In 1978 the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Chicago (220 E. Chicago Ave.; 312-280-2600; mcachicago.org) presented the first solo museum exhibition of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo in the United States. Nearly four decades later, the institution presents “Unbound: Contemporary Art After Frida Kahlo,” which puts two of Kahlo’s rarely seen portraits, La Venadita and The Tree of Hope, in dialogue with artworks by 30 international artists working today, including Sanford Biggers, Nan Goldin and Cindy Sherman.
On view through October 5, the show is organized around four themes in the portraits: gender performance, national identity, the political body and the absent or traumatized body. Here, MCA curator Julie Rodrigues Widholm discusses the exhibit.
Q: What inspired you to put this show together?
A: I have felt energy around a new wave of feminist activity and dialogue, mainly in the pursuit of equality and human rights for everyone, not just women. For me, and for many, Kahlo is an icon of individuality, courage, freedom and the transcendence of very difficult obstacles in one’s life. I also wanted to do this show now to bring an important artistic figure, who over the years has become a kitsch celebrity and whose paintings are often overshadowed by her life story, into a conversation with contemporary art to show how important and revolutionary her work was, and still is, today. It merits a fresh look. And most importantly, the issues that were addressed in her work are still highly relevant. In particular the question of gender seems very timely, as there is more of an open public dialogue around LGBTIQ concerns and gay marriage.
Q: What do you hope to glean from showing Kahlo’s works alongside those of contemporary artists?
A: I’ve placed it in a new intergenerational context to show how art history is an ongoing process of looking forward, backward and sideways. It allows us to think about the prescience of her work and find threads that connect her with artists of subsequent generations. It also shows us that artistic expression and the struggles of what it means to be human—and to be ourselves—transcend place and time and are universal.
Q: Are there any parallels or comparisons in particular that you hope to draw?
A: In general we are making thematic connections derived from what is visible in Kahlo’s two paintings [La Venadita and The Tree of Hope]. But we are also invoking her spirit of rebellion, transgression and subversion both in terms of content and art-making and aesthetics.
Meissen is both the name of a slumbering former royal seat near Dresden, Germany, and the moniker of the famous state porcelain factory located there for more than 300 years. Best known for churning out anachronistic figurines and flowery dishes your grandmother might like—but are a hard sell in today’s world, even if they were originally designed for a royal clientele and rightfully fill museums—Meissen has begun an artist-in-residence program to curb the crinoline and wake things up. The wonderfully fresh and irreverent results of one such pairing are on view in the exhibit “Arlene Shechet: Meissen Recast,” at the RISD Museum in Providence, Rhode Island, through July 6.
New York sculptor Arlene Shechet spent several months at Meissen in 2012 and 2013, toying with tradition and enjoying complete access to the factory. Using plaster reproductions of original Meissen molds, she reassembled them into reworked figures, manipulating the clay spontaneously and finishing the kiln-fired pieces with playful designs and alluring glazes. Shechet’s handiwork—like The Idol, 2012 (pictured above)—is shown alongside RISD’s collection of traditional Meissen porcelain (some 200 pieces); it is an exciting revisionist exercise not to miss. And don’t be afraid to bring your grandmother—she’ll swoon over the old and warm to the new. 224 Benefit St.; 401-454-6500; risdmuseum.org.
Courtesy of Christian Giannelli Photography
Even to the unfamiliar, the aesthetic is unmistakable: Smooth slabs of wood with natural, unfinished edges and butterfly joints holding together split planks. The look is the legacy of furniture-maker George Nakashima, who celebrated the inherent beauty of wood—knots and all—by pioneering the free-edge style.
For decades, Mira Nakashima worked behind the scenes at her father’s studio in New Hope, Pennsylvania, but as business stalled following his death in 1990, she nearly closed the family enterprise. Now 71, she continued to create furniture in George’s iconic style, interpreting his original drawings and designing new pieces. The result is “Nakashima Woodworkers: An Evolving Legacy” at Philadelphia’s Moderne Gallery, a showcase (and sale) of more than 20 original works by designers in the Nakashima Woodworkers group (on view through November 2).
Works such as the Chigaidana ($18,000), an interpretation of Japanese shelving in black walnut, come from the archive. “It’s a direct translation of a drawing I found in the Widdicomb-Mueller [a now-defunct Michigan-based furniture firm] file—all right angles with a couple of free edges,” says Mira of the 68-inch-tall unit. “The proportions are exactly what dad drew.”
New pieces include the Carpenter Coffee Table ($9,800) by Miriam Carpenter, Mira’s assistant. Inspired by a Claro walnut burl and the harmony of a three-to-two proportion, Carpenter challenged the workshop to create a unique, right-angled joint at the bottom of the base. The firm also introduces it first pendant light, the Ceiling Lamps ($3,000 a unit), which are made from panes of white cedar and washi parchment and combined in series of two or more. 111 N. Third St.; 215-923-8536; modernegallery.com.
By Toby McFarlan Pond
With unparalleled mobility and a tendency toward surprise, the queen is a force to be reckoned with on a chessboard. The World Chess Hall of Fame in St. Louis, Missouri, explores her role—in and out of the game—in “A Queen Within: Adorned Archetypes, Fashion and Chess,” a combination of fashion, photography, film and art opening October 19.
