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robertogreco : mairakalman   12

The Kalman Family's Language of Looking
"“Anything becomes interesting if you look at it long enough,” Gustave Flaubert wrote in a letter. This is something I keep in mind when looking at visual art: there is usually a story for the eye to find, some detail to latch onto. But when in the company of Maira and Alex Kalman, I am reminded that this truly does extend to most “anything.”

Maira Kalman is a New York–based illustrator, while Alex, her son, is the co-founder of Mmuseumm, a former elevator shaft in Tribeca that he and two friends transformed into an exhibition space. This month, Mmuseumm launched its fourth season with a second space, Mmuseumm 2, a storefront window nearby where Maira has re-created the closet of her mother, Sara Berman.

Kalman, an author and illustrator for The New Yorker, New York Times, and Departures Magazine, is known for picking up on the unnoticed, overlooked particulars of daily existence — in her telling of the life of Thomas Jefferson, for instance, we learn that the author of the Declaration of Independence “slept slightly sitting up” and that his favorite vegetable was peas. There is a rambling quality to her stories; we feel we are with her while she freely discovers her subjects, which vary from fashion shows to yoga retreats to artist studios.

“For me, the digressive moment is the moment,” she once told the interviewer Paul Holdengräber. It’s why Kalman loves walking — because you can stop thinking and just look and be. Walking, for her, is an exercise in keeping an open mind, in letting her surroundings catch her by surprise.

It’s only suitable, then, that one stumbles upon Kalman’s installation of her mother’s closet by walking down a quiet alley. Behind a pane of glass, neatly folded white linens and shirts and stacks of rosy underwear sit on white shelves — “Sara, who came from Belarus, only wore white,” says the British voice of the audio guide. “I always say she was emulating the empress Josephine,” Kalman said to me of her mother’s fashion choices. “But that is not true. We never talked about it … In some instinctual way she was clarifying the world.”

There’s a glass jar filled with identical gray buttons, a bottle of Chanel No. 19, a box of recipes (for roasts, blintzes, schnitzel, and “some unfortunate forays into Americana,” Maira confessed), and a cheese grater for making potato pancakes. The chain for the light dangles playfully from the ceiling with a fluffy red ball of yarn to pull on. While growing up, “the closet was a masterpiece of modern art in our eyes,” said Alex. The closet has been reproduced almost identically, though on a slightly smaller scale, and with a few substitutes — “it’s like the vertebrae at the Natural History Museum, only here we have a bra and a pair of socks,” he explained. Indeed, ever since Sara Berman died, Maira has envisioned her mother’s closet as a kind of museum, hoping that one day it would become “a big attraction for people worldwide.”

Sara Berman’s luminous closet gives us pause. There is a sense of calm and purpose in those sheets and sweaters that were daily and meticulously folded. (“Some families go bowling together. We ironed and folded and sorted and stacked with joy,” said Maira.) Everything, from the pair of reading glasses to the stray piece of checkered ribbon, takes on an anthropomorphic quality; the shoes themselves become portraits: there are six pairs of them, lined up neatly, all with pointed ends and some with their laces undone. Varying in grays, browns, and creams, the shoes are sharp and delicate, playful and smart — much as I imagine Sara Berman to have been.

“Everyone grows up with a language in their home. Ours was looking,” said Alex. Just as Maira asks us to contemplate a closet, usually thought of as a repository behind closed doors, Alex draws our attention to objects that would’ve generally escaped us, like coffee cup lids, vomit bags, gas masks, and eggs (that will, in fact, hatch). He describes the objects in Mmuseumm, on display behind glass vitrines like scientific specimens, as “meaningless and potentially meaningful.” Some come from Mmuseumm’s permanent collection, like a gold $100 bill and a rubber chicken wing, but the majority traveled from collections around the world. For instance, the cornflake index — a personal collection of cornflakes organized by shape, color, and texture — arrived from England “packaged like the queen’s jewels.” The way Alex sees it, these objects should be cared for like artworks. And yet, when Mmuseumm runs its call for submissions each season, it welcomes proposals from anyone around the world on one condition: that it not include “art.”

The winning collections, Alex explains, are those whose contents are “not obvious” — you wouldn’t think to stop to look at a rusty nail (one of many in a doctor’s collection of objects he has removed from people’s bodies) in the same way you would stop before a painting. “It is never ironic,” he made clear. “It’s sincere.” Like Maira, Alex is drawn to “the vernacular” because it communicates something “incredibly intimate and human.”

