May 24, 2008

Superheroes - Fashion and Fantasy

In a major departure from traditional costume and fashion exhibitions, this year's presentation at the Metropolitan Museum's Costume Institute is "Superheroes - Fashion and Fantasy". For those of you who have trouble with the notion of comic books and their relationship to fashion, join the club! I can't say that the concept was particularly enticing to me, but I felt I should give it a chance. After all, The Costume Institute has presented radical shows in the past with resounding success, and with the Met's resources and creativity maybe they could pull it off.

The premise of the exhibition requires some imagination. The curators postulate that since the appearance of Superman in 1938, the superhero has assumed mythical proportions in its influence over the general public's hopes, dreams and desires. So much so, that the superhero, by virtue of its very superficiality, impacts society's social and political realities. They further state that as both fashion and superheroes have constantly changing ideals, this active, ongoing metamorphosis provides the opportunity for us to constantly remake and reinvent ourselves, thereby fulfilling our fantasies.

To illustrate this position, the exhibition is divided into 8 sections, each with a superhero costume surrounded by fashion creations by various current designers who found inspiration in the character. For example, "The Graphic Body" focused on Spiderman, with the original movie costume and spiderweb-inspired styles by Gautrier, Galliano and Armani. "The Paradoxical Body" had the Catwoman as its star and displayed the costume worn by Michelle Pfeiffer in the Batman movie alongside similar creations by Dolce & Gabbana, and Versace. Or "The Mutant Body", like the X-Men, with exaggerated "mutant" designs by Thierry Mugler and Alexander McQueen.

The very last part of the show looked at "Art and the Comic Book" with the obvious reference to Pop Art and Andy Warhol and a few vintage covers on display.

For those of us who read the comic books and watched the movies and television series', this show is a sort of nostalgia for childhood heroes. But even the most die hard superhero devotee will have a hard time associating The Hulk with what Bloomingdale's is going to show in its 2008 Winter collection. "Superheroes - Fashion and Fantasy" is on view until September 1.

May 10, 2008

The International Fine Art Fair

Habitués of the Park Avenue Armory are at that unsettling time of year - the time when the Spring shows and fairs are coming to an end and the long quiet Summer looms ahead! Fortunately these culture addicts have one last hurrah this weekend - The International Fine Art Fair, 2008 edition, opened May 8th and runs until Wednesday, May 14th.

This is always a lovely show - elegantly presented and filled with interesting things, although there seemed to be fewer exhibitors than in years past. The material covers the spectrum from Italian Renaissance (a charming little oil entitled "Nativity", c. 1510 by Benvento Tisi, AKA "Il Garofalo" on the stand of Maison d'Art, Monaco) to British and American Maritime paintings (a dramatic large canvas by Montague Dawson "Night Suspect", 1950, on the stand of Vallejo Gallery, California), and quite a bit in between!

I visited the fair on a very rainy day in New York City, so I was very happy to take my time and enjoy the show. There were several stands that I found particularly interesting and deserving of more than a cursory walk-through. My very favorite booth was that of Stoppenbach & Delestre Ltd, London. Although well beyond my budget, I enjoyed their selection of watercolors and oils by some of my favorite 19th Century French artists such as Helleu, Loir, Somm and Truchet.

Impressive, as always, was the stand of Richard Green, also from London. Hanging in their plush booth was a lovely presentation of oil paintings by European masters such as Renoir, Boudin, Béraud and Grimshaw.

I also loved prints and drawings on display at Hill-Stone, New York. Although their forte lies in the area of old master works, the inclusion of choice group of late 19th and early 20th century works on paper rounded out the booth very nicely. A very beautiful watercolor of a woman in a hat shop ("Devanture de modiste"), 1912, by Jean-Emile Laboureur and a pen and ink drawing of "An Elegantly Attired Woman pulling on a Glove", 1899, by Privat Livemont presented in a stunning and unique Art Nouveau frame, were especially wonderful.

So, art lovers, don't despair! You can wave goodbye to the Spring season in style and get your last art fair fix before heading off to the beach for the long wait until we get to do it all again in the Fall!

May 06, 2008

A Perplexing Problem in Pittsburgh

The City of Pittsburgh, PA, received an unexpected windfall this Spring when it was discovered that a 60 x 13 foot tile mural currently installed in the Gateway Center subway station is valued at over $15 million! The mural, entitled "Pittsburgh Recollections", was commissioned in 1984 from the African American artist Romare Bearden at a cost of $90,000. Since then, millions of commuters have passed through the station, most without paying much attention to the 780-square-foot cubist depiction of men and women and transportation.

With the impending renovation of the Pittsburgh subway system and plans for the demolition of the Gateway Center Station, city officials decided to have the artwork appraised before taking it down. Despite 24 years of grime and leaks, the mural, typical of Bearden's colorful interpretation of everyday people, is worth a lot more than the Port Authority of Allegheny County ever expected. This raises a whole new spectrum of issues as the care and insurance of such a valuable artwork is beyond the financial capabilities of the transit agency yet the City and its residents are loathe to part with this important piece.

Romare Bearden (b. 1911, Charlotte, NC - d. 1988, New York, NY) earned a reputation as one of the finest African American artists and writers to work at a time when "people of color" were not offered many opportunities in this, or any other, field. His immense natural talent was developed with studies at New York University, the Art Students' League (where he studied under the German Expressionist artist George Grosz) and the Sorbonne. Early experimentation with Cubism, evolved into a more abstract style and he used his human experience as a soldier, a baseball player, a musician and a writer, all tempered by the reality of being Black in the pre-civil rights United States. The result is honest without being bitter, a focus on a positive rather than a negative reality.

Romare Bearden overcame a lot of challenges to become the first Black artist to have a solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., and is recognized as being one of the most innovative American artists, of any race, of the 20th Century. Now the City of Pittsburgh is facing a challenge and it will be very interesting to see how this is resolved in the months ahead! Stay tuned!