I finally got to the International Center of Photography today, where I saw the Richard Avedon show. The show’s an excellent companion piece to the Model as Muse exhibit at the Met. The Avedon show focused only on the photographer’s fashion work, so many of the models and photographs are also featured at the Met. Avedon was absolutely pivotal in how we view fashion and fashion photography today, and it was fun to see how he basically created so many big names. The ICP Museum also had an exhibit of experimental photography by John Wood and a really fascinating little exhibit of photographs of small model dolls used in post-war Paris to help revitalize the fashion industry.
The ICP is right near Bryant Park, so I grabbed some lunch there before heading to the museum. I got a grilled fontina and mozzarella cheese sandwich with tomato preserves from Wichcraft, Tom Collichio’s sandwich shop, and happily enjoyed it on the lovely premises. Bryant Park is one of my favorite little parks in New York: centrally located and always busy but not crowded or loud, perhaps because it is behind a library. Hard to imagine that this little park is just off Times Square.
After playing around Grand Central Station for a bit I decided to walk home along Madison. The stretch of Madison in the 50s and 60s is peppered with stores full of clothes that I can not afford, but it is fun to admire and to look. I walked by the Palace, whose courtyard is a set featured on Gossip Girl.
I also stumbled into the atrium of the Trump Tower and saw some semi-public art.
The weather was lovely, the stroll was leisurely, it was an excellent Sunday afternoon. I spent the rest of my Sunday at the gym and grocery shopping, and now I am relaxing and enjoying the fact that I do not have to go to work tomorrow. That is a serious win. Hope y’all had a great weekend!
Post P.S.1 (and an almond macaroon from the museum’s cafe) we hopped a subway for the long ride to the Brooklyn Museum, where we met up with Ashley. I was at the museum last summer to see the Takashi Murakami mid-career retrospective; last summer was my first visit to the museum, and I left really impressed. The Brooklyn Museum is an encyclopedia museum, like the Met, but it is far more intimate and far less crowded. The collection is stellar, especially if you like decorative art, and the museum owns what is probably the most important work of feminist art ever made, Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party. I’m always really surprised and saddened that this museum doesn’t get more traffic. It is a fantastic institution and, in some ways, even more enjoyable than places like the Met.
This particular visit brought me to see the Yinka Shonibare show. Shonibare is a Nigerian-born, British-raised artist whose work deals primarily with post-colonial issues and discussions of race and identity. Also, a condition he developed when he was nineteen left him paralyzed on his right side (that’s why he had that cocksure “what” look in the photographs, Phil and Ashley, clearly I am not appropriately schooled in all contemporary artists, or maybe my professors subtracted that biographical information in their lectures).
Yinka Shonibare is probably best known for his installations of headless mannequins. The mannequins are all uniform non-specific “brownish” color, to screw with ideas of race, and they are purposefully headless to screw with ideas of identity. The mannequins are dressed in Dutch wax printed costume fabrics designed in a Victorian style. These Dutch wax printed fabrics are generally associated as “African” but, of course, they are made in Europe and therefore are merely a European’s notion of what “African” should look like. The Victorian period in Europe is also the period when Africa began to be carved up by the European nations, like a “magnificent African cake,” to quote a member of the 1884 Berlin conference held to divide said cake. This “scramble for Africa” is re-created in an installation of the same name.
The exhibition is divided across the museum. The first floor has this large installation, the entrance with the ocelots, a few wall pieces and two videos that play on ideas of identity, mask, and race. One is a masked ball based on an opera, and one is a really simple ballet piece based on “Swan Lake,” featuring a dancer at a “mirror.” The “mirror” is really another dancer mimicking the first’s movements precisely, but one dancer is black and the other is white.
The exhibit continues on the fourth floor, with one large area devoted to further installations and several site-specific installations that Shonibare has hidden within the period rooms of the museum. The site-specific installation is called Mother and Father Worked Hard so I May Play, and features a series of child-sized mannequins playing amongst the period rooms and decorations in the museum. This part of the exhibition is fun–sort of a scavenger hunt, because the museum has many period rooms and sometimes the mannequins are hidden in the corners.
The other part of the exhibit ont he 4th floor continues with the large installation theme but also has a lot of really wonderful photography depicting Shonibare himself in the manner of a British dandy or in scenarios drawn from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. His installations depict Enlightenment philosophers, plays upon the idea of the duel, and a scathing depiction of the of the European Grand Tour. Shonibare also installed a really stunning tableau based on Fragonard’s The Swing.
