Wax and Plaster: The Illusionistic Encaustic and Venetian Plaster Paintings of Mike McMath
February 2, 2019 - April 28, 2018
Before artists employed oil as a medium for binding pigment to create the luminous surfaces of their paintings and even prior to the use of egg-based tempera, the ancient Romans developed the traditions for encaustic painting and what is now called Venetian Plaster to create panels and cover walls with deeply saturated, vividly colorful, seductive pictorial imagery that have a hardened illusionistic surface. These techniques would rise to popularity during various eras throughout the centuries whenever the influence of the ancient Mediterranean world became fashionable, as with the early 19th century, American Classical period when much of the furnishing found were produced. However, moving toward the 20th century these techniques fell into relative obscurity until their rediscover at the end of the millennium.
Mike McMath adapted these seldom used labor intensive mediums for a series of work he began to produce in the first decade of this century. A graduate of the School of Art at the University of Michigan, McMath has held a deep interest in illusionistic painting techniques and faux finishes as well as gilding, sgraffito, and other decorative embellishments. Much like James Abbot McNeil Whistler, McMath is extremely concerned with the surface tension provided by his work. The glistening smooth surfaces of his Venetian painting, suggestive as Whistler stated, “As if breath on a glass,” such is the experience with Ghost Ascending, 2018 or Cold Winter, 2018. There is a certain distance to his compositions in that one looks through the mist behind a glass coating to experience the imagery. Much like his ancient predecessors his work is intended to suggest other mediums, imagined surfaces or the permanence of work set in stone.
The panels in this exhibition explored a range of surfaces through both encaustic and Venetian plaster creating visceral tactile sensations. Both in the ultra-smooth surfaces found on the Venetian plaster pieces to the rich plasticine molten surfaces of the encaustic work one is drawn by the sensations suggested by the surfaces, thus tempting the viewer’s imagination and drawing on their past experiences. The illusions covering the walls were intended to transform the visitor from the confines of their earthly experiences to those of a temporal plane.
Shattered Dreams and Intimate Treasures: The Work of Cara Lynch
September 22, 2018 - December 29, 2018
Shattered Dreams and Intimate Treasures explores the sentiments and objects that form Cara Lynch's sumptuous, glittering and reflective work.
The pieces in the exhibition are directly influenced by nineteenth century assemblages- be it her sculptural references to Sailor’s Valentines or her reflective panels recalling the elaborately plated Venetian mirrors. The promises found on discarded cards and leaflets proclaiming access to the beyond or the fulfillment of dreams and wishes form the inspiration of her reflective pieces. These works pose questions or provide answers to the viewer while reflecting the image of the beholder in an artifice of acrylic mirrors and beads. Her reliefs are created through the selection of sentimental treasures offering an intimate and endearing look into the repurposing of objects that form bold, splendid collections recalling the romantic assemblages of previous centuries. With over fifty works and related memorabilia, the exhibition explores Lynch’s work through lithographs, relief sculptures, and reflective compositions.
Charles Addams Family and Friends
October 13, 2017 - August 26, 2018
Ghoulish, macabre, demonic, depraved, bizarre, eerie and weird have all been used to describe the work of Charles Addams. Adorable, sweet, charming, humorous, enchanting, tender and captivating are also adjectives used to describe the same body of work, as well as the man himself. His rare gift was the ability to enjoin such dichotomies in wonderfully crafted cartoons and drawings loved by millions worldwide.
Charles Addams is most widely known for the creation of The Addams Family, characters that formed the basis of the TV show which first appeared in 1964. Now famous, Morticia, Fester, Gomez, Wednesday, Pugsley Grandmama, Lurch and Thing existed as various forms and aspects in Addams’ cartoons prior to the sitcom. It was in working with the idea a television production that Addams coalesced a motley group of unnamed characters into the specific personages he then collectively called The Addams Family. This exhibition explored the The Addams characters which appeared in only about 150 Addams original works.
A Modernist in the Colony and Infinite Archive
June 9th, 2017 - September 24th, 2017
The Four artists in “A Modernist in the Colony and Infinite Archive” explore historical narratives within the collection and respond with new work through a contemporary lens. The Morris-Jumel Mansion presented two exhibitions in its “Contemporary Meets Colonial” series, which revealed contemporary responses to its collection of historic objects.
Incorporating a selection of historic material and narratives about the Morris and Jumel families chosen by four artists, the exhibitions were installed throughout the historic landmark in Upper Manhattan, and featured 30 artworks in glass and ceramic by Michigan-based artist Jeff Blandford.
Local artists Patrick Perry, Sarah Rowe, and Rachel Sydlowski respond to the unique history, archives, and architecture of the Mansion in the concurrent exhibition “Infinite Archive.” Each artist employs archival objects as springboards to create site-specific installations comprising ceramic objects, jewelry, and prints. They present visual interpretations based on different avenues of research conducted by each artist, notably into the life and times of the formidable Eliza Jumel whose tastes in fashion, furnishings, and décor are still very much in evidence at the Mansion.
A Taste for Chocolate
February 18, 2017 - May 29, 2017
The Morris-Jumel Mansion (MJM), Manhattan's oldest house, presented a special exhibition exploring cacao and chocolate as a commodity and emerging breakfast tradition in colonial and post-colonial America. Stephen Jumel's role as an importer and purveyor was revealed in archival material from MJM's collection. The exhibition focuses on how cocoa-typically sold in "cakes" and served as a hot drink flavored with vanilla, honey, and spices-became a popular beverage during Eliza Jumel's lifetime (1775-1865).
