It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

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Now on view at MAD in Shary Boyle: Outside the Palace of Me, drawings, puppets, and Judy, 2021, a life-size animatronic figure. Photo: Jenna Bascom.

“Shake things up!” was Tim Rodgers’ cri de cœur when he became Director of the Museum of Arts and Design. How ‘bout “Shake it Off”? A Taylor Swift costume exhibition broke records.The Machine Dazzle costume retrospective gala had dancers’ body parts shakin’ (Ya had to be there!). What’s next? Hold onto your pink Hermès crossbodies. It’s BARBIE! Her costume retrospective arrives next fall. And that’s an NYSD exclusive!

Bob Mackie’s Gold Barbie!

Barbie was quite the couture queen. Oscar de la Renta, Armani and Bob Mackie designs will be in the show, and more. “The curator found the exact clothes women were wearing that mimicked Barbie’s,” Tim told us. “We’ll also look at how Barbie influenced today’s designers with the use of pink. It will be a history of fashion, complete with accessories, with more than 300 versions of Barbie, including the original.”

Met costume competition? Certainly, rooms with a viewpoint.

“We want to be the place where you see the unexpected,” Rodgers continued, “to do costume at the intersection of popular culture. We are also looking to develop an exhibit with the (Academy Award-winning) costumer and jeweler from the Black Panther series. There are more exciting things in process that I can’t talk about yet.”

And the Taylor Swift get? “Her people reached out to us. It was a totally random email that we thought was a joke, that the next email would ask for money. Still, I thought, what’s the harm in answering? Turned out it was actually from her management company. They wanted an exhibition to open before her New Jersey concert date. We had two months to put it together.”

Taylor Swift: Storyteller at MAD through Mar 24, 2024.

Thanks to kids who don’t think of crab cakes and curried chicken when you mention Swifty’s, and fans of Dazzle’s rainbow of excess aesthetic, funds are soaring. “Our annual goal for admissions this year was $750,000,” Tim told me. “So far we’ve brought in $1,750,000 and that’s just in the few months that we had Taylor Swift. Last weekend, when we opened with Shari Boyle, the numbers went up again.”

This isn’t your grandma’s MAD. But it’s still Grande Dame Barbara’s Tober’s. During the past year, she’s been throwing luncheons upstairs, in Roberts restaurant, that begin with private tours of the exhibits.

Queer Maximalism x Machine Dazzle at MAD was the first solo exhibition dedicated to the genre-defying artist Machine Dazzle.

Last week, it was Canadian multimedia art star Shari Boyle, who represented her country in the Venice Biennale, giving the VIP tour of her show. She’s a former musician who has toured. So, performance is a leitmotif in her art.

“I became very aware of the relationship between performer and audience,” she told the group, “as well as to ourselves as individuals, the different factors that go into who we become, our identities. I wanted to break that down through the lens of the theater. My artworks talk about everything from gender to race to class, to issues of alienation, inclusion or exclusion — how we perform and present, and the slippage between those things.”

Barbara Waldman, Elissa Auther, Tim Rodgers, Shary Boyle, and Barbara Tober.
L. to r.: Liliana Cavendish and Sharon Loeb; Michele Gerber Klein, Betsy Perry, and Chiara Gorodesky.
Machine Dazzle, Barbara Tober, and Estelle Bailey-Babenzien.
Liane Pei, Debra Pickrel, and Serj Markarian.
Barbara Waldman and O’Kane Kornreich.
L. to r.: Linda Fischbach and Suzanne Cochran; Kay Unger and Lucig Kebranian.
Liliana Cavendish, Cynthia Burnson, and Lori Dorr.
Carlo McCormick and Sally Lee.
Lori Dorr and Elissa Auther.
Shane O’Neil and Cynthia Burnson.
Meriel Lari and Gigi Fisdell.
Steven Ladd and Carlo McCormick.

There is no info on the walls, only in an illustrated program.

Boyle was chosen to represent Canada at the 55th Venice Biennale with Music for Silence, which included text she wrote translated into Deaf ASL and performed by Beth Hutchison. “It deals with the idea of silence that we all contain around ourselves,” Boyle said, “a sense of self that is private. No one knows except you, when you go to bed at night and wake up in the morning. There’s also the idea of being silenced, who gets the power to speak. I studied ASL for some years because I was very interested in the deaf culture. It’s a beautiful, beautiful language.”

“I intentionally decided not to put any labels on this exhibition,” Boyle explained. “I want this exhibition to be something an individual comes to and interprets with their own background and personal experience …. There’s something for everybody here.”

