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Photo: Damien Finch et al
Mud-wasp “nests go hard and mineralise over time,” reports the BBC. “(1) Dating nest material on top of the paintings gives a minimum age only.” (2) Removing the nest allows researchers to ascertain the maximum age.

Prehistoric cave paintings, it seems, still have secrets for the enterprising to unravel. Researchers, with the active support of the local Aboriginal community, recently learned that calcified wasp nests could help determine when some of those paintings were created.

Jonathan Amos reported at the BBC, “When the veteran telecoms engineer Damien Finch went on a three-week bush walk in Australia’s Kimberley region, he became enthralled with its rock art. On his return home, he tried to find out more about these enigmatic aboriginal paintings and engravings.

” ‘I couldn’t believe how little was known about them; we didn’t even know how old they were,’ Damien said. ‘It seemed disrespectful that scientists hadn’t studied this stuff more; it was downplaying the importance of the culture,’ he told BBC News.

“Now, 10 years on and in his 60s, Damien is putting that right. He’s approaching the end of his doctoral research on the topic, and in [a February issue of] Science Advances journal, has published his own efforts to age the Kimberley’s so-called Gwion figures.

“These feature finely painted human forms, often in elaborate ceremonial dress and carrying spears and boomerangs. It was thought they were painted some 16,000 years ago, but the University of Melbourne investigator has been able to show the likely age is [about] 12,000 years ago.

“Dating rock art is really hard. Aboriginal artists use iron oxide pigments (ochre) which contain no organic material and are therefore resistant to any radiocarbon analysis.

“Damien has got around this by studying instead the scraps of organic matter stuck on top of and underneath the paintings. And for this, he’s working with wasps. In particular, the ones that build nests out of mud. …

“When the female wasp gathers her mud supplies she inevitably picks up fragments of charcoal from the Kimberley’s fire-prone landscape. And this charcoal can be radiocarbon dated. … Material that smothers pigment gives a minimum age; underlying material provides a maximum age.

“A distribution of dates from many locations enables an estimate to be made for when the Gwion style was in vogue. …

“The paintings [Damien] and his team have been working on are, of course, sites of immense cultural significance. All the sampling was guided and approved by representatives from the traditional owners of the artwork.

‘We couldn’t have done what we did without their active support and encouragement,’ ‘Damien told BBC News.

“He’s hopeful the mud-wasp dating technique can now be used at more locations right across the north of Australia, and perhaps at other rock art locations in the Americas and Europe.”

More at the BBC, here.

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Photo: Purple
Jean-Philippe Delhomme, an artist, was hired by the Musée d’Orsay to bring humor to promotion on the museum’s Instagram account.

Back in January, Lanre Bakare wrote at the Guardian about an artist that the Musée d’Orsay in Paris hired to make weekly contributions to its Instagram account. Naturally I wondered how Covid-19 had affected this effort. Answer: Not at all.

Bakare wrote, “One of France’s most celebrated and august art institutions has taken a novel approach to embracing technology while breathing new life into its collection – by installing an Instagram artist-in-residence who imagines the social media accounts of famous artists from history.

“The Paris museum Musée d’Orsay has invited the illustrator Jean-Philippe Delhomme to take over its Instagram account every Monday during 2020. On the account he will post a different drawing each week, depicting an artist as a contemporary social media user. …

“The Orsay president, Laurence des Cars, told Le Figaro that the purpose of the project was to bring more visibility to its artists from centuries ago. ‘The aim [of the residency] is to bring these artists of the second half of the 19th century closer by enrolling them in today’s interactions.’ …

“The idea was not to ‘desecrate works’ but to draw attention to a particular moment in an artist’s biography, and through ‘contemporary commentaries, fictitious or not, to evoke the adhesions or antagonisms aroused.’

