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The Design Culture Calendar: May 2017

Cool events taking place around the world this month.

Ring of Remembrance

With stirrings of nationalism, combative rhetoric, and actual annexation piercing Europe’s recent, relatively peaceful status quo, there seems no better time to visit L’Anneau de la mémoire, the World World I memorial in Ablain-Saint-Nazaire, at France’s northern tip, designed by architect Philippe Prost. The striking concrete ellipse, set into the slope below the neo-Byzantine chapel of the National Necropolis, France’s largest military cemetery, is lined with 500 vertical bronze sheets bearing the engraved names of 579,606 men and women who perished on the battlefields of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais in the Great War. Those names—largely French, British, and German—are listed in alphabetical order, regardless of the country the combatants served. “Grief has given way to calm,” Prost said of the memorial. “Through our project we wished to give a shape to brotherhood, to give expression to peace, and to unite art and nature and put them at the service of memory.”

L’Anneau de la mémoire, Ablain-Saint-Nazaire, France

David Hockney

Considering that David Hockney is the most celebrated living British artist on the planet, perhaps it should come as no surprise that the Tate Britain’s retrospective, mounted in honor of his 80th birthday, broke presales records and led the museum to announce it will stay open till midnight for the show’s last weekend. Known foremost for his stark, psychologically riveting portraits of friends in and around swimming pools in Los Angeles, where he moved in the ’60s and continues to live, Hockney has done a great deal more artistic exploration, as this show makes amply clear. Yet his early work is compelling for many reasons, one of which is that he was fearless in putting his life as a gay man front and center, paving the way to a cultural openness that even now continues to unfurl. Don’t miss the double portraits, united here for the first time, his gorgeous series of charcoal sketches of a path in the Woldgate Woods, and his recent, almost Fauvist landscape paintings. If you miss this survey, don’t worry. It opens at the Pompidou Center in Paris in June, then travels to New York for a sojourn at the Met in November.

Tate Britain, London, Through May 29.

Yayoi Kusama: My Eternal Soul Tokyo

For a sensual submersion in the larger-than-life career of art legend Yayoi Kusama, this is the show not to miss. It is a retrospective survey, to be sure, featuring works spanning 70 years—starting with a drawing Kusama made when she was 18 and spanning brooding early works and seminal highlights like her Infinity Nets paintings, silver Dressing Room sculpture, and Infinity Mirrors installation. But the highlight of the exhibition is the collection of 152 of the 500-plus paintings in her My Eternal Soul series, which she began in 2009. It is as though Kusama needed a set of tight constraints—194 cm x 194 cm square canvases—in order to unleash the torrent of a lifetime: complex, brightly colored, by turns exuberant and intricate biomorphic compositions into which she has poured all the dreams, visions, symbolism, iconography, and signature motifs that have propelled her into the pantheon of the past century’s visual artists.

The National Art Center, Tokyo. Through May 22. 

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, Hamburg, Germany.

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 House, Antwerpen, Belgium

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 

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. Through 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. 


Frida Kahlo: Through the Lens of Nickolas Muray

Few artists elicit instant recognition and adulation quite like Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, whose stature as an artist reached epic proportions decades after her death in 1954 at age 47. One reason for this is that self-portraiture was a primary artistic pursuit of hers throughout her life, beginning with her recuperation from a near fatal accident at age 18. Yet a great many of the most iconic Kahlo portraits were taken not by the artist but by her friend and lover Nickolas Muray, a Hungarian-born color photography pioneer whom she met in 1931 while married to artist Diego Rivera and with whom she remained friends until her death. This exhibition brings together 52 of these portraits, a mix of color and black-and-white, alongside letters Muray and Kahlo wrote each other, which only heighten the intimacy of the NYC-based photographers astonishing portraits of a deeply private 20th-century giant.

Museum of Latin American Art, Long Beach, California. Through September 3. 

Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between

Despite its recent managerial and financial woes, the Met is putting on its game face with this comprehensive survey of beloved fashion rebel Rei Kawakubo at the Costume Institute. The show, which marks just the second time the storied Institute has mounted a showcase featuring a living fashion creative (the first was Yves Saint-Laurent in 1983), explores the Japanese maverick’s highly original aesthetic via eight categories that align opposites—Fashion/Anti Fashion, Design/Not Design, Self/Other, and Object/Subject among them—suggesting that her sartorial creations smash boundaries, allowing the wearer to reside “in between,” and thus free of, artificial constraints that deign what is appropriate, outrageous, or doable. Expect a mix of her most iconic looks from the past 30 years, from all-black, deconstructed minimalism to brightly colored sculptural frocks that easily jump from artful to art.

Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute. New York City. Through September 4. 

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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