Ancient Textiles – More Than Just Cloth

Designing Identity: The Power of Textiles in Late Antiquity On view at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World Photo by Andrea Brizzi. Courtesy ISAW

Designing Identity: The Power of Textiles in Late Antiquity
On view at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World
Photo by Andrea Brizzi. Courtesy ISAW

Ah, to have lived in the late Roman or early Byzantine empires!  Not that life was always that great, but you could dress and decorate with fabulous textiles – if you were rich.  Designing Identity: The Power of Textiles in Late Antiquity,  the current exhibit at NYU’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, provides a fascinating window into that time, specifically the period known as “late antiquity” from about the late third through the seventh century CE, during which Constantine built a new capital, Constantinople, in the eastern half of the empire, and Christianity began making inroads into polytheistic cults.  The map at the beginning of the show and the explanatory texts throughout provide needed context.

The 50+ textiles on display would have belonged to the wealthy elite, as making these elaborately decorated garments and wall hangings would have been labor intensive.

The first gallery focuses on Dionysius, whose cult was very important. In this room, all the pieces have images of him, or grapevines (his symbol), or associated gods.  In the central case is a stunning short linen tunic, from 5th-6th century; it’s undyed surface provides a perfect background for the bands of woven black wool depicting lions, panthers and dancing warriors.  Take a close look at the square panels over the shoulder, with their images of female captives and two men sitting above them, which may reference Dionysius’ campaign in India (and certainly says a lot about the status of women).  In the same room are fragments of several wall hangings in vibrant colors, featuring Dionysius, a satyr and Maenad, that would have hung together in the same arcade.  There’s one especially lovely hanging with portraits of Dionysian figures framed in roundels of grapevines.  Nearby are two small cases, one holding a silver gilt repoussé ewer with Dionysian figures, animals and fish; the other contains the base of an ivory box with carvings of Dionysius’ triumph in India, as well as small carved ivory figures.

Did you know that symposia were originally drinking parties…. plus ça change…

The second gallery explores the ways that clothing and luxury textiles were symbols of status, character and identity, and the role of charms in designs.  Greeting you inside the entrance is a magnificent full-length linen shroud, from the 2nd-3rd century, painted with the image of a woman who looks straight at us.  Her fringed tunic, gold jewelry and pearl earrings clearly indicate her wealth and high social status. 

Designing Identity: The Power of Textiles in Late Antiquity On view at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World Foreground: Shroud of a Woman Wearing a Fringed Tunic - Paint (probably tempera), plain (tabby) ground weave of undyed linen ca. 2nd–3rd century CE Antinoopolis (El- Sheikh Abada), Egypt The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1909 (09.181.8) Photo by Andrea Brizzi. Courtesy ISAW

Designing Identity: The Power of Textiles in Late Antiquity On view at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World
Foreground: Shroud of a Woman Wearing a Fringed Tunic – Paint (probably tempera), plain (tabby) ground weave of undyed linen ca. 2nd–3rd century CE Antinoopolis (El- Sheikh Abada), Egypt
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1909 (09.181.8)
Photo by Andrea Brizzi. Courtesy ISAW

Against the left wall is a Tunic Fragment with Decorative Bands of Jewels, Crosses & Flowers, the bands woven in blue, yellow, red and black wool on beige linen, from the 5th-7th century.  Further along is a Fragment of a Tunic Representing Marine Motifs, and Maenad & Cross Pendants, which is all in beige and tan wool, excepting the upper part whose cross and pendant in color incorporated both pagan and christian motifs. 

On the walls and in the cases are numerous exquisite fragments with roundels with geometric motifs, knot-like patterns and interlaced ornamental designs, a few of which have retained their original purple color – there’s a fabulous one with vegetal motifs on the back wall, hung below a larger fragment.  You’ll also find fragments with 8-pointed stars with very intricate, lace-like weaves; take a look at the one with the bust of a warrior in its center. 

Towards the end, you’ll come across what may have been the original hoodie – a child’s hooded tunic in blue, with woven figures on brown bands on the front and sleeves.

