Meb Byrne

Archive for the ‘exhibit’ Category

Jell-O Mold Competition

In brooklyn, dessert, event, exhibit, food, funny, geek, science, smile-inducing, treasure trove on July 2, 2010 at 1:12 pm

To properly celebrate America’s birthday, certain foods are required. The most inscrutable of these culinary staples is Jell-O, an old-timer from the 1950s. Omnipresent yet ignored on many a picnic table, Jell-O manifests itself in various questionable yet patriotic shades, and is packed with similarly questionable fruits. Has the once-proud dessert been sequestered to this sad fate forever?

Never fear! The brave folks in Brooklyn will not let the gelatinous dessert go wobbly into that good night. Recently, down a small, forgettable Park Slope side street, several score amateur Jell-O enthusiasts gathered in the Gowanus Studio Space for the Jell-O Mold Competition, to showcase their imaginative gelatin creations and vie for prizes.

First, there were the obvious edible creations. Along with the predictable shiny apple pie  and red velvet cake, artists assembled Jell-O sushi with chopsticks, slid oysters melting on the half-shell, and carved up a delicious trio of multi-flavored fruit wedges molded into the hulls of peeled grapefruits. For the more culinarily adventurous folk, beef- and pork-flavored Jell-O were carved into taxidermy on wooden plaques. (The flavor was dead on, but the consistency was uncannily, unpleasantly reminiscent of jellied gristle.)

Food wasn’t the only source of inspiration. Piles of translucent, horse-pill-sized pharmaceuticals abounded, as did giant LEGOs, floral plates, and lithographs of the Brooklyn Bridge. A vibrantly blue and silver model of the Brooklyn sewage plant drew laughs, while Jell-O-cum-explosives, complete with a video presentation of said explosions, failed to inspire. The entries showed a huge variance in quality, from the impressive cloth-draped and olive-bedecked display shrine for Bloody Mary Jell-O (molded in the shape of the Virgin herself), to wimpy Styrofoam lunch trays supporting globs of what may have been octopi Vikings, but may also have been last year’s meatloaf, grown sentient and resentful with time. My favorite eats included fruity Jell-O Superballs dispensed from a quarter machine, and an impressive full-sized Tiffany lamp, supported by a sugar paste structure and lit with real bulbs. The most inventive creation, edible drinking cups made with vegan-friendly agar agar, could be filled with your drink of choice and then munched on as well, for a multi-faceted imbibing experience.

While the crowd waited for the judges to review the entries, five or six kinds of free Jell-O shots were on hand. The mixologists were enthusiastically inventive, if a bit heavy-handed with their herbs; tough sprigs of rosemary and acerbic strips of orange rind overpowered two of the jiggling shooters. Still, most of the drinks were popular and disappeared quickly: the delightfully zingy Hair of the Naval; Hot Sh*t (its real name), a dark pudding laced with cinnamon and topped with cream; Summer Salad, a gelatinous vodka watermelon; and the non-alcoholic yet pungent Kir Royale.

If this event was any indication, Jell-O will certainly live to fight another day.


Gingerbread Gallery

In art, candy, exhibit, holiday, museum, photo op, syracuse on December 30, 2009 at 5:35 pm

Every autumn, the Erie Canal Museum in downtown Syracuse holds a gingerbread house contest. All ages are invited to submit a confectionary creation, with winners chosen for each of four categories: Confectioners Competition, Youth, Family/Group, and Canal Themed. This year’s houses are very imaginative, drawing their inspiration from a construction crew, a backyard shed, a beaver dam, a Central New York aquaduct, and even the Wizard of Oz. Fondant icing is rampant, as are any number of types of yummy shingling. (Chocolate discs, anyone?) The exhibit closes on January 3, so make sure to pay a visit before these sweets are gone!

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Annex NYC

In american, exhibit, museum, music, nyc, recommended on December 28, 2009 at 9:57 pm

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Annex, a branch of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, OH, opened in Soho one year ago. Before the museum sadly closes on January 3, I highly suggest a trip to rekindle your love of music, youth and dreams.

The Annex is a wonderful homage to rock ‘n’ roll music, deeply respecting its roots, and focusing on the progression of the genre throughout American history. The museum’s exhibits covers the greats, of course (the Beatles, the Rolling Stones), but also ventures into more recent territory: London’s punk rock movement through the Sex Pistols and the Clash, the birth of hip hop with Grand Master Flash, and even modern artists like Amy Winehouse and Coldplay all receive attention. More than anything, the museum acts as a conduit through which to remember the importance and power of this revolutionary art form, whether you’re sixteen or sixty.

