Let Colossal cheer you up

Colossal is one of the largest art, design, and culture blogs on the web, and I’ve been a big fan for ages. The trouble is I mainly use an RSS reader to keep up-to-date with its posts, rather than visiting it directly, and so I can easily mess changes to the design or layout of its website.

Take the ‘Editor’s Pick’ collections, for example, and this one — the best of humour.

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A secret photographer

I can’t imagine there will be many more stories like this. In this social media-sullied age, we are all too keen to press our photos into the faces of friends and strangers alike.

Over 30,000 negatives discovered in Russian artist’s attic reveal a lifetime of hidden photography
Russian artist and theater critic Masha Ivashintsova (1942-2000) lived a secret life as a photographer, taking over 30,000 photographs in her lifetime without ever showing a soul. It wasn’t until years after her death in 2000 that her daughter Asya Ivashintsova-Melkumyan stumbled upon her vast collection of negatives while cleaning out the attic. The photographs showcase an astounding look into the inner world of Ivashintsova, while also providing a glimpse of everyday life in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) from the 1960-1999.

Ivashintosova was heavily engaged in the city’s underground poetry and photography movement, yet never showed anyone her images, poetry, or personal writing during her lifetime. Ivashintsova-Melkumyan shares a quote from one of her mother’s diary entries that hints at the reasoning behind her hidden artistic life, “I loved without memory: is that not an epigraph to the book, which does not exist? I never had a memory for myself, but always for others.”

“I see my mother as a genius,” explains Ivashintsova-Melkumyan, “but she never saw herself as one—and never let anybody else see her for what she really was.”

These are remarkable photos, so evocative. She reminds me of what I think was said about Magritte’s painted gentlemen, that they were ordinary people holding extraordinary secrets. Masha Ivashintsova was a world famous photographer, but kept that secret from the world until after she died.

Everything, all at once

Repeat viewing is obligatory with these videos.

1.000.000 Frames / Candice Drouet
“It’s funny how much memory, hidden, is instantly conjured up with just a few familiar flashes. I’ve been rebooted. Amazing piece.” “You’ve watched a lot of great films. Thanks for putting this together.” “You certainly deserve lots of credit for all the work you have put into your outstanding production.”

Classical Gas – 3000 Years of Art
CLASSICAL GAS was written in August, 1967; recorded for THE MASON WILLIAMS PHONOGRAPH RECORD album in November, 1967; released as a single in February, 1968, and became a hit six months later in the Summer of 1968. It was also one of the earliest records that used a visual to help promote it on television, which probably qualifies it as one of the earliest music videos.

A jaunt through five millennia of art history in just one minute
This meticulously animated short by the Chinese new-media artist and educator Cao Shu traverses some five millennia of art in a single minute. As flickering images move chronologically, in flipbook fashion, through a parade of styles and artistic movements – from Ancient Egypt, to the Impressionist era, to the 20th century avant-garde – a gender-shifting character makes a series of simple movements, seemingly ambling through the history of art.

A broken art market

Art and the art markets. You might think they have little in common with each other.

How modern art serves the rich
Then, on October 18, 1973, in front of a slew of television cameras and a packed salesroom at the auction house Sotheby Parke Bernet, they put 50 works from their collection up for sale, ultimately netting $2.2 million—an unheard of sum for contemporary American art. More spectacular was the disparity between what the Sculls had initially paid, in some cases only a few years prior to the sale, and the prices they commanded at auction: A painting by Cy Twombly, originally purchased for $750, went for $40,000; Jasper Johns’s Double White Map, bought in 1965 for around $10,000, sold for $240,000. Robert Rauschenberg, who had sold his 1958 work Thaw to the Sculls for $900 and now saw it bring in $85,000, infamously confronted Robert Scull after the sale, shoving the collector and accusing him of exploiting artists’ labor. In a scathing essay published the following month in New York magazine, titled “Profit Without Honor,” the critic Barbara Rose described the sale as the moment “when the art world collapsed.”

Of course things didn’t stop there. And as the scale of the sums involved grow,s the art markets feel more like a form of performance art themselves.

