A Night at the Opera

I would have spared you of yet more photos of the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center had it not been for this exquisite costume designed for Birgit Nilsson, for the 1961 production of Turandot, by the multi talented Mr. Cecil Beaton.

I had ample time to be bedazzled as I used the intermission to join that familiar long line to the Ladies Room. Gazing at her headpiece, it thought it was matched only by the Sputnik chandeliers in sparkle.

But, while Turandot is my favourite opera (and Nessun Dorma my favourite aria of all times), that evening we were there to enjoy the ever so charming Die Zauberflöte. It was as grand as a Metropolitan Opera production was expected to be.  Birgit Nilsson in Turandot, 1961. Photo from the Metropolitan Opera Archives


September 30th, 2017

Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive

In 2017, MoMA – jointly with Columbia University – acquired the vast archives of Frank Lloyd Wright, one of the most prolific architects of the 20th century. To mark that acquisition, as well as the 150th anniversary of his birth on June 8, 1867, MoMA presented Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive, an exhibition that comprised some 450 works made from the 1890s through the 1950s and included architectural drawings, models, building fragments, films, print media, furniture, tableware, textiles, paintings, photographs, and scrapbooks. According to its curator, Barry Bergdoll, the show was meant “to announce that Frank Lloyd Wright is open to new interpretations” and that “the archive is here and it’s open.”

Having had a closer look on Mr. Wright’s incredibly detailed, delicate, at once artistically accomplished and architecturally precise designs, I can attest to the show’s success in opening the work of one of America’s – and the world’s – greatest architects, to new interpretations. At least to my, not-so-expert, eyes.  Goron Strong Automobile Objective and Planetarium, Sugarloaf Mountain, Maryland
Project, 1924-25 // Pencil and coloured pencil on tracing paper

This project is often seen as a forerunner of the Guggenheim Museum, built two decades later.


Fallingwater (Kaufmann House), Mill Run, Pennsylvania 1934-37
Pencil and coloured pencil on paper

The bold design of a house over a waterfall for Pittsburgh department store magnate Edgar Kaufmann put Wright back in the public eye at a moment when he was increasingly anxious that his fame had faded. This drawing landed Wright on the cover of Time magazine in 1938 – he was only the third architect ever to receive that honour – and was also displayed that same year in an exhibition at MoMA devoted solely to his unprecedented house design.


Moore House, Oak Park, Illinois, 1895
Ink on paper


Madison Civic Center (Monona Terrace), Madison, Wisconsin
Project, 1938-59 // Ink and pencil on paper mounted on plywood

Even  as Wright reimagined Chicago as a city dominated by a few super-tall skyscrapers but otherwise given over to a prairie landscape, he also designed urban projects – many of the megastructures, such as this one for Monona Terrace, which integrated transportation and infrastructure with public and commercial programmes – with the intention of revitalizing urban cores and engaging the preexisting city and its surroundings. This project was realized decades after Wright’s death.


The Mile-High Illinois, Chicago
Project, 1956 // Pencil, coloured pencil and gold ink on tracing paper

In this perspective drawing, Wright inserts his imagined mile-high skyscraper into the lakefront area of Chicago, which he transforms into a green landscape, rendering obsolete many of the city’s older, densely packed towers. The Mile-High becomes a singular object, in dialogue only with another Wright proposal: a tower called the Golden Beacon, visible in the background.


Plan for Greater Baghdad
Project, 1957 // Ink, pencil and coloured pencil on tracing paper

In 1957, Wright, along with a number of ”starchitects” including Alvar Aalto, Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius, was commissioned to design a signature building in Baghdad as part of an Iraqi government programme to bring Western architecture to the capital city. Although asked only to design an opera house, Wright expanded the programme into an entire cultural centre – including a university, two museums, a zoo and various recreational facilities – and moved the site to an island in the Tigris River. Wright’s project, like most of the others, was cancelled after the revolution of 1958.


