Monday, January 25, 2016

Visual Storytelling: THE POWER OF PRINTS: Review by Polly Guerin

Mary Cassatt, The Letter, 1890-91. 
Why do prints matter? Before radio or television they were entertainment in the home and provided visual storytelling through the works of great artists. Rembrandt van Rijn, Albrecht Durer, Honore Daumier, Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, Henri deToulouse-Lautrec, Edward Hopper, James McNeill Whistler, Mary Cassatt and many others are just a few of the artists whose works are represented in prints. 
Image: Mary Cassatt, The Letter, 1890-91, Gift of Paul J. Sachs, 1916.
     You may rightfully wonder. Why did these artists embrace the print medium? It is interesting to note that reproducing paintings as prints meant that for some artists, they made more money selling the rights to reproduce their work than from their original creation. 
     To celebrate the centennial of its renowned collection of works of art on paper---one of the largest and most comprehensive in the world---The Metropolitan Museum of Art presents THE POWER OF PRINTS: The legacy of William M. Ivins (1881-1961)and his protege A. Hyatt Mayor (1901-1980), which opens tomorrow, January 26 in Galleries 691-693.  The exhibit end date: May 22, 2016.
The Power of Prints is organized by Freyda Spira, Associate Curator in the Metropolitan Museum's Department of Drawings and Prints.
    These two visionaries recognized the potential of prints and founded the now vast-collection that includes every kind of printed material--from old master engravings of great rarity to popular prints that were mass produced and intended to last. Like the collection from which they are drawn, the exhibition combines compelling examples of the esoteric and the everyday.  

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, A Giant Seated
The remarkable collection of etchings and engravings cover a vast knowledge of diverse subjects, Soon after founding the Department of Prints, and soon after assuming that position in 1916, William M. Ivins said, Prints "throw open to their student with the most complete abandon the whole gamut of human life and endeavor, from the most ephemeral of courtesies to the loftiest pictorial presentation of man's spiritual aspirations." 

      By drawing on the department's own vast holdings, the exhibition and its accompanying catalogue reveal how, from the very beginning, Ivins and Mayor artfully composed the print collection to be like a library-a corpus of works (not all distinctly masterful) that describes in the comprehensive way humanity's aspirations. Image: Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, A Giant Seated in a landscape, sometimes called 'The Colossus,' by 1818. A Harris Brisbane Dick fund, 1935.    
     In the age of digital photography and the Internet, the power of prints, or the ability to disseminate images in identical form to a mass market, has special relevance to how people, see, understand, and engage with works of art.  The exhibition is accompanied by a full illustrated catalogue written by Freyda Spira, Associate Curator in the Department of Drawings and Prints with Peter Parshall, former head of the department of old master prints at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C   The catalogue explores the lives and careers of Ivins and Mayor and the informed and diligent acquisition of prints, photographs, and illustrated books for the Metropolitan Museum. Additional information and accompanying programs are available on the Museum's website as well as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter using the hashtag #PowerofPrints.

Ta Ta Darlings!!! Prints matter, they open a window into historical and contemporary works of many of the world's great artists and print makers, and well worth a visit. Fan mail is always welcome, contact Polly at  Visit Polly's Blogs on and in the right-hand column click on the Blog link that resonates with your interest. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

THE WORLD at PLAY: Luxury Cards, 1430-1540 at the Cloisters: Review by Polly Guerin

A Flemish Hunting Deck
Medieval playing cards with their enchanting and captivating imagery give us reason to realize the rich source of entertainment that so engaged the people of the late Middle Ages.  The cards so richly embellished in hand-applied color provide insight into the opulent costumes, princely hunts, and the cast of characters, ranging from royals to mere commoners, who were memorialized in these unique cards that provide such a joyful viewing for us today.
     The exhibition The World at Play: Luxury Cards, 1430-1540, opens this Wednesday, January 20th at the Cloisters, Romanesque Hall, Gallery 001 with more than 100 intricately hand-painted playing cards created for the wealthy individuals of the Middle Ages.
      Imagine this: Only two decks of European hand-painted playing cards have survived from the late Middle Ages---two made in Germany and one in the Burgundian Netherlands, all dating from the late 15th century. The only complete set of these luxury cards---the Cloisters Play Cards, from the Southern Netherlands---and representative examples from the other decks are featured in the exhibition.
Left:The Knave of Nooses 
Why are these cards so important? It is a rare opportunity to see these unique works of art that reflect a period of tumultuous social, artistic, economic and religious change.  Hunting, chivalry, and life at court are referenced in the cards, which originated in southern and southwestern Germany and in the Upper Rhineland. Suits include falcons, ducks, and stags, nooses, collars, leashes, and hunting horns, parrots, rosses and pinks (a flower, Bohemia, France, Germany, and Hungary and others. 

