Archive for Art

Whitney Museum of American Art

At least two of those words are dog whistles: American (obviously), and museum.

Actually, Whitney is close to Whitey, so make it three:

Remarks by The First Lady at Opening of the Whitney Museum

You see, there are so many kids in this country who look at places like museums and concert halls and other cultural centers and they think to themselves, well, that’s not a place for me, for someone who looks like me, for someone who comes from my neighborhood. In fact, I guarantee you that right now, there are kids living less than a mile from here who would never in a million years dream that they would be welcome in this museum.

And growing up on the South Side of Chicago, I was one of those kids myself. So I know that feeling of not belonging in a place like this.

What the hell?

And that’s one of the reasons why Barack and I, when we first came to Washington, we vowed to open up the White House to as many young people as possible, especially those who ordinarily wouldn’t have a chance to visit. So just about every time we host any kind of cultural event, a concert or performance, we ask the performers to come a few hours early and host a special workshop just for our young people.

The message we’re trying to send is simple. We’re telling our young people: The White House is your house. You belong here just as much as anyone else in this country. We’re telling them: Make yourselves at home in this house. Be inspired by the artists and performers you see. And start dreaming just a little bigger, start reaching just a little higher for yourself.

Aren’t you special!

To be fair, after putting down great collections of art and building up herself, the First Lady had a larger point:

And with this inaugural exhibition, the Whitney is really sending the same message to young people and to people of every background across this country. You’re telling them that their story is part of the American story, and that they deserve to be seen. And you’re sending that message not just with the art you display, but with the educational programming you run here. You’re reaching out to kids from all backgrounds, exposing them to the arts, showing them that they have something to contribute.

And in the end, that’s why I’m here today, and I know that’s why we’re all here today. I’m here because I believe so strongly in that mission, and because I think that every cultural institution in this country should be doing this kind of outreach and engagement with our young people every single day.

So what I want to ask those out there watching — absolutely — (applause) — if you run a theater or a concert hall, make sure you’re setting aside some free tickets for our young people. If you run a museum, make sure that you’re reaching out to kids in struggling communities. Invite them in to see those exhibits. Can you use technology to bring those exhibits to kids in remote areas who would never, ever be exposed to art otherwise?

Many museums I know of have a voluntary donation rate, or at least a super-cheap student rate. And they all have outreach programs. But fair enough: do all you can to bring great art to the citizens of the cities in which the museums lie. Got it.

Then she loses me:

One visit, one performance, one touch, and who knows how you could spark a child’s imagination. As the Mayor said, maybe you could inspire a young person to rise above the circumstances of their life and reach for something better. Maybe you could discover the next Carmen Herrera or Archibald Motley or Edward Hopper — or, yes, maybe even the next Barack Obama. (Applause.)


This is the re-opening of a museum, not a campaign rally. Shut up.

What’s Barack Obama’s artistic talent (besides building straw men)? Of course, when I think of Motley, I think of Obama. I can think of about 500 people at the Whitney off the top of my head—from Nicholas Africano to Akram Zaatari—I’d rather hear about than Barack and Michelle Obama and their special selves.

PS: If you’d asked, Mrs. O., you would know that the Whitney is way ahead of you.


The “Palestinian Catastrophe”

I was going to title this post “Don’t Sit Under the Gharqad Tree With Anyone Else But Me”, but I wasn’t sure everyone would get it.

But these dingbats and moonbats are more right than they know:

Some 700 British artists pledged to boycott Israel on Saturday in reaction to what they termed “the Palestinian catastrophe,” the British newspaper Guardian reported on Saturday.

The artists, who include Roger Waters, Brian Eno, Mike Leigh, Ken Loach, Richard Ashcroft, and others, pledged that they “will not engage in business-as-usual cultural relations with Israel.”

Not exactly news, as most of these bigots are Jew-haters of long standing. The full list is here. I started to read through it, looking for new names to boycott myself, but gave up in the Cs. Too many choreographers, poets, and “documentary filmmakers” for me not to give two feces about, let alone their fascist opinions. Perhaps you’ll have more luck.

