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Photos: Shelter in Place Gallery
Shelter In Place is a miniature, coronavirus-inspired gallery. It was launched by artist Eben Haines, who built the maquette and invited artists to submit works to scale.

If I didn’t believe that for most of us the lockdown would last a lot longer than the current “opening up” stuff, I’d write a post about happy I am to read books to grandchildren again and how sorry I am to see artists abandon their wildly inventive pandemic pursuits.

But I’m pretty sure most of us will still be self-distancing for many moons and enjoying the output from creative people that might never have happened but for coronavirus. I love following @covidartmuseum on Instagram, for example. Some of the submissions are a little too weird for me, but most of them make me laugh out loud. Another great source is the arts website Hyperallergic, where I recently learned about a miniature gallery called Shelter in Place.

Valentina Di Liscia wrote, “In the past month, a Boston gallery has managed to mount 15 exhibitions of brand-new works, with a rigorous program still to come. With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, arts institutions around the globe shuttered one after the other; meanwhile, Shelter in Place Gallery [@shelterinplacegallery on Instagram] was not only founded during the crisis but continues to thrive.

“Of course, there’s a catch. Shelter In Place is a miniature gallery, measuring 20 by 30 inches and exhibiting scaled-down works in a model structure created using foam core, mat board, balsa wood, and plexiglass. Artists can submit works at a 1:12 or one inch to the foot scale, allowing them to create and show even ambitious, seemingly large-scale pieces — a romantic, suspended latex installation by Mary Pedicini; wall-to-wall canvases by B. Chehayeb — while traditional exhibition spaces remain closed. With high ceilings and skylights that flood the space with sunshine, the condensed gallery is impressively lifelike, giving artists room to get particularly creative. …

“The brilliant concept was devised by Eben Haines, a painter and graphic designer for exhibitions at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), Boston.

‘With the ongoing shutdowns and lockdowns across the globe, artists are having to stay home … So I’ve built SIP gallery as a new platform for Boston Artists (and eventually from all over) to allow for large scale artworks to be made at a desk or dining room table.’ …

“The idea first came to him back in 2018, long before the pandemic, when Haines was asked to participate in a group show at the Porch Gallery in Minneapolis titled Art Fair. The concept was simple: each artist received a 10-by-10-inch, white-painted MDF box that would serve as an ersatz fair booth where they could show scaled work. …

“Months later, as a rainy day project, he decided to create his own 1:12 scale model to house maquettes for large-scale works that he could not produce in his studio due to space or financial constraints. ‘But then the weather got better, and the more or less abandoned model stayed tucked away in my studio,’ he said.

“Enter the current crisis. Haines was one of more than 300 workers furloughed from the MFA Boston, which closed its doors in March … Haines dusted off the gallery model from years back and began making miniature paintings, initially as a strategy to continue working in his reduced studio space, which had shrunk from 400 square feet to a mere 10. But it dawned on him that other artists might be in a similar predicament, confined to less-than-ideal work conditions and aching to share their creations in a meaningful way. …

“All of the works on view are original, and it prioritizes new pieces as opposed to small copies of existing ones. Digital copies are all but prohibited. … So far, all works have arrived ready to be hung, which has made installations easier. …

“Haines emphasizes the project is not commercial; instead, any sales inquiries received are rerouted to the artists themselves, or to their galleries. Nicole Duennebier’s exhibition, for instance, nearly sold out before they could deliver the mini-paintings back to her gallery, 13FOREST. …

“Said Haines. ‘One of my ambitions for this project, besides urging people to step outside of their crisis mode for a little bit, is for artists to be able to use their submission proposals and photographs of their installed work to send to galleries, residencies, or grant programs, and have some momentum when the country opens back up. …

” ‘We’re honestly so busy with the local response we’ve had that it seems daunting to open it up, but once going to the post office gets a little safer and easier, I’d love to be able to show work from outside Boston,’ said Haines.”

Read the whole article at Hyperallergic, here. The pictures are amazing.

Wilhelm Neusser, “Untitled Bog Painting” (2020), oil on linen, a miniature.

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Photo: Topps Company
The 1954 original Ted Williams baseball card and a new version by artist JK5.

If these were normal times, the grandchildren in both families would be starting baseball, and John would be organizing parents to help coach the kids’ team. Right. Normal.

So very many American kids grew up with baseball! My brother Bo knew all the stats of pretty much every player back in the day and had a big baseball card collection. He was beyond thrilled the times that our family visited the Baseball Hall of Fame in upstate New York.

As you can imagine, today that great institution’s website features a “Virtual Hall of Fame Spotlight: Giamatti Research Center,” a “Virtual Field Trip: Geography: Baseball Coast to Coast,” and “Virtual Voices of the Game: Al Oliver.” What’s the world coming to?

Meanwhile, the baseball card company Topps has decided to have some fun.

As Peter Abraham reported at the Boston Globe in April, Topps has solicited artists to recreate some of the best-known and most valued cards.

