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1949

Photo: Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images
Tate Britain’s curator said the projection of William Blake’s Ancient of Days was in keeping with Blake’s ‘lifelong dream to be an artist with real public impact.’

As happens all too often, I miss the deadline for when you could go see something I’ve written about. If you were in London two months ago, I apologize. I would have loved to see this art myself, having long been a fan of William Blake.

Mark Brown, writing at the Guardian in November, explains what we all missed.

“William Blake always dreamed of making vast works for churches and palaces but to his bitter disappointment he never achieved it. More than two centuries after his death Tate has announced it is going some way to making up for that by projecting his final work on to the giant dome of St Paul’s Cathedral.

“For four evenings [in November], his illustration Ancient of Days will dramatically light up the skyline of London.

“Martin Myrone, the senior curator of pre-1800 art at Tate Britain, said Blake always had grand ambitions as an artist, proposing huge frescoes that were never realised. … ‘What he said he wanted to do was produce altarpieces and large-scale pictorial schemes in churches and palaces.’ …

“Blake is regarded as a visionary, radical artist who was ahead of his time and unappreciated for most of his life.

“ ‘He had a frustrating career and had moments when he was really down and depressed,’ said Myrone. ‘He felt alienated from the art establishment and he never really won the audience that he wished to have. He did see himself as an artist who should be read and seen by not just a few connoisseurs but by lots and lots of people.’

“The project, which marks his birthday, stems from Tate Britain’s current exhibition of Blake, the biggest for a generation. … The St Paul’s dome takes it to another level and is an appropriate venue because it is home to a memorial to Blake. His body was buried in an unmarked grave in Bunhill Fields burial ground near Old Street in London.” More at the Guardian.

A Wikipedia post says in part, “The Ancient of Days is a design by William Blake, originally published as the frontispiece to the 1794 work Europe a Prophecy. It draws its name from one of God’s titles in the Book of Daniel and shows Urizen [who in the mythology of William Blake is the embodiment of conventional reason and law] crouching in a circular design with a cloud-like background. His outstretched hand holds a compass over the darker void below. Related imagery appears in Blake’s Newton, completed the next year. As noted in Gilchrist’s Life of William Blake, the design of The Ancient of Days was ‘a singular favourite with Blake and as one it was always a happiness to him to copy.’ ”

Anyone else a Blake fan?

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I wanted to do another photo post but didn’t have very many photos. That’s mainly because I have been doing my daily walk indoors when it’s not nice out. ‘Round and ’round indoors. Kind of dull.

So I went to a couple free art exhibits, and now I have more pictures.

In Providence, Racine Holly was showing some dramatic skies at a church. When I went in, I didn’t see anyone around. Very trusting. I could hear construction workers talking behind a screen at least. I’m sharing the two oils I liked best. They both had “sold” stickers. The second one was tiny.

Then I went to the Bell Gallery at Brown University, where there was a show of work by Brown art professor Wendy Edwards that had been recommended by critic Cate McQuaid at the Boston Globe. I find I like art that McQuaid likes.

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This artist had a lot of works related to reproduction. The giant peach looks great in the Globe article but up close was “too buch for be,” to quote the Elephant’s Child. Below are a few paintings I liked better.

While at the Bell Gallery, I also took a picture of a Brown University Design Workshop pedestal that I didn’t quite understand. It looks like a range of stamping techniques carved in different styles. But if you used one as a stamp, the words would be backwards. It’s probably just to show potential clients what can be done.

The final six photos reflect recent travels in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Note the path of rose petals a clever florist scattered to her door for Valentine’s Day shoppers to follow.

If anything needs more explanation, please let me know in Comments. (Did you get where I’m trying to imitate Magritte?)

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Photo: Molly Dilworth
“Molly Dilworth’s rippling mural helped reimagine Times Square as a car-free place,” says
Curbed. The work was part of an initiative by Bloomberg Philanthropies.

As much as I want to tell folks about anyone’s good works, I’m afraid that the wealthy presidential candidate whose name is on the initiative I’m covering today is getting too much free publicity.

I’m annoyed. I’m sure we all clicked “like” when the former mayor did something positive about, say, gun violence. But as a result, his campaign videos are showing up on Facebook saying they were “liked” by us, which is not the case. So you are just going to have to fill in the blank when I refer to [B] Philanthropies today.

