The exhibition will feature drawings, sketches and paintings created for the production of American Ballet Theatre’s Whipped Cream. A concurrent exhibition of Ryden's work for the ballet will be held at Gallery Met located at the Metropolitan Opera House, May 19 – July 8, 2017.
The exhibition will coincide with American Ballet Theatre’s New York premiere of Whipped Cream at the Metropolitan Opera House (May 22, 2017), featuring choreography by Alexei Ratmansky with the original 20th-Century score by Richard Strauss. Ryden conceived backdrops, props and costumes for the ballet, all of which retain the artist’s meticulous attention to detail and intricate craftsmanship seen throughout his oeuvre.
Originally titled Schlagobers, the Austrian word for whipped cream, the production adapts a rediscovered Richard Strauss ballet from 1924 that centers on a boy who, after overindulging on treats at a pastry shop, falls into a state of delirium in which his candy confections come to life. Drawing from this narrative, Ryden further delves into the darker undercurrents of sweetness, from its sugary excesses to the intoxicating effects of overindulgence.
Character studies in oil on panel, as well as graphite on paper, introduce a peculiar new collection of characters to Ryden’s fantastical world. Princess Tea Flower (2016), the personification of pink and green flowering tea leaves, carries herself in a classical ballerina pose. Champagne and vodka costumes drawn for the figures of Marianne (2016) and Boris (2016) incorporate elements of kitsch, complete with their identifying liquor labels. Desserts Counter (2016) presents an enticing cluster of Viennese confections in candy-colored tones: cupcakes, coffee and cocoa tins, and towers of pastries floating in front of a pink background. In addition to these new characters, many of the artist’s most enduring motifs and familiar creatures reappear in this body of work.
Ryden’s beloved Snow Yak reemerges from its 2008 namesake The Snow Yak Show in Whipped Cream as an eye-catching character donning the beautiful Princess Praline in her procession scene. Throughout the various sets and backdrops designed for the ballet, Snow Yak materializes as symbols incarnated, as well as in a schematic sketch of the two-person costume design. Introducing characters from previous bodies of work, Ryden blurs the boundary between ballet’s status as a product of high culture and its place in the wider contemporary cultural imagination.
In its review of the ballet, The New York Times praised Ryden’s work:
The subject matter is kitsch, not because it’s fantasy but in the word’s original sense of mass-produced popular art, culture marketed for shopping. And yet this production is a triumph of stylishness. Sets (several in each act) and costumes by Mark Ryden are fantastic in color, line and detail. Ultrasweet kiddie-type cuteness is constantly invoked — there are giant toys, a carriage horse played by two dancers, and cupcake children — but so much careful affection is evident that kitsch is both triumphant and transcended.