Butterfly Wing Bridge, San Francisco
Project, 1949-53 // Ink, pencil and coloured pencil on tracing paper


Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 1943-59
Gouache on paper mounted on board


American System-Built Houses for the Richards Company
Project 1915-17


Bogk House, Milwaukee, Wisconsin – 1916-17
Watercolour, gouache, gold paint and graphite on paper mounted on Japanese paper

The two winged figures depicted in this sculptural frieze for the Bogk House recall, in their blocky, geometric forms, Mayan and Aztec motifs, while their wings resemble the eagle imagery prominent in the Pueblo Eagle Dance. The Eagle Dance was one of the most popular ceremonial dances performed at the 1915 Panama-California Exposition in San Diego, which Wright attended and where he encountered theories positing that contemporary American Indians were descendants of a venerable, ancient American civilization.


Lake Tahoe Resort, Lake Tahoe, California
Project, 1923-24 // Pencil and coloured pencil on tracing paper


Eugene Masselink (1910-1962)
Pattern studies // Pencil and coloured pencil on paper

Various cacti, rock formations and lichen are distilled into their essential organizing forms in these applied pattern studies, demonstrating the generative relationship between nature and architecture in Wright’s practice. According to Wright, the cellular structure of desert plants, for example, offered lessons in economical construction. Believing the artist should approximate nature through a process of conventionalization or abstraction – seeking underlying geometries rather than outward forms – Wright incorporated such pattern studies into his educational approach at the Taliesin Fellowship. Eugene Masselink, one of Wright’s most talented apprentices, drew these examples.

Frank Lloyd Wright and his assistant Eugene Masselink installing the exhibition Frank Lloyd Wright: American Architect at The Museum of Modern Art, November 13, 1940-January 5, 1941. Photographic Archive. The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York
Photo: Soichi Sunami


Preliminary scheme for Imperial Hotel, Tokyo 1913-23
Ink and pencil on drafting cloth

The Imperial Hotel in Tokyo took over a decade to build and exerted a profound influence on both Wright’s designs and the architecture of a modernizing Japan.

Having survived the Great Kantō Earthquake in 1923 and the American bombing of the city during World War II, it was finally demolished in 1968 to be replaced with a modern hotel tower.

Portions of the Imperial Hotel, including the grand entrance/lobby and the reflecting pool, were saved and painstakingly relocated to the Meiji Mura Museum, an open-air architectural theme park in Inuyama that contains more than 60 historic, culturally significant buildings from Japan and beyond. [source]


March Balloons, 1955
Drawing based on a cover design for Liberty magazine, c. 1926


From Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive, an exhibition that ran through October 1st, 2017 at MoMA.

September 25th, 2017

The Idiosyncratic Eyes of Mme Bourgeois

Staring into your soul.

House 1994
Marble


the puritan 1990-97 (text: 1947)
Folio set no. 3: engravings with selective wiping, gouache and watercolour additions


Lullaby 2006
Series of twenty-five screenprints on fabric: title sheet and twenty-four compositions

Bourgeois created shapes by turning and tracing common household objects – scissors, a knife and a candy dish, among them. She published this set herself, under the imprint Lison Editions. Lison, Lise, Lisette, Louison and Louisette were among her childhood nicknames.


Ode à l’Oubli 2004
Fabric illustrated book with thirty fabric collages and four lithographs

The pages of this book are composed of linen hand towels saved from her trousseau. Many contain the embroidered monogram LBG (Louise Bourgeois Goldwater). Bourgeois later issued and editioned version of this book in twenty-five examples. In that version, the pages are tied together through buttonholes instead of bound so all of the pages can be displayed simultaneously, as seen on this wall.


Untitled 1998
Fabric and stainless steel


Stamp of Memories I 1993
Drypoint with metal stamp additions


Sainte Sébastienne 1992
Drypoint


Triptych for the Red Room 1994
Aquatint, drypoint and engraving

The subject of pain is the business I am in.“ – LB


Self Portrait 2007
Gouache on paper


Self Portrait 1990
Drypoint, etching and aquatint


I Redo (interior element) from the installation
I Do, I Undo, I Redo 1999-2000
Steel, glass wood and tapestry


Untitled 1940
Oil and pencil on board


Lacs de Montagne (Mountain Lakes), 19916 & 1977
Engraving and aquatint with watercolour, gouache and ink additions


Arch of Hysteria 1993
Bronze, polished patina


Spider 1997


Note from Louise Bourgeois: An Unfolding Portrait, an exhibition that ran at the MoMA, until end January 2018: ”[…] explores the prints, books, and creative process of the celebrated sculptor Louise Bourgeois (1911–2010). Bourgeois’s printed oeuvre, a little-known aspect of her work, is vast in scope and comprises some 1,200 printed compositions, created primarily in the last two decades of her life but also at the beginning of her career, in the 1940s. The Museum of Modern Art has a prized archive of this material, and the exhibition will highlight works from the collection along with rarely seen loans […].”

