Tag Archives: contemporary art

Can Burning Man Be Saved?


I thought it rather appropriate to revisit Burning Man one day after Guy Fawkes Day in the UK. I must say that Burning Man has grown into more of a corporate event compared with the cheesy pyrotechnic festivities in Britain on the 5th of November. So, even though Burners have a bigger, bolder, brasher event please remember-remember, we Brits had the original burning man — by 380 years.

The once-counter-cultural phenomenon known as Burning Man seems to be maturing into an executive-level tech-fest. Let’s face it, if I can read about the festival in the mainstream media it can’t be as revolutionary as it once set out to be. Though, the founders‘ desire to keep the festival radically inclusive means that organizers can’t turn away those who may end up razing Burning Man to the ground due to corporate excess. VCs and the tech elite from Silicon Valley now descend in their hoards, having firmly placed Burning Man on their app-party circuit. Until recently, Burners mingled relatively freely throughout the week-long temporary metropolis in the Nevada desert; now, the nouveau riche arrive on private jets and “camp” in exclusive wagon-circles of luxury RVs catered to by corporate chefs and personal costume designers. It certainly seems like some of Larry Harvey’s 10 Principles delineating Burning Man’s cultural ethos are on shaky ground. Oh well, capitalism ruins another great idea! But, go once before you die.

From NYT:

There are two disciplines in which Silicon Valley entrepreneurs excel above almost everyone else. The first is making exorbitant amounts of money. The second is pretending they don’t care about that money.

To understand this, let’s enter into evidence Exhibit A: the annual Burning Man festival in Black Rock City, Nev.

If you have never been to Burning Man, your perception is likely this: a white-hot desert filled with 50,000 stoned, half-naked hippies doing sun salutations while techno music thumps through the air.

A few years ago, this assumption would have been mostly correct. But now things are a little different. Over the last two years, Burning Man, which this year runs from Aug. 25 to Sept. 1, has been the annual getaway for a new crop of millionaire and billionaire technology moguls, many of whom are one-upping one another in a secret game of I-can-spend-more-money-than-you-can and, some say, ruining it for everyone else.

Some of the biggest names in technology have been making the pilgrimage to the desert for years, happily blending in unnoticed. These include Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the Google founders, and Jeff Bezos, chief executive of Amazon. But now a new set of younger rich techies are heading east, including Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, employees from Twitter, Zynga and Uber, and a slew of khaki-wearing venture capitalists.

Before I explain just how ridiculous the spending habits of these baby billionaires have become, let’s go over the rules of Burning Man: You bring your own place to sleep (often a tent), food to eat (often ramen noodles) and the strangest clothing possible for the week (often not much). There is no Internet or cell reception. While drugs are technically illegal, they are easier to find than candy on Halloween. And as for money, with the exception of coffee and ice, you cannot buy anything at the festival. Selling things to people is also a strict no-no. Instead, Burners (as they are called) simply give things away. What’s yours is mine. And that often means everything from a meal to saliva.

In recent years, the competition for who in the tech world could outdo who evolved from a need for more luxurious sleeping quarters. People went from spending the night in tents, to renting R.V.s, to building actual structures.

“We used to have R.V.s and precooked meals,” said a man who attends Burning Man with a group of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. (He asked not to be named so as not to jeopardize those relationships.) “Now, we have the craziest chefs in the world and people who build yurts for us that have beds and air-conditioning.” He added with a sense of amazement, “Yes, air-conditioning in the middle of the desert!”

His camp includes about 100 people from the Valley and Hollywood start-ups, as well as several venture capital firms. And while dues for most non-tech camps run about $300 a person, he said his camp’s fees this year were $25,000 a person. A few people, mostly female models flown in from New York, get to go free, but when all is told, the weekend accommodations will collectively cost the partygoers over $2 million.

This is drastically different from the way most people experience the event. When I attended Burning Man a few years ago, we slept in tents and a U-Haul moving van. We lived on cereal and beef jerky for a week. And while Burning Man was one of the best experiences of my life, using the public Porta-Potty toilets was certainly one of the most revolting experiences thus far. But that’s what makes Burning Man so great: at least you’re all experiencing those gross toilets together.

That is, until recently. Now the rich are spending thousands of dollars to get their own luxury restroom trailers, just like those used on movie sets.

“Anyone who has been going to Burning Man for the last five years is now seeing things on a level of expense or flash that didn’t exist before,” said Brian Doherty, author of the book “This Is Burning Man.” “It does have this feeling that, ‘Oh, look, the rich people have moved into my neighborhood.’ It’s gentrifying.”

For those with even more money to squander, there are camps that come with “Sherpas,” who are essentially paid help.

Tyler Hanson, who started going to Burning Man in 1995, decided a couple of years ago to try working as a paid Sherpa at one of these luxury camps. He described the experience this way: Lavish R.V.s are driven in and connected together to create a private forted area, ensuring that no outsiders can get in. The rich are flown in on private planes, then picked up at the Burning Man airport, driven to their camp and served like kings and queens for a week. (Their meals are prepared by teams of chefs, which can include sushi, lobster boils and steak tartare — yes, in the middle of 110-degree heat.)

“Your food, your drugs, your costumes are all handled for you, so all you have to do is show up,” Mr. Hanson said. “In the camp where I was working, there were about 30 Sherpas for 12 attendees.”

Mr. Hanson said he won’t be going back to Burning Man anytime soon. The Sherpas, the money, the blockaded camps and the tech elite were too much for him. “The tech start-ups now go to Burning Man and eat drugs in search of the next greatest app,” he said. “Burning Man is no longer a counterculture revolution. It’s now become a mirror of society.”

Strangely, the tech elite won’t disagree with Mr. Hanson about it being a reflection of society. This year at the premiere of the HBO show “Silicon Valley,” Elon Musk, an entrepreneur who was a founder of PayPal, complained that Mike Judge, the show’s creator, didn’t get the tech world because — wait for it — he had not attended the annual party in the desert.

“I really feel like Mike Judge has never been to Burning Man, which is Silicon Valley,” Mr. Musk said to a Re/Code reporter, while using a number of expletives to describe the festival. “If you haven’t been, you just don’t get it.”

Read the entire story here.

Image: Burning Man gallery. Courtesy of Burners.

Burning Man Bucket List


As this year’s Burning Man comes to an end in the eerily beautiful Black Rock Desert in Nevada I am reminded that attending this life event should be on everyone’s bucket list, before they actually kick it.

That said, applying one or more of the Ten Principle’s that guide Burners, should be a year-round quest — not a once in a lifetime transient goal.

Read more about this year’s BM here.

See more BM visuals here.

Image: Super Pool art installation, Burning Man 2014. Courtesy of Jim Urquhart / Reuters.


Frozen Moving Pictures


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.

The Art of Annoyance


Our favorite voyeurs and provocateurs of contemporary British culture are at it again. Artists Gilbert & George have resurfaced with a new and thoroughly annoying collection — Scapegoating Pictures. You can catch their latest treatise on the state of their city (London) and nation at White Cube in London from July 18 – September 28.

From the Guardian.

The world of art is overwhelmingly liberal and forward looking. Unless you start following the money into Charles Saatchi’s bank account, the mood, content and operating assumptions of contemporary art are strikingly leftwing, from Bob and Roberta Smith’s cute posters to Jeremy Deller’s people’s art. The consensus is so progressive it does not need saying.

Gilbert & George have never signed up to that consensus. I am not saying they are rightwing. I am definitely not saying they are “racist”. But throughout their long careers, from a nostalgia for Edwardian music-hall songs to a more unsettling affinity for skinheads, they have delighted in provoking … us, dear Guardian reader.

Their new exhibition of grand, relentless photomontages restates their defiant desire to offend on a colossal scale. I could almost hear them at my shoulder asking: “Are you annoyed yet?”

