Tag Archives: artist

The Rembrandt Algorithm

new-rembrandt

Over the last few decades robots have been steadily replacing humans in industrial and manufacturing sectors. Increasingly, robots are appearing in a broader array of service sectors; they’re stocking shelves, cleaning hotels, buffing windows, tending bar, dispensing cash.

Nowadays you’re likely to be the recipient of news articles filtered, and in some cases written, by pieces of code and business algorithms. Indeed, many boilerplate financial reports are now “written” by “analysts” who reside, not as flesh-and-bones, but virtually, inside server-farms. Just recently a collection of circuitry and software trounced a human being at the strategic board game, Go.

So, can computers progress from repetitive, mechanical and programmatic roles to more creative, free-wheeling vocations? Can computers become artists?

A group of data scientists, computer engineers, software developers and art historians set out to answer the question.

Jonathan Jones over at the Guardian has a few choice words on the result:

I’ve been away for a few days and missed the April Fool stories in Friday’s papers – until I spotted the one about a team of Dutch “data analysts, developers, engineers and art historians” creating a new painting using digital technology: a virtual Rembrandt painted by a Rembrandt app. Hilarious! But wait, this was too late to be an April Fool’s joke. This is a real thing that is actually happening.

What a horrible, tasteless, insensitive and soulless travesty of all that is creative in human nature. What a vile product of our strange time when the best brains dedicate themselves to the stupidest “challenges”, when technology is used for things it should never be used for and everybody feels obliged to applaud the heartless results because we so revere everything digital.

Hey, they’ve replaced the most poetic and searching portrait painter in history with a machine. When are we going to get Shakespeare’s plays and Bach’s St Matthew Passion rebooted by computers? I cannot wait for Love’s Labours Have Been Successfully Functionalised by William Shakesbot.

You cannot, I repeat, cannot, replicate the genius of Rembrandt van Rijn. His art is not a set of algorithms or stylistic tics that can be recreated by a human or mechanical imitator. He can only be faked – and a fake is a dead, dull thing with none of the life of the original. What these silly people have done is to invent a new way to mock art. Bravo to them! But the Dutch art historians and museums who appear to have lent their authority to such a venture are fools.

Rembrandt lived from 1606 to 1669. His art only has meaning as a historical record of his encounters with the people, beliefs and anguishes of his time. Its universality is the consequence of the depth and profundity with which it does so. Looking into the eyes of Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait at the Age of 63, I am looking at time itself: the time he has lived, and the time since he lived. A man who stared, hard, at himself in his 17th-century mirror now looks back at me, at you, his gaze so deep his mottled flesh is just the surface of what we see.

We glimpse his very soul. It’s not style and surface effects that make his paintings so great but the artist’s capacity to reveal his inner life and make us aware in turn of our own interiority – to experience an uncanny contact, soul to soul. Let’s call it the Rembrandt Shudder, that feeling I long for – and get – in front of every true Rembrandt masterpiece..

Is that a mystical claim? The implication of the digital Rembrandt is that we get too sentimental and moist-eyed about art, that great art is just a set of mannerisms that can be digitised. I disagree. If it’s mystical to see Rembrandt as a special and unique human being who created unrepeatable, inexhaustible masterpieces of perception and intuition then count me a mystic.

Read the entire story here.

Image: The Next Rembrandt (based on 168,263 Rembrandt painting fragments). Courtesy: Microsoft, Delft University of Technology,  Mauritshuis (Hague), Rembrandt House Museum (Amsterdam).

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Back to the Future

France_in_XXI_Century_Latest_fashionJust over a hundred years ago, at the turn of the 19th century, Jean-Marc Côté and some of his fellow French artists were commissioned to imagine what the world would look like in 2000. Their colorful sketches and paintings portrayed some interesting inventions, though all seem to be grounded in familiar principles and incremental innovations — mechanical helpers, ubiquitous propellers and wings. Interestingly, none of these artist-futurists imagined a world beyond Victorian dress, gender inequality and wars. But these are gems nonetheless.

France_in_XXI_Century._Air_cabSome of their works found their way into cigar boxes and cigarette cases, others were exhibited at the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris. My three favorites: a Tailor of the Latest Fashion, the Aero-cab Station and the Whale Bus. See the full complement of these remarkable futuristic visions at the Public Domain Review, and check out the House Rolling Through the Countryside and At School.

I suspect our contemporary futurists — born in the late 20th or early 21st-century — will fall prey to the same narrow visions when asked to sketch our planet in 3000. But despite the undoubted wealth of new gadgets and gizmos a thousand years from now the challenge would be to see if their imagined worlds might be at peace and with equality for all.
France_in_XXI_Century_Whale_busImages courtesy of the Public Domain Review, a project of the Open Knowledge Foundation. Public Domain.

 

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Creativity and Mental Illness

Vincent_van_Gogh-Self_portrait_with_bandaged_ear

The creative genius — oft misunderstood, outcast, tortured, misanthropic, fueled by demon spirits. Yet, this same description would seem to be equally apt at describing many of those who are unfortunate enough to suffer from mental illness. So, could creativity and mental illness be high-level symptoms of a broader underlying spectrum “disorder”? After all, a not insignificant number of people and businesses tend to regard creativity as a behavioral problem — best left outside the front-door to the office. Time to check out the results of the latest psychological study.