As our readers know, I reject as fantasy any notion of a Palestinian entity. But the “Palestinian Catastrophe” is very real. In terrorism, woman and child abuse, bigotry, and general backwardness, we see it—and report it—every day. Thanks for naming it, a-holes.


Ingres or Not Ingres?



Visitors to the National Portrait Gallery in London between now and late February of next year will encounter a striking photograph of an 11-year-old, redheaded Hasidic Jewish girl in synagogue. The photograph is almost painterly in its composition, color and lighting, giving an impression of timelessness.

The portrait, “Chayla in Shul,” by photographer Laura Pannack, is the winner of the 2014 John Kobal New Work Award and part of the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize exhibition of 60 new portraits by some of the world’s most exciting contemporary photographers. “Chayla” is part of an in-depth project Pannack is pursuing on the local Hasidic community in London’s Stamford Hill neighborhood for the past three years.

I second what the reporter says: it’s the execution of this photograph as much as the content that makes it so noteworthy.

Per the title, I think the portrait of Chaya reminds me most of this portrait by Ingres:

Or do I mean this portrait by Velazquez?

Either comparison is exceptionally favorable.

About the image:

The reason I spend time with people is to get a deeper understanding of who they are and to ensure that they are comfortable. It’s tricky, as perhaps I shot less than I would like, because I am conscious I am meeting people who are very sensitive to having their picture taken. I spend time with people by visiting their homes, having meals with them, playing with their children, volunteering my services, taking pictures for them rather than for me, and celebrating festivals with them. It is important to me that they get to know me.

Chayla is intelligent, adult and extremely quiet. Photographing her was an honor. I find it frustrating when I can’t get to know someone. I often use silence in my work to create tension, but with Chayla it was forced upon me as she didn’t really open up. Even now, after knowing her for years, she is incredibly shy around me and I am still trying to get to know her. It wasn’t challenging that she was silent. It just made me nervous. I think [silence] is a wonderful quality — I talk far too much!

“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture,” the saying goes, but the same holds true for many art forms that reach us nonverbally. (An earlier version declares “writing about music is as illogical as singing about economics.”) I’ll let the image speak for itself for now.


Put Down the Gaughin and Come Out With Your Hands Up!

Don’t worry, Vinnie, it’ll be okay:

One of Detroit’s bankruptcy opponents is sending an exhaustive subpoena to the Detroit Institute of Arts, seeking all documents related to the museum’s art collection and records detailing its financial performance in a move that amplifies the tension over the DIA’s future.

Bond insurer Syncora is seeking a broad swath of documents, including century-old records detailing the museum’s transfer to city ownership and documents specifying donor restrictions on all of the museum’s 66,000 works.

Syncora and another bond insurer, Financial Guaranty Insurance Co., are waging a fight to force the City of Detroit to take steps to turn the DIA into cash to pay off creditors.

Last year, the city paid for a study by New York-based auction house Christie’s, which evaluated 5% of the city’s collection — those works the city purchased directly. Christie’s found that city-purchased works are worth up to $867 million, but creditors believe the entire collection is worth billions.

Judge Steven Rhodes has said he won’t necessarily allow art to be sold, but he hasn’t yet ruled against it.

I’ve taken down my daughter’s kindergarten sketch of her bedroom in anticipation of snagging an Old Master.

Heck, even a new master would do:

Come to think of it, that looks my daughter’s kindergarten sketch of her bedroom.


How Would You Follow Up “Piss Christ?”

Matisse must be smacking the side of his head, saying “Why didn’t I think of that?”

Midtown Manhattan has been the scene of much religious reflection and blasphemy of late. One act of solemn reflection took place at the 140-year-old Central Synagogue on 55th Street, where Jews assembled on Wednesday to observe Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. While they prayed, a few blocks away a man who has called the state of Israel a “malignant cancer” prayed as well—for their and its destruction. In his speech before the United Nations General Assembly (video here), outgoing Iranian “President” Mahmoud Ahmadinejad asked God to bring “a new order” that “will do away with … everything that distances us.” If the intent wasn’t clear enough, he later explained in an interview with the Associated Press that he expects that Israel will soon become an “historical footnote.”