The earliest surviving deck of hand-painted woodcut cards---and the finest examples of such work from the German Renaissance---are also included in the exhibition, where contextural background provided by 15th-century engraved and wood cut play cards from Germany and tarot cards from North Italy. among the works on view are examples by the Basel painter Konrad Witz (1400-1445) and two other artists of the period who were known as Master E.S. and Master of the Playing Cards.
The Lvishly illustrated book
On the basis of overall style and the treatment of landscapes, the Ambras Courtly Hunt Cards 

are attributed to the workshop of noted German painter, Konrad Witz, the suits are lures, falcons, herons, and hounds.  Six cards from the deck are on display. A later set of woodblock printed cards from Nuremburg around 1540, by German sculptor, designer and print maker Peter Flotner are quite handsomely distinguished by the musical notations that appear on the back of each card, hand coloured, with silver and good embellishments. The suit pictures--acorns, leaves, hearts, and bells had become standard in Germany.
     The exhbition is accompanied by a lavishly illustrated book, The World at Play: Luxury Cards
1430-1540 features the most important luxury decks of hand-painted European playing cards to have survived from the Middle Ages; plus a selection of exceptional hand-colored woodblock cards, engraved cards, and tarot packs. Each of these cards has a story to tell; collectively, they conjure up the courtly culture and customs of the day, and chart the transition from late medieval to early modern Europe. Published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press, Available in the Museum's book shop (paperback, $25). A weekly blog on the Museum's website (
     Ta Ta darlings!!! It's worth a trip to the Cloisters to see these engaging luuxry playing cards, not only for their historical value, but for the insight that they provide in the lifestyle and entertainments of the wealthy patrons of the Middle Ages. Fan mail welcome send your comments to or visit her Blogs on which are listed with links in the left hand column on her home page.

Monday, January 11, 2016

'FAIRY TALE FASHION' Happy Ever After: Review by Polly Guerin

The Swan Maidens, Alice in Wonderland, Little Mermaid
"Fairy Tales can come true, it can happen to you, if you're young at heart." Just put on a little fairy dust and present yourself at The Museum at The Fashion Institute of Technology this Friday when the unique and imaginative exhibition "Fairy Tale Fashion" opens to the public. No admission charge to indulge your fantasy in high fashion wonderland. On view from January 15 to April 16 2016. 
     Organized by Colleen Hill, associate curator of costume, the exhibition was inspired when Ms Hill saw the Dolce & Gabbana, fairy tale themed fashion show in 2014 and thought that it would make a really fun topic to explore, and indeed she has with such delightful results that you will linger longer to escape into the fantasy of your favorite fairy tale. Image Left: 1. Undercover "The Swan Maidens," 2. A Manish Arora "Alice in Wonderland," 3. Rodarte "The Little Mermaid."
      Why Fairy Tales?  Because dress plays an important role in fairy tales, signaling status, wealth, romance, and happiness ever after. The presentation features more than 80 fairy-tale inspired designs, all placed in a fantasy-like setting designed by Kimberly Ackert, the American futurists architect who's behind Ackert Architects (thumps up for the girl-power collaboration).
Russian supermodel Natalia Vodianova and Valentino
This exhibition pulls on your heart strings as it examines the most famous and the most imaginative fairly tales through the lens of haute couture including both contemporary and historic designers, such as,  Alexander McQueen, Blumarine, Comme des Garcons, Marchesa, Tom Ford, Judith Leiber, Charles James, Thierry Mugler, Christian Loubutin and more.

