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The Design Culture Calendar: April 2017

Cool events taking place around the world this month.



The glassy exterior of the new Sumida Hokusai Museum. Image courtesy of the museum.

The Opening of the Sumida Hokusai Museum, Tokyo

Despite the rich history of art in Japan, it is ukiyo-e (“pictures of the floating world”)—woodblock prints from the 18th and 19th centuries depicting everything from kimono-clad courtesans and kabuki actors to animals, plants, and dramatic, often romantic landscapes—that first comes to mind when one thinks of Japanese art, and that has had the most lasting influence on artists of every nationality (including 19th-century masters James Whistler, Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt, among others).

Now there’s a museum devoted entirely to the country’s best-known practitioner, Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), whose formal, masterfully composed works have, alongside those of rival Hiroshige (1797-1858), come to define the genre. Designed by Pritzker Prize–winning architect Kazuyo Sejima, the angular Sumida Hokusai Museum just opened in Tokyo’s Sumida Ward, where the legendary master lived and produced the bulk of his work in the mid 19th century. Don’t miss Great Wave off Kanazawa from his seminal “36 Views of Mt. Fuji” series. 

Sumida Hokusai Museum, 2-7-2 Kamezawa, Sumida-ku, Tokyo. 




The Elbphilarmonie concert hall in Hamburg. Photo by Thies Rätzke

The opening of Elbphilharmonie and Elbtreppe in Hamburg

Though Hamburg has long been one of Germany’s most influential cities, it is coming into its own as a travel destination thanks to two architectural projects on the waterfront completed in the past two years. One of the late, brilliant architect Zaha Hadid’s final creations, Elbtreppe is a half-mile promenade along the Elbe River punctuated by amphitheater-like steps (Treppe) on which to sit down and take in the magnificent cityscape. It offers a great view of the nearby Elbphilarmonie, a crystalline, sail-shaped concert hall by Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron, creators of the Tate Modern, that finally opened its doors in November. (It was 14 years in the making.) Though you’re unlikely to score tickets to a performance in the foreseeable future, it’s worth visiting just to take in the 360-degree view afforded by the Plaza, the glass-enclosed panoramic ring dividing the soaring glass structure and the warehouse on which it was built. While you’re in the neighborhood, don’t miss checking out Speicherstadt, the city’s stately warehouse district, which was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2015. 

Elbphilharmonie, Platz der Deutschen Einheit 1, 20457 Hamburg, Germany; 49-40-357-666-0. Elbtreppen, Niederhafen Port at River Elbe, 22763 Hamburg, Germany.

Rafael Y Herman: The Night Illuminates the Night

Israeli artist Rafael Y Herman achieves the feat of rendering the invisible visible in his latest body of work, a series of photographs he took in the desert of his homeland at night, without the aid of electronics or digital manipulation. What the nocturnal images reveal in this installation is anything but dark—sumptuous, dream-like landscapes imbued with shimmering light colors and shapes that might otherwise elude the human eye. The photographer was inspired to depict his homeland in darkness by Westerners who, across centuries, have depicted the Holy Land without ever having seen it with their own eyes.

Museum of Contemporary Art of Rome (MACRO) Testaccio, Rome, Italy. Through March 26.

A Robert Rauschenberg Retrospective at the Tate Modern Switch House, London

Your excuse for a visit across the pond to inaugurate the Switch House – the Tate Modern’s new brick pyramid-tower extension designed by the same Swiss firm, Herzog & de Meuron, that transformed the massive Bankside Power Station into the enormously popular hub of modern and contemporary art – has arrived in the form of the first major retrospective of Robert Rauschenberg since the American artist’s death in 2008.

Organized chronologically and in collaboration with New York’s MoMA, where it heads next spring, the show unfolds as a riveting narrative, journeying through the maverick’s many seminal creative moments, from his striking blue monoprints and his extraordinary Combines—so named for their amalgam of painting and sculpture (two of them are on rare loan from their respective homes: MoMA’s Bed and Moderna Museet’s Monogram)—to the artist’s Pop-inflected transfer drawings and silkscreens, and sculptures he made during his multifaceted tenure as a performance artist. 

Tate ModernBankside, London. Through April 2. 

