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Monday 31st October 2016In Lighter News

Things may have seemed a bit grim in our last post, so in honour of Halloween we've decided to take things in a somewhat brighter direction this time around.

Performance art is one of the most polarizing types of art for most viewers - people tend to either love it or hate it. Whether it's Marina Abramovic or Shia LaBeouf, people's reactions are widely varied, ranging from complete irritation to enthusiastic acceptance.

Fortunately for the subject of today's post, the police in Portland, Maine, were a little more understanding than most critics - at least, they were patient at first.

In a Halloween 'dress rehearsal', Asher Woodworth (hard to believe that's actually his real name, and that is not a picture of him on the right) was arrested for dressing up as a tree and blocking the middle of a downtown intersection. Of course, Portland, Maine, doesn't have much of a downtown, exactly, but nevertheless, he took root in the spot and wouldn't move.

Apparently, he wanted to see how he could impact 'people’s natural choreography.'

The police arrived, naturally, and asked him to stay out of the street, which he did at first - but perhaps the wind changed direction and he was back in the middle of the street and eventually had to be arrested by the Portland police.

Well, ten out of ten for dedication, Asher, but it's probably better to focus on something that has a bit more political or social impact and doesn't just sound like you lost a bet and needed to come up with a good excuse for doing something silly.

Will it be the start of a new artistic career for Mr. Woodworth? Only time will tell, but he's clearly shown that he is willing to suffer for his art, even if only temporarily.

Posted on October 31st 2016 on 06:20pm

Saturday 29th October 2016Real Life or Movie Plot?

The art world never ceases to amaze. This sheer amazement is one of the most appealing aspects of the entire business, one that more than makes up for all the pretentiousness and bad gallery openings.

The Italian mafia has apparently been selling artistic and cultural treasures that have been looted across the Middle East and Africa from Libya to Iraq. They have been purchasing them from Islamist militants including the Islamic State, and have been paying for the stolen treasures with arms.

What's even more incredible is the brazenness with which this process occurs. A journalist posing as an art buyer was able to enter a makeshift showroom (apparently located, surreally, inside a salami factory).

It's stories like this that make one wonder whether or not it's real life or a convoluted and possibly stereotypically-lazy movie plot. Unfortunately, the material damage caused by this kind of looting is not only devastating to the sum of human cultural achievement, but also to the people who are currently living under the rule of terror.

Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano is deeply concerned by the discoveries, which have been known to authorities for some time before they could be rooted out. “We have studied the ‘GDP of terror’ and we know that one of the components is the commercialization of stolen art. The stolen artifacts feed ISIS and contribute to the GDP of terror.”

This kind of looting isn't limited to trade with the Italian mafia, however, as we've discussed here on Gallereo in the past. Russian ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin recently spoke to the UN Security Council on the issue. “Around 100,000 cultural objects of global importance, including 4,500 archaeological sites are under the control of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. The profit derived by the Islamists from the illicit trade in antiquities and archaeological treasures is estimated at US$150-200 million per year.”

According to journalist and author Luca Nannipieri, much of the art that is acquired this way becomes effectively laundered through various intermediaries and then winds up in legitimate collections in universities and museums around the world.

As a result of his work chasing the threads of this convoluted world, he has an understandably rather grim take on things. "It is said that beauty will save the world. That is false. Beauty and art are often the reason for murders, destruction, oppression, and devastation.”

A depressing thought, and one that will hopefully be proven wrong as the next chapter of the world unfolds before us.

Posted on October 29th 2016 on 07:18pm

Wednesday 26th October 2016Artist Spotlight: Hoxxoh

If you've been to downtown Miami in the last couple of years - perhaps during a visit to Art Basel Miami Beach (we wish) - you've probably passed one of several intensely bright, geometric murals painted on a large scale on the sides of buildings. These are the product of a street artist known as 'Hoxxoh' and his team, though perhaps better known by his given name Douglas Hoekzema.

The pieces are massive, colourful, geometric and kaleidoscopic, often playing upon the tricks of optical illusion that can seem to make a static image move as your eyes travel across the piece.

Speaking to an interviewer from The New Tropic, he explained how he developed his process: "I think it was 2008 or 2009, I discovered this mark…painting it over and over and over. And through this repetition I started discovering these other patterns it can make and then it became containing the madness.

