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Wednesday 30th November 2016Truth, Lies, and Art Preservation

We recently wrote an edition of Artist Spotlight that featured the work of a young boy hoping to recreate the lost works of his cultural heritage as a means of fighting back against the devastation caused by the fanatics of the Islamic State. It was a touching story, and one that brings hope to the fight against the IS, but today we're going to look at a much more industrialized version of that struggle.

Welcome to Factum. This is a cutting-edge (literally, excuse the pun) factory that provides a number of artistic services, including working with big-name sculptors such as Anish Kapoor Maya Lin and Marc Quinn to realize their visions when the technical requirements are outside the artist's native capabilities.

That's not all they do, however- they also reconstruct pieces of cultural history that were destroyed by various terrorist groups or in other types of disaster.

They are incredibly talented, and incredibly perfectionist about it. The man in charge of Factum's replication services is Adam Lowe, and recently he went to see another firm's replica of a sculpted marble arch that was destroyed in Palmyra, Syria, also by the Islamic State terrorists.

Speaking to the New Yorker, he explained his distate: “If you look at the arch, there are these beautiful Corinthian columns on it, and on the finial it looks like there’s an artichoke on it. You can just tell that one of the people making it was, like, ‘That’s too hard right there,’ and simplified the shape! It’s appalling.”

As the author of the New Yorker piece opines, many people would first recall Walter Benjamin and the value (or lack thereof) in a replicated object - but can that really hold true when the original no longer exists? Perhaps there is a new 'aura' constructed around this object, even if it tempered by the knowledge that it isn't hundreds or thousands of years old.

Lowe, however unsurprisingly, disagrees again. "Factum is a place of atemporal creativity. People always say, ‘Isn’t it difficult working with contemporary artists and working with, say, Caravaggio?’ The answer is no. They’re exactly the same. The only difference is that Caravaggio is dead.”

Hopefully, they will be able to use incredibly sophisticated computer modelling technology to reconstruct objects from images, even when the original has long since been destroyed. Too much of the world's beautiful objects have been lost over the years, whether to willful destruction, simple negligence, or pure chance. The prospect of having them back with us is a wonderful one to envision. 

Posted on November 30th 2016 on 02:31am

Friday 25th November 2016Stasi Stained Glass

When one thinks of secret police, art is rarely the next subject to come to mind - unless it's in conjunction with the quality of censorship. Yet apparently, for the East German secret police post-World War II, it was quite a common thing to commission huge stained glass pieces commemorating particularly significant iconography - Lenin, naturally, as well as doves to symbolize the peace they believed they were protecting.

One particularly large piece commissioned in 1979 by Erich Mielke, the head of the Ministry of State Security, will be going on sale in conjunction with the Art Basel Miami Beach art fair that everyone is so particularly enamoured of. The price tag is a whopping $21.4 million dollars, although many appraisers scoff at such a ridiculously high price tag.

Sjeng Scheijen, an associate researcher at Leiden University who curated a recent exhibition at the Drents Museum “The quality of this piece is certainly not exceptional from an artistic point of view..If they will sell it for this price, you will see a storm of the same kind of art coming on the market, because many of these kinds of stained glass windows are very often in buildings from the ’70s and ’80s that aren’t used any more.”

The artist, Richard Otfried Wilhelm, is still alive today, but even he is not particularly convinced it's worth such a huge sum of money. There is a long and convoluted story about the provenance of the piece in an article by the New York Times

“It’s very colorful and beautiful, but what’s most important is that it shows that the artists in the G.D.R. were not free,” said Susanna Lillienthal, a conservator who helped track down the provenance of the piece. “They did what the dictators wanted. I grew up in the G.D.R. and I still have a hard time with it. But we need to save the dark parts of our history, too.”

An admirable sentiment, especially as it seems like the specter of facism is rising again in the modern world with the election of Donald Trump and the continued reign of Vladimir Putin. Remember: facism almost never makes worthwhile art, because, as Lillienthal said, you have to do what the dictators want - not what your artistic soul desires.  

Posted on November 25th 2016 on 02:16am

Wednesday 23rd November 2016Cooking with Gala

Salvador Dali is arguably one of the most famous artists in the world, and certainly one of the most famous artists of the Surrealist movement. Famous for his gorgeously complex, detailed and - obviously - surreal paintings, his ridiculous upturned moustache and the parties that he hosted/attended, it may come as a complete surprise that he once wrote a cookbook.