“Delhomme released a book last year called Artists’ Instagrams: The Never Seen Instagrams of the Greatest Artists, in which he depicted the social media accounts of Jackson Pollock, Frida Kahlo and Paul Gauguin. ‘If Instagram had existed a century ago, there would be no art criticism today,’ he told the Guardian at the time. ‘Only thumbs-ups and emojis.’ …

“He wanted to focus on artists who were famous to the ‘point of creating mythologies around themselves. … That’s what was fun about it. They’re the gods of art. It’s like doing the Instagram of Mount Olympus. Artists want to be seen – even the most serious ones. Why wouldn’t they show off like everyone else?’ …

“Orsay was widely praised last year for its ground-breaking exhibition Black Models: From Géricault to Matisse, which displayed French masterpieces but renamed them in honour of the black subjects in the pictures but absent from the narratives.”

More at the Guardian.

There’s also a nice interview with Delhomme at ArtNews.

ARTNEWS: “Since you do a weekly post, do you plan out in advance which works to tackle?

DELHOMME: “No, no, no — I don’t plan ahead of time. At the beginning of this collaboration, I took walks in the museum with Sylvie Patry, the museum’s head of collections and conservation. It was wonderful.

“I started looking at the paintings in a much more intimate way. Obviously I can’t go back there for a while, but I have my own memories and I’m reading biographies of artists, trying to deepen my knowledge of nineteenth–century art history.

“I’m reading Michael Fried on Manet. Thinking of the current lockdown situation, one of the posts I did was on Henri Fantin-Latour’s ‘La Liseuse’ [‘The Reader,’ 1861] — and of course it speaks to us today: we’re in our rooms, we can’t go out. It’s a challenge to be absorbed by at-home activities.”

If you’re on Instagram, check out @Jean-Philippe Delhomme and @museeorsay.

Art: Jean-Philippe Delhomme
Delhomme knows that artists must adapt to changing media tastes, like using Instagram to promote their work. What if the Greats had to do that? he asks.

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Image: Teachers Pay Teachers.
Why we doodle.

I keep a list of potential posts, but since the pandemic, many of them feel out of date. There’s one, for example, that I’ll put up when things return to normal, but if I tell you now about a rug market in Morocco run by women, how do I know that it’s currently operating?

Fortunately, there are some topics that work for both normal times and times of isolation. Today we consider what the act of making art can do for the brain.

“A lot of my free time is spent doodling,” writes Malaka Gharib. “I’m a journalist on NPR’s science desk by day. But all the time in between, I am an artist — specifically, a cartoonist. I draw in between tasks. I sketch at the coffee shop before work. And I like challenging myself to complete a zine — a little magazine — on my 20-minute bus commute.

“I do these things partly because it’s fun and entertaining. But I suspect there’s something deeper going on. Because when I create, I feel like it clears my head. It helps me make sense of my emotions. And somehow it makes me feel calmer and more relaxed.

“That made me wonder: What is going on in my brain when I draw? Why does it feel so nice? … It turns out there’s a lot happening in our minds and bodies when we make art.

” ‘Creativity in and of itself is important for remaining healthy, remaining connected to yourself and connected to the world,’ says Christianne Strang, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Alabama Birmingham and the former president of the American Art Therapy Association. …

” ‘Anything that engages your creative mind — the ability to make connections between unrelated things and imagine new ways to communicate — is good for you,’ says Girija Kaimal. She is a professor at Drexel University and a researcher in art therapy, leading art sessions with members of the military suffering from traumatic brain injury and caregivers of cancer patients. But she’s a big believer that art is for everybody — and no matter what your skill level, it’s something you should try to do on a regular basis. Here’s why. …

“Art’s ability to flex our imaginations may be one of the reasons why we’ve been making art since we were cave-dwellers, says Kaimal. It might serve an evolutionary purpose. She has a theory that art-making helps us navigate problems that might arise in the future. …

Her theory builds off of an idea developed in the last few years — that our brain is a predictive machine. The brain uses ‘information to make predictions about we might do next — and more importantly what we need to do next to survive and thrive. …

” ‘So what our brain is doing every day, every moment, consciously and unconsciously, is trying to imagine what is going to come and preparing yourself to face that. … This act of imagination is actually an act of survival,’ she says. ‘It is preparing us to imagine possibilities and hopefully survive those possibilities.’ …

“For a lot of people, making art can be nerve-wracking. What are you going to make? What kind of materials should you use? What if you can’t execute it? What if it … sucks?

