a trio of must-see shows in New York: early portraits by Julia Margaret Cameron; documentary images of defining times at home and abroad, are revealed in a double-header of Lewis Hine’s New Deal photographs and War/Photography, images of 155 years of conflict. In Washington D.C., check out Charles Marville’s 19th-century views of Paris, some commissioned by Barron Haussmann before he tore down the medieval sections of the city
For a calendar of exhibitions in Europe Click here
TITLES IN BLUE (below) close by February 2
NEW YORK CITY
Through Jan 5 2014 Medieval Treasures from Hildesheim, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It’s a single room with 50 exquisitely made objects, many of them jewel-encrusted or covered in gold. Some are intimately devotional (a book of hours meant to be used daily), others inspirational (reliquaries with bones), some liturgical (chalices) or powerful reminders of mortal life (memento mori). In one instance, a large reliquary holds the head of the martyred St. Oswald. This is an exhibition to take time with and look carefully. The works are on loan from the Hildesheim Cathedral Museum – a renovation at the cathedral (it was leveled during WWII and then reconstructed) created the opportunity for the show. Review includes slide show. Met web site
Through Jan 12 2014 Balthus: Cats and Girls — Paintings and Provocations, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Balthus had a “thing” for cats and girls, though not necessarily in that order. Born Balthasar Klossowski (1908-2001), the artist may be best known for his portraits of nubile adolescent girls, but there’s another show-stopper in this exhibition: 40 ink drawings never exhibited before of his beloved cat Mitsou, executed at age 11 when he was reeling from the loss of the stray who came on the scene when he was 10 and then disappeared. Although these diminutive ink drawings were believed to be lost, they were located among the effects of poet Rainer Maria Rilke (a friend of Balthus’s mother) who organized the works into a little book and wrote its introduction. Decide for yourself which strand of his work you find more compelling. Review includes slide show.
Through Jan 12, 2014 Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary 1926-1938, at the Museum of Modern Art. (Then on to Menil Collection, Houston, Feb 14-June 1, and the Art Institute of Chicago, June 22-Oct 12.) Art reviewer Holland Cotter says that Rene Magritte had a unique place in the artworld: “… an attention-grabber with one gift, but a crucial one: for puzzle-making.” This exhibition looks at a particularly good decade in his art-making life, says Cotter, when “he was inventing the artist he wanted to be and when his art was all over the place in a good way: witty, nasty, brilliant and bad at the same time.” The Belgian artist had his first solo show in Brussels in 1927 (a painting from that exhibition is in the MoMA show), already traveling in Surrealist circles. He fell in with Surrealists in Paris and then suffered a falling out with Surrealist team leader Andre Breton. But it was time well spent in doing some of his best work. Magritte’s paintings inhabit an illogical, hallucinatory space that intrigues many. Read the review
Through Jan 19 2014 Mauritshuis at The Frick: 15 world-class paintings on loan from the magisterial museum in The Hague includes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. PLUS a contemporary still life by British artists Robert and Nick Carter is actually a three-hour film in which the celebrated 1618 painting changes almost imperceptibly, a contemporary homage titled, Transforming Still Life: After Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder, ‘ Vase with Flowers in a Window.’ My money’s on the Girl with a Pearl Earring as the show-stopper! Details
Through Feb 2 2014 Chagall: Love, War, and Exile, The Jewish Museum. It’s not a large show but the first that explore Marc Chagall’s artistic oeuvre from the rise of fascism in the 1930s through 1948, years spent in Paris and then in exile in New York. Chagall (1887-19865) moved to Paris from Russia to escape the hardships following the revolution, and settled into life in Paris with wife Bella and daughter Ida. With the rise of fascism and then World War II, Chagall and family fled to New York in 1941, with assistance from Alfred Barr, the founding director of the Museum of Modern Art. “Although he never abandoned a poetic sensibility, his art of the 1930s and 1940s reflects the political reality of the time. “The sudden loss of his wife Bella left Chagall unmoored, from which he eventually recovered. But Chagall never inhabited fully his new life in New York, and returned again and again to create art from memories of his childhood and of the Bolshevik Revolution. The exhibition includes 30 paintings and 24 works on paper, as well as selected letters, poems, photos, and ephemera. The Jewish Museum and Yale University Press are co-publishing a 148-page catalogue that examines Chagall’s complex iconography and phantasmagorical style, 72 color reproductions, 27 black and white illustrations, and 11 of Chagall’s rarely seen poems. Review
Chagall’s granddaughters tell his story (New York Times)
Through Jan 5,2014 Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade 1500-1800, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
(Left) Palampore, first quarter of the 18th century Culture: India (Coromandel Coast), for the Sri Lankan market. Medium: Cotton (painted resist and mordant, dyed). Metropolitan Museum of Art, rights reserved.