From the Guardian:

The ancient Greeks were first to make the point. Shakespeare raised the prospect too. But Lord Byron was, perhaps, the most direct of them all: “We of the craft are all crazy,” he told the Countess of Blessington, casting a wary eye over his fellow poets.

The notion of the tortured artist is a stubborn meme. Creativity, it states, is fuelled by the demons that artists wrestle in their darkest hours. The idea is fanciful to many scientists. But a new study claims the link may be well-founded after all, and written into the twisted molecules of our DNA.

In a large study published on Monday, scientists in Iceland report that genetic factors that raise the risk of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are found more often in people in creative professions. Painters, musicians, writers and dancers were, on average, 25% more likely to carry the gene variants than professions the scientists judged to be less creative, among which were farmers, manual labourers and salespeople.

Kari Stefansson, founder and CEO of deCODE, a genetics company based in Reykjavik, said the findings, described in the journal Nature Neuroscience, point to a common biology for some mental disorders and creativity. “To be creative, you have to think differently,” he told the Guardian. “And when we are different, we have a tendency to be labelled strange, crazy and even insane.”

The scientists drew on genetic and medical information from 86,000 Icelanders to find genetic variants that doubled the average risk of schizophrenia, and raised the risk of bipolar disorder by more than a third. When they looked at how common these variants were in members of national arts societies, they found a 17% increase compared with non-members.

The researchers went on to check their findings in large medical databases held in the Netherlands and Sweden. Among these 35,000 people, those deemed to be creative (by profession or through answers to a questionnaire) were nearly 25% more likely to carry the mental disorder variants.

Stefansson believes that scores of genes increase the risk of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. These may alter the ways in which many people think, but in most people do nothing very harmful. But for 1% of the population, genetic factors, life experiences and other influences can culminate in problems, and a diagnosis of mental illness.

“Often, when people are creating something new, they end up straddling between sanity and insanity,” said Stefansson. “I think these results support the old concept of the mad genius. Creativity is a quality that has given us Mozart, Bach, Van Gogh. It’s a quality that is very important for our society. But it comes at a risk to the individual, and 1% of the population pays the price for it.”

Stefansson concedes that his study found only a weak link between the genetic variants for mental illness and creativity. And it is this that other scientists pick up on. The genetic factors that raise the risk of mental problems explained only about 0.25% of the variation in peoples’ artistic ability, the study found. David Cutler, a geneticist at Emory University in Atlanta, puts that number in perspective: “If the distance between me, the least artistic person you are going to meet, and an actual artist is one mile, these variants appear to collectively explain 13 feet of the distance,” he said.

Most of the artist’s creative flair, then, is down to different genetic factors, or to other influences altogether, such as life experiences, that set them on their creative journey.

For Stefansson, even a small overlap between the biology of mental illness and creativity is fascinating. “It means that a lot of the good things we get in life, through creativity, come at a price. It tells me that when it comes to our biology, we have to understand that everything is in some way good and in some way bad,” he said.

Read the entire article here.

Image: Vincent van Gogh, self-portrait, 1889. Courtesy of Courtauld Institute Galleries, London. Wikipaintings.org. Public Domain.

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Frozen Moving Pictures

green-salt-flotowarner

Recent works by artist duo Floto+Warner could be mistaken for a family of bizarrely fluid, alien life-forms, not 3D sculptures of colorful chemicals. While these still images of fluorescent airborne liquids certainly pay homage to Jackson Pollock, they have a unique and playful character all of their own. And, in this case the creative process is just as fascinating as the end result.

From Jonathan Jones over at the Guardian:

Luridly chemical colours hang in the air in the vast wastelands of Nevada in an eye-catching set of pictures by the New York art duo Floto+Warner. To make these images of bright liquids arrested in space, Cassandra and Jeremy Floto threw up cocktails of colour until their camera caught just the splashy, fluid, stilled moments they wanted to record. Apparently, Photoshop is not involved.

These images echo the great modern tradition that pictures motion, energy and flux. “Energy and motion made visible – memories arrested in space,” as Jackson Pollock said of his paintings that he made by dripping, flicking and throwing paint on to canvases laid on the floor. Pollock’s “action paintings” are the obvious source of Floto and Warner’s hurled colours: their photographs are playful riffs on Pollock. And they bring out one of the most startling things about his art: the sense it is still in motion even when it has stopped; the feel of paint being liquid long after it has dried.

Floto and Warner prove that Pollock is still the Great American Artist, 58 years after his death. American art still can’t help echoing him. Works from Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty to Andy Warhol’s piss paintings echo his free-ranging exploration of space and his dynamic expansion of the act of drawing.

Yet these images of arrested veils and clouds of colour also echo other attempts to capture living motion. In 1830 to 1831 Hokusai depicted The Great Wave off Kanagawa as a tower of blueness cresting into white foam and about to fall onto the boats helplessly caught in its path. Hokusai’s woodblock print is a decisive moment in the story of art. It takes motion as a topic, and distills its essence in an image at once dynamic and suspended.

