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Maira Kalman Makes Final Appearances at Jewish Museum Pop-Up Store

By Amy Zimmer | July 18, 2011 2:14pm | Updated on July 18, 2011 5:09pm
Maira Kalman will be making her last appearances at her pop-up shop in the Jewish Museum on July 22 and 24.
Maira Kalman will be making her last appearances at her pop-up shop in the Jewish Museum on July 22 and 24.
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Jewish Museum

MANHATTAN — Looking for James Joyce soap, Marcel Proust posters or mushy peas?

The illustrator, author and designer Maira Kalman — known for her whimsical, humorous and colorful drawings published in the New Yorker and elsewhere — has set up a pop-up store at the Jewish Museum, where she's been selling said items — all for $5 — plus Einstein pins, fly-swatters, egg-slicers and other ephemera of daily life.

The shop is part of Kalman's exhibition at the museum, called "Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World)," which runs through July 31. She'll be making her final appearances at the store, with the proceeds going to charity, this coming Friday and Sunday.

It's the first major museum survey for Kalman, whose most recognizable work is perhaps the satirical drawing of "New Yorkistan" — a reimagining of the city's neighborhoods as feuding Middle Eastern tribes, which she made in collaboration with Rick Meyerwitz.

Fans lined up at Kalman's first two appearances at the pop-up shop, often with books in hand, asking for signatures, which she gives gladly — though she's not entirely comfortable talking about her work.

"I don't like to talk about my own work," Kalman said. "I'd rather talk about the packaging I'm using or how much change I have give them."

The show features a selection of 100 paintings, drawings and sketches created over a 30-year career that has touched everything from books and magazines to clothing and watches. She has collaborated with fashion designers Isaac Mizrahi and Kate Spade, choreographer Mark Morris and composer Nico Muhly.

The show also includes lesser-seen photography, embroidery, textiles and her performance in the pop-up shop.

Kalman has never run a store per se, but when she was working at Barnes & Noble in the 1970s, she was one of the forces responsible in getting the Parisian-like book stalls set up around Central Park, she said.

The pop-up shop sits within a special installation Kalman created full of chairs, ladders and “many tables of many things," giving museum-goers a glimpse of the source material she has gathered as a walker, traveler, reader and list-maker. She got the soap, for instance, on a recent trip to Dublin at the pharmacy where Joyce's fictional character, Leopold Bloom, from "Ulysses," shopped.

She also has sold rubber balls from Argentina, seed from Monticello and miscellany from M&Co, the design firm founded by her husband, Tibor Kalman, who died in 1999 from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

She's calling the shop "Milton" and is selling selected items from her collection of materials that inspire her work.

"It's not unusual to have too much stuff," Kalman, who has enjoyed lending things from her West Village apartment to the museum, said. "The idea of getting rid of something is difficult. But then you find out you survive and flourish very well without it."

Joanna Montoya, the exhibition's coordinator for the Jewish Museum, said Kalman's objects always sell out. "The things she brings are all connected to her art work and things she love. They're fun and entirely functional."

Half the proceeds are going to Meals on Wheels, which delivers food to the hungry, and to the Central Park Conservancy, where Kalman volunteers as a sweeper. (She said that 95 percent of the trash has been cigarette butts and was looking forward to seeing how this will change post-smoking ban.)

Kalman also swept a few times in front of the Jewish Museum during her show's run.

"It is her work's gift to illuminate those things that affirm our own capacity for joy, sadness, humor, charm," wrote Ingrid Schaffner, of the Institute of Contemporary Art at University of Pennsylvania, who curated the show.

"A serious love of distraction pervades," Schaffner added. "Abundant depictions of fashion, food, art and architecture represent life's great pleasures. At the same time rubber bands, pieces of moss, bobby pins, and snacks stake a claim for smaller forms of satisfaction. All of this might seem pretty trivial were it not for the counterweight of history, memory and loss that is also ever-present."

"I'd say I'm irrepressibly optimistic with undercurrents of great sadness and worry and confusion," Kalman said in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, regarding her work. "It's almost impossible to reconcile the realities of how one feels during the day, hour by hour. But I approach things not cynically."

Maira Kalman will be at the Jewish Museum, located at 1109 Fifth Ave. at 92nd Street, on Fri., July 22, and Sun., July 24, from 12 to 5:30 p.m.