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Zhu Pei worked with a manufacturer of fiberglass-reinforced plastic to develop a translucent fiberglass block for his Blur Hotel in Beijing. The architect wanted the building, which will sit near the East Gate of the Forbidden City, to glow like a Chinese lantern. (Courtesy of Architectural Record)
Say the words “new Chinese architecture” and what springs to mind? Ambitious skyscrapers, soaring apartment blocks, Olympian designs in central Beijing by celebrated international architects, and the unbridled kitsch of suburban estates like Thames Town, a bizarre mock-English development near Shanghai.
But even while great – and likable – tracts of old Chinese cities continue to come tumbling down in the names of change and modernisation, the country’s up-and-coming practices are developing intelligent new forms of specifically Chinese design, even if they do draw from the west from time to time. Whatever other glamorous projects these talented young architects are beginning to scoop up, it is mostly housing for ordinary people that concerns them – that, and a desire to change the direction of Chinese architectural development, all too often a soulless juggernaut ripping the hearts from old towns and cities.
Zhu Pei is one architect at the forefront of this new wave. In his busy Beijing studio, Zhu shows me ideas for the redevelopment of one of the city’s “hutongs”. Made up of tangling alleys brimming with workaday life, Beijing’s hutongs are fast disappearing. “This is the type of district most people lived in before the towerblocks arrived,” says Zhu. “Naturally, many people were happy to move out to new apartments because the hutongs were old, poor and often unsanitary. But the hutongs are built on a human scale and can be very beautiful. What we propose is reconstruction: adding gentle modern buildings where necessary, to improve them and make ordinary people like them again. We want the present to connect with the past – we want to perform an urban acupuncture on Chinese cities.”
This isn’t easy. As Zhu knows, it is far easier to design ambitious new museums and sporting venues than it is to construct modest, modern homes in age-old city courtyards and alleys, especially when such sites are being hungrily eyed up by state-sponsored property developers. Educated at Tsinghua University and the University of California, Zhu – who set up Studio Zhu Pei in 2005 with architects Wu Tong – was the man behind Digital Beijing, the all-but-completed control centre for the 2008 Olympics, as well an origami-like art pavilion in Abu Dhabi that will stand alongside monuments by Zaha Hadid, Jean Nouvel and Frank Gehry. He is also working on designs for the Guggenheim Beijing and created the city’s Kapok hotel, with its translucent screens and shimmering courtyards.
What’s wrong and what’s right in terms of originality and art is a matter of serious debate…Which is worse, theft or ignorance?
“We’re surrounded by signs; our imperative is to ignore none of them,” Jonathan Lethem wrote in a Harper’s essay last year called “The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism,” an essay comprising sentences lifted from other places. In one of the few sentences in that essay that wasn’t sourced, Lethem proclaimed: “Art is sourced.”
The point is that there is no such thing as a “clean” piece of writing or art. An artist’s only imperative is to be informed about what came before, Lethem argued, in order to steal better. Outright, daylight theft is best, Fredericksen [director of Western Bridge, an art space] agreed recently. Accidental copying…is worst, precisely because it is so uncanny, Fredericksen said: “It’s a doppelgänger. That’s a classic horror story.”
Except what constitutes a copy? Is there a difference in art akin to the DNA difference between a fraternal and an identical twin? What about mere siblings? If artists acknowledge influences more overtly rather than less, does it protect them? Cases of artworks looking intentionally similar through acknowledged influence or overt appropriation are obvious and well documented, but cases of artworks looking accidentally similar are not all that uncommon, either—and present more complicated problems.
Tara Donovan’s pins are hard to miss. There are thousands of them upstairs at the new Institute of Contemporary Art. They’re smushed together almost as if dropped into a trash compactor, except instead of being bent, they form a 3½-foot-tall block of sinewy, shiny metal. This is art, and it sits in the center of a gallery at the ICA, one of the signature pieces of the museum’s collection.