There’s a lot to see in this exhibit; the quality of the pieces is very high, and you’ll want to linger at many of them, so leave yourself time to see it all.

Designing Identity:  The Power of Textiles in Late Antiquity runs until May 22nd.  Run to see it!

Spotlight on the UK: Greater than Britain

Union JackSince the first England Day NYC will be taking place this Saturday, the 23rd, (see separate post) I thought this would be a good time to focus on England and beyond to the UK, especially given our shared history and language (although some might dispute the latter).

First, let’s clear up some terminology, since it can get a bit confusing – the website of the  UK National Archives is helpful in this regard.

 The country is the “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland” more affectionately known as the UK.

This April is a big month for the UK:  April 21st was the 90th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II;  April 22nd marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

Great Britain is the island that consists of England, Scotland and Wales, each of which have their own devolved administrations with their own Parliaments/Assemblies.   The British Isles include Great Britain, the island of Ireland, and several thousand smaller islands, such as the Isle of Man, the Isle of Wight, The Channel Islands….

The Commonwealth  is a voluntary association of countries that were formerly British colonies.  These countries recognize the UK monarch as their own, but remain politically independent (think Canada).

If you want to keep up with British happenings in New York City, a good place to begin is with the Facebook page of the British Consulate; you’ll find a link where you can sign up for their newsletter (very comprehensive) so you won’t miss anything – or, I should say – so you know what’s going on; since there’s so much, it’s hard to do it all!

The British Council USA  connects British and American arts professionals by offering information, providing resources and promoting opportunities for Americans to experience new British work.  Check out Shakespeare Day Live on their website  to find activities on April 22nd & 23rd, celebrating the 400th anniversary of the bard’s death.

From May 18th to the 20th, you can see Jess Thom – Combining storytelling, comedy and puppetry, Backstage in Biscuit Land offers an intimate glimpse into Jess Thom’s unique perspective as an artist and woman with Tourette Syndrome. As a result of her tics, Thom says ‘biscuit’ 16,000 times a day.  

The British Council has undertaken what I think is a fabulous initiative, training arts organizations in Relaxed performance (RP) , a specially designated performance intended to attract and accommodate a range of people who might not otherwise be able to comply with traditional theatre etiquette. There is a relaxed attitude to noise, movement, and small changes to the sound levels and some lighting effects in the show.

The Council also has on-line programs to teach English to kids, teens and adults.

The St. George’s Society  is a membership organization that assist disadvantaged people of British and Commonwealth heritage living in the New York area, especially the elderly and disabled, and has a scholarship fund for outstanding students who need help with their college tuition. They also organize a number of fun social events  throughout the year.

In New York, Wales will forever be associated with Dylan Thomas, especially the annual performance of A Child’s Christmas in  Wales.  However, there’s more going on, as you’ll see on the Wales In America Facebook page.

May 3rd-29th – NoFit State Circus from Cardiff    Look out for a 42’-high, 10,000 square-foot spaceship-like big top under the Brooklyn Bridge, across New Dock Street from the new St. Ann’s Warehouse, located 45 Water Street in DUMBO, Brooklyn.  Inside, NoFit State will immerse audiences of all ages in Bianco; as  a live rock band plays and audiences are shepherded promenade-style through the space and awe-inspiring images of prowess and daring.  Running time is two hours, including an intermission. Tickets are $35-40 and can be purchased at St. Ann’s Warehouse .

Through June 4th, you can catch Welsh artist Brendan Stuart Burn’s show at Rosenberg & Co. Gallery.

Through September 4th, Welsh actor John Owen-Jones will be playing the role of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables.

You might also want to check out the Facebook page of the St. David’s Society of New York State.

The American Scottish Foundation, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, is a good source of information for things Scottish in New York They’re also the folks responsible for the Tartan Day Parade  in early April, and many of its associated activities. 

The St. Andrew’s Society of the State of New York  celebrates Scottish heritage and tradition, while also offering sponsorship and community to the natives of Scotland and their descendants through fundraising and social events.