Today the blaspheming continues at the Edward Tyler Nahem Gallery on 57th Street, where the state-sponsored “artwork” Piss Christ goes on display for a month. The work, in case you missed the controversy that swirled around its debut in 1987, consists of a photograph of a crucifix floating in the artist’s urine.

Has anyone actually bought this masterpiece? And is it in the original urine? Or does the “artist” offer regular restocking?

If the latter, he must drink a lot of tea!

Piss Mary

And even Piss Moses!

But you’ll note one important religious figure missing:

If I were Muslim, I’d be offended that mine is the only revered figure in the three major religions not to be dunked in Serrano’s urine. What, he’s not good enough for your piss, infidel?

But someone’s had enough of blessed and holy saints submerged in pee. Or rather, he thinks Serrano missed one.

Don’t miss 3:30, if you’re short on time.

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Look Out Kid, It’s Something Ya Did/God Knows When, But You’re Doing it Again

We were talking the other day (talking in a blogging sense) about talent versus genius. Mozart had genius, Salieri merely talent (as the playwright Peter Shaffer tells it anyway).

It took me a while to remember this scene from D.A. Pennebaker’s “Don’t Look Back”, but it brilliantly demonstrates the difference. Donovan sings a blandly sweet song for Dylan and his entourage, then Dylan reciprocates.

What I only just heard when I reviewed the clip is that it’s Donovan himself who asks Dylan to sing “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”, the song that serves as the blade Dylan wields to leave not a scrap of meat on Donovan’s bones. Dylan could be cruel; I’d say it was his default behavior. But this is cruel in the way that a god is cruel too a mortal—he can’t help it.

Donovan’s look of realization reminds me of a line from Randall Jarrell’s classic novel, Pictures From an Institution.

Gertrude was looking at Flo narrowly, like a hydrogen bomb staring at an Act of God.”

Poor Donovan. He was talented and famous, but he was no Act of God.


Artists Should Be Seen, Not Heard

Or read:

“This image represents my support for the Occupy movement, a grassroots movement spawned to stand up against corruption, imbalance of power, and failure of our democracy to represent and help average Americans,” he wrote on the site. “On the other hand, as flawed as the system is, I see Obama as a potential ally of the Occupy movement if the energy of the movement is perceived as constructive, not destructive. I still see Obama as the closest thing to ‘a man on the inside’ that we have presently.”

How fitting that a bunch of criminally inclined lay-abouts who want other people’s stuff simply because they want it are represented by an artist whose specialty is to appropriate other people’s stuff simply because he wants it:

Fairey had initially denied using the copyrighted 2006 AP photo as the basis for his image, but was forced to admit in 2009 that he used the picture. After changing his story, the graffiti artist then claimed that he changed the work enough that he shouldn’t have to pay the AP.

One Fairey skeptic, Globe editorial cartoonist Dan Wasserman, offered a scalding take-down of Fairey in 2009, especially Fairey’s record of lifting the work of lesser-known artists without credit:

I understand that we live in a world of rampant sampling and remixing, but claiming to be hip or leftist is not an excuse for ripping off other creators. It’s not even fundamentally a legal issue (though it may be that as well) — it’s respect for other artists. And the argument that the art is “transformative,” so no nod to the original is necessary, is a weak one.

Referencing well-known works that have become cultural touchstones is one thing, Wasserman says. But in Fairey’s case he often appropriated little-known artists, or, in the case of Obama poster, the AP’s Mannie Garcia — a well-regarded but hardly high-profile photographer. (Fairey does respect the rights of artists in some cases: as Wasserman points out, Fairey has been quick with the cease-and-desist letter to defend his own copyrights.)

