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Vincent van Gogh, Sunflowers,1889. Are the yellows at risk? (Photo: Van Gogh Museum)

Last year, conservators at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam noticed that areas of bright yellow paint in many of the artist’s works, such as Sunflowers, were turning shades of green and brown. To find out why, they teamed up with scientists at the University of Antwerp in Belgium.

Online news reports claimed that the scientists found prolonged exposure to LED lights to be the cause of the darkening. That conclusion, however, is inaccurate. “This was not a study into the effects of LED lighting,” says Ella Hendriks, a senior conservator at the Van Gogh Museum. “It was a study on the aging process of the yellow pigment.”

Lead by Koen Janssens, the Antwerp researchers tested samples of the browning paint and identified it as chrome yellow. Janssens and his team then found that exposure to light caused samples of chrome yellow to darken. Lighter shades of the pigment, he explained, darkened quickly because they contain a high amount of sulfur, which makes them more susceptible to chemical reactions. Dark shades of chrome yellow contain little sulfur, and were less effected by light.

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Stephanie Strasnick
Art News


Sebastian Cwilich (left) and Carter Cleveland (here at a gallery called Haunch of Venison) have constructed an art “genome.”
Photo: Eric Ogden

According to Art.sy, [selected] works all share the same DNA, so to speak…a team of art historians have spent the past year studying thousands of works and compiling a list of their distinct and measurable elements. The result is the Art Genome, composed at present of more than 550 “genes”: attributes of fine art that range from the simply factual (the medium, the color palette) to the undeniably subjective (the “movement” a work falls into, or its “subject matter”). Using these attributes, Art.sy’s recommendation engine can evaluate a piece on the fly and suggest relationships with other works, presenting those results on any device—even, eventually, a phone…

By teasing out traits in artworks that link them together aesthetically and historically, Art.sy can draw on buyers’ own taste to suggest other works to them, in some cases circumventing (if not entirely dispensing with) the choices put forward by gallerists and critics. On Art.sy, a would-be collector can select a work of art and get presented with a range of “similar” work, much of it for sale. And what this will represent in practice is not just more products to buy but—potentially—future geniuses to coronate.

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Shahan Mufti
Wired

This week, the art world gave birth to a new platform called Sedition, which aims to create a marketplace for limited-edition digital artworks.

It has signed up some impressive names, including Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Shepard Fairey. These artists will produce pieces in editions of between 2,000 and 10,000, which are numbered, signed and sold for between $8 and $800, with Sedition taking a cut of the revenue.

The platform aims to encourage people who might not be able to afford these artists’ original pieces to become collectors of digital editions which they can access via their mobiles, tablets, PCs and connected TVs. With each purchase comes a certificate of authenticity, which — crucially — entitles the owner to resell the works at a later date if they so wish.

Once you have bought an artwork, it gets delivered to your personal online “vault,” which you can access via an app or web browser. There are currently two sorts of artworks — static prints and videos. The former can be accessed from different devices as a JPEG and the latter must be streamed directly from the site or via the iOS app (the Android and Windows Phone apps are in development).

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Olivia Solon
Wired

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A train upended by Westward-fleeing Greeks in 1923 in Turkey. (Photo copyright 2008, Musee Albert Kahn)

One hundred years ago, one of Paris’s richest men had a quixotic dream. Returning from a personal trip to China and Japan, the banker Albert Kahn decided to build a huge visual archive of the planet. Kahn believed that mutual misunderstanding was the source of world conflict, so in 1909, he began funding scores of photographers as they set out across five continents. By the time the Great Depression finally bankrupted him 22 years later, Kahn’s intrepid op??rateurs had managed to document almost 50 countries, returning to France with 120 hours of film footage and 4,000 black-and-white pictures. This alone would have been a remarkable legacy, but the real jewels of the collection were printed on glass, in a full spectrum the world had never seen. The recently invented technique of the autochrome – which made portable color photography possible – meant that Kahn’s emissaries could also amass a staggering total of 72,000 color plates.

Today, Kahn’s project – still housed in a suburb west of Paris – is a stirring and underappreciated monument: the first great work of color photography. Princeton University Press is marking this centennial with a beautifully illustrated book. “The Dawn of the Color Photograph” is a handsome document full of lush and memorable images. Most of us still picture 1909 exclusively in black and white, so it’s a revelation to peer back 100 years and see such eerily bright hues. French soldiers – dressed inadvisably in red, white, and blue – carve trenches through the verdant countryside; members of the Indian aristocracy, though recently stripped of power, still gather for a portrait wrapped in a defiant regalia of lavender, gold, maroon, and orange. Back in its heyday, the Moulin Rouge is pictured truly red. The most poignant autochromes – the really haunting ones – are those where the richness of color fixes people whose ways of life are unwittingly on the verge of extinction: Farmers, shepherds, and weavers all stand still as their tools and costumes enter the afterlife through a revolutionary new medium.

