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Three to see: New York

From Turner’s ancient port scenes to the Jazz age in America

by Victoria Stapley-Brown  |  13 April 2017
Three to see: New York
J.M.W. Turner, Harbor of Dieppe: Changement de Domicile (1825), The Frick Collection, New York (Photo: Michael Bodycomb)
Get back into the swing of things at the Cooper Hewitt’s exhibition The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s (until 20 August), a comprehensive look at the aesthetics and culture of the 1920s to 30s that goes far beyond—but does include—the flapper lifestyle. The show explores the evolution of American taste during the period, covering important influences such as the emigration of German and Austrian designers to the US, the 1922 discovery of King Tut’s tomb and the 1925 international Paris Exposition (Éxposition des arts décoratifs et industriels modernes)—the origin of the term “Art Deco”. Fans of Art Deco will not be disappointed: the exhibition features star pieces such as a mahogany corner cabinet with intricate ivory inlay by Jacques-Émile Ruhlmann (around 1923) and Donald Deskey’s bold and geometric red, black and silver leaf lacquered screen (around 1928). But the well-rounded show of arounf 400 objects also displays traditional taste in pieces influenced by the 17th and 18th centuries, such as a 1929 silver tea and coffee service in the style of the silversmith and American Revolutionary War hero Paul Revere.

Lose yourself in the sherbet-coloured sunsets and romantic moonlit nights of harbour scenes real and imagined by Joseph Mallord William Turner at the Frick Collection. The exhibition Turner’s Modern and Ancient Ports: Passages through Time (until 14 May) presents around 35 works from the 1810s to 30s by the British artist, including a trio of monumental oil paintings—now thought to be a series—shown together for the first time: two harbour scenes of Dieppe (1825) and Cologne (1826), from the museum’s collection, and an unfinished work showing the harbour in Brest (around 1826-28), on loan from the Tate in London. Sketchbooks from Turner’s trips to Continental Europe show how these paintings were based on careful observation, while three additional oil paintings present imagined scenes from antiquity. The exhibition also includes around 25 small-format watercolours that demonstrate how Turner’s exploration in this medium—like the way he played with light and colour—influenced his larger oil paintings.

Colour is also a crucial aspect of the work of Vija Celmins, who is showing 19 new works in a solo exhibition at Matthew Marks Gallery (until 22 April)—but in a soothing, monochromatic palette, inspired by black and white photography. The paintings, prints, drawings and sculptures in the exhibition are based on the motifs of the night sky and the surface of the sea, and have a spiritual, mystical feel to them. Celmins’s renderings of starry skies are particularly powerful, layered and deep, such as the stunning, large mezzotint Untitled (Large Night Sky) (2016), with light stars scattered across a dark background. Celmins swaps this more mimetic view for a light, muted yellow tone that blooms across the centre of the canvas in Untitled (Ochre) (2016), and inverts the sky and stars in other works, so that the dark stars spatter a field of silky grey. “The recognisable image is just one element to consider,” Celmins says in a statement about her works. “The paintings seem more a record of my grappling with how to transform that image into a painting and make it alive.”


• Click here for a complete list of previously recommended New York shows

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