“That he refused to wear a tie for even formal occasions was as close as Ted Williams came to being a rebel. … So the idea of 20 artists from such disciplines as graffiti, cartooning, jewelry design, and tattooing reimagining the look of his 1954 Topps baseball card would probably not sit well with Williams.

“Or maybe it would. In his own way, Williams was a stubborn individualist, [defying] the lords of baseball by using his Hall of Fame induction speech to call for the inclusion of Negro League players in Cooperstown.

“ ‘We’re all honoring him in our own individual way,’ said Joseph Ari Aloi, one of the artists who took on the unique project. ‘I think he’d like it.’

“Aloi, who is known professionally as JK5, graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design and now works at a Brooklyn tattoo shop while pursuing myriad other interests. His homage to Williams was rendered in black and white with intricate details that resemble his tattoo designs and reflect a love of typography.

“In place of his bat, Williams is swinging a pencil, a symbol of the parallels between artists and athletes. What appear to be laser beams are shooting from his eyes. The shapes in the background reveal his name, number, and statistics. …

“Aloi jumped at the opportunity to work with baseball cards when his agent presented him with the proposal from Topps. Reconnecting with something from his past was energizing. …

“ ‘I wanted to bring it to life with my own aesthetics and make it something unique. I’ve had a lot of fun with this.’

Topps calls it Project 2020 because Aloi is one of 20 artists who are reinterpreting 20 classic cards. The 400 cards — plus some artist proofs — will be sold over a period of roughly 40 weeks in limited quantities. …

“Topps recruited a wide range of artists, including Groteskito, the creative director of Nike Basketball, and Sophia Chang, a New York illustrator who has collaborated with adidas and Puma.

“Jewelry designer Ben Baller, who has 1.4 million Instagram followers, did his Frank Thomas card with a diamond look that was similar to pieces he designed for Drake, Snoop Dogg, and Kanye West. …

“Along with Williams, the artists will re-create cards featuring Roberto Clemente, Ken Griffey Jr., Sandy Koufax, Willie Mays, Ichiro Suzuki, and Mike Trout, among others. …

“The Williams card from 1954 card was traditional. There was an image of Williams smiling, a black-and-white photograph of his swing, and his careful, neat signature.

“ ‘It’s a classic card,’ said Aloi, who collected cards when he was a kid. ‘Ted Williams had such phenomenal stats. My father knew players from that era and always talked about him. For me, mixing two worlds appealed to my creativity and my sensibilities. With everything that has been going on, it’s been a good outlet.’ ”

More here.

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APTOPIX Virus Outbreak Germany

Art: Street artist FreeThinker via the Mercury News
Artists are reflecting our pandemic experience in whatever media they use. Some of the work ends up in the Covid Art Museum, some can be found on the street.

The Covid Art Museum (@covidartmuseum on Instagram) has provided some laughs for me lately. It’s one of the many new links I’ve added to my social media during the pandemic. I first learned about it at a site called OZY.

Dan Peleschuk reported, “With entire populations around the world locked inside, museums everywhere have closed their doors until the deadly coronavirus pandemic passes.

“Not this one. Which actually opened. …

“Three Barcelona-based advertising professionals came up with a bright idea: the Covid Art Museum (CAM), an Instagram account collecting the best COVID-19-related work out there.

“Launched in mid-March, just as Spain was careening into the health crisis, this volunteer effort showcases the creative fruits of mostly European artists who have something to say about how society’s changing before our eyes. …

“After all, ‘we are now in a period of very important reflection on everything,’ says CAM co-founder Irene Llorca, creative art director at marketing agency Honest Barcelona.

“Popular themes include creative pleas for consumers to stay home, as well as playful takes on the newly ubiquitous face masks. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, toilet paper features prominently too. Virtually every art form — photographs, illustrations, installations and much more — makes an appearance in the museum’s quickly growing archive. …

“London-based art director Thomas Ollivier, also known as Tom le French, has turned his attention to a series of photographic manipulations that comment, among other things, on what face masks might tell us about our future. Even after the crisis ends, he says, the objects might find their way into our normal routine. ‘Surely it will start to become like a handbag or an accessory, and obviously brands will step in and create their own version of it,’ he says. …

“For creators, it’s a free platform for their art. For everyone else, Llorca adds, ‘it’s a space that can give them strength and help them realize that they are not alone in this.

‘Maybe they’ll see that artwork by a Spanish person in Bilbao speaks directly about their current situation. It’s a way to connect people virtually.’

“Just like with every other aspect of life these days, it feels pointless to talk about future plans. But at the very least, Llorca says, a digital book might be in the works — plus a physical exhibition, for when it’s all over.” More.

In Angie Kordic’s Widewalls interview with the museum’s founders, Irene Llorca explains more: “From the artworks that we receive through our questionnaire, so far we have counted more than 50 different nationalities. We have also created the hashtag #CovidArtMuseum and many artists are using it. They send the artworks to us and we also look for them.

