Maira Kalman's "Crazy World' at the Jewish Museum in NY

Maira Kalman's stealth profundity

Kalman by Kalman: Beauty in rubber bands.
Kalman by Kalman: Beauty in rubber bands.

Who but Maira Kalman would walk through an art gallery, see an elderly, well-dressed matron with a ribbon in her hair and return home to paint her portrait (from the rear), calling it Museum Guard with Bow?

Kalman's vision is unlike anyone else's: original, crazy and compassionate. She finds strange analogies and metaphors in everything from boxes to kitchen sinks. Of course, these somewhat childlike, naÓ¯ve paintings and perceptions are highly sophisticated and profound.

This is the same Maira Kalman who created (with Rick Meyerowitz) the famous "New Yorkistan" map that appeared on the cover of The New Yorker following 9/11. Many of the sketches and illustrations in this show have been culled from her New York Times online blogs, which, in turn, were published in books: The Principles of Uncertainty as well as And the Pursuit of Happiness. Others have appeared in Kalman's highly entertaining version of Strunk and White's Elements of Style or in the dozen children's books she has created starring her beloved dogs Max and Pete.

Kalman first installed this show last year at the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania. It looks fresh and different here because of the configuration of the second-floor rooms at The Jewish Museum. You step off the elevator and face a wall of, well, wallpaper, titled, "On This Day," a collection of Kalman's visions and memories from her waking and dreaming life that prepares the viewer for the enchantment to follow.

In the third and largest exhibition space, "Many Tables of Many Things," Kalman's handwriting appears high on one wall with a quote from Flaubert that concludes, "Human speech is like a cracked tin kettle, on which we hammer out tunes to make bears dance when we long to make stars."

If anyone can make stars, it's Maira Kalman, who finds beauty in rubber bands, eggbeaters, shoes, boxes and embroidery.♦


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