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About one half hour before it goes up, the 40-foot-tall wooden sculpture at the center of Burning Man raises its hands to salute the sky. Summoned by the gesture, a vast crowd of revelers comes swarming in across the desert, lit up with glowsticks or electroluminescent wire, caked in dust, clad in costumes, half naked. Thousands more ride in on the desert’s flotilla of art cars, psychedelic dreadnoughts decorated as dragons, or starships, or things less recognizable. From these vehicles, waves of music wash across the scene, unifying into a throbbing field of ecstatic noise. Lasers crisscross the sky.
Then the fireworks begin, and the end is nigh. A concussive thunderclap splits the air. Immense fireballs engulf the Man. The crowd bellows in delight. The resulting inferno consumes the structure, which wavers for long minutes before collapsing, the furious turbulence of the heat churning the air and whipping up tornados of dust that hover in the blaze’s wake like hallucinations. At last, the structure melts in on itself in a wave of sparks. A little later, the crowd will gather in, and some of the more ecstatic Burners will strip and dance around the still-blazing pool of debris. It is one of the most otherworldly artistic spectacles that I have ever seen.
I went to Burning Man this year at the end of August, and it has taken me a few months to sort out how I felt about it. This orgiastic cultural shindig has been written about so many times, from so many angles that one almost hates to add to the pile (there’s even a boom in Burning Man scholarship in the academy). In one form or another, the festival has been around since the mid-‘80s, and in the Black Rock Desert for more than two decades now. It is either a running cultural joke or a holy pilgrimage, depending on your point of view.
Both impressions have to do with the evangelical zeal of serious Burners. People really believe in Burning Man. When you roll up along the long, dusty desert trail to the official entrance, a team is on hand to meet you at the gates. Returning Burners are greeted with the words, “Welcome Home.” First-timers (aka “Burgins”) are made to get down on their knees and hug the ground, baptizing themselves in the alkaline desert dust.
As Sir Howard Hodgkin CBE, Turner prize-winning artist and arguably Britain’s greatest living painter, celebrates his 80th birthday next month, it’s worth reflecting on how much poorer the world would be had he jumped. Frequently pigeonholed as the last great English romantic painter in the vein of Constable and Turner, Hodgkin is more incendiary than that – a sunburst of an artist who exploded counterintuitively from a British visual culture temperamentally uneasy at depicting sensuality or expressing intellectual thoughts.
In a five-star review of new work at Oxford’s Museum of Modern Art in 2010, Guardian critic Jonathan Jones pegged Hodgkin as giddy colourist and daring philosopher in paint. “Ideas, associations, affinities, memories, longings constitute, for Hodgkin, our real experience of the material world,” he wrote.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again, because it really matters: the Artist Rooms collection, founded in 2008 through the generous vision of the art dealer Anthony d’Offay, is a startling national asset. As it begins a fourth successive tour of galleries throughout Britain, this public collection of contemporary art is changing the very fabric of our visual culture.
There is only one contrast, one conflict that matters when it comes to art. Modern versus traditional? Don’t be daft. Painting versus installation? Yawn. The only struggle that matters is the timeless war between good and bad art. In Britain, because of prejudices rooted deep in our history, museums have long possessed plenty of examples of great Renaissance or Romantic art, but few masterpieces of modernity. This distorts our entire experience of art: it makes arguments about artistic value oddly thin and ideological, because people are unfamiliar with first-rate examples of the art of the past 50 years.
Artist Rooms is changing all that. This collection could easily fill a museum of its own, and would be a major national attraction if it did. But it is being used in a far more radical and liberating way. With the support of the Art Fund, its outstanding examples of works by the best artists of recent times are shown in rotation in public galleries around Britain. Museums get a boost, and audiences everywhere are introduced to top-quality modern art. In the latest round of exhibitions, there is even a game to make it still more accessible to a young public.
The cultural grand tour of Europe will have another stopping off point from this week – Metz, the Bilbao of the North. President Nicolas Sarkozy will officially open a €86m (£74m) branch of the Pompidou Centre in Paris in a beautiful, but comparatively little visited, cathedral city 170 miles east of Paris.
Metz (population 280,000), a former garrison town in the heart of the Lorraine steel belt, hopes to recreate the success of the European branch of New York’s Guggenheim museum, which has transformed the fortunes of Bilbao in northern Spain since 1997.
Like the Bilbao Guggenheim, the Centre Pompidou-Metz has been given a spectacular and unconventional building. It resembles a white Teletubby house; or a collapsed parasol; or a giant stingray.