Let me also give a shout-out to Glasgow Caledonian University, which established a presence in New York a few years ago, where they offer executive education programs in areas such as the Business of Fashion, Global Leadership, and Supply Chain Management.  They also occasionally host  talks and lectures open to the public.

Check out the Northern Ireland Bureaus Facebook page  to see what’s going on in Northern Ireland and the US.

I’d also like to give a shout out to Origin Theatre Company whose annual 1st Irish festival  includes actors, playwrights and plays from Northern Ireland as well as from the Republic of Ireland.

The British have a significant presence in the Big Apple;  here are some of the more notable happenings for the next few weeks:

April 27thLive from the NY Public Library, the wonderful actress Helen Mirren   reflects on the legacy of Shakespeare in a conversation with Paul Holdengräber  7:00 pm, NYPL on 42nd St & 5th Avenue

April 27th – Celebrate Shakespeare  with New York Classical Theatre at the Brookfield Center in Lower Manhattan

Through May 1st, the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) is hosting the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Shakespeare’s Cycle of Great Kings featuring Richard II, Henry IV Parts I & II, and Henry V

Frieze New York, an offshoot of the prestigious Frieze London Art Fair has ensconced itself in the NY art scene.  This year will be it’s fifth iteration on Randall’s Island from May 5th to 8th.  I’ve been twice, and recommend it.  Be sure to leave plenty of time to visit – there are over 200 galleries showing, as well as special projects (check them out), talks, and events. 

Through July 3rd, catch Brits Off Broadway , nine plays never before seen States-side at 59 East 59th Theatre.

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center has a lovely exhibit of playbills, broadsides, photos, original sketches and costumes from productions of Shakespeare’s works as performed in North America from colonial times until the present day.

England Day!

St George's Cross 3The first England Day  celebration happens this Saturday, April 23rd.  Celebrating St. George’s Day and all things English, with a New York attitude, the festivities kick off in Lower Manhattan at the Queen Elizabeth II Garden at 1:00, and will include sing-a-longs, Lego castle building and other kids’ activities organized by the British International School of New York, and Show us your Shakespeare, where you can get on stage and recite your favorite quotes from the bard. There’s also a costume competition and a chance to win 2 economy return flights to England – details are on the event’s Facebook page 

In addition to the Garden Party, there are other events across town, such as the England Day Pub Celebrations  !

Neue Galerie Exhibition to Scream About

Kiss IV, Edvard Munch, image from Google Art Project

Kiss IV, Edvard Munch, image from Google Art Project

The Neue Galerie’s  exhibit on the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch and his influence on German and Austrian artists should be on your gotta-go-see list.  While Munch is best known for capturing the deep psychological states of sadness, angst and separation that lay beneath the surface of late 19th and early 20th century society, this wide-ranging exhibit reveals many aspects Munch’s oeuvre across a variety of media (oil, water color, lithographs, woodcuts) and subjects (portraits, landscapes, seascapes…) There are some fabulous Munch pieces here, as well as ones by his contemporaries, especially Ludwig Kirchner and Emile Nolde. The first  room has some wonderful woodcuts by these three artists.  With several of the pieces, different versions are displayed, so you can see how they developed.  I especially liked Munch’s Kiss in the Field, whose figures are delicately outlined in white against a sienna background; in two earlier versions, Munch plays with the direction of the woodgrain and uses lighter colors, giving them an entirely different feel.  You’ll also find several works such as Melancholy, Towards the Forest and Madonna, that demonstrate how Munch was breaking down the boundaries of painting, drawing and printmaking.   In the same room, take a look at Fishing Steamer by Emile Nolde, a fabulous black & white woodcut of a steamer in the fog.