So the logical thing was “I can do a freehand circle and only paint in that.” And the next step was increase the scale of the circle. And then, for the last year or so it was concentric rings, which is read as a mandala. And then this current year I offset the rings, which is being read as a portal or a vortex. And in that sense it’s really exciting with my work, reducing it just to this one mark and one mechanism and then these ready-made guns that you’ll find in Home Depot: an airless spray gun or the "weekend I’m gonna paint my picket fence" little gun. That makes a different mark."

Unfortunately it has come to our attention that just before the writing of this piece, there was a terrible accident at the site of Hoekzema's latest mural project in Miami. One of his assistants was killed after a 40 foot fall as their scaffolding collapsed during the painting process, and one other was injured and remains in critical condition at a nearby hospital. A third muralist was saved by his safety harness and was rescued by emergency crews on the scene.  

A statement from Eric Fordin, the Vice President of ownership company 4111 South Ocean Drive, LLC., read: "Tragically, a section of scaffolding at Hyde Resort & Residences Hollywood fell today. Security and safety are, and always have been, a priority at every one of our construction sites and an internal investigation of today’s events is underway. We are deeply concerned and send heartfelt thoughts to the individuals involved and their families."

Hopefully this tragedy won't prevent the completion of the piece, or impact the promising future prospects of the artist.

Posted on October 26th 2016 on 08:53pm

Friday 21st October 2016Art, Emotion and Neurobiology

You might remember a post from earlier this year about museum pranks, and a case of mistaken identity. A pair of ordinary eyeglasses were left on the ground near a blank wall in an art gallery, and patrons automatically assumed that they were some piece of modern conceptual artwork, even going to so far as to carefully photograph the piece.

According to a recent study by researchers at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, there's a very good reason for this hilarious misunderstanding: the way we perceive ordinary objects changes on a neurological level when we are told that they are 'art'.

Noah van Dongen, one of the researchers conducting the study at Erasmus University, explained some of the results of the study: "When we think we are not dealing with reality, our emotional response appears to be subdued on a neural level. This may be because of a tendency to 'distance' ourselves from the image, to be able to appreciate or scrutinize its shapes, colours, and composition instead of just its content. We know that our brains may have evolved with 'hard-wired' mechanisms that allow us to adjust our response to objects depending on the situation."

"What this work indicates, is that Kant's two century old theory of aesthetics, where he proposed that we need to emotionally distance ourselves from the artwork in order to be able to properly appreciate it, might have a neurological basis and that art could be useful in our quest to understand our brain, emotions, and maybe our cognition," van Dongen continued.

Interestingly enough, the study went on to explore whether or not these effects could be replicated when study participants were shown examples of still images and told that they were from either typical films or documentary films. When the images were labelled as from a documentary film, the neurological changes were reversed, indicating that the role of context in assessing our emotional reaction to imagery is more powerful than anticipated.

On reflection, though, it seems that a lot of this kind of information is already well known to critical theorists and philosophers, and that perhaps the world of neurobiology would be much better off taking a more interdisciplinary approach to problems of cognition - or at least that science students would benefit dramatically from a broader range of philosophy coursework than is currently common.

Posted on October 21st 2016 on 06:27pm

Wednesday 19th October 2016Get Ready for 'Vessel'

Continuing our theme of New York from the previous week, in this post we're going to take a look at one of the most ambitious and polarizing public art/sculpture/architecture hybrids to be constructed in recent memory. Part of the Hudson Yards redevelopment project taking place on the West Side of Manhattan, the centrepiece will be a massive project by artist Thomas Heatherwick, of Heatherwick Studios.
The CEO of the firm behind the plaza development that will contain the structure, Stephen Ross, was quoted as saying, "It will become to New York what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, I believe." Bold words, and even more bold for being quoted before the final design for the piece was unveiled - only the price tag. Originally priced at a staggering $75 million USD, the cost has since ballooned to upwards of $200 million USD.

For a sculpture alone, that would be a truly inconceivable amount of money, but the Vessel is going to be far more than a sculpture - it would probably be more accurate to classify it as a very useless building.

The design, which has been described as reminiscent of a hollowed out bedbug exoskeleton (thanks for that imagery, by the way, Gothamist), is actually a scalloped tier of interlocking staircases that scale up over 150 feet. With 154 staircases and at least 80 landings, the piece will no doubt become a hive of activity, which will hopefully draw more appealing and less revolting comparisons to a beehive, once it is filled with the milling masses.

