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Friday 29th January 2016The Strange Tale of the Philadelphia Wireman

You've probably never heard of the Philadelphia Wireman. In today's art world, outsider art is both loved and scorned, depending a great deal on who you ask. But combine the lure of outsider art and the appeal of anonymity and you have the recipe for artistic success that has been capitalised on by the Philadelphia Wireman - and, more importantly, by art dealer and collector John Ollman.

Ollman first found the pieces when he was introduced to Robert Leitch, who had built up a strange and mysterious collection of seemingly abandoned art objects. Leitch had stumbled upon them in an alley on the night of garbage collection back in 1970s, meaning that if he'd been an hour later the 1200 plus objects would likely have disappeared into the compactor of a Philadelphia city garbage truck.

Virtually nothing is known about the artist, but that hasn't prevented any number of collectors and dealers from speculating about the pieces. Most are quite small, a collection of garbage, off-cuts and plastic odds and ends all wrapped together tightly by strands of bent wire that encase them and tie them together. Dotted with bottle caps and strands of masking tape, there is something deeply powerful and slightly unsettling about the creations. Ollman, naturally, bought almost half of Leitch's collection as soon as he saw them, and soon returned to make sure he bought the entire set, and it didn't bother him at all that nobody had any idea who the Philadelphia Wireman was.

"People are so locked in to having to know who made something. It’s this weird part of the commercial art world -- if you don’t have a name on something, it doesn’t really have value. I never felt that way about them. I wish I could put a name to them but I can’t; it’s not as if I didn’t try really hard."

Surprisingly enough, the story of the Wireman has been told in the form of a graphic novel (named Wireman, unsurprisingly), although many other outsider artists are unlikely to have their stories told in the more conventional art world. Here's hoping that those artists working on the fringes of the art world will be discovered by the rest of us, adding new depths to the dialogs and shaping the course of other's artistic expressions - or not, if they would prefer to toil in the shadows.

Posted on January 29th 2016 on 01:06am

Wednesday 27th January 2016Artist Spotlight: David Maisel

We've discussed the artistic possibilities of topographical photography in the past, most notably the photos taken from the International Space Station by astronaut Scott Kelly and published on Twitter with the hashtag #EarthArt. David Maisel has been doing some similar work, but instead of working from space, which is a bit hard for most artists to manage, he's stayed inside the atmosphere and taken his photographs from a helicopter.

He currently has a series at the Haines Gallery in San Francisco entitled The Fall, a series of aerial photographs taken in Span between the cities of Toledo and Madrid. While they appear to be a series of earth-toned and neo-cubist abstract artworks, they are in fact aerial photos of land that has been heavily impacted by industrial use and abuse, poor urban planning and an excess of rapid development.

Some, like the photo shown in this post, showcase the silver remains of the extraction of Borox, but some highlight the massive yet abandoned residential construction palettes. It's quite remarkable to see how regularly the patterns of human intervention converge in terms of overall style, as no matter what the source is, similar types of patterns always seem to emerge. Beauty and decay often find themselves going hand in hand, creating an odd juxtaposition of visual pleasure and conceptual horror that combine to create what Maisel refers to (perhaps somewhat pompously) as the 'apocalyptic sublime'.

This plays well into the overarching theme of his work, which has been ongoing for nearly three decades now, primarily in the realm of aerial photographs. His overall themes tend to deal with how humanity has interacted with the landscape through industrial usage, urban sprawl, and agriculture, writ large by the scale he is able to maintain thanks to the aerial viewpoint. With degrees from Princeton, Harvard and the California College of Arts, it's no surprise that Maisel is a widely recognized and lauded artist who has received a number of awards and fellowships for his work.

The latest show, The Fall, will be on display at the Haines Gallery in San Francisco from January 7 until March 12, 2016, so make sure to stop by if you happen to be in the area. If not, you can check out many of the pieces at the Haines Gallery website, which can be found here.

Posted on January 27th 2016 on 12:50am

Friday 22nd January 2016Genre Spotlight: Virtual Reality

As you've probably already noticed this year, we've been very excited lately by the prospect of consumer-ready virtual reality and how it will affect the art world, both in terms of the artists and the viewers. Rather than focusing on any particular artist today, we're going to be exploring the possibilities and limitations of the medium itself, and where it might be going in the future.