     Coleen Hill has included some works of art by some XX and XXI century illustrators and photographers, such as Edmud Dulac, whose H.C. Anderson tale's give the Danish stories a spell of magic as does Kirsty Mitchel's Wonderland series. The gallery, dominated by a large castle, narrates various fairy tales, including Cinderella, The Snow Queen, The Beauty and the Beast and other works by famous authors. Just to show you how fairy tale translates into other fashion venues note the Image Right: What Russian supermodel Natalia Vodianova had in mind for her White Fairy Tale Love Ball for her Naked Heart Foundation charity fashion show.
The first section of the Fairy Tale Fashion exhibition features numerous swan-inspired pieces while the Parallel Worlds section taps into the more playful aspects of The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland-inspired fashion pieces. Not to be overlooked is Comme des Garcons Little Red Riding Hood ensemble from the Spring 2015 collection.  You may search for Cinderella's glass slipper and find instead Louboutin's Lady Lynch stilettos.

    Fairy Tale Fashion, the book, by Colleen Hill; with Patricia Meers, Ellen Sampson, and Kiera Vaclavik is the first book to examine the history, significance and imagery of classic fairy tales through the lens of high fashion. Generously illustrated well-remembered fairy tales are linked to examples of clothing by celebrated fashion designers. Yale University Press, available April 19, 2016.
Ta Ta Darlings!!! One is never too old to find fantasy, magic and romance in Fairy Tales and a reason to know that dreams do come true for those who believe in Fashion Wonderland. Fan mail welcome at  Visit Polly's Blogs at and in the left-hand column click on the Blog link that resonates with your interest.  PS: Dreams Can Come True is a song written by Elton John, with lyrics by Tim Rice.


Monday, January 4, 2016


Philippe Parreno and Rirkrit Tiravanija's Puppets (2009)
What do renowned art collectors do once they have amassed a huge collection? For some collectors establishing a museum in their name is the answer,  but for Thea Westreich Wagner and Ethan Wagner their recent gift of more than eight hundred and fifty works to the Whitney Museum of American Art, celebrates an extraordinary exhibit through March 6, 2026. The Centre Pompidou's exhibtion follows the New York presentation, opening in Paris on June 8, 2016..
     For more than 30 years, Thea Westreich Wagner and Ethan Wagner have devoted themselves to the passion of art collecting and the exhibition unveils this remarkable gift with a diverse mix of genres, themes and period pieces. The collectors have consistently focused their attention on emerging artists, acquiring works soon after they were created, often straight out of the artists' studios. 
Ethan Wagner & Thea Westreich Wagner
      Adam D. Weinberg, the Whitney's Alice Pratt Brown Director, noted, "We are delighted to present this exhibition in honor of the magnanimous gift of art we received from Thea Westreich Wagner and Ethan Wagner--one of the largest in the Whitney's history and a tremendous statement of support for the Museum and its new building. Thea and Ethan are among the most astute collectors of late twentieth century and early twenty-first-century art and their gift adds enormous strength to the Whitney's collection."

    Ms. Westreich Wagner and Mr. Wagner noted, "We are thrilled that audiences will be able to experience these exhibitions at the Whitney and Pompidou. These are works by artists whom we deeply admire and want to share with the world." The exhibition explores ideas and themes that recur in the collection across generations, mediums, and nationalities. In some cases the works exhibit a rebellious or subversive spirit, and they are variously infused with iron and humor.
     Among the works shown in the exhibition are Robert Gober's The Ascending Sink (1985); Bernadette Corporation's Creation of a False Feeling (2000); Richard Prince's Nancy to her Girlfriend (1988); Diane Arbus's Puerto Rican woman with a beauty mark, N.Y.C. (1965); Christopher Wool's Incident on 9th Street (1997); Hto Steyer's Red Alert (2007; Matis Faldbakken's Untitled (Locker Sculpture #01) (2010) and much more.

The collectors book collaboration, Collecting Art for Love and More (Phaidon), has a two-fold message. It is at once a lively and accessible history of art collecting and at the same time is a best practices guide for budding collectors. The authors do not deny the importance of shrewd investment sense when it comes to collecting. It's clear that they cherish their role in financially supporting working artists and their opportunity to crate a legacy. In addition to the 800 works gifted to the Whitney, their personal holdings include works by Jenny Holzer, Jeff Koons, Dan Flavin, Richard Prince, Jan Manuska and more works on their apartment walls by artists like Christopher Wood and James Beckett to name a few.
Ta Ta Darlings!!! Your response to my posting means a lot to me. Therefore, Fan Mail is always welcome at Visit Polly's Blogs at and click on the direct link in the left hand column to the Blog that resonates with your interest.