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Posts Tagged ‘art’

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I was hurrying along Walden Street on a cold and rainy Sunday, awkwardly carrying parcels and a heavy umbrella, when whom should I see but a couple of historical reenactors. So of course I had to put everything down in the damp and find my phone to take a picture. I still don’t know what the occasion was for the guys above or who they were supposed to be, but this sort of thing happens all the time where I live.

Here are a few more photos, going back to October.

First, I wanted to show you the finished mural by Shepard Fairey in Providence. I posted the work in progress here. The sign by RISD Coworks is just one example of the welcome that Providence and the Rhode Island School of Design give to artists in general.

And speaking of RISD, my husband and I took my sister’s husband to the RISD art museum at Thanksgiving, and he loved it. I took pictures of some art I liked below, but I also want to tell you about an auditory installation that meant a lot to us.

In one room, a museum guard pointed out a circle of chairs on a dais and an old-fashioned microphone. You could vaguely hear a tape of voices looping softly in the background. The guard said that one could speak into the microphone and in a few seconds, one could hear the words projected and amplified. I stepped up and said to my sister, who died in September, “Hey, Nell, wherever you are. We’re thinking of you.”

The effect of hearing those words resonate around the room a moment later was spectral, indescribable. We felt we were communicating.

I close with the ruined wall in Providence that features a constantly changing array of artworks. And then one of my shadow pictures, this one taken in late afternoon in the local cemetery.

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Photo: Cruise Critic
A Park West art auction in the Star Lounge on Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas.

My family went on a cruise only once (1990, New York to Bermuda), so in terms of special features, we know about Broadway-type entertainments, and that’s it. “Let’s give a warm welcome to the Royal Viking singers and dancers, Everyone!”

But cruise lines keep trying to outdo each other in offerings. One couple I know chooses their trip based on what chamber music group will be playing. And if you are into fine art or auctions, there’s a cruise for you, too.

Of course, you’re not going to pick up something valuable for cheap.

Sarah Cascone writes at Artnet, “I was lounging poolside, cocktail in hand, when I heard the announcement. The grand finale art auction was about to start.

“It was a weekend cruise from Miami to the Bahamas aboard Royal Caribbean’s recently refurbished Navigator of the Seas. … As I entered the event, hosted by cruise-ship auctioneer Park West Gallery, I bypassed the registration table, heading straight for the auction floor, where a waiter was handing out glasses of sparkling white wine.

“From the start, it was clear that this was no regular art auction. After a brief spiel encouraging folks to buy art as a legacy to leave to their children, the auctioneer, Robert Borotescu, got down to business.

‘I don’t know if you’ve seen Oprah,’ he said. ‘We have some surprises under the chairs.’

“Cue a frenzy as the few guests in the room rushed to upturn every seat cushion. There were no car keys to be found, but there were $100 certificates for discounts on winning bids.

“Borotescu, a dark-haired Romanian man in his mid-to-late 30s, endeared himself toward the crowd by offering additional raffle tickets for $100 credits throughout the auction. … With his pleasantly urbane accent, Borotescu set his audience at ease, acknowledging that they probably never had the time to visit art museums and galleries. But they were here now, and it was his job to make sure that they went home with something they absolutely loved. …

“Borotescu told us that [Park West] operates on 100 cruise ships, and claimed that the art aboard the Navigator of the Seas alone was worth $3 million. Representing some 200 artists, the company holds 1,200 auctions every month. …

“Unlike most art world organizations, Park West seems to hire employees with largely non-art backgrounds. Borotescu’s LinkedIn lists six years in fine jewelry and watch sales at Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy before joining the company. A quick perusal of resumes of other auctioneers and art directors at the company yields unconventional experience in HVAC, used car sales, fitness instruction, and Royal Caribbean’s beverage team, to list just a few. …

“Park West specializes in what it calls ‘graphic works’: Mass-produced reproductions of original paintings, signed by the artist and released in limited editions. Some are giclée prints — a fancy term for high-quality inkjet prints. Other pieces might look like paintings, but these more expensive offerings are often merely hand-embellished, with brushstrokes layered over a printed image to give it a more ‘authentic’ feel. …

“ [The auctioneer] said: ‘If we look at the Oxford Dictionary of Art, every single artwork that can be traced back to the artist, or was created under the artist’s supervision, is considered to be an original work of art.’ …

“Most of the time, you won’t even take home the exact work you’re bidding on. Park West will ship you a functionally identical copy from its warehouse, rather than going through the trouble of turning over the on-board stock, according to Bloomberg Business. …

“The bidding kicked off with a piece by Peter Max, a well-known Pop artist who met Scaglione, Park West’s founder, back in the late 1960s, and has been represented by him ever since. …

“ ‘This is one of the gems we have on the Navigator of the Seas,’ Borotescu told the crowd, claiming that the ‘printed painting on canvas’ was valued at $23,500, but that he could start the bidding at $20,000. Less than 30 seconds later, the work was sold for $20,700.