Then suddenly they were at my shoulder, as I wrote down choice quotes from Scapegoating Pictures, the scabrous triptych of slogan-spattered pictures that climaxes this exhibition. When I confessed I was wondering which ones I could quote in a newspaper they insisted it’s all quotable: “We have a free press.” So here goes: “Fuck the Vicar.” “Get Frotting.” “Be candid with christians.” “Jerk off a judge.” “Crucify a curator.” “Molest a mullah.”

This wall of insults, mostly directed at religion, is the manifesto of Gilbert & George’s new pictures – and yet you discover it only at the end of the show. Before revealing where they are really coming from in this dirty-mouthed atheist onslaught, they have teased you with all kinds of dubious paranoias. What are these old men – Gilbert & George are 70 and 72, and the self-portraits that warp and gyrate through this kaleidoscopic digital-age profusion of images make no attempt to conceal their ageing process – so scared of?

At times this exhibition is like going on a tour of east London with one of Ukip’s less presentable candidates. Just look at that woman veiling her face. And here is a poster calling for an Islamic state in Britain.

Far from being scared, these artists are bold as brass. No one is asking Gilbert & George to go over the top one more time and plumb the psychic depths of Britain. They’re respectable now; they could just sit back in their suits. But, in these turbulent and estranging works, they give voice to the divided reality of a country at one and the same time gloriously plural and savagely bigoted.

In reality, nothing could be further from the mentality of racists and little Englanders than the polymorphically playful world of Gilbert & George. Their images merge with the faces of young men of all races who have caught their eye. Bullet-like metal canisters pulse through the pictures like threats of violence. Yet these menacing forms are actually empty containers for the drug nitrous oxide found by the artists outside their home, things that look evil but are residues of ecstatic nights.

No other artists today portray their own time and place with the curiosity that Gilbert & George display here. Their own lives are starkly visible, as they walk around their local streets in Spitalfiields, collecting the evidence of drug-fuelled mayhem and looking at the latest graffiti.

Read the entire story and see more of G & G’s works here.

Image: Clad, Gilbert & George, 2013. Courtesy of Gilbert & George / Guardian.

Nightmares And Art


You probably believe that your nightmares are best left locked in a dark closet. On the other hand, artist Nicolas Bruno believes they make good art.

See more of Bruno’s nightmarish images here.

From the Guardian:

Sufferer of sleep paralysis Nicolas Bruno transforms his terrifying dreams into photographic realities. The characters depicted are often stuck within their scenes, unable to escape. The 20 year old New York native suggests ‘Sleep paralysis is an experience in which the individual becomes conscious and is left immobile in a state between being awake and asleep.’

Image courtesy of Nicolas Bruno / Hot Spot Media.


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.

Honey, I Shrank the House!

The (American) dream of home ownership comes under the microscopic, and somewhat surreal, analysis of sculptor Thomas Doyle. The result is a spectacular exhibit — albeit on a small scale — of miniature homes and landscapes sealed under glass domes, and all with a peculiar, dystopian twist.

From the Guardian:

Built in miniature, these dioramas reveal scenes of destruction, mayhem and hyperreality. An exhibition of the scaled-down worlds of New York-based artists Adrien Broom, Thomas Doyle and Patrick Jacobs opens at Ronchini Gallery in London on 6 September

See more images of Doyle’s miniature masterpieces here. And, visit the exhibit here.

Image: Torsten Roman/Palazzo Strozzi, Guardian.

Ai Weiwei – China’s Warhol

Artist Ai Weiwei has suffered at the hands of the Chinese authorities much more so than Andy Warhol’s brushes with surveillance from the FBI. Yet the two are remarkably similar: brash and polarizing views, distinctive art and creative processes, masterful self-promotion, savvy media manipulation and global ubiquity. This is all the more astounding given Ai Weiwei’s arrest, detentions and prohibition on travel outside of Beijing. He’s even made it to the Venice Biennale this year — only his art of course.

From the= Guardian:

To some, he is verging on a saint and martyr, singlehandedly standing against the forces of Chinese political repression. For others he is a canny manipulator, utterly in control of his reputation and place in the art world and market. For others still, he is all these things: an artist who outdoes even Andy Warhol in his ubiquity, his nimbleness at self-promotion and his use of every medium at his disposal to promulgate his work and his activism.

Whatever your views on the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, one thing is clear: he is everywhere, from the Hampstead theatre in London, where Howard Brenton’s play about the 81 days Ai spent in detention in 2011 is underway, to the web, where his the video for his heavy metal song Dumbass is circulating, to the Venice Biennale, where not one but three of his large-scale works are on display – perhaps the most exposure for any single artist at the international festival.

One of the works, Bang, a forest of hundreds of tangled wooden stools, is the most prominent piece in the German national pavilion. Then, in the Zuecca Project Space on the island of Giudecca, is his installation Straight: 150 tons of crushed rebar from schools flattened in the Sichuan earthquake of 2008, recovered by the artist and his team, who bought the crumpled steel rods as scrap before painstakingly straightening them and piling them up in a wave-like sculptural arrangement.

By far the most revealing about Ai’s own experience, though, is the third piece, SACRED. Situated in the church of Sant’Antonin, it consists of six large iron boxes, into which visitors can peek to see sculptures recreating scenes from the artist’s detention. Here is a miniature Ai being interrogated; here a miniature Ai showers or sits on the lavatory while two uniformed guards stand over him. Other scenes show him sleeping and eating – always in the same tiny space, always under double guard. (The music video refers to some of these scenes with a lightly satirical tone that is absent from the sculpture.)

According to Greg Hilty of London’s Lisson Gallery, under whose auspices SACRED is being shown, and who saw Ai in China a week ago, the work is a form of “therapy or exorcism – it was something he had to get out. It is an experience that we might see as newsworthy, but for him, he was the one in it.”

Read the entire article here.

Image: Waking nightmare … Ai Weiwei’s Entropy (Sleep), from SACRED (2013). Courtesy of David Levene / Guardian.

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.

Jim’ll Paint It

Art can make you think; art can make you smile. Falling more towards the latter category is “Jim’ll Paint It“. Microsoft’s arcane Paint progra seems positively antiquated compared with more recent and powerful drawing apps. However, in the hands of an accomplished artist Paint still shines. In the hands of Jim it radiates. At his Jim’ll Paint It tumblr account Jim takes requests — however crazy — and renders them beautifully and with humor. In his own words:

I am here to make your wildest dreams a reality using nothing but Microsoft Paint (no tablets, no touch ups). Ask me to paint anything you wish and I will try no matter how specific or surreal your demands. While there aren’t enough hours in the day to physically paint every suggestion I will consider them all. Bonus points for originality and humour. Use your imagination!

From the Guardian:

Is all art nostalgic? Is it only when something is in the past, however recent, that it becomes interesting artistically?

I say this after perusing Jim’ll Paint It, where a guy called Jim offers to depict peoples’ craziest suggestions using Microsoft Paint, the graphics software included with all versions of Windows that now looks limited and “old-fashioned” compared with iPad art.

For anyone who is really trapped in the past, daddy-o, I am talking here about “painting” on a computer screen, not making a mess with gooey colours and real brushes. Using his archaically primitive Paint software, Jim has recently created scenes that include Jesus riding a motorbike into Hitler’s bunker, Nigella Lawson eating a plate of processors and Brian Blessed riding a vacuum cleaner.

His style is like a South Park storyboard, which I suppose tells us about how South Park is drawn. In fact, Jim reveals how familiar the visual lexicon of Microsoft Paint actually is in contemporary culture. By being simplified and unrealistic, it is arguably wittier, more imaginative and therefore more arty than paintings made on a tablet computer or smart phone that look like … well, like paintings.

Digital culture is as saturated in nostalgia as any previous form of culture. In a world where gadgets and software packages are constantly being reinvented, earlier phases of modernity are relegated to a sentimental past. MS Paint is still current but one day it will be as archaic as Pong.

Read the entire article following the jump.

Image: One of our favorites from Jim’ll Paint It — “Please paint me Jimi Hendrix explaining to an owl on his shoulder what a stick of chalk is, near a forest”. Courtesy of Jim’ll Paint It.