“Studies show that despite those fears, ‘engaging in any sort of visual expression results in the reward pathway in the brain being activated,’ says Kaimal. ‘Which means that you feel good and it’s perceived as a pleasurable experience.’

“She and a team of researchers discovered this in a 2017 paper published in the journal The Arts in Psychotherapy. They measured blood flow to the brain’s reward center, the medial prefrontal cortex, in 26 participants as they completed three art activities: coloring in a mandala, doodling and drawing freely on a blank sheet of paper. …

“Although the research in the field of art therapy is emerging, there’s evidence that making art can lower stress and anxiety. In a 2016 paper in the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, Kaimal and a group of researchers measured cortisol levels of 39 healthy adults. Cortisol is a hormone that helps the body respond to stress.

“They found that 45 minutes of creating art in a studio setting with an art therapist significantly lowered cortisol levels.

The paper also showed that there were no differences in health outcomes between people who identify as experienced artists and people who don’t. So that means that no matter your skill level, you’ll be able to feel all the good things that come with making art. …

“Ultimately, says Kaimal, making art should induce what the scientific community calls ‘flow’ — the wonderful thing that happens when you’re in the zone. ‘It’s that sense of losing yourself, losing all awareness. You’re so in the moment and fully present that you forget all sense of time and space,’ she says.

“And what’s happening in your brain when you’re in flow state? ‘It activates several networks including relaxed reflective state, focused attention to task and sense of pleasure,’ she says. …

“A number of studies have shown that coloring inside a shape — specifically a pre-drawn geometric mandala design — is more effective in boosting mood than coloring on a blank paper or even coloring inside a square shape. And one 2012 study published in Journal of the American Art Therapy Association showed that coloring inside a mandala reduces anxiety to a greater degree compared to coloring in a plaid design or a plain sheet of paper.

“Strang says there’s no one medium or art activity that’s ‘better’ than another. ‘Some days you want to may go home and paint. Other days you might want to sketch,’ she says.”

More at NPR, here.

The NPR reporter in today’s post wrote this book.

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Photo: Cité Internationale des Arts
Emmanuel Sogbadji is one of the African artists whose work is shown at the new Togo museum, Palais de Lomé.        

Sometimes when I’ve been volunteering in ESL classes, I’ve caught the echo of African colonialism from languages that students try out on me because I don’t understand their native tongue. Somali and Eritrean students may know a little Italian, countries like Uganda and Zimbabwe speak English, people from such countries as Mali, Togo, and Congo know French.

Although multilingualism can be helpful in refugee language classes, I can’t help thinking the students wouldn’t have had to be refugees in the first place if the colonial powers hadn’t plundered Africa. I suppose that down the road, when the US starts welcoming refugees again, we’ll be getting people from Burkina Faso who know a little Chinese.

Anyway, because I had an English student from Togo who spoke French, I was not surprised to learn from today’s feature that Togo’s new national museum has French connections and a French name, Palais de Lomé.

Rebecca Anne Proctor writes at Frieze, “Festive scenes unfolded in Lomé’s botanical park in late November [2019], as drummers and colourfully clad moko jumbies, or stilt walkers, entertained guests – including President Faure Essozimna Gnassingbé and artist Kehinde Wiley – at the inauguration of the Palais de Lomé, Togo’s first major contemporary art museum and the only entirely state-funded arts institution in Africa.