“The three of us are passionate about art and we follow many artists and art galleries; this has helped us find very interesting works.

“The main filter when choosing the pieces is that they are related to the current moment: the crisis of Covid19. That’s why we don’t close ourselves to any technique, we collect all kinds of art whether it’s illustrations, photographs, paintings, drawings, animations, video, etc. From all the works received or found, a selection is made to publish those that best reflect the current moment.” More.

If you are on Instagram, it’s definitely worth following @covidartmuseum.

Photo: Bored Panda

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Photo: CBC

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Image: Ozy

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Art: Andy Andersen via Hyperallergic
Andy Andersen’s depiction of Dr. Anthony Fauci, of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, as Saint Pantaleon the Healer. Andersen, a Los Angeles area illustrator, is one of many artists reimagining the doctor as pandemic cultural icon.

Don’t you love how creative people always find ways to have fun with current events, no matter how dire? Consider this charming story by Hakim Bishara at Hyperallergic, where we learn about the art community’s take on the doctor at the center of federal Covid-19 communications, the doctor that people trust.

“Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, is by all accounts the man of the hour [and] being showered with praise and admiration, sometimes uncomfortably, as he became the most recognized voice in the United States on the coronavirus pandemic.

“On social media, Fauci is being celebrated with thousands of artistic tributes, from admiring portraits and cartoons to tattoos, sock puppets, and saint icons bearing his image.

“One of the most intricate tributes to Fauci belongs to Andy Andersen, an illustrator based outside of Los Angeles. His illustration depicts the famed doctor as the late-medieval Saint Pantaleon the healer. ‘Saint Fauci’ holds a box of medicine, flanked by angels of death and spikey coronaviruses.

“ ‘I based it on some of the classic saint iconography that exists,’ Andersen explained to Hyperallergic in an email. ‘The pose, the composition, the elements all reference those iconic images, but updated with references to the virus.’

“ ‘To me, Fauci is the calming, reassuring voice during this confusing and unpredictable time,’ Andersen wrote. ‘He reminds me of a grandfather who assures you that everything will be ok. It will be hard, it will most likely suck, and sh#!t will happen, but in the end, everything will be ok. The silver lining is that humanity has such a competent, intellectual powerhouse on its side.’

“Several other fans also elevated Fauci to saintdom. One of them created a ‘Saint Fauci’ votive candle with the caption: ‘Not all heroes wear capes! 🙏🙏🙏🙏’ [See @taintedsaint_ on Instagram.]

“One of the most famous public images of Fauci captures him facepalming … during a coronavirus briefing at the White House. For many Americans, the image highlighted Fauci as a voice of reason …

“Brad Albright, an artist and an illustrator based in Texas, decided to perpetuate Fauci’s facepalm with a sticker. ‘Somebody get this man some (more) medals, honors and awards!!! Seriously. He’s a saint,’ he wrote in the caption.

“In addition, there are myriad admiring portraits of Fauci online, from pencil sketches to paintings and GIFs. One such artwork, titled ‘The Explainer in Chief,’ captures Fauci explaining the disease to the press cameras. The artist, Phil Bateman, writes in the caption: ‘Who else but Anthony Fauci could tell you terrifying things and yet whose terrifying explanations made you feel better because you believed only him.’ …

“How does this intense level of attention affect Fauci himself? When asked in an interview with CBS’s Gayle King if he feels personal pressure he calmly answered, ‘It’s my job. This is the life I’ve chosen and I’m doing it.’ ”

Read Hyperallergic here. And for more on the curious manifestations of Fauci fandom, check out the Verge.

By the way, did you ever see the documentary How to Survive a Plague, about the AIDS crisis?  Dr. Fauci was in government back then, too, and in the the early 1980s, before his hair turned gray, he was definitely not considered a hero by terrified AIDS victims. Clearly, he has learned a lot. Which proves that there really are second chances in life.

Photo: Donut Crazy via the Hartford Courant
Donut Crazy has honored infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci with special doughnuts bearing his image.

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Photo: Ramon Dompor
Artist Carlos Ruiz works on his mural to cover the boards on the Jade Garden Restaurant. Ruiz and other local artists donated their time and paint to help several restaurants in Seattle.

As we all know, Washington State had the first cluster of coronavirus cases in the US, and it is still struggling. That’s why the Seattle Times decided to solicit stories for a Stepping Up series meant to bring residents some encouragement.

In one example, Chris Talbott reported on artists beautifying boarded-up storefronts.

“Plywood is going up all over town. It’s not pretty. Give Seattle’s art community a little time, though, and it will catch up. Already artists are out and about, painting  murals to combat the growing blight as the novel coronavirus pandemic forces continued closures of local businesses and restaurants.

” ‘I have been homebound mostly like everybody else and trying to think of ways that I can help my community,’ artist Amanda Bishop said.

