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Friday 26th September 2014Crowdfunding the Arts Ramps Up

Traditionally, the art world has existed on almost the opposite of crowdfunding. At least in the European tradition, an artist would do his best (traditionally, the European masters have largely been men, as unfair as that is) to impress a single wealthy patron who would then undertake to fund all of the artist's subsequent costs - within reason, of course. This would often extend to providing food, lodging and materials in exchange for the first bite at the apple, and the right to request any sort of commission that the patron may wish to have undertaken. In modern terms, the closest analog would likely be a monthly retainer, although lawyers and the like often have many clients that pay retainers.

Recently, however, we discussed the change in this dynamic that originally begun with the impressively novel crowdfunding site named Kickstarter. For those that haven't yet heard of the site, the essential premise of the site is that people can post project proposals online, and have it funded by a large number of individuals making small contributions, as opposed to a single wealthy patron bankrolling the entire project. While the previous discussion was limited to art galleries in the UK, this time around the effort is being undertaken in cooperation with what is arguably the world's most popular art fair (another model which is dramatically shaking up the art world), Art Basel. Known for hosting wildly successful art fairs originally in Basel and then expanding to the somewhat unlikely satellite locations of Hong Kong and Miami Beach, Art Basel has started a formal partnership with Kickstarted in the hopes of encouraging viewers to support non-profit art groups using the crowdfunding site and model.

Named the Art Basel Crowdfunding Initiative, the project has already begun it's first foray into the crowdfunding scene with four projects, which cover and impressively diverse spectrum of content and funding requirement. SculptureCenter, in New York, is hoping to raise $12,000; Gasworks in London is hoping to raise roughly $65,000; Society for the Activation of Social Space through Art and Sound (a terrible name, it must be said) is hoping to raise $5,000 for a concert series in Los Angeles; and the 4A Center for Contemporary Asian Art in Sydney, Australia is hoping to raise $18,000. Here's to hoping that the crowdfunding model can provide the much-needed support these projects require to get off the ground!

Posted on September 26th 2014 on 12:05am

Wednesday 24th September 2014Autumn Inspiration

It's that time of year again - at least, for those of us in the northern hemisphere. You lucky readers in the southern hemisphere are gearing up for a beautiful sunny spring, but in the northern latitudes it's time to see the beautiful yet somewhat melancholic effects that Autumn brings to the world around us. It's both a time for creation and destruction, though perhaps not in that order. The past must be cleared away in order to make way for the new beginnings that Winter nurtures, eventually expressed in the joyous outpouring of next year's Spring.

This is an inescapable part of living close to the polar extremes, and something that should be embraced in all of our lives, including our artistic lives. While you don't have to let the seasons define you or your work, they can often be a welcome reason to move on, to try something new, or to inspire you to untold heights and previously unexplored artistic pleasures.

As if that wasn't enough, there is a remarkable sense of harmony that can be accessed by aligning your own personal artistic cycles to that of the natural world. It speaks to some deep, inner core of our mammalian brains, those that evolved with the natural cycles of the world before we could consciously understand them - or anything at all. At least in this writer's experience, it's a remarkably rewarding feeling, one that's worth considering as a potential lever in your creative expression.

Whether you do or don't hold with any of that kind of experience, it's still as good a point as any to hinge your creativity on. As Autumn turns, take it as a challenge to experiment with Autumn-themed things - concepts such as change, the cyclical nature of the world, dying for rebirth, and so on. If that doesn't appeal to you, you might at least want to consider the use of an Autumn-toned palette - all the warm colours, from palest yellow to deepest crimson and everything in between.

No matter how you choose to experience it, the coming of Autumn, or any seasonal change, can be a powerful creative catalyst when it comes to your work, if you're willing to let yourself see it that way. All it takes is a little imagination - and you've got that all over!

Posted on September 24th 2014 on 12:01am

Friday 19th September 2014But Was It a Joke?

