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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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Photo: MTA Arts for Transit
Faith Ringgold’s mosaic “Flying Home: Harlem Heroes and Heroines (Downtown and Uptown),” 1996, is one of the pieces of subway art featured in a PBS documentary.

I’m always amazed by the beauty of the mosaics in the New York subway, even the ones that merely tell you what street you’re at. It makes me happy to see that the city values them, too, and periodically cleans up the oldest ones. They go back as early as 1901.

My sister alerted me to an excellent PBS documentary about recent additions to the art in the subway system. You can read about it at the website Mosaic Art Now.

“For a delightful immersion into the history and current activities of the enormous underground museum that is the New York subway system’s Arts For Transit program, treat yourself to WNET Channel Thirteen’s free one hour video called ‘Treasures of New York: Art Underground.’ …

“Mosaic artist Steven Miotto gets major face time. His decades-long collaboration with artists of all stripes is a fascinating story in itself. When selected by a commissioned artist as a collaborating partner, he gets into their minds and hearts, leading them through the complex process of translating their vision and their graphic designs into mosaic ‘paintings for eternity.’ …

Faith Ringgold, speaks eloquently and nostalgically about the series of paintings – now mosaics – that portray the heroes of her Harlem childhood. Writers and musicians fly across the cityscape in flattened but vivid characterizations. I had the opportunity to interview her when she was in Miami last year, and she spoke about the challenges of trying to ‘make it’ as an African-American artist dealing with political themes at a time when the galleries favored the abstract.  Click here (http://bitly.com/yxGJ3R) to listen to that interview with her.”

See some of the beautiful new mosaics and watch the video here.

If you are up for more on transit-system art, be sure to check out an excellent article by Sarah Hotchkiss at KQED about what’s going on with San Francisco’s Transbay system, here.

 

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Photo: Canwood Gallery
An art lover in Herefordshire, England, has turned a cow shed and an old tractor barn into an elegant gallery and event locale.

I love reading about something old getting a new lease on life and serving a completely different purpose. On this farm, workaday buildings were creatively adapted for an art gallery.

Vanessa Thrope writes at the Guardian, “A cow shed and an old tractor barn in rural Herefordshire are not where most people would go in search of the avant garde or the latest in abstract painting. But retired farmer Stephen Dale is challenging the assumption that modern art is best appreciated by city dwellers.

“A run of exhibitions staged by the 74-year-old at the free public art gallery he set up two years ago in Checkley, near Hereford, have now drawn big names from the art world and proved the scale of an appetite for the unexpected in the countryside.

“Canwood Gallery and Sculpture Park, built by Dale on arable land he once farmed, is opening a show of previously unseen paintings by the veteran Royal Academician Anthony Whishaw. The exhibition, Experiences of Nature, also features the work of Whishaw’s late wife, the artist Jean Gibson, as well as a sculpture by her famous former pupil, Nicole Farhi.

“Dale’s unusual, charitable plan to create a gallery in an area of outstanding natural beauty was financed by the sale of much of his land. The farmer’s strong feeling for unconventional art emerged more than 40 years ago, while he was undergoing a difficult and long round of experimental treatments for leukaemia in the 1970s.

“Travelling down to London to take part in a series of drug trials at St Bartholomew’s hospital, Dale entertained himself in his free time with visits to art galleries. An early trip to see Carl Andre’s notorious arrangement of bricks, Equivalent VIII, at the Tate changed his life. A passion for modern art was born. ‘It may sound strange, but the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I guess I fell in love with the bricks,’ Dale said. …

“In Canwood’s first major exhibition last summer, Bricks in the Sticks – A Farmer’s Inspiration, Dale featured a piece made by Carl Andre himself. The American artist’s Isoclast 07 graphite bricks installation, bought by Dale at auction, stood alongside the work of other international artists. A show of Matisse prints followed, and visitors rolled in.

“ ‘Running a farm and running a gallery turn out to be equally stressful,’ said Dale. ‘I did not expect the numbers of people we have coming, nor the standard of artists.’

“While Dale aims at the sort of regional significance enjoyed by the Yorkshire Sculpture Park near Wakefield, he also likes the idea of the example set by former farmer and Glastonbury Festival host Michael Eavis at Worthy Farm in Somerset: ‘A festival like that for visual arts would be something.’ ” Dale gives profits from the gallery to the hospital that saved him.

Read more about the artists here.

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