‘I’ve been feeling a little bit helpless because I’m not on the front lines. I’m not a nurse, I’m not a doctor. I don’t have a ton of money and my husband and I both lost work because of the virus. So when this opportunity came up, I was like, “This is a way that I can use my skills because this is my full-time thing.” ‘

“Working with permission from owners through the group Overall Creative, Bishop has started painting murals. She spent Sunday at the corner of Pike Street and 10th Avenue working in front of the Comet Tavern and Lost Lake Café along with other artists, each presenting their own vision. …

“Bishop said, ‘I actually did have a lot of people come up and say thank you. And I’ve done a ton of murals over the last eight years of doing this professionally and I haven’t had that as much as I had the last two days.’

“Plywood started going up [in March] after vandals began smashing windows of closed businesses. That led to more plywood from store owners who feared they might be next. Things were starting to look bleak all over town.

“The folks at Venue in Ballard realized this immediately. The shop sells the work of local artists and features a row of large picture windows. There was no question the windows needed to be covered up, but plywood seemed so … blah. So owners decided to hire a painter to beautify the plywood with a forest scene. …

“Venue owner Diane Macrae said, ‘Knowing artists are struggling as well with canceled shows and lack of sales, we figured it was a chance to provide some additional work for them. Our store is all about supporting local artists, so it made sense to continue to do this during this time in any way we can.’

“A similar effort has been under way in the International District and Little Saigon areas after vandals took out the windows of several restaurants nearly two weeks ago. …

“Ivy Chan and her family, which has run Jade Garden for 17 years, aren’t sure if the vandals were trying to break in or were just out to cause damage. But she feels the opportunity arose because the streets are virtually empty thanks to the stay-at-home order.

“ ‘Those people, they like to take advantage of the fact that there’s less people now because they’re all trying to do their diligent part to stay home,’ Chan said. “And then other people are like, ’Oh, it’s easier for me to go out there and do stuff. There’s less police patrolling, there’s less eyes to watch.’ …

“Keoke Silvano, a local photographer, … organized a group of artists who proceeded to paint the colorful mural at Jade Garden. He hopes it’s just the start, and that painters who might be out of work or looking for a way to contribute will continue the effort for businesses forced into fortress mode. …

“ ‘It seems to me that some of these businesses might’ve been targeted because they are Asian businesses,’ Silvano said. … He decided to fight back and put out word to the art community. He ended up with a half dozen or so painters who decorated the front of Jade Garden in a variety of colorful styles. They used mostly spray paint to craft scenes that included a meal of noodles, vegetables and tea with a fortune cookie, and a Seattle skyline framed by jacaranda blossoms.”

More here.

Isn’t that the way things go? First something bad like vandalism happens, then individuals in the community basically say, “I’m not on that team” — and join forces.

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Photo: The Art Newspaper
ProjectArt provides free after-school arts classes to children and teens at public libraries in major US cities.

When Suzanne lived in Harlem in the early 2000s, she loved her volunteer gig at a free arts program for kids who were not getting arts education in the city schools. Today I still follow FreeArtsNYC on Facebook, where I especially love the quotes from children inspired by the program.

As Tess Thackara writes at UK-based The Art Newspaper, “Exposure to the arts gives us the tools to know ourselves and others better. It bolsters our self-esteem, helps us communicate and improves our performance in academic or professional areas of our lives. … Yet, since the 1980s, access to arts education for American schoolchildren has been on the decline — particularly in school districts with high populations of minority students. …

“But where the American public school system is failing children, non-profits are stepping in to fill the void, and one in particular has ambitious plans to become the largest free art school for children in the country.

“[ProjectArt], an initiative founded by Adarsh Alphons in Harlem in 2011, is expanding to New Orleans and San Francisco, bringing arts access to two cities with large communities of homeless young people and giving the organisation a presence in a total of eight cities across the US. …

“Its executive director, Diana Buckley Muchmore, who has led the organisation’s daily operations since last November, volunteered with ProjectArt in its early days, and one experience impressed on her the impact that art can make in a child’s development.

“Joining her friend Alphons in teaching a class of ten students in a Harlem community center, Buckley Muchmore met a boy named Malikai. ‘He was non-verbal, very quiet, but I connected with him through a sculpture he was making out of foil and through this art-making, he slowly started to open up to describe his work,’ she remembers. …

“Since then, Buckley Muchmore has watched as ProjectArt has embraced a model, adopted in 2012, of partnering with the country’s public library systems. The libraries give them free space, access to existing communities and materials to inspire the children’s creations. ‘There are 16,000 public libraries in the US; there are 14,000 Starbucks — to give you an idea of the magnitude of libraries,’ she says.

“Artist-teachers, who go through a competitive review and interview process, receive a studio in a library, in addition to payment, and make their own work throughout the year, often in collaboration with the students. Students showcase their work in an exhibition at the end of the school year.