Yes, an actual cookbook, with recipes that you could make. If you were Dali. A Dali who was not particularly hungry but wanted to look at something gorgeously ridiculous. Original copies of the book are probably quite rare, but it is at last being republished in grand style by Taschen, famous for their exquisite and often unwieldy books for a scant 45 euros. Entitled Les Dîners de Gala, the book is available now, with this precautionary preface from Dali:

"We would like to state clearly that, beginning with the very first recipes, Les Diners de Gala, with its precepts and its illustrations, is uniquely devoted to the pleasures of Taste. Don’t look for dietetic formulas here.

We intend to ignore those charts and tables in which chemistry takes the place of gastronomy. If you are a disciple of one of those calorie-counters who turn the joys of eating into a form of punishment, close this book at once; it is too lively, too aggressive, and far too impertinent for you."

Apparently, Dali wanted to be chef when he was a child, before falling in love with the arts. This love of food is visible throughout a large number of his pieces - who, after all, could forget the lobster telephone?

Later in life, he became famous for his exquisite dinner parties, with some of the world's most famous chefs preparing the meals. Guests were all required to wear incredibly elaborate costumes in order to be let in the door, and wild animals like Dali's pet ocelot Babou would wander freely around the table.

"I only like to eat what has a clear and intelligible form. If I hate that detestable degrading vegetable called spinach it is because it is shapeless, like Liberty.

I attribute capital esthetic and moral values to food in general, and to spinach in particular. The opposite of shapeless spinach, is armor. I love eating suits of arms, in fact I love all shell fish… food that only a battle to peel makes it vulnerable to the conquest of our palate."

We hope you're confusing and delighting the hell out of everyone wherever you are now, Senor Dali.

Posted on November 23rd 2016 on 01:45am

Friday 18th November 2016Can Trump Be Good for the Art World? Or....

It's probably fair to say that most artists generally find themselves on the more socially progressive side of the political spectrum. Facism, as an extreme of the right wing, is rarely the patron saint of the arts. Of course, extremes in any direction rarely appreciate the arts enough to cultivate them in a way that lets them thrive, but surely the election of Donald Trump has most artists stunned, outraged, or just downright depressed.

Except not every part of the art world is depressed about it, apparently - the auction houses are excited by the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency. It's moments like this that we reflect on why we stopped discussing the latest record-breaking sale from an auction house, and decided to focus more on living artists and their current works: in general, once art hits the auction house, it doesn't really have much to do with art anymore.

Instead, it's really nothing more than another part of an investment portfolio - which is surely at least partly why auction houses are the only part of the art world excited by the prospect of a Trump presidency. He's a billionaire, after all, and has enough capital to fill a whole bunch of gaudy gold frames.

"I think there's been a fairly good feeling among the art collectors this week," said Tad Smith, director of Sotheby's auction house in New York City, during an interview with CNBC. "There's just a lot of very wealthy people from all types of countries... and they have a lot of capital to deploy."

"Everywhere I go around the world, and really for almost 15 or 16 months, we've had a large group of buyers that have plenty of money to spend and they want to buy things. The trouble particularly in the last six to 12 months has been there hasn't been enough that they were offering."

"As long as we have a good, confident week, and I think we're going to do that, we're going to have more offered in the spring. That will free up the buyers. It's convincing those sellers that the buyers are there — that's the big opportunity."

Straight from the horse's mouth: it's not really about the art, it's about the extremely wealthy patrons who show up for Donald Trump's election that matter to them.

Posted on November 18th 2016 on 11:46pm

Wednesday 16th November 2016Artist Spotlight: Nenous Thabit

Continuing our theme of hope in the face of strife from last week with another dose of perspective, today's Artist Spotlight is going to look at the work of a young Assyrian sculptor named Nenous Thabit who has a powerful dose of hope for everyone affected by the destruction wrought by the Islamic State.

Most of the Islamic State's terrorist campaigns are launched at the local people, and one of their most potent weapons is the destruction of local temples and historic sites for being 'un-Islamic'. This breaks the link the local people have with their cultural heritage and, in theory, makes them more likely to embrace the twisted vision of Islam espoused by the terrorists.

