The ICA installation of Maira Kalman’s modest drawings of life in New York is the not the bombastic, self-important art-star ego-inflated posturing that calls so much attention to itself that the art world says, all right already, I’ll give you a show. Even though Kalman works in a modest scale, the ICA gave her a show anyway; Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World) is the artist’s first major museum survey.
Kalman creates a big vision via small visions, the pleasures and quirks of daily life in New York (Kalman, born in Israel in 1949 has lived in New York since the age of 4). In the world around her, adults go to the museums, eat lunch, buy books, listen to music, discuss world affairs, look at their watches and sport surprising hats and hair. The children play in the park, but not to wildly. They are well supervised. The dogs bark in the park, but not to loudly. They are well supervised, too.
This world of hats and coats and sofas and cats has an aura of middle class values. The goods and the pets are valued. But most of all, the people are valued–in part because of their faith in the everyday world around them. Which doesn’t mean they don’t have a touch of the ridiculous.
Kalman’s illustrations and designs have infiltrated the culture around us, without our even realizing it. The author of 12 children’s books, she created the iconic New Yorkistan map with cartoonist Rick Meyerowitz for the Dec. 2001 New Yorker cover, declaring an inclusive vision for a recently terrorized and balkanized world and city, replacing Saul Steinberg’s iconic view from a looming New York to a tiny nation to its west. On seeing her grid of presidential portraits, each American icon sporting a lady’s coiffure and lipstick, I immediately wondered what came first, Kalman (then Berman) or cartoonist Roz Chast’s grids. She designed a line of accessories, in collaboration with her late husband Tibor Kalman, for the Museum of Modern Art. And she created an illustrated edition of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style (it showed in Philadelphia at the Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery).
The ICA exhibit, which includes 100 framed pictures plus four embroidered works mostly derive from her work as an illustrator. The works circle the gallery space, which is also filled with objects from Kalman’s life and personal collection, including things like balls of string, boxes, buckets, clothes made of fabric she designed, her clock designs, buttons, furniture, books and a whistle. The exhibit becomes a kind of self portrait of a woman and what she values. Part of what she values is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Esterbrook pens, fashion, family, and Grand Central Station. Her drawings become an archive of a way of life, creating a sense of place and a sense of humor.
It’s the successful creation of a world of its own that turns what passes as popular, journalistic illustration into something more. Her illustrations form a sort of pre-blog blog filled with charm, wit and intelligence that make it worthy of our looking and reading.
About half a year ago, my daughter brought me a small pack of gum she purchased for me on her way to Philadelphia. She thought I’d like it as much as she did. Jewish Mother Gum, it states. Again with the gum? the box proclaims. The flavor is Fruit-Shmoot. Needless to say, the illustrator and writer of this sassy/sentimental bit of packaging is Kalman-Schmalman. It’s still on my bulletin board.
A continuous contiguous reading of Kalman’s children’s books will take place next weekend at the ICA, with guest readers (including Roberta and me, oy), modeled on the Rosenbach Museum and Library‘s annual Bloomsday celebration. The reading will be Saturday, Jan. 30, 12 to 3 p.m., and some of the highlights are Ooh-la-la (Max in Love); What Pete Ate from A to Z, and all the rest. Oh, yes, by the way, Kalman did a collaboration with the Rosenbach as part of its Abraham Lincoln celebration this past year. (I know we mentioned it on the blog, but the version on the New York Times site seems worth linking to again).
The exhibit also has an iPhone app. First search Juncanoo, enter your info, and then search Kalman.
The show was curated by Ingrid Schaffner at the ICA, its first stop. It closes June 6, after which it will travel to the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, July 1 to Oct.. 26, 2010, to the Skirball in Los Angeles, Nov. 16, 2010 to Feb. 13, 2011, and to the Jewish Museum in New York March 11 to July 31, 2011. But you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy.
Also at the ICA…
A Robin Rhode video will be showing Jan 27-31. I’m a big fan of this artist who manages to combine playfulness with political ideas and questions about what’s real and what’s imaginary–as if The Little Prince rode his skateboard and drew graffiti. Rhode was born in Cape Town in 1976 and now lives in Berlin. This is part of a year-long series of movies, Video Art: Replay in the ICA Project Space curated by the ICA’s Whitney-Lauder Curatorial Fellow Lucy Gallun. I can’t find the schedule online, but upcoming artists through March include Allora and Calzadilla, Martha Colburn (someone else with a Rosenbach Museum connection) and Kota Ezawa. The remain schedule is at the bottom, because I can’t find anywhere online to link to it.
The catalog for the excellent exhibit Dance With Camera is now available. I went back to the exhibit for a second look. The videos are varied, and nothing like the static camera dance performances that assault us on television. They ask questions about relationships between bodies, point of view, audience, the camera lens, etc. And the videos, which range from historic to contemporary, are beautiful and provocative. Roberta wrote a full post on this, if you want to read more. This exhibit, curated by Janelle Porter, is up until March 21.
Upcoming videos in Video Art: Replay through March 21:
Arelien Froment, Theatre de poche (Pocket Theater), Feb. 3-7
Alex Hubbard, Heads in the Dark, Feb. 10-14
Cao Guimaraes and Rivane Neuenschwander, Quata-Feira de Cinzas (Ash Wdnesday, Epilogue), Feb. 17-21
Allora and Calzadilla, Signs Facing the Sky, Feb. 24-28
Martha Colburn, Triumph of the Wild I & II, March 3-7
Kota Ezawa, LYAM 3D, March 10-14
Ezra Johnson, What Birds Remember if They do Remember, Mar 17-21