“This is a remarkable achievement for one of the world’s poorest countries, where almost 70 percent of the rural population lives below the global poverty line, according to a 2015 World Bank report. The new museum is also an unexpected signal of cultural openness by the historically repressive Togolese government. …

“The museum is housed in the colonial Governor’s Palace, constructed in 1905, which served as a base for the Togolese state after the country gained its independence from France in 1960. For the past 20 years, however, it sat empty, until an extensive restoration project – costing [$3.6 million] – was completed in November 2019.

“Occupying the palace’s stately banquet halls and residential quarters, the new institution is large enough to accommodate five simultaneous exhibitions and abuts an 11-hectare garden, displaying works by Togolese sculptors such as Amouzou Amouzou-Glikpa and Sadikou Oukpedjo – another first in West Africa.

” ‘Three Borders’, the most contemporary of these shows, delves openly into the turbulent history of the region. In Togolese artist Emmanuel Sogbadji’s painting ‘The Intercessor’ (2006), a tall, semi-abstract figure holds a long knife. Flanked by two men, he appears defiant in the face of an interrogation. …

“As Claude Grunitzky, a New York-based Togolese editor, told me: ‘Many creatives and artists have begun to return to Togo as “repats”, […] leading interesting projects and ventures in the creative industries.’

” ‘The Palais de Lomé is a newborn child, one we have been awaiting in Togo for so long,’ added Clay Apenouvon, one of the country’s most prominent artists, who protested against the junta in his youth before relocating to Paris in 1992. Apenouvon is setting up a second studio in Lomé, where he now spends several months of the year. Not all are so optimistic, however: a Togolese artist, who wished to remain anonymous out of fear for his safety, told me that the Palais ‘will just be for the state. It won’t help the people.’ …

“The museum’s current comprehensive public funding model distinguishes it from comparable institutions on the continent. … Half of the Palais de Lomé’s government funding is set to expire at the end of its first year, however, so [Sonia Lawson, the Palais de Lomé’s inaugural director, a former luxury goods executive for L’Oréal and LVMH,] intends to form a board of donors of African descent, who she hopes will acquire new works from the continent and its diaspora for the museum’s collection.

“As a state-backed initiative, the Palais de Lomé resembles public arts institutions in the Gulf region – such as the National Museum of Qatar, opened in 2019, and the soon-to-be-completed Zayed National Museum in Abu Dhabi – which aim to boost cultural capital and foster local arts communities while improving the public image of governments viewed as repressive.

“It remains to be seen whether Lomé’s newest museum will spur substantive change or merely serve a propagandistic function, but the signs thus far seem promising. With ‘Three Borders’, Togo is not only looking outwards – to its neighbours and the international art world – but reflecting inwards on its own difficult history. ”

More here.

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Photo: Nelson Atkins Museum of Art
Staff wondered what kinds of art these Humboldt penguins from the Kansas City Zoo would gravitate toward when given leave to wander in a museum.  

You’ve probably seen as many invitations as I have to tour closed art museums online, and maybe you’ve already accepted an offer. I myself needed the extra nudge of touring a museum in the company of penguins.

Sarah Rose Sharp writes at Hyperallergic, “As reported by Time, three art-savvy Humboldt penguins from the Kansas City Zoo were given leave to wander a couple of the galleries at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art earlier in May.

“A video produced by the museum shows the little fellas wandering the marble floors and pausing to look at Impressionist and Baroque master paintings in galleries that were carefully checked to ensure the safety of both the works of art and their avian visitors.

“ ‘We’re so happy to welcome our colleagues from the zoo,’ said Nelson Atkins Executive Director Julián Zugazagoitia, in the video, ‘and they’ve brought special friends, and actually, we’re seeing how they’re reacting to art.’ ” More.

