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Day four of a Buddhist sand-mandala ritual at the Mattie Kelly Arts Center in Florida earlier this year. (Photo: Lee Lawrence)

Until relatively recently, if you were not a monk in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, the chances of seeing a sand mandala were slim. Today, however, opportunities abound. In July alone, monks from the Atlanta-based Mystical Arts of Tibet will create shimmering, colorful sand mandalas in New York, California, Pennsylvania and Virginia. As I discovered earlier this year at the Mattie Kelly Arts Center of Northwest Florida State College in Niceville, even more entrancing than the end result is the three-to-five-day process: A slow-paced feast of religious ritual, symbolism, performance and temporal art.

It begins with sound: Preternaturally low, vibrating notes energizing the air like the complex tones of a pipe organ. They emanate from nine Tibetan Buddhist monks dressed in dark red and golden saffron, eyes lowered. Punctuated by the wail of horns and the clash of cymbals, their rhythmic chanting dispels harmful spirits and invites the blessing of the Buddha—for it is here that they will build him a palace.

When the senior monk, or vajra master, steps forward, he visualizes the symbolic rendering of that divine abode. The chanting then drops away, the horns, cymbals and drums are stored, and the monks embark on a transfixing exercise in memory, precision and what Buddhists refer to as mindfulness, a state of being present in the moment.


Lee Lawrence
Wall Street Journal


(Photo: Van Gogh Museum)

“The Bedroom,” Vincent van Gogh’s 1888 painting, with its honey-yellow bed pressed into the corner of a cozy sky-blue room, is instantly recognizable to art lovers, with his signature contrasting hues. But does our experience of this painting change upon learning that van Gogh had originally depicted those walls in violet, not blue, or that he was less a painter wrestling with his demons and more of a deliberate, goal-oriented artist?

These questions are raised by a new analysis, eight years in the making, of hundreds of van Gogh’s canvases as well as his palette, pigments, letters and notebooks by scientists at Shell, the oil company, in collaboration with the Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency and curators at the newly renovated Van Gogh Museum here, which owns the world’s largest collection of works by that Dutch Post Impressionist.

The research did not lead to “earth-shattering new insights” that rewrite van Gogh’s life story, said the director of the Van Gogh Museum, Axel Rüger, but it could shift the understanding of van Gogh’s temperament and personality. The results of that study will be revealed in an exhibition, “Van Gogh at Work,” which opens on Wednesday and features about 200 paintings and drawings, 150 of them by van Gogh and others by contemporaries, including Paul Gauguin and Émile Bernard.

“You discover more clearly that van Gogh was a very methodical artist, which runs counter to the general myth that he was a manic, possibly slightly deranged man who just spontaneously threw paint at the canvas,” Mr. Rüger said. “He was actually someone who knew very well about the properties of the materials he used, how to use them, and also he created very deliberate compositions. In that sense it’s a major insight in that it gives us a better notion of van Gogh the artist. He was very goal-oriented.”


NIna Siegal
New York Times

Two weeks ago, I went to an evening in New York in honour of the dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham…There was a form to all of it, but in the moment of performance it was ungraspable. Things were in constant motion, like overlapping ripples on a rainy pond. It was mesmerising – and hard to know where to look and who to follow…I meant to stay an hour, and remained for almost four. Sometimes I’d find myself taking respite beside a stage void of dancers, a visual equivalent to Cage’s silent work, finding myself looking at the clear patch of floor as if it might tell me something. I bumped into a few friends, but we mostly kept our distance, not wanting to break one another’s mood. As well as watching, there was space and time to reflect. The best art always returns you to yourself.

A part of me wanted to keep this experience to myself and not write about it. When it was over, I walked into the evening with a kind of aimless purpose – almost tearful, though it’s hard to say exactly why. The experience was complicated, a relationship between setting and dance, music and acoustics, the occasion itself and everyday life beyond…

The art world is in crisis. First there was too much money; now there isn’t enough. Newspapers and print media are in crisis. Theory is in crisis (does anyone have time to do more than look at the pictures in magazines nowadays?). Curating is in crisis. The professional critic is in crisis (they are dropping like flies in north America). Artists – well, they’re always in crisis, drama queens that they are.

But crisis is good. Crisis is sexy. Crisis shakes you up. And if it changes our habits when it comes to looking at art, reading about it, or even making it, then that’s probably good, too. Artists, if they’re any good, are engaged in a war against habit, complacency and indifference.


Adrian Searle

Excerpts from an interview with Spiegel magazine and Olafur Eliasson:

Spiegel: And you are about to embark on your final victory march in America. No one will be able to overlook your four gigantic waterfalls, up to 40 meters (131 feet) high, in the East River.

Eliasson: Well, people who want to see everything will have to travel all the way across the city. We’re installing these waterfalls in very different parts of New York — under the Brooklyn Bridge, for example. The water will generate a true fog everywhere, and the pumps will be very loud. After all, real waterfalls make a lot of noise.

