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A photograph by Dionisio González incorporating imagined skyscrapers and futuristic buildings in the city of Toledo, home to El Greco. Credit Dionisio González, via Ivorypress

When he arrived in Toledo in 1577, the artist Doménikos Theotokópoulos, better known as El Greco, never thought he would stay long. After he had been rejected by King Philip II as a court painter, he sought a lifeline in a city that was then Spain’s religious hub, building up a clientele among its clergy as well as noblemen, particularly for portraits and altarpieces.

But these altarpieces were expensive to produce and El Greco ended up fighting as many as nine separate lawsuits over payments. “He lived here deep in debt and circled by his creditors,” said Fernando Marías, an art historian and the curator of “The Greek of Toledo,” an exhibition that opened last month in the Museum of Santa Cruz here and is being presented as the largest-ever exhibition of the painter’s works.

Still, Spain is paying tribute this year to its adopted son with a multipart commemoration of the least Spanish of its great painters to mark the 400 years since his death, with several exhibitions, mostly held in Toledo but also in Madrid and Valladolid. In total, 125 works by El Greco will be on view in exhibitions across Toledo, in locations ranging from its magnificent cathedral to the private family chapel of Saint Joseph, which had never been opened to the public before. The painter is believed to have completed around 300 works.

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Raphael Minder
New York Times

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The Gasometer complex in Vienna. (Photo: Getty Images)

On May 1, the de Blasio administration will roll out its plan to build (“or preserve,” that weaselly escape word) 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade, a number that has struck many as wishful to the point of deluded. I hope that, as the mayor’s planners buff their strategy in the coming weeks, they remember that what gets built is just as important as how much of it gets built. Housing the needy and the middle class is a wonderful and necessary urge, but handled sloppily, it could wind up blockading the waterfronts behind an unbroken wall of glass, clogging the skyline with high-rise clones, and sullying neighborhoods with quickie construction.

During the Bloomberg era, the mayor’s livability crew went idea-hunting in Copenhagen and returned with pedestrian plazas, sidewalk cafés, and bike lanes. If de Blasio is serious about making New York not just pleasant but just, he ought to go on a scouting trip to Vienna, where housing is considered a social good, not primarily a financial tool. In a sleekly modern home for Alzheimer’s patients, each apartment façade is color-coded to make it easier to locate, and hallways wrap around in a continuous circle to prevent dead ends from adding to the residents’ confusion. At the Gasometer complex, celebrity architects refitted a set of immense gas-storage silos with offices, shopping, and affordable apartments. Bike City, another elegantly designed building, is geared to residents who don’t own cars.

These projects emerge out of a 100-year history of high-design, low-cost housing and an apparatus that has placed nearly two-thirds of Vienna’s rapidly growing population in subsidized housing. The city government effectively controls the real-estate market and maintains a housing-research department that puts academic conjecture into practice. The model works because it combines generosity, rigor, and competition. The bidding process fixes construction costs around a modest $200 per square foot, yet teams of developers and architects vie for every project and the city evaluates their plans in terms of sustainability, design, and social justice. “You cannot win a project for housing in Vienna if you don’t meet a high planning and architectural level, and none of it is out of reach in terms of quality for New York City,” says William Menking, a Pratt professor who last year co-curated an exhibit on the subject called “The Vienna Model.” New York’s land and labor costs are higher, but even here, an ingenious design is no more expensive than a lazy one.

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Justin Davidson
New York Magazine

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Antonio ‘Gritón’ Ortiz beside one of his conceptual nudes in his Mexico City apartment studio. (Photo: Eva Hershaw)

On a rainy Friday night in Mexico’s capital, Antonio ‘Gritón’ Ortiz poured himself a glass of tequila. Across the room, “The Girl from Ipanema” quietly seeped from a paint-splattered radio. “I’ll listen to almost any music while I’m working,” the 60-year-old artist said. “Like Yes! I really like Yes. The progressive rock band. You know them, right?” Water was boiling on the stove, and he poured it into a pre-packaged Korean noodle bowl. It was 10 p.m., time for dinner in Mexico. “I’ve been painting since I was 22, and not all of those years were easy,” he said. “But I do what I enjoy, and so far I’ve been able to make that work.”

For the past 28 years, Gritón has not paid a dime to the Tax Administration Service (SAT), the Mexican equivalent of the IRS. But he is no criminal. In fact, in a country that has lost an estimated $872 billion to money laundering and tax evasion over the past four decades, Gritón is in good standing with the law. Like more than 700 artists across Mexico, he takes part in a Pago en Especie (Payment in Kind) program—the only one of its type in the world—that allows artists to pay federal income taxes with their own artwork.