For those of you unaware of the latest developments, a number of companies including Google, Facebook, HTC, Valve, Microsoft and Samsung are all heavily investing in virtual reality technology, whether in the form of buying startups such as Oculus (as Facebook did) or by developing their own in-house technologies. This has lead to a huge range of projects that are about to be available for the general consumer - or in the case of Oculus, were already available in time for the holiday season in 2015. Essentially, a virtual reality (VR) rig is comprised of a headset with screens placed right before the eyes, built-in headphones and accelerometers to measure how your head moves in 3D space.

This allows for an unprecedented level of immersion in a completely constructed world, where the possibilities for artistic creation are limited by nothing more than the artist's imagination (and, for the moment, the lack of a sense of smell or touch, but these two are not always common elements in artistic projects). While the technology is still fairly expensive, the prices will be dropping rapidly as the various competitors roll out their entries, and many companies are already working with content creators such as artists and video game designers to ensure there is enough VR content to meet the demand.

Another interesting take on the VR environment is something called augmented reality (AR), where the viewer isn't completely immersed an alternative environment but rather gets a blend of virtual and real world views. This may turn out to have the largest artistic potential, as the entire structure of narratives and viewpoints can literally be questioned, instead of merely intimated. Four people all looking at the same real world object could be given completely different yet related and constantly shifting viewpoints shaped by the augmented content their AR equipment shows them. Combine this with some kind of shared online space and the possibilities start to grow exponentially - and that's just one example.

Virtual and augmented reality promises to be one of the most exciting artistic developments of 2016 and onwards, and as the technology scales upwards and the cost scales down, we're going to be looking at a brave new and completely constructed world. We can hardly wait!

Posted on January 22nd 2016 on 12:34am

Wednesday 20th January 2016Whatever Happened To....

Over the course of the last year we presented a number of fascinating art news pieces, and many of the stories were just developing as we posted about them. Much more (or in one case, a surprising amount of nothing) has happened since then, so we thought we'd take the time to do a quick update on some of our favourite stories from 2015 that kept developing.

First of all, you might remember earlier in 2015 when we wrote about a huge trove of artwork that was found in the possession of Hildebrand Gurlitt in Germany. Totalling over 1200 pieces, the collection was amassed by his art dealer father and was comprised of pieces which were looted by the Nazis during World War Two and the years leading up to it. A massive investigation has been ongoing to determine the original owners of the pieces, spanning months and nearly $2 million, but only 5 pieces have been properly evaluated by the task force, with another 500 still to be sorted out. Of those 5, 4 of them have already sold at auction, including a painting by Max Liebermann titled "Two Riders on a Beach" that sold for $2.9 million.

On a lighter note, Edward Snowden seems to be headed for the Brooklyn Museum - or at least, the bust of him that appeared on a monument in Fort Greene Park will be. Who knows when the man himself, made famous for leaking a number of classified documents from the National Security Agency, will ever be able to return to the United States outside of a jail cell, but his bust will join a three-part exhibition about political art at the Brooklyn Museum during February. The bust appeared anonymously overnight at the park, but eventually a trio of local artists - Jeff Greenspan, Andrew Tider and Doyle Trankina - stepped forwards to reclaim the piece, though Greenspan and Tider were each fined $50 for being in the park after hours by the NYPD.

Last but not least, we follow up on our chronicle of the struggles of Ai Weiwei, the Chinese political activist and artist who was last in a spat with the LEGO company (yes, the makers of the famous children's toy). Lego was refusing to complete the bulk order of brick pieces Ai needed to finish a series of portraits of political figures, claiming that it was against their policy to allow their works to be used in any kind of political statement. However after a huge publicity campaign by Ai, they have finally relented and changed their policy, saying "the Lego group no longer asks for the thematic purpose when selling large quantities of Lego bricks for projects."

Posted on January 20th 2016 on 12:21am
Labels: art, news

Friday 15th January 2016The Renwick Takes Instagram

When you think about a gallery, you probably don't immediately think about taking photographs. Many of us have grown up in a world where photography was generally prohibited in galleries museums, largely because of the nature of flash photography and the need to protect the works from the damaging impacts of hundreds of thousands of strobe flashes every year. This has shifted of late thanks to the rise of the cellphone camera and their excellent low-light abilities, removing the need for a flash to capture the scene.

The clever curators at the Renwick Gallery, which has just recently re-opened after an extended absence, decided to take advantage of this by filling the gallery with signs that say 'Photography Encouraged'. This has led to a surprising prevalence of smartphones throughout the gallery, and by extension the digital world is now filled with photos of the latest exhibits. Over 20,000 images have been uploaded to Instagram with the hashtag #RenwickGallery, which perhaps is no surprise considering the impressive number of visitors the museum has had in the first six weeks since it reopened. Over 176,000 people have passed through the doors in those weeks, which is truly incredible considering the average visitor count for the entire year was only 150,000 before it closed down.