The next room features several portraits; I really liked the full-length one of Munch’s friend Christian Gierloff, standing by white cliffs at the seaside, his bright yellow raincoat and dark green suit making the background all the more vivid (or is is the other way around?).  There’s also a great portrait by Oskar Koskochia of Hans Tietze and Erica Tietze-Conrat; I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what was going on there – Hans is in profile to us, but he’s facing Erica’s direction, though looking away from her, while she faces us directly; it’s almost like they’re occupying two different planes, yet their hands almost touch.  A little research revealed that this was a marriage portrait, but the couple were painted separately.  The background of brown, orange, green and purple, is scratched out with pale yellow lines and shapes, making it crackle with energy.  On the opposite wall, Winter Landscape by Munch, dialogues very well with  The Blue Gable by Gabrielle Munter.  Close by is Sea B, an oil by Emile Nolde, whose roiling seas and sky are painted almost entirely in greens and brown.

In the “Influence and Affinity” section, you’l find a great pairing of four woodcuts by Munch made before 1905, three of which are titled “angst” (and the fourth could be) and four fabulous lithographs and woodcuts of women Ludwig Kirchner made after 1908.

Self-Portrait with a Bottle of Wine, Edvard Munch, image from Google Art Project

Self-Portrait with a Bottle of Wine, Edvard Munch, image from Google Art Project

In the same room is Munch’s 1906 Self Portrait with Bottle of Wine. Set in a cafe, it’s color scheme of primarily greens and reds stand out vividly against the white table cloths. We see Munch clearly, in the foreground, facing us, seated at a table.  Behind him, the faces of the two waiters are pure white with only black dots and lines for features;  a third, seated figure, is a woman who doesn’t even have a face.

This depiction of disconnection continues on the nearby wall in two other Munch oils,  The Human Beings, the Lonely Ones, whose subjects, staring at the sea, all have their backs to the viewer, and Separation, with the ghost-like, featureless woman wafting towards the edge of the painting.

The Scream, Edvard Munch

The Scream, Edvard Munch

It will come as no surprise that The Scream has its own room, which includes two woodcuts of this iconic picture, as well as some great self-portraits in water color, gouache and oil which Egon Schiele made between 1910 and 1912.

This exhibit runs through June 13th.

After the exhibit, take the time to visit the Neue Galerie’s collection.  In addition to the well-known 1907 portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, there are several other works by Gustav Klimt that deserve our attention, such as The Dancer, his 1916 posthumous portrait of Rhea Monk, whose garment of red, pink and green flowers melds into other shapes and curlicues, in a similar style; the Park at Kammer Castle, and Forester’s House in Weissenbach II both of which have vibrant palettes consisting almost entirely of greens.

Another room holds furniture, jewelry, as well as household and decorative objects, including examples from the Wiener Werkstätte.

Early 20th Century German advertising poster, Neue Galerie

Early 20th Century German advertising poster, Neue Galerie

In the basement is a great display of about a dozen advertising posters from the early 20th century, when Berlin was the center of Plakatstil (poster style) design.

The Neue Galerie also hosts lectures and cabaret performances. You can find more information here.  As I’ve said before, this museum is one of New York’s gems.

Women and Art: Progress of a Sort

Self-Portrait, Louise Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun

Self-Portrait, Louise Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun

There’s been a lot of discussion around the issue of gender diversity in the arts recently, highlighted by a New York Times article   on the resurgence of women-only art shows. 

It was against this backdrop that I attended a panel discussion on Women and Art, hosted by the Austrian-, German- and Swiss- American chambers of commerce.  A varied group of women from those countries who are now working in the U.S., (artist, journalist, curator, dealer, philanthropist) discussed this topic with a very engaged audience.  Throughout the evening, some common themes emerged, which applied to working women in the U.S., no matter what their profession. Here’s a very short summary.

In general, for both men and women, it’s hard to enter the art world, as you need to do a lot of networking to build up relations with galleries and collectors.  For women, this becomes even harder if and when they have children.  Several participants cited the need for workplaces to offer both paternity and maternity leave (especially long-term) as well as more flexibility in working hours/place – this would permit both parents to care for children.  Hard on it’s heels was the need for more systematized/institutional support for child care – not everyone can afford a nanny, and babysitters/family/friends are not always reliable.

