Friday, May 29, 2009

Urban Photography and Harlem's Transformations

Interesting new exhibition at the New York Historical Society by photographer Camilo Jose Vergara. It is part of a broader show about urban transformation, and features images from Harlem, 1970-2009.

Many of the images are reminiscent of a Hopper style, while others seem more like general Americana.

For a slide show of more images see:

For more information on the exhibition see:

May inspiration and creativity be with you!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

New Museum, Old Debate

The opening of the new Acropolis Museum in Athens will take place on June 20, 2009; which, is nearly five years after it was originally scheduled to open. The first image is an aerial photograph of the Acropolis and the New Acropolis Museum.

The entrance of the Museum at sunset. (above)

Detail of the ground floor of the Museum with glass “window” in floor with view to archaeological excavation. (above)

Originally, the museum was started as part of a solution to reacquire the "Elgin Marbles" or the "Parthenon Marbles." Lord Elgin, ambassador to the Ottoman court of the Sultan in Istanbul, "acquired" or "stole" the marbles, depending on which author you read, while excavating during several archaeological digs between 1801-1805. This dicey dig is basically the impetus for all the hullabaloo and stirring debates during the last two-centuries over "repatriation," or returning artworks to their country of origin.

Several important pieces from other museums have journeyed due to "repatriation" in recent years, such as the "Euphronios Krater" which, was returned to Italy after three decades of fighting with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, in January of 2008. The British Museum, which currently owns and houses the "Parthenon Marbles," has absolutely no intentions of ever "returning" these works of art. After centuries of debate about working orders and if Lord Elgin had the right to take the works or not, the British Museum tried a new angle and formally stated that if the marbles were returned to Athens they would certainly perish, because the country could not properly house or take care of the pieces in question. Not too long after this argument was beaten to death in academic circles and the press, lo' and behold a museum design was begun in Athens. This started a whole 'nother round of lively debates amongst scholars and those involved, wondering, will these marbles be on the move soon?

The collection at the British Museum includes sculptures from the Parthenon (roughly half of what now survives): 247 feet of the original 524 feet of frieze; 15 of 92 metopes; 17 figures from the pediments, and various other pieces of architecture. It also includes objects from other buildings on the Acropolis: the Erechtheion, the Propylaia, and the Temple of Athena Nike.

Further complicating these matters is the delayed opening of the New Acropolis Museum. While digging and preparing the location, one of the earliest Christian sites in Greece was discovered. Since it will take decades of work and research to examine the objects properly, the museum's architects came up with a clever solution: incorporate the dig into the museum's layout and plan. Pictured above is the final appearance of the adjusted design, which, allows visitors to watch the ongoing dig through a "window" in the ground floor of the museum and as an interesting feature to take in when approaching the museum's formal entrance.

I imagine that there will be very passionate and hefty arguments in the next several years over these marbles and the intentions of both the British Museum and the New Acropolis Museum. I will try to keep everybody up to date on this centuries old debate over the ancient marbles, the sticky business of "repatriation," and the success or failure of a brand new museum.

May inspiration and creativity be with you!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Another Museum Renovation

On Monday, the first lady, Michelle Obama, visited New York to promote the arts by attending opening night at the American Ballet Theater
and the reopening of part of the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. During the visit, Mrs. Obama said several encouraging things, such as:
“The arts are not just a nice thing to have,” she said, adding that the arts “define who we are as a people”


“My husband and I believe strongly that arts education is essential for building innovative thinkers who will be our nation’s leaders of tomorrow”


“The president and I want to ensure that all children have access to great works of art.”

This is the second phase of a major, three-phase reordering and upgrading of the American Wing at the Met in NYC. For more information on the various phases and even a video of first-lady Michelle Obama at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, please see:{D81BC4AF-DD28-411E-862D-3B70B26C1C14.

The quotations are from the NY Times here:

May inspiration and creativity be with you!

A Funny Thought for Today

Today I was thinking of one of my favorite quotations about art and these works came to mind: "A painting in a museum probably hears more foolish remarks than anything else in the world." -Edmond and Jules De Goncourt

The image above is a work by Norman Rockwell, The Art Critic, from The Saturday Evening Post, 1955. I love using this image when I lecture on graphic design and illustration. I think it makes me laugh so much because he is examining Dutch works and the woman in the painting is giving him a very cheeky look, while the men behind him are staring at him with utter disdain. Just imagine the things paintings would express to us and tell us if they were able to communicate what they really thought about all the nonsense that comes out of people's mouths. I try to remind myself of this when I visit museums and galleries. There are many occasions when I have went with friends, relatives, or colleagues to a museum/gallery and gone on and on with how much I know about the works. I often think, gosh, if these paintings could laugh at me and correct me I bet they would!