Not everyone is thrilled by the idea of photographing gallery pieces, however. Many people are bandying about a 2013 study that claims that those who photograph art don't connect as deeply with it, conducted by Linda Henkel of Fairfield University. “You’re not looking at this giant, rich, textured, nuanced thing. You’re already reducing it by looking at it on the screen. The photo is a trophy. Their experience is not a very rich experience then.”

But this seems more like an indictment of the modern method of interacting with content, a reflection of a world where there is literally so much to be considered, it should be no surprise that what impacts one person won't impact another in the same way.

Nicholas Bell, curator-in-charge of the Renwick, says, “I think that for different visitors, they’ll find their own ways to engage most intimately with the exhibition. For some people, that will be to not take photographs, and for some people, that will be to take photographs. I don’t think that we should judge.”

“It’s like this new first-person narrative of the museum experience. I’m fascinated.” You're not the only one, Nicholas, so cheers for being open to the evolving nature of narratives in a technological world. 

Posted on January 15th 2016 on 08:10pm

Wednesday 13th January 2016Artist Spotlight: Rachel Rossin

Virtual reality has been a staple of science fiction for the last 50 years and a pipe dream for technology junkies for just as long, but at long last it's finally beginning to become a functional reality. As technological progress accelerates and the economy of scaled production increases, it's actually possible to create a usable, affordable virtual reality headset. So what's the first thing people want to do with it? Make art, of course!

While many people and industries are beginning to experiment with the technology, thanks to the 'content creator' program by VR headset maker Oculus, many artists are able to experiment with the technology that may otherwise be either inaccessible or still a bit too expensive for a tentative exploration.

Enter Florida artist Rachel Rossin, who is a member of the program. Typically working in large-scale oil paintings, Rossin has now incorporated virtual reality into her latest series of works, blending the two media together to create a uniquely meshed experience. Rossin has an advantage in that she started computer programming at age 8, which set the stage for her explorations in new media, but she has also received Bachelor of Fine Arts from Florida State University.

Her self portrait shown on this page is an excellent example of the way she's blended the various aspects of her work, as she explained in an interview with Observer magazine. "Self Portrait, 2015, is an image of myself where I’ve applied gravity to the top of my head, giving it an active swoon. The texture is a painting from my last solo show. I’ve added color by wrapping the portrait in a “skin,” which is actually an image of a painting from my last exhibition.

I think it exposes what’s ephemeral about technology and the nature of tech’s short lifespan, but also how it moves quickly and shifts shape easily, especially compared to something like a painting.

But painting holds a different kind of space, and the richness of that medium has yet to be simulated. I love both mediums very much, and I’m working with painting because I think it holds a significance that virtual reality can’t yet."

It's interesting how the work in VR space shares a number of terms from the more common 3D digital art and video game design, merging them to form new connections and, well, an entirely new reality. As Rossin points out, the technology still has some ways to go before it really takes off, but we can expect 2016 - and years beyond - to hold an unimagined range of brand new possibilities.

Posted on January 13th 2016 on 07:45pm

Saturday 09th January 2016Digital Resources: NYPL Releases Huge Image Collection

As we promised in our Hello 2016 post that started things off, this year on the Gallereo blog we're going to be adding a new series to our array of regular posts that focuses on the various resources that are available on the internet for digital artists and designers. For this first post in the series, we're going to take a look at a somewhat surprising entry to the world of free stock photos: a massive collection of images released into the public domain by the New York Public Library.

Finally made available to the public just today, the NYPL has digitized and released a massive collection of over 180,000 images in an equally massive range of content, from old photographs to illuminated manuscripts and all kinds of ephemera in between. This brings the total number of images in the NYPLs collection that are available to the public up to over 670,000, which is easily more than anyone would be able to sift through in a lifetime (or so it might seem at first).

To help people sort through this huge collection, the library has thoughtfully created a number of ways to search through the images beyond the simple title and author searches that people associate with libraries. Instead, images can be sorted by century, by genre, by library collection, or - probably most usefully - by colour. This will give people looking for a certain kind of inspiration a great way to sort through images, and no matter what you're looking through, it's always entertaining in a surreal kind of way.

In the past, many of these types of digital images were almost impossible to view and use, as you'd have to be a member of a specific organization, or the images would be of such low resolution that they weren't good for very much, or they would have such draconian usage restrictions as to be virtually useless. Fortunately for artists, designers and everyone else, the new trend seems to be towards making these images available as widely as possible.

