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The interior of the remodeled Mauritshuis.(Photo: © Ronald Tilleman/ Courtesy Mauritshuis, The Hague )

On June 27 the Mauritshuis reopens in The Hague after two years of ambitious refurbishment and extension. And — I mean that as a sincere compliment to the director, architects, and staff — it’s almost exactly the same as it was before the 30 million euro reconstruction work was begun. But perhaps I’d better explain why that’s such a good thing.

The Mauritshuis is the perfect gallery of 17th-century Dutch painting. Perhaps on a crass masterpiece count it somewhat lags behind the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam — though even there one could argue the point. Among its Rembrandt roster is the grisly “Anatomy Lesson of Doctor Nicolaes Tulp,” 1652, a group portrait of early surgeons, boldly investigating where more squeamish cultures hesitated to look: beneath the waxy skin of the cadaver of a deceased thief named Aris Kindt.

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Martin Gayford
Blouin ArtInfo

Thomas Heatherwick’s proposed Thames bridge.
The hanging gardens of new Babylon … Thomas Heatherwick’s proposed Thames bridge. Photograph: Arup

The river Thames has long inspired a kind of architectural madness, the looping grey serpent driving many to attempt to leap its great breadth in ever more elaborate ways. As a student, John Soane proposed a triumphal bridge, a classical palace on piers that would have spanned the river with a domed temple, flanked by an avenue of corinthian colonnades. It won him the Royal Academy gold medal in 1776, but the plans have remained in a drawer ever since.

In the 1960s, a radical group by the name of the Glass Age Development Committee dreamed up a multi-storey pleasure bridge for Vauxhall. This would have straddled the Thames with a vertical stack of roadways, shops, skating rinks and a hotel, all topped with a roof garden and open-air theatre, but it proved one megastructure too far.

Not to be deterred, the Royal Academy organised a competition for a “living bridge” in 1996, won by the French architect Antoine Grumbach with a lavish suspended garden, lined with hedges, trees and an exotic “topiary cafe”. It was to hang from two vast apartment towers that would have paid for the project – but these generated fierce opposition that revealed the scheme as nothing more than green garnish for a lucrative private development.

Now there is another garden bridge plan. Bursting out of the river in the form of two conjoined mushrooms, it would create a floating forest between Temple and the South Bank, held aloft on a shimmering copper canopy. It is scarcely less improbable than the heroic failures that have gone before – and yet it seems very likely to happen. It has garnered not only the support of London’s mayor-cum-novelty-infrastructure-tsar, Boris Johnson, who has pledged £30m from his transport budget, but also the backing of central government, in the form of a further £30m from the Treasury. A detailed planning application has now been submitted, with the aim of having it built by 2018.

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Oliver Wainwright
The Guardian

Alexandra Bachzetsis Stages of Staging AB_SoS_press_3_20x13 ©Melanie Hofmann
Alexandra Bachzetsis’s The Stages of Staging. Photo: © Melanie Hofmann

Art and dance have had a close relationship, from the Modernist flowerings of the Ballet Russes to the downtown scene in 1970s New York. But they have remained largely distinct disciplines until recently. However, choreographers’ work is increasingly being incorporated into museum and gallery programmes, and as integral works rather than interruptions from a distinct artform. Art Basel brings some of the leading figures in dance together for The Artist as Choreographer, Friday’s Conversation, chaired by Hans Ulrich Obrist and featuring the choreographic artists Alexandra Bachzetsis, Xavier Le Roy and Isabel Lewis.

The background to this phenomenon is the two disciplines’ mutual interest in expanding definitions of what art and dance might be, and in bringing art and everyday life into a closer relationship. Bachzetsis’s work is emblematic of this shift. She has recently devised works for Documenta 13 and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, and will appear in the BMW Tate Live event at Tate Modern, London, in October. She is interested in how different spaces—the theatre, the museum, the gallery, online space—“condition both the human body and the contemporary status of performance practice”, she says.

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Ben Luke
The Art Newspaper

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Poland’s “Impossible Objects” exhibition at the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale. (Photo By Wojciech Wilczyk/Courtesy of Zachęta National Gallery of Art)

In the lead-up to the June 7 opening of the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale, director Rem Koolhaas sounded like he was planning a family therapy session for the architectural profession: “This retrospective will generate a fresh understanding of the richness of architecture’s fundamental repertoire, apparently so exhausted today,” he remarked upon the January 2013 announcement that he would curate this year’s edition. Koolhaas cited “the process of the erasure of national characteristics in favor of the almost universal adoption of a single modern language” as one source of architecture’s current predicament. Contemporary architecture, he noted, has become “flattened,” and though Koolhaas doesn’t necessarily see this as a negative quality, he requested that national pavilion curators redirect their attention away from contemporary architecture. Each participating country was asked to produce an exhibition on the influence of modernization in the 20th century on its architecture, as a means of inspiring reflection on the worldwide monotony of contemporary building. With the 2014 Biennale now underway, it’s clear that the combined efforts of the 66 exhibiting countries have produced more questions than answers.

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Anna Katz
Blouin ArtInfo

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

o-CAGE-570

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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