Alissa Walker writes at Curbed, “Over the last decade, U.S. cities have carved out dozens of public plazas from existing streets using little more than paint. A new grant program and guide announced today by [B] Philanthropies will fund the creation of 10 street murals in 10 U.S. cities, as well as track the safety, economic, and civic impact of these projects.

“The Asphalt Art Initiative … will award 10 small or mid-sized cities with grants of up to $25,000 to create colorful murals on streets, intersections, and crosswalks, or vertical surfaces of transportation infrastructure like utility boxes, traffic barriers, and highway underpasses. Cities that apply must have populations ranging from 30,000 to 500,000 and must implement the project by the end of 2020.

“ ‘It’s not just about art — it’s about creating safe spaces for people for pennies on the dollar,’ says Janette Sadik-Khan. …

“As former transportation commissioner for New York City, Sadik-Khan championed the conversion of Times Square into a network of car-free pedestrian plazas. But the project, which included several asphalt murals, also ended up achieving other goals, she says, like ensuring nearby residents lived within a 10-minute walk of a public space, and helping pedestrian injuries in the area plummet by 30 percent.

“ ‘We’re not looking for just pretty pictures, we’re looking for projects that encourage safety benefits and community engagement,’ Sadik-Khan tells Curbed, noting that the selected cities will be gathering data to track the overall impact of their projects. …

“In addition to the grants, [B] Philanthropies, in collaboration with Street Plans Collaborative and public art consultant Renee Piechocki, has created a free publication that provides a how-to guide and dozens of case studies for city leaders wanting to implement these types of projects on their own.

“While the street plazas are intended to be temporary or ‘tactical’ — how long they last depends on the paint material used and how often it’s reapplied — the projects often end up leading to permanent, systemic changes, says Tony Garcia, principal at Street Plans Collaborative. …

“But even with paint that’s meant to fade away, the impact is lasting. Garcia points to a project in Asheville, North Carolina, which saw retail sales increased by 25 to 30 percent and a 20 to 30 percent drop in vehicular speeds along the corridor. …

“Asphalt art like plazas and crosswalks can help residents realize they don’t have to accept their transportation system’s status quo, says [Kate D. Levin, cultural assets management principal at (B) Associates], who notes that the current design of U.S. streets lends a sense of permanence to cities that isn’t particularly aspirational.

“ ‘People lose a sense that they have a choice. That can lead people to accept a public realm that doesn’t optimize what they want or need,’ she says. ‘These projects are helpful in reminding people to not to take their environment for granted.’ ”

More at Curbed, here. Hat tip: ArtsJournal.com.

Photo: Justin Mitchell via Street Plans
Coxe Avenue in Asheville, North Carolina, was transformed when Street Plans Collaborative used art to help create a safer, more profitable street.

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Photo: Evy Mages
Detail from a massive sculpture of a black Last Supper discovered by a demolition crew in the Columbia Heights section of Washington, DC.

Oh, my! Imagine the wonder of the demolition crew that uncovered this artwork in a former church! I wish reporter Andrew Beaujon at the Washingtonian had tracked them down and interviewed them for their immediate thoughts.

Here’s his story.

“Joy Zinoman got an unexpected phone call [in early October]. Demolition had just begun inside a former church in Columbia Heights that she’s turning into the new home of the Studio Acting Conservatory. Now the boss of the the crew working was on the line to tell the Studio Theatre founder about a remarkable discovery his guys made: An enormous frieze of the Last Supper that was hidden behind drywall for more than a decade.

“The building on Holmead Place, Northwest, had been slated to become condos before the conservatory bought it earlier this year. It was built in 1980, city records say, to house New Home Baptist Church, which moved to Landover, Maryland, in the 1990s. After that it became a building for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. A signature on the lower right of the sculpture  leaves no doubt at which point it joined the building’s history: ‘All rights reserved 1982 Akili Ron Anderson.’ …

“New Home trustee board chairman Willie L. Morris told Post reporter Esther Iverem, ‘It was very important to us that we have a black artist. All the other Last Supper pictures we’d seen were always in a white framework.’ …

“Anderson now teaches at Howard University and some of his artwork is easier to see, particularly his work Sankofa at the east and west entrances of the Columbia Heights Metro Station as well as stained glass at Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel and the Prince George’s County Courthouse.

