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Post-it note discussing two paintings; installation view, Art Is Therapy, 2014. Courtesy of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Photo: Olivier Middendorp.

Viewers are supposed to marvel at Rembrandt’s Night Watch (1642), but do they really? Many of us have unsatisfying responses to the works of the Masters, yet we still troop through the museums by the millions. This disconnect has led Alain de Botton and John Armstrong to guest-curate a selection of 150 works at the Rijksmuseum from their pragmatic point of view.
De Botton and Armstrong assert that art’s purpose is to heal some of the pain and malaise felt in life. It would be easy to dismiss this as didactic and anodyne. But reclaiming this broad, utilitarian view of art and reconnecting with the public in an approachable way is not simplistic. It is an important critical challenge to the reductive and self-referential intellectualism that dominates much contemporary discourse.
Tagging each work with large, yellow Post-it-style notes, the curators chat with the audience about the psychological dynamics of viewing art in a large museum. The notes aim to demystify the thoughts and feelings of viewers. Some notes describe the purpose of museums (“cathedrals of art”), while others name the alienation we feel in a room crowded with strangers. Democratizing the viewing experience in this way touches the soft underbelly of art, where contemporary critique has rejected notions of social purpose, beauty, and meaning and thus alienated much of the public.

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Daily Serving

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“Ian Hamilton Finlay: Arcadian Revolutionary and Avant-Gardener” is abuzz with aphorisms, quotations, and various verbal parries.

Imagine yourself strolling through a verdant park, enjoying the pleasant vistas, the richer oxygen, the weird, wrap-around three-dimensionality of it all (so unlike a screen), and then, out of nowhere . . . Zzzzzp. (Ouch!) And a minute later . . . Zzzzzp! (Yeow!) And so on.

Not insects, but words deliver these rousing stings. And their little pricks of poison are felt not on the skin but in that part of the body encrusted with cant and cliché called the brain.

Hello, and thank you, Ian Hamilton Finlay.

Finlay (1925-2006), a Scotsman, is the subject of a small but deeply engaging show at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum this summer. Although most of the work is indoors and on framed pieces of paper, it’s advisable — it’s almost inevitable — that, while viewing it, you imagine yourself wandering through a carefully tended neoclassical garden, receiving Finlay’s verbal (but also graphic and sculptural) stings with varying degrees of dismay, pleasure, and irritation.

Gardening was one of Finlay’s abiding obsessions. The others were classical poetry and philosophy (above all Virgil and his “Eclogues”), the French Revolution, World War II, boating, and the sea. A strange mix, on the face of it, but they all combined symphonically in Finlay’s 5-acre garden, the pungently named “Little Sparta,” in the Pentland Hills, smack bang in the center of southern Scotland.

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Sebastian Smee
Boston Globe

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A detail of the newly re-designed Clark center and reflecting pool. (Photo: Courtesy Clark Art Institute )

“I started to cry a bit when I saw the finished result for the first time this morning,” said architect Annabelle Selldorf at the June 27 press preview of the newly expanded Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Michael Conforti, director of the Institute, also teared up as he addressed the crowd gathered to celebrate the reopening after 10 years and $145 million of time and funds were invested into reconstruction. Visitors might have similarly emotional reactions to the results, including Pritzker-winner Tadao Ando’s multipurpose visitor center, which prioritizes circulation and the views of lush hills behind the Clark; landscape architecture firm Reed Hilderbrand’s stepped pools , which create a peaceful setting primed for meditation; and Selldorf’s redesign of the main museum building’s interior, which glorifies the Clark’s collection.

Though thorough and comprehensive, the Clark’s transformation is decidedly understated. The refrain “Bilbao of the Berkshires” was used time and again over the weekend to describe the project, but that phrase isn’t really accurate. The Guggenheim Bilbao is a monumental, sculptural showpiece that draws attention away from the cityscape unto itself; the new Clark pays homage to the surrounding landscape with understated architecture and interiors that frame views of the neighboring hillside and the art on view.

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Anna Kats
Blouin ArtInfo

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Goya’s “La maja vestida” and “La maja desnuda” in Spain’s Museo del Prado (photo by MamboZ/Flickr)

The Museo del Prado in Spain is missing 885 artworks, down from 926 in 2008, El País reported. A recent investigation carried out by the country’s Tribunal de Cuentas, or Court of Auditors, found that the losses were likely decades-old but nonetheless reflected inadequate infrastructure for tracking the collections. A spokesperson for the museum downplayed the situation, telling the paper that many works had been lost over the years to fires and even armed conflict, but without proof of destruction or loss the records for these works remain.