Back at Time, Tara Law wrote that Zugazagoitia thought the penguins “would be most interested in the works by Claude Monet, because they are ‘soothing’ and resemble water. However, the waddling visitors seemed to be most engaged with the Baroque works, including those by Caravaggio. …

“ ‘They stop, and look and wonder. … It really brought us joy, and I think it brings the community together when the love of animals and the empathy we feel for them is also reinforced by the love that we feel for art.’ …

“Although the museum has not yet announced a reopening date, Zugazagoitia says it has been working to keep its community engaged, including by migrating its festival celebrations online.” More at Time.

I sure do like people who have ideas. Although the Duchess in Alice in Wonderland insisted, “‘Tis love, ’tis love that makes the world go ’round,” I can’t help thinking that inventiveness, playful and otherwise, is pretty important, too.

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Photo: Immersive van Gogh exhibit
The co-producer of the van Gogh drive-through exhibition in Toronto says, “It will be almost as if the car is floating through the paintings.”

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. This story reminds me of friends who refuse to take no for an answer. Somehow they figure out how to make a thing happen no matter the obstacles.

Zulekha Nathoo reports for CBC News, “An upcoming digital art exhibit featuring the work of Vincent van Gogh is planning to open next month in Toronto, but you’ll need a car to get in.

“The large-scale exhibition, which was initially supposed to begin May 1 but couldn’t open as a result of the pandemic, will temporarily operate as a drive-in starting June 18 to adhere to current COVID-19 physical distancing and health guidelines.

“The exhibit’s producers said after a year of working on the original plan and purchasing the rights to more than 400 pieces from different museums, they didn’t want to give up on the project. ….

“Said co-producer Svetlana Dvoretsky, ‘People have to see the light at the end of the tunnel and also the light during this situation.’

“Art lovers will drive into the 4,000 square foot downtown industrial space and will stay inside their vehicles. … The drive-in, the first of its kind in a post-pandemic era, will allow 14 vehicles per time slot. Visitors will park, turn off their engines and watch a 35-minute show while remaining inside their cars.

” ‘The lights go down and the projection begins,’ said co-producer Corey Ross. ‘It will be almost as if the car is floating through the paintings.’

“The exhibit includes some of the Dutch painter’s most well-known masterpieces, including ‘Starry Night,’ ‘Sunflowers’ and many self-portraits. It also attempts to chronicle the famed artist’s tragic demise through the works.

” ‘It’s not that you just walk in and see the display of his paintings. That, you can see in a museum,’ said Dvoretsky.

‘What our artists have done with this exhibit is they take you inside the painting … They’re trying to show us their version of how the story is born in the mind of the genius.’

“The Gogh by Car exhibit is an interim alternative to the walk-through van Gogh exhibit at the same location, which has been postponed until at least July due to COVID-19 restrictions. But the producers say the ‘test drive’ could continue beyond its currently scheduled 11-day preview if public gatherings are still limited over the summer. …

“The installation has been designed by the creators of the successful Paris-based digital art project Atelier des Lumières, which received more than two million visitors before the global shutdown.”

More at the CBC, here. The exhibit is not free, but the cost covers both the drive-through for two and a future walk-through.

To learn more about van Gogh, check out this wonderful, quasi-animated film called Loving Vincent. Here’s the trailer.

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Photo: Simone Saunders
Thanks to the pandemic and the Long Distance Art series, Canadian artist Simone Saunders is making connections with artists around the world.

The other day, I was talking to a friend about activities that were started only because of coronavirus self-distancing but were perhaps enough fun to keep doing in the future.

I like the FaceTime meetings that my husband and I have managed to do a couple times with our grown children when the grandchildren were otherwise occupied. The conversations were funny.

My friend mentioned an art lecture that would previously have had a dozen local students but is now online and attracting hundreds of international participants. She also spoke of a Zoom call with nieces and nephews around the country, marveling, “We’ve never all been together at the same time before!”

On the theme of helpful pandemic discoveries, here’s a report by Bianca Hillier at Public Radio International’s the World about an art collaboration that also might last beyond the pandemic.

“Speaking a dream or a goal into existence has little evidence proving its effectiveness. But for Nick Green, creator of the Social Distancing Festival, the practice has worked.