Often in the art world, it can be hard to guage how seriously to take something. In our neverending desire to reimagine and recontextualize the world, and our self-awareness of both this effort and the way this effort is perceived, it can sometimes be difficult to tell if sometihng is intended as a series work of art, a complicated conceptual joke, or both. This is especially true of artists ever since the beginning of Dada, Surrealism, and Abstract Expressionism.

This curious and intriguing interaction with the viewer was highlighted recently thanks to the Picasso museum in Paris, on the day of it's unveiling after a series of renovations. Expectations and anticipation ran high, as the renovations kept the museum closed and out of the spotlight for almost all of the five years it had been shuttered.

“I will first of all calm your ardour and your enthusiasm … but you’re going to see nothing. It’s a great disappointment. It’s an empty museum,” said the newly-appointed director Laurent Le Bon, who has held the directorship for only 3 months at the time of the press visitation - his predecessor had been fired over the numerous gaffes and delays that extended the renovation so dramatically.

In short, no, it wasn't a joke. The museum really has been closed for 5 years, only to reopen for a press viewing with no artwork hung on the walls. One can't help but feel sorry Le Bon, who had to address the press and take responsibility for the failings of the person who had held the post before him. It's strange to consider the fact that such a prestigious museum could survive under so many years of careless mismanagement, but also provides hope for the future that Laurent Le Bon - roughly translated in English as Lawrence the Good - may be able to wring some semblance of order out of the chaos and bring this tribute to the master of Cubism back from the abyss and into the limelight.

Somewhat inexplicably, however, the organizers of the press day chose to host the event well before the museum was ready, meaning that many excited vistors were treated to an intentionally bland arrangement of architecture - white stucco, white stairs, white walls, etc. This makes perfect sense when there is actual artwork on the walls, but when the musuem is empty, it merely serves to highlight that emptiness, as it has few architectural achievements in its own right. Certainly not what you'd like to hear after a 5 year renovation! Regardless, the museum will reopen officially to the public in October, which hopefully will serve to justify the choices made by the renovators.

Posted on September 19th 2014 on 11:57pm

Wednesday 17th September 2014Artist Spotlight: Paul Wainwright

Someone once said that the best ideas are often simply looking at old ideas in a new way - in a new light. That's exactly what artist Paul Wainwright has done in his latest series, a beautiful photographic experiment using pendulums. Also known as a harmonograph, Wainwright took the cavernous space of his empty New England barn and converted it into a giant harmonograph. Originally developed in the 1840s as a type of drawing machine, the harmonograph was initially configured with a small bag of sand or other fine material attached to a long rope or string. A hole was cut in the bag, and the bag was set swinging. As the pendulum moved through its stately and often unexpected arcs, a beautiful series of line drawings emerged, carving out the path of the pendulum onto the paper. The more complicated harmonographs incorporated two or more strings, so that competing pulls in various directions would set the bag swinging in more complicated patterns.

Wainwright has taken that concept one step further, attaching a light source to the end of his pendulum in place of a bag of sand, and taken long exposure photographs of the resulting patterns. Known (apparently only to mathematicians) as Lassajous figures, though the more popular name harmonograph is generally the term used by the public. Wainwright's camera points directly upward from beneath the pendulum, making the focal plane of the camera analogous to the sheet of paper in the original device from the 19th century.

Most reviewers interested in his pendulum project only casually note that he is also an accomplished large format black and white photogapher, and attempt to describe his pendulum project as a hobby- but that strikes this writer as a fairly naive interpretation of what an artist actually does. All our projects are hobbies, with the possible exception of commissioned works, and yet at the same time none of them are. Any hobby that involves passionate creation should be considered artwork, whether it involves traditional perceptions of what 'art' is or not.

