Friday, July 31, 2015

Yinka Shonibare Celebrates 250th Birthday of the Morris-Jumel Mansion through August 31st

Yinka Shonibare MBE, The Ghost of Eliza Jumel (Sculpture) (2015), 
fiberglass mannequin, Dutch wax printed cotton textile, and steel plate, 
installed in the 1826-30 Eliza Jumel bedchamber.

Have you ever seen a ghost?  Yinka Shonibare MBE (our champion of hybridity) mixed reality and virtuality in a sly new way - among his cleverest concepts to date - for the Morris-Jumel Mansion, New York City's old mansion, 65 Jumel Terrace and 160th Street in Roger Morris Park, Washington Heights. But no spoilers here. You must see the whole effect for yourself at this historic New York landmark.

Morris-Jumel Mansion

Morris-Jumel Mansion is celebrating its 250th birthday.  To make this occasion especially festive, the mansion's director Carol Ward decided to cook up a special treat.  In collaboration with James Cohan Gallery, she brought in one of their most brilliant contemporary artists, Yinka Shonibare MBE (born in London and raised in Lagos, Nigeria), who had already installed his work in the period rooms at the Brooklyn Museum for his retrospective there and at the Newark Museum in 2010.

Yinka Shonibare MBE, Boy Doing Headstand (2009), 
fiberglass mannequin, Dutch wax printed cotton, mixed media, 
installed in the 1776 George Washington bedchamber and study.

The entire exhibition through out the house combines new work with older inventions.  Most notably, Shonibare interpreted the house's formidable hostess, Eliza Jumel, in a magnificent dress, fashioned out of his signature Indonesian batiks that we associate with Africa. This haunting figure brings new meaning to our image of Eliza, whose life-story deserves a soap-opera series of its own. Her first husband was the French merchant Stephen Jumel, whom she married in 1804. Jumel purchased the Morris Mansion in 1810.

Colonal Roger Morris built the house after the French and Indian War (1754-1763), in which he fought under General James Wolfe (as in Benjamin West's famous painting.)  A loyalist, Morris and his wife Mary Philipse, of the Westchester Philipses, fled to England during the American Revolution, returned to New York after the war, and then ended their days in York, England.

Yinka Shonibare MBE, The Ghost of Eliza Jumel (2015), 
modified antique mirror, 
installed in the 1830 front parlor room.

Eliza Jumel inherited the house from her husband Stephen,who died in 1832. She married the former Vice President under Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr, in 1833, after a whirlwind courtship. He was 77 and she was 58.   (Burr, you may recall, murdered first Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton in a duel on July 11, 1804.) Their Burr-Jumel marriage was tempestuous. Burr, an inveterate gambler, nearly cleaned out Eliza's fortune.  However, as luck would have it, their lengthy divorce proceedings proved auspicious. Burr died shortly before the papers were signed and Eliza became the heir to his property as well as the socially advantageous "widow of the former VP of the US" or WOFVPOTUS.

Eliza Jumel lived in the Morris Mansion for 55 years - the longest residency of anyone who lived in the house.

Yinka Shonibare, Girl on a Scooter (2009), 
fiberglass mannequin, Dutch wax printed cotton, leather, and wood, 
installed in the 1820-30 Mary Bowen’s bedchamber.

Those are only a few of the many stories that belong to this grand estate. George Washington also directed the Battle of Harlem Heights from this location (and slept here, of course). These maneuvers produced one of the first victories during the American Revolutionary War.

Yinka Shonibare, Seated Girl (2009)
fiberglass mannequin, Dutch wax printed cotton, mixed media, 
installed in the 1826-30 Eliza Jumel dressing room.

The Morris-Jumel Mansion is one of New York's best landmarks and memorable history lessons. With Yinka Shonibare MBE's installations (on view until August 31st), now is the time to savor the tour and these temporary additions. Don't forget to bring your house-guests - it's a perfect choice for visitors to the Big Apple.

Yinka Shonibare MBE, Planets In My Head, Arts (2011), 
fiberglass mannequin, Dutch wax printed cotton, fiberglass globe, violin, and leather,
 installed in the 1790 dining room

By the way, the Morris-Jumel Mansion hosts loads of activities all year round. Please visit their website for their schedule of events and directions to the house and garden.

Best wishes for August,
Beth New York

aka Beth S. Gersh-Nesic
New York Arts Exchange