“ ‘My dream is to hear the story of two artists that have met through my site and collaborate on some really profound piece of art,’ Green told the World in March. His site aggregates content from artists whose performances have been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. ‘And they live across the world and never would have met, otherwise.’

“Weeks later, Green’s dream came to fruition.

“ ‘It’s quite poetic that we’re speaking again, given the last words in our last interview of what my big dream was — to have this become more of a collaborative project,’ Green told the World more recently. ‘And now, there have been some new projects happening that are really, really exciting.’ …

Long Distance Art, which launched this week, is an international, multidisciplinary collaborative art series that emerged from the Social Distancing Festival. Artists can contact Green and inquire about collaborating with another artist they’ve seen on the site, or have Green pair them with another artist of his choosing. …

“ ‘For online art, I’ve become a matchmaker,’ he joked. … Green’s matchmaking magic has recently connected a team of Canadian musicians with a dancer in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Barbara Johnston, a member of the Toronto-based composing team alongside Anika Johnson and Suzy Wilde, was contacted by Green and immediately thought the idea was ‘the most exciting thing possible in the world.’ Once paired with Tanzanian dancer Tadhi Alawi, Johnston’s team got to work. …

“Johnston said. ‘We just wrote an email about what we felt the song was about, how we thought the themes could be expanded upon, how certain aspects of what’s going on in the world can relate to what this song is about. And he wrote us back this beautiful email the next day. And we just began sharing emails back and forth, talking about our process, talking about the song and the movement to the song.’

“The final product of the collaboration is a video showing Alawi dancing to ‘Wild Heart,’ a song composed by Johnston and her team. It’s a partnership unlike any Johnston’s been a part of, she said, but one she wants to explore more. …

“ ‘It’s just amazing how quickly we connected as collaborators without ever having met, and with being, you know, literally a world apart. … All I want to do now is try to find ways to connect with people. And I feel that this is an opportunity to see beyond the barriers that exist and have existed, because we’re in unknown land now. We’re just trusting in the process.’ …

“Other collaborations in the Long Distance Art series’ unveiling include work between Calgary, Canada-based visual artist Simone Elizabeth Saunders and Tekikki Walker, a Cleveland, Ohio based multimedia designer. Painter Liza Merkalova, based in Adelaide, Australia, also teamed up with New York musician Charlie Rauh. …

“As venue doors remain closed, laptop computers remain open. Green said his aspirations for the Social Distancing Festival and the Long Distance Art series aren’t canceled — but they need funds to sustain themselves.

“ ‘A dream of mine is that there might be someone or an organization out there who sees that this is the artistic embodiment of connecting people across the world and global conversations about humanity and lived experiences,’ Green said. ‘And they might say, “Hey, you know, that aligns really well with what we, as an organization, are doing. Why don’t we put some money into this?” …

” ‘Why stop now?’ ”

More at PRI, here.

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Photo: Vasnetsov Brothers Art Museum
In Soviet times, avant-garde art such as Ilya Mashkov‘s Landscape (1911) were hidden in the provinces for fear of censorship and persecution. Recently the authenticity of a cache uncovered in a small history museum was verified.

I can never resist a story about antiquities that have just been unearthed or long-lost art that has been found. Rediscoveries give me hope that other losses may be retrieved. Even intangibles such as, say, nationwide respect for science, concern for the marginalized, friendly collaboration, kindness.

Today I want to tell you about exceptional art once labeled “degenerate” that was recently authenticated. Surprisingly, in the first five years after the Bolshevik Revolution, the works were considered OK and were part of a traveling show. It was only later that they fell out of favor.

Sophia Kishkovsky reports at the Art Newspaper, “A leading Russian avant-garde expert says he has identified dozens of works by artists such as Wassily Kandinsky, Alexander Rodchenko and Varvara Stepanova languishing in an obscure history museum in the Kirov region, [500 miles] from Moscow.