To see more of his work, be sure to visit his site at to see the full collection of his beautiful harmonographs, learn more about his other work, and buy some prints while you're at it! Just don't hold it against him that he was, in fact, actually a physics major ;-)

Posted on September 17th 2014 on 11:53pm

Friday 12th September 2014Animal Artists

No, we're not talking about artists who portray animals in their works, but actual animals who have become artists. For those of you who scoff at the idea, take note: the most expensive piece of work ever sold by (on behalf of, perhaps) an animal artist was a piece done in the 1960s by a chimpanzee named Congo - which sold for over $26,000 dollars. Certainly nothing to scoff at!

This, of course, is something of an outlier - on a list of the top 8 sale values from animal artists published by Macleans magazine, Congo ranks first, but the 8th highest value was only $370. Still, fairly impressive considering their lack of speech must surely inhibit the public perception of their work, and more than many artists sell their works for!

The list includes the following artists: Congo the chimpanzee, Ruby the elephant, the orangutans of Krefeld Zoo (presumably an artist collective), Metro the horse, Mini the cat, Arbor the dog, Big Cats of Tampa, and the adorably named Pockets Warhol the monkey. Even among those who are willing to consider the possiblity that animals have the level of self-awareness and cognition to actually be considered artists, the sheer variety of species that have claimed the title artist is rather astonishing. It may even be enough of a surprise to reconsider the role that animals appear to play in our worldview. The phrase 'mindless animals' suddenly seems rather naive and ignorant, when you consider the possibilities of animals gifted with the power of abstract thought and the ability to express such thoughts.

Naturally, not every animal from each of the species listed above is likely to manifest such talents, but that's not really very differenty from humanity. Some individuals excel at certain areas, and some excel in others - you wouldn't expect a polyglot to also be a fantastic artist, nor would you expect a K9 unit shepherd to be a canine Cezanne.

If you're stuck on inspiration and you have a pet, why not experiment with giving them the paintbrush and canvas? Naturally, only certain types of media are suited to animal dexterity, but with a little bit of a creative thought, you might unlock a wholly unexpected dimension to your favourite furry friend - not to mention discover a whole new way to express yourself in a new type of medium.

Posted on September 12th 2014 on 11:50pm
Labels: animals, art, artists

Wednesday 10th September 2014The Healing Power of Art

There has always been a natural distinction between art and science - even the language reflects the difference. But in a trend that surprises some, recently published studies have been combined with some more traditionally-accepted doctrines in the medical world's view of the value of art, and many hospitals are beginning to take special note of the potential healing powers of art. Not in the sense of touching the Shroud of Turin and being healed of all your worldly ills, but rather in carefully controlled situations that demonstrate the way in which art affects the human mind, and how the psychological effects can be harnessed to improve healing and recovery times.

According to a report on the phenomenon by NBC News, 40% of hospitals in the United States have incorporated some time of artwork or art installation into their design philosophy and architecture, many going as far as including outdoor gardens and turning hallways into miniature museums of contemporary works.

The phenomenon isn't limited to the American health care industry, however. A study performed in 2011 by the University of London measuring the neurological impacts of viewing art found that seeing a piece of art that resonated with us caused an increased blood flow to the area of the brain that research has linked to the feeling of joy, the same response that occurs when we see the face of a loved one. This really drives home the neurological impact of art.

"If an art installation gets a patient out of his room or paintings take a person's mind off their pain and lower their stress levels, the art isn't just decorative anymore," said Dr. Lisa Harris of Eshkinazi Health, who also oversees a large art-based development fund affiliated with the  Indiana University School of Medicine.

A similar experience at the Cleveland Clinic's Arts and Medicine Institute showed that 60% of patients showed a reduction in stress markers as a result of the contemporary art collection they house, which is one of the most extensive collections of any hospital. They were inspired to begin this project thanks to a pioneering study done 30 years ago that illustrated that something as basic as the view out a patients window can have an impact on their recovery times and subjective pain management choices. Patients who saw trees out their window fared much better than those who had to look at a brick wall, and the principle has been carried over - successfully, it would appear - to the inclusion of art in public hospitals.

Surely you'll all agree - the more art, the better!