“Max has decades of experience exhibiting at international museums. The highest auction record for a work of his is $53,125, according to the artnet Price Database. … Other artists on offer had decidedly less impressive CVs. Borotescu proudly proclaimed that Park West is the only gallery to represent David ‘Lebo’ Le Batard, noting that the artist is known for his paintings of cats and owls. …

“Every attendee was encouraged to enter a free raffle to take home a massive, unframed Thomas Kinkade [your blogger comments, ‘Ugh!’]. … One gimmick in particular stood out: A pair of works presented turned away from the audience, and sold as one lot, without any idea of what they looked like. ‘They are going to be two of the most gorgeous works of art that anyone has ever seen,’ Borotescu promised the audience. ‘Once you turn it around, if it’s something you don’t like, you don’t have to keep it.’ …

“And then there was Tweety.

“Borotescu never named the artist responsible for designing the tiny print, relying on the Looney Toons character’s name recognition … Supposedly, the artwork, which was just a couple inches high and therefore impossible to see from across the room, was valued at $549.

“ ‘Let’s have some fun,’ Borotescu suggested, asking everyone in the room to hold up their bid card. He opened the bidding at just $20. Two thirds of the crowd dropped out when he raised the price to $40, and suddenly the auctioneer slammed down the hammer, selling the cartoon bird to a handful of guests.”

More here, where you can also read about the latest confusion surrounding works by Peter Max, one of the featured artists.

I think if you didn’t take it too seriously, an onboard art auction would be fun. Gimmicks such as surprises under the chairs somehow make me think of a kid’s birthday party. The whole experience seems to play to the child worldview that is buried but available for anyone to tap in adulthood.

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Abstract Expressionist artist Mark Rothko had strong opinions on how to teach children art without dampening their natural creativity.

The little I know about modern artist Mark Rothko is from a theatrical production called Red that I saw in Boston. It was pretty comprehensive, but I don’t believe it covered Rothko’s views on teaching art to children. That is something I learned about from an Artsy editorial.

Sarah Gottesman wrote, “If you’ve ever seen Mark Rothko’s paintings — large canvases filled with fields of atmospheric color — and thought, ‘a child could do this,’ you’ve paid the Abstract Expressionist a compliment.

“Rothko greatly admired children’s art, praising the freshness, authenticity, and emotional intensity of their creations. And he knew children’s art well, working as an art teacher for over 20 years at the Brooklyn Jewish Center. To his students — kindergarteners through 8th graders — Rothko wasn’t an avant-garde visionary or burgeoning art star, he was ‘Rothkie.’ ‘A big bear of a man, the friendliest, nicest, warmest member of the entire school,’ his former student Martin Lukashok once recalled.

“Rothko was a thought leader in the field of children’s art education. He published an essay on the topic (‘New Training for Future Artists and Art Lovers’) in 1934, which he hoped to follow up with a book. Though he never completed the project, he left behind 49 sheets of notes, known as ‘The Scribble Book,’ which detailed his progressive pedagogy — and from which we’ve taken five lessons that Rothko wanted all art teachers to know.

“Lesson #1: Show your students that art is a universal form of expression, as elemental as speaking or singing

“Rothko taught that everyone can make art — even those without innate talent or professional training. According to the painter, art is an essential part of the human experience. … For Rothko, art was all about expression — transforming one’s emotions into visual experiences that everyone can understand. And kids do this naturally. …

“Lesson #2: Beware of suppressing a child’s creativity with academic training

“As Rothko saw it, a child’s expressiveness is fragile. When art teachers assign projects with strict parameters or emphasize technical perfection, this natural creativity can quickly turn to conformity. ‘The fact that one usually begins with drawing is already academic,’ Rothko explains. ‘We start with color.’ …

“When children entered his art room, all of their working materials — from brushes to clay — were already set up, ready for them to select and employ in free-form creations. No assignments needed.