Photographers would soon take up Hokusai’s challenge to understand the nature of motion. Famously, Eadweard Muybridge in the late 19th century took strange serial studies of human and animal bodies in motion. Yet the photographer whom Floto+Warner echo most vividly is Harold E Edgerton, who brought the scientific photography of movement into modern times in striking pictures of a foot kicking a ball or a bullet piercing an apple.

Read the entire story and see more of Floto+Warner’s images here.

Image: Green Salt, Floto+Warner. Courtesy of the Guardian.

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The Power of the Female Artist

Artemisia_Gentileschi-Judith_Beheading_Holofernes

Despite progress gender equality remains a myth in most areas of our modern world. In most endeavors women have made significant strides in catching men — vying for the same levels of attention, education, fame, wealth and power. It is certainly the case in the art world too — women have made, and are continuing to make, progress in attaining parity — but it is still a male dominated culture. That said, some female artists have managed to rise above the male tide to capture the global imagination with their powerful works and ideas.

Jonathan Jones over at his On Art Blog lists for us his top ten most subversive female artists from the last several hundred years. While it would be right to take issue with his notion of subversive, many of the names on the list quite rightly deserve as much mind-share as their male contemporaries.

From the Jonathan Jones:

Artemisia Gentileschi

When she was a teenager, this 17th-century baroque artist was raped by a painter. She responded by turning her art into a weapon. In Gentileschi’s repeated paintings of the biblical story of Judith slaying Holofernes, the Israelite hero is helped by her muscular servant. As one woman holds down Holofernes on his bed, the other saws through his neck with a sword. Blood spurts everywhere in a sensational image of women taking revenge on patriarchy.

Hannah Wilke

In her SOS Starification Object Series (1974-82), Wilke was photographed with blobs of chewing gum stuck on to her flesh. Dotting her face and bare body, these bizarre markings resembled a modern form of tribal scarification (this was before ritualistic body modification became fashionable) and resemble vaginas. Or are they eyes? Wilke’s “starification” marked her with the burden of being objectified by the male gaze.

Adrian Piper

In her Catalysis performances (1970), Piper turned herself into a human provocation in public places such as the New York subway. In one performance, she rode the subway after soaking her clothes in pungent substances for a week to make them stink. She muttered in the street, entered the elevator of the Empire State Building with a red towel stuffed in her mouth or simply made eye contact with strangers. Her purpose was to dramatise social unease and ultimately the unspoken tensions of race in America.

Georgia O’Keeffe

In the early 20th century, Georgia O’Keeffe posed nude for her lover, the modernist photographer and art impressario Alfred Stieglitz, and painted abstractions that have an explicitly vaginal beauty. Compared with some artists in this list she may seem soft, but her cussed exploration of her own body and soul mapped out a new expressive freedom for women making art in the modern age.

Claude Cahun

In photographs taken from the 1920s to 1940s, this French artist often portrays herself in male clothes and hairstyles, contemplating her own transformed image as she experiments with the fictions of gender. Cahun’s pioneering art is typical of the freedom the surrealist movement gave artists to question sexual and social convention.

Louise Bourgeois

The labyrinthine mind of the last great surrealist envelops the spectator of her art in memories of an early 20th-century French childhood, intense secret worlds and the very interior of the body. Collapsing the masculinist art form of sculpture into something organic and ripely carnal, she is the spider of subversion weaving a web that has transformed the very nature of art.

Read the entire list here:

Image: Judith Beheading Holofernes, Artemisia Gentileschi, c1612. Courtesy of Wikimedia.

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It’s a Stage of Mind

Panic room, 2010Panic room, 2010

The art world continues to surprise. Just as creativity fades into a morass of commercial, “artotainment” drivel, along comes an artist with a thoroughly refreshing perspective. JeeYoung Lee creates breathtaking human-scale dioramas completely filling her 10 x 20 square foot studio with a parallel universe.

While it would be a delight to inhabit these spaces in Lee’s studio, it is unfortunately and understandably off-limits. However, the photographs are on display at the Opiom Gallery in Opio, France from 7 February to 7 March 2014.

Black birds, 2009Black birds, 2009

Nightscape, 2012Nightscape, 2012

From the Guardian:

From a giant honeycomb to a land of Lego and the last supper with mice, Korean artist JeeYoung Lee creates mystical universes in the confines of her 3×6 metre studio – then captures them on camera. Her first European exhibition, Stage of Mind, is at Opiom Gallery in Opio, France from 7 February to 7 March 2014.

See more images here.

Images courtesy of JeeYoung Lee/OPIOM Gallery.

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A Home for Art or A Home for Artists

Most art is made in a location that is very different and often far removed from the location in which it is displayed and/or purchased. In this time, it is highly unlikely that any new or emerging professional artist will make and sell art in the same place. This is particularly evident in a place like New York city where starving artists and wealthy patrons co-exist side by side.

From the New York Times:

Last week The Guardian published an essay by the singer-songwriter David Byrne, which received a fair amount of attention online, arriving under the headline “If the 1% Stifles New York’s Creative Talent, I’m Out of Here.”