Known for its effect as a stimulant and easily transported, both British and American soldiers were supplied with cocoa cakes to mix with hot water for breakfast. Benjamin Franklin, who sold chocolate in his Philadelphia print shop, ensured that the Continental Army marching against General Braddock's forces in 1755 were equipped with chocolate to boost their energy.
“A Taste for Chocolate” featured art objects from a private collection including rare books, antiquarian botanical prints, chocolate services and pots, and other decorative arts. Advertisements for Cadbury's and Frye's provide a window onto how cocoa was marketed in Europe and the U.S., and an original printed inventory from Stephen Jumel's dry goods business lists a cacao shipment from the West Indies.
In Their Words: Teen Reactions to 18th Century Slavery
December 2016 - April 2017
The first enslaved African Americans were brought to Manhattan by the Dutch West India Company in 1626, performing laborious tasks during the growth of New Amsterdam. After rule of the Colony shifted from Dutch to British control in 1664, the practice continued well into the early Republic, and New York’s enslaved population eventually grew to be the second largest in the entire country. The Mansion, known as Mt. Morris at the time, was itself home to numerous enslaved servants - both the Morris family (1765-1776) and George Washington (September - October, 1776) were owners of enslaved people. During the American Revolution, many enslaved people in New York joined the fight on both sides, drawn by the promise of emancipation for their service.
Through the New York City Department of Education’s Teen Thursday program, students from PS 149 Sojourner Truth undertook a seven-week collaboration with the museum to study the roles of various enslaved African Americans in Colonial New York. Together, students interacted with the museum’s collection, specifically objects which would have been used by the enslaved servants. Students examined these artifacts, discovering the unwritten history behind them and the skills required for their use. The culminating activity was for students to create an exhibition, focusing on the objects’ connections to enslaved people and factual information surrounding the objects. The reflections presented represented the students' authentic reactions to, and their personal journey through the difficult topic of slavery in 18th century New York.
From Silver Spoon to Silver Screen
October 2016 - January 2017
Louis le Prince, regarded as the father of film, planned to premier his films at the Morris-Jumel Mansion. Ferdinand P. Earle, who installed a skylight in the Upper Parlor, once George Washington’s office, for his studio, was also a well-known figure in the movies and associated with stars like Ramon Novarro. Featuring cultural ephemera, images, clips, and artifacts from films, photoshoots, glamour and excitement of cinema and fashion photography will meet the elegance of the Morris-Jumel Mansion in this exhibition.
Divided into two sections, the exhibition illustrates the role the Mansion has played as a cultural muse. The first section speaks to the Mansion’s shift from a country home to a cultural commodity as the nineteenth century turned to the twentieth and the Mansion turned to a museum. The second section takes a look at how the media has embraced the Mansion, from major magazines featuring articles about the experience of a museum, to feature films about the Mansion’s historical past, or films that have used the Mansion as a location in different ways.
The Fabric of Emancipation
June 4th - October 3rd, 2016
In partnership with Harlem Needle Arts, this exhibition interpreted New York’s African-American material history through contemporary pieces of needle and fiber arts which draw on centuries-old traditions. A juried selection of artists created dynamic works inspired by topics important to our community and the history of the Mansion, such as colonialism, the impact of history on the experience of the African Diaspora today, and what it means to be a textile artist.
Yinka Shonibare MBE: Colonial Arrangements
May 1st - August 31st, 2015
Elaborate, colorful, seductive and quizzical, Yinka Shonibare's renowned, textile-based art has been the focus of more than 50 solo museum and gallery exhibitions worldwide. The Mansion’s lovingly preserved 18th- and 19th-century interiors served as a backdrop for Shonibare's extraordinary sculpture, which included an entirely new, never-before-seen work commissioned by the Mansion.
“Yinka Shonibare MBE: Colonial Arrangements” is a Historic House Trust Contemporary Arts Partnership Program. Generously sponsors included the James Cohan Gallery, the New York State Council on the Arts and The Estée Lauder Companies, Inc.
Talia Greene: Passage
October 17, 2015 - March 27, 2016
Among the loveliest of Morris-Jumel's furnishing are its wallpapers, which decorate six of the Mansion's eight period rooms, the front hall and the borders of our website. To artist Talia Greene, MJM's wallpapers gave not only aesthetic delight, but also the inspiration to create “Passage” —a site-specific wallpaper installation. An amalgam of prints, paper and cutouts, the exhibition incorporated motifs found within the Mansion’s wallpaper. For instance, the birds that appear on the walls of the Octagon Room, and the grapevines decorating Aaron Burr's bedchamber were re-positioned to tell the story of Manhattan's gradual urbanization.
The Loves of Aaron Burr: Portraits in Corsetry and Binding
May 3rd - September 12th, 2013
This series of corset portraits represents nine women from the life of Aaron Burr, the Founding Father who “haunts” not only the Morris-Jumel Mansion, but also American history. His ghostly legacy, coupled with that of Madame Eliza Jumel, sits atop the crossroads above it all in the house Duke Ellington called, “The Crown of Sugar Hill.”
The Mansion was where the Founding Fathers met the Founding Brothers in struggles against colonialism & for self-determination; a crossroads where George Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois find common ground, where Hamilton’s meeting Burr ends on the dueling grounds, and where Burr and Jumel found their common grounds for divorce.
A strident equalitarian, Burr stood opposed to the vested interests of most of our republican Founding Fathers. His democratic stance credits him among the first politicians in America to introduce anti-slavery legislation and one of its first feminists, sentiments that did not make him popular with Jeffersonian democrats. These sentiments did win the women depicted here, those who mentored him and those he mentored.