Who Doesn’t Love and Hate a Dalek?

Over the decades Hollywood has remade movie monsters and aliens into evermore terrifying and nightmarish, and often slimier, versions of ourselves. In Britain of the 1960s kids grew up with the thoroughly scary and evil Daleks, from the SciFi series Dr.Who. Their raspy electronic voices proclaiming “Exterminate! Exterminate!” and death-rays would often consign children to a restless sleep in the comfort of their parents’ beds. Nowadays the Daleks would be dismissed as laughable and amateurish constructions — after all, how could malevolent, otherworldly beings be made from what looked too much like discarded egg cartons and toilet plungers. But, they do remain iconic — a fixture of our pop culture.

[div class=attrib]From the Guardian:[end-div]

The Daleks are a masterpiece of pop art. The death of their designer Raymond Cusick is rightly national news: it was Cusick who in the early 1960s gave a visual shape to this new monster invented by Doctor Who writer Terry Nation. But in the 50th anniversary of Britain’s greatest television show, the Daleks need to be seen in historical perspective. It is all too tempting to imagine Cusick and Nation sitting in the BBC canteen looking at a pepper pot on their lunch table and realising it could be a terrifying alien cyborg. In reality, the Daleks are a living legacy of the British pop art movement.

With Roy Lichtenstein whaaming ’em at London’s Tate Modern, it is all too easy to forget that pop art began in Britain – and our version of it started as science fiction. When Eduardo Paolozzi made his collage Dr Pepper in 1948, he was not portraying the real lives of austerity-burdened postwar Britons. He was imagining a future world of impossible consumer excess – a world that already existed in America, whose cultural icons from flash cars to electric cookers populate his collage of magazine clippings. But that seemed very far from reality in war-wounded Europe. Pop art began as an ironically utopian futuristic fantasy by British artists trapped in a monochrome reality.

The exhibition that brought pop art to a wider audience was This Is Tomorrow at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1956. As its title implies, This Is Tomorrow presented pop as visual sci-fi. It included a poster for the science fiction film Forbidden Planet and was officially opened by the star of the film, Robbie the Robot.

The layout of This Is Tomorrow created a futuristic landscape from fragments of found material and imagery, just as Doctor Who would fabricate alien worlds from silver foil and plastic bottles. The reason the series would face a crisis by the end of the 1970s was that its effects were deemed old-fashioned compared with Star Wars: but the whole point of Dr Who was that it demanded imagination of its audience and presented not fetishised perfect illusions, but a kind of kitchen sink sci-fi that shared the playfulness of pop art.

The Daleks are a wonder of pop art’s fantastic vision, at once absurd and marvellous. Most of all, they share the ironic juxtaposition of real and unreal one finds in the art of Richard Hamilton. Like a Hoover collaged into an ideal home, the Daleks are at their best gliding through an unexpected setting such as central London – a metal menace invading homely old Britain.

[div class-=attrib]Read the entire article after the jump.[end-div]

[div class=attrib]Image: The Daleks in the 1966 Doctor Who serial The Power of the Daleks. Courtesy of BBC.[end-div]

Video Game. But is it Art?

Only yesterday we posted a linguist’s claim that text-speak is an emerging language. You know, text-speak is that cryptic communication process that most teenagers engage in with their smartphones. Leaving aside the merits of including text-speak in the catalog of around 6,600 formal human languages, one thing is clear — text-speak is not Shakespearean English. So, don’t expect to see a novel written in it win the Nobel Prize for Literature, yet.

Strangely though, the same cannot be said for another recent phenomenon, the video game. Increasingly, some video games are being described in the same language that critics would normally reserve for a contemporary painting on canvas. Yes, welcome to the world of video game as art. If you have ever played the immersive game Myst, or its sequel Riven (the original games came on CDROM), you will see why many classify the beautifully designed and rendered aesthetics as art. MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) in New York thinks so too.

[div class=attrib]From the Guardian:[end-div]

New York’s Museum of Modern Art will be home to something more often associated with pasty teens and bar scenes when it opens an exhibit on video games on Friday.

Tetris, Pac-Man and the Sims are just a few of the classic games that will be housed inside a building that also displays works by Vincent Van Gogh, Claude Monet and Frida Kahlo. And though some may question whether video games are even art, the museum is incorporating the games into its Applied Design installation.

MoMA consulted scholars, digital experts, historians and critics to select games for the gallery based on their aesthetic quality – including the programming language used to create them. MoMA’s senior curator for architecture and design, Paola Antonelli, said the material used to create games is important in the same way the wood used to create a stool is.

With that as the focus, games are presented in their original formats, absent the consoles that often define them. Some will be playable with controllers, and more complex, long-running games like SimCity 2000 are presented as specially designed walkthroughs and demos.

MoMA’s curatorial team tailored controls especially for each of the playable games, including a customized joystick created for the Tetris game.

Some of the older games, which might have fragile or rare cartridges, will be displayed as “interactive emulation”, with a programmer translating the game code to something that will work on a newer computer system.

[div class=attrib]Read the entire article following the jump.[end-div]

[div class=attrib]Image: Myst, Cyan Inc. Courtesy of Cyan, Inc / Wikipedia.[end-div]

International Art English

Yes, it’s official. There really is a subset of the Queen’s English for the contemporary art scene — dubbed International Art English (IAE). If you’ve visited a gallery over the last couple of decades you may be familiar with this type language on press releases and wall tags. It uses multisyllabic words in breathless, flowery, billowy sentences; high-brow phraseology replete with pretentious insider nods and winks; it’s often enthusiastically festooned with adverbs and esoteric adjectives, in apparently random but clear juxtaposition. So, it’s rather like the preceding sentence. Will IAE become as pervasive as International Sport English – you know, that subset of language increasingly spoken, in the same accent, by international sports celebrities? Time will tell.

[div class=attrib]From the Guardian:[end-div]

The Simon Lee Gallery in Mayfair is currently showing work by the veteran American artist Sherrie Levine. A dozen small pink skulls in glass cases face the door. A dozen small bronze mirrors, blandly framed but precisely arranged, wink from the walls. In the deep, quiet space of the London gallery, shut away from Mayfair’s millionaire traffic jams, all is minimal, tasteful and oddly calming.

Until you read the exhibition hand-out. “The artist brings the viewer face to face with their own preconceived hierarchy of cultural values and assumptions of artistic worth,” it says. “Each mirror imaginatively propels its viewer forward into the seemingly infinite progression of possible reproductions that the artist’s practice engenders, whilst simultaneously pulling them backwards in a quest for the ‘original’ source or referent that underlines Levine’s oeuvre.”

If you’ve been to see contemporary art in the last three decades, you will probably be familiar with the feelings of bafflement, exhaustion or irritation that such gallery prose provokes. You may well have got used to ignoring it. As Polly Staple, art writer and director of the Chisenhale Gallery in London, puts it: “There are so many people who come to our shows who don’t even look at the programme sheet. They don’t want to look at any writing about art.”

With its pompous paradoxes and its plagues of adverbs, its endless sentences and its strained rebellious poses, much of this promotional writing serves mainly, it seems, as ammunition for those who still insist contemporary art is a fraud. Surely no one sensible takes this jargon seriously?

David Levine and Alix Rule do. “Art English is something that everyone in the art world bitches about all the time,” says Levine, a 42-year-old American artist based in New York and Berlin. “But we all use it.” Three years ago, Levine and his friend Rule, a 29-year-old critic and sociology PhD student at Columbia university in New York, decided to try to anatomise it. “We wanted to map it out,” says Levine, “to describe its contours, rather than just complain about it.”

They christened it International Art English, or IAE, and concluded that its purest form was the gallery press release, which – in today’s increasingly globalised, internet-widened art world – has a greater audience than ever. “We spent hours just printing them out and reading them to each other,” says Levine. “We’d find some super-outrageous sentence and crack up about it. Then we’d try to understand the reality conveyed by that sentence.”