What followed was considerably more nuanced than the kind of diatribe, now familiar, often delivered by artists and others who came of age in the city during the 1970s and yearn for the seductions of a vanished danger. In this view, the start of the last quarter of the 20th century left New York populated entirely by addicts and hustlers, painters and drug pushers, and the city was a better, more enlivening place for the anxieties it bred.

“I don’t romanticize the bad old days,” Mr. Byrne said in his piece. “I have no illusions that there was a connection between that city on its knees and a flourishing of creativity.” What he laments instead is that our cultural capital now languishes completely in the hands of a brash upper class.

On one level it seems difficult to argue with him. Current market realities make it inconceivable that anyone could arrive today in New York at 23 with a knapsack and a handful of Luna bars and become David Byrne.

We also famously live in an era of diminishing support for the arts. According to a report released last month, government arts financing reached a record low in 2011 at the same time the proportion of American households giving money to the arts dwindled to 8.6 percent. But perhaps the problem is one of paradox, not exclusion, which is to say that while New York has become an increasingly inhospitable place to incubate a career as an artist, it has become an ever easier place to experience and consume the arts. The evolution of Downtown Brooklyn’s cultural district is emblematic of this new democracy. Last week saw the official opening of BRIC House, a 66,000-square-foot building with a gallery space and another space for film screenings, readings, lectures and so on, all with no admission charges.

BRIC House, which is under the direction of Leslie Greisbach Schultz and occupies an old vaudeville theater into which the city has poured $41 million, also contains a flexible performance space where it will be possible to see dance and music from emerging and established artists largely for under $20. The ticket price of plays, offered as works in progress, is $10.

The upper floors are host to something called Urban Glass, a monument to the art of glass blowing. “There are people in this city who get as excited about glass blowing as I get about Junior’s,” the Brooklyn borough president, Marty Markowitz, marveled to me.

Both BRIC, which offers classes in digital photography and video production for nothing or next to nothing, and the nearby Mark Morris Dance Center involve residents of Brooklyn public housing in free dance instruction. At Mark Morris it costs less to enroll a 3-year-old in a dance class with a teacher who is studying for a doctorate in philosophy than it does to enroll a child in Super Soccer Stars.

Further challenging claims about the end of culture in the city is that the number of public art exhibits grew under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s tenure. Additionally, through his private philanthropic efforts, Mr. Bloomberg has donated more than $230 million since 2002 to arts and social service organizations across the city. Over the summer, his foundation announced an additional contribution of $15 million to a handful of cultural institutions to help them enhance visitors’ experiences through mobile technology.

At BRIC — “the epicenter of the center of the artistic universe,” Mr. Markowitz calls it — as with other Brooklyn cultural institutions, a good deal of the progress has come about with the help of a quiet philanthropic community that exists far from the world of hedge-fund vanity. A handful of wealthy residents support the borough’s institutions, their names not the kind to appear in Women’s Wear Daily.

Read the entire article here.

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Graffiti and Women

Merits or not aside, graffiti is usually associated with men, and until recently those men would have been disaffected, urban youth, and graffiti would have been looked down upon as a fringe anti-establishment pseudo-art form.

More recently, pop culture embraced it, and even the staid art establishment yielded and finally welcomed graffiti as an official vehicle for serious artistic self-expression. Of course, this was mostly driven by money — witness the pilfering and subsequent auctioning of works by Banksy and some of his lesser-known peers. Thus, it is now big business.

But now come the women, and not a moment too soon. Perhaps, they will help rescue it from the money-obsessed establishment and return it to its expressive, contra-cultural roots.

From the Telegraph:

When Aiko Nakagawa speaks, she looks down at her paint-spattered hands. Her nails are varnished a shiny silver, each is adorned with a tiny black crucifix. They’re a little chipped. “It’s hard being a girl and a graffiti artist”, she sighs.As one of the world’s leading practitioners of street art, 38-year-old Nakagawa – who was born in Japan but now lives in Brooklyn, New York – is something of a rarity. The leading figures of international street art may work almost exclusively under aliases (Nakagawa goes by the moniker Lady Aiko or, simply, Aiko) but it is no secret that the overwhelming majority of them are men.

Over the past few decades, street art has gone from a niche, underground artform to a multi-million dollar industry; at the top of the market, original works by Bristolian Banksy are sold in major auction houses for five and six-figure sums. Martha Cooper, an American photojournalist who began documenting graffiti on subway trains and in the Lower East Side of New York in the Seventies and Eighties, was instrumental in bringing street art into the mainstream consciousness. When her book, Subway Art, was published in 1984 it became known as the Bible of Street Art.

Having witnessed the scene from its infancy, Cooper still laments its gender inequality. “I wish there were more female artists and I have no idea why the number of women is so tiny,” she tells me. “because the one thing you can say about the movement is that it is democratic. It is open to anyone who wants to take the time and energy and effort.

Women have been painting the street since the beginning, although there are few contemporary photographs of them and Cooper admits she regrets “not making more of an effort to track them down at the time”. To make up for lost time, Cooper, now 70, has thrown herself into the promotion of women in street art, arranging events and publishing books on the subject. “I want to celebrate the women who have, on their own, gotten into it, with the hope that they would be role models for younger generations of girls that might be contemplating doing some of these things but feeling that the doors are closed,” she says.I meet both Cooper and Nakagawa in the Norwegian town of Stavenger which is hosting Nuart, an international street art festival held annually since 2001.