“In the meantime, the organisation is working to serve the particular needs (and capitalise on the assets) of its newest cities. In San Francisco … [Buckley Muchmore has] an eye on big companies like Airbnb and Adobe, which she hopes to approach for corporate funding. (The organisation also receives grants from foundations and individual donors.) …

” ‘In terms of less populated communities, we’ll get there too,’ says Buckley Muchmore. ‘Eventually, we’ll be in all the cities that have libraries.’ ” More here.

The model is a little different from Free Arts NYC, which relies more on volunteers, but it’s similar to one my friend Meredith founded in Lowell, Mass., which had practicing artists doing the teaching. In all three models, the classes are free for students.

Oh! And do add “Muchmore” to your list of interesting names!

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Photo: Corinna Kern/Reuters
Girls from Eritrea play in an open area opposite Tel Aviv’s artsy but grimy “new” Central Bus Station.

Things change, and sometimes names don’t fit anymore. When I was a kid, I knew a girl called Bambi. Today she would be in her 70s, and I can’t imagine the cute name still works. How about the war-torn Middle East, once called the “Cradle of Civilization,” where if you are determined, you can visit the dried-up “Fertile Crescent”?

In today’s story, a bus station still called “new” actually opened for business in 1993 and is a derelict mess. Fortunately, there is nothing like a derelict mess to inspire artists to go into creative overdrive.

Ruth Eglash reports a the Washington Post, “It’s impossible to remain apathetic toward Tel Aviv’s ‘new’ Central Bus Station, a grimy, peeling concrete structure that spans five blocks and reaches seven stories in a run-down section of this bustling city.

“No longer new — it opened its doors in 1993 — and certainly not central, the bus station evokes sharp responses from anyone who steps inside. Some are fascinated with the urban eyesore, while for others, it instills fear after years of violent crime marred its reputation.

“Designed by renowned Israeli architect Ram Karmi, the hulking station, said to be the second largest in the world, was envisioned as housing an entire city under one roof. But Karmi’s brutalist style, with coarsely strewn stairwells, mezzanine floors, winding walkways, vast corridors and dark hidden spaces made the station impractical and impossible to navigate almost from the start.

“Twenty-six years later, its legacy is as rough and as unwelcoming as the abandoned stores and deserted floors inside it. Only a small part of the station is used today for daily travel, with most commuters hurrying through, hoping to spend as little time there as possible.

“But the expansive space has given rise to a cast of exotic characters and myriad artistic initiatives that take advantage of the unique charms of this gritty interior.

“The surrounding neighborhood is populated by a mix of African migrants, Filipino care workers and longtime Israeli residents, all of whom mill about the station’s ultracheap clothing stores, bargain electronic outlets, beauty salons and foreign food markets.

“Over the past five years, artists have realized the benefits of this unadorned space, brightening its walls with graffiti on the seventh floor or filling the abandoned stores on the fifth with modern installations. A Yiddish Cultural Center and a bat colony also call the station home. …

“A local theater group has adopted the bus station for its site-specific and immersive performances. In ‘Seven,’ an artistic interpretation of the seven deadly sins, the Mystorin Theatre Ensemble spotlights some of the station’s darkest corners: a former waiting area it has renamed ‘the red square,’ the oddly painted concrete staircase and even the dreaded first floor, with its abandoned movie theater, stores, cafes and ticket booths.

‘It’s an urban playground for artists,’ said actress and theater manager Dana Forer. ‘For us, this is an ideal space. We have seven floors, and the people who come here help turn our performance into a world of fantasy and reality.’

I need to ask my friend Kai what he thinks of this example of Brutalist architecture. He’s the only person I know who has a good word to say for Boston’s unloved Brutalist city hall. Because he’s a guy who has a way of bringing out the good side of almost anyything, I try to understand what he sees in it when I pass by.

I should also mention Kai has a gentle and lovable pitbull for a pet.

For some nice pictures of the art projects in the Tel Aviv bus station, click here.

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Photo: Eric Cabanis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Looming over mere mortals, a Minotaur strode through the streets of Toulouse, France, for an immersive art exhibition in November.

There are days I think that artists will save the world.

We have too many real-life monstrosities weighing us down. If we make the mistake of watching the news before bedtime, evil forces get into our dreams. Along with the demons comes a sense of helplessness — a feeling we ought to do something about this, but we don’t know what.

But fantasy monsters? Oh, yes, please! The more wildly imaginative artists we have, the more fantasy monsters, the better for me. I would absolutely love to look out the window one morning and see a giant mechanical spider. I would also love the feeling that I’m not responsible to do anything about it.

Alissa J. Rubin writes at the New York Times, “Imagine looking out the window one morning and seeing a gigantic spider perched on the roof of a neighboring building — its eight legs extending to the street below. Then you walk downtown and realize that a 50-foot-tall creature with the head of a bull and the body of a man was looming above you.”

In November, the French city of Toulouse gave “itself over to an immersive form of street theater, bringing to life creatures like the giant spider and the Minotaur, the mythical monster from Greek mythology that is half bull and half man and said to have lived in the center of a maze on the island of Crete.

