Stepping Out

On exhibit: Peter Max's world

Banish the winter blues with a museum outing

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Shake off those winter doldrums and warm the soul by checking out some of the many art offerings in the area. Local museums offer a wide range of exhibits that are sure to make you forget about winter for a while. Here’s a sampling.

Peter Max at Nassau County Museum of Art
Nassau County Museum of Art’s current exhibit, “Peter Max,” offers a showcase of the celebrity pop artist’s bold works, synonymous with the psychedelic ‘60s and early ‘70s. But more than just a look back at those familiar pop art images that adorned dorm room walls back in the day, this show focuses on Max’s little-known drawings (mostly black and white) on paper.
These studies show a different side to the iconic artist, who revolutionized the ‘60s art scene just as the Beatles transformed the music of that decade. From visionary pop artist to master of dynamic neo-Expressionism, Max continues to occupy a unique place in American culture.
This exhibition, which runs through Feb. 23, is Max’s first large-scale solo museum show in New York and the first in-depth look at the artist’s individual drawings, which until now have not been on public view.
“It’s kind of unbelievable that this is my first big show in New York,” Max says reflecting on his prolific, accomplished career. “I’ve had 1,123 museum shows around the world, and my pieces have been here and there in New York, but never anything like this in New York before.”
The museum’s interest in mounting an exhibit of Max’s works piqued after a trustee asked him to donate a poster for a 2012 silent auction. From there discussion ensued about a show and Museum Director Dr. Karl E. Willers was invited to visit Max’s Manhattan studio.
“I was amazed to see all these drawings, which are wonderful examples of different stylistic periods of his career,” Dr. Willers says. “I knew we had to include these drawings, which line up with the paintings. He had never shown any of these before and he literally kept almost every drawing he ever did.”
The exhibit, which is one of the museum’s most popular (as one would expect), covers the breadth and depth of Max’s entire career and shows the relationship between his drawings and paintings.
“It’s fascinating to see the different styles he has explored over the course of his career,” Dr. Willers says. “It is amazing to see this side of his work. It seems that he is incapable of making a bad drawing. I am thrilled with them all and Peter has been extremely generous in sharing these drawings with the museum.”
The drawings, done in pen and ink, date from the ‘60s to the present, and cover the well-known themes seen in Max’s paintings — undulating landscapes, angels, cosmic imagery, celestial bodies in space, and spiritual leaders, among others. These 120 drawings are shown alongside 60 of his paintings, many of which are familiar from their popularity as posters. Dr. Willers and Max’s curator Ada Lau selected the works to be shown, with input from the artist.
Max, 76, continues to draw at a prolific pace — every day he says. “I am very fortunate and have had an unbelievable life,” he says. “I’ve always had this love for art and never thought when I was young that this would be something that I would do professionally when I grew up.”
Max has been drawing since he was three when his family lived in Shanghai. His magical, fantastic works have their roots in his childhood spent in the family’s pagoda house. He lived in that house, which faced a Buddhist monastery and a Sikh temple, for 10 years. Buddhist monks painting enormous Chinese characters on vast sheets of rice paper, dramatic parades featuring floating dragons, and the vibrant colorations and sights of Shanghai became his daily landscape. From there, the family relocated to Haifa, Israel, visited Paris, and finally arrived in the U.S. when Max was 16. He continued to draw all that time, studying art at the Art Students League after graduation from high school.
“It’s really hard to believe how people gravitated to my works,” Max says. “I’m so proud of it all but at the same time I can’t believe how it all happened. “Who would have known my life would have gone in this direction? I love drawing and still do it every day.”
Max, who set the tone for a generation, occupies a special place in contemporary
culture.
“Peter has a different relationship to pop art than almost every other artist,” says Dr. Willers. “Most other artists look to popular culture for inspiration, but he’s not that kind of artist. His style became part of popular culture. He made a huge contribution to art and culture that is not matched by any one else.”
Max makes an appearance at the museum on Feb. 2, for Peter Max Family Day, from 1 to 4 p.m. He will share his thoughts on creativity and his life as an artist and judge a children’s drawing contest. Families can download an original Max drawing from the museum’s website, color it in and bring to the museum to be judged and included in a temporary exhibit.
“Peter loves the process and loves sharing it,” Dr. Willers says. “We are excited to welcome him to the museum for this event.”

The world of Samurai and Shogun at Hofstra University
The diversity of Japanese culture is the focus of “Land of the Rising Sun: Art of Japan,” currently on view at Hofstra University Museum’s David Filderman Gallery, through Feb. 2. The exhibition highlights Japanese works from the museum’s permanent collections that span the 16th-20th centuries.
This show — curated by the museum’s Associate Director of Exhibitions and Collections Karen T. Albert — includes woodblock prints, hand-painted scrolls and woodcarvings, with a focus on rich artistic traditions from the historic eras of Japanese culture. The pieces on view highlight how a combination of internal and external factors have influenced the evolution of Japanese culture, as well as how Japanese techniques have influenced Western culture.
“The museum’s collections include outstanding works from many centuries of Japanese culture,” says Beth E. Levinthal, executive director of the Hofstra University Museum, “and this exhibition provides an opportunity to share a number of these valuable authentic works with the community.”

Nassau County Museum of Art
One Museum Drive (just off Northern
Boulevard, Route 25A), Roslyn Harbor. (516) 484-9337 or www.nassaumuseum.org.

Hofstra University’s David Filderman Gallery
9th floor, Joan and Donald E. Axinn Library, South Campus, Hempstead. (516) 463-5672 or www.hofstra.edu/museum.