Cooper is exhibiting a selection of her photography while Nakagawa is creating a new mural in her signature style: joyfully, subversively feminine and heavily inspired by 18th century Japanese woodblock printing, which she sees as a precursor to street art, in the sense that it was a practice adopted by the untrained working classes.

Nakagawa’s intricate stencil work dominates two walls of one of the five tunnels underneath TouScene, and depicts a dozen strong, scantily-clad women, silhouettes and angels surrounded by a rabbit holding a spray can, butterflies, Mount Fuji and flowers. “I think I represent female energy through my work,” she explains, “while at the beginning it was tough, I like the fact I am a woman in a boy’s world. I might need an extra step on the ladder [Aiko stands at 152cm] but I can still do it.” In 2012, she became the first woman to paint on the Bowery Wall, Manhattan’s legendary street art spot, with a piece entitled Here’s Fun For Everyone.

Among the 11 artists taking part in Nuart this year, three are women. In addition to Cooper and Nakagawa, there is Faith47, a South African artist who prefers not to disclose her real name and whose murals have been displayed around the world for 15 years. When I ask her about the role gender plays in her work, she will say only that she “doesn’t let [herself] get distracted by that.

Read the entire article here.

Image: Alko Bunny, part of Aiko Nakagawa’s wall at Nuart. Courtesy of Andy Phipps / Telegraph.

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Creative Apocalypse

Following our story last week about artist Thomas Doyle’s miniature dystopian diaramas, we take a step further into nightmarish artistic visions, and of course, still small ones.

From Wired:

How will the world end? Will it be an asteroid, extreme climate conditions, a viral pandemic? No one really knows, which is why apocalypse scenarios are such rich territory for imaginative artists like Lori  Nix. The Brooklyn-based photographer creates and then documents detailed miniature dioramas of the end times — visions of what might be left behind once humans are gone.

Constructing the dioramas is a painstaking process, and Nix completes only three in a given year. As such, she makes very conscious decisions about what scenes she conjures. Crumbling institutions of science and learning turn up often in the work and are depicted with a gratifying realism.

“I think these are incredibly important places to learn about ourselves, learn what it means to be human,” says Nix. “These institutions are telling us about our pasts so that we may avoid the same mistakes in the future. Unfortunately, we’re not listening very well.”

The Kansas-born artist gravitates to destruction in part because she is no stranger to natural disasters.

“I have been in floods, tornadoes, blizzards; and when you are a kid, your parents are there to deal with the stress, but for me it was such an adventure. My boring life became suddenly exciting,” Nix says.

One time a tornado came through her neighborhood in Topeka and destroyed the houses right next door.

“A couple of days later, I was playing in the woods, seeing all of the scattered debris. And I came upon a stove, and when I opened the oven door, there was a perfect golden ham. The tornado hit right at dinner time,” she says.

Nix started working in photography at a newspaper, but soon realized the world of breaking news was not for her. She found herself moving towards darkroom work and constructed images.

She begins her sets by first drawing the floor plan of the building, creating the color scheme, and considering mood and lighting. Then Nix and her assistant build the entire set, including trees, books, and furniture using hot glue, foam, wood, and cardboard. Finishing each tiny piece means sanding, painting, and detailing.

Finally, it’s time to light and then shoot the scene with her 8×10 camera — Nix makes the sets to be seen by the camera from one viewpoint. When Nix showed the actual dioramas to the curator at the Museum of Art and Design in New York, she had to explain that she never intends to make models viewable from any angle. The edges remain unfinished.

“You could see the pink foam and the hot glue, but that is how we work,” she says.

Nix does not use Photoshop, and instead proofs her images as contacts and then as mural prints to look for any flaws. Once she is satisfied, she shoots an extra sheet of film and then takes apart the diorama and throws it away.

See more of Lori Nix’s apocalyptic constructions here.

Image: Circulation Desk, Lori Nix. Courtesy of Lori Nix / Wired.

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YBAs Twenty-Five Years On

That a small group of Young British Artists (YBA) made an impact on the art scene in the UK and across the globe over the last 25 years is without question. Though, whether the public at large will, 10, 25 or 50 years from now (and beyond), recognize a Damien Hirst spin painting or Tracy Emin’s “My Bed” or a Sarah Lucas self-portrait — “The Artist Eating a Banana” springs to mind — remains an open question.

The group first came to prominence in the late 1980s, mostly through works and events designed to shock the sensibilities of the then dreadfully boring and insular British art scene. With that aim in mind they certainly succeeded, and some, notably Hirst, have since become art superstars. So, while the majority of artists never experience fame within their own lifetimes, many YBAs have managed to buck convention. Though, whether their art will live long and prosper is debatable.

Jonathan Jones over at the On Art blog, chimes in with a different and altogether kinder opinion.

