Baseball practice in Montgomery County, Maryland
Baseball practice in Montgomery County, Maryland. Photograph: Tomas van Houtryve

When photographer Tomas van Houtryve shows people his picture of a yoga class mid-pose in a San Francisco public park, half see people practising yoga, the other half see people praying. It is this reaction to what drones capture that worries him.

“Imagine if all we knew about the way people in Pakistan lead their lives were derived from images of the tops of their heads, taken from 15,000ft (4,500 metres) in the air. It’s bound to be full of uncertainty. Is this the best way to fight a war?”

The fact that there were few published photographs of US drone activity had been bothering Van Houtryve. Then, last summer, he was sent on assignment to Peru to photograph a mine. It was while trying to secure aerial shots that an engineer introduced him to the use of drones in photography; he soon earned enough to buy his own.

“When I first started looking, they were expensive and difficult to get hold of but they started popping up on Amazon for a more reasonable price,” he says. With the help of online forums and through “internet shopping for bits and bobs” from France, Hong Kong and the US, Van Houtryve modified his drone so that it could carry a high definition camera and transmit video back to his monitor on the ground. In total, the device cost him around $2,500 (£1,500).

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Abigail Radnor
The Guardian

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If you live in the Los Angeles area, you may have noticed, placed surreptitiously between two boutiquey enterprises on Silver Lake Boulevard, a colossal white cage with a twisting skeleton and seemingly organic outgrowth. It takes a moment to process this alien invasion of the everyday space, and much longer to decide what purpose, exactly, the unorthodox form serves.

Well, just to clear things up, two weeks ago it was an observatory, last week it became an architectural musical instrument, and this weekend it will serve as an immersive human-scale birdcage. Yes, you’re looking at the three-dimensional stage of “Vive La Cage,” a three-part performance series that combines elements of dance, architecture, music, astronomy, and, well, human birdwatching.

This weekend, Mishal Hashmi, Janie Sanchez and Filipa Valente collaborate on “Birdcage Express,” a piece that magnifies the daily happenings of a birdcage to a human scale. An immersive 3D projection environment invites viewers to engage with birds on a surreal scale.

“The project was inspired by the form work and scale of La Cage,” the artists explained to The Huffington Post. “We saw this giant Tweety-bird-esque cage and were drawn to the idea of creating a playful, immersive environment that allowed shrunken humans to navigate through a cage full of enormous birds and perch amongst them.”

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Priscilla Frank
The Huffington Post

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Stairway to heaven… the Met doesn’t pretend art began – or stopped – in 1900. Photograph: Alamy

If only Britain had a place like New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. This great compendium of art and culture on the edge of Central Park is about to rebuild its modern wing – in other words, to improve on what is already an unrivalled cocktail of past and present. Meanwhile it has just launched so much of its collection for free download that its website temporarily crashed under the pressure of public excitement.

No other great museum has the Metropolitan’s range. Its name is appropriate for it turns the whole world, across all time, into one buzzing city. You can stroll from an Egyptian temple to a Renaissance studiolo, from a roomful of Rembrandts to an encounter with Jackson Pollock.

American critics have so far been deeply cynical about the renovation, and about its “spotty” collection of modern art – which just goes to show that people don’t know when they are well off. From a British point of view, the idea of a museum where you can immerse yourself in Rembrandt then be blown away by Jackson Pollock’s majestic Autumn Rhythm sounds like some delirious artistic utopia. New Yorkers have the luxury of sniping at their local museum: I just feel envious of them.

Britain’s leading museums are not exactly failing – they’re crowded – but they are trapped in the 19th-century mindset of their creators. The scars of an archaic civil service mentality define each like a government department with a rigorously specified area of responsibility. The British Museum does not collect European paintings. The National Gallery does not display Egyptian mummies, or modern art beyond early Picasso. Only the V&A has a little bit of the Met’s truly encyclopedic spirit.

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Jonathan Jones
The Guardian

Martyrs by Bill Viola at St Paul's in London
Martyrs by Bill Viola at St Paul’s in London

Bill Viola has created a powerful modern altarpiece for St Paul’s Cathedral that perfectly suits the restrained spirituality of this most English of churches.

Coming into Christopher Wren’s great building on a weekday morning when crowded buses surround this London icon, you notice how ascetic its atmosphere is. Greek mosaics and the perfect geometry of a dome that suggests the clockwork universe of Wren’s contemporary Isaac Newton make St Paul’s a place of cool, even philosophical, prayer.

Bloody martyrdoms, harrowing images of saints being crucified upside down or tortured with hot pincers – such gut-wrenching pictures are deliberately sidelined in the temple of reason that is St Paul’s. At least, they were until American visionary Viola unveiled his latest work, a permanent video installation, there on Tuesday.