Even though female artists may be getting a lot of attention at the moment, there’s no disputing that they are underrepresented in museums and galleries.  To add insult to injury, there’s the added issue of women’s works being underpriced compared to men’s.  You need only consider that the highest price at auction for a work by a female artist to date was $44 million for a Georgia O’Keefe painting in 2013, compared to a Picasso which sold for $160 million earlier this year.  According to Artnews, work by women artists represent around 8% of the lots  sold at auction. 

Unfortunately, many people view price as being indicative of talent, even though one really has nothing to do with the other.  However, prices for work by a given artist are established relative to her peers, making it harder for women to command the same sums as their male counterparts.

As to whether or not all-women artists shows tend to ghettoize the work, the consensus seemed  to be that there’s always that risk, but these types of shows have value, introducing viewers to artists they hadn’t previously known, or revealing additional depths in their work – everyone cited the Vigée le Brun exhibit at the Met.

However, on the institutional front in New York City there’s good news.  The NYC Department of Cultural Affairs’ recently released study on diversity in the arts  showed that women occupy about 50% of leadership and staff positions at the cultural institutions funded by the City.

All in all, still a lot of work to be done…

Elisabeth of Austria (1837-98)

Elisabeth of Austria (1837-98)

The evening kicked off with a keynote address by Dr.Sabine Haag, Director General of the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna (KHMW),  Dr. Haag gave an extensive overview of the Museum and its collections, as well as her vision for expanding and refurbishing various galleries of the KHMW which is celebrating its 125th Anniversary.  I’ve greatly enjoyed visiting the KHMW, or I should really say, just some of it, as it comprises 13 collections housed in 5 locations in Vienna and 1 in Innsbruck. An encyclopedic museum (founded with significant contributions by the Habsburg’s), the KHMW is known for its picture gallery, coin collection, and collections of Egyptian, Greek & Roman art, as well as the Imperial Treasury, the Theatre Museum, the Archeological Museum  and the Carriage collection.   Notable female patrons include  Margaret of Austria, Empress Maria Theresa and Princess Elisabeth (Sisi) of Austria.

If you can’t make it to Vienna, you can see a bit of  the KHMW uptown, as they have loaned three pieces to the Met for it’s Pergamon exhibit which begins April 18th.

Spotlight: Austria, Germany & Switzerland


This week’s spotlight was inspired by a panel discussion hosted by the Austrian- ,  German-   and Swiss-  American chambers of commerce on Women in Art.  I’ve covered the discussion in a separate post; below is information on cultural organizations from these three countries:

Austria has always punched above it’s weight in the arts, especially in the cities of Vienna and Salzburg.  New York City is home to Austria’s main cultural embassy in the U.S., the Austrian Cultural Forum (ACFNY).   You may already be familiar with it’s home, the 24-story sliver building (25 feet wide by 81 feet deep) at 11 East 52nd Street, designed by  Austrian-born New York architect Raimund Abraham.  You can take a tour .

The ACFNY’s library holds more than 11,000 volumes of Austrian literary, artistic, historical, and political works.

The Forum hosts musical events, readings, discussions and exhibitions.  From April 27th-29th  they will host the  Austrian American Short Film Festival (AASFF) , the first-of-its kind bilateral festival featuring short films in all forms and genres by promising young artists and filmmakers from both Austria and the United States

Their calendar is also a good place to find out about Austrian artists/performers who are showing/performing in New York and beyond.

It should come as no surprise that Germany is well represented on the cultural landscape.  The Goethe Institute NY  has settled into its space at 30 Irving Place from its former home on upper Fifth Avenue.  While they’re best known for their German language courses (I’ve taken classes there), they  also have a library, book club, and translation grant program.  The Goethe Institute operates in other cities in the US, and world-wide so you can study German at their facilities in other cities/countries.

From April 25th to May 15th, they will host Math to Touch, an interactive exhibition that will make mathematics more comprehensible for all age groups.  They will offer (self-)guided tours of the exhibition in German and English, quizzes and contests with prizes for German learners, information and classroom materials for German teachers and much more.    

