Welcome to ArtsGazing

Learning something new edition

We love it when people say, “I try to learn something new every day.” It always makes us wonder: how does someone know when it’s a new thing, not just a confirmation of an existing thought or even if they’ll remember that new thing tomorrow? And why is there an assumption that the new thing is always a positive thing? Just today we learned that we can’t jaywalk on Amsterdam Avenue anymore, at least not until we remember to look at the bike lane before we step off the sidewalk. (The bicyclist learned that there are now 5,831 stupid pedestrians out there, up from 5,830.) We also learned that fixing a torn coat is a lot more expensive than we knew, but maybe we should have figured that one out without putting it in the new learning category.

Alfredo Ramos Martínez. Calla Lily Vendor (Vendedora de Alcatraces), 1929. Oil on canvas, 45 13/16 × 36 in. (116.3 × 91.4 cm). Private collection. © The Alfredo Ramos Martínez Research Project, reproduced by permission

Anyway, it is possible to accept that learning a new thing is also a good idea, especially if it takes our previous knowledge, throws it out, and presents us with an entirely new way to approach the topic. Case in point: the Whitney Museum of American Art’s new show Vida Americana: Mexican Muralists Remake American Art, 1925-1945. This stunning exhibit, filled with rare works, excellent research, and a new narrative for this seminal time period in the United States gives viewers the tools to truly understand how and why American artists evolved from slavishly following European art trends to making work genuinely relevant to their own country. Artists like José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, and David Alfaro Siquieros encouraged the Americans to face their country’s social and political history, just as they did, and make art from it. It’s fascinating to make connections between Mexico and the US using the exhibition’s images, to see that whatever the ethnic or social background of an artist, he or she could expand their knowledge and skills to create their own pieces in their own voice. To find out more, click on the ‘Opening This Week’ tab.

Claire McCardell swimsuit and ballet flats by Capezio, 1950, photograph by John Rawlings. The Museum at FIT

Another museum that brings a new perspective to an established subject is the Museum at FIT. Their latest offering Ballerina: Fashion’s Modern Muse, is an exhibit exploring that classic symbol of femininity, the ballerina. Much to our surprise, it only became an admirable model for women in the 20th century, when the Ballets Russes performed in Paris and the public swooned over the choreography, costumes, and beauty of the performance. That troupe, as well as Anna Pavlova’s dance company, toured exhaustively, promoting classical dance based on a rigorous Russian training, and impressing audiences in Europe and America. Designers took notice of the costume construction, with its mandate to create clothes that must look beautiful, enhance the story being told, and stand up to the unrelenting stressors of physical activity. Their own clients were not so hard on the couture garments, but they certainly benefited from the airy tulle, soft colors, and elegant silhouettes that flattered their figures. Other fashion inspirations from the ballet world include knit fabrics (used in sportswear) and the ballet flat, a plain shoe that women of all ages have come to adore for its versatility in their wardrobes. Learn more about this gorgeous show by clicking on the ‘Gallery Shows’ tab.