Spiegel: But why does the city need its own Niagara Falls?

Eliasson: I was interested in bringing life to a space that constitutes a non-space in New York, a space that simply doesn’t count. Wall Street is traditionally more important there that the water. In other words, I wanted to draw attention to something that has always been there and yet goes largely unnoticed.

Spiegel: Do you always emphasize strong sensations?

Eliasson: Yes, because physical experience makes a much deeper impression than a purely intellectual encounter. I can explain to you what it’s like to feel cold, but I can also have you feel the cold yourself through my art. My goal is to sensitize people to highly complex questions.


Eliasson: Reality is confusing. That’s what I want to demonstrate. There is no fixed interpretation of my works. Everyone experiences and understands them in his own way.

Eliasson: Christo is an amazing artist. But the way he exploits his projects and markets them so extremely, that’s not my style.

Spiegel: But you too have crossed the boundary into commercialism. For instance, you designed an “Art Car” for BMW.

Eliasson: Well, I do want to participate in the world, as it is. But look at it more closely: My art isn’t exactly market-friendly. Who buys a rainbow?

Spiegel: Still, do you have the feeling sometimes that you are getting your fingers dirty? Proximity to business is frowned upon in the art world.

Eliasson: This world of art and of museums can also be unbelievably elitist. But it isn’t a parallel world, where the laws of the market are somehow suspended. Artists don’t live in a space apart from politics and the market, and in many cases they even have very good strategies to market themselves. It would be hypocritical to claim otherwise. But believe me, my fingers are clean.

Spiegel: More than two million people went to see your “Weather Project,” a colossal sun sculpture, at the Tate Modern in London four years ago last winter. The minute an artist reaches large numbers of people, he is accused of going mainstream. Is that a problem for you?

Eliasson: Appealing to many people isn’t a problem for me. I don’t happen to be one of those people who climb up on their avant-garde stools and look down on others. We should stop nurturing this naïve cliché that says artists are beings from another planet. It wasn’t God himself who hung art in museums. And yet the museum directors create precisely this detached impression. It would be much more honest to talk about the many connections and influences, because they exist. The market exists, and so do ideologies.

Spiegel: Your art, which is in tune with nature, is often associated with your native Scandinavia and its landscape.

Eliasson: Yes, but this relationship should not be understood as a key to my art. The circumstances under which I grew up in Denmark are more important than nature: in a society that was shaped by pseudo-Protestantism, and by the ideals of the middle class and the welfare state. The individual was less important than the community. Recognizing this, identifying it as a source of tension, has influenced me. Besides, it is also typically Scandinavian to think: I am nothing, and nature is everything. Of course, I too had this attitude. My parents are Icelanders, and Iceland, which I visited regularly as a child, is a unique natural experience.


But all of the work I thought I had missed had never been there in the first place. Perhaps I was still feeling a hangover from the far more gothic 2006 biennial where it took several repeat circuits around the galleries just to get one’s bearings. No such repetition is necessary for this year’s edition. As my colleague noted to me: “I was disappointed to find it over so quickly.”

I think there are two explanations for this easy if somewhat unrewarding navigability: first, at the purely confrontational level, the curators have been very generous to the artists, giving most of them their own walls, niches or rooms. And most of the art is big. The gallery with Rodney McMillian’s immense and protruding vinyl wall-hanging, Oliver Mosset’s polyurethane sprayed monochrome canvases,

Heather Rowe’s architectural folly, and Ruben Ochoa’s construction site collage stands as a kind of ode to this bigness (but then nothing captures it better in a solitary work than Amanda Ross-Ho’s jacuzzi-sized, baby-blue kitty-litter box). It is a system that rewards the casual browse because most of the work is uninterested in aesthetic complexity. In general, it also rewards the artist more than it does the art. For example, Matt Mullican is well represented by examples from three different bodies of work – pewter objects, glass globes, and a large series of hypnosis drawings – all of which are stuffed into a small side room, while Joe Bradley’s cartoonish monochromes are certainly given the room but not nearly the height they require.

Second, and more constitutive to the ‘networked practice’ ethos of this biennial itself, much of the work stands in as a kind of proxy for the artists’ otherwise protracted activities. So, for example, why would you want to spend much time with Shannon Ebner’s Involuntary Sculpture (2006), a rough hewn container for a traveling cardboard alphabet, or Mika Tajima a.k.a. New Human’s various Accessories (2007), a series of mirrored and painted lattices, when these constructions are simply players in some other narrative or performance, some other project, to which you don’t have access?

This is not to suggest that the works aren’t interesting, but what interest they do hold is a function of the works’ evidentiary status. They are not so much art works in an exhibition as exhibits in a case, one it would seem the curators are making for the relevancy of just this kind of encounter. If this is your first time encountering these exhibits, you will no doubt feel as if you have missed something. It’s just the nature of the case. Call it the art that happened while you were out.

Jonathan T.D. Neil
Art Review