Archive for Art

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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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West Bank Museum of Art

Curiosity got the better of me.

When I came across this story

For the past month, the International Academy of Art Palestine (IAAP) in Ramallah exhibited the $4.3 million painting, allowing Palestinians to experience the most valuable work of art to have ever been exhibited in the West Bank. As part of a larger project, IAAP documented its experience in requesting, transferring, exhibiting and returning the famous work of art.

Exhibited from June 24 to July 21, 2011, “Buste de Femme” is a 100”x80” oil on canvas painting that was on loan from the Van Abbemuseum in the Netherlands.

… I just had to see which Picasso that was:

And then I went to that dark place I go to sometimes, my little psychopathic corner. Looks like an Afghan woman in a burkha, I thought. After she set off the explosive belt she was packing underneath.

And then I remembered Dalal Mughrabi:

She’s a dead ringer, isn’t she? (Heh.)

But I’m glad the Palestinians are getting into art. As long as they stay away from Goya they should be okay.

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Micha Bar-Am

Reader Jeanette noted that the iconic picture of the IDF soldier praying at the Kotel (which we reprinted in our Happy Jerusalem Day post below) was taken by Micha Bar-Am.

I was unaware of him or his work, but he’s taken some really amazing pictures.


The Return from Entebbe, Ben Gurion Airport, 1976


Moshe Dayan, Kalandya Refugee Camp, West Bank, 1967


Fashion Show in Women’s Corps Army Base, 1973


David Ben Gurion, Kibbutz Sde Boker, 1971


Women soldiers fulfilled functions in the absorption of immigrants, education and teaching, youth instruction, weapons training for adults, Israel, 1958


Demonstration, Western Wall, Jerusalem, 1989

Have a look around the web for many more.

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Carlos Kleiber

Time to take a break from world events.

The little I heard Kleiber (never live, even though he conducted at the Met when I lived in NYC), his interpretations were compelling and new—as if I had never heard a Beethoven symphony before, even though I knew every note and rest by heart. With my untrained ear, I put it down to the the drawing out of interior voices (perhaps with the help of compliant recording engineers). Orchestral works have a lot of moving parts; each conductor chooses to emphasize some lines and subdue others. Kleiber’s secret, I thought, lay in his aural imagination: to hear and bring forward what was always there, but perhaps not always apparent.

How he differed from other great conductors I couldn’t exactly say. His sound wasn’t the polished chrome of von Karajan or raw nerves of Bernstein. It was the sound of the composer, speaking through the notes in a voice I had never quite heard before. Again, I don’t have the the knowledge to say how he does it, but it’s time to watch and listen to him do it.

The 4th movement of Mozart’s “Linz” Symphony, No. 36.

As you can see his deportment on the podium doesn’t give much away. Sometimes, he seems to be just along for the ride, at others, he’s practically mining the musical ore with a pickaxe.

I’m being a little coy. There is rehearsal footage of Kleiber working with the orchestra (sometimes the Vienna Phil, sometimes the Bavarian State) to get the exact effect he was after. But even then… alll conductors rehearse, all to get the desired effect. It’s the desired effect itself that is the thing: Kleiber’s desired effect.

Here’s an example, where Kleiber wrings just an ounce more of pathos out of a musical moment:

I like that it’s in German because you have to connect to the emotion he’s expressing, and not just the language in which he’s expressing it.

Though a commenter helpfully translates:

One moment please.

Let’s do it, where the horns come in, that is after? 3 – Clarinet, I don’t want you to force it. But can that be very desperate? I don’t want it to….It’s like that sometimes with the singers you want a great deal of expression and then, abruptly, not a single sound comes out. But actually it should be a scream. But actually it should be a scream… Isn’t that right?

In casting around for representative videos, I came across this guy, explaining how different conductors achieve their unique effects. The presenter, Itay Talgam, explores the different approaches of other great conductors—Muti, Bernstein, Karajan. The Kleiber section starts about 17 minutes in, and lasts for about 10 mins—but the whole thing is instructive. (It appears to be a lecture on Leadership, sponsired by Google.) And you can’t miss—don’t you dare miss—Lenny leading the finale of a Haydn symphony with facial expressions alone at the end of the clip.

There’s lots more out there, but less than you might expect. Kleiber didn’t lead a major symphony orchestra for decades, as most of his peers did, sometimes walking out on agreed projects. That had two effects in itself: it gave him a reputation for the Difficult Artist (or Troubled Genius), but also left people desperate for more.

In either case, it, too, had its desired effect:

BBC Music Magazine, one of the more popular such journals, announced on 17 March 2011 that Kleiber had been selected as “the greatest conductor of all time.” Some 100 current conductors, including Sir Colin Davis, Gustavo Dudamel, Valery Gergiev and Mariss Jansons participated in the BBC poll. Kleiber, who conducted just 96 concerts and around 400 operatic performances in his 74 years, was voted ahead of Leonard Bernstein and Claudio Abbado, who took second and third places respectively.

Again, for a man who never built and maintained an orchestra (like Toscanini, Karajan, Böhm, Szell, et al), that’s an unimaginable honor.

But to conclude, watch Kleiber conduct the last movement of Beethoven’s 5th. Here, Nietsche’s theory of Apollonian beauty and Dionysian fury in art is played out before us.

The clip is marred by the inexplicable intrusion of the television presenter signing off, but even that can’t derail the passion, thrill, welling eyes, and basic instincts that take over in the presence of the greatest art humankind has ever produced:

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