In addition to their main space, the Goethe Institute also runs a contemporary art space at 38 Ludlow Street, where they have an artists residence program; this year’s theme is related to migration, and the current artist in residence is Anne Neukamp 

Deutsches Haus at NYU  offers not only German classes (I’ve studied here, too), but also exhibitions, talks, conferences and screenings for adults and children.  On  April 19th  they will host The Hugo Wolf Project, a Retrospective  in honor of the conclusion of the Brooklyn Art Song Society‘s epic six year survey of the complete Lieder of Hugo Wolf.  Some of the performers who have been there from the start will perform and discuss their favorite songs. 

Deutsches Haus at Columbia  has a limited schedule of events:  the evening of April 21st they will host  Goethes ‘Faust’: Reflexion der tragischen Form, a lecture by Professor David Wellbery (University of Chicago)  who will present material on “Faust” and tragic form from his new book.  This talk will be In German.  On April 25th, they will host Koffeuurtje, a Dutch conversation hour!

There are many other German groups here in the New York area – a good place to find more information is Germany in NYC .

You might also want to bookmark the Events page of the German Consulate General’s website for information about German artists/performers in New York and beyond.

One of the more unique museums in New York is The Neue Galerie New York, probably best known for Gustav Klimt’s portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, but there’s much more:  the  collection is composed of  painting, sculpture, decorative arts and photographs created in Austria and Germany between 1890 and 1940. Many of the works are from the collection of Ronald S. Lauder and the estate of Serge Sabarsky.  This museum is one of NYC’s gems.

Yesterday I saw the current exhibition Munch & Expressionism of about 85 works that examines Edvard Munch’s influence on his German and Austrian counterparts. I’ll do a full review next week, but in a word:  go see it!

The Neue Galerie also offers programs, especially cabaret performances,as well as recitals, lectures and films.

Despite its small size, Switzerland has had an outsized influence in the arts (Geneva, Basel). At 18 Wooster Street, in Soho, you’ll find the  Swiss Institute, an independent non-profit contemporary art institution known for its exhibitions and programs promoting experimental art. From April 15th to May 19th, they will present the first institutional solo exhibition in the United States of Olga Balema, For Early Man.   This is a new series of works using maps and globes from a range of origins and periods, which she has variously painted on and affixed with cast latex breasts, playing off the notion of Mother Earth and suggesting physical responses to perpetual growth and change.

On their website, you’ll find their video series, SI: Visions. I haven’t seen them all, but I liked the one by Christina Forrer, who explains how she transforms battles and struggles (found in online videos of cat fights and sporting events) into intricate weavings.  

You can find readings, performances and lectures at the Swiss Institute on it’s events page.

The Swiss Consulate has an events calendar on its website.

Good Fences?

Fences & Neighbors, Janet Goldner

Fences & Neighbors, Janet Goldner

Janet Goldner’s new show Fences & Neighbors  at the Five Myles gallery in Brooklyn will certainly make you reconsider the old saw about good fences making good neighbors. This installation  was inspired by a research trip Janet made to Arizona in 2014, and is very timely in view of all the loose rhetoric that’s been flying around about the U.S.’ policy towards migrants from Mexico, not to mention the global issue of migration. Occupying a small space in the front of the gallery, the first thing you’ll notice is the woven wire fence stretching  from the door to the opposite wall.  On two of the walls are panels with photos, stories and statistics that reveal how the border is more than a fence; the often harrowing journey across the border is followed by an equally arduous one to find shelter, work, and money.  On the back wall, a screen plays videos in which several migrants tell their stories and the dreams that propelled them to create a new life in a new land.

This show demands a lot of your attention, but it’s definitely worth the effort.  It will run until May 8th. 