"When I was a student, I fell in love with an old discarded flight of wooden stairs outside a local building site. It caught my imagination and I loved that is was part furniture and part infrastructure. You could climb up stairs, jump on them, dance on them, get tired on them and then plonk yourself down on them."

While that might not be the most eloquent description of the grandiose Vessel project, it certain provides an interesting insight into the nature of the design process of what will no doubt become an iconic New York structure. While it might not attain the cultural heights of the Eiffel Tower, it is sure to become a recognizable part of the West Side skyline.  
Vessel render by Visual House-Nelson Byrd Woltz

Posted on October 19th 2016 on 06:23pm

Friday 14th October 2016Observer on 'Public Functional Art', AKA 'Design'

Full disclosure: this writer is also classically trained as a designer, despite a dilettante's interest in a wide range of artistic disciplines. With that out of the way, let's dig into something: is design a dirty word in the art world?

It seems to conjure up notions of commercial art, product packages and other ephemera that don't rate as pop art due to the lack of pretension and choice of presentation. The prohibition against the inclusion of design as an art form is so strong that during a recent article published in the Observer about design, the word design was barely mentioned during the entire article - instead, every reference was instead substituted with 'public functional art' - until the very end, when .

It's possible that this particular author wished to make a distinction between the various types of design. After all, it's hard to reconcile the so-called 'public functional art' that forms the central theme of the article with cereal box design or the aesthetic lines of a new Italian supercar. But what rankles is that there is already a wide array of linguistic separations between these various subfields of design, an entire nomenclature dedicated to preventing just such clumsy improvisations.

The article was an appealing and engaging one, detailing the nature of various types of industrial and wayfinding designs found throughout New York City in everything from the design choices behind the pedestrian/hand traffic signals that replaced the 'Walk/Don't Walk' of the past century to the careful and iconic design of the handrails in the Wall Street subway station. So why the reluctance to discuss these aspects in a more definitive (and accurate) way?

Curiously enough, the word design seemed to be used prolifically at the end of the piece. It was almost as though the author hoped to engage the artistically-inclined reader who would simply ignore a design article, sneaking the appreciation of design into the narrative under the guise of 'functional public art'. This may be where my inherent bias trips me up, familiar as I am with the general discussion of design and its inherent role in our built environments.

But regardless of how one classifies it, it's impossible to escape the impacts of public design in New York (or any major city), and it's worth acknowledging the value of these projects in our environments. 

Posted on October 14th 2016 on 06:20pm
Labels: art, design

Wednesday 12th October 2016The AI Curator

Much has been made of the recent advancements in the nature of artificial intelligence and machine learning, but aside from a few notable exceptions that tread the line between a fun toy and actual art (here's looking at you, Deep Dream), it hasn't really touched the art world.
Many artists are fascinated by technology and explore related themes in their work, whether it's incorporating the machines themselves or taking advantage of what the machines allow them to do. This is perfectly understandable, but as the intelligences grow smarter, the scope of their role in the art world is likely to change dramatically.
Perhaps the first example of this shift comes courtesy of a collaboration between Microsoft and the Tate Britain museum in London.  An exhibit in artificial intelligence dubbed 'Reaction' recently captured the annual IK prize for its exploration of the applications of machine learning to the art world. Produced by a trio of developers working at Fabrica, Angelo Semeraro, Coralie Gourguechon and Monica Lanaro, and in collaboration with Jolibrain, a group of France-based AI specialists, Reaction isn't actually an exhibit, it's 'an autonomously operating software programme'.
The majority of the exhibit is the result of its abilities.
Tony Guillan, producer of the IK prize -- since when did art prizes have producers? What a world -- in an interview with Digital Trends gave an overview of how the system works. “From the moment it launched, it’s continually scanning both databases and comparing images, trying to find works which are comparable — whether that be visually or thematically — and then publishing them online in a virtual gallery. That gallery will keep growing over the course of the exhibition and, by virtue of including up-to-the-minute news images, will become a sort of time capsule of this period.”