Art handlers compete in the static hold event, in which they held framed pieces of lead (at 50 or 60 pounds) against a wall while a “curator” barked orders (Photo: Michael Nagle for The New York Times)
The explosive growth of the art world during the last decade has been fueled by rich new collectors, shiny new galleries and sprawling new museum wings. But the gears and the grease that keep this big machine humming are people who can be generally described with less glamorous adjectives: underpaid, uninsured, overworked and sweaty (not to mention often heavily tattooed, bearded, hung over and painfully burdened by loan payments for their M.F.A. degrees).
These are the art handlers, an often-invisible international underclass of blue-collar workers, most of them aspiring artists trying to pay the bills. But on Sunday afternoon at a bare-bones gallery on the Lower East Side, a group of them finally got a chance to grab a little glory. And even better, they got a raucous public forum in which to mock gallery owners, curators, collectors, critics, fellow artists and just about everyone in the art world, not excluding themselves.
The event, the first-ever Art Handling Olympics — a combination roast, “Jackass”-style stunt extravaganza and excuse to drink a lot — drew about 200 people at its height who came to the Ramiken Crucible gallery to watch a dozen four-man teams (art handlers are, by and large, male, and, by and large, large) go head-to-head, demonstrating their skills with a lot of fake art and untold amounts of Bubble Wrap.
New York Times
Since 1952 “The Actor,” a rare Rose Period Picasso, has hung prominently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, along with other examples of early paintings by this Spanish master. But on Monday it could be found in a new, temporary home, the Met’s conservation laboratory, where experts there are trying to determine the best course of action for this 105-year-old painting’s brand-new feature: an irregular, six-inch tear running vertically along the lower right-hand corner.
On Friday afternoon a woman taking an adult education class at the museum accidentally fell into “The Actor,” causing the tear. Officials at the museum said that since the damage did not occur “in the focal point of the composition,” they expected that the repair would be “unobtrusive,” according to a statement released on Sunday.
New York Times
A cold snap in northern China has thrown daily life into confusion, but is ideal for fairy tale palaces, towering pagodas, and even a sphinx — all carved from ice — that make up the sights at this year’s Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival.
The annual event in northern China, now in its 26th year, pulls crowds from across China and even a few visitors from overseas, drawn to the unique visions of an international roster of sculptors who illuminate their creations with multicolored electric lights encased in the translucent ice.
For a short video view, go to Reuters.
Consider attendance at several arts activities: classical music concerts, jazz concerts, musical theater, non-musical plays, art museums & galleries, craft & visual arts festivals, parks & historic sites, and reading of literature.
Do they seem masculine or feminine to you?
What about these arts activities: playing a classical music instrument, painting, pottery, sewing, photography, creative writing, singing in a choir or chorale, and buying art?
Are they masculine or feminine?
According to Section 26 of the just released Census Bureau’s 2010 Statistical Abstract of the U.S., in only one of those 16 categories is a greater percentage of men involved than women.
I guess it is no surprise that the arts are patronized more by women than men, but the male gap almost across the board, even for jazz concerts and playing classical instruments, is still an eye-opener.
Judith H. Dobrzynski
Real Clear Arts
Martin Cullen, Minister for Arts, Tourism and Sport, has said he will not scrap the artists’ exemption as proposed by the Commission on Taxation.
The commission said the exemption was “deadweight” as those who benefited from it would have been involved in artistic activity anyway. It also concluded that it was unfair.
Mr Cullen described as “nonsense” the suggestion that the exemption costs the exchequer between €36 million and €38 million every year.
He said that figure pertained to 2006, the year before a €250,000 cap was put on the exemption, and the cost to the exchequer since has been “minuscule”.
“It is really important to point out that it is a statement by Ireland about how it treasures its artistic community and what it means for our country home and abroad. It is very important that we value this,” he told presenter Vincent Woods on yesterday’s Arts Tonight programme on RTÉ Radio 1.
Mr Cullen dismissed the McCarthy report, which recommended the abolition of his department, the Irish Film Board and Culture Ireland, as a “mathematical exercise”.
A postcard of the stolen painting at the museum in Magritte’s former home ((Johanna Geron/AFP/Getty Images)
A masterpiece by the surrealist painter René Magritte worth up to €3 million (£2.7 million) was stolen by armed thieves yesterday in a lightning daylight raid on a museum dedicated to the artist’s life and work.
Olympia, a nude inspired by Magritte’s wife and muse Georgette, was taken off the wall of the small gallery in the artist’s former home after staff and visitors were ordered to lie down in the back garden.
The two raiders, said to be of Asian appearance, wore hats and wigs to hide their faces from surveillance cameras and made off on foot up the quiet street of terraced houses in the Brussels suburb of Jette, probably to a waiting car. One was said to have spoken English and the other French.
Staff at the museum, which has no metal detectors or other screening equipment at the entrance, were left in shock at the loss of their most prized asset, which was painted in the building in 1948. Police said that the thieves appeared to know exactly what they were looking for and that it was probably stolen to order.