In other museums, the assumption is that you won’t fully appreciate an object unless you have the historical background. Here, there is no background necessary, except perhaps a sense of humor and some compassion. It was from “my beautiful mother,” an oft-repeated phrase, that Maira learned that knowledge isn’t really what matters. “What you have to have is curiosity.” Growing up, Maira was never “tested” on her knowledge or asked to “perform.” In fact, she says with some pride, “facts were banished from our home.”

In following their curiosity, the Kalmans have observed their surroundings indiscriminately, capturing pieces of our lives that we generally don’t think are worth our time or contemplation. The Kalman language of “looking” requires patience and dedication — as does looking at visual art. Responding to art, really engaging with it, involves actively journeying through it with no purpose. It is a rare moment when I give myself that wandering freedom and time. The Kalmans, in seemingly assuming this attitude wherever they look, remind me of what the artist Paulo Bruscky once said in an interview:
For me, art is a form of seeing and not of doing. It might seem utopian, but the day will arrive when the artist will no longer be necessary. The artist makes things only because people don’t know how to see for themselves. Someday … people will begin learning how to see art in everything …. because art is present everywhere — the artist merely captures and displays it.

I don’t totally buy Bruscky’s conclusion, but he has a point when he suggests that the artist’s sources of inspiration surround us all. Though Alex doesn’t acquire art for Mmuseumm, the works in his museum are just as artful. In some ways, what Mmuseumm is encouraging us to do — to look for the art around us — is a greater task than that of your regular one."
mmuseumm  museums  mairakalman  alexkalman  2015  looking  seeing  noticing  paulobruscky  saraberman  walking  small  tiny 
november 2016 by robertogreco
Maira Kalman’s Bohemian Bliss Above a Bakery - WSJ
"The illustrator and writer recalls her artist husband, Tibor, and their first Greenwich Village apartment"



"Artist Maira Kalman, 65, is the author and illustrator of 24 books, including “My Favorite Things” (Harper Design) and “Ah-Ha to Zig” (Rizzoli), both based on a December exhibit she is curating for New York’s Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. She spoke with Marc Myers.

The apartment I shared with my late husband, Tibor, between 1976 and 1982, wasn’t pretty but we were happy. We both came of age in that fifth-floor tenement walk-up at 29 Cornelia St. in New York’s Greenwich Village. I was just beginning to illustrate and Tibor was starting M & Co., his graphic-design firm. We didn’t need much.

The railroad apartment had three rooms, one after the next. What we lacked in space and fancy furnishings was more than made up for by fun and love. Back then the neighborhood was still home to three generations of Italian families and poor artists. Our rent was $125 a month, and everything was possible in our lives and careers.

Tibor and I met in 1968 while attending New York University. Throughout the early 1970s we would break up and get back together, so we lived in a series of places before settling down. When you entered our Cornelia Street apartment, you were standing in our living room. Then you passed into the kitchen—the center room with a rough concrete trough of a bathtub that had a wooden cover when it wasn’t in use. The third room was a small bedroom that faced the back of A. Zito & Sons bakery. In the morning, the smell of bread baking filled the room.

Tibor and I were both strangely content. Even climbing five flights with groceries or with the laundry was part of the experience. We just thought, here we are, we’re together and in love, and isn’t that great.

Our decorating style was no style at all. Our furnishings were hand-me-downs or things we had found on the street. One piece was a beautiful armchair that we had reupholstered. I still have it. I don’t know why someone chucked it out, but that’s New York.

In the kitchen, we had a ’50s dining table. My studio wasn’t set up yet, so I drew at the kitchen table. I’d draw everywhere, from the park to cafes.

One day, when Tibor was at work, I decided I hated our horrible brown wall-to-wall carpeting. I ripped it up halfway before I became exhausted. When Tibor came home I told him the carpet had to go. He ripped out the other half without a word of complaint. Then I painted the wood floor in the living room butter yellow—the walls were already white—and I instantly felt lighter. That’s what’s interesting about changing layers of your living space. How you feel changes, too.

Eventually Tibor and I wanted more space, so we built a loft bed in the bedroom. It had lots of heavy, raw wood and looked rather dreadful. It was a hippie time, so you have to forgive us. At one point we also upgraded the kitchen by ripping out the tub and putting in a shower.