September 25th, 2017

Dancin’ & Bridgin’

Café Müller, Pina Bausch’s dreamy masterpiece
The Rite of Spring, Pina’s interpetation of Stravinsky’s groundbreaking work
Brooklyn Bridge, no intro necessary

Three iconic creations, so visionary and inspirational, it is easy to believe they have always been here, evolving organically since the beginning of time. 

In 1984, Tanztheater Wuppertal made its New York debut at BAM, performing what would become the two most iconic works of Pina Bausch’s extraordinary repertoire. More than three decades later, the company returned with a landmark restaging of that historic double bill. 

Images show the transformation of the stage from a café, in which figures dance dreamily to the music by Henry Purcel, to a dirt field where dancers perform a wild ritualistic routine in honour of spring – a transformation that earned the crew their very own, heartfelt applause; alternating with images of one of the City’s most iconic structures, at dusk.

Café Müller/The Rite of Spring, was part of 2017 Next Wave Festival at BAM. The Brooklyn Bridge is part of the City, since 1883.

September 24th, 2017

Eloise at the Museum

So what if I haven’t read any of her stories? Who wouldn’t want to meet Eloise, a mischievous, annoying, adorable little girl, a native New Yawker, and one who lives in the “room on the tippy-top floor” of the Plaza with her Nanny, her dog Weenie and her turtle Skipperdee, at that. So, put on your comfy slacks and your fancy pink flats, and let’s go see what she has in store for us, shall we? Hilary Knight
Study for ”I have a dog that looks like a cat”, 1955
Pen and ink on paper


Hilary Knight
After Clayton Knight (1891-1969) and Katharine Sturges Knight (1890-1979)
Cover of The New Yorker, April 17, 1926, 1996
Gouache

Knight’s father, Clayton, specialised in aviation art. A pilot with the British Royal Air Force in World War I, he survived a crash landing in 1918 and went on to illustrate and write numerous books on the history of aviation. Clayton often collaborated with his wife, as in their cover for The New Yorker. Years later, Knight’s colour scheme for Eloise echoed its palette. His hand-painted copy of the cover is an homage to his parents’ work.


Hilary Knight
Eloise, 1956
Tempera on paper

A mystery surrounds this Eloise portrait. Painted in 1956 as a birthday gift for Kay Thompson, it vanished from the Plaza Hotel on November 23, 1960, the night of a Junior League debutante ball. ”Eloise kidnapped!” announced Walter Cronkite on CBS Evening News. In spite of Thompson’s offer of a reward, the painted failed to surface.

Two years later, Hilary Knight received a call. A muffled voice told him where his artwork was: in a dumpster, ripped to pieces. Devastated, he retrieved the ruined work and put in a closet.

But the puzzle remained. Who stole Eloise? In retrospect, Thompson herself was the only person who benefited from its disappearance. This may have been the stunt of her career, giving her ample press and a dramatic exit for the character she was done with. Staging a media moment and destroying Knight’s work underlined the primacy of the author’s voice. A final clue came when Thompson confessed in a 1993 interview that she had found the portrait ”on Eight-something Street… torn up.” There’s so much we’ll never know about Kay Thompson – and that’s just how she liked it.


Richard Avedon
Kay Thompson, 1951
Photograph

For her session with Richard Avedon, Thompson held a sequinned fan made by Knight. But the had not met yet! D.D. Dixon, Avedon’s assistant for the shoot, had borrowed the prop from Knight, her across-the-hall neighbour. Four years later, Dixon suggested to Thompson that her Eloise voice might make a good book, if she could find the right illustrator. She introduced Knight to Thompson at the Plaza’s Persian Room, in December 1954.


Kay Thompson and Evelyn Rudie, publicity still from the Playhouse 90 movie Eloise, 1956


Hilary Knight
Final illustration for ”I always stay at the National whenever I am in Moscow”, 1959
Pen &brush and ink & graphite on paper


Hilary Knight
Final illustration for ”Here’s what we did a lot of”, 1959
Graphite & pen and brush & ink with gouache on paper


rawther fluzzery picture, don’t you see?