The audit was compelled by the regulatory law governing the Prado, which calls for “monitoring the integrity and security of the museum’s collections and funds.” As part of the audit, the government agency queried 82 Spanish institutions responsible for 1,789 Prado-owned works held in the country but outside of the museum itself (a total of 3,206 works are held internationally). Of this group, 65% of the works were satisfactorily confirmed by 53 institutions; discrepancies and other irregularities in the records provided by 25 museums were further observed.

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Mostafa Heddaya
Hyperallergic

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Madonna and Child With Four Saints (Spedalingo Altarpiece), by Rosso Fiorentino, 1518

Henri Matisse is supposed to have encountered someone who complained that the arm of a woman in one of his portraits was too long. “Madam, you are mistaken,” he replied. “This is not a woman, this is a painting.” She might have replied, “That’s not an argument, that’s attitude.” The painter’s bon mot is what E.H. Gombrich (to whose classic study Art and Illusion I owe the anecdote) called “one of the paradoxes with which modern artists and critics like to tease the long-suffering public.” Such paradoxes can be hard to avoid. Gombrich thought the development of pictorial illusionism—that is, of the European canon of realistic representation—“was stimulated by the dissatisfaction which certain periods of Western civilization felt with images that failed to look convincing.” The statement is itself paradoxical, because it ignores the question of who wants to be convinced by an image. Long before Matisse, the Italian artists of the sixteenth century who came to be known as Mannerists were willing to twist their figures out of proportion, and they did so to create not convincing images, but convincing paintings.

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Barry Schwabsky
The Nation

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A conservator wears goggles to protect his eyes from the dual laser beams that he wields to clean a Caryatid. (Photo: Thanassis Stavrakis, Associated Press)

Four marble maidens from ancient Greece have just gotten a facelift. Using a specially designed laser, conservators have labored since 2011 to strip away the black grime that encrusted the statues. Today the final figure to undergo the treatment is being revealed in all her splendor in the new Acropolis Museum in Athens, which celebrates its fifth anniversary this Friday, June 20.

Sculpted in the late fifth century B.C., the draped figures served as columns for the Erechtheion, one of the temples that stood on the Acropolis, the sacred rocky hill that rises 512 feet (156 meters) above the modern Greek capital.

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A. R. Williams
National Geographic

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Woman’s Kimono with Abstract Hemp-Leaf Pattern (Japan, early Shōwa period, c. 1935), silk plain weave, stencil-printed warp and weft (heiyō-gasuri meisen), Costume Council Fund (Photo: © 2014 Museum Associates/LACMA)

Many of us, when we picture kimono, envision the traditional Japanese garment covered in similarly traditional images: blossoming floral motifs, soaring or leaping animals, mountain peaks and cresting seascapes in Ukiyo-e style. But cross-cultural exchange between Japan and the West started in earnest during the Meiji period (1868–1912), causing the spread of different technologies and styles in both directions. By the time the Shōwa period rolled around in 1926, Japanese kimono looked quite different than they once had, with patterns that that were far more abstract and modern.

Opening on Saturday, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s (LACMA) exhibition Kimono for a Modern Age surveys this period of Japanese fashion innovation. The show presents 30 never-before-seen kimono from LACMA’s permanent collection. All date to the first half of the 20th century — chronology you might guess just by looking at the garments, which show a strong affinity with modern art of the period.

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Jillian Steinhauer
Hyperallergic

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Jackson Pollock, “Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist)” (photo by Cliff, via Flickr)

An artist has been charged with selling $1.9 million worth of Jackson Pollock paintings, all of which turned out to be counterfeits, the New York Post reported. New York painter John Re has allegedly been deceiving collectors since 2005, telling them a complex backstory of how he stumbled upon the paintings while cleaning out the East Hampton basement of a woman whose late husband restored antiques.

One collector picked up 58 paintings for $519,890 and another bought 12 for $894,500. Upon inspection of one of the works, however, an expert noted that certain materials in the artwork did not even exist when Pollock was alive and that some of the paint was “too fresh to have been applied by Jackson Pollock, who died on August 11, 1956,” according to one report.

ABC News also reports that Re sent one collector a series of threatening emails upon learning that he had submitted numerous paintings for scrutiny by experts at the International Foundation for Art Research. Re also allegedly asked the other buyer to lend him money and also demanded that he return the fakes.

When the FBI questioned Re in May, he allegedly argued that he presented the paintings without total confirmation of their provenance; online listings, however, labelled them as “real” or “authentic” works. Regardless of how Re may have marketed the Pollocks, we at least hope he spell-checked the signatures before selling them off.

Claire Voon
Hyperallergic

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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

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