It’s a feast for the eyes, a history lesson and a take on three centuries of taste, trade and commerce. The Met has assembled 130 textiles plus 30 garments (and prints/books), mostly from its own collections. The show is described by a New York Times critic as “knock your socks off,” “drop dead moments,” and “tour de force.” –probably no exaggeration. Consider the robe a la Polonaise, which is architectural endeavor in its layers of bustle; or the mid-18th-century palampore (originally a bed or wall hanging) of bright silk on gold cotton sewed with ultra-tiny stitches. The trade (like today’s “to the trade only”) was lavish, but there are plenty of reminders of the slave trade and clashes between colonials and indigenous people. If you cannot get there, the catalogue is surely worth it ! New York Times review
Through Feb 2 2014 at the Morgan Library & Museum: Leonardo DaVinci is the star — as scientist and artist — with a small but astounding collection of drawings in the 100 pieces in Treasures from the Biblioteca Reale of Turin. While 4000 sheets of notebooks and drawings survive, the gem in this show is the Codex on the Flight of Birds (ca. 1505) which is making its New York debut. Written in his famous lefthand (reverse) script, Leonardo waxes eloquent (and accurate) in his assessment of avian dynamics. Read the review
Through Jan 5 2014 Whales: Giants of the Deep, at theAmerican Museum of Natural History. Did you know that whales evolved from deer-like land creatures into the largest mammals inhabiting the planet? This traveling exhibition from New Zealand features 20 whale skulls and skeletons; and outlines the history and biology of these amazing creatures. “Sniff here, too, at a chunk of ambergris, ‘gray amber,’ once used in the ancient Middle East as a spice and incense, and later as a fixative for perfumes.” Perhaps more significant is that this immersive exhibition reconstructs the human relationship with mammals, from Maori whale riding to –sadly—whalehunting, a practice that continues today.
“ ‘At the peak of U.S. whaling, in 1853,’ we learn, ‘Americans killed more than 8,000 whales.’ But in the 20th century, about 350,000 blue whales were killed by the whale trade, leaving only about 2,000 alive. ‘It was estimated,’ we read, ‘that Japanese, Danish, British, Dutch and Soviet Russian fleets collectively killed a fifth of the whales in the Southern Ocean in the 1957-58 season alone.'” New York Times story
Must-See Photography Shows in New York
Through Jan 5 2013 Julia Margaret Cameron, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Thirty-five works from the Metropolitan’s rich collection show Cameron’s skill as a seminal figure in photography and her extraordinary ability as a portraitist in the pre-Raphaelite Victorian era. Calcutta-born (1815-1879), Cameron was 46 when she received her first camera –a gift from her daughter and son-in-law. Clearly, it was a beautiful fit. “From the first moment I handled my lens with a tender ardour,” she wrote, “and it has become to me as a living thing, with voice and memory and creative vigour.” Keep in mind that Cameron worked in the era of glass plate negatives that required long exposures and absolute stillness by the sitters. She allowed soft light and sitters’ small movements that the Met’s curator feels give life and breath to her portraits. Details
Above: (Alfred, Lord) Tennyson Reading 1865, Julia Margaret Cameron. Albumen silver print from glass negative. Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1941
Through Jan 19 2014 Lewis Hine and The Future of America, at the International Center of Photography. It’s a double bill at the ICP, with two shows of pioneering documentarian Lewis Hine (1874-1940). The larger show (Lewis Hine) contains 175 mostly postcard-size prints from the collections of the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography representing all phases of his career. The Future of America is smaller and focuses mostly on agricultural, manufacturing and mining activities in the mid-1930’s. Hine captured a wide range of subjects – immigrants, child labor, Lower East side tenements, men at work building skyscrapers. Not everything he produced could be reliably considered photojournalism (he sometimes dressed people up in different costumes!) – before stricter standards were attached. (View sampler of images) The show’s reviewer says his work was “more a kind of illustrated sociology than photojournalism.” But make no mistake: Hine’s visual body of work represents times, places and people that might otherwise have been forgotten or reduced to shadows in our national memory. Read the review. Visit the museum web site.