“Both creatures are the conception of François Delarozière, the artistic director and leading creative force behind La Machine, a theater company that works with technicians and designers to fabricate mechanical creatures on a vast scale and creates public spectacles around them. …

“Mr. Delarozière described his goal to local news outlets as making the city and its residents all part of a vast work of art by giving them a common topic to react to so that they would ‘talk to each other’ and ‘the whole city becomes a place of theater.’ …

“The Minotaur is made of unpainted lime tree wood and metal. It has been constructed to seem as real as possible and even makes the sound of breathing as it moves.

“Apparently ‘asleep,’ he was pulled along by some of the 16 technicians who coordinate his movement, his peaceful but powerful breathing heard above the crowd’s chatter. His arrival, which constituted Act I of the drama, was accompanied by a cast of scores of actors, opera singers and musicians.

“On Friday morning came Act II. Toulouse residents and visitors found him the following morning still asleep in the middle of one of the main squares. But he soon roused and began to move through the streets.

“By evening, the spider, named Ariane, was awake as well, and was poised on the top of the Hotel Dieu.”

More at the New York Times, here.

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Photo: Breeder gallery
The Breeder gallery in Athens has helped bring international attention to contemporary Greek artists. With all sorts of people thinking more creatively in the economic crisis, Greece is showing signs of revitalization.

My high school classmate Pat posted lovely vacation pictures this spring that reminded me of a long-ago tour of the wonders of ancient Greek art. Those wonders are still there to enjoy, and now, it seems, contemporary artists are adding a modern vibe that is bringing energy back to a country that was recently in danger of collapse.

Charly Wilder reports at the New York Times, “There are places we live and places we visit, and then there are the other places. Places we return to, where we put down roots, but not strong enough roots to hold us — places that change us, that we haunt and are haunted by. Nowhere embodies this for me more than Athens, a city I’ve watched shift and evolve, endure crisis and chaos and economic collapse, and yet emerge from the wreckage as one of the continent’s most vibrant and significant cultural capitals, more popular than ever as a tourist destination….

“Neighborhoods that were rundown and neglected have become seed beds for the arts, like Metaxougio, which not long ago was best known for its junk stores and Asian groceries, but now hosts the thriving multispace Bios and one of the city’s most important contemporary galleries, The Breeder, which has helped bring international attention to Greek talent like the painter Sofia Stevi and Stelios Faitakis, a street artist whose murals evoke Albrecht Dürer and Diego Rivera. …

” ‘It’s been interesting and hellish,’ said Theodosis Michos. … Back in 2006, he was a staff writer for Esquire Greece, but like almost all the Greeks I know, the crisis left Theodosis out of work. …

“‘We all got fired or we quit because we weren’t getting paid,’ he said. And yet in 2013, arguably the lowest point of the crisis, Theodosis was part of a collective that launched Popaganda, an online magazine that covers culture and city life through an Athenian lens. ‘The first thing we did to resist the crisis psychologically was to tell ourselves again and again: O.K., we are artists, we are writers, this is the best time for us, because when artists have nothing, they can do anything,’ he said, adding that this isn’t actually true. ‘We told ourselves this so many times, that we started to believe it.’ …

” ‘It’s like the whole world is coming on vacation to Greece [now],” said Fotis Vallatos, the travel editor of Blue Magazine, the in-flight publication of Greece’s largest airline, Aegean Airlines. …

“As tourism has increased, Aegean Airlines expanded from 18 mostly Greek destinations in 2001 to 145 all over the world today. Fotis is now often on the road, exploring those destinations and the many inventive restaurants and visitor attractions that have emerged in Greece since the crisis, from a wave of young chefs using Nordic, French and East Asian cooking techniques on local ingredients, to a multitude of ‘second-act producers,’ people left unemployed or underemployed who returned to the villages where they grew up and began to sell homemade, organic, artisanal Greek products — to phenomenal results.

“ ‘I think everybody became more creative after the crisis, more cooperative,’ he said.”

Read more about this renaissance at the New York Times, here.

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Photo: Heidi Gumula/DBVW Architects
After the Mercantile Block in Providence, Rhode Island, was restored, it became a hub of activity once again.

Rhode Island in general is good at preserving historic sites, offering developers monetary assistance in the form of generous tax credits. Providence in particular has a history of successful efforts to renovate properties for new uses.

At the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Jared Foretek writes about one: “When the Providence, Rhode Island nonprofit AS220 set out to purchase its third downtown building, it knew the Mercantile Block had exactly what it was looking for. Its sheer size — 50,000 square feet, four stories, and a basement — made the 1901 structure perfect for the diverse uses the artist-run organization had in mind. There was storefront space for creative businesses, office space for local nonprofits, and room for 22 live/work studios for local artists.