The program was hatched in 1957, in the throes of the so-called “Mexican Miracle,” a period of 40 years that saw sustained annual economic growth of between 3 and 4 percent. As legend has it, muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros, one of the most influential artists of his generation, approached the secretariat of finance in 1957 with a proposal to keep a friend and fellow artist out of jail for tax evasion: Let him pay his debt in art. The agreement laid the foundation for Pago en Especie, which today is a public collection of nearly 7,000 paintings, sculptures, and graphics accepted as tax payments from some of Mexico’s best-known artists.

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Eva Hershaw
The Atlantic

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Romare Bearden’s “Soul Three” (1968) is one of the artworks chosen by the Dallas Museum of Art. (image via arteverywhereus.org)

Five American art museums and the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA) will mount a nationwide public art exhibition this summer. Art Everywhere will bring reproductions of some 50 artworks from the museums’ collections — chosen how else but through an online public vote — to billboards, subway platforms, train stations, and more, filling space usually reserved for advertising with art.

Billed as “the largest outdoor art show ever conceived,” Art Everywhere began last year in the UK, cofounded by businessman Richard Reed and his wife, Melinda, and funded by the Art Fund, Tate, and the UK out of home advertising industry. Inspired by the success of the program there, the OAAA “first reached out to the UK for insights,” Communications Director Nicole Hayes told Hyperallergic. “OAAA then contacted the five museum partners, who helped flesh out the 100 list of great American works of art.”

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Jillian Steinhauer
Hyperallergic

Whistler The Artist's Mother
Detail from James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s Arrangement in Grey and Black No 1, also called Portrait of the Artist’s Mother. Photograph: Francis G Mayer/Corbis.

It is one of the great unfairnesses in life that bad people sometimes produce great art. That is certainly true of James Abbott McNeill Whistler, about whom it is hard to think of anything nice to say. Vain, pugnacious, a rotten father and kind to his mother only because he was terrified of her, Whistler is not the sort of man you relish spending 400-plus pages with. But then you look at his Nocturnes – in which the industrial Thames becomes a serene, shimmering mystery – and you realise you could forgive him almost anything.

Living by the mantra of “art for art’s sake” meant, in Whistler’s case, not withdrawing from the world but hurling himself at it, fists flying. He called his autobiography The Gentle Art of Making Enemies and was careful to follow his own advice. Friends and rivals could reckon on being beaten up by the bantam scrapper, or else find themselves blackballed from their favourite members’ club on his say-so. Keeping a beady eye on his paintings’ prices, he accused anyone who sold or bought too low of personally picking his pocket. No stunt was too crass if it was good for trade: for his Arrangement in White and Yellow show at the Fine Art Society in 1883, visitors were told to arrive wearing cravats, kerchiefs and buttonholes the colour of egg yolk.

Up close and personal, Whistler was even more tiresome, practising the kind of effortful wit that gave young Oscar Wilde dangerous ideas. On one occasion when he accidently shot his host’s dog, Whistler declared: “It was a dog without artistic habits and had placed itself badly in relation to the landscape.” This was delivered in a voice that contemporaries described as “caustic nasal”, interrupted by a laugh like a peacock’s shriek. Then there was his startling streak of white hair, which was not technically his fault, yet still managed to seem like an affectation. Yet despite all this, he was impossible to dismiss. Any writer encountering him found themselves compelled to put him in a book, just to show everyone else what they’d missed. Proust, James, Wells, Du Maurier and WS Gilbert all did their version of the Yankee chancer whose claims of genius teetered between the preposterous and the plausible

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Kathryn Hughes
The Guardian

Stolen Gaugin and Bonnard paintings recovered
Police display Gauguin’s Fruits sur une able ou Nature au Petit Chien and Bonnard’s La femme aux Deux Fauteuils. Photograph: Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images

In 1975 a worker at the car firm Fiat went along to an auction of lost property organised by the Italian national railway in Turin.

He paid 45,000 lira (£32 – equivalent to about £300 today) for two paintings that caught his eye – one a still life and one an image of a woman relaxing in her garden.

For almost 40 years, the man – whose name has not been made public – kept the pictures hanging in his kitchen. They accompanied him on his move, post-retirement, to Sicily. At no point until last year, believe Italian police, did he realise quite what a bargain his purchase had been.

Now it has emerged that the paintings are stolen works by French artists Paul Gauguin and Pierre Bonnard, and the first – a still life dating from 1869 – has an estimated value of between €10m and €30m (£8.3m to £24.8m). The second, entitled La femme aux Deux Fauteuils (woman with two armchairs) is believed to be worth around €600,000 (£497,000).

Stolen in London in 1970, reportedly from the widower of a daughter of one of the Marks & Spencer co-founders, they were unveiled on Wednesday to applause at the Italian culture ministry in Rome.

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Lizzy Davies
The Guardian

Howard Hodgkin
Personal and direct … Howard Hodgkin in his London studio. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

Howard Hodgkin sits in a wheelchair in his studio. Light falls through the glass roof on to big boards propped against white-washed brick walls. One by one, his studio assistant starts moving them to reveal a glistening array of new paintings. It seems banal to call them beautiful – but that’s what they are.