“’A Queen Within’ is a very layered, intricate exhibition that is really a 3,000-square-foot piece of art itself,” says curator Sofia Hedman. “I think people will be surprised by how clear the connection between chess, art, and fashion becomes once they've experienced it.”
Hedman examined different archetypes, studying those established by pioneering psychiatrist Carl Jung, and created nine different queen personalities—sage, mother figure, magician, enchantress, explorer, ruler, Mother Earth, heroine, thespian—that play out in the exhibit. Designers like Viktor & Rolf and Alexander McQueen are represented; look out for a bespoke diamond glove by Shaun Leane and Daphne Guinness, a bubble dress by Hussein Chalayan and Iris van Herpen's undulating snake frock.
All the objects convey a regal power and singularity, but the show goes far beyond royalty. “We want to spark an interest in chess among females,” says Hedman. “We want them to see the queen within themselves.” Through April 18, 2014; 314-367-9243; 4652 Maryland Ave.; worldchesshof.org.
Courtesy of The New York Historical Society
In the early 1900s, Americans knew little to nothing about the concept of modern art. But when the International Exhibition of Modern Art came to New York—a 1,400-work introductory tour of avant-garde European sculptures and paintings put on by a group of Americans at the Lexington Avenue Armory—things began to change.
“The Armory Show at 100: Modern Art and Revolution,” an exhibit running October 11 to February 23 at the New-York Historical Society, puts the groundbreaking survey into perspective. “These artists were big news to a lot of Americans and sort of transformed the way people thought about modern art,” explains Kimberly Orcutt, Henry Luce Foundation curator of American art at the New-York Historical Society. “They made modern art a topic of popular conversation and it started a public dialog about art, which was absolutely new.”
At the time, work by urban realists, who drew from gritty street-based subjects, was as modern as it got. European avant-garde artists, however, were experimenting with color, form and traditional standards in general. By offering a variety of perspectives (film, essays, music), showing 100 pieces from the original exhibition and displaying more conservative works for comparison, “The Armory Show at 100” aims to give visitors a solid sense of just how revolutionary artists like Picasso, Duchamp, Gauguin and Cézanne were.
“We’re really looking to start up that conversation about modern art all over again,” says Orcutt. New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park W.; 212-873-3400; nyhistory.org.
Courtesy of Off the Wall Gallery
Christine Argillet’s childhood was the same as any other save for one detail: the presence of artistic genius Salvador Dalí, a family friend. The daughter of Pierre Argillet, Dalí’s publisher and confidante for more than 50 years, she spent her entire life near the artist and is now curator of “The Argillet Collection,” one of the most vast and comprehensive compendiums of Dalí’s work.
On display (and available for acquisition) at Off the Wall Gallery (5015 Westheimer Rd., Ste. 2208; 713-871-0940; offthewallgallery.com) in Houston beginning September 21, the collection gives guests the opportunity to see the works and meet Argillet herself. (She will make appearances on September 28 and 29.)
“The Argillet Collection” divides its permanent home between the Museum of Surrealism in Melun, France, and the Dalí Museum in Figueres, Spain. Included in the Off the Wall exhibition, which runs through September 29, is the rarely seen “Songs of Maldoror,” 50 etchings created by Dalí between 1934 and 1973 that have been exhibited only once before during a four-month stint at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Here, Argillet (pictured above with the artist) shares some of her fondest Dalí memories.
Q: How did you get so close to Dalí?
A: When I was six or seven, my parents would spend the entire summer in Spain close to Dalí’s house for a very important reason—he was otherwise selling the artworks that were my father’s publications to anyone who came by the house. So my father was very angry and decided we would spend the summer there.
Q: Give an example of one particularly special memory.
A: Even as a child I was surprised at what an incredible imagination he had. His house was composed of a number of different houses, reunited, that were former fisherman’s houses that created a labyrinth. When Dalí would see me and notice that I was bored, he would tell me to go up to his bedroom and look behind the bed and bring down what I find. [Once] I found a huge glass jar of bonbons! I brought them back down and Dalí told me to go outside and stand discreetly behind the fisherman and throw them on the shore. These were little cherry candies that would make popping sounds when they hit the shore. I was scared but it was so hilarious.
Q: Do you have a favorite work in this exhibit?
A: I am leaning toward his tapestries that are wonderful handwoven artworks. I also love the Argus that has a hundred eyes that are all different—different and foreboding as to what is going to happen in Greek mythology. It is very colorful and unique in the way it is presented. It’s a magnificent work done in a nontraditional way.
Justin Beal, Murmansk, 2013
The Los Angeles art scene—the one found outside the confines of museum walls—is increasingly being recognized for its well-known artists and up-and-comers alike. Whether one is looking at galleries in Silver Lake, Chinatown or Culver City, an abundance of artistic output in a variety of mediums in available to see. Add to that “Listeria,” an exhibit of work by local artist Justin Beal on view at the nonprofit art space Laxart through August 24.
