Category Archives: art

Thinking about The Shed, a New York Cultural Center

Kevin Slavin said something very interesting int he video below. Cultural institutions tend to be very risk averse. They do stuff at a high level, but they don’t take a lot of chances doing new stuff. As a result, we tend to think of them as a bit formal and dare I say it …. old fashioned.

After all, this is the 21st century. We are moving into a new era. That new era will not value the stuff that our parents loved the way they did. Check out what Kevin has to say about the Shed, not just to imagine this as a realized project, but as a model for getting more people involved in cultural institutions. Very interesting!


The Nude Museum

Pairs is indeed a quirky place


Paris museum opens its doors to nudists in one-off event

Nudes tend to be more frequently found on canvases than in front of them, but a Paris museum has changed that. It is the first time a gallery in the city has welcomed naked visitors.

Paris’ Palais de Tokyo contemporary art museum on Saturday granted access to nudist visitors for a free tour during special visiting hours.

Yes it would have paid off to head over the gym move often during the long winter months!

Realistic Art is not a Copy of Reality

John O’Hara was a 20th century American writer. He became famous back in the 1930’s — when he was still a young man — with several novels – “Appointment in Samarra” and “Butterfield 8”.

His work stands out among that of contemporaries for its unvarnished realism.

Here he is as a young stud novelist

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My guess is that early fame went to his head. He liked boasting about his skills as a writer and bristled at any criticism of his work. You get that from the epitaph that he wrote for himself, and which appears on his headstone in Princeton

“Better than anyone else, he told the truth about his time. He was a professional. He wrote honestly and well.”

This comment seems apt

: “From the far side of the grave, he remains self-defensive and overbearing. Better than anyone else? Not merely better than any other writer of fiction but better than any dramatist, any poet, any biographer, any historian? It is an astonishing claim.”

But O’Hara was indeed good at what he did. He had a system for creating stories that seemed real. And his writing is addictive as a result. He spills the beans in a series of talks that is compiled in a book “An Artist is His Own Fault” .

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In his first lecture, he makes a key  point about story telling.  Good stories are not just recapitulations of reality. The good story teller uses significant details that convey a heightened sense of reality. They are manufactured.

And for novelists, a key significant detail is the dialog between characters. The gifted novelist hears that dialog and carefully develops it to be sure that there is no false word. The dialog then opens the door to deeper understanding of character. And at the end of the day, great stories are about people.

First Came Matisse, then Picasso

A quick heads up! On April 24, Antonio Banderas will strut his stuff as Pablo Picasso in the latest installment of the National Geographic Channel’s Genius series.

Picasso is revered as one of the great geniuses of modern art. And, as Miles Unger points out, that genius was mainly his willingness, even dedication to defying rules and conventions. He is a rebel with a cause — to bring out the dark inspiration of the artist.

This comes out in the story of Picasso’s inspiration to create his famous “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon“. Unger tells the story this way

In 1906, Matisse paints “Bonheur de Vivre,” or “Joy of Life,” which was a smash success and propelled Matisse to the forefront

It looks like this

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Back to Unger’s story

So Picasso starts thinking of a masterpiece to rival Matisse’s great work, but in his own, unique style. In 1907, he begins to create this counter-masterpiece, based on the image of a whorehouse, which is larger than life and full of demonic figures. If Matisse’s painting was the “Joy of Life,” Picasso’s might be called “The Horror of Sex.”

He gets his patrons, the Steins, to buy him another studio in his apartment in the Bateau Lavoir and sets down to recreate art from the ground up. Picasso is famous for the rapidity with which he painted, but he labored over this work for months, filling notebook after notebook. He is trying to reinvent western pictorial modes, drawing on primitive sources like Iberian art, which he was very influenced by. Later, he visits the ethnographic museum in Paris, where he sees African and New Hebrides sculptures, and Native American works, and is blown away by this completely different approach to form, which is much more conceptual. It is not based on trying to recreate the world that we see, but a symbolic, almost shamanistic approach to the human form.

What he creates after eight agonizing months of struggle is a completely new pictorial form. If you stand in front of “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” the impact is incredible; it’s enormously in your face. He pressed everything up to the front of the canvas. There is no empty space, just jagged forms, these horrifying creatures who stare right back at you, the viewer. It creates a completely different way of relating to a painting than the traditional notion of a painting as a window on the world. It’s as if the window had been turned inside out, pressing outward into outer space.

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It achieved a cult status —  even though it is not something one enjoys looking at. Back to Unger

The strange thing about “Les Demoiselles D’Avignon,” which is usually regarded as the key work in the modern era, is that it was almost invisible for many decades. After Picasso painted it in 1907 it was shown a few times to his friends, but the reception was so terrible and people were so shocked and appalled by it that he rolled it up and put it away and it was not seen for many years.