Next, they collated thousands of exhibition announcements published since 1999 by e-flux, a powerful New York-based subscriber network for art-world professionals. Then they used some language-analysing software called Sketch Engine, developed by a company in Brighton, to discover what, if anything, lay behind IAE’s great clouds of verbiage.

Their findings were published last year as an essay in the voguish American art journal Triple Canopy; it has since become one of the most widely and excitedly circulated pieces of online cultural criticism. It is easy to see why. Levine and Rule write about IAE in a droll, largely jargon-free style. They call it “a unique language” that has “everything to do with English, but is emphatically not English. [It] is oddly pornographic: we know it when we see it.”

IAE always uses “more rather than fewer words”. Sometimes it uses them with absurd looseness: “Ordinary words take on non-specific alien functions. ‘Reality,’ writes artist Tania Bruguera, ‘functions as my field of action.'” And sometimes it deploys words with faddish precision: “Usage of the word speculative spiked unaccountably in 2009; 2011 saw a sudden rage for rupture; transversal now seems poised to have its best year ever.”

Through Sketch Engine, Rule and Levine found that “the real” – used as a portentous, would-be philosophical abstract noun – occurred “179 times more often” in IAE than in standard English. In fact, in its declarative, multi-clause sentences, and in its odd combination of stiffness and swagger, they argued that IAE “sounds like inexpertly translated French”. This was no coincidence, they claimed, having traced the origins of IAE back to French post-structuralism and the introduction of its slippery ideas and prose style into American art writing via October, the New York critical journal founded in 1976. Since then, IAE had spread across the world so thoroughly that there was even, wrote Rule and Levine, an “IAE of the French press release … written, we can only imagine, by French interns imitating American interns imitating American academics imitating French academics”.

[div class=attrib]Read the entire article following the jump.[end-div]

[div class=attrib]Image: Monkeys as Judges of Art, 1889, by Gabriel Cornelius von Max. Courtesy of Wikipedia / Public Domain.[end-div]

Photography is Now Our Art

Over at the Guardian’s art and culture blog Jonathan Jones argues that photography has now become our de facto medium for contemporary artistic expression. Some may argue that the creative process underlying photography comes up short when compared with the skills and techniques required to produce some art in more traditional media. However, Jones seems right in one respect: today’s photography captures the drama of the human condition in a way that no other medium can today, it’s not even close. We are in awe of the skills demonstrated by the Old Masters. However, that it took months for Rembrandt to paint a single canvas misses the point. It still takes an eye and empathy and a desire to tell a unique story as the photographer clicks the digital shutter in a five-hundredth of a second.

[div class=attrib]From the Guardian:[end-div]

It has taken me a long time to see this, and you can laugh at me if you like. But here goes.

Photography is the serious art of our time. It also happens to be the most accessible and democratic way of making art that has ever been invented. But first, let’s define photography.

A photograph is an image captured on film, paper or – most commonly now – in digital memory. Photography also includes moving images captured on film or video. Moving or still, we all know a photograph is not a pure record of the visual world: it can be edited and transformed in infinite ways.

Moving or still, and however it is taken, whether by pinhole camera or phone, the photographic image is the successor to the great art of the past. It is in pictures by Don McCullin or films by Martin Scorsese that we see the real old master art of our time. Why? Because photography relishes human life. The greatness of art lies in human insight. What matters most is not the oil paints Rembrandt used, but his compassion. Photography is the quickest, most exact tool ever invented to record our lives and deaths – 17th-century painters would have loved it.

It has taken me a long time to see this, and you can laugh at me if you like. But here goes.

Photography is the serious art of our time. It also happens to be the most accessible and democratic way of making art that has ever been invented. But first, let’s define photography.

A photograph is an image captured on film, paper or – most commonly now – in digital memory. Photography also includes moving images captured on film or video. Moving or still, we all know a photograph is not a pure record of the visual world: it can be edited and transformed in infinite ways.

Moving or still, and however it is taken, whether by pinhole camera or phone, the photographic image is the successor to the great art of the past. It is in pictures by Don McCullin or films by Martin Scorsese that we see the real old master art of our time. Why? Because photography relishes human life. The greatness of art lies in human insight. What matters most is not the oil paints Rembrandt used, but his compassion. Photography is the quickest, most exact tool ever invented to record our lives and deaths – 17th-century painters would have loved it.

Or if David Hockney is right, they did love it. Vermeer almost certainly used a camera obscura to compose his scenes. Hockney believes that Caravaggio and many more artists used a “secret knowledge” of early cameras to perfect their almost hallucinatory understanding of the visual world.

However they did it, they painted the flux and drama of real life. From birth to death, great art is a sequence of moving pictures of the human condition.

Today, photography is the only art that seriously maintains this attention to the stuff that matters. Just look (as the world is looking) at this week’s incredible photographs of a family surviving a wild fire in Tasmania. Here is the human creature, vulnerable and heroic.

[div class=attrib]Read the entire article after the jump.[end-div]

[div class=attrib]Image: Tim Holmes (not pictured) and his wife Tammy (second from left) huddled under a jetty for three hours with their grandchildren while their hometown in Tasmania was destroyed by wildfires. Courtesy of Tim Holmes/AP.[end-div]

Art Basel: Cheese Expo, Pool Party or Art Show?

Simon Coonan over a Slate posits a simple question:

“How did the art world become such a vapid hell-hole of investment-crazed pretentiousness?”

In his scathing attack on the contemporary art scene replete with Twitter feeds, pool parties, and gallery-curated designer cheese, Coonan quite rightly asks why window dressing and marketing have replaced artistry and craftsmanship. And, more importantly, has big money replaced great, new art?

As an example, the biggest news from Art Basel, the biggest art show in the United States, is not art at all. Celebrity contemporary artist Jeff Koons’ has defected to a rival gallery from his previous home with Larry Gagosian. Gagosian to the art cognoscenti is the “world’s most powerful art dealer”.

[div class=attrib]From Slate:[end-div]

Freud said the goals of the artist are fame, money, and beautiful lovers. Based on my artist acquaintances, I would say this holds true today. What have changed, however, are the goals of the art itself. Do any exist?

How did the art world become such a vapid hell-hole of investment-crazed pretentiousness? How did it become, as Camille Paglia has recently described it, a place where “too many artists have lost touch with the general audience and have retreated to an airless echo chamber”? (More from her in a moment.)

There are sundry problems bedeviling the contemporary art scene. Here are eight that spring readily to mind:

1. Art Basel Miami.

It’s baaa-ack, and I, for one, will not be attending. The overblown art fair in Miami—an offshoot of the original, held in Basel, Switzerland—has become a promo-party cheese-fest. All that craven socializing and trendy posing epitomize the worst aspects of today’s scene, provoking in me a strong desire to start a Thomas Kinkade collection. Whenever some hapless individual innocently asks me if I will be attending Art Basel—even though the shenanigans don’t start for another two weeks, I am already getting e-vites for pre-Basel parties—I invariably respond in Tourette’s mode:

“No. In fact, I would rather jump in a river of boiling snot, which is ironic since that could very well be the title of a faux-conceptual installation one might expect to see at Art Basel. Have you seen Svetlana’s new piece? It’s a river of boiling snot. No, I’m not kidding. And, guess what, Charles Saatchi wants to buy it and is duking it out with some Russian One Percent-er.”

2. Blood, poo, sacrilege, and porn.

Old-school ’70s punk shock tactics are so widespread in today’s art world that they have lost any resonance. As a result, twee paintings like Gainsborough’s Blue Boy and Constable’s Hay Wain now appear mesmerizing, mysterious, and wildly transgressive. And, as Camille Paglia brilliantly argues in her must-read new book, Glittering Images, this torrent of penises, elephant dung, and smut has not served the broader interests of art. By providing fuel for the Rush Limbaugh-ish prejudice that the art world is full of people who are shoving yams up their bums and doing horrid things to the Virgin Mary, art has, quoting Camille again, “allowed itself to be defined in the public eye as an arrogant, insular fraternity with frivolous tastes and debased standards.” As a result, the funding of school and civic arts programs has screeched to a halt and “American schoolchildren are paying the price for the art world’s delusional sense of entitlement.” Thanks a bunch, Karen Finley, Chris Ofili, Andres Serrano, Damien Hirst, and the rest of you naughty pranksters!