In the years since Kahn sent his crews out with thousands of pounds of coated glass, the color print has evolved from an expensive novelty into an affordable, nearly ubiquitous object. What used to take specialists many painstaking hours can now be done by machine in a matter of seconds; 30 cents now buys an accurate, glossy color the likes of which the wealthy Kahn could only have dreamed of. As an object, the color print has finally been perfected. And yet, the 100th anniversary of Kahn’s project isn’t so much a triumphant moment as an elegiac one. Like the shepherds, the color print has nearly vanished. Today, you get some glossies sent out as holiday cards, and some lucky ones get matted and framed, but the vast majority of color photographs now taken – and there are countless millions of them – pass before us, just briefly, on a screen.

Our rituals have already shifted. We no longer hand vacation photos around patiently at dinner parties. If we do reach for our photo albums, the collections start to thin out around 2006. Family pictures migrated from our desktop to our “desktop,” and showing off a wallet photo is suddenly very rare. Instead, we flip open to the snap on our cellphones, where our beloved’s low-res face competes brightly with the time, date, and number of bars. (Many of our friends are smiling away inside that camera phone.)

Dushko Petrovich
New York Times

“If the doors of perception were cleansed,” William Blake once wrote, “everything would appear to man as it is, infinite” — infinitely personal, Mr. Eliasson might add, and infinitely interconnected. His business, above all, is the cleansing of the doors of perception. Visitors to his current show “Take Your Time” (continuing at the Museum of Modern Art and P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center through June 30) are discovering immersive environments and sensory-deprivation devices of unfathomable beauty: a rotunda flooded in constantly shifting colors, a gigantic tilted mirror slowly rotating overhead, a cubic meter traced by lamplight in vapor in a darkened gallery. What sense can be made of these Zen mysteries? What do they mean?

In his clinical, uncluttered designs, Mr. Eliasson walks the walk of an experimental physicist; in the thorny Teutonic abstractions he often uses to explain his thinking, he talks the talk of a student of phenomenology. Is he either? “Occasionally one, occasionally the other,” Mr. Eliasson replies. “Relevance arises through context. Sometimes you are looking at pure forms, sometimes at an argument…”

He is exquisitely attuned to nuances of sound and light, which he also recalls with Proustian accuracy. Strolling down by the waterfront, he finds beauty in a mound of road salt deposited under the Manhattan Bridge like sooty slush out of season. Pointing to the sky, he conjures up the trajectory of the sun and gathering darkness in terms that merge drama and epic.

Political theory, ecology and ethics likewise enter the picture. “People like to think that public space is neutral and open to all. Actually, it is subject to commercial interests, to the intentions of power elites. Public space is what’s left when everything else has been privatized. We need to create it, we need to nurture it. I didn’t dump down the waterfalls from the moon. I tried to integrate them with the city in a productive way.”

Matthew Gurewitsch
Wall Street Journal

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MRI scan

Scientists have developed a computerised mind-reading technique which lets them accurately predict the images that people are looking at by using scanners to study brain activity.

The breakthrough by American scientists took MRI scanning equipment normally used in hospital diagnosis to observe patterns of brain activity when a subject examined a range of black and white photographs. Then a computer was able to correctly predict in nine out of 10 cases which image people were focused on. Guesswork would have been accurate only eight times in every 1,000 attempts…

Gallant said it might be possible in future to apply the technology to visual memories or dreams. “Probably the visual hardware is engaged and stuff from memory is sort of downloaded into your visual hardware and then replayed,” he said. “To the extent that that is true, we should be able to reconstruct imagery in dreams.”

James Randerson
Guardian Unlimited

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We have a special prejudice about materials. The Japanese have Zen words to describe the beautiful way in which stone, wood and other natural materials age and patinate, acquiring charm and character as they deteriorate. We lack that. No one has yet coined a term, at least not a favourable one, to describe the way man-made materials grow old. There are no haikus about plastic. There is not much Zen in an old Ford Mondeo. There is even less Zen in an old housing estate.