Shana Kimball, the New York Public Library's manager of public outreach programs, sums it up succinctly, "No permission required, no hoops to jump through: just go forth and reuse!"
So the next time you're looking for examples of old-timey ephemera for your latest art project, don't settle for a recycled version that someone has already interpreted - go straight to the source thanks to the New York Public Library!

Posted on January 09th 2016 on 04:55pm

Wednesday 06th January 2016Modern Art, Modern Weapon

To kick things off in hilarious style this year, we present one of the strangest stories we've come across while writing for the Gallereo blog. Everyone is aware of the existence of the Cold War, the period during the 1970s and 80s where the United States and the Soviet Union were locked in a relatively non-violent struggle for hearts and minds in countries around the world. Spies and intrigue were everywhere, and the geopolitical climate was fraught with tension and brinksmanship every day. In a climate like that, it's no surprise that much of the battle was fought in cultural terms - and naturally, the art world played a major role.

For a long time, it was considered simply a rumour or a joke among those in the art world who'd ever heard the story, but it has now been confirmed as a fact  by former Central Intelligence Agency officials: the American government used modern art as a political weapon.

As hilarious as it seems, this was a real effort, with the CIA helping to foster and spread Abstract Expressionist art around the world in a kind of hands-off cultural war. Behind an organisation known as the Congress for Cultural Freedom, which was set in up the 1950s with CIA money and run by a CIA agent, exhibitions and showcases of American modern art were hosted in every major city in Europe in the late 1950s.

Donald Jameson, a former case officer with the CIA who is now retired, explains the theory. "It was recognised that Abstract Expressionism was the kind of art that made Socialist Realism look even more stylised and more rigid and confined than it was. And that relationship was exploited in some of the exhibitions. In a way our understanding was helped because Moscow in those days was very vicious in its denunciation of any kind of non-conformity to its own very rigid patterns. And so one could quite adequately and accurately reason that anything they criticised that much and that heavy- handedly was worth support one way or another."

Tom Braden, another retired ex-CIA official, elaborates even further. "We wanted to unite all the people who were writers, who were musicians, who were artists, to demonstrate that the West and the United States was devoted to freedom of expression and to intellectual achievement, without any rigid barriers as to what you must write, and what you must say, and what you must do, and what you must paint, which was what was going on in the Soviet Union. I think it was the most important division that the agency had, and I think that it played an enormous role in the Cold War."

While it wasn't the only weapon these organisations used, these revelations provide a fascinating sidelight into the hidden side of a hidden war. Abstract expressionism would likely have risen to become the most popular genre in the post-WWII world without this kind of help, so don't suddenly reject these artists!

Posted on January 06th 2016 on 04:51pm

Friday 01st January 2016Hello 2016!

Hello 2016! It's another brand new year fresh with possibilities, and from everyone here at Gallereo we want to wish you a Happy New Year! This year with the blog we want to build on the series we began in 2015, continuing our Artist Spotlight series in the hopes of showing you a new favourite artist you've yet to discover, our explorations of public art and bringing you new doses of seasonal inspiration and encouragement, as well as the occasional project inspiration posts to jumpstart your creativity when you're feeling a bit stuck.

In addition to these great series, we're going to be exploring some new ground as well. We're going to be scouring the web for some of the greatest resources available to digital artists, in the hopes of both inspiring you and helping you to complete your existing digital dreams. The internet is a vast place, and there are an incredible number of free resources that are available to artists, but sometimes they're not quite as easily available as you might expect. We'll do the heavy lifting for you by searching out the best and biggest, no matter whether you're looking for free stock photo resources or new brushes for your Photoshop projects.

We're also going to be expanding on our Genre Spotlight series, where we take a look at some of the most popular classic genres from the last century and the artists that helped shape them, hopefully giving a sense of how the current state of the art world grew and evolved into the chaotically beautiful gamut we know and love today. Knowing how we got to where we are now can help point us in new directions, and you never know what sort of inspiration you might get to blend into your own work.

And, of course, that's not all - we're going to keep bringing you some of the most interesting and quirky stories from around the art world, whether it's new techniques in the fight against forgeries or the newest frontiers of artistic media. Virtual reality is going to make a huge splash in 2016, and it's an exciting time for artists who are exploring the cutting edge of the digital world. Be sure to visit us regularly for all these exciting posts and much, much more - and once again, Happy 2016!

Posted on January 01st 2016 on 04:49pm
Labels: 2016, gallereo
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