“Built in 1901, the building was once the hub of a bustling commercial strip in downtown Providence [and] remained a destination until the middle of the 20th century, when the Mercantile and its surrounding neighborhood fell victim to the same economic and migratory forces that ravaged urban cores around the nation.

“The building was nearly vacant when AS220 — an organization dedicated to creating artist space in Providence since 1985 — undertook a $16.9 million rehabilitation in 2008. …

“A meticulous restoration of the building’s four-story facade by DBVW Architects has helped revitalize the entire streetscape and inspired building owners to take up rehabilitations nearby. The mixed-use redevelopment has benefited the broader community as well, with affordable storefronts for local small businesses, office space for Providence-based nonprofits, and subsidized live/work studios for artists. …

“The renovation also allowed locally owned small businesses — some long-time tenants — to lease newly desirable downtown storefronts at low cost. For a restaurant like Viva Mexico!, one of just a few Latino-owned businesses in the downtown area, affordable space with good real estate is hard to come by. …

“ ‘It’s a story that a lot of communities have. Artists live in places that are semi-legal or if they’re legal, they’re underdeveloped. And as soon as spaces become viable and interesting, artists get pushed out, and low-income people get pushed out,’ said Shauna Duffy, AS220’s Managing Director. ‘So our mission is to create these spaces and create this community. And that involves having a permanent place for artists to live affordably downtown in Providence.’ ”

More.

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Photo: Big Car Collaborative
The search for a housing model that benefits both artists and communities.

Low-income communities often benefit artists by providing cheap housing. And artists benefit low-income communities — at least until a tipping point comes and improved ambience spills over into gentrification. That’s when neighbors find that rents have gone too high, and the artists do, too.

Indianapolis is testing an approach to make artist and community interaction a long-term benefit for all.

Adele Peters writes at Fast Company, “For artists, the gentrification cycle in cities often goes something like this: struggling photographers or painters or writers move into an industrial neighborhood with cheaper rents and transform it. As new businesses spring up to serve these new residents, the neighborhood becomes more desirable to a wider swath of upper-middle class professionals. Eventually, rents increase so much that the artists have to move away.

“In Indianapolis, one block in the Garfield Park neighborhood south of the city’s downtown is experimenting with a different model. An arts nonprofit worked with other partners to buy and renovate vacant houses and is now offering to co-own them with artists.

“Artists will pay half the cost – one $80,000 home, for example, will sell for around $40,000. If they later move out, they’ll get their equity back, but no more; the house will be sold at the same cost to someone else, keeping the neighborhood accessible as the artists help make it more desirable.

” ‘Neither of the two sides can profit off of an inflated market value,’ says Jim Walker, executive director of Big Car Collaborative, the art and placemaking nonprofit leading the project along with the local Riley Area Development Corporation and local neighborhood associations. ‘That’s to keep us from pricing out future owners of the homes.’ …

“When Big Car bought an abandoned factory on a block in Garfield Park, converting it into a community art center that opened in 2016, the organization realized that there was a bigger opportunity in the area. The block, cut off from part of the neighborhood by a highway built in the late 1960s and early 1970s, had declined for years; roughly half of the houses were abandoned. …

“ ‘These homes were available to us below $20,000, on average, because they were owned by banks in Florida and other investors who just walked away,’ says Eric Strickland, executive director of Riley Area Development Corporation, which works on community development in and around downtown Indianapolis. …

“The Artist and Public Life Residency program is designed for artists who are particularly interested in community and placemaking. ‘What we’re really looking for, first and foremost, is leadership in trying to invest in the community, and use the talents and resources that you have to support your own neighborhood,’ says Walker. …

“The development corporation wants to encourage other developers to build new affordable housing for the area to help keep the most vulnerable people in place. …

“Big Car is working closely with neighbors, who they say have been supportive of the changes–particularly the potential for local commercial streets to gain new businesses and bringing life to vacant houses.”

More at Fast Company, here.

Photo: Big Car Collaborative

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Today the public radio program Studio 360 featured a shortened version of a wonderful WNYC documentary about the year 1913. That was the year Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring was only one of many “shocking” arts events to usher in the modern age.

From the Studio 360 website: “What a year was 1913! In an exhibition in a New York Armory, American viewers confronted Cubism and abstraction for the first time. In Vienna, the audience at a concert of atonal music by Schoenberg and others broke out into a near-riot. And in Paris, Stravinsky and Nijinsky’s new ballet The Rite of Spring burst on stage with inflammatory results.

Culture Shock 1913 tells the stories behind these and other groundbreaking events that year, and goes back to consider what led to this mad, Modernist moment.

” ‘I think in a lot of ways it was just the beginning of a century just of absolute chaos and nightmare, and as so often, the artists heard it and reflected it first,’ notes the critic Tim Page.

“WNYC’s Sara Fishko speaks with thinkers, authors, musicians, art curators, and historians about this unsettling era of sweeping change — and the not-so-subtle ways in which it mirrors our own uncertain age.

“This Studio 360 episode is an abridged version of a one-hour documentary Sara Fishko produced for WNYC.” More here.