“Andrey Sarabyanov says he was ‘astounded’ at what he found in the basement store of the Yaransk Museum of Local Lore, in a town of fewer than 16,000 people. Discoveries included three watercolours by Kandinsky, a gouache by Stepanova and a ‘completely unknown’ work by Rodchenko from 1915 — a painting on cardboard that is now being restored.

“Sarabyanov, the editor of a Russian avant-garde encyclopaedia that will be published in English in 2022, believes the works were abruptly abandoned after featuring in an early Soviet travelling exhibition in 1921. …

“Sarabyanov learned of Yaransk’s hidden treasures from a local cultural official, Anna Shakina, during a 2017 visit to the regional capital, Kirov, where the Vasnetsov Brothers Art Museum holds a rich avant-garde collection. Shakina’s 2008 dissertation research had unearthed the catalogue of the 1921 exhibition, for which the early Bolshevik government transported more than 350 works by 20th-century artists around the region by horse-drawn cart.

“According to records, 85 of the works remained in Yaransk. Around half were transferred to Kirov in the 1960s for restoration and hidden in storage due to censorship from the Soviet authorities, which had long since banned avant-garde art. They are now openly displayed as part of the Vasnetsov Brothers Art Museum’s collection. Sarabyanov knew those pieces from visits in the late Soviet era and in 2015, when he was preparing a Moscow exhibition of forgotten avant-garde art from provincial museums.

“Together with Shakina — now the Kirov museum’s director — and Natalia Murray, a lecturer at London’s Courtauld Institute of Art, Sarabyanov plans to reconstruct the 1921 exhibition at the Yeltsin Center in Yekaterinburg, reuniting the works divided between Kirov and Yaransk. The show is currently scheduled to open in September. The whereabouts of the 250-plus other works are still unknown but alternative pieces will be lent by the Slobodskoy Museum and Exhibition Center.” More here.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Married Soviet avant-garde artists Alexander Rodchenko and Varvara Stepanova are pictured here in the 1920s.

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Photo: Filippo and Marianna
Nine-month old gerbils Pandoro and Tiramisù survey London’s newest art institution, the Gerbil Museum.

This cute story from London about two imaginative shut-ins and their pets makes me think of Beatrix Potter books. But which one in particular? Maybe The Tale of Two Bad Mice? What do you think?

Hrag Vartanian reports for Hyperallergic, “Pandoro and Tiramisù are not your ordinary gerbils. The London-based pair got a special surprise when their owners, Filippo and Marianna, created a miniature museum  just for them during the current COVID-19 quarantine. …

“Both Filippo and Marianna are art lovers, with one working in a local museum and the other as an artist and writer. The gerbils declined to comment.

“Hyperallergic: Tell us about your gerbils!

“Filippo and Marianna: They are 9-month-old brothers and their names are Pandoro and Tiramisù. Pandoro is tawny while Tiramisù is the taupe one.

“H: Have they demonstrated a love of art before?

“F&M: Not really, this was their first time in a museum. They much enjoyed the display and paid close attention to the quality of the gallery’s props. They can’t read, so the sign to advise the visitors to not chew [on the furniture] went completely unnoticed. Overall, it seemed to be a satisfying and engaging experience.

“H: How did you choose the paintings?

“F: Initially we wanted to select less famous paintings but in the end we thought it would have been funnier and more engaging to choose some of the best known works in art history. … Marianna is very good at painting and I couldn’t help but wonder how ‘The Kiss’ and “’Girl with a Pearl Earring’ could have looked with a gerbil twist. …

“H:  Did Pandoro and Tiramisù enjoy the opening of their private museum?

“F&M: Initially they explored the gallery space looking for clues about the rather eclectic selection of artworks. After a while, boredom and a certain love for disruptive gestures grew to a point they managed to start a performance by chewing the empty gallery assistant’s stool — an act that we were lucky enough to film. …

“H: Is this a complicated ploy to write off your gerbils on your taxes?

