I've been looking at lots of art again, and coincidentally the two most recent shows I've seen have been all about paper and its various uses and manipulations. I made my first visit to the Museum of Design at their new Columbus Circle location to see Slash: Paper Under the Knife, and I'm so glad I did as it pretty much blew my head wide open. Two full floors of extraordinary works mostly made with paper and knife (or laser). Many of you might recognize the work of Béatrice Coron as she has had lots of artwork displayed in the subways. But the small posters on the F Train are nothing compared to her floor to ceiling black cut-out versions of heaven and hell (Hint: heaven and hell really don't look that different). She has endless tiny figures cut out of tyvek in a humorous, Boschian, ant farm like cross section.
My favorite by about a mile, though, were the series of about two dozen tunnel books by Romanian/American artist Andrea Dezsö. They are meticulous and beautiful little boxes, painted in jewel like colors. At bottom, much as I am moved by aesthetics, it will always be the marriage of aesthetics with narrative that leaves me breathless. She paints monsters, aliens, insects, little girls lost in the woods; cityscapes and forests. Every once in a great while I'll come across an artist who has seemingly reached into my skull and pulled out imagery or stories that seem to have been there already, unrealized and waiting and it never fails to bring me to my knees.
The evening before I saw Playing With Pictures: The Art of the Victorian Photocollage at the Met. I can honestly say that it's not really like anything else I've seen and I've seen a lot. It's three rooms full of pages of photo albums which have been meticulously (and beautifully) painted with photos cut out and collaged into surreal, creative and sometimes disturbing designs. The heads of women pasted onto the bodies of ducks. Acrobats, harlequins and spiderwebs with photos of family members and pets inserted into the designs. All the works shown were from the mid to late 19th century - in other words surrealism before most of the surrealists were born. Lewis Carroll meets Terry Gilliam.
All of these skillful and odd works were created by women, none were professional artists, and certainly with very little thought of public exhibition. They were created at home, from photographs of their husbands and children and dogs and parents. It was a time when women like these weren't called "talented", but "accomplished". Women of their class were expected to paint and play piano and sing and pour tea. They had accomplishments, they entertained in the evenings, they stayed at home. Aside from the obvious skill and charm of the images on display, something I found particularly thrilling were the madcap levels of whimsy and imagination demonstrated. It made me wonder what these women were like. They possess that strange Victorian surrealist morbidity that Edward Gorey capitalized on so interestingly for all those years.
Of course, the Metropolitan Museum is a magical place at all times, and I realized I haven't been going back as much as I should. They have music and wine on Friday nights still, and soon the roof garden will be open and sometimes you can see the falcons that live on the Upper East Side that occasionally swoop over the park. Of course, one could construe all of this as being unspeakably romantic, which just might lead one to walking for blocks down 5th Avenue on a warm spring evening, which would inevitably lead to kissing on a park bench until it got too cold and too late and everyone had to take the subway home. I mean, it might.