The next few photos are from the play on the European Grand Tour, and they are explicit. This is your warning to send any small children fleeing.
Well that was fun. Long story short: we all really enjoyed the Yinka Shonibare show. I know some critics dismiss his work as too stuck in the post-colonial theories of fifteen-twenty years ago or too obvious, but I find the works very humorous, very aware of both art history and actual history, and extremely interesting in terms of media and construction. I care not what they say, I found the show fascinating, the end.
We spent another half an hour or so looking at the feminist center, the Egyptian wing, and the contemporary art galleries before heading out a little before 6:00, when the museum closes.
Phil had to leave to go work on some songs in Midtown. Ashley and I hung around her neighborhood. I saw the adorable brownstone in which she lives. We wandered around. We ate some Mexican at a place on Flatbush–fairly nondescript, but we were both starving and craving lots of protein.
Then, more importantly, we went to the Blue Marble ice cream shop, highly toted by Serious Eats, creamy deliciousness with amazing hot fudge. Ashley and I split a mini-sundae with vanilla and dulce de leche ice cream and said amazing hot fudge. We were extremely pleased.
Post ice cream joy we went and sat in Prospect Park unti it got completely dark. Ashley headed off to a party near her house, I returned to the city because I was exhausted. That was Saturday–art, food, friends, goodness.
Everything sounds better with the word “adventure” tacked to it.
Today involved much art. Art and subways. Extra subways because I was an idiot and left the apartment without my camera battery, and therefore had to return to my apartment to get the camera battery. You will be happy to see that I did, I was able to take some installation shots at the Brooklyn Museum.
I met up with Phil at P.S. 1, in Long Island City in Queens. P.S. 1 is MoMA’s off-site center for contemporary art. The museum is located in a converted schoolhouse (hence the name). MoMA lacks space in its midtown location for the sufficient display of contemporary art, so this location helps in terms of air time. Also, the artists shown here are lesser known, and the space’s less-touristy location enables experimentation in terms of who and what is shown.
At least, that’s what I hoped it would be. I was actually a little disappointed by P.S. 1. Yes, the pool installation near the lobby is really neat, but it is mostly a visual trick, and an obvious one at that. I do like P.S. 1’s Summer Warm-Up series, and how they commission a new outdoor concert area every year via their Young Architects Program. I think it’s a good way to rally the local cultural community and it brings a lot of families and other unlikely visitors to the museum. This year’s YAP winner is Afterparty, sort of giant coney thatched volcanoes that mist the crowd below to keep them cool.
So those aspects of the museum were positive. I liked some of the works in the Jonathan Horowitz show, but I thought a lot of the work was humorless, heavy-handed, and rather obvious–lots of anti-war works, stupid photographic tricks like turning a photo of Bush upside down, or ripping a picture of the Pope in half alla Sinead O’Connor. Said heavy-handedness was even more apparent in the works of Lutz Bacher; this exhibit also had poor video art. Enough said. A Kenneth Anger video retrospective was interestingly installed but I find that very few visitors, myself included, have the patience to watch a long series of experimental films (not video art, Phil would yell at me if I called it video art) in an art museum, although I do understand that many film types are really excited about the chance to see so many of Anger’s works in a not-youtube-setting. I really liked the semiotic word-play object-based drawings of Michael Joaquin Grey, especially his topographical pulsing interpretation of The Wizard of Oz. I was also really pleased by William Kentridge’s stairwell installations. Overall, though, I was sort of puzzled by the museum and by the art chosen by the curators. The work chosen demonstrated to me that some of the more exciting works being made today are in traditional media: painting, drawing, and sculpture. Bad video art is really unbearable, and unfortunately much of the multi-media work being shown today is bad. The contemporary art gallery at MoMA proper has a giant drawing show, and it is really astounding, much better than most of what I saw at P.S.1, but still something of a mess exhibition wise. Maybe the contemporary art curators at P.S.1 and MoMA don’t know what to do with themselves, I’m not really sure. Also, the museum is not particularly visitor-friendly: the layout is confusing, and the curators/educators do not do much in the way of explaining the art to visitors. Many people are turned-off by contemporary art, and I do not feel that P.S. 1 did much to remedy that situation. I am glad I finally visited P.S. 1 but I find it a really problematic institution.
Check-in for part II of said multi-borough museum adventure tomorrow!