“It’s always summer somewhere,” observed fashion designer Lilly Pulitzer, who became synonymous with the season through her bright, colorful cotton shift dresses and tops. Now, her creations — captured on canvas and displayed in real time — are helping to transport bundled-up visitors to the Nassau County Museum of Art to poolside gatherings and afternoons on the beach.
Along with the pieces of haute couture, co-curators Franklin Hill Perrell and Debbie Wells have amassed paintings, works on paper and sculpture for the museum’s latest themed exhibition, this one conceived around the times of year. “It gives us a pretext to show works not normally brought together,” says Perrell. Such uncommon juxtapositions include a winter landscape by 17th century Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel the Younger, where skaters and birds stand as allegories vulnerable to looming dangers. There's also a painting of a snow-covered New England village by late-bloomer folk artist Grandma Moses and a pen-and-ink portrayal of actors in a performance of “A Winter’s Tale” by caricaturist Al Hirschfeld. The glorious hues of fall are in full view in Thomas Moran's "The Woods in Autumn" and you might literally get chills viewing Frederic Edwin Church's "Winter Landscape."
The show’s broad-ranging content in both style and media, notes Wells, is a result of the curators’ exploration of “what makes something seasonal. Is it the color palette, subject matter, the holidays?”
Representations of those special times marking the calendar come in fittingly diverse forms, from Peter Anton’s giant heart-shape assortment of Valentine’s chocolates and a drool-worthy slice of Thanksgiving pecan pie to Hunt Slonem’s portrait of Lincoln and Ashley Longshore’s “Basquiat Abe With Turquoise Beard” here both commemorating Presidents Day.
In other instances, seasonal correlations are less obvious. In Bertrand Meniel’s hyperrealist depiction of a cross-section of Times Square, for example, viewers have to zoom in on the compositional details to date the image. “The way the figures are dressed indicates its later than midsummer,” says Perrell, “but then you see a copy of The Daily News and can read that it is October 1.” More intriguing — to this writer at least — is Gary Erbe’s trompe l’oeil rendering of Subway Series memorabilia that incorporates a folded edition of Newsday.
Other works ambitiously capture the show’s overall theme, such as Jasper Johns’s seminal intaglio series “The Seasons” and Frank Olt’s glazed ceramic wall pieces representing the full calendar. These images in particular, along with moody abstractions by the likes of David Driskell and Wolf Kahn, notes Wells, “bespeak to deeper human experience as emotional metaphors for the different times of year.”
Gerson "Gus" Leiber’s graphite and oil “The Giddy Riot of Spring” also falls in the abstract category and provides a segue to what the curators describe as “a show within the show,” which features close to 100 crystal-encrusted, whimsically shaped minaudière handbags by Gerson’s wife, Judith Leiber. While enchanting representations of the various seasons, whether fashioned from two large seashells or in the shape of a fledgling penguin, they are a welcome tribute to the legacy of the late Long Island artist couple.
Just as welcome, during these long winter months, is this delightful exhibition, a much-needed and visceral reminder of what’s to come.
WHAT “The Seasons”
WHEN | WHERE 11 a.m.-4:45 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday through March 1, Nassau County Museum of Art, 1 Museum Dr., Roslyn Harbor
INFO $15; $10 ages 62 and older, $5 students and ages 4-11, free age 3 and younger; 516-484-9338, nassaumuseum.org