Posted on September 10th 2014 on 05:16pm

Friday 05th September 2014The Waking Dragon: China's Art Market

Art markets around the world have been undergoing some major shifts lately, as we've discussed at numerous points in this ongoing reflection of the art world we call a blog. Whether you are outraged at ridiculously high auction prices, happy about the emerging popularity of art fairs, or worried that the markets are on the edge of a bursting bubble, we're in the midst of extremely interesting times on both the global and local scales. The global side of things may be about to experience another shakeup thanks to a new initiative announced recently in Beijing, where China's rapid industrialization has spawned a new class of affluent citizens who are hungry for artwork.

China has a long and troubled history with the trading of artwork and antiquities, largely due to the plundering that happened during British colonialism and the Cultural Revolution, and this has made for some heavy taxes levied on sales of artwork. Import duties are quite steep, and the value-added tax on any sales made from China can dramatically add to the purchase price of artworks, to the tune of roughly 23%. When you consider a 23% tax on a transaction already in the millions, it's easy to see why the time for the Beijing Culture Free Port has arrived.

The idea is to establish a series of warehouses and offices within the free port, expressly for the purpose of facilitating the sale of artwork for both Chinese collectors and foreign buyers. Artwork purchases by Chinese nationals can be stored with the confines of the free port, and are then excempted from any duties that would otherwise be levied. The pieces can then, in turn, be sold from the same location without having the value-added tax applied. Additionally, a Sotheby's Auction House office will be established within the free port, further enhancing the desirability of the project.

To celebrate the launch of the Free Port initiative, which is currently still under construction (although at the rate Chinese industry is operating recently, it won't be long before it's fully operational), the first annual Beijing International Fine Art Fair will be held this October, featuring among other works a collection of paintings by the European master Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Beijing is currently home to nearly 80% of the entire art market in China, and with the addition of the Beijing Culture Free Port, it is likely to become the go-to location for much of Asia.

Posted on September 05th 2014 on 05:12pm
Labels: art, china, markets

Wednesday 03rd September 2014Artist Spotlight: Nathan Sawaya

It sounds like an artist's worst nightmare: trapped in the body of a New York-based corporate lawyer. For Nathan Sawaya, it was more than just a nightmare, it was his real life. Many of us choose the artistic life because we decided early on that materialistic wealth wasn't something we were too fussed about. Those of us who've ever had to do something we didn't really want to in order to make ends meet can relate to his problem, but being a corporate lawyer seems pretty over the top. Eventually, Sawaya came to this same realization and decided to quit his lucrative job to work full time as an artist. His choice of medium? Lego bricks.

Yes, you read that correctly. Lego bricks. Not the fancy new additional pieces created to appease the ever-growing desires of today's children, just the basic block that made the company famous. According to Sawaya, he had been spending much of his leisure time trying to find the right medium for his creative expression, and after a number of unfulfilling attempts, he eventually settled on that much-beloved childhood toy that set many of us on the path to art, design and general creativity.

This isn't simply the idle fancy of a well-heeled urbanite, either - Sawaya has had his work exhibited in galleries across the United States of America, and a few places in between, such as an outdoor exhibit in New York City's Central Park. His works have been purchased by a number of well-known people from former President Bill Clinton to pop star sensation Lady Gaga. “I see the world in rectangles,” he explains. "If I am talking to someone I find myself analysing their face, working out how to recreate it in bricks."

Speaking to the Guardian, he said, "Initially, I think people expected to see what they would find in a toy store. The medium makes it easy to connect with the art, but the challenge is to convey the emotion as well." It's an important lesson for all of us to learn. If you feel frustrated by the medium you're working with, try changing thingss up a bit and go in an unexpected direction. You might just find the creative breakthrough you've been searching for your whole life - and no matter what you choose, you can feel secure in the knowledge that it's a better life than that of a corporate lawyer. Even the lawyers agree on that score!

Posted on September 03rd 2014 on 05:09pm
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