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Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World)

Jul 1, 2010–Oct 26, 2010

Well-known for her covers and drawings for The New Yorker, Maira Kalman has also written and illustrated over a dozen books for children and adults, authored two celebrated illustrated blogs for The New York Times, and has collaborated with the likes of fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi and choreographer Mark Morris. Kalman’s art appears everywhere in the foreground of today’s visual culture illuminating contemporary life with joy and humor, intelligence and insights, curlicues and question marks.

The exhibition, organized by the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania, features a selection of 100 original works on paper that span thirty years of illustration for publication as well as 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.

gallery photos
about the exhibition

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.

The exhibition includes selections from many of her 12 children’s books including the beloved Oooh-La-La (Max in Love), chronicling the adventures of a Parisian dog poet, and Stay Up Late, her first children’s book created in collaboration with the Talking Heads’ David Byrne. Books for adults featured in the exhibition include an illustrated edition of Strunk and White’s classic grammar guide, The Elements of Style, and Man Dances on Salt, the cover image for The Principles of Uncertainty, a picture book of essays based on a yearlong column for The New York Times devoted to her musings on life’s complexities, absurdities, and joys. Covers and drawings for The New Yorker, such as Kalman’s widely celebrated cartoon map of New Yorkistan (created with cartoonist Richard Meyerowitz), are a highlight of the exhibition, as well as works for other magazines such as DeparturesThe New York Times Style MagazineCulture + Travel, and Tablet

Also in the exhibition are a number of works on textile. Kalman has often collaborated on design projects such as the fabrics she created with longtime friend and neighbor, fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi. Her other collaborators have included the textile company Maharam, Pucci (mannequins), Kate Spade (cosmetic bags) and Mark Morris (stage sets), and a mini-opera created with composer and art-rock celebrity Nico Muhly based on her illustrated The Elements of Style. Elements of many of these projects will be displayed in her object installation as well as in short films created by her son Alex Kalman.

image gallery
artist talk

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.

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.

Image Credit

Header image: Maira Kalman, New York, Grand Central Station, 1999. Gouache and ink on paper, 15 3/8 x 22 1/4 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Julie Saul Gallery, New York. Gallery photos: Installation views of Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World), on view Jul 1–Oct 26, 2010 at The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco. Photo credit: Ian Reeves.