Upon entering the Annex, all visitors are given a state-of-the-art headset to hear the myriad television screens stationed throughout the museum. Sensors in the headphones detect which screen you’re standing nearest to (and thus which screen you’re most likely to be watching), and plays the soundtrack to that television’s film clips. The system allows you to individualize your experience, lingering over Tina Turner but skipping Billy Joel, reading each letter written from Paul Simon to Art Garfunkel but buzzing past Madonna’s corset from the Blonde Ambition tour. The Annex succeeds entirely thanks to this technology, continuously piping iconic songs to your ears and immersing you in the music.

The winding exhibits consist of these television screens flashing clips of rock ‘n’ roll shows, and, near them, costumes pieces or musical instruments used in those performances. The collection of artifacts is extensive and evokes wonderful memories: Johnny Cash’s boots, Elvis Presley’s sequin-emblazoned jumpsuit, Elton John’s sunglasses, James Brown’s velvet cape, Bruce Springsteen’s studded leather jacket. Scribbled drafts of song lyrics, set lists once taped to the stage at CBGB’s, letters from John, Paul, Ringo and George to their fans, are barely legible on yellow pad and crumpled loose leaf paper. An alcove devoted to guitars ranges from Clapton’s simple acoustic to metallic silver and Day-Glo green electric contraptions. The space is used marvelously, creating the thrown-together, haphazard sense of an underground concert space with exposed brick walls, white paint, graffiti and band posters.

The museum’s final, self-contained exhibit is entitled “John Lennon: The New York City Years,” a tribute to John Lennon’s experiences in New York created by his widow Yoko Ono. The exhibit is housed in a bright white room, with John and Yoko’s art films, interviews and concert footage playing on the four walls and glass cases of artwork and song scribblings placed in the center. At the entrance hang John’s iconic New York shirt and belt buckle; at the exit, the brown bag of his bloody clothing, given to Yoko after his death. More than a few spectators cry.

The Annex pays homage to its hometown, New York City, as a significant player in the history of rock ‘n’ roll, with a fun room devoted to the city and its venues. An interactive, rainbow-lit map of Manhattan lets you locate hundreds of famous performance spaces and read about their varied histories. From hip hop and R&B way uptown, to folk music in the Village, to punk and New Wave on the Bowery, the Annex encourages visitors to explore the city for themselves and make new memories of rock ‘n’ roll. Before the Annex closes its doors forever, go visit this wonderful museum and get inspired to do just that.


Avedon Fashion (1944-2000)

In art, exhibit, nyc, photography on September 16, 2009 at 9:01 am

Avedon Fashion, billed as “the most comprehensive exploration to date of (Richard) Avedon’s fashion photography during his long career at Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, The New Yorker, and beyond,” is logically presented and well-described. Low glass cases displaying original magazines and prints of fashion photography demarcate the various decades of Avedon’s work, and large wall plaques explain Avedon’s career and the world which shaped it. The International Center of Photography has devoted almost all of its space to the impressive exhibit, and is also showing a smaller set of fashion plates, which dovetail nicely with the main attraction. The space is clean and bright, save one inexplicable yet dramatic black room with a striking white backlighting the photos, and is spacious enough to accommodate all patrons.

Richard Avedon is at his best when he is in his own world, photographing beautiful women the way he wants to photograph them. His work with the willowy models of the post-war era up through the 1960s is exquisite. Too rich to grow old, too young to know better, the ethereal girls create dramatic lines and artistic curves with their clothes and with their bodies. Their eyes and smiles speak of the hope of tomorrow and the dawning 1950s. Fashion was beautiful then, and Avedon captures and cultivates that beauty extremely well.

Avedon’s later fashion photography is not bad, but it doesn’t thrill, either. Avedon came to maturity as a photographer at a time of renewal and grown in the US. America of the 1970s had changed, and its clothing had changed with it. When fashion stopped being beautiful and became scary or provocative, as we see today in everything from H&M ads to obscure exhibits at the Costume Institute at the Met, it passed Avedon by. His action shots are confusing and do not stand the test of time. His final series of photos from 2000, juxtaposing a model with a skeleton and discussing the heavily-laden symbolism therein, tries too hard for attention.