Janet also has several sculptures in the Bronx:Africa exhibit at the Longwood Art Gallery at Hostos in the Bronx (read my review here  )

Pen + Brush: Showcasing Women in the Arts

Dream 1.0, Kristina Horne

Dream 1.0, Kristina Horne

Recently I discovered Pen + Brush  a non-profit which has been showcasing the work of female artists and writers to a larger audience since 1894. They have a lovely ground-floor gallery at 29 East 22nd Street, with a smaller space downstairs.  Their current exhibit,with the cheeky title of Broad Strokes,  features the the work of 15 artists and consists mostly of paintings, but there are also photographs, textiles and a sculpture.  I liked them all, but here are some of the standouts:

Cat Devouring Bird, Josephine Barreiro

Cat Devouring Bird, Josephine Barreiro

Josephine Barreiro has three very large canvases, Junkyard Dogs, Cat Devouring Bird, and El Toro,  whose bright colors and engaging subjects pull you in.  Her style is street art meets Picasso: the main figures outlined in black, with a cubist feeling, over which she has painted and spray painted bright turquoise, red, canary yellow, and sometimes green.  Each picture is suffused with energy:  you can practically hear her Junkyard Dogs howl (note how the incisors are especially pronounced); the cat risks being blinded by the bird its devouring, it’s so bright; the bull is clearly a riff on Picasso, but  has its own sensibility.   

Maria Stabio’s works are much smaller, but pack their own punch, by layering words on top of images.  My favorite has pink flowers painted on a black background, over which the painting’s title,“If you give up now, what were you fighting for” is printed in thin green letters.  But, if you look a bit closer, you’ll see that each word is repeated in black, stencil-like letters, making this a many-layered work.

Kristina Horne has two small pieces, Dream 1.0 and 2.0,  amorphous shapes fashioned from gel and silver on a black background (photo at top).  Every time I looked at them I saw something new.

Transitory Space, Bronx, Leah Oates

Transitory Space, Bronx, Leah Oates

Leah Oates photo series, Transitory Space…. is a multi-layered, yet etherial visual essay on nature. Her photos of trees in the Bronx, are colored in beautiful aqua and pink, while the ones in Brooklyn were shot in black and white, with a splash of red in the center.  The Beijing series prominently features green vegetation in the foreground, set against ghost like buildings.  On the lower level of the gallery, she has two great photos of lotus leaves that seem to float beneath the water; the blues and greens really pop out.

Let Them Eat Poppies, Courtney Hayes-Sturgeon

Let Them Eat Poppies, Courtney Hayes-Sturgeon

Also on the lower level is the very vibrant Let Them Eat Poppies, by Courtney Hayes-Sturgeon – the yellows and reds really pop!

There’s lots more to see, and I’ll post a few more photos on my Instagram feed.

The show runs through June 5th.   I recommend it.

Pen + Brush also run literary events; on May 8th, they’ll have a reading and launch of So Late to the Party  by poet Kate Angus (former teacher of mine)

The Illusive Eye – a Must See!

detail, Konvex rot-gelb-weis, Almir Mavignier

detail, Konvex rot-gelb-weis, Almir Mavignier

If the current exhibit at El Museo del Barrio   isn’t on your must-see list, put it there.  At the top.  The Illusive Eye  is a wonderful exhibit of art designed to fool the eye but also elicit a response from the viewer, who has to both look a bit deeper and step back to see what is really there and what is illusion.  The works are from the 1950’s through the 1970’s, with most from the 1960’s when interest in kinetic and Op art was at its peak.  In some ways this exhibit is a retort to MOMA’s groundbreaking 1965 show, The Responsive Eye.   El Museo’s exhibit offers an alternative view of kinetic and Op art by prominently featuring Latin American artists, – and many women –  and by embracing its esoteric roots

in Egyptian and Theosophical mysticism, as opposed to treating Impressionism as optical art’s jumping off point.  Even if you don’t particularly like Op art, this show is worth a visit, and may make you reconsider. (Be sure to pick up the brochure for this exhibit at the ticket desk)

The Illusive Eye showcases Latin American artists, especially those from Argentina, Brazil, Cuba and Venezuela,  alongside works by their European and US counterparts, including international luminaries such as Joseph Albers and Frank Stella who were also in the MOMA show.  For me it was the first time I encountered the work of many of these artists.