“F&M: Maybe yes, although they are not very expensive. As long as we have seeds and mini gallery assistants’ stools we are good.”

The blogger Bereaved Single Dad, also in England, frequently mentions gerbils. This is from 2019: “A couple of days back we set off for the pet shop to get a gerbil. A couple of hours later we had fallen for the story of the three inseparable brothers who they didn’t want to split up. … Happy Son. Confused Dad.

“Meet our three new faces. Cupid, Jeff and Hendrix. Unbelievably the house is already covered in wood chippings. Suspect I will need a bigger Hoover.”

The video of the museum-going gerbils is at Hyperallergic, here.

As the New Yorker magazine used to say in a bottom-of-the-column feature: “There’ll always be an England.”

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Lot and His Daughters, about 1622, Orazio Gentileschi, at the J. Paul Getty Museum. Recreation on Twitter by Qie Zhang, Erik Carlsson, and their daughters with sheet and yellow dress.

Oh, my goodness! How I loved reading about this yesterday! The J. Paul Getty Museum in California invited fans on social media to use everyday objects from around the house to replicate pieces of art in the museum’s collection. I’m posting a couple of the results, but you really have to go to the site and enjoy everything that the museum has shared.

Sarah Waldorf and Annelisa Stephan wrote at the Getty blog, “On [March 25] we issued a playful challenge on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to re-create your favorite art using just three objects lying around home. And wow, did you respond! Thousands and thousands of re-creations later, we’re in awe of your creative powers and sense of humor.

“The challenge was inspired by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and a brilliant Instagram account called Between Art and Quarantine, but adapted with the invitation to use digitized and downloadable artworks from Getty’s online collection. …

“You’ve re-created Jeff Koons using a pile of socks, restaged Jacques-Louis David with a fleece blanket and duct tape, and MacGyvered costumes out of towels, pillows, scarves, shower caps, coffee filters, bubble wrap, and — of course — toilet paper and toilet rolls.

Cézanne and Vermeer have been a popular source of inspiration, especially Still Life with Apples (done to perfection with household pottery and gin) and Girl with a Pearl Earring (restaged with selfies and grandma, pug, or lab). Grant Wood’s American Gothic seems to capture the current socially distant mood, while Munch’s The Scream is appropriate for all ages and apparently tastes good on toast. …

“Christian Martinez’s 6-year-old daughter Bella has a love of nature that drew her immediately to this page from a Renaissance manuscript. Encountering the challenge over breakfast, the family let their imaginations run wild. …

“ ‘Pasta being life for a 6-year-old, it was first selected, followed by the boiled eggs, which happened to be cooling off to the side,’ Christian told us. Next came a brown paper bag as the canvas, and a basil stem from last night’s dinner. …

“[An] early 20th-century Scandinavian interior spoke to Tracy McKaskle ‘because we are all confined to home,’ she said. … For her re-creation, she stood on a chair and carefully placed some pins to hold the little picture, moved her dining room furniture out of the way, then perfectly placed an easel with a blank canvas. …

“Transforming into an ancient harp player with a vacuum cleaner ‘was the first thing that came to mind when I was looking at your collection,’ says Irena Irena Ochódzka, who posed herself into this amazing sculptural recreation. …

“[A] Baroque masterpiece ‘was the first painting that stood out to me [in the Getty collections] and I thought we could do it pretty easily,’ said Qie Zhang of this family project. Her two girls fought over the yellow dress, she told us, but you can’t tell from the delightful end result.

“Her husband’s pose also made us laugh with its allusion to parental exhaustion.”

More here. Don’t miss the Van Gogh made of Play Doh, carrot slices, and wooden beads! And tell me your favorite.

Male Harp Player of the Early Spedos Type, 2700–2300 B.C., Cycladic. Marble. Recreation via Facebook DM by Irena Ochódzka with canister vacuum.

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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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