Through February 2 2014 WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath, at the Brooklyn Museum. Iconic and unknown images, the photographers and amateurs or military men who shot them, come together in an exhibition that looks at the relationship between war and photography over 166 years of armed combat. It presents the work of some 255 photographers worldwide who captured daily life, battle, death and destruction, homecoming and remembrance in an unprecedented assemblage of photographic prints, books, magazines, albums, and camera equipment. Take the time in this show to look carefully, from the Crimean War (Roger Fenton, 1855) to eastern Afghanistan (Tim Hetherington) — and ask, why can’t we wage peace ? Details .
(Left): Henri Huet (French, 1927–1971). The body of an American paratrooper killed in action in the jungle near the Cambodian border is raised up to an evacuation helicopter, Vietnam, 1966. © Associated Press
Through Jan 5, 2014 Léger: Modern Art and the Metropolis at the Philadelphia Museum of Art focuses on the post-World War I decade in Paris, the city to which Fernand Léger (1881-1955) returned with enthusiasm and high energy for all things modern. The show could be called an ode to Paris and its modernity – chocked full of street life, design, architecture and advertising. Here’s a chance to see a particular slice of Paris in time and art. There are many artists here, not just Léger, although his work may safely be called the standout, and it covers an amazing range of media, including film, stage design, ballet production, ads, posters and printed material. Read the review and you won’t hesitate to go. Review includes slide show
Through Jan 5, 2014 Charles Marville: Photographer of Paris, National Gallery of Art: 100 photographs covering the arc of Charles Marville’s career (1813-1879) are assembled for the first retrospective exhibition in the US (it will travel to New York too.) City scenes, landscape and architectural studies of Europe are presented, but especially notable, his photographs of Paris and environs in the 1870’s. Named official photographer of the city of Paris in 1862, Marville was commissioned in 1865 to record the streets and buildings that the urban planner Baron Haussmann had slated for destruction. Today we may long for the pre-modern Paris, but Haussmann’s purpose was prosaic – to document how unsanitary and cramped the medieval areas were before tearing them down. (Travels to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Jan 27–May 4, 2014). Exhibition details
Through Jan 5 2014 Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa, National Museum of African Art (SI). This is a sleeper of a show – just stunning if you judge by the online gallery of photographs and art works in the show. Looking through the lens of Africa, Earth Matters focuses on the very creative and visual ways in which individuals and communities negotiate complex relationships with the land beneath their feet and the earth at large. Forty artists from 24 of Africa’s 55 nations have employed media as diverse as ceramic, textile, film, drawing, printmaking, photography, wood, and mixed-media sculpture and installations (100 pieces in all) to explore the land for inspiration. The items date back as far as 1800. One section of the exhibition features three commissioned earthworks, a first for the Smithsonian Gardens and the Mall.
Nov 12-Jan 27, 2014 Art and Appetite: American Painting, Culture, and Cuisine Art, Institute of Chicago: Food is a way of examining race, culture, commerce and politics. This exhibition of 75 paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts from the 18th through the 20th century, examines the multiple meanings and interpretations of eating in America. Artists range from Raphaelle Peale (one of the famed Peale family of artists) and William Hartnett to Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, and Claes Oldenburg. The show includes a selection of period cookbooks, menus, trade cards, and posters, to explore the art and culture of food. Art Institute details