Deana Lawson Exhibition at the Contemporary Museum of St. Louis, Missouri

Speaking of people in terms of their primary distinguishing characteristic—the blind, the poor, the disabled, the outcast—says more about the speaker than anything else. For defining any characteristic as being primary not only erases individuality but validates facile generalizations that all too often betray bias against those heaped into those categories. Brooklyn-based photographer Deana Lawson’s mesmerizing large-format, chromogenic portraits of people of color, paired off in twos, usually, and set in their home, yard, neighborhood or unnamed venue, make such judgment seem myopic—and a whole lot more difficult—by portraying the quirkiness, scars, dignity, and honest, breathing humanity of her subjects. Like Diane Arbus before her, Lawson uses an array of strategies, from staged work to found, tableaux to documentary techniques, to capture the narrative persona of those who sit, pose, and seemingly turn over their lives, however briefly, to her ambitious project of chronicling the inimitable life essence that is a person’s individuality. If you can’t make it to St. Louis for the retrospective, you can catch her at this spring’s Whitney Biennial. 

Contemporary Museum of Art St. Louis, 3750 Washington Blvd, St. Louis, Missouri. Through April 16.

Albert Renger-Patzsch: Industrial Landscapes

One of the two most influential practitioners of the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) movement in Germany (the other was August Sander), the photographer Albert Renger-Patzsch distanced himself from the pictorial tendencies of early 20th-century photography and instead sought to capture the world as he saw it, pared down to its essence yet sparing no detail. Marking the 50th anniversary of his death, Munich’s Pinokotek der Moderne presents a stunning body of Renger-Patzsch’s work that is being seen by the public for the first time. The works on view, part of the Ann and Jurgen Wilde Foundation collection, are of the Rohrgebiet in western Germany, a region undergoing a rapid transition from farmland to coal production under the Weimar Republic; they are starkly beautiful, frank, and imbued with an ineffable sense of wonder. Viewers will no doubt feel it themselves in being transported back nearly a century to a moment of startling, recognizable dissonance. 

Pinakotech der Moderne, Munich, Germany. Through April 23.

Cy Twombly’s Retrospective at the Centre Pompidou, Paris

It’s strangely fitting that the 20th-century master Cy Twombly, Rauschenberg’s erstwhile teacher, lover and friend, is being feted simultaneously at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in the first major retrospective since this artist’s death in 2011. Spanning the early 1950s to his last year, the show’s 140 works are framed around three major cycles of the artist’s work: Nine Discourses on Commodus, the 1963 series Twombly undertook shortly after his permanent move to Rome that harnessed the artist’s scribblings, smudges and erasures to tell the story of the barbaric reign and eventual murder of Roman emperor Aurelius Commodus; Fifty Days at Iliam, what the artist referred to as “a painting in ten parts” that depicts the first 50 days of the siege of Troy, inspired by Alexander Pope’s translation of Homer’s Iliad; and 2000’s Coronation of Sesostris, another series of ten whose subject was the Egyptian mythology of the sun’s journey from morning to night. After much rejection and hostility in the States, Twombly was given his first solo show in Paris in 1971, making this elegiac show in the City of Light all the more poignant. 

Centre PompidouPlace Georges-Pompidou, Paris. Through April 24.

Desert X, Coachella Valley, California

Set to overlap with the Coachella Music Festival that inspired it, the inaugural edition of Desert X, an exhibition of site-specific artworks, is poised to transform the desert environs between California’s San Bernadino Mountains and the Salton Sea this spring. The impressive international array of artists include Philipp K. Smith, whose installation is an array of concentric mirrored panels placed in a repetitive pattern; Gabriel Kuri, who has executed an enormous drawing in the sand that can be experienced on the ground or taken in as a whole from an elevated spot; Sherin Guirguis, whose work One I Call is an architectural recreation of an adobe Egyptian pigeon tower, complete with an audio track of desert songs and sounds taken from the Coachella environment; and Jennifer Bolande, whose installation of billboards along the Gene Autry Trail fill in the parts of the landscape they normally obscure with gorgeous photographs that complete each vista (it is meant to be experienced driving in a car). Taking the award for most whimsical is Norma Jeane’s Shy #1, a small robotic vehicle programmed to avoid contact with—read run away from—Desert X visitors. Fittingly, it was built by an artist born the night Marilyn Monroe died who took the cinema icon’s real name as an alias and refuses to be identified beyond his or her work. 

Various sites in Coachella Valley, California. Through April 30. 

Antwerp Port House Tour

Sometimes a new architectural wonder comes along that is enticing enough to warrant its own trip across the ocean. Zaha Hadid’s Port House, which opened in September and was completed by the iconoclastic architect’s team posthumously, is one such building. The city of Antwerp, Belgium’s port, the second largest in Europe, had by 2007 outgrown its administrative buildings, and its employees were working in offices throughout the city. The site they envisioned for a new building that would unite them, however—Mexico Island on the Scheldt River—was occupied by a historic building already: its now defunct original fire station. Rather than tear it down, the city’s planners wanted to expand it—vertically, they hoped. The building committee was impressed with all five submissions, but smitten with Hadid’s visionary renderings, which depicted an enormous faceted, glass and metal, cantilevered oval poised over the original building like a toy spaceship balanced precariously on a building block. The resulting structure is, in real life, astonishing. And someone must have taken to heart the “If you build it, they will come” mantra, for the Port House is now open to the public for tours (conducted in Dutch; 10 euros; reservations required).

