Thursday, February 24, 2011

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty

Last year when I heard the shocking news about the death of fashion genius Alexander McQueen I wrote the requisite dismayed blog entry. In that post I hopothesized about the retrospective that would be held in his honor at some point in the future....details were announced today.

Dress from the fall/winter 2010 collection. Photo: Solve Sundsbo/The Metropolitan Museum of Art


Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty will run at The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute from 4 May-31 July 2011. A preview was held in London today at the Ritz Hotel to coincide with London fashion week. Anna Wintour and Samantha Cameron were in attendance for the preview and press conference.

Ritz Preview. Photo: Yui Mok/Press Association, via Associated Press

The retrospective at the Met will include some 100 works covering the designer's astounding 19 year career. The catalogue is available on pre-order but will not be released until 31 May 2011. I leave you with these juicy and haunting images from the publication and a BBC interview with Anna Wintour.

Gown, Widows of Culloden. Photo: Solve Sundsbo/The Metropolitan Museum of Art


Gown from the Voss Collection. Photo: Solve Sundsbo/The Metropolitan Museum of Art


Ensemble, Its a Jungle Out There. Photo: Solve Sundsbo/The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Dress, Horn of Plenty. Photo: Solve Sundsbo/The Metropolitan Museum of Art


Ensemble, Plato's Atlantis. Photo: Solve Sundsbo/The Metropolitan Museum of Art


Ensemble from the Voss Collection. Photo: Solve Sundsbo/The Metropolitan Museum of Art



Monday, February 14, 2011

Revolutionary Road

When the call for change in Egypt erupted some weeks ago I was of two distinct minds, at once hopeful for much needed political change and fearful for the treasures within this culturally rich nation. Over the weekend Dr. Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, revealed that Cairo's Egyptian Museum, in fact, sustained greater losses than initially reported. Thankfully it was nothing on the level seen in Iraq after Saddam Hussain was deposed, but the reality still stings. Hawass listed the eight missing works on his website. While looking them over my heart sank when I saw the statue of King Tutankhamen with a harpoon.

According to Hawass' report the statue is now lost from the waist up. I can only hypothesize that the thieves, thinking it was solid gold, snatched at it only to snap the gilt wood figure in half. Of all the statues recovered from the legendary tomb of the boy king this 29 1/2 inch masterwork is considered to be the most harmonious. It is truly iconic. I hope the upper section is recovered and restored soon. See the complete list of thefts here.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Turkish Delight

Feeling restless yesterday I made the trek out the Brooklyn Museum to spend the afternoon gazing at art with an old friend. I shamefully must admit that it had been the better part of five years since I made the sojourn to this renowned institution. While winding through the decorative arts galleries I was pleasantly confronted by a particular old favorite. I present the Moorish smoking room from the John D. Rockefeller house formerly at 4 West 54 Street in New york city (currently the site of the MOMA sculpture garden).

Photo: Brooklyn Museum

This sumptuous room was actually decorated in 1881 when the home was owned by Virginia native Arabella Duval Worsham. In 1884 Arabella married Collis P. Huntington and sold her home fully furnished to John D. Rockefeller. The home was changed very little and stayed virtually intact until his death in 1937 when it was subsequently razed.

Photo: Brooklyn Museum

The room reflects the 1870s/80s interest in Orientalist art and the "exotic" decorative vocabularies of the Near and Far East. Moorish/Turkish smoking rooms were largely the domain of men and were a room to retire to and smoke, which at the time was still a rather exotic habit. While the overall result falls somewhere between Victorian opulence and pastiche, the designer had first-hand knowledge of Islamic decorative motifs and it rings true in the details. As an aside, it has been long accepted that the room was produced by the firm of Pottier and Stymus but recent scholarship has shown other hands may have been at work.

Photo: Wiki Commons

Looking at the room again after so many years I honed in on the stylized cypress motif on the back of the ebonized door. It immediately reminded me of another important commission out on Long Island. I present the fountain court from Louis C. Tiffany's country home, Laurelton Hall.

Photo: Old Long Island

From the style and placement of the interior fountain and the three stylized niches in the distance it is clear that Tiffany was looking to the Alhambra fortress or other similar icons of Arabic design.

Photo: Old Long Island

It is the similar cypress tree stenciling along the lower level of the court that stuck-out in my mind when viewing the Rockefeller smoking room.

(L) Photo: Mark Twain House and Museum. (R) Photo: Sfrajan via Flickr

The catalogue for the Laurelton Hall exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art points out that Laurelton's cypress stenciling (at left) closely copied the wall tiles (at right) from the Harem in Istanbul's famed Topkapi Palace. In Near Eastern cultures the cypress is symbolic of the universe and as an evergreen it represents immortality. This careful adherence to detail is compelling and while the overall desire was to create a luxurious fantasy there was some effort made to "get it right". Some ventured further to take decorative veracity to a whole new level.

Photo: English Heritage

Enter the Moorish smoking room from Rhinefield House, Brockenhurst, England. This room was devised in the late 19th century by the Lady of the house, Mrs. Mabel Walker-Munro, as a gift for her husband. Evidently the couple had honeymooned in Spain and were quite taken with the Alhambra Palace in Granada. Mrs. Walker-Munro enlisted her architect to hire Moorish artisans to craft the burnished copper panels and import onyx and tiles from Persia and other parts of the Arab world. The result is a stunning microcosm of Islamic design tenents and is affectionately referred to today as the "Alhambra" room. The manor house is now a hotel and this former smoking room is an opulent private dining room

Photo: Rhinefield Apartments

Photo: Kaya Olivia Campbell

Photo: Amy Wass Photography

Photo: Amy Wass Photography

Again in the stained glass window we see the enduring cypress motif. This space is truly jewel-like and a decadently rare survival.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Google Art Project: Accidentally Good For Decorative Art Enthusiasts

The current unrest in Egypt has rightfully dominated the media outlets but almost caused me to miss the launch of Google Art Project. In a nutshell, over an 18 month period Google has used its "Street View" technology from Google Maps to shoot individual galleries within 17 top museums and institutions to allow virtual tours. 1061 artworks were selected to be shot in greater detail but sadly they are all fine art. Additionally, each institution selected one painting to be shot in an astounding 7 billion pixel resolution. While paintings have always been the pinnacle in the hierarchy of the arts, as you navigate through the various museums you can also peruse the decorative art pieces that contextualize some galleries. I highly encourage you to click through these institutions to find old furniture friends....and make some new ones.

The Fragonard room at the Frick Collection with its amazing French furniture and Sevres porcelain.

Marie Antoinette's Chamber at the Palace of Versailles. Versailles is an interesting case as you are allowed to click beyond the Hall of Mirrors and out into the gardens. But alas, you cannot navigate your way to the Petit Trianon or the Queen's farm folly, the Petit Hameau. Perhaps there will be an update.

Greek red-figure vases from the first floor of Russia's Hermitage State Museum.

The Robert Adam designed dining room from Lansdowne House now in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. In addition to European Paintings, the Met saw fit to include Medieval Art, part of European Sculpture and Decorative Art, the American Wing, and African Art.

The navigation is a bit tricky and sometimes you pass through walls accidentally into other rooms. Also I got a bit lost in the garden at Versailles and found it hard to navigate back to the chateau....but is that really such a bad thing? Enjoy!