Hilary Knight
Cover illustration for Truman Capote’s manuscript Can a Pig Fly?, 1958
Pen and ink and watercolour on paper

A curious project that never saw publication was Knight’s collaboration with the Truman Capote. The success of Dr. Seuss’ easy reader The Cat in the Hat in 1957 prompted the editors at Random House, its publisher, to ask their entire author list to try this popular new form. None made it to completion, but Knight and Capote enjoyed working together on sketches and notes.


Don Freeman
Kay Thompson, 1951
Lithograph on paper


Unidentified photographer
Kay Thompson and the Williams Brothers, ca. 1948

Eight songs, forty minutes and no encore. Thompson’s athletic act with the Williams Brothers was innovative, witty, and a smash success. Taking the concept of the overhead boom mike used on movie sets, Thompson had microphones strung all over the ceiling to allow the five performers to move freely about the stage. ”There’d never been an act like it”, Andy Williams said.


Edith Head
Kay Thompson’s office costume for Funny Face, 1956
Pen, ink and watercolour on paper

This meticulously detailed working drawing from Edith Head’s studio documents the cost of Thompson’s office outfit: $480 and another $65 for accessories.


Hilary Knight
Sketch for ”I AM ELOISE”, 1996
Watercolour, brush and ink, crayon and graphite on Bristol board


Eloise is the alter ego of cabaret star Kay Thompson (1909–1998), best known for her role as fashion magazine editor in Funny Face (1957), and her collaboration with writer and illustrator Hilary Knight (b. 1926), best known as the Man who Drew Eloise.

These and many more objects, manuscript pages, sketchbooks, portraits, photographs and vintage dolls were on view at the New-York Historical Society, back in 2017. If you missed it fret not. Think Pink and head over to the Plaza. You may just catch a glimpse of the elusive enfant terrible skibbling down the hallway. 

New-York Historical Society

September 23rd, 2017

Fighting War with Art || Arthur Szyk: A Soldier in Art

The work of a Polish artist on show at the New-York Historical Society?  That seemed strange at first, but a quick read of the introduction shed light on the artist’s relation with the United States and his deep admiration of, and dedication to American democratic values – those same values that are under thread today, shaking American society to its core.

Arthur Szyk fought the demons of WWII in his own creative way, by focusing on political cartooning and producing works that were published as magazine covers, reproduced as posters, and exhibited in art galleries. Among the many admirers of his work during this period was Eleanor Roosevelt, who wrote in her newspaper column My Day: “In its way [Szyk’s work] fights the war against Hitlerism as truly as any of us who cannot actually be on the fighting fronts today.” [source]

Arthur Szyk was so dedicated to American democratic values that he actually became an American citizen in 1948. These are some of the artworks he made during his years in New York City.  FDR’s Soldier in Art, 1944
Pencil, watercolour, pen and ink on paper

Szyk’s lively portrait of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945) conveyed the artist’s reverence for the US and its principles of freedom and justice, and his belief that the president would lead the Allies – United States, Great Britain and Russia – in defeating the Axis powers. He dedicated the portrait to Eleanor Roosevelt in 1946 following the president’s death. Mrs. Roosevelt admired Szyk and mentioned his artistic crusade in her newspaper columns on several occasions.


We’re running short of Jews!…, 1943
Ink and graphite on paper

The drawing responded to an announcement made by the World Jewish Congress in November 1942 that confirmed the Nazis’ plan to annihilate Europe’s Jewish population. Szyk later dedicated the drawing to his mother, who died at the Chelmno extermination camp near the Łódź ghetto.


De Profundis. Cain, where is Abel thy Brother?, 1943
Ink and graphite on board


Palestine Restricted, 1944
Pen, ink and pencil on paper

Palestine Restricted furthered Szyk’s condemnation of the White Paper by likening it to a fierce vulture descending on masses of dead and dying men, women and children. The notation, March 31, 1944, marks the date when the British further tightened Jewish immigration, requiring the consent of Palestinian Arabs.