Port HouseAmerikadok-Zuidkaai, 2030 Antwerpen, Belgium

Josef Frank: Patterns-Furniture-Painting 

Colorful exuberance isn’t what first comes to mind when you hear the words Scandinavian design—until you start thinking of those countries’ fabrics, that is. Almedahls, Lungbergs, and Marimekko fabrics are all by turns sumptuous, earthy, and riotous, adding pops of pattern to otherwise stark, monotone interiors. That entire legacy is thanks to Jewish-Austrian immigrant Josef Frank (1885–1967), who in 1933 abandoned a successful architecture career in Vienna and fled with his wife to Sweden upon sensing the growing power of the Nazis in his home country. Frank went on to have an astonishing career in his adopted country—and in New York, where he was a war exile from 1940 to 1945—as a fabric and furniture designer with interior design firm Svenskt Tenn (the company sells his work, from rugs and pillows to wallpaper, to this day). 

Dense, intricate and largely botanical, his designs draw you in with their striking color combinations and imaginative scenes, as if they were worlds unto themselves and completely alive. Frank believed that patterns, in transfixing the viewer, added an ultimate source of calm to any room. This show pays homage to the master by showcasing little-known watercolors and furniture designs alongside Frank’s vibrant fabrics, testaments to the artist’s eclectic breadth. 

Fashion and Textile Museum, London. Through May 7

Museum Barbarini

Only an art collector with the vision, financial prowess, and largesse to match their passion for art could have brought about the creation of Potsdam’s Museum Barbarini, among the most significant new museums to open in Germany in decades. And that is just what German software company SAP cofounder Hasso Plattner brought to the table when he sought permission to restore the baroque Prussian Barbarini Palace in Potsdam’s Alter Markt square, which was originally modeled after Rome’s Palazzo Barberini and all but destroyed in a WWII air raid, and turn it into a world-class art destination.

After recreating the building—including replicating the sandstone facade to the exact specifications Frederick the Great ordered in 1771, a requirement imposed by city—Plattner finally has a 17-gallery home for his vast art collection. Its two kickoff exhibitions are “Impressionism: The Art of Landscape,” which showcases works by Monet, Sisley, Renoir and Pissarro, and “Modern Art Classics: Liebermann, Munch, Nolde, Kandinsky,” whose undoubted star is Edvard Munch’s Girls on the Bridge (1899), which Plattner is believed to have bought at Sotheby’s last November for $54.5 million (both shows run through May 28). Now you know where you have to go on your visit the German capital; the royal city on the Havel River is just an hour away from Berlin.

Museum Barbarini, Potsdam, Germany 

Los Angeles: A Fiction

A collaboration between Oslo’s Astrup Fearnley Museet and France’s Musee d’Art Contemporain Lyon, this exhibition takes on the shadows and paradoxes of Los Angeles with works by 34 L.A.-based artists accompanied by illuminating ruminations on the city by 84 authors. The sprawling West Coast town looms large in the imaginations not only of Americans but all world citizens, thanks to its iconic landscapes, striking imagery, and its identity as the ultimate home of fiction, in the form of the entertainment industry. The works of art luminaries like David Hockney and Ed Ruscha are interspersed with those of emerging artists such as Martine Syms, Henry Taylor, and Jonas Wood. Ultimately, the show suggests, the city’s myth cannot be separated from its gritty yet dream-inducing reality. 

Musée d’art contemporain de Lyon, Lyon, France. Through May 7. 

Honolulu Biennial: Middle of Now | Here

The 50th state is known for many superlatives, from its flora and fauna to its diversity and hospitality, yet until now contemporary art has not been among them. That is poised to change with this year’s inaugural Honolulu Biennial, which brings together 30-plus artists from countries connected by the Pacific Ocean for a two-month celebration of arts and culture. Turning on its head the notion of Hawaii as being in the middle of nowhere, the show’s organizers have taken as their theme “Middle of Now | Here,” to showcase Hawaii’s identity as a dynamic and fertile cultural crossroads.