We were always putting up and taking down art from the walls. One night we hung an onion ring on a nail high up on the kitchen wall. I don’t remember why. I was from Israel and Tibor was from Hungary, so we were always fascinated by vernacular. Fast food was part of the American scene—diners, coffee shops and hamburger stands. All of that Americana was joyful and optimistic and funny to us. That was the beginning of our onion-ring collection. The onion rings we installed never deteriorated, which was amazing. We had dozens of them, and some we framed and gave to friends.

When I think back to our apartment now, I think of it as empty—just shapes of rooms and light. What I do remember vividly is that the space was filled with friendship and love and a never-ending curiosity about everything.

Tibor and I married in 1981, and the following year we moved to a one-bedroom apartment on 12th Street when I became pregnant with our daughter, Lulu. We soon bought the place. A few years later, Tibor and I had a son named Alex, at which point we also bought the apartment next door. Tibor died in 1999, and I still live here.

I’m about to have my apartment repainted white, as always, but I fear it’s going to be a daunting task. There are too many whites to choose from."
mairakalman  tiborkalman  love  life  living  homes  2014  experience  cv  small  fun  making  white  onionrings  vernacular  nyc 
november 2016 by robertogreco
Austin Kleon — 10 lessons from designer Tibor Kalman: Perverse...
"1. Everything is an experiment.

You can get a great feel for what Tibor Kalman (1949–1999) was about just from the opening pages of Tibor Kalman: Perverse Optimist…

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2. Learn on the job.

Peter Hall points out that Tibor was always “learning on the job—or, as someone side of the journalistic vocation, conducting an education in public.”

One way he did that was to hire young designers more talented than him and learn from them:
That was the way I learned. I stood over their shoulders, and learned how graphic design is done. But I was always the boss. It has been a curious phenomenon in my life that I’ve continued pretty much throughout my career; I would try to get the job I couldn’t get, and not know how to do it, and then I would hire people who did know how to do it, and I would direct them. That to me is always the ideal way to work, because you learn very quickly and you have the means to do something, and yet you know nothing about the field, so you can do something original.

3. As soon as you learn how to do something, move on.

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I did two of a number of things. The first one, you fuck it up in an interesting way; the second one, you get it right; and then you’re out of there… I think as long as I don’t know how to do something, I can do it well; and as soon as I have learned how to do something, I will do it less well, because it will be more obvious. I think that goes for most people. I think most people spend too much time doing one thing.

4. Having a style is a kind of death.

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David Byrne, for whom Kalman designed many album covers, including Remain In Light:
Tibor and company don’t have a signature style, and that is a worthy ambition in life…. Having a recognizable style relegates you to the status of quotable icon. And while being an icon is flattering, I imagine, once it happens, you become irrelevent.

My own ambition is to write a song that sounds like I stole it—like “I” didn’t write it, but it has always been there. To get the “I” out of the song is the ultimate compositional coup, whether in music or design.

5. Visual literacy isn’t enough. Designers have to read everything.

Kalman said that “an enormous amount of graphic design is made by people who look at pictures but don’t know how to think about them.”
I started asking job candidates, “What have you read in the last year?” Because I suddenly began to realize that the difference between a good and a bad designer is how much did they know about everything else—biology, history. Because graphic design is just a means of communication, a language, and what you choose to communicate, and how and why on a particular project, that is all the interesting stuff.

6. You don’t necessarily have to be visually motivated to be a designer.

Rick Poynor on Kalman’s red-green colorblindness (I have it, too):
Most designers are designers because of an exceptional intensity in their response to visual form coupled with a degree of talent for manipulating it. Kalman is unusual among those who choose design as a profession in not being a visually motivated person in this sense. He is red-green color blind and, although this is not severe, it means that he treats color as an “idea” rather than as a sensation to which he responds according to intuition or taste. He will know intellectually that “sky blue” is called for to get an effect he wants to achieve without being able to specify for himself which shade of blue it should be.

7. Don’t steal the style, steal the thinking behind the style.

Kalman said it was okay to borrow ideas, but “transform” is the key word: you have to know the context of the ideas and not de-contextualize them, but re-contextualize them:
Reference means just that: You refer to something. It gives you an idea. You create something new.