From the Guardian:

It’s 25 years since an ambitious unknown called Damien Hirst curated an exhibition of his friends and contemporaries called Freeze. This is generally taken as the foundation of the art movement that by the 1990s got the label “YBA”. Promoted by exhibitions such as Brilliant!, launched into public debate by the Turner prize and eventually set in stone at the Royal Academy with Sensation, Young British Art still shapes our cultural scene. A Damien Hirst spin painting closed the Olympics.

Even where artists are obviously resisting the showmanship and saleability of the Hirst generation (and such resistance has been the key to fashionable esteem for at least a decade), that generation’s ideas – that art should be young and part of popular culture – remain dominant. Artists on this year’s Turner shortlist may hate the thought that they are YBAs but they really are, in their high valuation of youth and pop. If we are all Thatcherites now, our artists are definitely all YBAs. Except for David Hockney.

From “classic” YBAs like Sarah Lucas and Marc Quinn to this year’s art school graduates, the drive to be new, modern, young and brave that Freeze announced in 1988 still shapes British art. And where has that left us? Where is British art, after 25 years of being young?

Let’s start with the best – and the worst. None of the artists who exploded on to the scene back then were as exciting and promising as Damien Hirst. He orchestrated the whole idea of a movement, and really it was a backdrop for his own daring imagination. Hirst’s animals in formaldehyde were provocations and surrealist dreams. He spun pop art in a new, visceral direction.

Today he is a national shame – our most famous artist has become a hack painter and kitsch sculptor who goes to inordinate lengths to demonstrate his lack of talent. Never has promise been more spectacularly misleading.

And what of the mood he created? Some of the artists who appeared in Freeze, such as Mat Collishaw, still make excellent work. But as for enduring masterpieces that will stand the test of time – how many of those has British art produced since 1988?

Well – the art of Sarah Lucas is acridly memorable. That of Rachel Whiteread is profound. The works of Jake and Dinos Chapman will keep scholars chortling in the library a century or two from now.

What is an artistic masterpiece anyway? Britain has never been good at creating sublime works in marble. But consider the collection of Georgian satirical prints in the Prints and Drawings room at the British Museum. Artists such as Gillray and Rowlandson are our heritage: rude, crude and subversive. Think about Hogarth too – an edgy artist critics snootily dismiss as a so-so painter.

Face it, all ye who rail at modern British art: YBA art and its living aftermath, from pickled fish to David Shrigley, fits beautifully into the Great British tradition of Hogarthian hilarity.

The difference is that while Hogarth had a chip on his shoulder about European art lording it over local talent, the YBA revolution made London world-famous as an art city, with Glasgow coming up in the side lane.

Warts and all, this has been the best 25 years in the history of British art. It never mattered more.

Read the entire article after the jump.

Image: My Bed by Tracey Emin. Courtesy of Tracey Emin / The Saatchi Gallery.

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UX and the Untergunther: Underground (Literally) Art

Many cities around the globe are home to underground art movements — those whose participants eschew the strictures of modern day gallery wine and cheese, curated exhibits, and formal public art shows. Paris has gone a step further — though deeper, would be more correct — in providing a subterranean home for some truly underground art and the groups of dedicated, clandestine artists, hackers and art restorers.

Wired spent some quality time with a leading group of Parisian underground artists, known as UX, for Underground eXperiment. Follow Wired’s fascinating and lengthy article here.

From the BBC:

The obsessively secretive members of an underground art collective have spent the last 30 years surreptitiously staging events in tunnels beneath Paris. They say they never ask permission – and never ask for subsidies.

We’re standing nervously on the pavement, trying not to feel self-conscious as we furtively scrutinise each passer-by.

After weeks of negotiation, we have a meeting with someone who says he is a member of the highly secretive French artists’ collective – UX, as they are known for short – outside a town hall in the south of Paris. It is late on a Sunday night but the street is still quite busy.

Finally I notice a young man dressed entirely in black apart from a red beret and a small rucksack on his back. He hovers for a moment and then motions us to follow him. Our destination is the catacombs, the tunnels that run beneath the pavements of Paris.

A few minutes later Tristan (not his real name) and two companions are pulling the heavy steel cover off a manhole. “Quick, quick,” he says, “before the police come.”

I stare down a seemingly endless black hole before stepping gingerly on to a rusty ladder and start to clamber down.

There are several more ladders after that before we finally reach the bottom. To my great relief, there are no rats – we go deeper than the rats ever do – but it is pitch black and very wet.

The water is ankle deep and my shoes are soaked through. “It’s fine, if you’re properly dressed,” laughs Tristan as he splashes ahead in his rubber boots.

Using the flashlight on my phone, we do our best to follow him. Along the way I notice some colourful graffiti and a painting of an evil looking cat.

After a few minutes, we reach a dry, open space with intricate carvings on the wall and it is here that we finally sit down to interrogate our mysterious companions.

Tristan explains that he gets a kick out of getting to places, which are normally off-limits. He is a “cataphile” – somebody who loves to roam the catacombs of Paris.

UX are not the only people who go underground. There is a rap song about cataphiles, people who would rather don the rubber boots of a sewer worker (egoutier) than go clubbing in a normal night spot.

There have been a number of raves underground – some chambers are said to be big enough to hold 1,000 people.