Any taxpayers not yet fully aware of the level of frivolity and debasement to which art has plummeted need look no further than the Museum of Modern Art, which recently hosted a jumbo garage-sale-cum-performance piece created by one Martha Rosler titled “Meta-Monumental Garage Sale.” Maybe this has some reverse-chic novelty for chi-chi arty insiders, but for the rest of us out here in the real world, a garage sale is just a garage sale.

8. Cool is corrosive.

The dorky uncool ’80s was a great time for art. The Harings, Cutrones, Scharfs, and Basquiats—life-enhancing, graffiti-inspired painters—communicated a simple, relevant, populist message of hope and flava during the darkest years of the AIDS crisis. Then, in the early ‘90s, grunge arrived, and displaced the unpretentious communicative culture of the ‘80s with the dour obscurantism of COOL. Simple fun and emotional sincerity were now seen as embarrassing and deeply uncool. Enter artists like Rachel barrel-of-laughs Whiteread, who makes casts of the insides of cardboard boxes. (Nice work if you can get it!)

A couple of decades on, art has become completely pickled in the vinegar of COOL, and that is why it is so irrelevant to the general population.

[div class=attrib]Read the entire article following the jump.[end-div]

[div class=attrib]Image: Untitled acrylic and mixed media on canvas by Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1984. Courtesy of Wikipedia.[end-div]

London’s Telephone Box

London’s bright red telephone boxes (booths for our readers in the United States) are as iconic and recognizable as the Queen or Big Ben looming over the Houses of Parliament. Once as ubiquitous as the distinctive London Bobby’s (police officer) helmet, many of these red iron chambers have now been replaced by mobile phones. As a result BT has taken to auctioning some of its telephone boxes for a very good cause — ChildLine’s 25th anniversary. Though not before each is painted or re-imagined by an artist or designer. Check out our five favorites below, and see all of BT’s colorful “Artboxes”, here.


Proud of their London heritage, the ArtBox sports Accessorize’s trademark Union Jack design – customized and embellished in true Accessorize fashion.




Big Ben BT ArtBox

When Mandii first came to London from New Zealand, one of the first sights she wanted to see was Big Ben.





Take a look and see what you find.

Evoking memories of the childhood game, hide and seek ‘Peekaboo’ invites you to consider issues of loneliness and neglect, and the role of the ‘finder’, which can be attributed to ChildLine.




A phonebox troubled by a landslide. Just incredible.






Loving the block colours and character designs. Their jolly spirit is infection, I mean, just look at their faces! The PhoneBox is like a mini street ornament in London isn’t it? A proper little totem pole in its own right!




[div class=attrib]Read more about BT’s Artbox project after the jump.[end-div]

[div class=attrib]Images courtesy of BT.[end-div]

Yayoi Kusama: Connecting All the Dots









Yayoi Kusama, c1939                                                           Yayoi Kusama, 2000

The art establishment has Yayoi Kusama in its sights, again. Over the last 60 years Kusama has created and evolved a style that is all her own, best seen rather than discussed.

A recent exhibit of Kusama’s work in Brisbane featured “The obliteration room”. This wonderful, interactive exhibit was commissioned specifically for kids aged 1-101 years. The exhibit features a whitewashed room with simple furniture, fixtures and objects all in white. The interactive — and fun — part features sheets of bright and colorful sticky dots given to each visitor. Armed with these dots visitors are encouraged to place them anywhere and everywhere. Results below (including a few, select dots courtesy of theDiagonal’s editor).

For an interesting timeline of her work, courtesy of the Queensland Art Gallery in Brisbane, Australia follow this jump.

[div class=attrib]From the Telegraph:[end-div]

There are spots before my eyes. I am at the National Museum of Art in Osaka, Japan, where crowds are flocking to a big exhibition of Yayoi Kusama’s work. Dots are a recurring theme in her art, a visual representation of the hallucinations and anxiety attacks she has suffered from since childhood, so the show is dominated by giant red polka-dotted spheres, and a disorienting room in which huge white fibreglass tulips are covered in red dots – as are the white walls, ceiling and floor.

There’s one of her unsettling infinity mirror rooms, illuminated by seemingly endless floating dots of light, and a giant pumpkin crawling with a distinctive pattern of dots she calls Nerves. But unlike her retrospective at Tate Modern in London, which ran from February to June this year, the emphasis here is on her recent paintings: one long gallery is filled with monochrome works, another with paintings so bright they hurt the eyes. The same primitive, repetitive motifs occur in all of them: dots, eyes, faces, zigzag patterns, amoebic blobs and snakelike forms bristling with cilia.

The sheer number is overwhelming, dizzying. When she was based in New York, her phallus sculptures and naked hippie ‘happenings’ were seen as scandalous and shameful by many in her home country, but the scale of this show is an indication of her standing in Japan, where she is fast becoming a national treasure.

The next day, I am invited to Kusama’s studio in a backstreet of the Shinjuku area of Tokyo, a short walk away from her private room in Siewa Hospital, a psychiatric unit where she has been a voluntary in-patient since 1977 and which she rarely leaves, except to work. Her studio is a cramped concrete and glass building, with cardboard boxes of supplies stacked up to the ceiling, the walls covered in racks of finished paintings, works in progress and blank canvases, a grey paint-spattered industrial carpet and a scruffy old office chair at the table where Kusama works under a glaring neon strip light.

She usually paints in comfortable pyjamas, one of her assistants tells me, her grey hair pulled up into a bun, but today she is upstairs having her hair and make-up done, ready to greet her guests.

When she finally comes down in the lift, a frail but colourful 83-year-old resplendent in a red wig and polka-dot ensemble, pushed in a polka-dotted wheelchair, she asks an assistant to show us some press cuttings of the Tate show, especially one from a paper from Matsumoto City, where she grew up. There’s something touching about this need to prove herself, but it’s also confusing – akin to J K Rowling showing off a review in The Gloucestershire Echo to verify that she is a published author.

Talking to Kusama can be a surreal experience. She is easily distracted, and although she lived in America for 20 years, she now speaks no English. She is surrounded by a team of assistants who translate for her, addressing her with respect as ‘sensei’ (‘master’ or ‘teacher’), and with whom she often seems to have long discussions before answering even the blandest questions. It’s hard to know what is being lost in translation, and what is down to the vagaries of age and health. But occasionally a question will engage her, and you’ll get a brief but fierce flash of the intelligence and focus she has so clearly poured into her work over the years.

[div class=attrib]Read the entire article after the jump.[end-div]

[div class=attrib]Images: Yayoi Kusama, 1939 / Image courtesy: Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo / © Yayoi Kusama, Yayoi Kusama Studio Inc; Kusama, 2000 / Image courtesy: Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo / © Yayoi Kusama, Yayoi Kusama Studio Inc; theDiagonal / Queensland Art Gallery.[end-div]

Burning Man as Counterculture? Think Again

Fascinating insight into the Burning Man festival courtesy of co-founder, Larry Harvey. It may be more like Wall Street than Haight-Ashbury.

[div class=attrib]From Washington Post:[end-div]

Go to Burning Man, and you’ll find everything from a thunderdome battle between a couple in tiger-striped bodypaint to a man dressed as a gigantic blueberry muffin on wheels. But underneath it all, says the festival’s co-founder, Larry Harvey, is “old-fashioned capitalism.”

There’s not a corporate logo in sight at the countercultural arts festival, and nothing is for sale but ice and coffee. But at its core, Harvey believes that Burning Man hews closely to the true spirit of a free-enterprise democracy: Ingenuity is celebrated, autonomy is affirmed, and self-reliance is expected. “If you’re talking about old-fashioned, Main Street Republicanism, we could be the poster child,” says Harvey, who hastens to add that the festival is non-ideological — and doesn’t anticipate being in GOP campaign ads anytime soon.