This is specially so if it is made of concrete, the fashionable hate material of today. The only words that concrete attracts are ‘grimy’, ‘stained’ and the ones they tag with aerosol paint. Right now culture minister Margaret Hodge has taken very badly against concrete. The particular object of her vengeful, twin-set loathing is Robin Hood Gardens, a failing social housing megastructure near the north end of London’s Blackwall Tunnel that was completed in 1972. Mrs Hodge does not have council household taste. She wants it demolished. It does rather remind us that nothing dates quite so quickly as visions of the future.
Robin Hood Gardens was designed by the husband-and-wife partnership of Peter and Alison Smithson, a couple fully possessed of a vision of the future which seems as quaint in our day as John Betjeman’s soppy idylls about honey on the vicarage lawn seemed in theirs. The Smithsons were the great intellectualisers of British postwar architecture, but that is not meant to sound as faintly praiseworthy as it does. British postwar architecture needed it. In the same drab landscape of beige rissoles and rationing which inspired Elizabeth David to discover the exoticism of lemon, oil and garlic, the Smithsons sensed the excitement of a future designed by architects…

The Smithsons were great connectors. Alison wrote an appreciation of the Citroën DS that was as sibylline as Roland Barthes’s, even if it did not become so famous. They were often criticised for this unrepentant, lofty, continental-style intellectualism. But the pair saw architecture and design as part of a whole cultural continuum.

The influential 1956 exhibition This Is Tomorrow was where Pop Art was launched into Britain’s grey spaces. The Smithsons showed a plastic house and proposed a self-cleaning bathroom. The mood is brilliantly described by JG Ballard, one of their collaborators, in his new memoirs. One of their other collaborators was the architectural historian Reyner Banham who later gave the world the term ‘Brutalism’. This is how, and however wrongly, the Smithsons will always be remembered.

Brutalism was not originally a term of opprobrium, but because of a prejudice about concrete and the debatable, one-dimensional ‘failure’ of Robin Hood Gardens, it has become one. As teachers and polemicists with an eye to European fashion, the Smithsons were among the most articulate champions of le Corbusier. Robin Hood Gardens is a development of the Swiss-French architect’s Unité d’Habitation in Marseille. This was designed as a whole city within a single building: with shops and schools within an apparently simple, but subtle, structure. Before Mrs Hodge and her elfin helpmates condemn the sinister influence of Corbu on the British idyll that was life-before-concrete, I suggest she visit Marseille. I have stayed in the Unité d’Habitation and it is magnificent: an architectural masterpiece and a social success.

Robin Hood Gardens is, essentially, two large blocks of 10 and seven storeys comprising 213 flats arranged as one-storey apartments or more spatially interesting duplexes; every third floor there are what the Smithsons idealistically called ‘streets in the sky’.

Alas, their architectural reach exceeded the grasp of the builders and Robin Hood Gardens suffered from the start with a singular lack of commodity and firmness. Worse, the unintelligent housing policies of Tower Hamlets populated Robin Hood Gardens with the tenants least likely to be able to make sensible use of the accommodation. We have to whisper it, but the Unité d’Habitation works because it is populated by teachers, psychologists, doctors, graphic designers, not by single mothers struggling with buggies…

The Smithsons were the angry young architects of their day. Concrete Brutalism suited their mood. No one among the supporters, probably not even Richard Rogers and Robert Venturi, signed up to the cause by Building Design, the trade paper, thinks Robin Hood Gardens has any more delight than it has commodity and firmness, but the campaign against is uninformed and unfair. True, le Corbusier’s style often worked badly in interpretation: the first riots in the French banlieues were at Toulouse-le Mirail, designed with streets in the sky by his disciples. Robin Hood Gardens has been a social calamity. But the architecture alone is not to blame. Its neighbour is Balfron Tower, designed by Corbu student Ernö Goldfinger (dashing inspiration for the Bond villain). When people criticised Goldfinger’s design, he went to live in his concrete tower block ‘to taste his own cooking’. That he pronounced it delicious is maybe not surprising, but its twin sister, Trellick Tower in Notting Hill, has people fighting for flats when they come on the market. As Marx asked, does consciousness determine existence or does existence determine consciousness? Or to put it less correctly, do the pigs make the sty or does the sty make the pigs?

Margaret Hodge’s remarks about concrete are ignorant prejudice. Concrete is a fine material, but needs maintenance and care as much as marble and oak need maintenance and care. Denys Lasdun once told me it would have been cheaper to make the National Theatre out of travertine, but who says this cared-for concrete on the South Bank is anything less than wonderful? Granted, these are strange times when Modernists fight the conservation cause and Labour ministers attack low-cost housing. Robin Hood Gardens is a test for lots of things: a test for taste, for intellect and vision. And a test for the government’s ability to seize an interesting opportunity which could act as a model for benign redevelopment in every city in Britain.

The Smithsons used to say that good architecture was ‘ordinariness and light’. I wonder if so fine and rare a sentiment is known to the minister…

Stephen Bayley
The Observer

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The problem with ramp garages, whether it’s the D’Humy system, or a spiral, or a stack of canted floors, is that they are bewildering. You never quite know your relationship to the ground, or to the building that you’re about to enter. Your car is always a half-floor above or below you, no matter how carefully you plot your return.