His project will be a long one, but it's truly inspirational - he hopes to recreate many of the most famous works that have been destroyed by the Islamic State. At only 17 years of age, he has been practicing sculpting in his father's workshop, who is a professional sculptor.

Thabit was inspired to action by the destruction of the ancient Assyrian temple of Nimrud, which IS fighters bragged about destroying with sledge hammers and bulldozers for not being Islamic.  

“They waged a war on art and culture, so I decided to fight them with art. Lamassu is my favourite statue, it is the strongest creature in the Assyrian heritage.

“In Iraq, there are people who are killed because they are sculptors, because they are artists. Continuing to sculpt is a message that we will not be intimidated by those devils.

“My dream is to become a prominent artist in Iraq to make my country proud and show the world that we in Iraq love life and cherish our heritage.”

So far, he has completed 18 new statues, including one of Lamassu, and is looking forwards to attending art school in the city of Dohuk in the coming year. Hopefully, he'll be able to maintain his optimism in the face of anger, and recreate many more of the lost treasures that so many artists, historians and curators have been racing to preserve.

Posted on November 16th 2016 on 09:04pm

Friday 11th November 2016A Sense of Perspective

Many artists like to style themselves as rebels of some description. Whether they are taking on social preconceptions, highlighting biases or simply experimenting with brand new techniques in an innovative way, they do, on some level, deserve the title. But no matter how starving you are as a starving artist anywhere in the West, you probably don't have it as bad as the artists currently hoping to rebuild the cultural legacy of Iraq.

Modern social, economic and cultural disputes aside, the area known as Mesopotamia (between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in what is now northeastern Iraq) is also known as 'the cradle of civilization', and with good reason. It was responsible for much of the early development of civilization thousands of years ago, ranging from agriculture to mathematics to art, and that makes the modern day problems that much more devastating. Priceless art from the last several thousand years is looted and sold on the black market to finance terrorism, and it all winds up in the hands of a wealthy collector somewhere.

Fortunately, the artists of the region haven't entirely given up hope that arts and culture will flourish again after the latest war to rage. In the ruins of a bombed out shopping centre, Iraqi-Canadian artist Riyadh Hashim and 16 other artists staged an art exhibit. Yes, you're reading that right.

Unfortunately, the exhibition was shut down only four hours after it started by the local police. Hashim had obtained verbal permission from the mayoralty of Baghdad in order to stage the show in the ruins of the Al-Hadi shopping centre, but that held no water with the police and the show was closed. Fortunately for all, Iraqi television news had arrived beforehand and over 150 visitors got a chance to see the show.

Now, Hashim hopes to restage the show, entitled Karrada, with a new range of artists and more formalized permission from the local authorities. Whether or not those authorities are ready for the sort of impact that powerful art pieces can have on the general populace remains to be seen, but here's hoping that they let the show go on.

So just remember - the next time you think you and your artist friends are being rebellious intellectually, remember what it really can mean.
(Image: AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)

Posted on November 11th 2016 on 08:50pm

Wednesday 09th November 2016Dump Trump

What is it with artists and toilets?

From the days of Marcel Duchamp and his infamous urinal installation, many conceptual artists seem to feel like a toilet is an original means of expression. While a toilet is arguably a means of expression, it's rarely one that most people would associate with artistic expression.

Of course, we've covered a number of toilet installations in the past partly due to their hilarity factor, but this latest one sort of verges on the surreal. Just days before the upcoming US presidential election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, a toilet covered in a wide range of anti-Trump rhetoric with the words 'Dump on Trump' was left outside the back door of the American Visionary Art Museum.

The Museum is currently treating it as an artistic donation, and has yet to dispose of the "piece" in the hopes that the artist will come forwards.

Rebecca Hoffberger, the executive director and founder of the AVAM says that this is far from the first piece of donated art they have received, and hilariously enough, it's not even the first - or even the second - toilet that they have received.

The first two were sent in by another artist, Duane Gerald "Shorty" Davis Sr., but neither contained anything close to the kind of rhetoric on the 'Dump Trump' sculpture - or perhaps installation piece? Conceptual specimen? Terminology fails to cover such eventualities.

The AVAM has no plans to destroy the piece, but it may not be put on display without a claim of ownership by the artist, and Davis has disavowed this current piece.