For more than two decades, the festival has funded itself entirely through donations and ticket sales — which now go up to $300 a pop — and it’s almost never gone in the red. And on the dry, barren plains of the Nevada desert where Burning Man materializes for a week each summer, you’re judged by what you do — your art, costumes and participation in a community that expects everyone to contribute in some form and frowns upon those who’ve come simply to gawk or mooch off others.

That’s part of the message that Harvey and his colleagues have brought to Washington this week, in his meetings with congressional staffers and the Interior Department to discuss the future of Burning Man. In fact, the festival is already a known quantity on the Hill: Harvey and his colleagues have been coming to Washington for years to explain the festival to policymakers, in least part because Burning Man takes place on public land that’s managed by the Interior Department.

In fact, Burning Man’s current challenge stems come because it’s so immensely popular, growing beyond 50,000 participants since it started some 20 years ago. “We’re no longer so taxed in explaining that it’s not a hippie debauch,” Harvey tells me over sodas in downtown Washington. “The word has leaked out so well that everyone now wants to come.” In fact, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management that oversees the Black Rock Desert recently put the festival on probation for exceeding the land’s permitted crowd limits — a decision that organizers are now appealing.

Harvey now hopes to direct the enormous passion that Burning Man has stoked in its devotees over the years outside of Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, in the U.S. and overseas — the primary focus of this week’s visit to Washington. Last year, Burning Man transitioned from a limited liability corporation into a 501(c)3 nonprofit, which organizers believed was a better way to support their activities — not just for the festival, but for outside projects and collaborations in what festival-goers often refer to as “the default world.”

These days, Harvey — now in his mid-60s, dressed in a gray cowboy hat, silver western shirt, and aviator sunglasses — is just as likely to reference Richard Florida as the beatniks he once met on Haight Street. Most recently, he’s been talking with Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, who shares his vision of revitalizing Las Vegas, one of the cities hardest hit by the recent housing bust. “Urban renewal? We’re qualified. We’ve built up and torn down cities for 20 years,” says Harvey. “Cities everywhere are calling for artists, and it’s a blank slate there, blocks and blocks. … We want to extend the civil experiment — to see if business and art can coincide and not maim one another.”

Harvey points out that there’s been long-standing ties between Burning Man artists and to some of the private sector’s most successful executives. Its arts foundation, which distributes grants for festival projects, has received backing from everyone from real-estate magnate Christopher Bently to Mark Pincus, head of online gaming giant Zynga, as the Wall Street Journal points out. “There are a fair number of billionaires” who come to the festival every year, says Harvey, adding that some of the art is privately funded as well. In this way, Burning Man is a microcosm of San Francisco itself, stripping the bohemian artists and the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs of their usual tribal markers on the blank slate of the Nevada desert. At Burning Man, “when someone asks, ‘what do you do?’ — they meant, what did you just do” that day, he explains.

It’s one of the many apparent contradictions at the core of the festival: Paired with the philosophy of “radical self-reliance” — one that demands that participants cart out all their own food, water and shelter into a dust-filled desert for a week — is the festival’s communitarian ethos. Burning Man celebrates a gift economy that inspires random acts of generosity, and volunteer “rangers” traverse the festival to aid those in trouble. The climactic burning of the festival’s iconic “man”— along with a wooden temple filled with notes and memorials — is a ritual of togetherness and belonging for many participants. At the same time, one of the festival’s mottos is, ‘You have a right to hurt yourself.’ It’s the opposite of a nanny state,” Harvey says, recounting the time a participant unsuccessfully tried to sue the festival: He had walked out onto the coals after the “man”was set on fire and, predictably, burned himself.

[div class=attrib]Read the entire article after the jump.[end-div]

[div class=attrib]Image courtesy of Jailbreak.[end-div]

I Scream, You Scream, We Should All Scream for The Scream

On May 2, 2012 The Scream sold at auction in New York for just under $120,000,000.

The Scream, actually one of 4 slightly different originals, painted by Edvard Munch, has become as iconic as the Apple or McDonalds corporate logo. And, that sums up the crass, financial madness that continues to envelop the art world, and indeed most of society.

[div class=attrib]More from Jonathan Jones on Art:[end-div]

I used to like The Scream. Its sky of blood and zombie despair seemed to say so much, so honestly. Munch is a poet in colours. His pictures portray moods, most of which are dark. But sometimes on a spring day on the banks of Oslofjord he can muster a bit of uneasy delight in the world. Right now, I would rather look at his painting Ashes, a portrayal of the aftermath of sex in a Norwegian wood, or Girls on a Pier, whose lyrical longing is fraught with loneliness, than at Munch’s most famous epitome of the modern condition.

The modern art market is becoming violent and destructive. It spoils what it sells and leaves nothing but ashes. The greatest works of art are churned through a sausage mill of celebrity and chatter and become, at the end of it all, just a price tag. The Scream has been too famous for too long: too famous for its own good. Its apotheosis by this auction of the only version in private hands turns the introspection of a man in the grip of terrible visions into a number: 120,000,000. Dollars, that is. It is no longer a great painting: it is an event in the madness of our time. As all the world screams at inequality and the tyranny of a finance-led model of capitalism that is failing to provide the general wellbeing that might justify its excesses, the 1% rub salt in the wound by turning profound insights into saleable playthings.

Disgust rises at the thought of that grotesque number, so gross and absurd that it destroys actual value. Art has become the meaningless totem of a world that no longer feels the emotions it was created to express. We can no longer create art like The Scream (the closest we can get is a diamond skull). But we are good at turning the profundities of the past into price tags.

Think about it. Munch’s Scream is an unadulterated vision of modern life as a shudder of despair. Pain vibrates across the entire surface of the painting like a pool of tears rippled by a cry. Munch’s world of poverty and illness, as Sue Prideaux makes clear in her devastating biography, more than justified such a scream. His other paintings, such as The Sick Child and Evening on Karl-Johan reveal his comprehensive unhappiness and alienation that reaches its purest lucidity in The Scream.

[div class=attrib]Read the entire article after the jump.[end-div]

[div class=attrib]Image: One of several versions of the painting “The Scream”. Painted in 1893, Edvard Munch. Courtesy of The National Gallery, Oslo, Norway.[end-div]

Spectres in the Urban Jungle

Following on from our recent article on contemporary artist Rob Mulholland, whose mirrored sculptures wander in a woodland in Scotland, comes Chinese artist Liu Bolin, with his series of “invisible” self-portraits.

Bolin paints himself into the background, and then disappears. Following many hours of meticulous preparation Bolin merges with his surroundings in a performance that makes U.S. military camouflage systems look almost amateurish.

Liu Bolin’s 4th solo exhibit is currently showing at Eli Klein gallery

Spectres in the Forest

The best art is simple and evocative.

Like eerie imagined alien life forms mirrored sculptures meander through a woodland in Scotland. The life-size camouflaged figures are on display at the David Marshall Lodge near Aberfoyle, Scotland.

Contemporary artist Rob Mulholland designed the series of six mirrored sculptures, named Vestige, which are shaped from silhouettes of people he knows.

In Rob Mulholland’s own words:

The essence of who we are as individuals in relationship to others and our given environment forms a strong aspect of my artistic practise.

In Vestige I wanted to explore this relationship further by creating a group, a community within the protective elements of the woods, reflecting  the past inhabitants of the space.

The six male and female figures not only absorb their environment, they create a notion of non – space, a link with the past that forces us both as individuals and as a society to consider our relationship with our natural environment .