$450 Million Leonardo da Vinci Becomes Most Expensive Artwork of All Time
After a $286 million bid from de Poortere, Rotter warbled out a $300 million counter, tying the price that billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin reportedly paid for Willem de Kooning’s Interchange (1955) in 2015, the most expensive art transaction ever publicly reported until Christie’s Wednesday sale.

“Let’s see if that’s done it,” the auctioneer chimed.

De Poortere’s client was not finished, continuing up and up in mostly two- and three-million-dollar increments, until the price hit $370 million. The sum would have been more than enough to take home every other lot offered at Christie’s on Wednesday night. For the very next bid, Rotter called out $400 million, and that was the end. The room clapped, gasped, and laughed, the way one does when seeing something simultaneously historic, unbelievable, and more than a little crazy.

Theatre, where even its own advertising is wanting to be considered art, complete with the obligatory Instagram account.

Droga5’s Sublime Ad for Christie’s Captures the Power of a Leonardo Painting Without Even Showing It
Sometimes, not showing an artwork can be as powerful as showing it. This was true in Grey London’s story-rich campaign for the Tate Modern back in 2015. And it’s especially true of Droga5’s lovely, almost transcendental new spot for auction house Christie’s—which promotes the upcoming sale of a long-lost Leonardo da Vinci painting by not showing it at all.

Instead, the spot focuses on people’s reactions to the painting. And they are fascinating to watch.

[…]

This postmodern turning-the-tables idea comes full circle through the extension of the campaign into Instagram. While so many museum-goers are now Instagramming the artwork they see, the Salvator Mundi is Instagramming the people who come to see it.

Photos of the visitors have been documented on Instagram @thelastdavinci. Each portrait is captioned with the first name of the visitor and the time of their visit, which Droga5 says is “a format reminiscent of a biblical scripture citation.”

Here’s a perspective on art buying I hadn’t considered before.

What baseball taught me about the art market
Can we provide similar, easy-to-access data for the art market, and would that bring new buyers and sellers into play? It’s said that art buyers are often driven by emotion. Whether or not that’s true, we should also welcome the engagement of participants who would like data to lessen the risk of their emotional decisions. Some worry that more data in art will devolve art into something akin to an asset class, swarmed by bankers. However, I believe art buyers will continue to be guided by what they love and which art resonates with them deeply, and that data insights will only help to strengthen their engagement and confidence when buying or selling.

Wanting to get involved in the art markets but struggling to raise the millions of dollars needed? There’s an app for that.

Can Sedition create a marketplace for digital limited edition art?
The platform aims to encourage people who might not be able to afford these artists’ original pieces to become collectors of digital editions which they can access via their mobiles, tablets, PCs and connected TVs. With each purchase comes a certificate of authenticity, which — crucially — entitles the owner to resell the works at a later date if they so wish.

And yes, you can include me in that.

The book is mightier than the wall?

We mustn’t lose sight of how impactful ideas can be, in a seemingly thoughtless world.

A single book disrupts the foundation of a brick wall by Jorge Méndez Blake
Although a larger metaphor could be applied to the installation no matter what piece of literature was chosen, Méndez Blake specifically selected The Castle to pay tribute to Kafka’s lifestyle and work. The novelist was a deeply introverted figure who wrote privately throughout his life, and was only published posthumously by his friend Max Brod. This minimal, yet poignant presence is reflected in the brick work—Kafka’s novel showcasing how a small idea can have a monumental presence.

Here, a book becomes part of a larger sculpture, but there are many examples of artworks that use books as sculptural objects in themselves.

Carving culture: sculptural masterpieces made from old books
Sensual, rugged, breathtakingly intricate, ranging from “literary jewelry” to paperback chess sets to giant area rugs woven of discarded book spines, these cut and carved tomes remind us that art is not a thing but a way — a way of being in the world that transmutes its dead cells into living materials, its cultural legacy into ever-evolving art forms and creative sensibilities.

Artist takes old books and gives them new life as intricate sculptures
Dettmer puts on display his pretty fantastic creations, all while explaining how he sees the book — as a body, a technology, a tool, a machine, a landscape, a case study in archaeology.

Old books transformed into imaginative 3D illustrations of fairy tale scenes
Seattle-based artist Isobelle Ouzman creates 3D illustrations from discarded books found in dumpsters, recycling bins, and local thrift stores. She adopts these forgotten books as a way to give them a second life, cutting and pasting the books into layered fairy tale scenes instead of letting the novels collect dust or fall prey to the elements.