Real modernism is filled with historical reference and allusion. And in some of the best design today, historical references are used very eloquently. But those examples were produced with an interest in re-contextualizing sources rather than de-contextualizing them.

There’s an important difference between making an allusion and doing a knock-off. Good historicism is… an investigation of the strategies, procedures, methods, routes, theories, tactics, schemes, and modes through which people have worked creatively…. We need to learn from and interrogate our past, not endlessly repeat its recipes.

8. Photographs are neither true nor false.
Early in the history of photography models were used to enact situations for a camera to record. Later, we learned how to retouch images, first by hand, later by rearranging the tiny dots that make up the images. Meanwhile, there has always been the cheapest and easiest way of making photographs lie—simply changing the caption to change the meaning of the image. Some people accept this but still argue the photograph remains in some way uniquely “honest.” They say that for it to exist, some kind of real-life situation also had to exist. They claim that the fact that a camera can be set up by remote control to record whatever passes in front of it somehow confers objectivity. They cling to the idea that the photograph is an inherently “real” or honest image and as such is always on a different plan from an obviously subjective form of visual communication, such as painting. However, I believe that photography is just like painting and that it can lie just as effectively. I do not accept that there is necessarily a “true” moment that the camera captures, because that moment can be manipulated as much as anything else.

9. Children give you new ways of looking at things.

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We chose to increase the complexity of our lives by having children. The greatest benefit of having those children has been to look at the world through their eyes and to understand their level of curiosity and to learn things the way they learn things.

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10. Marry well.

At first, I only new Tibor Kalman as Maira Kalman’s late husband. Isaac Mizrahi might argue that’s as it should be:
Tibor’s most brilliant contribution was to marry Maira. If he hadn’t, I would have. I don’t mean to sound corny and romantic, just that his relationship with her is a work of art. She has an incredible in-born ability to be a touchstone, and pick out what’s good in a room, whether it’s a screenplay, a piece of music, or a piece of furniture. I never think of them seperately, or, his sense of humor or her sense of humor, I think about them together, how much he owes to her and she owes to him.

Maira Kalman painted the closing pages of the book:

[image]
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It’s out-of-print and can be a little hard to get your hands on, but anyone interested in design should give Tibor Kalman: Perverse Optimist a read."
tiborkalman  mairakalman  design  graphicdesign  howwelearn  learning  lifelonglearning  reading  photography  complexity  parenting  children  howwework  style  aesthetics  thinking  howwethink  vidualliteracy  literacy  visuals  steallikeanartist  influences  canon  reality  truth  isaacmizrahi  marriage  partnerships  context  invention  creativity  classideas  favoritebooks  rickpoynor  davidbyrne  talkingheads  failure  careers  work  education  unschooling  deschooling  interdisciplinary  transdisciplinary 
july 2015 by robertogreco
Finally, an Art Form That Gets the Internet: Opera - Robinson Meyer - The Atlantic
"The same surveillance video clip plays three times in Two Boys, at the beginning, the middle, and the end. In it, we see Brian meet Jake in an alley. The older boy puts his arm around the younger; they walk outside of the frame. The video clip has a timestamp in the corner; it precisely frames the opera in history. Like Anne’s office, stuffed with papers and filing cabinets, that timestamp bears the brand of the archive.

Muhly has dwelled in an archive before. For his first job in New York, he tended the personal archives of Maira Kalman. His second album, Mothertongue, moved in and out of the stacks. As mentioned, one of its pieces, called “Archive,” asked a singer to remember phone numbers off the top of her head (knowing it to be a meaningful exercise, as cell phones now remember most trivia for us); another recounted a folk song—the recursive “Oh, the wind and the rain”—in the first movement, mangled it with electronic chimes in the second, then put it back together in the third.

The World Wide Web is a big archive, the biggest one we’ve ever created, humanity’s greatest “work of literature,” in the words of London artist James Bridle. What is chatting, even? All an instant message user does is read and supplement a document devised, archived, and accessed in the very, very recent past. Although the actual downloading happens offstage, little wonder that the plot cannot be resolved in Two Boys until the chat logs are downloaded from the server—or that the chat logs stick around long enough to be analyzed and parsed at all. Quinn Norton asks, “How do we make concrete, or at least reconstructable in the minds of our readers, the terrible, true passions that cross telephony lines?” The trouble of Two Boys is making the archive live onstage, making the operagoer see and hear the library.