“ ‘Unconscious of any difficulties, they chop their way and surmount obstacles that might turn an adult grey, and presto!’ Rothko describes. ‘Soon their ideas become visible in a clearly intelligent form.’ With this flexibility, his students developed their own unique artistic styles, from the detail-oriented to the wildly expressive. …

“Lesson #3: Stage exhibitions of your students’ works …

“For Rothko, an art teacher’s premier responsibility was to inspire children’s self-confidence. To do this, he organized public exhibitions of his students’ works across New York City, including a show of 150 pieces at the Brooklyn Museum in 1934. And when Rothko had his first solo exhibition at the Portland Art Museum a year earlier, he brought his students’ works along with him and exhibited them next to his own. … Rothko wanted critics to see that fine art only requires emotional intensity to be successful.

“Lesson #4: Introduce art history with modern art (not the Old Masters) …

“With 20th-century art, children can learn from works that are similar to their own, whether through the paintings of Henri Matisse, Milton Avery, or Pablo Picasso. These iconic artists sought pure, personal forms of visual expression, free from the technical standards of the past. … But while exposure to modern art can help boost children’s confidence and creativity, it shouldn’t interfere with the development of a unique style. Rothko discouraged his students from mimicking museum works as well as his own painting practice. …

“Lesson #5: Work to cultivate creative thinkers, not professional artists

“In addition to fanning students’ creative instincts, great art teachers can help students become more self-aware, empathetic, and collaborative — and this generates better citizens in the long run, Rothko believed. At the Brooklyn Jewish Center, he hardly cared whether his students would go on to pursue careers in the arts. Instead, Rothko focused on cultivating in his students a deep appreciation for artistic expression.

“ ‘Most of these children will probably lose their imaginativeness and vivacity as they mature,’ he wrote. ‘But a few will not. And it is hoped that in their cases, the experience of eight years [in my classroom] will not be forgotten and they will continue to find the same beauty about them. As to the others, it is hoped, that their experience will help them to revive their own early artistic pleasures in the work of others.’ ”

More here.

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Highlights of yarn bomber Magda Sayeg’s early work include a knitting/crochet-covered bus in Mexico City.

Over the years, I’ve shared photos of guerilla-knitting projects around the world — anonymous knitted and crocheted decorations in unexpected places. Although the story is mostly a visual one, I like having some text for my posts and managed to find this interview with yarn artist Magda Sayeg.

Liza Graves at StyleBluePrint spoke with Sayeg by phone.

“Have you noticed a statue in your city covered in knitting? Or perhaps some trees, or a stop sign? This is known as yarn bombing and Magda Sayeg, a globally recognized textile artist, is known as the mother of yarn bombing. …

“Graves: When did you start knitting?

“Sayeg: Oh, maybe 15 or 16 to make a scarf for a then-boyfriend. … That first door knob? That took about three minutes. It was fast and quickly satisfying and I started doing more. …

“Graves: I recently saw an entire city block that was ‘yarn bombed’ in Columbia, South Carolina. How would I know if this was yarn bombing or a sanctioned art installation?

“Sayeg: Most likely it was sanctioned. When something is done at that level, where you can tell it took coordination on many levels … usually somebody approved something.

“Graves: What was the reaction to your first yarn bomb and when was it?

“Sayeg: That was the door handle on my boutique, in 2004, and it was surprisingly positive. … Then, I did a stop sign pole down the street. Then, several stop sign poles. Houston’s urban environment was my playground. Houston was a great city for this. It’s overdeveloped and there was not a lot of civic pride, at the time at least. As a citizen, you felt powerless. Old homes were being torn down for condos … Beautiful art comes from dark places. If you’re happy, are you motivated? When you are frustrated, you act accordingly. I was frustrated.

“Graves: Does anyone get upset about it? …

“Sayeg: Sure, there has been some backlash. Some people would say that it gets ugly and dirty. Some say it’s littering. … It’s silly for anyone to get mad about this. We are bombarded by advertising that says ‘lose weight now’ and auto insurance or other things. This has no financial profit. It’s sweet. It should not be vilified in any way. …

“Graves: Where are you? [Laughing] It’s so loud!

“Sayeg: Dover Street Market! I’m in a department store. I believe so strongly in this piece. I have so much gratitude and love for this store. I have a permanent installation here and over time, it just needs a little bit of love. We need to defuzz it and that’s what we’re doing here today.

“Graves: Do you miss anything about the South [after moving from Texas to New York]?