Stare at “Untitled (Pins),” and you’re likely to have questions. How does this cube stick together? Is it solid or a kind of pin shell? And what of the artist? Did Donovan get pricked as she manipulated the piece? Was she wearing protective gloves? What kind of care and persistence did it require for her to turn these thousands of glittering pins into such a perfect square?
One thing you might not expect: Donovan didn’t put “Untitled (Pins)” together at all. The New York City artist figured out how to shape a mass of pins and sent instructions to the museum; the work was assembled in July, and again in August, entirely by the hands of ICA employees.
Surprised? Don’t be. Like any museum of contemporary art, the ICA is full of works built by somebody other than the artist, from Kelly Sherman’s Foster Prize-winning “Wish Lists,” a collection of personal wish lists gathered from the Internet, to “Cell (Hand and Mirror),” a mysterious Louise Bourgeois piece featuring a pair of carved marble hands in the center of miniature room.
In Cambridge, Harvard’s Carpenter Center was recently home to an installation piece of cellophane-wrapped candies laid in a golden carpet across the ground floor of the center. The work is credited to Felix Gonzalez-Torres, but was actually built by curator Helen Molesworth. (Gonzalez-Torres died in 1996.) At the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, several pieces in the Spencer Finch exhibit – including a majestic stained-glass wall – were simply assembled according to the artist’s specs. And last September, when the Boston Center for the Arts hosted “Work No. 227: The Lights Going On and Off” by Scottish artist Martin Creed, in which the gallery’s 67 track lights illuminated the white walls and then flicked off every five seconds, not only did Creed not set up the exhibition, he didn’t even fly to Boston while it was up.
As contemporary art becomes more mainstream, and successful artists become “brands” that draw huge sale prices and big museum crowds, legions of art viewers are now finding themselves confronting “original” works created by someone other than the person listed on the wall label.
What qualifies such artwork as original, and whether it should matter whether the artist physically created the work, is a debate that has occupied academic corners of the art world for years. But if museumgoers believe – reasonably – that the point of seeing original art is to connect intimately with the artist who crafted the piece before them, they are opening themselves up to a rude surprise. In a contemporary art museum, it’s now fair to expect that chunks of a collection were never touched by the artist at all.
Tomorrow: Part 2 from Edgers’ excellent article.
The Bowery might sound like the last place in Manhattan where you would go to pick out a new designer suit, dine at a chic restaurant or stay in a $1,200 hotel suite. But much of the old Bowery is being swept away faster than you can say “skid row,” and new high-end offerings are on the horizon.
Developers are scrambling to turn the Bowery, which runs diagonally through the East Village and Chinatown, into the latest trendy corridor for luxury goods and entertainment.
The increased activity reflects developers’ quest to find places in Manhattan where they can build ambitious new projects. “It is like what happened in the meatpacking district,” another formerly downscale area, said Lisa Phillips, the director of the New Museum of Contemporary Art, which is about to open on the Bowery. “Any little pocket that was untouched is now being examined under a microscope.”
The New Museum, previously in SoHo, was in the vanguard of the transformation of the Bowery. Shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, the directors of the museum decided to build their new 60,000-square-foot museum at 235 Bowery, between Stanton and Rivington Streets. The new New Museum will open for the first time this weekend, with 30 consecutive hours of free admission starting at noon Saturday.
The Tokyo-based architects Sejima & Nishizawa/Sanaa have designed a shimmering tower of interlocking metallic boxes resembling a giant off-kilter wedding cake. The museum building dwarfs the neighboring low-rise brick buildings, which include a vacant restaurant supply store and a padlocked budget hotel called the Sunshine Motel.
Such vestiges of the old neighborhood will probably remain for a while. There is a methadone clinic nearby, and a handful of homeless shelters are left. But several developers insist that is a good thing. They say the neighborhood’s “rough edges” attract the artists, designers and celebrities who they hope will frequent the new hotels and boutiques.
