Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World)


July 1–October 26, 2010


Maira Kalman: (L)Woman with Face Net, 2000, gouache on paper, 17 x 14 3/4 inches. (R) Self-Portrait (with Pete), 2004–5, gouache on paper, 16 x 15 inches. Both courtesy of the artist and Julie Saul Gallery, New York.


Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World) is the first museum survey of Maira Kalman’s narrative art. Working as an illustrator, author, and designer, Kalman illuminates contemporary life with a profound sense of joy and a unique sense of humor. Kalman’s art appears everywhere in the foreground of today’s visual culture. She is well known for her covers and drawings for The New Yorker, over a dozen books for children and adults, two celebrated illustrated blogs for The New York Times, and collaborations with leading designers and innovators.

The exhibition features a selection of original works on paper that span 30 years of illustration for publication. Also on view are less widely seen works in photography, embroidery, textiles, and performance. As a context for this survey, Kalman has created a special installation, furnishing the gallery with chairs, ladders, and “many tables of many things,” drawn from her collections and indicative of how she sees the world both inside and outside the studio.

Kalman speaks of her work as a form of journalism. She uses writing and drawing to render an ongoing account of the world as she sees it. Hers is a daily discipline of creativity based on photography, travel, research, walking, talking, and open observation. A serious love of distraction pervades. Abundant depictions of fashion, food, art, and architecture represent life’s great pleasures. At the same time, rubber bands, pieces of moss, bobby pins, and snacks stake claims for smaller forms of satisfaction.

All of this might seem trivial were it not for the counterweight of history, memory, and loss that is also ever-present. Chaos is another constant, be it crazy and madcap or simply devastating. Indeed, it is her work’s gift to illuminate those things that affirm our own capacity for joy, sadness, humor, charm. In short, Kalman’s art inspires our humanity in light of life’s overwhelming events and details.

Travel Dates

Following its time at the CJM, the exhibition will travel to the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, November 16, 2010 - February 13, 2011, and The Jewish Museum in New York, March 11 - July 31, 2011.

Press Release


Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World) is organized by the Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania. The exhibition is curated by Ingrid Schaffner, ICA Senior Curator.

The San Francisco presentation is made possible by the lead support of Osterweis Capital Management. Additional support is generously provided by Barbara and Howard Wollner.


Koret and Taube Foundations are the lead supporters of the 2010/11 exhibition season.

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ICA gratefully acknowledges Leonard and Louise Riggio and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. for generous support of this exhibition, and Barbara B. & Theodore R. Aronson for their sponsorship of the catalogue. Additional support has been provided by Mari & Peter Shaw; Carol T. & John G. Finley; BZ & Michael Schwartz; Erica & Eric Schwartz; Anthropologie, Inc.; Barbara & Richard S. Lane Fund; Howard A. Silverstein & Patricia B. Silverstein Exhibition Endowment Fund; Joan & Hyman Sall; The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation; Commonwealth Pennsylvania Council on the Arts; The Dietrich Foundation, Inc.; The Chodorow Exhibition Initiative Fund for supporting the tour; and in-kind support from the Julie Saul Gallery.


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