The galleries are turned into makeshift night clubs, with a bar, lighting effects, and DJ turntables, using electricity diverted from the Parisian metro.

He also climbs on the roofs of churches. “You get a great view of the city, especially at night and it’s a cool place for a picnic,” he says.

Tristan who is originally from Lyon says his group is called the Lyonnaise des Os – a reference to the piles of bones (“os” is French for “bone”) in the catacombs – but also a pun on France’s famous water company, Lyonnaise des Eaux. He and his group spend their time exploring the tunnels, and carving sculptures.

The UX are a loose collective of people from a variety of backgrounds. Not just artists but also engineers, civil servants, lawyers and even a state prosecutor. They divide into different groups depending on their interests.

The Untergunther specialise in clandestine acts of restoration of parts of France’s heritage which they believe the state has neglected. There is also an all-women group, nicknamed The Mouse House, who are experts at infiltration.

Another group, called La Mexicaine de Perforation, or The Mexican Consolidated Drilling Authority, stages arts events like film festivals underground. They once created an entire cinema under the Palais de Chaillot, by the Trocadero, with seats cut out of the rock.

Read the entire article following the jump.

Image: Hacker-artists below Paris. Courtesy of Wired / UX.

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Art That Makes You Scratch Your Head

Some works of art are visceral or grotesque, others evoke soaring and enlightening emotions. Some art just makes you think deeply about a specific event or about fundamental philosophical questions. Then, every once in a while, along comes a work that requires serious head-scratching.

From NPR:

You are standing in a park in New Zealand. You look up at the top of a hill, and there, balanced on the ground, looking like it might catch a breeze and blow away, is a gigantic, rumpled piece of paper.

Except … one side of it, the underside, is … not there. You can see the sky, clouds, birds where there should be paper, so what is this?

As you approach, you realize it is made of metal. It’s a sculpture, made of welded and painted steel that looks like a two dimensional cartoon drawing of a three dimensional piece of paper … that is three dimensional if you get close, but looks two dimensional if you stay at the bottom of the hill…

Read the entire article and catch more images after the jump, and see more of Neil Dawson’s work here.

Image: Horizons at Gibbs Farm by sculptor Neil Dawson, private art park, New Zealand. Courtesy of NPR / Gibbs Farm / Neil Dawson.

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Before I Die…

Before I Die” is an interactive, public art project conceived by artist Candy Chang. The first installation was in New Orleans in February 2011, and has since grown to around 30 other cities across the United States, and 7 countries.

The premise is simple: install a blank billboard-sized chalkboard in a publicly accessible space, supply a bucket of chalk, write the prompt “Before I Die…” on the chalkboard, sit back and wait, watch people share their hopes and dreams.

So far the artist and her collaborators have noted over 25,000 responses. Of the responses, 15 percent want to travel to distant lands, 10 percent wish to reconnect with family and 1 percent want to write a book.

From the Washington  Post:

Before they die, the citizens of Washington, D.C., would like to achieve things both monumental and minuscule. They want to eat delicious food, travel the globe and — naturally — effect political change. They want to see the Earth from the Moon. They want to meet God.

They may have carried these aspirations in their hearts and heads their whole lives, but until a chalkboard sprang up at 14th and Q streets NW, they may have never verbalized them. On the construction barrier enveloping a crumbling old laundromat in the midst of its transformation into an upscale French bistro, the billboard-size chalkboard offers baskets of chalk and a prompt: “Before I die .?.?.”

The project was conceived by artist Candy Chang, a 2011 TED fellow who created the first “Before I Die” public art installation last February in a city that has contemplated its own mortality: New Orleans. On the side of an abandoned building, Chang erected the chalkboard to help residents “remember what is important to them,” she wrote on her Web site. She let the responses — funny, poignant, morbid — roll in. “Before I Die” migrated to other cities, and with the help of other artists who borrowed her template, it has recorded the bucket-list dreams of people in more than 30 locations. The District’s arrived in Logan Circle early Sunday morning.

Chang analyzes the responses on each wall; most involve travel, she says. But in a well-traveled city like Washington, many of the hopes on the board here address politics and power. Before they die, Washingtonians would like to “Liberate Palestine,” “Be a general (Hooah!),” “Be chief of staff,” “See a transgender president,” “[Have] access to reproductive health care without stigma.” Chang also notes that the D.C. wall is more international than others she’s seen, with responses in at least seven languages.

Read the entire article after the jump.

Image: Crystal Hamling, 27, adds her thoughts to the “Before I Die…” art wall at 14th and Q streets NW. She wrote “Make people feel loved.” Courtesy of Katherine Frey / Washington Post.

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Ronald Searle

Ronald Searle, your serious wit and your heroic pen will be missed. Searle died on December 30, aged 91.

The first “real” book purchased by theDiagonal’s editor with his own money was “How To Be Topp” by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle. The book featured Searle’s unique and unmistakable illustrations of anti-hero Nigel Molesworth, a stoic, shrewd and droll English schoolboy.

Yet while Searle will be best remembered for his drawings of Molesworth and friends at St.Custard’s high school and his invention of St.Trinian’s (school for rowdy schoolgirls), he leaves behind a critical body of work that graphically illustrates his brutal captivity at the hands of the Japanese during the Second World War.