J. Alex Tarquinio
New York Times
Last month, Radiohead released its new album, In Rainbows, as a download and asked people to pay whatever they wanted for it. A few weeks later hip-hop artist Saul Williams did more or less the same thing with The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust, the album he produced without a record company. Visitors to the Web site (www.niggytardust.com) can pay either $5 or nothing.
Go and have a listen – both albums are good. While you’re online you can read the recipes in James Bridle’s new cookbook without paying for that, either.
Bridle, who lives in London, is a former publishing professional with degrees in computer science and cognitive science and, as he puts it, “severe geek tendencies.” Since September 2006 he has kept the blog booktwo.org, where he writes about the way digital technologies are affecting the traditional printed word. The blog bears the waggish tag line, “The book is dead. Long live the book.”
Nonetheless, Bridle wrote a book, a “real” one called Cooking With Booze that was put out by UK publisher Snowbooks in October. He announced its publication on his blog and assured readers that he’d stuck to his principles and “got all booktwo on it as well.” In other words, he retained his electronic rights to the work and made its entire contents available online for free even as the book sits on store shelves wearing a price tag.
“Putting it online for free means people who wouldn’t have seen it any other way have a better chance of finding it via Google and other search engines,” Bridle explained in an e-mail. “It also means they can try out the recipes, and will hopefully be pretty well-disposed towards it, and end up buying it for themselves or others. In short, it’s great publicity.”
Creative Commons is what makes the book legally sharable. The Massachusetts-based organization offers a variety of liberal copyrights that are based in part on the show-your-work logic of open-source software.
Different types of Creative Commons licenses have different parameters. Bridle chose the Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike license for his book, which permits readers to copy and distribute and even “remix” it as long as they do so for noncommercial purposes, acknowledge Bridle as the original author, and “share alike” by distributing any altered versions of the book under a similar license.
“This means I can retain some of my rights but allow others to share and build upon the work, which allows for more interesting uses of it than traditional, restrictive copyright,” Bridle says. He made the online version of the book using open-source software, most of which was free.
Recipes by their nature are amalgamations, with each new user tweaking them to suit his own tastes and then passing them along to friends. Bridle says that making them free, and free to play around with, seemed fitting. Still, wasn’t that hard to explain to the old-media folks who’d spent money publishing the book?
Not in this case, Bridle says; he used to work as an editor at Snowbooks and had initiated discussions there about using such an approach as a promotional tool. He also had the examples of Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross, both commercially successful novelists who have put whole novels online for free under similar copyrights.
As for Radiohead, Bridle thinks the band’s new album is “very canny. I think an ‘honesty box’ scheme will probably persuade a lot more people to pay rather than download it for free illegally.
“But what’s more interesting is the way they’re cutting out their record company to a large extent: As creative artists, being able to work freely and reach fans directly is pretty much the best situation you can get, and this innovative approach allows them to do so.”
*From For Free, by Joni Mitchell
It took the Los Angeles artist [David Muller] a week to install the sprawling rock ‘n’ roll-inspired mural “As Below, So Above” in the ICA’s lobby. Filled with text, watercolor brushstrokes, and framed portraits of record-sleeve spines, the piece is a departure from the previous mural in the lobby, Chiho Aoshima’s playful anime-inspired “The Divine Gas.” Muller’s installation, commissioned by the ICA, comes with a soundtrack, a constantly playing rotation of 136,125 songs. The playlist put together by the onetime DJ – he still does a wedding here or there – is designed to run for 399 days without repeating a tune…
A central component of the mural is not Muller’s creation. It is a chart chronicling the advance of rock ‘n’ roll over two decades starting in 1955. Reebee Garofalo, now a professor at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, created the text by studying record sales charts and translating them into the swirling design, which traces how the Kingston Trio led to Bob Dylan, how Fats Domino paved the way for Stevie Wonder. The chart was published in “Rock ‘n’ Roll Is Here to Pay: The History and Politics of the Music Industry,” a now out-of-print book Garofalo coauthored with Steve Chapple in 1977. (A poster of Garofalo’s chart can be purchased in the ICA store and online.)