Or how about books as building material? They form the foundations of our societies, as well as being products of them.

Defiant Democracy: Parthenon replica made of 100,000 banned books
The titles include Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, the Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, Cecily von Ziegesar’s Gossip Girl, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and George Orwell’s 1984. The books are wrapped around a metal frame like a shingled facade with their covers visible, proving that despite efforts to keep their contents from the public, they have endured.

5,000 books pour out of a building in Spain
Artist Alicia Martin’s tornado of books shoot out a window like a burst of water from a giant hose. The Spain-based artist’s sculptural installation at Casa de America, Madrid depicts a cavalcade of books streaming out of the side of a building. The whirlwind of literature defies gravity and draws attention with its grandeur size. There have been three site-specific installations, thus far, of the massive sculptural works in this series known as Biografias, translated as Biographies, that each feature approximately 5,000 books sprawled out around and atop one another.

Not sure what category to put these books in, though.

Terry Border’s whimsical ‘Wiry limbs, paper backs’ series
Books come to life as characters of themselves.

I think we’ve stopped worrying about the death of the book now, but even if there are fewer books in our libraries, there may well be more in our galleries.

Be mindful, watch more TV

This is great. There are so many mindfulness and relaxation apps out there, this one fits right in.

Multimedia artist Stine Deja satirises the commodification of mindfulness
“I was inspired by the over-branding, commercialisation and digitisation of relaxation. You can literally buy everything and I thought it would be interesting to push the idea of commercial wellbeing to the max,” Stine explains. Her idea came to her after she read a study that showed people to be more relaxed when watching television than when sleeping. The 4K Zen hat, which works like a portable darkroom, is symbolic of more than commercialised mental happiness. It also visualises an ideal of wellbeing as one of isolation, where the user escapes into a virtual universe inhabited only by them.

Really noticing the world around us

A pair of photographers whose work makes me question whether I live in the same world as them, as nothing looks like that round here. But maybe that’s the thing – it does, but I’m just not noticing.

Metropolis: Bauhaus-inspired urban photography
In his series Metropolis, photographer Alan Schaller interprets the disconnection between people in the digital age. The series examines the way in which we are dwarfed by the world around us, and how that feels. Schaller was born in London, where Metropolis also began. The majority of the photographs were taken on the streets candidly, because Schaller wanted them to convey a true sense of urban life in its many facets.

Photographer Jonathan Higbee discovers a world of coincidence on the streets of New York
For over a decade, photographer Jonathan Higbee has walked the streets of New York with a camera in-hand, spotting extraordinary juxtapositions and unusual moments when the world aligns for a split second in front of his lens. At times he manages to completely erase the boundaries between manufactured imagery found in billboards or signage that pollute the city streets and captures anonymous passersby who seem to live in an alternate reality.

I’ve heard of ‘gutter’ politics…

Trump asked to borrow a Van Gogh, and the Guggenheim offered him a gold toilet
“We are pleased that they are interested in demonstrating their support for the arts… I am sorry, however, to inform you that we are unable to participate in this loan,” it begins. “Fortuitously, a marvellous work by the celebrated contemporary Italian artist, Maurizio Cattelan, is coming off view today after a year’s installation at the Guggenheim, and he would like to offer it to the White House for a long-term loan…. The work beautifully channels the history of 20th-century avant-garde art by referencing Marcel Duchamp’s famous urinal of 1917.”

Indeed. And speaking of Duchamp’s Fountain, here’s a great story from Brian Eno.

When Brian Eno and other artists peed in Marcel Duchamp’s famous urinal
I thought, how ridiculous that this particular … pisspot gets carried around the world at—it costs about thirty or forty thousand dollars to insure it every time it travels. I thought, How absolutely stupid, the whole message of this work is, “You can take any object and put it in a gallery.” It doesn’t have to be that one, that’s losing the point completely. And this seemed to me an example of the art world once again covering itself by drawing a fence around that thing, saying, “This isn’t just any ordinary piss pot, this is THE one, the special one, the one that is worth all this money.” So I thought, somebody should piss in that thing, to sort of bring it back to where it belonged. So I decided it had to be me.