[div class=attrib]See more of Rob Mulholland’s art after the jump.[end-div]

Pop art + Money = Mind Candy

[div class=attrib]From the Guardian:[end-div]

The first pop artists were serious people. The late Richard Hamilton was being double-edged and sceptical when he called a painting Hommage à Chrysler Corp. Far from emptily celebrating what Andy Warhol called “all the great modern things”, pop art in the 1950s and early 1960s took a quizzical, sideways look at what was still a very new world of consumer goods. Claes Oldenburg made floppy, saggy sculptures of stuff, which rendered the new look worn out. Warhol painted car crashes. These artists saw modern life in the same surreal and eerie way as the science fiction writer JG Ballard does in his stories and novels.

When, then, did pop art become mind candy, bubblegum, an uncritical adoration of bright lights and synthetic colours? Probably when money got involved, and Warhol was shot, never again to be as brave as he was in the 60s, or when Jeff Koons gave Reaganomics its art, or when Damien Hirst made his tenth million. Who knows? The moment when pop art sank from radical criticism to bland adulation is impossible to pinpoint.

So here we are in Qatar, where today’s pop art guru Takashi Murakami has a new show. We’re not really there, of course, but do we need to be? Murakami is pop for the digital age, a designer of images that make more sense as screensavers than as any kind of high art. In Doha, the artist who celebrated a recent British show with a giveaway cardboard sculpture exhibits a six-metre balloon self-portrait and a 100-metre work inspired by the earthquake in Japan. This follows on from a 2010 exhibition in Versailles, no less. All over the world, in settings old and new, the bright and spectacular art of Murakami is as victorious as Twitter. It is art for computers: all stimuli, no soul.

[div class=attrib]Read the entire article here.[end-div]

[div class=attrib]Image: Takashi Murakami’s six-metre balloon self-portrait, part of the artist’s latest exhibition in Qatar. Courtesy of Chika Okazumi / Guardian.[end-div]

Pickled Sharks and All

Regardless of what you may believe about Damien Hirst or think about his art it would not be stretching the truth to say he single-handedly resurrected the British contemporary art scene over the last 15 years.

Our favorite mainstream blogger on all things art, Jonathan Jones, revisits Hirst and his “pickled shark”.

[div class=attrib]From the Guardian:[end-div]

I had no job and didn’t know where I was going in life when I walked into the Saatchi Gallery in 1992 and saw a tiger shark swimming towards me. Standing in front of Damien Hirst’s The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living in its original pristine state was a disconcerting and marvellous experience. The shark, then, did not look pickled, it looked alive. It seemed to move as you moved around the tank that contained it, because the refractions of the liquid inside which it “swam” caused your vision of it to jump as you changed your angle.

There it was: life, or was it death, relentlessly approaching me through deep waters. It was galvanising, energising. It was a great work of art.

I knew what I thought great art looked like. I doted on Leonardo da Vinci, I loved Picasso. I still revere them both. But it was Hirst’s shark that made me believe art made with fish, glass vitrines and formaldehyde – and therefore with anything – can be great. I found his work not just interesting or provocative but genuinely profound. As a memento mori, as an exploration of the limits of art, as a meditation on the power of spectacle, even as a comment on the shark-infested waters of post-Thatcherite Britain, it moved me deeply.

I’m looking forward to Damien Hirst’s retrospective at Tate Modern because it will be a new chance to understand the power I have, in my life, sensed in his imagination and intellect. I think Hirst is a much more exciting modern artist than Marcel Duchamp. To be honest, the word “exciting” just doesn’t go with the word “Duchamp”. Get a load of that exciting urinal!

Picasso is exciting; Duchamp is an academic cult. The readymade as it was deployed by Duchamp gave birth to conceptual forms that are “interesting” but rarely grab you where it matters.

Hirst is more Picasso than Duchamp – the Picasso who put a bicycle seat and handlebars together to create a bull’s head. He’s even more Holbein than Duchamp – the Holbein who painted a skull across a portrait of two Renaissance gentlemen.

He is a giant of modern art.

[div class=attrib]Read the entire article here.[end-div]

[div class=attrib]Image: The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living by Damien Hirst (1991). Courtesy of Wikipedia.[end-div]

Higgs Particle Collides with Modern Art

Jonathan Jones over at the Guardian puts an creative spin (pun intended) on the latest developments in the world of particle physics. He suggests that we might borrow from the world of modern and contemporary art to help us take the vast imaginative leaps necessary to understand our physical world and its underlying quantum mechanical nature bound up in uncertainty and paradox.

Jones makes a good point that many leading artists of recent times broke new ground by presenting us with an alternate reality that demanded a fresh perspective of the world and what lies beneath. Think Picasso and Dali and Miro and Twombly.

[div class=attrib]From Jonathan Jones for the Guardian:[end-div]

The experiments currently being performed in the LHC are enigmatic, mind-boggling and imaginative. But are they science – or art? In his renowned television series The Ascent of Man, the polymath Jacob Bronowski called the discovery of the invisible world within the atom the great collective achievement of science in the 20th century. Then he went further. “No – it is a great, collective work of art.”

Niels Bohr, who was at the heart of the new sub-atomic physics in the early 20th century, put the mystery of what he and others were finding into provocative sayings. He was very quotable, and every quote stresses the ambiguity of the new realm he was opening up, the realm of the smallest conceivable things in the universe. “If quantum mechanics hasn’t profoundly shocked you, you haven’t understood it yet,” ran one of his remarks. According to Bronowski, Bohr also said that to think about the paradoxical truths of quantum mechanics is to think in images, because the only way to know anything about the invisible is to create an image of it that is by definition a human construct, a model, a half-truth trying to hint at the real truth.

. . .

We won’t understand what those guys at Cern are up to until our idea of science catches up with the greatest minds of the 20th century who blew apart all previous conventions of thought. One guide offers itself to those of us who are not physicists: modern art. Bohr, explained Bronowski, collected Cubist paintings. Cubism was invented by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque at the same time modern physics was being created: its crystalline structures and opaque surfaces suggest the astonishment of a reality whose every microcosmic particle is sublimely complex.

[div class=attrib]More from theSource here.[end-div]

[div class=attrib]Image courtesy of Wikipedia / CERN / Creative Commons.[end-div]

Lucian Freud dies aged 88

[div class=attrib]From the Guardian:[end-div]

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.

[div class=attrib]More from theSource here.[end-div]

Cy Twombly, Idiosyncratic Painter, Dies at 83

Cy Twombly. Image courtesy of Sundance Channel

[div class=attrib]From the New York Times:[end-div]

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.”

[div class=attrib]More from theSource here.[end-div]

The Cutting-Edge Physics of Jackson Pollock


Untitled, ca. 1948-49. Jackson Pollock

[div class=attrib]From Wired:[end-div]

Jackson Pollock, famous for his deceptively random-seeming drip paintings, took advantage of certain features of fluid dynamics years before physicists thought to study them.

“His particular painting technique essentially lets physics be a player in the creative process,” said physicist Andrzej Herczynski of Boston College, coauthor of a new paper in Physics Today that analyzes the physics in Pollock’s art. “To the degree that he lets physics take a role in the painting process, he is inviting physics to be a coauthor of his pieces.”

Pollock’s unique technique — letting paint drip and splatter on the floor rather than spreading it on a vertical canvas — revolutionized the art world in the 1940s. The resulting streaks and blobs look haphazard, but art historians and, more recently, physicists argue they’re anything but. Some have suggested that the snarls of paint have lasting appeal because they reflect fractal geometry that shows up in clouds and coast lines.

Now, Boston College art historian Claude Cernuschi, Harvard mathematician Lakshminarayanan Mahadevan and Herczynski have turned the tools of physics on Pollock’s painting process. In what they believe is the first quantitative analysis of drip painting, the researchers derived an equation for how Pollock spread paint.

The team focused on the painting Untitled 1948-49, which features wiggling lines and curlicues of red paint. Those loops formed through a fluid instability called coiling, in which thick fluids fold onto themselves like coils of rope.

“People thought perhaps Pollock created this effect by wiggling his hand in a sinusoidal way, but he didn’t,” Herczynski said.