In the second act, Brian struggles to describe the chatrooms to Strawson. “There is a world,” he tells her, “a real place—better than, because it’s real. You can’t see it, but it’s real.”

In its choruses, in its gliding towers, the opera gives the Internet dimension. Dancers, moving forward and backward on the stage, give it depth; their jagged stops and starts hint that the web has its own time. They are mimicking computers, which are, themselves, mimicking tools."
robinsonmeyer  nicomuhly  2013  opera  internet  art  depiction  aim  instantmessaging  music  chatrooms  quinnnorton  jamesbridle  surveillance  archives  mairakalman 
october 2013 by robertogreco
Finally Fit for Kids’ Lit | Designers & Books
"What I can say is that this book won’t be a primer about design. People should be protected from the confusion associated with that word until they are old enough to practice it professionally. Let children learn about how things are made and where the raw material comes from. Let them extend the environmental lessons of stewardship by considering the objects we preserve and throw away. Let them study the history of invention, the evolution of customs, the cultural differences embodied in our communications and devices. Let them assemble and disassemble freely. But let them not refer to all that as design, which is so much more (a pursuit frequently guided by, and wriggling under the demands of, commercial interests), and so much less (see parenthetical insertion above)."
mairakalman  childrenliterature  hanschristianandersen  brothersgrimm  edwardgorey  cslewis  jrrtolkein  roalddahl  beverlycleary  mauricesendak  drseuss  srg  edg  glvo  design  children  books  julielasky  stewardship 
january 2012 by robertogreco
Frank Chimero — Happiness is not crafted. Happiness emerges.
"Our relation to happiness often betrays an unconscious desire for disillusionment. The wanting of it & having of it can seem like 2 quite different things. & this is what makes wishing so interesting; because wishing is always too knowing. When we wish we are too convinced of our pleasures, too certain that we know what we want. The belief that we can arrange our happiness—as though happiness were akin to justice, which we can work towards—may be to misrecognise the very thing that concerns us." [Adam Phillips: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/sep/04/adam-phillips-the-happiness-myth]<br />
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"To try to define or explain or even sometimes pursue happiness feels to be a quagmire. Happiness is not a new problem & there wasn’t much I could add to the conversation…There is no need for redundancy.<br />
<br />
…best rumination on happiness…Maira Kalman’s blog And The Pursuit of Happiness. No where is there a mention of “this is how you achieve it.” The perspective is always “this is what I saw.”"
frankchimero  adamphillips  happiness  wanting  mairakalman  observation  noticing 
september 2010 by robertogreco
Frank Chimero — Text Playlist
"I do a bit of that myself, but I keep what I perceive to be a more valuable, important morgue file: one made of the best writing on the web I come across. I take this list and revisit and reread it every 4 to 8 weeks. You could almost consider it a playlist of text: it’s very select (I artificially limit it to 10-15 articles), I typically read them all in one sitting, and the order and pacing is very purposeful. Most revolve around what it’s like to be making things in 2010, and a lot of the people that I respect the most have pieces in it. It’s almost a pep talk in text form. I visit it when I’m down, when I’m lazy, when I’m feeling the inertia take over."
frankchimero  textplaylist  via:lukeneff  mustread  toread  writing  lists  motivation  meditation  inspiration  creativity  blogs  blogging  art  sistercorita  vonnegut  merlinmann  mairakalman  robinsloan  thewire  lizdanzico  jonathanharris  rands  kurtvonnegut  coritakent 
july 2010 by robertogreco
Maira Kalman - The Principles of Uncertainty - The New York Times
"Ms. Kalman's April 2007 column is the last in a yearlong series. In October, the first 12 columns will be published in a book, also called "The Principles of Uncertainty." Ms. Kalman will return next year."
mairakalman  nytimes  nyc  comics  illustration  books 
february 2008 by robertogreco
TED | Talks | Maira Kalman: The illustrated woman (video)
"talks about her life and work -- from her New Yorker covers to her children's books to her two latest books for grownups. And yes, in person, she is as wonderful, as wise, and as deliciously off-kilter as her work."
mairakalman  illustration  ted  creativity  life  tiborkalman  storytelling  glvo  children  kids  books  writing 
october 2007 by robertogreco

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