To illustrate his view that rock history is an organic living entity, Muller has painted Garofalo’s chart in black watercolor and surrounded it with a kind of rock garden on the ICA wall. It’s a landscape seen in cross-section, with trees, grass, and autumn leaves, as well as an underground area in which Muller has placed a tribute to Sun Ra.
“Somehow, I’m just trying to relate that all the different kinds of music are connected somehow, the same way an ecosphere is connected,” Muller says. “I’m also trying to figure out how you deal with history and the future.”
The will will be on display at the ICA for one year.
For months the Piccola Lirica company has been staging “Tosca” here, as its slogan says, “in miniatura.” The other night I stopped by to see it. It lasted about as long as some Italian governments: in just 90 minutes Scarpia was dead, Tosca had hurled herself off the parapet…
In America one of the few bright spots for classical music now is said to be opera, with younger crowds attracted by trendy marketing and new works often dealing with topical issues. But it’s another story in the country of Verdi and Puccini, where, like Mimi, opera has been dying forever. When the soprano Cecilia Bartoli recently told a German newspaper that “opera in Italy is a museum with dusty exhibits,” she echoed the composer Luciano Berio, who in exasperation a dozen years ago called Italian opera administrators “cretins” and said half the Italian opera houses should be closed because production standards had fallen so low…
Enter Piccola Lirica, which advertises itself as youth-friendly, meaning it hires fresh-faced singers and shrinks grand operas like “Tosca” from “Godfather” to “Pinocchio” length. It’s the CliffsNotes version of Puccini, fondly abridged.
“When opera was born, there was no cinema, no TV, no fast food,” said Rossana Siclari, the company’s director, a thin, wide-eyed, 40-something Calabrian. We talked before the performance over proseccos at one of the tables in the theater’s lovely little whitewashed cafe, which doubles as the lobby.
“Our society wants everything quickly,” she said. “Everything changes in the world.”
Gianna Volpi, who condensed “Tosca,” stopped by. She supplied brief narrative links to make up for cuts, and even added a happy ending: the dead lovers reappear for a postmortem smooch. “We’re giving the audience more, not less,” Ms. Volpi said.
That’s a matter of opinion.
But with 200 performances scheduled for this year alone, her “Tosca” may become the most often performed opera production ever in Italy, albeit without a costly cast and orchestra in a theater seating thousands. Piccola Lirica employs five singers; the theater, Teatro Flaiano, where Anna Magnani, Monica Vitti and Aldo Fabrizi once performed, seats just 170.
Toscanini lamented three-quarters of a century ago that the advanced age of patrons for his NBC Symphony spelled imminent doom for classical music. But “the opera audience constantly renews itself, just at an older age,” Mr. Vergnano said about the current demographics of the Italian scene.
He has a point about the serious music audience generally. Then he added, “I’m always surprised in these days of the Internet, television and special effects to see that people are still moved to tears at an opera, just as they were 150 years ago.”
Which is the real issue. Stripped of spectacle, Piccola Lirica’s “Tosca” proved that immediacy and a little genuine pathos can suffice for a casual evening at the theater. Never mind that the orchestra was a quartet of eager young electronic keyboard players making sounds that seemed to emanate from tin cans and string — or that there hasn’t actually been an opera company of distinction in Rome for years.
From the Castel Sant’Angelo, where the opera’s last act takes place, to the ancient neighborhood around the Teatro Flaiano, mobbed in the autumn evening with tourists and Romans doing what they always do, dodging traffic, looking at one another and the city, it briefly seemed as if not much had actually changed since Puccini’s day, that opera was still in the bloodstream here. Clearly Italian opera is like Rome, which is always said to be over the hill but remains indispensable.
It survives every attempt to save it.
New York Times