Spring Visions

From High-Tech Couture to Old-School Gardens

As the city reaches the peak of springtime, our institutions compete with the natural beauty of outdoor parks and tree-lined streets to captivate the eye. A new Costume Exhibit show at the Met is always cause for celebration and this month finds one of the museum’s most ambitious undertakings yet. A vibrant show at the Whitney featuring the work of a highly distinctive artist demonstrates what that temple of American art does best, and the New York Botanical Garden celebrates a big birthday with a show dedicated to the gorgeous gardens depicted in popular paintings. Enjoy!

Since the advent of the Industrial Revolution, the classic Man Versus Machine conflict has been at the heart of many creative fields, including fashion design. The Costume Institute at the Met explores this dichotomy in its thought-provoking new exhibition Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology. The distinction between haute couture and ready-to-wear was once defined mainly as handmade versus machine-made, but that is not necessarily the case these days, considering the innovative high-tech methods used in creating high fashion. Manus x Machina includes over 100 ensembles, from an 1880s Worth gown to a 2015 Chanel suit, demonstrating the evolution of fashion and questioning the traditional divide between couture and prêt-a-porter. For the show, the Anna Wintour Costume Center galleries are transformed into a fashion house with ateliers full of clothes in the making, while the Robert Lehman Wing galleries present case studies using traditional processes such as embroidery and lacework shown alongside newfangled methods such as 3D printing, computer modeling, laser cutting, and ultrasonic welding. (5/5 through 8/14; 1000 Fifth Ave.)

The Chicago-born artist June Leaf has been creating haunting, distinctive works for many decades now, in the form of paintings, drawings and sculpture that verge on the surreal. Her theme is frequently human frailty and struggle, as small figures navigate airy mental landscapes of bright, watery acrylic paint and populate delicate, complex imaginings combining ink, charcoal, chalk and paint. Leaf has also produced wonderful, whimsical metal sculptures, often of primitive, skeletal human or animal forms. The current exhibition at the Whitney, simply entitled June Leaf, is mainly devoted to her drawings of the past 50 years, presented in an installation that suggests how these pieces might be arranged in her studio (and perhaps, in her head). A smaller selection of her paintings and sculpture will also be on view. It’s a great opportunity to discover one of the country’s most ground-breaking female artists. (Through 7/17, 99 Gansevoort St.)

The New York Botanical Garden turns 125 this year, and the venerated institution is commemorating this milestone by paying tribute to the homegrown gardens that were all the rage during its early days. Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas specifically explores the significance — both historical and horticultural — of the gardens often depicted in popular Impressionistic paintings of 1887 to 1917, created by some of the most celebrated American artists of the day. To get the most out of the show, first stop by the NYBG art galleries to look at the paintings and sculptures on display by leading Impressionists of the time, including William Merritt Chase, Frederick Childe Hassam, and John Singer Sargent. Then visit the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory and stroll among the beautifully recreated gardens inspired by those very artworks. (5/14 through 9/11; 2900 Southern Blvd., Bronx)

(Photo Credit: Nicholas Alan Cope / Evening dress, Yves Saint Laurent (French, 1936-2008),autumn/winter 1969–70 haute couture; The MetropolitanMuseum of Art, Gift of Baron Philippe de Rothschild, 1983(1983.619.1a, b)Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art)