I liked how the documentary explains that the shock was derived from artists not wanting to master and perfect what was done in the past or to replicate nature but rather to be different and to focus on structure, taking things apart and putting back again differently. Artists themselves organized the Armory Show, not curators or galleries. They went to Europe, where change was erupting like crazy, and they brought back art never seen in conservative America.

A key takeaway was that when we see something really new we often think it is ugly, as people thought the Eiffel Tower ugly. But once they look and look some more, they begin to like it.

That helps me think about some of the art Asakiyume and I saw yesterday at the Worcester Museum of Art. It sure looked ugly to me, but it’s a good idea to keep an open mind. Asakiyume sets a good example in that department.

(My mother was born in 1913. Perhaps something was in the air that year that can explain her rebellious nature.)

Photograph taken by spDuchamp/flickr
Marcel Duchamp’s NudeDescending a Staircase, No. 2, was featured in the landmark Armory Show and outraged most visitors because she wasn’t reclining like traditional nudes and she was in motion and it was hard to see her.

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Michelle Aldredge runs an outstanding arts blog called Gwarlingo. Recently, she wrote about snowflake art by the identical twins who created the Big Bambú installation at the Met. (I wrote here about the second life of Big Bambú when it was done being art.)

Asks Aldredge on December 21. “What do photographs of snow have to teach us about artistic originality?

“Today is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, and snowflakes have been on my mind, specifically the snowflakes of Doug and Mike Starn.

“Born in New Jersey in 1961, Mike and Doug Starn have worked collaboratively in photography since the age of thirteen. …

“The Starns’ approach [to snowflakes] is partly science, but mostly art. It took the brothers years to hammer out the logistics that would allow them to capture flakes during their fleeting existence — there were microscopic lenses, plasma-emitting lights, snowstorm photo sessions. But the results speak for themselves. There is a poetic quality about their flakes.” More.

The twins called Os Gemeos, whom I wrote about here are an artistic team, too. In fact, they say, they always know what the other twin is thinking as they work on giant murals like the one they did in Dewey Square, Boston.

After seeing the musical Sideshow, I became aware that even Siamese twins may have very different personalities, but it’s intriguing to think about the close communication many twins have.

 Art: Doug + Mike Starn, from the series alleverythingthatisyou, 2006-2007.

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Matadero was an old abandoned slaughterhouse in Madrid. Lately it has been “evolving into a cultural laboratory, where a new arts financing strategy is being tested.” So says Doreen Carvajal in the NY Times.

“Companies and institutions are providing financial support to supplement dwindling government arts subsidies, but with a twist: they don’t just send checks, they move in.

“Within the walled 59,000-square-foot center, there are public theaters and exhibition spaces that last year drew more than 500,000 visitors for music and art events and avant-garde plays. But five new residents are private institutions, including a designers’ association, a publishing house’s foundation and offices of Red Bull, the Austrian energy drink maker.

“They are in the compound rent-free for now, but have invested millions in the remodeling of pavilions there, as well as in programming, from art exhibitions to music festivals.

“These new partnerships are forged, out of necessity, here in Spain, where government support for culture has plunged by almost 50 percent over the last four years, a result of a lingering economic crisis that hit late in 2008.”

Some observers worry about the downsides of corporations having a big influence on what art gets shown, but haven’t the arts always had to have some help from patrons or companies?

Probably it pays just to be wary, to recognize when there is undue influence, and to push back. Certainly smaller, more experimental projects are unlikely to find a home under a Red Bull banner.

Read more at the Times, here.

Photo: Carlos Luján for The International Herald Tribune
Inside Matadero Madrid: A closer look at the arts complex.

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Cate McQuaid, my favorite Boston Globe art critic, who usually covers more esoteric subjects, explains some large artsy globes seen around Boston in recent days.

“Huge, colorful orbs line up in a row down the Tremont Street side of Boston Common. It looks like a giant might be marshaling his marbles. Get up close, and you’ll see that the spheres, each 5 feet in diameter, are globes, fancifully decorated and proffering solutions to climate change.

“ ‘Cool Globes: Hot Ideas for a Cooler Planet’ has landed in Boston. The public art project, for which artists designed globes with green strategies to contend with environmental issues, originated in Chicago in 2007 and has traveled the world.”

Environmental activist Wendy Abrams, says McQuaid, is the initiative’s founder.

“Abrams cites two inspirations for the project, the wrecked cars that Mothers Against Drunk Driving pointedly deploy in their Crash Car Program, and the painted cow sculptures that showed up in the streets of Chicago in 1999 — a public art project that prompted Boston to follow suit with painted cod.”

Read about individual artists’ Cool Globe themes, the outreach to students, and more, here.

The first two photos below are near the Park Street subway station. The third is in front of the aquarium, and I am not sure if it is part of the traveling series.

cool-globes-boston

globes-for-a-coller-planet

globe-at-aquarium

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