Most of these drawings appear in his 1986 book, Ronald Searle: To the Kwai and Back, War Drawings 1939-1945. In the book, Searle also wrote of his experiences as a prisoner. Many of his original drawings are now in the permanent collection of the Imperial War Museum, London.

From the BBC:

British cartoonist Ronald Searle, best known for creating the fictional girls’ school St Trinian’s, has died aged 91.

His daughter Kate Searle said in a statement that he “passed away peacefully in his sleep” in a hospital in France.

Searle’s spindly cartoons of the naughty schoolgirls first appeared in 1941, before the idea was adapted for film.

The first movie version, The Belles of St Trinian’s, was released in 1954.

Joyce Grenfell and George Cole starred in the film, along with Alastair Sim, who appeared in drag as headmistress Millicent Fritton.

Searle also provided illustrations the Molesworth series, written by Geoffrey Willans.

The gothic, line-drawn cartoons breathed life into the gruesome pupils of St Custard’s school, in particular the outspoken, but functionally-illiterate Nigel Molesworth “the goriller of 3B”.

Searle’s work regularly appeared in magazines and newspapers, including Punch and The New Yorker.

Read more here.

Image: Welcome back to the new term molesworth! From How to be Topp. Courtesy of Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle / Vanguard Press.

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Lucian Freud dies aged 88

From the Guardian:

Lucian Freud, widely acknowledged as one of the greatest, most influential and yet most controversial British painters of his era, has died at his London home.

News of his death, at the age of 88, was released by his New York art dealer, William Acquavella. The realist painter, who was a grandson of the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, had watched his works soar in value over recent years and, in 2008, his portrayal of a large, naked woman on a couch – Benefit Supervisor Sleeping – sold at auction for £2.6m, a record price for the work of a living artist.

Born in Berlin, Freud came to Britain in 1933 with his family when he was 10 years old and developed his passion for drawing. After studying at art school, he had a self-portrait accepted for Horizon magazine and, by the age of 21, his talent had been recognised in a solo show. He returned to Britain after the war years to teach at the Slade School of Art in London.

Over a career that spanned 50 years, Freud became famous for his intense and unsettling nude portraits. A naturalised British subject, he spent most of his working life in London and was frequently seen at the most salubrious bars and restaurants, often in the company of beautiful young women such as Kate Moss, who he once painted. A tweet from the writer Polly Samson last night reported that Freud’s regular table in The Wolseley restaurant was laid with a black tablecloth and a single candle in his honour.

The director of the Tate gallery, Nicholas Serota, said last night: “The vitality of [Freud’s] nudes, the intensity of the still life paintings and the presence of his portraits of family and friends guarantee Lucian Freud a unique place in the pantheon of late 20th century art.

More from theSource here.

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Cy Twombly, Idiosyncratic Painter, Dies at 83

Cy Twombly. Image courtesy of Sundance Channel

From the New York Times:

Cy Twombly, whose spare childlike scribbles and poetic engagement with antiquity left him stubbornly out of step with the movements of postwar American art even as he became one of the era’s most important painters, died in Rome Tuesday. He was 83.

The cause was not immediately known, although Mr. Twombly had suffered from cancer. His death was announced by the Gagosian Gallery, which represents his work.

In a career that slyly subverted Abstract Expressionism, toyed briefly with Minimalism, seemed barely to acknowledge Pop Art and anticipated some of the concerns of Conceptualism, Mr. Twombly was a divisive artist almost from the start. The curator Kirk Varnedoe, on the occasion of a 1994 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, wrote that his work was “influential among artists, discomfiting to many critics and truculently difficult not just for a broad public, but for sophisticated initiates of postwar art as well.” The critic Robert Hughes called him “the Third Man, a shadowy figure, beside that vivid duumvirate of his friends Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg.”

Mr. Twombly’s decision to settle permanently in southern Italy in 1957 as the art world shifted decisively in the other direction, from Europe to New York, was only the most symbolic of his idiosyncrasies. He avoided publicity throughout his life and mostly ignored his critics, who questioned constantly whether his work deserved a place at the forefront of 20th-century abstraction, though he lived long enough to see it arrive there. It didn’t help that his paintings, because of their surface complexity and whirlwinds of tiny detail – scratches, erasures, drips, penciled fragments of Italian and classical verse amid scrawled phalluses and buttocks – lost much of their power in reproduction.

But Mr. Twombly, a tall, rangy Virginian who once practiced drawing in the dark to make his lines less purposeful, steadfastly followed his own program and looked to his own muses: often literary ones like Catullus, Rumi, Pound and Rilke. He seemed to welcome the privacy that came with unpopularity.

“I had my freedom and that was nice,” he said in a rare interview, with Nicholas Serota, the director of the Tate, before a 2008 survey of his career at the Tate Modern.

The critical low point probably came after a 1964 exhibition at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York that was widely panned. The artist and writer Donald Judd, who was hostile toward painting in general, was especially damning even so, calling the show a fiasco. “There are a few drips and splatters and an occasional pencil line,” he wrote in a review. “There isn’t anything to these paintings.”

More from theSource here.

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