And Wasserman scorned the idea that Fairey, now a well-compensated corporate adman with a Rolodex fat with lawyers, continues to claim the prerogatives of an underground artist:

[Fairey] inveighs against the depredations of consumer culture, but his design firm works on a “Want It!” campaign for Saks Fifth Avenue. He wants the street cred of a revolutionary artist extolling freedom fighters and quoting Noam Chomsky while doing “guerrilla” marketing campaigns for Netscape and Pepsi.

God bless Fairey for making a killing, and God bless him for treating the O-cow-piers as the saps that they are. The genius of capitalism is parting fools from their money and putting it in the hands of those who know what to do with it.

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As American as the Flag

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t dig dance. I love symphonic, chamber, operatic music, but I don’t dig dance. But I was captivated by the Bill T. Jones documentary PBS has been running. He’s a brilliant man who happens to be a legendary dancer and choreographer. I couldn’t turn it off.

And then I remembered that I had come across Martha Graham’s original performance of Appalachian Spring on YouTube (she commissioned the work from Aaron Copland).

Here’s the last section, just a bit of the Simple Gifts theme, and then that magical, ethereal, timeless passage to the end (starting at around 3:30). The music just exhales the boundless still air of the American prairie. Everyone knows the use of the Shaker hymn tune, but that’s almost cheating. It is a pretty tune by itself, though Copland certainly ennobles it further. The last three minutes, though, are a lyric-less hymn to America, its space, it’s reach, its loneliness.

And Martha Graham is a miracle to behold. There are moments in this when my breath is literally taken away.


Now, to Nourish Your Soul

It’s kind of bothered me lately that we’re so negative here—I know I am. It’s negativity with a purpose, admittedly, and in pursuit of a moral cause, but still a bit of a bummer.

I appreciate Aggie’s posts about extreme sheepherding and super alter kockers, and think maybe I should contribute such items a bit more myself. I’m not really such a bitter person; in fact, I can tell a pretty good joke.

Why did the corrupt Democrat, who coddled public-sector unions in exchange for their campaign contributions, and who voted against cutting off funds to the Palestinian Arabs despite their rejection of—and bombardment of—the state of Israel, shortly after “forgetting” to declare rental properties as income, cross the road?

I forget. But it’s killer.

Okay, if I don’t do humor, I can at least do classical music. This is magic:

Many years ago in college, a friend had a single ticket to see Christoph Eschenbach at Carnegie Hall. He was sick and offered it to me. I didn’t even know what was on the program. It turned out to be Beethoven’s last three piano sonatas. The recital still stands as one of the greatest experiences of my life. Each sonata was greater than the last, the performances getting deeper, more personal, completely hypnotizing. When the ghostly last notes of the Opus 111 died away, there was only silence. Awed, devastated, timeless, grateful silence. Eventually, we applauded and he bowed. But there were no encores. There was nothing more to say that night.

It’s nice to see the old boy still has his touch.


Veni, Vidi, da Vinci

Pretty cool:

The 500-year-old panel is not much bigger than an average flatscreen TV and the wood has split, but what it shows is truly extraordinary.

A painting of Jesus Christ that, after centuries of neglect, has been identified as Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi.”


New York in the 40s—in Color!

Check ’em out. Some are spectacular.

It’s been 70 years since an Indiana photographer visited New York City and returned home with an amazing collection of holiday snaps.

But Charles Weever Cushman’s pictures are even more impressive today, as they were taken on pricey colour Kodachrome and look far more recent than they actually are.


The Porcelain Unicorn

Thanks to Judi for sending us this. I weigh in below, so don’t scroll down too far

The NY Times wrote about it last year here.

My take: it’s very sweet and beautifully made, but how representative is it? Maybe that doesn’t matter in art. But it clearly tries to make us feel something, and I just have to ask what and why. A Hitler Youth boy does something noble for a Jewish girl, both in their youth and then later when they’re both old. I’m sure that happened. Occasionally. But the old woman lives in the same house she hid in as a girl. How often did that happen? Were there other people in hiding there, or were they taken away?

I guess I’m too cynical. I did choke up a bit, but I felt so manipulated, it seemed my tear ducts were being massaged to produce a drop.

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