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Posts Tagged ‘Museum of the City of New York’

Exclusivity

February 18, 2014 | by

alva belmont

Alva Vanderbilt, 1883.

“Gilded New York,” an exhibition up at the Museum of the City of New York right now, showcases the ostentatious visual culture of late-nineteenth-century elites. A friend and I went last weekend, in the midst of a heavy snow. There are impossibly elaborate Worth gowns, impossibly ornate Tiffany jewels. There are idealized portraits and embellished vases. There are the McKim, Mead & and White mansions that dotted Fifth Avenue, and photo after photo of jam-packed (but highly exclusive) balls. If you’ve been reading any Wharton or James lately, I highly recommend it.

One portion of the exhibition features a slideshow of party-goers, many of them costumed, at the landmark balls of the era. Mrs. W. K. Vanderbilt’s 1883 fancy dress ball was one such: a game-changer that established the nouveau-riche Vanderbilts—and their brand-new Fifth Avenue mansion—as social forces to be reckoned with. There doesn’t seem to have been a theme, as such, to the costumes, other than general lavishness. As the New York Times reported, in the months leading up to the ball “amid the rush and excitement of business, men have found their minds haunted by uncontrollable thoughts as to whether they should appear as Robert Le Diable, Cardinal Richelieu, Otho the Barbarian, or the Count of Monte Cristo, while the ladies have been driven to the verge of distraction in the effort to settle the comparative advantages of ancient, medieval, and modern costumes.”

In the end, people seem to have gone for all of the above: while royalty and nobility of all eras and nations were well represented, the ball also featured Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt II as “Electric Light” (interpreted by Worth/Mainbocher), and a King Lear “in his right mind,” while Miss Kate “Puss” Fearing Strong sported a taxidermied cat’s head as a hairpiece, and had seven real cat tails sewn to the skirt of her gown. Most of the costumes seem to have been recognizable enough, but one can’t help thinking that all evening long Ward McAllister must have had to go around saying, “No, I’m Comte de la Mole! You know, the Huguenot lover of Margaret of Anjou? Whose embalmed head she carried around?” (On the other hand, perhaps Gilded Age society was really up on their Stendhal. Or even their Dumas.) Read More »

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Triumph of the Will

February 10, 2014 | by

Dorothy Draper at MCNY

Some years ago, the Museum of the City of New York mounted a fantastic show devoted to the work of the decorator and entertainment doyenne Dorothy Draper. Draper’s two books, Entertaining is Fun! and Decorating is Fun!, have been rereleased with the original splashy covers, and the firm of Carleton Varney, Inc. continues to use Draper’s exuberant prints and insouciant style. The museum had done up several rooms with Draper’s signature oversized roses, and replicated the decor of West Virginia’s famous Greenbrier resort, which Draper refurbished in the 1940s. The effect was determinedly cheerful and pretty darn fabulous.

greenbrier04

Museum of the City of New York

The books are arresting, too: between bits of absolutely authoritative advice on color, proportion, and élan (presented with the assurance of many generations in New York high society) Mrs. Draper presents the reader with “case histories” of “A Lady Who Thought Formality Meant Fuss” or “A Young Man Who Understood Women” or “A Lady Who Gave Herself a Party Instead of a Pill.” Read More »

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Staff Picks: Cecil Beaton in the City, ‘Threats’

March 9, 2012 | by

Andrea del Castagno, Portrait of a Man, ca. 1450–57, tempera on panel. Courtesy the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.

If you get the chance, check out “Cecil Beaton: The New York Years,” which has extended its run at the Museum of the City of New York. It’s a record of the artist, designer, photographer, and general man-about-town’s relationship with the city in pictures and words, and both the duration of Beaton’s career and the scope of his creativity are something to behold. —Sadie Stein

On the recommendation of our art editor, Charlotte Strick, I’ve started reading Amelia Gray’s debut novel, Threatsthe nifty cover of which Charlotte designed, so perhaps she’s biased. But so far, it’s with good cause: the narrative is subversive and impressionistic, evidentiary and eccentric. It reminds me occasionally of Grace Krilanovich’s The Orange Eats Creeps, another deeply imaginative book and one that, in the spirit of this post, I'd wholly recommend. —Nicole Rudick

It is, as Andrew Butterfield says in The New York Review of Books, a show “of staggering beauty and revelatory importance” and “a landmark exhibition,” and it is also your last chance to see it this week. I spent last Sunday strolling through the “The Renaissance Portrait from Donatello to Bellini” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and I can’t imagine a more colorful or vibrant way to spend the weekend. —Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn

I recently discovered Literature Map, an addicting bit of artificial intelligence that plots writers by similarity. Watch your favorite authors drift about in a blue void like awkward, disembodied party-goers! A Marauder's Map for the literary. (Also good for finding new reads.) —Allison Bulger

I visited the Whitney Biennial last week and caught Sarah Michelson’s disciplined performance of Devotion Study #1—The American Dancer,” a piece about movement, repetition, and the relationships formed in dance. Michelson's residency ends March 11 and it’s a spectacle not to be missed. —Elizabeth Nelson

A screener of Lena Dunham’s Girls made its way around the office a few weeks ago. It contained only three episodes, but I couldn’t get enough. —D.F.M.

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