Ramps may be an efficient way to store cars, but they sever an age-old architectural connection between you, the building and the earth you drove in on. And garages, in general, give you no sense of entry to a building, or a city. The grand galleries of old rail stations provided a spiritual sense of transition to the city. The garage is always a nuisance, with no sense of drama, or flow, or grandeur.

With the 1930s, when cars no longer needed to be protected from the elements and architectural style became more austere, garages got much worse. They became more strictly functional and unbelievably ugly: squat, low, rectilinear buildings with open sides, showing cars like rows of bad teeth. All too often, especially as cars proliferated in the 1950s and ’60s, garages were plunked into the urban landscape, breaking up neighborhoods, dwarfing (or supplanting) historic buildings, cutting people off from views they once took for granted…

Yes, they can be built better than they have been (they can intersect with mass transit, they can be hidden underground or disguised behind better facades). But until the economics of urban land use and the demand for huge amounts of parking change, they can never really be made beautiful. They are almost always too large to be successfully hidden and, rather like funeral parlors, no matter how nice they are on the outside, you always know what’s on the inside. In the case of garages, it’s hundreds of little environmental disasters that burden their owners with debt, insulate them from society, frazzle them with constant cleaning and maintenance and pollute a crowded world.

If you hate garages — for being city killers, for ruining neighborhoods, for discouraging mass transit — there is no such thing as a good garage…They’re here to stay, they can be better.

Or should we work toward their obsolescence and elimination (retained only for shared cars, buses, electric vehicles, etc.)? That is a trenchant, hard-nosed but ultimately more rational choice than the blithe acceptance of them as necessary evils that just need a little tweaking. Banishing the garage would force some social engineering on a population that desperately needs to wean itself from a planet-killing addiction to the automobile. When a neighborhood becomes a parking nightmare, one of two things must happen: People stop going there, or they get there on foot, bicycle, train or bus…

The parking garage is an enabler for an auto-dependent society. The anger and hostility against them that has grown up among committed urbanists is a good thing. McDonald [author of The Parking Garage: Design and Evolution of a Modern Urban Form] finds beauty in her subject and has some sensible suggestions about how to improve her favorite building type. But in a better world, we would enjoy their occasional beauty with nostalgic hindsight, in books as well researched and illustrated as McDonald’s, or after they’ve been converted to lofts or torn down altogether.

Philip Kennicott
The Washington Post

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Illustration courtesy of The New York Sun

Olafur Eliasson, a Danish–Icelandic artist whose installation “The Weather Project” drew 2 million people to the Tate Modern in 2003 and 2004, has designed what will likely be the city’s biggest public art project since Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s “The Gates”: a series of freestanding waterfalls in the East River.

Mayor Bloomberg and the Public Art Fund, a private nonprofit organization that produced, among other works, Anish Kapoor’s “Sky Mirror” and Jeff Koons’s “Puppy,” both at Rockefeller Center, are scheduled to announce Mr. Eliasson’s project at the South Street Seaport tomorrow.

Kate Taylor
The New York Sun

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To Inuits in the late 1800s, a map was a piece of wood with carved gnarls and pocks representing the coastal inlets of Greenland.

To ancient Greeks and early Europeans, maps were flights of fancy and horror, showing beautiful beasts and savage humans of uncharted lands.

Eighteenth-century Buddhists saw maps as moral charts juxtaposing landscapes of men’s sensual desires and “infinite space.” New World colonizers used maps as tools of conquest and empire, distorting size and shape to serve their self-interest.

No matter the age, maps have always inspired that eternal human penchant for dreaming of far-off places, for locating oneself in the universe. As vessels of wishful thinking, they transform us into explorers lured by the mystery of the unknown, if not a lust to conquer it.

Pursuits and desires such as these are at the core of the Festival of Maps here, billed as the largest, most diverse cartographic exposition in U.S. history. “Maps: Finding Our Place in the World,” which is one part of the Chicago festival, will open in March at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. Although computer and satellite technology seem to cast a cold, hard light on our physical realm, people still turn to maps to feed their imagination, festival organizers say — whether through collecting and studying ancient maps, using modern mapping technology in creative and interactive ways or making cartographically inspired art. Rather than distance us from cartography, technology has made mapping part of our everyday lives — in driving, in fashion, even in political protest.

“It turns out almost any man on the street you talk to says they love maps,” says Anna Siegler, who was hired to coordinate the festival by her friend Barry MacLean, one of the world’s top collectors, with more than 20,000 maps.

The love of maps is “this quietly held passion [that] people have,” says Siegler.

Kari Lydersen
Washington Post

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