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Image: Green Tara Protectress from Eight Fears; Tibet; 19th century; Pigments on Cloth; Rubin Museum of Art; Gift of Shelley and Donald Rubin. The Eight Fears are 1) water, (2) lions, (3) fire, (4) snakes, (5) elephants, (6) thieves, (7) false imprisonment and (8) ghosts.

When I was in New York this week visiting my sister, she suggested we go to the Rubin Museum on West 17th St. She told me that the museum, which opened in 2004, was notable not only for the founders’ Himalayan art collection but for its peaceful aura.

It really was a treat. Here’s what the website says about the current exhibit. “Gateway to Himalayan Art introduces visitors to the main forms, concepts, and meanings of Himalayan art represented in our collection. A large multimedia map orients the visitors and highlights cultural regions of a diverse Himalayan cultural sphere that includes parts of present day India, China, Nepal, Bhutan, and Mongolia. …

“In addition to sculptures and paintings, objects such as a stupa, prayer wheel, and ritual implements demonstrate that their patrons sought the accumulation of merit and hoped for wealth, long life, and spiritual gains, all to be fulfilled through the ritual use of these objects and commissioning works of art.

“Among the featured installations are a display that explains the process of Nepalese lost-wax metal casting and a presentation of the stages of Tibetan hanging scroll painting (thangka).”

At the base of the museum’s circular stair we encountered male and female lions with fire (I think) flaming from their mouths.

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There was also an interactive table on which we were bidden to type our “intentions” (for the visit or perhaps for our lives). When we hit “enter,” our phrases whooshed up toward the ceiling, joining the flow of little star-like lights and other visitors’ “intentions” on the underside of the spiraling stairs. I typed “find light in shadow,” and my sister typed “experience peace.”

From the impressive collection we learned about the interconnection of Buddhist and Hindu culture and imagery. Among the highlights was a recreated Tibetan shrine where butter lamps were burning and visitors were enveloped in the deep, deep voices of monks chanting.

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There were also two excellent art recreations, one showing how artisans make a sculpture (the museum hired contemporary artists in Nepal to create the different stages of the process to be displayed in a glass cabinet) and the other demonstrating the steps for making a painted cloth hanging, a thangka. At first my sister was puzzled by the hanging’s label because it said “2014,” and all the other labels had ancient dates!

She, in turn, showed me an amazing thing that I had passed right by. It was a kind of virtual-reality video of what the houses of the Buddhist gods might look like, but the most amazing part came when the video swooped in on an aerial view. By George, a mandala! A mandala can be an aerial view of the houses of the gods. Probably other people know that, but I didn’t.

Here is a mandala that Melita showed me in process at MIT a few years ago. Colored sand was painstakingly dripped on a floor space by a visiting monk.

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Photo: Simon Buckley
Grandad, an artist who has experienced homelessness, is one of 33 people behind the “Doodle on Ducie Street” mural, part of the International Arts and Homelessness Festival and Summit in Manchester, UK. The event used art as part of a holistic approach to tackling homelessness.

So many initiatives to address the world’s problems feel like a drop in the bucket, but I have to believe that the bucket can be filled — even if it’s only one drop at a time, even if some drops spill out along the way and have to be replaced. Little things mean a lot if they hit a person just at the moment of receptivity.

In England, a homelessness summit last fall tested the potential of art to spark conversations between haves and have-nots and also to give homeless people a reason to get up in the morning. Helen Lock has the story at the Guardian.

“Two armchairs are facing each other in the Whitworth art gallery in Manchester. Denise Harrison, a mental health blogger with past experience of homelessness, is sitting in one of them, waiting for questions.

“A member of the public sits down opposite her, and tentatively asks if she thinks it’s OK to give money to people on the street, as charities discourage it. ‘It’s down to personal choice – you shouldn’t feel bad if you do or if don’t,’ replies Harrison. ‘Some worry it’s enabling addictions, but it’s also providing someone with the option to pay for shelter. On the street, someone can end up with several free McDonald’s burgers but nowhere to sleep that night.’ …

“Dialogues are part of a performance artwork called Are You Sitting Comfortably? by the artist Emma Turner, who felt the public were becoming inured to homelessness in Manchester. The official number of rough sleepers was 278 in 2017, a 41% increase on the previous year, but the true number of its homeless people – counting those in temporary accommodation – is likely to be much higher.

