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Press Contacts: Anne Scher/Alex Wittenberg, 212.423.3271,

PRESS PREVIEW: Tuesday, March 8, 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM

Opens at The Jewish Museum on Friday, March 11

Major Museum Survey Features Original Works by Much-Beloved Illustrator

New York, NY – The first major museum survey of the work of illustrator, author and designer Maira Kalman (b. 1949, Tel Aviv), known for her whimsical yet probing imagery, opens at The Jewish Museum on March 11 and remains on view through July 31, 2011. Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World) features a selection spanning thirty years of 100 original paintings, drawings, and sketches shown along with the many ways Kalman’s work has entered contemporary culture – in books and magazines, and on commercial products, from clothing to watches. Less widely seen works in photography, embroidery, textiles, and performance are also included.

Kalman illuminates contemporary life with a profound sense of joy and a unique sense of humor. Many of Kalman’s best-know works are on display in the exhibition, including the iconic covers she has created for The New Yorker magazine; Stay Up Late and Ooh-la-la (Max in Love), and other children’s books she authored and illustrated; drawings from her critically hailed illustrated edition of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, the classic writer’s reference manual; and artwork from her online columns for The New York Times. To provide context for this survey, Kalman has created a special gallery installation to reveal source material she has gathered as collector, walker, traveler, reader, and maker of lists. Furnished with chairs, ladders and “many tables of many things” – such as fezzes, bobby pins, balls of string, things that have fallen out of books, lists, moss – this installation offers a view of how she sees the world, both in and outside the studio.

Organized by the Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World) was curated by ICA Senior Curator Ingrid Schaffner. Joanna Montoya, Neubauer Family Foundation Curatorial Assistant, The Jewish Museum, is coordinating the New York showing. The installation and graphics for the exhibition at The Jewish Museum have been designed by Cooper Joseph Studio of New York City.

The Maira Kalman exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue (co-published by ICA and Prestel) with an essay by Schaffner and contributions by Donna Ghelerter, Stamatina Gregory, and Kenneth E. Silver. The book is available from The Jewish Museum’s Cooper Shop for $34.95.

Born in Israel in 1949, Kalman emigrated to the United States and has lived in New York since the age of four. New York seems a perfect milieu for her sharply observed world. As she explains in the exhibition catalogue, “There is a strong personal narrative aspect of what I do. What happens in my life is interpreted in my work. There is very little separation. My work is my journal of my life.”

Although she received no formal training as an artist, Kalman is well-studied in art historical precedents. She counts among her influences illustrators Saul Steinberg, William Steig and Ludwig Bemelmans, and artists such as Henri Matisse, Marcel Duchamp, the Surrealists, and Marc Chagall. Literature is another important inspiration. Exhibition supergraphics in Kalman’s own hand reveal her respect for Gustave Flaubert, Sigmund Freud, and Marcel Proust. In fact, some of these cultural greats appear in Kalman’s work, including Emily Dickinson (2008), Matisse in Nice (2004-2006), and Steinberg Camera (2007).

Kalman’s exquisite observations of contemporary life have earned her both critical and popular acclaim. Just as Saul Steinberg’s graphic art iconically depicted a postwar generation, so does Kalman’s reflect the idiosyncratic style and substance of the American experience today. Her map of New Yorkistan (2001, with Rick Meyerowitz), which appeared on the cover of The New Yorker in December 2001, became an instant classic, a welcome burst of humor after the tragic events of 9/11. The yearlong series of columns she created for The New York Times online have been published in book form as The Principles of Uncertainty (2007, The Penguin Press), comprised of picture essays on post-9/11 life. And the Pursuit of Happiness (2010, The Penguin Press) offers Kalman’s fanciful and insightful considerations of American democracy. Throughout And the Pursuit of Happiness, Kalman addresses sweeping themes, such as “how everyone got to America,” and integrates details from her family history, such as childhood memories of a red De Soto and living on Henry Hudson Parkway.

A generation grew up reading Oooh-La-La (Max in Love), the adventures of Max Stravinsky, the Parisian dog poet, and one of Kalman’s twelve books for children. Countless adults sport the M&Co. wristwatches she designed with her late husband, innovative graphic designer Tibor Kalman, as part of a line of accessories for the Museum of Modern Art, New York. (Her late husband named his company for the “M” in Maira.) Also included are fabrics she designed for textile manufacturer Maharam and fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi. Short films by her son Alex Kalman provide other perspectives on her work, including a collaboration with composer Nico Muhly.

WNET New York Public Media is media sponsor for the exhibition’s New York presentation.

ICA gratefully acknowledges Leonard and Louise Riggio and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. for generous support of this exhibition. ICA acknowledges Barbara B. & Theodore R. Aronson for their sponsorship of the exhibition catalogue. We are also grateful for the support of Mari & Peter Shaw, Carol T. & John G. Finley, BZ & Michael Schwartz, Erica & Eric Schwartz and Anthropologie, Inc.

Additional support has been provided by the Barbara & Richard S. Lane Fund; Howard A. Silverstein & Patricia B. Silverstein Exhibition Endowment Fund; David & Gerrie Pincus; Hyman & Joan C. Sall Fund of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia; The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation; the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Council on the Arts; The Dietrich Foundation, Inc.; the Overseers Board for the Institute of Contemporary Art; friends and members of ICA; and the University of Pennsylvania. ICA is also grateful to The Chodorow Exhibition Initiative Fund for support of this exhibition’s tour. ICA also thanks The Julie Saul Gallery for in-kind support.

Related Programs

The Jewish Museum is presenting two programs with appearances by Maira Kalman. On Sunday, April 3 at 2 pm, in a family program for those age 4 and up, Maira’s World of Storybooks, the artist reads from some of her whimsical children’s books. On Thursday, April 7 at 6:30 pm, An Evening with Maira Kalman features Kalman discussing her work with the exhibition curator Ingrid Schaffner. The evening includes a special performance by Eve Gigliotti of The Mezzo-Soprano Song with music by Nico Muhly and text by Lemony Snicket. Further program and ticket information can be obtained at 212.423.3337 or

About The Jewish Museum

Widely admired for its exhibitions and educational programs that inspire people of all backgrounds, The Jewish Museum is the preeminent United States institution exploring the intersection of 4,000 years of art and Jewish culture. The Jewish Museum was established in 1904, when Judge Mayer Sulzberger donated 26 ceremonial art objects to The Jewish Theological Seminary of America as the core of a museum collection. Today, the Museum maintains an important collection of 26,000 objects—paintings, sculpture, works on paper, photographs, archaeological artifacts, ceremonial objects, and broadcast media.

General Information

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