“The fact that the participants in the Last Supper are black reflects a movement among African American artists, beginning in the late 1960s, to make the art in places of worship look like the people inside them. ‘I think it’s important for black children sitting in churches all over this country on Sunday morning to look up at the windows, look up at images and see themselves and believe that they can ascend to heaven, too,’ Anderson told Iverem in 1993.

“It’s not clear when the 232 square feet of religious art was covered by drywall. City records show that an inspector reviewed some ‘Close-in (concealment)-Walls Construction’ in 2003. Anderson says he undertook the artwork when he worked at Duke Ellington School of the Arts and had a coworker who attended New Home. ‘Most of the time I was in there by myself,’ he says.

‘It actually got to be something of a spiritual experience for me.’ …

“When you first view the frieze in person, as I did Friday, you’re likely to gasp: It’s difficult to convey just how large and impressive this sculpture is.

“Acting studios are supposed to be bare, and Zinoman, who likens this piece to the Sistine Chapel, really hopes it won’t end up behind a curtain at her conservatory. … She’s hoping a museum might wish to take it. Removing it from the wall will not be easy and will require a lot of skill and experience (and presumably money) to do properly. ‘All I want is for it to be in a place where people can see it,’ Zinoman says. ‘I think it’s a great work.’ ”

You can tell that a lot of love went into this frieze. If it does end up behind a curtain, at least it will still be available to visitors. If you know of any venue that could afford to move it and make it available to the public, please get in touch with the Studio Acting Conservatory, 202.232.0714.

More at the Washingtonian, here. Lots of great photos.

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Photo: Kristen Hartke/NPR
For the 2018 grand prize winner in Asheville, the judges were impressed by the intricate, working gingerbread gears of the clock inside Santa’s workshop.

Following up on last week’s post about extreme Christmas cooking, I’ll just say that whether the labor is for love or business, for fun or for cutthroat competition, it’s a treat to see what sorts of edibles our cooks turn out for the winter holidays.

Kristen Hartke reported at National Public Radio (NPR) on Christmas Eve last year, “Nadine Orenstein never expected to judge gingerbread houses. But several years ago, the curator in the Department of Drawings and Prints at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art happened to see a program on the Food Network about a competition in Asheville, N.C., and was intrigued. …

“Fourteen years later, Orenstein is still a judge for the National Gingerbread House Competition. … ‘In a way, it’s very similar to what I do as a career and, in some ways, completely different,’ she says.

“The biggest difference, of course, is that each entry must be entirely edible — although it’s fairly rare for the judges to actually eat the sweet creations — and must consist of at least 75 percent gingerbread. …

“The competition didn’t originate as a contest in 1992, but as simply a display of gingerbread houses made by Asheville locals. … This year, there were 195 entries from across the U.S. and Canada, which means that judging this contest is no cakewalk.

“Other than Orenstein, most of the eight judges come with a serious pastry pedigree, like Mark Seaman, master sugar artist for Barry Callebaut chocolate company, one of the world’s largest cocoa producers. Seaman has been judging the competition for over a dozen years.

” ‘It is a long and somewhat complicated process,’ he says. ‘Some people are literally spending hundreds of hours creating their entries, so we want to pay attention to the work they’ve put into it, but we also have to do all the judging in one single day.’ …

“Using specific criteria — creativity, difficulty, overall appearance, consistency of theme, and precision — each judge starts the morning by spending two hours choosing 10 favorites in each category. The competition staff collects the information, plugs it into Excel, and tabulates the first round of results, narrowing it down to a universal top 10 entries. Then the judges really get down to business, parsing the technical difficulty and design elements in half-points — numbers that go back into the spreadsheet for the final result.