“Sayeg: I think we have a southern hospitality that is hard to explain unless you are southern. … I miss the accents. Texmex is something I totally miss and I will never get the same here. … And, the word y’all. Y’all means ‘all,’ and I’ve always defended that. …

“Graves: Any advice or quotes? …

“Sayeg: You can come from dark places and you can come out shining. I could live the rest of my life complaining. Now, I’m a globally recognized artist. My mother still comes from the belief that women are here for men. She doesn’t care that my TED Talk has had over a million views … she cares that I’m not married. My want is to let women know that nothing is insurmountable. You can get to the other side alive and well and be proud of yourself.” More here.

On Instagram, the artist is @magdasayeg. And there are other great pictures at Sayeg’s website, here.

Photo: Ben Sayeg
Sayeg defuzzing her knitting installation in a New York department store.

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I haven’t shared photos for a while. Some of these are from my last sad visit to New York, others are closer to home.

The first one makes me think of how hopeful I was on September 24th, when I arrived in New York and stayed with my sister’s devoted friend. I learned that my sister was doing better than the day before although she was still in the hospital. She was talking again and saying she wanted to carry on with treatment. We allowed ourselves a flutter of hope.

The bed is a Murphy Bed, made famous in old, silent movies, where someone like Charlie Chaplin might accidentally get closed up in it. This one was comfortable and not at all recalcitrant.

My hosts’ balcony had a glorious view. I sat there and had a cup of tea. I also took an early walk around their neighborhood, which features a statue of the Dutch director-general of the colony of New Netherland (now New York), “Peg Leg” Peter Stuyvesant. I couldn’t help wondering what the descendants of the Lenape natives thought of the statue.

Alas, the next day my sister took a dramatic turn for the worse and died the day after that. Miraculously, our brothers arrived in time from Wisconsin and California.

On days that followed, my sister’s husband, her friend, Suzanne, and I wandered around the city trying to enjoy nature and art and focus on good memories.

Then I took a bus back to Rhode Island, where I had left my car in a hurry. The rooster is in Rhode Island.

The concluding set of photos embraces art and nature back home in Massachusetts, where a long-life sympathy plant from my niece and nephew holds pride of place in the living room.

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Photos: James Hill for the New York Times
A student at the Higher School of Folk Art in the village of Kholui, Russia.

Years ago, a Massachusetts industrialist who was fascinated by Russian religious icons turned his large collection into the Museum of Russian Icons, a site worth visiting if you are ever near Clinton, Massachusetts.

But after the Russian Revolution outlawed religion, icons stopped being made for a long time. Resourceful icon painters developed a new art form — lacquer boxes that drew on the same skills as the icons and were collectible in their own right. Then the Wheel of Fortune turned again. Icons are now on top, and the new art form is endangered.

Neil MacFarquhar writes at the New York Times, “Once upon a time, the small, picturesque Russian village of Palekh gained fame far and wide for producing religious icons.

“Then one day, a revolution came and its adherents, growling, ‘There is no god,’ banned such art.

“Hundreds of artists eventually learned to adorn lacquer boxes instead, painting scenes from Russian fairy tales or romanticized versions of country life. These delicate miniatures made the village famous anew, especially after foreign collectors plunked down tens of thousands of dollars buying an art form considered uniquely Russian.

“Then the fickle wheel of history rotated once more. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the renaissance of the Russian Orthodox Church revived icon painting. It is miniature art now facing extinction.

‘It is going to be lost,’ said Yevgeny A. Sivyakov, 71, an accomplished miniaturist. ‘It is a frightening period right now.’

“The youngest generation of artists shows little interest, he said. ‘Everyone speaks of commerce — what is the point of developing lacquer miniatures when good money is being paid for icons, for frescoes?’

“Stunning antique icons and miniatures fill the collection of the State Museum of Palekh Art. The boxes are adorned with characters from Russian fairy tales — princes and princesses, the legendary firebird and Baba Yaga, a sorceress — replacing the Virgin Mary and the saints. The four seasons were a favorite theme, with countless troikas dashing across snowy fields.

“Each papier-mâché box, blackened with mud from the Teza River, is a blaze of meticulous detail. To paint faces, for example, the artists commonly used a brush made of just one hair from a squirrel’s tail.

“The egg tempera paint gave the boxes a polished glow, enhanced by rubbing them with bone. In addition, the Palekh tradition of edging in gold every person, animal and sometimes every leaf made the details pop out of the black background. …

“When icons were banned, [icon painters] floundered about for alternatives, including book illustrations and set designs.