And for more Trump-inspired art, check out Edel Rodriguez’s magazine cover artworks for Der Spiegel and Time.

Brutalist beaches

The Modernist sandcastles of Coney Island
With over 170,000 views on Flickr, Calvin Seibert’s creations are admired by the world. But what drives one man to spend 10 hours painstakingly building a brutalist sandcastle, only for it to be swept away by the sea or destroyed by drunks? We spoke to him about how a hobby that began at art school turned into a lifelong passion.

[…]

I like making things and tend to work with whatever is at hand. Building sandcastles at a beach to me is a very natural thing to be doing. As a child, I saw photographs of the French ski resort of Flaine. I was very taken by the brutalist buildings, designed by Marcel Breuer. Since then I have always gone out of my way to see brutalist architecture and when I build sandcastles I have them in mind

Reviewing my reading habits

It’s occurred to me that I’m becoming an increasingly lazy reader, preferring to read reviews of books than the books themselves. Below are some snippets from the latest to have caught my eye.

Reviews of books about dark Jewish comedians and insightful Australian art critics. Books on how the internet has changed our understanding of knowledge, how word processors have changed literature, and about how art can save us from our bone-deep solitude.

The wondrous critic
The most manifest virtue of these essays is their language, marked by an uncommon command of vocabulary and (in our day) a far rarer mastery of syntax, allied to a thoroughly antiquated respect for the rules of grammar. Open this anthology anywhere and you will be hard put to find a sentence that is not as memorable for its very phrasing as it is for its thought.

The lonely city
She tells us that she often moved through New York feeling so invisibly alone that she felt like a ghost, and so started to think of other ghosts as suitable company. The dead, for Laing, are not so much historical figures as they are very vibrant modern companions, and she invokes them with an ease and familiarity of old friends. She allows Warhol to pop up in the chapter on the web, Hopper to pop up in a chapter on Warhol, and so on. In Laing’s head, all of these artists are still alive somewhere – perhaps even in communion with one another. This thought makes her feel less alone, and she passes it along to us.

Rethinking knowledge in the Internet Age
In fact, knowledge is now networked: made up of loose-edged groups of people who discuss and spread ideas, creating a web of links among different viewpoints. That’s how scholars in virtually every discipline do their work — from their initial research, to the conversations that forge research into ideas, to carrying ideas into public discourse. Scholar or not, whatever topic initially piques our interest, the net encourages us to learn more. Perhaps we follow links, or are involved in multiyear conversations on stable mailing lists, or throw ideas out onto Twitter, or post first drafts at arXiv.org, or set up Facebook pages, or pose and answer questions at Quora or Stack Overflow, or do “post-publication peer review” at PubPeer.com. There has never been a better time to be curious, and that’s not only because there are so many facts available — it’s because there are so many people with whom we can interact.

How literature became word perfect
The literary history of the early years of word processing—the late 1960s through the mid-’80s—forms the subject of Matthew G. Kirschenbaum’s new book, Track Changes. The year 1984 was a key oment for writers deciding whether to upgrade their writing tools. That year, the novelist Amy Tan founded a support group for Kaypro users called Bad Sector, named after her first computer—itself named for the error message it spat up so often; and Gore Vidal grumped that word processing was “erasing” literature. He grumped in vain. By 1984, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Michael Chabon, Ralph Ellison, Arthur C. Clarke, and Anne Rice all used WordStar, a first-generation commercial piece of software that ran on a pre-DOS operating system called CP/M.

Jews on the Loose
In his movie roles Groucho, for Lee Siegel, represents not an amusing attack on pretension but “the spirit of nihilism.” Siegel disputes the view that Woody Allen is Groucho’s descendant, for he feels that “Allen is simply too funny to be Groucho’s direct descendant.” Groucho is—and he is right about this—much darker. “No other comedians of the time,” Siegel writes, “come close to the wraithlike sociopath Groucho portrays in the Marx Brothers’ best films.”

Rather than solely answering our “Should I buy the book or not?” question, these reviews act as companion pieces to the books, whether the reviewer is agreeing with the author or not. The dialogue only adds.

I need to resist the temptation of considering the review as a substitute to the book, though. Maybe I need to find a review of a book about tackling laziness or something…