“Reaction has learned to do something we can’t do, which is to scan up-to-the-minute photography and the entire Tate collection in nanoseconds. At the same time, when we look at pictures, there are numerous frames of reference we’ll use to judge them based on our lived experiences. The main job of a human curator is to put artworks together in a way that creates new meanings through comparisons or contrasts. A machine doesn’t do that. The meaning is produced by the human audiences who fill in the extra connections for themselves.”
Check out the online galleries for yourself at

Posted on October 12th 2016 on 07:43pm

Friday 07th October 2016But is it Art?

Sometimes it feels like after the number of articles we've written entitled 'But Is It Art?' or some variation thereof, we should just go ahead and make it a series like our Artist Spotlight. There are a number of interesting issues involved in the whole question and there surely is enough material to make an interesting series, but sometimes the question can seem a bit tiresome and should really just be answered 'Yes - now stop asking'.
In today's iteration of the theme, we're going to take a closer look at art by animals. Yes, not art depicting animals, but actually created by them. An interesting article appeared in the Washington Post recently by an anthropologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and while it certainly provided an interesting and engaging look at some of the more prominent animal artists of the last half century or so, the one thing it absolutely failed to do was answer the question 'But is it art?'.
Understandably, the author comes off as rather ambiguous about which way to answer the question, deciding in the end for the old standby, 'it depends on your definition'.

"If art is in the eye of the beholder, then Congo’s sweeping blazes of color can rival those of Jackson Pollock. If your notion of art is an exterior expression of an inner self, then maybe Chandra the Oklahoma City Zoo elephant’s paintings reveal less about her subjectivity than, say, how she might communicate through sounds and movement as the matriarch of a group of elephants in the wild.
But for primates such as Washoe, a chimpanzee who was raised like a human child by American scientists and died in 2007, the case may be different. Like Washoe, a few other primates have lived bicultural lives in human worlds as the subjects of language and cognition research, and can “talk” to us through signs and symbols. We may see something different in their creations, especially when they can title them themselves."
I think it's time that we disregard the equivocation and accept that no matter which way you go, there will be someone prominent and respected who disagrees with you, and therefore you're not helping yourself or anyone else by sitting on the fence about this - and certainly not the animals, unless you argue that any exposure they get is likely to increase the sales of their work and thus increase the fundraising ability of their parent zoos.
In short, yes, it is art. Whether it is a cross-species collaboration or not.

(Photo credit: Piece by Congo, photo by Bonhams/AP)

Posted on October 07th 2016 on 08:24pm

Wednesday 05th October 2016Artist Spotlight: Makoto Azuma

We live in incredibly exciting times, no matter what part of the world you choose to dedicate yourself to, but few things are more fascinating to the human race as a whole than what lies beyond our world. Ever since the fabled Space Race of the mid-20th century, aerospace technology has been moving forwards in leaps and bounds, but it still was generally the area of nations rather than individuals. It was simply ridiculously expensive to get anything up out of the gravity well.
Except, of course, for balloons - and Makoto Azuma decided to take that cheap method of flight and send up some truly astonishing satellites.
Well, perhaps they're not satellites in the strictest technical sense, as they're only kept aloft by the lifespan of the balloons rather than a planetary orbit, but they're still pushing the boundaries of art in a literal physical sense. Azuma has become famous for working directly with nature and living media to create his artwork, whether it's bonsai trees, fungi, or something in between.
Probably Azuma's most famous piece was entitled Exobiotanica, which featured a 50 year old Japanese white pine bonsai tree and an exquisite bouquet of Mother's Day flowers into the atmosphere - 30,000 meters up, to be precise. The two objects were then photographed by a camera that travelled with them, creating some truly beautiful images.

"Many misunderstand me as a contemporary artist, or drawer, or sculptor. But I create living art. I am creating a totally new way of expression."
In an interview with CNN Style (oddly enough), he expands on what inspired him to begin working in this truly unique medium.

"While I was running a flower shop, putting together bouquets and decoration, I thought I could find a new type of flower by applying a new expression on the flowers themselves. Besides merely making bouquets as presents or table top decoration, I thought it would be possible to capture the beauty in a photograph or video while the flower is changing its shape. It is like slicing out a moment for keeping the beauty eternal."
A beautiful sentiment, and while Azuma tends to shy away from the traditional art world - he avoids traditional artists as inspiration, and does not draw comparisons between himself and other working artists - he certainly has the flair for drama and beauty that mark the best of what the art world has to offer.

Posted on October 05th 2016 on 08:05pm
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