Coiling is familiar to anyone who’s ever squeezed honey on toast, but it’s only recently grabbed the attention of physicists. Recent studies have shown that the patterns fluids form as they fall depends on their viscosity and their speed. Viscous liquids fall in straight lines when moving quickly, but form loops, squiggles and figure eights when poured slowly, as seen in this video of honey falling on a conveyor belt.

The first physics papers that touched on this phenomenon appeared in the late 1950s, but Pollock knew all about it in 1948. Pollock was famous for searching for using different kinds of paints than anyone else in the art world, and mixing his paints with solvents to make them thicker or thinner. Instead of using a brush or pouring paint directly from a can, he lifted paint with a rod and let it dribble onto the canvas in continuous streams. By moving his arm at different speeds and using paints of different thicknesses, he could control how much coiling showed up in the final painting.

[div class=attrib]More from theSource here.[end-div]

A beautiful and dangerous idea: art that sells itself

Artist Caleb Larsen seems to have the right idea. Rather than relying on the subjective wants and needs of galleries and the dubious nature of the secondary art market (and some equally dubious auctioneers) his art sells itself.

His work, entitled “A Tool to Deceive and Slaughter”, is an 8-inch opaque, black acrylic cube. But while the exterior may be simplicity itself, the interior holds a fascinating premise. The cube is connected to the internet. In fact, it’s connected to eBay, where through some hidden hardware and custom programming it constantly auctions itself.

As Caleb Larsen describes,

Combining Robert Morris’ Box With the Sound of Its Own Making with Baudrillard’s writing on the art auction this sculpture exists in eternal transactional flux. It is a physical sculpture that is perptually attempting to auction itself on eBay.

Every ten minutes the black box pings a server on the internet via the ethernet connection to check if it is for sale on the ebay. If its auction has ended or it has sold, it automatically creates a new auction of itself.

If a person buys it on eBay, the current owner is required to send it to the new owner. The new owner must then plug it into ethernet, and the cycle repeats itself.

The purchase agreement on eBay is quite rigorous, including stipulations such as: the buyer must keep the artwork connected to the interent at all times with disconnections allowed only for the transportation; upon purchase the artwork must be reauctioned; failure to follow all terms of the agreement forfeits the status of the artwork as a genuine work of art.

The artist was also smart enough to gain a slice of the secondary market, by requiring each buyer to return to the artist 15 percent of the appreciated value from each sale. Christie’s and Sotheby’s eat your hearts out.

Besides trying to put auctioneers out of work, the artist has broader intentions in mind, particularly when viewed alongside his larger body of work. The piece goes to the heart of the “how” and the “why” of the art market. By placing the artwork in a constant state of transactional fluidity – it’s never permanently in the hands of its new owner – it forces us to question the nature of art in relation to its market and the nature of collecting. The work can never without question be owned and collected since it is always possible that someone else will come along, enter the auction and win. Though, the first “owner” of the piece states that this was part of the appeal. Terence Spies, a California collector attests,

I had a really strong reaction right after I won the auction. I have this thing, and I really want to keep it, but the reason I want to keep it is that it might leave… The process of the piece really gets to some of the reasons why you might be collecting art in the first place.

Now of course, owning anything is transient. The Egyptian pharaohs tried taking their possessions into the “afterlife” but even to this day are being constantly thwarted by tomb-raiders and archeologists. Perhaps to some the chase, the process of collecting, is the goal, rather than owning the art itself. As I believe Caleb Larsen intended, he’s really given me something to ponder. How different, really, is it to own this self-selling art versus wandering through the world’s museums and galleries to “own” a Picasso or Warhol or Monet for 5 minutes? Ironically, our works live on, and it is we who are transient. So I think Caleb Larsen’s title for the work should be taken tongue in cheek, for it is we who are deceiving ourselves.

Art world swoons over Romania’s homeless genius

[div class=attrib]From The Guardian:[end-div]

The guests were chic, the bordeaux was sipped with elegant restraint and the hostess was suitably glamorous in a ­canary yellow cocktail dress. To an outside observer who made it past the soirée privée sign on the door of the Anne de Villepoix gallery on Thursday night, it would have seemed the quintessential Parisian art viewing.

Yet that would been leaving one ­crucial factor out of the equation: the man whose creations the crowd had come to see. In his black cowboy hat and pressed white collar, Ion Barladeanu looked every inch the established artist as he showed guests around the exhibition. But until 2007 no one had ever seen his work, and until mid-2008 he was living in the rubbish tip of a Bucharest tower block.

Today, in the culmination of a dream for a Romanian who grew up adoring Gallic film stars and treasures a miniature Eiffel Tower he once found in a bin, ­Barladeanu will see his first French exhibition open to the general public.

Dozens of collages he created from scraps of discarded magazines during and after the Communist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu are on sale for more than €1,000 (£895) each. They are being hailed as politically brave and culturally irreverent.

For the 63-year-old artist, the journey from the streets of Bucharest to the galleries of Europe has finally granted him recognition. “I feel as if I have been born again,” he said, as some of France’s leading collectors and curators jostled for position to see his collages. “Now I feel like a prince. A pauper can become a prince. But he can go back to being a pauper too.”

[div class=attrib]More from theSource here.[end-div]

For Expatriates in China, Creative Lives of Plenty

[div class=attrib]From The New York Times:[end-div]

THERE was a chill in the morning air in 2005 when dozens of artists from China, Europe and North America emerged from their red-brick studios here to find the police blocking the gates to Suojiacun, their compound on the city’s outskirts. They were told that the village of about 100 illegally built structures was to be demolished, and were given two hours to pack.

By noon bulldozers were smashing the walls of several studios, revealing ripped-apart canvases and half-glazed clay vases lying in the rubble. But then the machines ceased their pulverizing, and the police dispersed, leaving most of the buildings unscathed. It was not the first time the authorities had threatened to evict these artists, nor would it be the last. But it was still frightening.

“I had invested everything in my studio,” said Alessandro Rolandi, a sculptor and performance artist originally from Italy who had removed his belongings before the destruction commenced. “I was really worried about my work being destroyed.”

He eventually left Suojiacun, but he has remained in China. Like the artists’ colony, the country offers challenges, but expatriates here say that the rewards outweigh the hardships. Mr. Rolandi is one of many artists (five are profiled here) who have left the United States and Europe for China, seeking respite from tiny apartments, an insular art world and nagging doubts about whether it’s best to forgo art for a reliable office job. They have discovered a land of vast creative possibility, where scale is virtually limitless and costs are comically low. They can rent airy studios, hire assistants, experiment in costly mediums like bronze and fiberglass.

“Today China has become one of the most important places to create and invent,” said Jérôme Sans, director of the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing. “A lot of Western artists are coming here to live the dynamism and make especially crazy work they could never do anywhere else in the world.”

Rania Ho

A major challenge for foreigners, no matter how fluent or familiar with life here, is that even if they look like locals, it is virtually impossible to feel truly of this culture. For seven years Rania Ho, the daughter of Chinese immigrants born and raised in San Francisco, has lived in Beijing, where she runs a small gallery in a hutong, or alley, near one of the city’s main temples. “Being Chinese-American makes it easier to be an observer of what’s really happening because I’m camouflaged,” she said. “But it doesn’t mean I understand any more what people are thinking.”

Still, Ms. Ho, 40, revels in her role as outsider in a society that she says is blindly enthusiastic about remaking itself. She creates and exhibits work by both foreign and Chinese artists that often plays with China’s fetishization of mechanized modernity.

Because she lives so close to military parades and futuristic architecture, she said that her own pieces — like a water fountain gushing on the roof of her gallery and a cardboard table that levitates a Ping-Pong ball — chuckle at the “hypnotic properties of unceasing labor.” She said they are futile responses to the absurd experiences she shares with her neighbors, who are constantly seeing their world transform before their eyes. “Being in China forces one to reassess everything,” she said, “which is at times difficult and exhausting, but for a majority of the time it’s all very amusing and enlightening.”

[div class=attrib]More from theSource here.[end-div]