This then reminds me of two other works I adore by the sculptor Duane Hanson. If you have not heard of him or seen his work, you would serve yourself well to look him up and check out his creations. I think many people have probably "seen" his works and not realized it.

The artwork below is the Shoppers created in 1976 and at the O.K. Harris Gallery in NYC. Duane Hansen "tricks" people into thinking these sculptures are actual people and it is just wonderful to see people's reactions when they discover they are not people but actually works of art. To get this life-like quality he makes his castings using fiberglass and other media.

May inspiration and creativity be with you!

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Newly Found Michelangelo??

The Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth has recently acquired what may possibly be the first known painting by Michelangelo (above), The Temptation of Saint Anthony. The painting is currently being dated c.1478, measures approximately 18 x 13 inches, and is estimated to have cost the museum about $6 million (this is speculation, the museum did not confirm the purchase price). The subject of the painting was a common theme in Northern Renaissance art but not seen often in Italian art of the period. It bears a striking resemblance to a print of the same subject created by German artists Martin Schongauer, c.1480 (shown below). It was not terribly uncommon for artists of the period to see each others work locally, but very few artists crossed the alps frequently. Michelangelo (Italian) and Albrecht Durer (German) were two of the few artists who did so with documentary evidence. So, although it is possible for Michelangelo to have seen Schongauer's work, especially since it was a print and therefore more widely circulated and likely than him having seen a single painting, it does not seem all that probable that the painting in question is a work by Michelangelo.

According to the New York Times, renowned scholar and Michelangelo expert Michael Hirst "said last year that he did not believe the work was by the artist (  "I have personally read many articles and books by Mr. Hirst and tend to agree with his opinion. While Michelangelo was incredibly adept at absorbing the styles of other artists, this does not seem to be a work of his hand. Of course x-rays and infra-red reflectography will likely be done over the next few years and scholars will surely be abuzz about the findings.

After having studied the history of art for over 11 years, and specializing in Northern Renaissance Art as my primary area and Italian Renaissance Art as my secondary area, I must say my eye tells me this is the work of a northern artist, possibly perhaps a follower or student of Schongauer himself. This of course is only a "gut feeling," as I have not yet had the opportunity to conduct any formal research related to this work. For now at least it poses an interesting question about the likelihood of Michelangelo having seen a Northern Renaissance artist's work so early in his life and career. I will be sure to follow up on this if any more of the story which, unfolding over time, provides more intriguing evidence either proving or refuting my theory.

May inspiration and creativity be with you!

Friday, May 15, 2009

35,000 Year Old Venus Figure Found

This tiny statuette dubbed the Venus of Hohle Fels was uncovered in September in a cave in southwestern Germany, near Ulm and the Danube headwaters. The small figurine of a woman is exciting the world of art and archaeology because previously the Paleolithic era only has only shown us examples of art depicting drawings being of mammoths, horses, and other animals. The figure is approximately 2.5 inches long and carved from ivory.

Other images of voluptuous female figures with pronounced genitals have been found and much debated amongst scholars, such as the Venus of Willendorf, c.26,000 BCE, carved limestone (above); but, none as old as this newest figurine that is being dated approximately c.33,000 BCE. Prominent scholars in the field, like Dr. Mellars, are concluding that these current finds (like the Venus of Hohle Fels) will rapidly change our point of view on the history of art and European civilizations. In the NY Times, he is quoted as saying that these sites "must be seen as the birthplace of true sculpture in the European — maybe global — artistic tradition.”

For more on this, I suggest reading the Times article, checking out images, and even some video here:

May inspiration and creativity be with you!

Architecture With Limits

When spring comes, it is usually accompanied by a bevy of happenings in the world of architecture. Perhaps the more temperate weather brings with it a desire to get out and about and explore, or maybe it is just that the world seems a bit more welcoming in general. This week is no exception. I have already blogged about Chicago's contribution to the Art Institute, but today, we are focusing on good old NYC and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

Founded in 1937, the museum designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, disgruntled darling of the architecture world, has been under near constant upkeep and renovations since its construction was complete. Originally called "The Museum of Non-Objective Painting," the Guggenheim was founded to showcase avant-garde art by early modernists such as Wassily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian. It moved to its present location, at the corners of 89th Street and Fifth Avenue (overlooking Central Park), in 1959, when Frank Lloyd Wright's design for the site was completed.