“I was always inspired by figurative ceramics traditions. There’s a whole spectrum of stories told through those figures, sculptures in three different tones of clay, black stone, terra-cotta and porcelain,” says Boyle.

The Painter & Peacock Spider.

The Sculptor & The Potter II.

White Elephant, 2021. “Like body dysmorphia, the invented racial category of White has stretched meaning beyond sense, exaggerating power and disproportionately assigning value.”

The Dressing Room: Focus, Lens, Pupils.

Bridge and Chorus.

There was also something for everybody at the Carnegie Institution for Science’s “Origins” series William Haseltine, Chair and CEO, ACCESS Health International, hosted with wife Maria Eugenia Maury at their Upper East Side aery. That was a good thing, because I glaze over all things science. Until I sat in on these lectures. Like the Haseltine Foundation for the Science and the Arts that has a cross disciplinary approach, there is a philosophical undertone here.

The four-part series tackles the question, where do we come from? The first lecture looked at the Origins of the Universe: How our Stars, Planets and Galaxies are Formed, with Carnegie scientists Dr. John Mulchaey, Anthony Piro and Dr. Alycia Weinberger.

William Haseltine, Maria Eugenia Maury, Maria Cristina Anzola, and Tony Piro.

“The origins go back very deep,” Haseltine told me. “They are probably five times more galaxies than we thought, maybe other universes. If there are, then someone else is probably having this conversation.”

The second lecture, given by (2009) Nobel Prize Winner Dr. Jack W. Szostak and Dr. Robert Hazen, dealt with the origins of life on this planet, showing how species evolved on a cellular level. There was even a celebrity element: Steve Martin. A former philosophy student, with an intellectual bend, Martin asked informed questions, later wondering if evolution was an indication of greater intelligence or simply what could survive. Still, he couldn’t help adding a comedic take on the difference between RNA and DNA. “The spelling.” Or, when a lecturer wondered what his son could do with his philosophy degree, quipping “Comedy!”

Jack Szostak blowing our minds.
Steve Martin asking informed questions.

I couldn’t help wondering, pondering galaxies upon galaxies, universes upon universes, stars that took billions of years to reach our sight — where is G-d?

“There are two parts of our being: emotional and rational. There are scientists who are religious,” Haseltine replied. Some feel it’s remarkable any are. “Albert Einstein believed in God. Some philosophers say the question is, is there a God that cares about you? They say the universe started 14 billion years ago. What was there before? If there is a time when time began, that is a very strange concept. Where did it come from? From nowhere? We may never know. As the song says, ’Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever did.’” Quoting Sound of Music. Love that.

Alex Harwich, Peter Harwich, Eric Isaacs, William Haseltine, and friend.
Joan Hardy Clarke and Beverley Zabrisky.
Navid Marvi, Jeanine Forsythe, and Kristen Palumbo.
L. to r.: Steve Martin and Michelle Strobel; Suzanne Crile and Linda Goldwyn.
Bob Hazen, Margee Hazen, Steve Martin, Yamuna Krishnan, and Jack Szostak.
Hussein Khalifa, Jonathan Marder, and Clara Miller.

We moved onto Dr. Eric D. Isaacs, President, Carnegie Institution for Science.

“The institution does fundamental science, including astronomy and astrophysics, to learn about the origins and evolution of life, the planets, the stars, and the entire Universe. We do research in Earth and planetary sciences, to learn, for instance, how the Earth works from the surface to its core, which can help predict volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. We search for evidence of life on planets around nearby stars in our Milky Way galaxy. Carnegie Science does research in life and environmental sciences by utilizing modern biological tools, which are often developed for biomedical health.

Stars in our eyes: More powerful telescopes reveal more galaxies.

“We apply these modern tools to a range of basic problems including the health of the environment. For instance, we try to understand the underlying biology of how ecosystems in the oceans and on land are impacted by climate change, and how to mitigate their deterioration and engineer their survival. Right now, our nation is underinvested in these problems, but there are a lot of very interesting things that people are trying. For example, scientists are working on sequestering large amounts of carbon in plant roots.”

Some of these stars are 13.4 billion lightyears away!

Are we alone in the world? Maybe in our world. Are there others, in other solar systems, so evolved that we are as apes to them? Are UFO’s hovering around, saying, “We ain’t landing on that mess”? “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” said Hamlet.

Some say, the majesty of science eclipses the majesty of organized religion.

Or you can always adopt the greeting card philosophy, “Life’s too mysterious. Don’t take it serious.”

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