“As Harrison says of her time suffering with alcohol addiction and sofa surfing after the breakdown of her marriage: ‘It’s scary how quickly a situation that was so abnormal became normal, my new normal. It can happen to anyone.’

”The work was part of the inaugural International Arts and Homelessness Festival and Summit, running 12-18 November [2018], which explored a potentially contentious idea: the role of arts and culture in tackling homelessness.

“Manchester was chosen for the event because the city council’s homelessness strategy for the next five years explicitly includes a commitment to increasing access to arts, and because of how the city’s cultural sector has stepped forward to provide support for the council’s plan. …

“Third sector organisations began working together to approach the council, consulting businesses, universities, cultural organisations and the faith sector, as well as people with experience of homelessness. Their findings underpinned the new Manchester Homelessness Charter. … Officials will now work towards what is described as a jigsaw of homelessness support approaches, rather than focusing exclusively on immediate needs such as shelter and healthcare. This includes the chance to meet people, build skills and have fun. …

“But how would this approach work in practice when the crisis is so severe? Beth Knowles, an adviser on homelessness for the mayor’s office, reiterated that the call for a more holistic approach came from homelessness services themselves – even frontline providers such as the night shelters.

“ ‘I’ve spoken to some about trialling the jigsaw approach,’ she said, ‘and while it might not seem the most immediate thing when you’re trying to find beds, some see the value in maybe having some singing or photography sessions on site, because it’s worked well.

‘Of course, not every council officer is going to see this as a priority. But to do something, it doesn’t have to be a priority. It’s part of a whole package. It’s about what that individual needs and offering it.’

“[According to Amanda Croome, chief executive of the Booth Centre, a day facility for people who are homeless or at risk,] ‘We find that if you put someone into a flat and they have no support network, no interests and nothing to do, then very often in six months they’ll be back on the street. What the arts do is give people a new perspective.’

“Lawrence McGill has become an avid gardener since first becoming a regular visitor to the Booth Centre, filling salvaged containers with soil and seeds. He has also written poetry, and a song, ‘Spinning Plates,’ about juggling life’s hardships. ‘My life started the day I stepped into this place.’ ”

Read about other aspects of the festival, including a description of the “immersive opera” Man on a Bench, here.

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Photo: Welling Court Mural Project
New York City recently sought proposals from qualified nonprofit organizations to install artwork on an ugly sidewalk shed or fence.

There’s a lot of construction and renovation going on in New York City these days, and many otherwise interesting buildings are obscured by scaffolding and green plywood fences. Fortunately, the city is always looking for ways to bring culture to unlikely places and to engage artists.

Michelle Cohen writes at the website 6sqft, “On September 12, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs announced a search for applicants for a new pilot program called City Canvas, Archpaper reports. The program was designed to beautify New York City’s visual landscape by installing large-scale–and temporary artwork on its endless construction fences and 270 miles of sidewalk sheds. The protective construction structures are an everyday eyesore for New Yorkers, but current building codes prohibit altering them. The City Canvas program circumvents that ban by allowing select artists and cultural institutions to add visual art to the visual affronts.

“There are two main objectives for the new initiative. First, to improve the experience of strolling through the city’s streets for residents and tourists alike by turning the ubiquitous fences into beautiful works of art, and second, to increase opportunities for artists and cultural institutions to get recognized for their work and to create art that represents the surrounding community. …

“During the pilot period, which will run for the next 24 months, the city is seeking proposals from at least one qualified nonprofit organization to install artwork on at least one ugly sidewalk shed/fence.” More.

The winning applications were announced November 28 at the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA) website: “DCLA, in partnership with the NYC Department of Buildings and the NYC Mayor’s Office, is excited to announce two cultural organizations selected for the City Canvas pilot. ArtBridge and Studio Museum in Harlem will each work with local communities to transform protective construction structures into spaces for temporary art installations. First installations are anticipated in Spring 2019.”

Well, it’s a drop in the bucket, but I can’t wait to see what emerges.

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I finally got to this year’s Art Ramble in Concord’s Hapgood Wright Town Forest — site-specific creations from the Umbrella artists planted among fallen logs and leaves.

There were quite a few other visitors on the cold, sunny day. One couple shared a laugh about their madly yapping dog, who had been spooked by the recumbent figure of Thoreau in the woods. Another couple discussed with me the best way to avoid a shadow on the chicken-and-egg-sculpture. And a friendly woman who was a United Church of Christ minister and artist herself joined me for half the walk. We helped each other spot pieces that blended in so much with the surroundings that at first, when you saw a descriptive sign but no art, you would think the work had already been removed.