“Then Ivan I. Golikov, a painter, stumbled upon a small exhibition in Moscow featuring 18th-century Asian painted lacquer boxes. In December 1924, Mr. Golikov founded the Ancient Russian Painting Workshop in Palekh. Throughout the Soviet years, a single collective produced the boxes.

“Palekh attracted both Russian and foreign visitors. Virtually everyone in Palekh will tell you that the Soviet Union earned some $1 million annually in hard currency off the boxes, which Western collectors considered a rarity.

“Lacquer boxes, as did all things following the Soviet Union’s demise, experienced a period of anarchy. Cheap fakes flooded the market and prices collapsed. If a shoebox-sized lacquer box that required a year to paint once sold for more than $40,000 abroad, that same box would earn about $5,000 today.

“Something smaller — a glasses case, for example — goes for $121 in the Palekh museum store. An imitation in Moscow costs less than $5. Demand for originals has fallen sharply. Few Russians can afford such prices, and foreign collectors died out.

“Sergei Bobovnikov, an antiques dealer in St. Petersburg, said there might be 150 regular buyers in the country, with an antique piece commanding $350 to hundreds of thousands for an original by Mr. Golikov or other founders of the Palekh school. ‘They invented a whole new style,’ Mr. Bobovnikov said.”

Learn what has happened since here.

Top: a Soviet-era Palekh board painted in 1975 and entitled “Holiday of Russian Winter in Palekh.” Bottom: detail from a Soviet-era Palekh plate, painted in 1955, entitled “Flourish, land of the Kolhoz!”

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Photo: DS Shin
The Chicago bookstore called Semicolon is also an art gallery and community space.

The future of independent bookstores will probably be determined by owners who combine selling books with other services — coffee bars, author events, children’s story hours, community meetings, or art galleries. In Chicago, Semicolon is one example of how to do it.

Taylor Moore writes at Chicago magazine, “At Semicolon, creatives of all stripes can find common ground. Located near the Grand Blue Line stop in West Town, the city’s newest bookstore is also a community space and gallery for Chicago’s street art scene.

“But Semicolon is notable for more than just its unique concept. When it officially opened on Tuesday at 515 North Halsted Street with a party and mural unveiling, it became one of just a handful of woman-owned bookstores in Chicago and its only bookstore owned by a black woman.

“An author and editor with a PhD in literary theory, proprietor DL Mullen first explored the world of art curation through her writing business, which landed her gigs penning exhibition copy for museums like LACMA.

“ ‘Explaining art is really [key] to how people understand it and connect to it,’ she says. ‘It became important to me to bridge art and words.’ …

” ‘[Semicolon] represents the point in a sentence where it could stop, but the author decides to proceed,’ Mullen explains.

“As a curator, Mullen brings an aesthetic sensibility to the bookstore’s interior. Semicolon is filled with lots of small personal touches, from author quotes on the walls to colorful furniture bought and carried from the Salvation Army two blocks away.

“But what might be most visually striking about the space is the art itself, like the mural which dominates the shop’s north wall. Street artist Ahmad Lee painted it in one 11-hour stretch, vividly depicting two of Mullen’s favorite artists: Frida Kahlo and Jean-Michel Basquiat. …

“Mullen plans on featuring different Chicago street artists monthly, in addition to hosting author and artist talks every few weeks.

“As for the books, they’re unconventionally arranged on floor-to-ceiling shelves with their covers facing out, not unlike a gallery. Keeping with Semicolon’s curatorial spirit, Mullen hand-picked all 400 titles, grouping them by association rather than genre. In her ‘Books That Make You Think’ category, for example, you can pick up Erik Larson’s Dead Wake, Stephen King’s 11/22/63, a collection of James Baldwin essays, and biographies of Henri Matisse and Georges Seurat.

“Mullen also wanted the store to be an asset to aspiring and self-published authors. For those looking to print manuscripts on the fly, Semicolon houses an Espresso Book Machine, a printer that can print up to 450 pages in minutes.

“Throughout Semicolon’s creation, Mullen has never lost sight of the fact that the store is currently the city’s sole black woman–owned bookstore.

“ ‘It means everything to me. To be able to create something that I love, as a black woman, that other black women and people can love just as much is a huge deal,’ she says. ‘You don’t get into bookselling looking for money; it’s really hard to build up your career to actually open a bookstore. I feel grateful that I’ve been able to do that.’ ” More here.

Still more at “Because of Them We Can,” here, Melville House, here, Chicago Review of Books, here, and the Literary Hub, here.

Photo: The North Star
DL Mullen is the founder of the combined bookstore, art gallery, and community space in Chicago’s West Town.

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