Opened on July 20, the show consists of an architectural sculptural installation, an experimental video and a book. "Listeria" references a strain of bacteria named after English surgeon Joseph Lister, a forerunner in the evolution of sterile surgery; it occurs in a variety of fruits, like the cantaloupe seen in Beal’s video.
“Last year I made a series of cast-aluminum cucumber and cantaloupes,” he explains. “Both fruits had appeared in my work before. I suppose it is inevitable when approaching fruit as a surrogate for the body that you end up with two forms that have such an exaggerated metonymic and sexualized relationship to the human body.”
The title is also an homage to the Italian design collective Memphis Group. In the 1980s, Memphis designer Ettore Sottsass made decorative patterns and graphic prints from photomicrographs of bacteria, lending his visual language to the disorder of the natural world swarming just below the surface. Whereas the technology behind science and medicine made invisible pathogens and organisms discernable, advanced architecture and design sought to deatomize the body using the formal structures of the built environment that give social life dimension.
Beal’s artistic interpretation perceives the external world, where function distorts form and vice versa—proving that organic material, as it stands, is never just that when it comes to art. 2640 S. La Cienega Blvd.; 310-559-0166; laxart.org.
Courtesy of Chanel
Coco Chanel’s life story has been told countless times in many different ways. But the latest is relayed through her most successful commodity, Chanel No. 5, which gave birth to the modern fragrance industry. Through June 5, Paris’s Palais de Tokyo presents the exhibit “No. 5 Culture Chanel,” which travels back to World War I–era Biarritz, Grasse, New York, Cap Martin and Venice, recalling how avant-garde artists like Cocteau, Picasso, Man Ray and Stravinsky influenced the visionary designer.
“Chanel was a cougar!” whispers my personal tour guide, Ingrid, in a velvety French accent as she whisks me past a hall of Lucite boxes containing Chanel’s collection of books, letters and vintage perfume bottles. She leads me directly to a photo of the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, one of Chanel’s former lovers and a Russian exile, who introduced her to famed perfumer Ernest Beaux. She created No. 5 with Beaux in 1921; the perfumer presented 24 samples and she chose number five, which was her lucky number. “Chanel may have believed in lucky numbers, but she was deeply modernist and was always moved by forward-thinking artists and intellectuals,” explains Ingrid.
Other samples were later developed and sold, like Chanel No. 22, but No. 5 had the It factor and was the first of its kind to blend various scents—it contained more than 80 different notes—to create an “abstract fragrance.” The beveled square bottle, equal parts whisky flask and Bauhaus architecture, was the antidote to the flamboyant Baccarat crystal vessels popular then. Even its lab-inspired name was a deconstruction of all things gilded and gimmicky, elements Chanel abhorred.
The exhibit’s entryway Chanel garden, designed by Piet Oudolf (the Dutch landscape designer behind New York’s High Line), is abloom with purple and pink flowers. And in a loft bathed in beige, flanked by sofas and inspired by Chanel’s La Pausa retreat in Cap Martin, visitors can watch a series of Chanel No. 5 film clips, peruse a library of flora and fashion books and rummage through a chest of drawers for a DIY olfactory workshop. It is also an ideal place to reflect on the life of Chanel, who was orphaned at an abbey at age 12 but transformed herself into one very lucky woman. For a personal guided tour of the exhibit, ask for the art concierge at Le Royal Monceau Raffles Paris (37 Avenue Hoche; 33-1/42-99-88-00; leroyalmonceau.com). Through June 5; 13 Avenue du Président Wilson; 33-1/81-97-35-88; 5-culture.chanel.com.
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photograph (left)
© Dennis Morris - all rights reserved / (right) Photograph by Catwalking
At its core, the rough-and-tumble punk philosophy would seem to have little in common with high fashion. But the movement had an irrefutable effect on elevated style, and that colorful, complicated relationship comes to life in “Punk: Chaos to Couture,” a new exhibit (opening May 9) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute.
The show introduces punk with nods to pioneers like Malcolm McClaren and Vivienne Westwood, whose Seditionaries boutique was instrumental in the London scene; CBGB in New York; and icons like Deborah Harry, Richard Hell and Johnny Rotten. (Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols is pictured above [left] next to a 2006 runway look by Comme des Garçons.) A good portion of the exhibit focuses on punk’s DIY nature, illustrating how its devotees made clothing their own—ripping, tearing, splattering, pinning, painting—and how mainstream fashion designers followed suit: Versace’s safety-pin dresses in “Hardware”; slouchy crocheted knits by Rodarte in “Destroy”; Dolce & Gabbana’s brushstroke-painted silk gowns in “Graffiti/Agitprop”; a Gareth Pugh stole and skirt made of plastic trash bags in “Bricolage.”
Music and vintage video plays throughout, and the roughly 100 pieces displayed—many so textural you’ll want to touch—show how a tough, provocative aesthetic became a go-to inspiration. On the way out, the final mannequin, clad in a Maison Martin Margiela dress, gives the middle finger. It’s a moment of anarchistic swagger, proving punk always gets the last word. Through August 14; 1000 Fifth Ave.; 212-535-7710; metmuseum.org.