Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World)

March 11 - July 31, 2011

This exhibition presents 30 years of whimsical drawings and paintings by Maira Kalman. The author of several books including The Principles of Uncertainty and Ooh-la-la (Max in Love), Kalman is known for her lush illustrations and witty observations of the world around her.

Maira Kalman, Woman with Face Net, 2000, gouache on paper, 17 x 14 3/4 in. (43.2 x 37.5 cm). Courtesy of the artist and Julie Saul Gallery, New York

Welcome to 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. This exhibition features a selection of original works on paper that span thirty 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 by furnishing the gallery with chairs, ladders, and “many tables of many things”—drawn from her collections.

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 a claim for smaller forms of satisfaction. All of this might seem pretty 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.

—Ingrid Schaffner, Senior Curator, Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania

About Maira Kalman

Maira Kalman (b. 1949 Tel Aviv, lives New York) is the author of twelve children’s books including Ooh-la-la (Max in Love). Among her adult classics are The Elements of Style, an illustrated edition of Strunk and White’s timeless grammar, and The Principles of Uncertainty, a picture book of essays based on a yearlong online column for The New York Times. She has just completed a second online epic for The Times titled And the Pursuit of Happiness. Kalman’s best known work, created with fellow illustrator Rick Meyerowitz, is New Yorkistan: a cartoon map of the city designated by tribes, such as Pashmina, Irant, and Irate. When it ran on the cover of The New Yorker in December 2001, it sanctioned a first burst of laughter in the aftermath of 9/11. A relatively more secret aspect of her identity is as the “M” in M&Co, the revolutionary design firm founded by her late husband, Tibor Kalman, with whom she was a constant collaborator. The firm’s famous 10-One-4 watch is based on one of her doodles. She has collaborated on projects with the fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi, the choreographer Mark Morris, and the composer Nico Muhly.

Media sponsor for the New York presentation:
The Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, gratefully acknowledges Leonard and Louise Riggio and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., for generous support of this exhibition. ICA acknowledges Barbara B. & Theodore R. Aronson for their sponsorship of the exhibition catalogue. We are also grateful for the support of Mari & Peter Shaw, Carol T. & John G. Finley, BZ & Michael Schwartz, Erica & Eric Schwartz and Anthropologie, Inc. Additional funding has been provided by the Barbara & Richard S. Lane Fund; Howard A. Silverstein & Patricia B. Silverstein Exhibition Endowment Fund; Joan & Hyman Sall; The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation; the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Council on the Arts; The Dietrich Foundation, Inc.; the Overseers Board for the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia; friends and members of ICA; and the University of Pennsylvania. ICA is also grateful to The Chodorow Exhibition Initiative Fund for support of this exhibition’s tour. ICA also thanks the Julie Saul Gallery for in-kind support.

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