The show is divided into several sections, each designed to illustrate a feature of op-art:  Generative Paintings, Parallax Apparitions, Optical Sublime, Mandalas and Dervishes, and Kinetic Cascade. All of the works have a three dimensional feel; many are in fact three dimensional, composed of different layers (and sometimes different materials) that are separated from each other, creating the illusion of movement.  In some cases, like mobiles, it is the art that also performs the movement.

With all of these works, your perception of what you see changes as you move in front of and alongside a given piece. And they demand that you also consider the spaces in between.  Here are some of my favorites:

Convex red-yellow-white by Almir Mavignier (Brazil) is a long, slender strip of raised dots of red, yellow, blue and white paint on a black background – by varying the size and spacing of the dots, Mavignier creates the illusion of undulating vertical movement.

detail, 125 Colors, Tony Bechara

detail, 125 Colors, Tony Bechara

125 Colors by Tony Bechara (Puerto Rico) was painted in 1979, but its hand-painted small squares of primary and secondary colors could be seen as prescient, an analog version of digital pixels.

Louis Tomasello’s (Argentina) Atmosphère chromoplastique no 281 is composed of small angled cubes that stand away from the backing, and are painted white on the top and orange on the underside.  Facing different directions, they shift light and shadow, creating the illusion of movement and squares within squares through reflections of colored light. 

Right by it is Variations on the Square, by French artist Jean-Pierre Yvaral, who manipulates black and white paint to create the illusion of squares rising from the center of the canvas.  Seeing these two together provides a master class in how different materials can be manipulated to create a similar effect.

Six Forms in Two Circumferences, Eduardo Mac Entyre

Six Forms in Two Circumferences, Eduardo Mac Entyre

The interlocking delicate red circles and slow color fade outs of Six Forms in Two Circumferences by Eduardo Mac Entyre (Argentina) conspire to create an upside-down heart whose center radiates white light, drawing you in to contemplate its intensity.  Equal in intensity is his Pintura Generative Transparencias; you’ll find yourself drawn in to the infinity symbol created by the delicate lines of the interlocking concentric circles.

Right by it there’s a fabulous painting, M1, by Wojciech Fangor (Poland) of luminous blue and brown concentric circles, whose center is pure white heat.   

When you come to Caio Fonesca’s Blue Invention, you won’t be surprised to read on the wall label that it has a musical inspiration, Bach’s short two piece compositions (inventions); the blue and white-ish S shapes imitate and balance each other, while seemingly moving at different speeds.

Nebula, Ernesto Briel

Nebula, Ernesto Briel

Ernesto Briel (Cuba) has two lovely intricate pen and ink spiral compositions, Nebulosa and Rupture of the Circle, that move beyond classical op art in the way they seem to pulse and spin. 

Be sure to stop at Equilibrio by Miguel Angel Vidal (Argentina); the delicate white net-like “bow tie” that overlays the four pair of overlapping blue triangles makes the painting seem to move in a dizzying fashion

Antonio Asis, “8 White Circles, 8 Black Circles” consists of a metal grill of large punched holes placed a few inches in front of 8 squares with either black or white small circles; the size and place of the resulting image are a function of where you’re standing.

The Nine Mobile Circles by Ivan Contreras Brunet (Chile) seem to change color as they move, and sometimes not all nine are visible, depending on your vantage point.

Untitled, Mario Carreño

Untitled, Mario Carreño

Mario Carreño (Chile) is represented by two pieces, both Untitled, which are formal abstract compositions deftly employing a limited palate of greens and rusts.

Towards the end of the exhibit, in a darkened semi-enclosed space, you’ll find the show-stopper:  Spazio Ad Attivazione Cinetica 6B, by Marina Appolonio (Italy).  Covering the floor, this spiral of lines of varying widths and distances creates the feeling of a surface that moves and has three dimensions; walk slowly around it, as it really can make you dizzy!

Overall, this show will make you appreciate anew (or at least reconsider) optical and kinetic art by providing a deeper and different point of reference.  The Illusive Eye  runs through May 21st.

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