“But while the competition relies on numbers to achieve fairness — sometimes the grand prize winner isn’t even selected by all the judges as one of their initial top 10 favorites — it’s ultimately a combination of technique and creativity that determines the winners. …

“For Seaman, craftsmanship is a key element, particularly when he sees something especially innovative, like this year’s

grand prize winner, which depicts Santa’s workshop with a clock made of functional gingerbread gears. The gingerbread was baked by creators Julie and Michael Andreacola, of Indian Trail, N.C., for several hours, then precision-cut with lasers. …

“While Orenstein finds the technical elements impressive, she is also looking for a compelling story, … ‘Sometimes, the lack of perfection is key in art,’ says Orenstein, ‘but what I’ve learned over time is that perfection in these gingerbread houses matters.’ …

“Those details might be the tiny copper Moscow mule mugs that grace a table where a group of reindeer are playing a game of poker, the labels on the cans lining the walls of a general store — all edible, mind you — or realistic-looking candles made of white chocolate that stand next to a gingerbread clock. …

” ‘You don’t enter a competition because you want to win,’ says Seaman. ‘You enter because you want to do the best work you can possibly do. The people who win are attached to the piece in some personal way. Even though the technique is really important, you shouldn’t learn how to do hot sugar just for the purposes of entering this contest.’ ”

More at NPR, here.

Noncompetitive gingerbread displays involve less pressure and may be more fun. Here are a few local efforts: one at the library, two at the Colonial Inn.

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Photo: Arty McGoo
These artistic Santas are an example of Arty McGoo’s cookie handiwork.

Before I share today’s story about Christmas cookies that are works of art, I want to tell you what Sandra does every Christmas for her extended Italian family in Connecticut. Sandra, you should know, is beloved of a large network of friends and family for her kindness, insight, moral support, good sense, and many other sterling attributes — not least of which is her cooking skill.

At Christmas, her family produces a prodigious feast, and her role is to make the cheese-filled anolini below, which she serves with chicken soup. She’s ahead of the game today having made and frozen roughly 1,100 of the small, ravioli-like dumplings.

Photo: Sandra M. Kelly
It’s traditional among Sandra’s Italian family members to serve anolini in chicken soup as one of the Christmas-dinner courses. She’s already made and frozen 1,100.

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Nina Keck reported a story about another edible art form at National Public Radio [NPR] last year.

“For many people the holidays wouldn’t be the holidays without baking and decorating cookies. But a growing number of creative bakers, known as ‘cookiers,’ are taking their art to a whole new level.

“Mary Thode of Chittenden, Vt., is one of them. This time of year, she bakes all sorts of cookies — some of the recipes were her mother’s, she says, which bring back nice memories.

” ‘But I do like a painted cookie,’ she says, nodding toward the nine coffee cups on her dining room table that are each filled with different colored frosting. … Thode makes cookies all year — baby-bottle shaped ones for shower gifts and pumpkins at Halloween. But during the holidays, she’ll bake about 700 cookies, half of which she’ll paint, often with many layers of different colored frosting. …

“Thode is among a growing number of people, who’ve changed bite-sized treats into an art form. Many, like Thode, are hobbyists, who give their cookies away as gifts. But it’s also big business. Some of the most elaborate designs by top artists sell for $150 per dozen, or even more. …

“Elizabeth Adams [is] known in the cookie world as Arty McGoo. McGoo has made a career out of cookies. The California resident has more than 80,000 followers on Facebook and now devotes most of her time to teaching others her craft. …

“The popularity of decorating cookies has been great for companies like CK Products, which manufactures and distributes things like edible glitter, sprinkles, meringue powder and piping gel. …

“Ann Clark Cookie Cutters, a family-owned business in Rutland, Vt., that began in 1989, has also ramped up production. CEO Ben Clark says 52 employees work two shifts and their assembly line churns out 22,000 cookie cutters a day. …

“Clark says llamas are big this year: ‘We immediately said “let’s do a llama.” And are our creative director said we’re going to do two; we’re going to do one that looks like a llama and we’re gonna have one that’s more of a cartoony llama. … Ten days later [both] those products were dominating Amazon as the llama cookie cutter.’ ”

More here. By the way, next year’s serious cookie convention, Cookie Con, will be held in Louisville. Get your tickets here.

The cookies my grandchildren made at the church’s craft workshop Saturday are works of art that have meaning for me. This one is by my youngest grandchild.