It has taken more than a decade to agree on, plan and install Viola’s eerie multiscreen work Martyrs (Earth, Air, Fire, Water), a quest that started when the cathedral’s overseers were struck by his exhibition The Passions at the National Gallery in 2003. This exhibition revealed the depth of his interest in traditional religious art. St Paul’s has a steady programme of commissioning modern works but there simply is no other artist today of Viola’s quality who is so committed to the idea of religious art. He is making a second work for St Paul’s, to be unveiled next year, called Mary. He says he hopes the pieces are not just art but “practical objects of traditional contemplation and devotion”.

Martyrs is a study in suffering and redemption. Four people on four vertical screens undergo extreme fates: one has been buried, another hangs with her wrists and ankles bound, another sits amid flames and a fourth hangs upside down as he is drenched in cascades of water. As these images develop and transform in parallel, it becomes hard to know what is death and what is hope. Soil is whirled off the buried man in an upward band of dust, like the zip in a Barnett Newman painting, until he is born again, looking up into heavenly light. Similarly, the suspended woman endures her pain to raise her eyes to that light in a final deathly pose of triumph.

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Jonathan Jones
The Guardian

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The Duryodhana (left) and the Bhima (aka Temple Wrestler) (c. 925–50 CE), sandstone, 61-3/4 in (156.8 cm), Norton Simon Art Foundation, M.1980.15.S (Duryodhana images courtesy US Immigration & Customs Enforcement, and the Bhima image courtesy the Norton Simon Art Foundation)

This week, we learned that two important Cambodian sandstone sculptures from the 10th century — one in the collection of the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California, and the other seized from Sotheby’s New York in 2012 — will be returned to the Kingdom of Cambodia after being looted in the 1970s.

Yesterday, the Norton Simon Museum announced that they would be making a “gift” of the colossal sculpture, known as the Bhima, after nearly four decades on display in its institution. And today, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York and the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations announced the return of the Duryodhana, the companion sculpture to the Bhima, to the Kingdom of Cambodia.

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Hrag Vartanian
Hyperallergic

RASHIDI_5388Mehrdad Rashidi, “Untitled” (circa 2009), ballpoint pen ink on found paper (courtesy of Henry Boxer Gallery, London)

Has the outsider art field become a victim of its own success? If so, it is a peculiar “victim,” and its success must be measured by standards that go beyond the money-obsessed art world’s primary criterion for determining aesthetic value — the price tag that any specific work happens to sport at any given time.

“This was the year that outsider art came in from the cold,” the New York Times reported last December in a year-end, art-news summary, with late-to-the-party breathlessness. That observation packed a loaded assumption. From exactly which “cold” precincts did outsider art supposedly emerge? As the Times pointed out, offering a rationale for its assertion, outsider art had been featured “most prominently in the centerpiece exhibition of the [2013] Venice Biennale.”

That big show at the Biennale, which was titled The Encyclopedic Palace, placed outsider art right alongside the products of academically trained artists (among them: Bruce Nauman, Charles Ray, Cindy Sherman and other big-brand-name contemporaries). In fact, for a long time now, the market for the creations of the best self-taught artists has been hot, hot, hot — increasingly visible in the mainstream media, more and more popular among general-interest audiences, and, yes, ever more costly in gallery, art fair and auction sales.

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Edward M. Gómez
Hyperallergic

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Images: stpmj

If you’re looking to hide a barn in plain sight, here’s a fool-proof way to go about: cover it in mylar. That’s what New York City architecture firm stpmj did for a new conceptual project for the Architectural League’s Folly Competition.

The contest asks up and coming designers to create a 21st century architectural folly to be installed in the Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens, N.Y. Derived from the French word for “foolish,” a folly is a building or structure that’s created with no real purpose beyond looking cool.

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Liz Stinson
Wired

Henri Matisse - The Parakeet and the Mermaid 1952 (detail)
Colour dances, and our eyes dance with it … detail from Matisse’s The Parakeet and the Mermaid (1952). Photograph: © Stedelijk /© Succession Henri Matisse/DACS 2014

Scissors, paper, pins – these were all it took for Matisse, in the last years of his life, often bedridden and feeling he was living on borrowed time, to create the works that now fill a suite of galleries at Tate Modern. What a joyous and fascinating exhibition this is. I eat it with my eyes and never feel sated.

Ravishing, filled with light and decoration, exuberance and a kind of violence, Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs is about more than just pleasure. It charts not simply the consummation of the artist’s long career but a kind of self-usurpation. In his last years, Matisse went beyond himself.

As well as the works themselves, there is film footage of the artist and his assistants at work, swatches of the hand-painted papers he used, and a wealth of photographic and other material to broaden our understanding.

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Adrian Searle
The Guardian

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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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