I particularly liked the tiny people — one hermit in contemplation under a root, others peeking out of the bark or cavorting on a dead log.

A man with a top hat and frog face was standing next to the pond — a Slavic water spirit and trickster that I am happy to know about.

My favorite this year was the spirit emerging from the earth at the base of a tree. At first I thought, Caliban, but then looked at his gentle face.

My report on the 2016 Art Ramble is here, and the one on the 2017 Art Ramble is here.

If you live in Massachusetts or are visiting Walden Pond, which is nearby, the Art Ramble is up until Nov. 30 this year. It will make you feel like creating some art yourself — especially with leaves and sticks and mud.

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An Artist of Pies

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Photos: Lauren Ko
Blueberry ombre spoke pie. Lauren Ko creates amazing pies with geometric designs and photographs them both before and after baking.

Cooking is an art. Or it can be. My daughter-in-law and her mother have proved that to me. Their art is expressed in the blending of subtle flavors. A baker I just learned about expresses her own art in pies that feature geometric designs.

Annaliese Nurnberg at the Washington Post displays an array of pie photos that are hard to believe.

“Lauren Ko came from a family of ‘phenomenal eaters,’ ” writes Nurnberg. “She grew up watching her mother and grandmother make cakes and cookies, but to her recollection, nobody in her family ever made a pie. …

“It was two years ago that she decided to make her first pie. Instead of sticking with the current trends, she wanted to create pies with geometric patterns, straight lines and contrasting colors. She started baking more and posted photos of her creations to … a public Instragram account, @lokokitchen.  …

“With a background in social work and nonprofit administration, Ko had been working as an executive assistant before she quit her job to focus full time on creating pies and tarts. She now teaches workshops and classes throughout Seattle, flies to food events in other cities, and even got the opportunity to bake with Martha Stewart on her show ‘Martha Bakes.’ …

“She says she has always loved art but has no professional training. She finds inspiration everywhere, from bathroom tile and textiles, to lawn chairs and bamboo purses, and saves images to give her ideas for future pies.

“Ko has no plans to sell her pies because her designs are so labor-intensive that they would be impossible to mass-produce. But, more important, she enjoys the freedom of being able to create something new every time she steps into the kitchen to bake and wants to hold on to that freedom while she continues her art.

“ ‘I’m going to ride the wave as long as it takes me. You know, the nature of social media is that it changes so quickly, and you never know what’s going to happen with it,’ Ko said. ‘I mean, all of this could go away tomorrow, but as long as I’m able and have more ideas for designs and flavor combinations, I’m going to continue baking and posting.’ ”

A Martha Stewart article has more: “Her inspiration ranges from architecture and string art to wicker purses and bathroom tiles. ‘I’ll see someone walking down the street with a cool shirt and file that away in my memory bank,’ says Ko. ‘Anything with geometric shapes and straight lines catches my eye because they’re easiest for me to replicate with dough and fruit.’

“She recreates one of her most popular pies on [a September episode of “Martha Bakes,”] her signature blueberry spoke, which has strips of dough fanning out in a swirled wheel pattern.”

Great pictures at the Washington Post, here, and at Lauren Ko’s own website. Since Ko makes only one pie at a time, I do wonder who gets to eat it. I’m getting hungry.

Blueberry tart with kiwi diamonds.

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6Photo: Fondazione Manifesto
Poggioreale, Sicily, one of the towns destroyed by a 1968 earthquake. A public art project has helped to heal the region’s survivors, many of whom were still suffering from depression decades later.

I’ve blogged a lot about the healing power of various arts in various contexts, but I think this is the first post about what art can do for a traumatized region after a natural disaster. The story takes place in Sicily, where a 1968 earthquake flattened an already impoverished region.

Patricia Zohn writes at artnet news, “On a recent day this summer, I [descended] into the rural, arid Belice Valley. I was accompanied by Zeno Franchini of the Fondazione Manifesto, an advocacy group that leads tours of the region, which was devastated by the 1968 earthquake in Sicily. …

“More than the number of people who died (approximately 400), or the number rendered homeless (approximately 100,000), the earthquake exposed grave fissures in the socioeconomic and political fabric of one of Italy’s poorest regions — disparities that linger to this day.