“When I was young,” says Hodgkin reassuringly, “I used to mind people describing my pictures as beautiful. I don’t any more.” Why did he mind? “I used to think that it meant the subject was neither here nor there.”

Hodgkin paints what most people would call abstract art. Yet he insists that every slither of luscious colour refers to a particular place and time. His serpentine brushwork is not decorative. Each painting has a “subject”, as he puts it.

No one can fail to see that when confronted – as I am in his studio – with a painting called Pain. It is a small wooden panel 27cm wide. Hodgkin paints on wood because “it doesn’t answer back”. He reuses old wooden frames, their antique materials and ornate woodwork becoming part of the painting. Pain is a series of fierce brushstrokes on a stained brown board, in horizontal bands, red above black above purple above a muddier, bloodier red. There’s a smear of weak white. Such bands of colour are similarly used to create oppressive moods in the paintings of Mark Rothko, but where Rothko’s colours are soaked in, Hodgkin expresses himself in visible, dramatic, unfinished brushstrokes. The result is much more personal and direct.

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Jonathan Jones
The Guardian

Veronese main
A detail from Veronese’s The Family of Darius before Alexander. Courtesy of the National Gallery

To the contemporary viewer, Paolo Veronese, 1528‑1588, is a conundrum. How can one of the greatest of all painters not be a great artist, too? The answer was inadvertently suggested by one of his most ardent admirers, Henry James: “Never did an artist take a greater delight in life, seeing it all as a kind of breezy festival,” he wrote. “He was the happiest of painters and produced the happiest pictures in the world.” Happiness is a trait that does not always play well now: we might prefer that Veronese displayed instead a hint of Michelangelo’s terribilità, Leonardo’s intellectual restlessness or Titian’s all-encompassing human sympathy.

To his contemporaries, however, the pomp and celebration to be found in his pictures were not defects but his distinguishing triumphs. Giorgio Vasari, the Florence-centric painter and artist-biographer, was sufficiently impressed by Veronese’s art and status to include the Venice-based painter in his second edition of The Lives of the Artists. He also attracted two near-contemporary biographers. Part of the reasoning behind the National Gallery’s new exhibition of 50 of Veronese’s paintings, the first ever large-scale show of his work here, is to gauge the true level of his merit and to ascertain whether he had depths to match his facility.

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Michael Prodger
The Guardian

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The world’s most popular museums have widely differing attitudes towards visitors taking photographs. The current situation is confusing for visitors because of different policies taken by museums, even those in the same city. Although most now permit photography for personal use in their permanent collections, it can lead to “camera-rage”: tension between those looking at and photographing art.
Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum reintroduced its ban on personal photography in January because of the friction it caused. Last May, for the first time, it allowed personal photography, since growing numbers of visitors wanted and expected to be able to take photos. However, the museum attracts 1.4 million visitors a year (88% tourists) and its relatively confined space means that it is always crowded.

Permitting photography led to constant tension between those who wanted a clear view for their camera and those who wished to look at the paintings. Many also insisted on photographing their companion or themselves in front of a picture. This led to numerous complaints from other visitors.

A few works hung with the museum’s permanent collection are loans, most of which should not be photographed. When the National Gallery in London lent Sunflowers, 1888, last year, there was a “no photography” symbol on the label. But visitors either failed to see the symbol or chose to ignore it, and gallery staff could do a limited amount to prevent them.

Now the Van Gogh Museum only allows pictures to be taken in areas where there is no art, such as the central atrium.

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Martin Bailey
The Art Newspaper

Jonas Dahlberg
Model of Memory Wound, a 3.5m gap cut into the Sørbråten peninsula by artist Jonas Dahlberg as a memorial for the victims of the 2011 massacre. Picture: Jonas Dahlberg Studio

A Swedish artist has been selected to create official memorials at the sites of the 2011 Norwegian massacres carried out by right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik.

The competition, called Memorial Sites After 22 July, was won by Jonas Dahlberg, who will create three artworks at a cost of 27m Norwegian kroner (£2.7m) to the government in Oslo.

The most striking memorial is called Memory Wound. The 43-year-old artist has sliced a three-and-a-half-metre-wide slit into the Sørbråten peninsula, which faces the island of Utøya where Breivik killed 69 people. It marks a “symbolic wound” in the landscape.

One hundred cubic metres of the stone cut from Sørbråten will be transferred to the governmental quarter in Oslo, where another memorial will mark the spot where a car bomb was detonated by Breivik that resulted in eight deaths.

A temporary pathway in the capital, between Grubbegata and Deichmanske library, will also be made by Dahlberg, who will later take trees from Sørbråten to create a permanent amphitheatre in the government quarter called Time and Movement.

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Cameron Robertson
The Guardian

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