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Art in Time of War

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Photo: Dalloul Foundation
Installation view of the Ramzi and Saeda Dalloul Art Foundation in Beirut, Lebanon. The private museum is not expected to open to the public for a few years.

Today’s article brings up the dilemma I mentioned recently about trying to share something interesting when the situation on the ground is changing fast and the thing described could disappear overnight. (My version of the Greek philosopher Heraclitus: “You can’t step in the same river twice.”)

In September,  Rebecca Anne Proctor of artnet News attempted to capture the fluid art scene in Beirut, Lebanon, amid daily antigovernment protests.

“Hanging in the booth of Saleh Barakat Gallery during the 10th edition of the Beirut Art Fair last week was the latest work by Lebanese painter Ayman Baalbaki: a large-scale depiction of Beirut’s Piccadilly Theatre in its present, ruined state, priced at $250,000. Painted in fleshy red and black brushstrokes, the empty, ghostly theatre in Hamra serves as a potent reminder of both the city’s rich cultural history and its present economic predicament.

“Bordered by Syria to the north and east and Israel to the south, the little Levant country of Lebanon is used to continuous states of economic and political woe. Yet after its parliament approved a 2019 austerity budget in late July in an attempt to rescue the economy from spiraling debt and unlock billions of dollars in international aid, many believe the country is now experiencing some of its darkest days yet. …

“The country has also been deeply affected by the Syrian refugee crisis. Lebanon, home to a population of six million, is currently hosting more than 950,000 Syrian refugees, according to the UNHCR. There are also mounting tensions with Israel—in late August, Israeli drones struck an Iranian-backed Palestinian militia in the Eastern Bekaa Valley. …

“ ‘The crisis is very present and things are very tough, but what do you do in such a moment?’ asks the prominent Beirut art dealer Saleh Barakat. … ‘It’s either you close or you make a decision to continue. We took the latter decision. We want to resist by moving on in a positive way.’

“One small silver lining, he says, is that artists feel less pressure to churn out commercial material, freeing them up to experiment. … Often, that results in art that reflects the world around them.

“Most recently, Barakat mounted ‘Interminable Seasons of Migration,’ an exhibition of sculptures made out of bits of car metal by Lebanese artist Ginane Makki Bacho that portrayed the millions of refugees escaping conflict in Syria.

‘I wanted to show the tremendous exodus of people fleeing the war with or without expectation or hope of a secured destination,’ the 71-year-old artist says. …

“Even in times of crisis, however, the art market manages to chug along, and Beirut is home to a number of deep-pocketed collectors who can ride out the storm … ‘It was a really good week,’ [Barakat] says. ‘I was very surprised.’

“The fair remains under the leadership of its founder, French-born Laure d’Hauteville, who has worked to raise the profile of the event. … She claims that ‘the fair has not at all been affected by the economic crisis — we had more museum groups and collectors than ever.’ …

“ ‘I remain an optimist,’ says Mazen Soueid, an economist and advisor to Lebanon’s prime minister, of Lebanon’s future. ‘Resilience is part of the country’s DNA; a lot of the downside is due to the regional rather than the local factors. Let us be frank: the region is at war; and for a country in the middle of a region at war, we are actually still holding up.’ …

“Indeed, the new austerity measures seem not to have dramatically affected Beirut’s rising crop of new museums. … Among them is the Beirut Museum of Art (BeMA), dedicated to Lebanese art and slated to open in 2023. …

“There’s also the Dalloul family collection, known as the Ramzi and Saeda Dalloul Art Foundation (DAF), comprising more than 4,000 Modern and contemporary Middle Eastern artworks. Their private museum is scheduled to open within the next three years. …

“[Some dealers are] facing challenges they never could have anticipated. ‘We are going through a huge crisis,’ says Joumana Asseily, owner of Marfa’ Gallery, … They new austerity measures have affected Asseily’s ability to transport artworks abroad. … Recently, she tried to reclaim three works that were lent to a traveling exhibition in Europe, only to be asked at customs to pay for the objects as if she had purchased them.

“ ‘It’s a nightmare. … I still have artworks stuck in customs — it’s been around eight weeks. [But] even if it is a struggle, I want to stay and work. There are great artists, a great scene, and amazing energy in Beirut.’ ”

More here.

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