The museum is celebrating its 50th anniversary with the show “Frank Lloyd Wright: From Within Outward,” which opens today. According to the NY Times, the show "will be a disappointment to some. The show offers no new insight into his life’s work. Nor is there any real sense of what makes him so controversial. It’s a chaste show, as if the Guggenheim, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, was determined to make Wright fit for civilized company," says Nicolai Ouroussoff in the Arts section of today's NY Times.

The main problems with the building, as I see it, isn't the beauty of the structure or the innovation of FLW's design, it is with its poor construction and the difficulty it poses for displaying works of art. Shouldn't a museum be built to last? Shouldn't a museum's main focus be the displaying of works?

While the museum is relatively structurally sound, the facade has been cracking since the 1st coat of paint dried: not due to just seasonal fluctuations in weather as we would expect, but because commonly available and used expansion joints were not a part of its construction. Although FLW's structures have beautiful and innovative designs, they completely ignore one of the primary rules of architecture: withstand the test of time.

This is not only evident here at the Guggenheim but, at many other locations/structures he designed, such as (probably his most famed work) Fallingwater in Pennsylvania (below).

Most criticism of the building has focused on the idea that it overshadows the artworks displayed within, and that it is particularly difficult to properly hang paintings in the shallow windowless exhibition niches which surround the central spiral. Although the rotunda is generously lit by a large skylight, the niches are heavily shadowed by the walkway itself, leaving the art to be lit largely by artificial light. The walls of the niches are neither vertical nor flat (they are concave) meaning canvasses must be mounted proud of the wall's surface. The limited space within the niches means that sculptures are generally relegated to plinths amid the main spiral walkway itself. Prior to its opening, twenty-one artists signed a letter protesting the display of their work in such a space.

Call me crazy, but doesn't it raise a few flags when even artists do not want their work displayed in a structure?

Lest I completely dishearten the reader from seeing FLW's designs, which, as I stated earlier, are innovative and aesthetically pleasing, I have included an image below of Jenny Holzer's work Untitled (Selections from Truisms, Inflammatory Essays, The Living Series, The Survival Series, Under a Rock, Laments, and Child Text), from 1989, that utilized the museum's design to her advantage.

Unfortunately, I will be nowhere near NYC, and therefore, not able to attend the new exhibition. If there are any New Yorkers out there who attended the show, please leave a comment and let us know what your impressions of it were and if they did Mr. FLW and the Guggenheim justice.

May inspiration and creativity be with you!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The New Modern Wing of the Art Institute in Chicago

Famed and highly respected architect Renzo Piano has done it again! This week reveals the official opening (finally) of the new Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago. The new $294 million addition opens on Saturday and holds the museums collection of 20th- and 21st-century art. This new addition of 264,000 square feet of interior space to the museum's floor plan makes it the 2nd largest museum in the country after the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.

In order to celebrate and promote it's socks off, the Art Institute is hosting a day filled with free activities that includes music and dance throughout the galleries, as well as performances on a Monroe Street stage by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Muntu Dance Theatre, Swing Gitan, Wooten Choral Ensemble, and many more. They are also offering the opportunity for families to enjoy art-making activities and meet Artie the Lion at the new Ryan Education Center.

Even better on the budget side of things, the museum is offering free admission from May 16-22 and encouraging other people to give back by sponsoring a food drive in relation to this spectacular opening week. They are asking that people bring a canned good or nonperishable item to contribute to the Greater Chicago Food Depository (use the Millennium Park entrance on Monroe Street).

If you live within traveling distance of the Art Institute, I highly recommend taking advantage of these opportunities. A newly revealed Renzo Piano design, free music, free art-making activities, close proximity to some of the most renowned architecture in the US, and did I mention it's all completely free: what more could an architecture and arts junkie ask for?!?

May inspiration and creativity be with you!

Blog Awards

Some awards this blog has received thanks to some nice folks!

One Lovely Blog Award

One Lovely Blog Award
given on 07/24/2009 by Nanny Dee (