Exhibiting artists include Hawaii natives—Big Island’s Les Filter Feeders, Oahu’s Andrew Binkley, and sculptor Charlton Kupa’a Hee—New Zealand’s Brett Graham, Yuki Kihara, and Fiona Pardington; and international bigs Yayoi Kusama and Lee Mingwei. Don’t miss Kusama’s installation Footprints of Life, a series of neon-pink, polka-dotted biomorphic shapes set in a courtyard of Ward Village, one of the Biennial’s main exhibition hubs. Like Ward Village, most venues are situated halfway between downtown Honolulu and Waikiki, within walking distance of each other, but some are scattered on neighboring islands, presumably to awaken the explorer within.

Honolulu Biennial, Honolulu, Hawaii. Through May 8. 

Chagall: Colour and Music

This major survey of the exuberant Marc Chagall had its beginnings in an unlikely place: Cite de la Musique, a group of institutions in Paris’ 19th Arondissement. But it makes sense when, at the show’s culmination, visitors take in a projection of the ceiling of the Paris Opera, a masterpiece Chagall completed in 1964. It turns out music played a huge role throughout the itinerant master’s life, from his Russian childhood to his exile in New York and his many international collaborations with stage productions—the ballets Aleko (1942, Mexico City), The Firebird (1945, New York), and Daphnis and Chloe (Brussels-Paris, 1958-1959) and the opera The Magic Flute (New York, 1966-1967)—as set and costume designer. The galleries of the exhibition, whose themes unfold chronologically, are at times filled with music Chagall is known to have loved. It is the humble violin, however, which his brother played, that returns over and over again in Chagall’s work, perhaps because of its symbolism as the spirit of an exiled people who could take it but little else with them on their journeys in search of a better life. 

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal, Quebec. Through June 11.

Rita Kernn-Larssen: Surrealist Paintings

In 1938, Peggy Guggenheim invited the Danish artist Rita Kernn-Larssen, whom she had met a year earlier in Paris, where the artist lived, to exhibit her Surrealist paintings in a solo show at Guggenheim Jeune, Guggenheim’s London gallery. It is fitting, then, that the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice is once again introducing the little-known Kernn-Larssen to international art aficionados, in a show that inaugurates the museum’s two new Project Rooms and overlaps with the 57th Venice Biennale.

The late artist, who left Denmark in 1929 out of dissatisfaction with the country’s art training, became the star pupil of post-Cubist artist Fernand Léger in Paris, and her work went on to be exhibited in 1930s Surrealism surveys alongside that of Magritte, Dalí, and Picasso. More than half of the works on view in Venice were part of the London show, including her 1937 masterpiece Self-Portrait (Know Thyself), whose blood-red and gray palette, gorgeous renderings, and arresting spatial play leave you wondering why she’s never been on your radar before.

Peggy Guggenheim Venice, Venice, Italy, Through June 26.  

Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern

Besides being one of the last century’s most celebrated American painters, Wisconsin-born Georgia O’Keeffe was a pioneer when it came to the creation of an instantly recognizable public persona. Her artistic prowess and chiseled beauty captured the attention and the hand of photographer Edward Steichen, who was married when he met her. Yet one can’t help but notice that her striking looks went far beyond conventional beauty, and derived a great deal of their power from her deliberate aesthetic and sartorial choices, from minimalist yet romantic frocks to the poses she struck for fellow artists. This show is the first of its kind to investigate O’Keeffe’s identity as a style icon, presenting pieces of her wardrobe, and photographs taken of her by other luminaries, among them Ansel Adams, Annie Leibowitz, and Bruce Weber, alongside her artwork. The exhibition is a homecoming of sorts for O’Keeffe, who had her first-ever solo show at the Brooklyn Museum in 1927.

Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York. March 3–July 23.

Carlos Cruz Diez: Chroma

The Savannah College of Art and Design celebrates the life and work of Franco-Venezualan artist Carlos Cruz Diez, this year’s recipient of the school’s deFINE ART honor, with a show of works that aim to challenge and change viewers’ perception of space, light, and color. Throughout his seven-decade career, the Paris-based artist, known as much for his groundbreaking color theory as for his artwork, has explored the parameters of color through visual environments that put their audience front and center as sensory participants. Among the show’s highlights are the immersive Environnement Chromointerférent, an indoor installation created specifically for SCAD; Chromosaturation, a work housed inside a shipping container in the museum’s courtyard that transforms a series of spaces into planes of color; and a series of crosswalk designs, one of the artist’s signature series, installed near the museum. “The world of color is the world of emotion,” Cruz Diez once said, hinting at both the source of his fascination and the goal of his artistic interventions.

Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, Georgia. Through August 20. 

Lee Magill

Lee Magill is a writer and editor based in New York City who has contributed to Travel + Leisure and Time Out. She previously served as the editor of Time Out New York Kids

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