To be shot, as Dangerous Enemies of the Third Reich!, 1943
Ink and graphite on card

Szyk’s biting depiction of Heinrich Himmler declaring innocent Jewish children as enemies of the Third Reich emphasized the senselessness of Nazi anti-Semitism.


Modern Moses, 1944
Pen, ink and pencil on paper


Untitled (The Silent Partner), September 1941
Watercolour, gouache, ink and graphite on paper

Szyk anticipated the US entry into WWII and Hitler’s eventual downfall in this depiction of a decorated figure of Death observing a dangerous poker game between Hitler and ”Ivan”, a pre-Soviet Union Russian leader. Gambling with the fate of the world, Hitler’s cards represent his alliance with Italy, Japan and Vichy France. Ivan’s hand includes the US and Great Britain. Seven puppets, the collaborating leaders of Hungary, Finland, Japan, Italy, Vichy France and Spain, hang from Hitler’s belt. The painting appeared on the cover of Collier’s on November 1, 1941, one month before the US entered the war.


Murder Incorporated: Hirohito, Hitlerhito, Benito, December 1941
Watercolour and gouache on paper


Offset lithograph. Here, Szyk characterizes Mussolini, Hirohito and Hitler as venereal diseases, offering perfect incentive to stay healthy and fight in the war effort.


More than 40 artworks by illustrator and miniaturist Arthur Szyk (1894–1951), were on view at the New-York Historical Society between September 2017 and January 2018.

New-York Historical Society

September 23rd, 2017

Jack & Jackie

(and Ethel & Bob)

Photos from happy times, when life was a field of infinite possibilities.

Orlando Suero (b. 1928)
Jack and Jackie stroll with Ethel Kennedy in Georgetown, Washington D.C., May 8, 1954

Prior to meeting Jack, Jackie worked for the Washington Times-Herald as a reporter and photographer for a daily Q&A feature. Previously, she had studied at the University of Grenoble in France, the Sorbonne in Paris and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in French literature from George Washington University.


Unidentified photographer
Traveling to Europe on break from college, The Hague, 1937

During high school Kennedy’s instructors often remarked that he was a disorganized student whose work rarely matched his abilities, but an astute teacher noted: ”When he grows up enough to gain seriousness of purpose, he will make a real contribution.”


Paul Schutzer (1930-1967)
Jacqueline Kennedy watching the forth Kennedy-Nixon debate from the wings, New York City, October 21, 1960

The Kennedy-Nixon debates were the first to be televised, striking a new an indivisible union between politics and media. Kennedy later acknowledged that ”It was TV more than anything else that turned the tide.”


Jacques Lowe (1930-2001)
Bobby and Ethel Kennedy casting their votes, Hyannis Port, November 8, 1960


Abbie Rowe (1905-1967)
Opening of the Mona Lisa Exhibit, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., January 8, 1963


Jacqueline Kennedy and the French Minister of Cultural Affairs, André Malraux, facilitated the loan of the Mona Lisa to Washington D.C. for an historic three-week exhibition. This was the first time the painting traveled to America.

Then, on Monday February 4, 1963 – exactly 56 years ago today – the masterpiece entered the Metropolitan Museum of Art where it remained for three and half weeks.

Nearly two million people clamoured to view the Mona Lisa during her short stay in America.

Photos were on view in the New-York Historical Society

September 23rd, 2017

The Scintillating Gardens of Tiffany Studios

These Tiffany artifacts don’t necessarily involve breakfast. Equally brilliant, precious and a tad more colourful, they are at their best and brightest at dinner. They are also part of the New-York Historical Society’s permanent collection and light up an entire – recently renovated – floor. 

The New-York Historical Society’s extensive collection of Tiffany Studios lamps was the gift of pioneering collector Dr. Egon Neustadt (1898-1984), an Austrian immigrant an orthodontist. Along with his wife, Hildegard Steininger (1911-1961), Neustadt began buying Tiffany lamps at a time when Americans scorned them as passé. Shortly after their marriage in 1935, the couple, looking for affordable furnishings for their Queens home, found a ”strange, old-fashioned” Daffodil lamp in  Greenwich Village antique shop and purchased it for $12.50. That modest discovery sparked a decades-long quest in which the Neustadts amassed more than 200 Tiffany lamps, perhaps the largest and most encyclopedic collection in the world. 

September 23rd, 2017