“While thousands of earthquake victims lived outside Gibellina, an isolated agricultural community, in two shanty towns with barebones infrastructure, in 1970, the National Institute of Social Housing in Rome, determined, after numerous plans for reconstruction were abandoned, to build an entirely new city, a Gibellina ‘Nuova’ for the victims at a site 11 miles from the ruins. …

“By 1979, scant progress had been made due to government corruption, the Mafia influence, and red tape, and victims were still living in dire conditions. That’s when Gibellina’s flamboyant, powerful gay Mayor, Ludovico Corrao, invited a number of leading Italian and German artists and architects to participate in a rescue mission. …

“Though there was no budget for art or culture, Corrao had already begged and borrowed to found the Orestiadi performance festival, just outside the ruins of Gibellina, with the help of performers like John Cage and Philip Glass. Emilio Isgrò, an artist and dramatist, described a wind-chilled night of 1983

‘where artisans, sheep farmers, housewives, anti-Mafia judges and theater directors and personalities from all over Europe sat together to watch’ his performance in the festival. …

“The concrete Utopian city of Gibellina Nuova [became] an open-air laboratory for assessing the healing capabilities of public art. Today, 50 years since the earthquake struck, many look back on Corrao’s radical experiment in civic engagement, rehabilitation, and unification as a cautionary tale. But new efforts are now underway to realize a more pragmatic version of [his] utopian dream.

“ ‘The city needs to really become an Art Town,’ says Alessandro La Grassa, president of the Center for Social and Economic Research of Southern Italy, the organizational heir to the early activist efforts. He envisions it as a place ‘where artists live or stay and where empty buildings and spaces start to find a new function.’ …

“Today the region is a symbol of hope. A newly revitalized combination of social activists, municipal agencies, educational institutions, and private support is finally bringing the unique art interventions of more than five decades in the Belice Valley — and especially the city of Gibellina — to the attention of a wider public. …

“Tours of Poggioreale, Burri’s Cretto, and Gibellina Nuova are available until November 14 through fondazionemanifesto.org.” More here.

I wonder how public art might by employed to rebuild after a hurricane like Michael. Something for art leaders in Florida to think about.

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Art: Jan van de Cappelle
Photo: Savoir Beds
Detail from “A Shipping Scene with a Dutch Yacht firing a Salute” (1650) used on a bed’s headboard.

I thought this was an interesting idea, but if I were going to have art that close to my pillow, I would want it to be soothing, wouldn’t you? A yacht firing a salute would surely wake me up.

Monica Uszerowicz reports at Hyperallergic about a new concept in headboards.

“When Gherardo di Giovanni del Fora painted ‘The Combat of Love and Chastity’ sometime between 1475 and 1500, he was likely illustrating two of the poet Petrarch’s ‘Triumphs,’ translating the allegories into a visual battle of love and the thing that quells it. …

“The London’s National Gallery’s website states that the work is part of a series, ‘probably made for a piece of Florentine furniture towards the end of the 15th century.’

“It’s unclear if British bed maker Savoir Beds’ National Gallery Collection, which debuted earlier this year, was an attempt to accomplish the painter’s vision. … Savoir Beds, known for their hefty price tag and their extraordinary contents (think cashmere made from the necks of Mongolian goats), have partnered with home décor specialist Andrew Martin and London’s National Gallery to create custom beds, each upholstered with artwork on the headboard and the base.

“ ‘The Combat of Love and Chastity’ is one choice, but you can make your own: every single artwork owned by the National Gallery can be reproduced onto a selection of handmade beds. … Claude Monet’s ‘Water-Lilies, Setting Sun’ (1907), spread across the Harlech Savoir No. 2, will cost you £29,587 [$38,679]. …

“They’re calling it ‘the fine art of sleeping beautifully.’ But why now — why this sort of patrician indulgence? Alistair Hughes, Savoir Beds’ Managing Director, told Hyperallergic over email that ‘our clients and artisans have always seen our mattresses and designs as works of art.’ ” OK. And?

Well, just for fun, what work of art would you want on your headboard if you wanted to go that route instead of giving the money to some worthy cause? I would probably pick something with a moon and stars from a children’s book. Maybe one of the Wynken, Blynken, and Nod illustrations. Someone has collected a glorious array of different artists’ illustrations of that poem, here.

More on the extreme beds at Hyperallergic, here.

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