Culturally, The Gilded Age is having a moment.
While pundits and economists debate whether the ever-widening divide between blue-collar and white-collar workers constitutes another Gilded Age in America, some of the country’s more artistic resources are broaching the subject more tangibly.
Next month the Hudson River Museum presents “The Neo-Victorians: Contemporary Artists Revive Gilded-Age Glamour.” Running Feb. 10 to May 13, the exhibition examines the resurgence in ornamental lushness with art that conveys pointed social commentary beneath seductive surface techniques. Twenty contemporary artists whose work is inspired by the 19th century have transformed these ideas to reflect views on gender roles and societal tension under the guise of overt beauty. Ebony Bolt’s “Botanical Dreams in the Concrete Jungle,” Catherine Latson’s “Tapioca Bride” and Pat Lasch’s “A Life Blessed: Communion Dress” are among the more fashion-oriented items.
Guest curator Bartholomew F. Bland, executive director of the Lehman College Art Gallery at the City University of New York, has created three themes — Artist as Naturalist, Artist as Purveyor of the Fantastical and Artist as Explorer of Domesticity. ”The issues of contested domesticity and the concurrent feminism that runs just under the surface of many of these highly decorated pieces are urgent ones that remain just as hotly contested as they were more than a century ago. The broad societal interest in technology has led to a counter-movement that emphasizes individual, bespoke creativity in an increasingly mass-producing, mass-consuming society. Likewise, the embrace, exploration and appreciation of the natural world’s beauty is an eternal source of inspiration for artists.”
PBS, meanwhile, will air the new documentary “The Gilded Age” as part of the American Experience series Feb. 6, examining among other things how the wealthiest 4,000 families in the country — less than 1 percent of all Americans — possessed nearly as much wealth as the other 11.6 million families combined. The film features photos of well-heeled New Yorkers decked out for Alva Vanderbilt’s 1883 ball at the then-newly constructed mansion at 660 Fifth Avenue, once known as a part of the “Triple Palaces.”
PBS and American Masters are among the sponsors of “Downtown Abbey the Exhibition,” which is based on the Crawley family drama that runs through April 2. Ticket holders can see up close costumes and other period pieces from the show’s six-season run reminiscent of post-Edwardian England. And fans of the PBS show looking to get a glimpse of Highclere Castle where the series was shot will be out of luck starting May 30. That is the reported start date for the “Downtown Abbey” film, which creator Julian Fellowes wrote a screenplay for before the project was green-lighted.