All is not lost. Avedon’s ability to reach into a seemingly simple shot (girl, dress) and extract passion, movement, and (most importantly) personality is the reason that his career did not remain confined to fashion. His later shots of famous figures and celebrities, not included in this exhibit, show them as they saw themselves and as we see them now; he strips the soul to show the beauty, or the ugliness, within. Similarly, Avedon’s later passion with photographing coal miners and cattle ranchers in the US Midwest shows humans simply, reaching into their history while showing nothing but their faces. Their origins are distinctly shown here in Avedon’s depiction of high fashion and the rebirth of America, when everyone was beautiful and everything was just beginning.

Avedon Fashion is displayed at the ICP until September 20.

Two Postsecret Shows

In art, exhibit, museum on June 7, 2009 at 10:09 pm

I first heard about Postsecret relatively soon after the blog was started in 2005. (For those of you who don’t know Postsecret yet: you know that famous ongoing art project where people send in secrets on postcards to that guy in Maryland who puts them up on his blog? Yeah, that one.)I read the new secrets, posted by Frank Warren, every Sunday. I have only had one bad experience with the site, when Frank posted graphic images without any warning and I was subsequently seriously messed up for about 48 hours. I would still recommend the site, although the noticeable shift over the years from deep, personal, specific revelations to more nebulous, universal, sometimes-self-pitying statements is unfortunate. Check it out if you have the time:

Since Postsecret became a national phenomenon, Frank has turned some of the postcards into a traveling art exhibit, currently on tour through December of 2010. The current leg of the tour is showing at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, NY, my home town. A smaller, more focused exhibit is also showing in the Hillyer Art Space in Washington, D.C.

I attended both exhibits with large groups of friends, which is the way I recommend you visit the shows, too. Viewing the secrets with lots of friends allows you to share connections within your group’s many viewpoints and life experiences. It also takes some of the edge off the more intense postcards, which commonly deal with heavy topics (eating disorders, abortions, death.)

Postsecret exhibits are simplistic: postcards hung in painstaking order create a sharp contrast to white walls, or are encased in free-standing clear plastic walls, so both sides of the postcards can be seen. A few choice postcards are blown up to the size of giant posters and displayed with the rest.

The Everson exhibit is tailored to the exhibition space, utilizing glass cases and two large white rooms in which free-standing plastic forms stand. My favorite room showcases a shocking collage of postcards, coating an entire wall in a cascading, tattered mess. The spectacle is breathtaking. The Hillyer exhibit, on the other hand, has only two small rooms to work with, and the exhibition style is much more uniform: five or six postcards are mounted on horizontal S-shaped plastic strips and mounted in a line along the two rooms’ walls. While aesthetically simple, the design lacks the ease or comfort of the postcards mounted in rectangular batches in the Everson. The Hillyer does not feature any free-standing plastic walls for patrons to wander around, which is a shame.

The content of the two exhibits differ immensely. Secrets in the Everson run the emotional and topical gamut, from funny to profane, touching to saddening to inspiring. The Hillyer exhibit, conversely, is titled “Confessions on Life, Death & God,” which is also the title of the fifth Postsecret book, due out this year. All the secrets in the Hillyer exhibit focus on religion, which doesn’t create as many opportunities for unexpected connections with others. Several themes are prevalent in the postcards: “I’m an atheist but I think I’m going to hell” is surprisingly common, as are commentaries on why God does or does not exist, followed by his perceived feelings toward the postcard’s creator.

I enjoy Postsecret because almost every week, Frank posts one or most postcards which I could have written. The feeling of solidarity with a stranger, experiencing the same emotions as I am, is powerful. The Everson exhibit provided that feeling in spades, and intensified it because I was with the real postcards for the first time. The Hillyer exhibit, while well-intended, missed the mark: I couldn’t identify with the postcards’ messages, even the ones from reluctant atheists, and so the exhibit passed me by. I worry that the strict focus on religion will turn away other patrons, as well.

The Hillyer space tries to recreate the fantastic postcard collage that the Everson did so well, by providing blank 5×7 note cards and crayons for patrons to put up their own secrets. This is a mistake. Drawing out a postcard in the midst of a thronging crowd (and oh were we thronging) defeats the necessary anonymity of Postsecret. Furthermore, a good two thirds of patrons’ postcards feature the kind of humor usually associated with high school boys, destroying Postsecret’s safe, accepting atmosphere. This, however, brought home another important point: maybe sometimes, even on Postsecret, we just shouldn’t take ourselves so seriously.

Postsecret is on display in the Hillyer Art Space until June 26th and in the Everson Museum of Art until July 12th.