It had already launched a revolution, though. People like Georges Braque and André Derain were blown away and began to paint in that style. Eventually, in a year or two, we have the full-blown movement known as Cubism. Though the painting is buried away, it has an almost cult status but nobody ever sees it until 1916 when André Salmon has a show and it finally gets its name. Then, in the 1920s, André Breton, the inventor of surrealism, rediscovers it and calls it the key work in the history of the modern movement. It spoke to him with its surrealist interest in sex and violence.

Eventually it travels across the Atlantic and Alfred Barr, who is founding the Museum of Modern Art, realizes this is going to be the key work around which he will build the museum. But its meaning has shifted drastically over the years. First, it was seen as the founding work of Cubism. In the 1970s, people began to see what was there all the time, which is a savage, violent sexuality. Today, after more than a hundred years, it’s hard to put oneself back in time and feel the sense of shock that people originally had. But I still think it’s a pretty tough, aggressive painting. It radiates a savage power even to this day


Look Out! Art Basel Hong Kong is Upon Us!

What is this about? Here is the promo

A packed program of performance and parties during Hong Kong Arts Month culminates in the city’s chapter of Art Basel, drawing a who’s who of international gallerists, art patrons and global artists for high-level schmoozing from 28 to 31 March.

As I understand it, this is part of the “Art Basel Cities” programme. It works this way

Art Basel Cities engages Art Basel’s expertise, broad network of collectors, artworld leaders and influencers, as well as its global communication channels to support cities in developing and celebrating their unique cultural landscape. In addition to hosting art events in partner cities, the program’s comprehensive, multi-year cultural development strategy is designed to expand the local art scene’s engagement internationally, thus generating cultural and economic development opportunities. Art Basel Cities will also bring projects and content back to the Art Basel shows, providing the cities with additional opportunities to build lasting relationships with Art Basel’s international audience.

This is very cool! A traveling global festival that brings together creative folks from localities and “elsewhere”. Errr … and no doubt offers one hell of a great party!

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A Chat with Petsa Unt

Around a year ago, Petsa Unt gave me a call to ask for a meeting. I agreed and we sat over lunch while Petsa described a new idea. That idea was to start a business.

Errr … stop yawning!

Not just any business, but a lifestyle business that is devoted to taking used wood products and turning them into furniture. At first, I was not persuaded that this would work. After all, Petsa had a good job and he has a family with kids. Wasn’t he taking a big risk?

But Petsa persuaded me that there was something to this. There is the environmental thing — to re-use wood rather than throw it away — and there is the fun thing too. To figure out ways to use that discarded product to create fun new products.

Piet Hein Eek has been doing this sort of thing for a while.  Here is a piece by Piet

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Interesting! And there are lots of others who are dabbling in this.

So I pitched a project to Petsa. I showed him a space in my house that needs a new bookcase. And I said, “Go to it!” He has been doing just that.

The first step was to renovate an old shed where he could do his work. That took a while, but he finished it a few months ago. And since then, Petsa has been developing the design of my new bookcase.

I went over to his workshop today — which btw, is very cool — to discuss a few design details. And Petsa said he thinks he can get the project done in early April!

Very cool! I will be posting on this and will offer pics when we get there. For the time being, it is a fun adventure!


Wild Times With Robert Grossman!!

So long Bob! See you on the other side!

Robert Grossman was a very, very successful illustrator. His work appeared on covers of magazines over 500 times. Not only that, he may have single handedly brought back the illustrator’s craft.

Errr … but he was also a painter, sculptor, illustrator, author, musician, and film maker!

This little squib from Widipeldia offers a glimpse of his technique

Throughout his career, Grossman has employed an airbrush (he favors compressed air over piston) in order to render the sculptural forms which are his paintings’ most readily identified characteristic. Since with an airbrush a skilled user may lay in areas of shadow and light with either crisp or soft edges, the shapes possess a high degree of visual verisimilitude. Grossman is sometimes credited with spearheading a resurgence of the tool in illustration; for decades it had been used primarily for photo retouching. Pete Hamill writing in the international journal of visual communication Graphis[10][11] and Steven Heller in Innovators of American Illustration note that Grossman’s approach to the airbrush has been widely imitated. His “mordant wit” is never duplicated, adds Heller.[12]

On the evolution of technique in his illustration, Grossman has said, “I was impressed by the way David Levine and the Push Pin artists were using line to develop a bulgy three-dimensional feeling in their work. I found an old airbrush in my dad’s shop and discovered a jiffy way to outbulge them all. For a while I diligently pursued outline-less-ness as the secret to a real stereoscopic three-dimensional look. I felt my line work belonged to a different world that had nothing to do with the airbrush and went its separate way. Lately I find a strong line reasserting itself in my pictures.

Remember this?

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Yup, from the movie Airplane. It was Grossman.

Here is a caricature of Mick

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As a young lad, I loved his covers for Mad Magazine. Here is an example

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Great stuff! My life has been richer for it!