"We totally believe in individual freedom of expression, but we’re also very concerned about anything that could be directed ... on just anger and hate. Because in the long run, I don’t think that solves anything," continues Hoffberger.

Here's hoping that the AVAM keeps the piece and that the artist comes forwards to claim the piece in the horrific event of a Trump victory - or even in the case of a Clinton victory, as a memory of just how close the country came to jumping the shark.

Posted on November 09th 2016 on 08:03pm
Labels: , art donation, avam, trump

Friday 04th November 2016Art Market Disruptors

One of the biggest buzzwords spawned by the tech industry in recent memory is 'disruption'. It more or less does what it says on the tin, but in this usage it has the added context of being a disruption of the current market structure driven by technological innovation. Uber is a prime example - they've taken ubiquitous smartphone technology and used it to completely disrupt the taxicab market. Airbnb used the internet and mapping services to completely disrupt the hotel industry by allowing random people to rent out apartments or even spare rooms on a temporary basis.

There are many other successful examples, and far more failed examples, but the most notable failure (from our perspective, anyways) is the failure of any of the disruptive technologies to catch on in the art market.

We've covered a number of the possible disruptors over the past few years, ranging from new and exciting online auction platforms to the Tinder-style art-buying app Wydr. But as of yet, none of them has really had anything close to what could be termed a disruptive impact.

Many theories have been floated about why these technologies haven't caught on in the art world, but one of the most interesting ideas is that the art market's disruption happened well before anyone was using the term. The advent of computer-managed databases for price indexes, forecasts about auction prices and art investment projections completely changed the way business was done in the art world already, in a way that neither taxis or hotels could be.

Of course, in parallel, one might argue that hotels and taxis were disrupted by the advent of online bookings and telephones to summon a cab, but those disruptions occurred so long ago that the market had matured enough to become ripe for another disruption. It's unlikely that we'll see another disruption of the taxi industry until driverless cars become commonly available, and another when autonomous drones really take off - and who knows when that will be.

With that parallel in mind, is the art world ripe for another disruption? Some want to claim that the art world is simply too real and present to be disrupted by a digital technology, but perhaps that's because "the art world" is too monolithic an entity to be disrupted by a single event, rather than the fact that it is immune to disruption.

Digital photograph destroyed entire companies, and the ability to virtually walk through photorealistic representations of museums may completely tank actual visitor numbers. Only time - and genius - will tell.

Posted on November 04th 2016 on 07:49pm

Wednesday 02nd November 2016Project Spotlight: Common Ground

Only rarely do the art world and the Guinness Book of World Records find themselves in common company, but that was just what happened thanks to the latest project from New Creatures, a collaborative effort from partners Jason Naumoff and Ajamu White. Entitled 'Common Ground', the project was an attempt to link up a wide array of kinetic sculptures located across the country that would set each other off in a massive chain reaction that circled the entire country.

The website succinctly explains the generalities of the project:

"In a divided America, is it possible to find common ground?

"Common Ground" is a collaborative kinetic art installation about connecting America through creativity and problem solving. Artists and makers in 5 cities were asked to create kinetic installations inspired by their region and important contemporary issues in their community.  All participants worked with each other to connect their pieces through common communication mediums like texts, emails, and phone calls. As one installation ends, the next is triggered to begin.

The final collaborative chain reaction successfully circled the country in 5 minutes."

Unfortunately, they seem to have glossed over how successful the project was, highlighting only a few projects, but nevertheless the idea is a fascinating one. This writer had originally envisioned a country-wide 'Rube Goldberg'-type machine, sort of a 'Hands Across America' but made out of weird sculptures, which doesn't seem to have been the result (sadly!).

That being said, 6 different cities/regions participated in the project, each providing a series of sculptures that roughly spanned the country. Oakland, Phoenix, Atlanta, New Hampshire, Detroit, and then back around to Oakland.

New Creatures aims to create participatory design projects: "We create highly participatory experiences that engage and inspire. Our goal is to combine true creativity and never attempted ideas, with expert production and professionalism. We dream of New Creatures, build them by hand, then send them on their way hoping the world likes them as much as we  do."

While it seems like this particular project failed to gain the widespread support it needed to really gain traction and make a powerful statement, it was nevertheless a great concept that just needed a bit more focus on grabbing participants in order to make its mark.

Posted on November 02nd 2016 on 06:22pm
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