Christmas comes early for art book lovers

In 2014, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles launched its Virtual Library, a project to breathe new life into its extensive archive of art books, some of which are now out of print. It started with 250 titles, but has kept growing.

Over 300 books are available for free download in the Getty Museum’s Virtual LibraryHyperallergic
“As a publisher, when you run out of copies of a book you can basically either reprint it and keep selling it, or you can retire the title, declaring it out of print,” said Greg Albers, Digital Publications Manager for Getty Publications, in an email interview with Hyperallergic. “If it doesn’t make financial sense to reprint and the book goes out of print, the original author or another publisher may choose to pick up the reins and publish a new edition, but more often than not, the book will just sort of disappear. This isn’t a fate anyone wants to see for their books and luckily at the Getty, a decidedly mission-driven organization, we were able to pursue an alternate option. We worked though some legal/copyright issues and released PDFs of the original books, for anyone to read and download, 100% for free.”

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Add those to this collection from last year, and keep your digital bookshelves very well stocked.

Download 569 free art books from the Metropolitan Museum of ArtOpen Culture
You may remember that we featured the site a few years ago, back when it offered 397 whole books free for the reading, including American Impressionism and Realism: The Painting of Modern Life, 1885–1915; Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomical Drawings from the Royal Library; and Wisdom Embodied: Chinese Buddhist and Daoist Sculpture in The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

But the Met has kept adding to their digital trove since then, and, as a result, you can now find there no fewer than 569 art catalogs and other books besides. Those sit alongside the 400,000 free art images the museum put online last year.

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You’ve had long enough

I loved the photograph chosen to head up this witty and insightful article by Jason Farago, art critic for The New York Times, about that Parisian “security hazard, educational obstacle and unsatisfying bucket-list item”.

It’s time to take down the Mona Lisa
Some 80 percent of visitors, according to the Louvre’s research, are here for the Mona Lisa — and most of them leave unhappy. Content in the 20th century to be merely famous, she has become, in this age of mass tourism and digital narcissism, a black hole of anti-art who has turned the museum inside out. …

In a poll of British tourists earlier this year, the Mona Lisa was voted the “world’s most disappointing attraction,” beating out Checkpoint Charlie, the Spanish Steps, and that urinating boy in Brussels. If curators think that they are inspiring the next generation of art lovers, they are in fact doing the opposite. People come out of obligation, and leave discouraged. …

The Louvre does not have an overcrowding problem per se. It has a Mona Lisa problem. No other iconic painting — not Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” at the Uffizi in Florence, not Klimt’s “Kiss” at the Belvedere in Vienna, not “Starry Night” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York — comes anywhere close to monopolizing its institution like she does. And if tourist numbers continue to rise, if last year’s 10 million visitors become next year’s 11 or 12, the place is going to crack.

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I love photos of people taking photos, and there are more in a previous Times article from when the painting was recently moved.

Want to see the Mona Lisa? Get in line
Once they get past the metal detectors, ticket holders are herded like sheep in a long, coiling line. They shuffle up escalators until they reach the Mona Lisa’s skylit new digs: the Medici Gallery, named after a striking series of wall-to-wall paintings by Rubens also on display there.

Not that anybody notices the Rubens works. As if in an airport check-in area, dozens of visitors rowdily wait their turn in another snaking line. Armed with smartphones, selfie sticks and cameras, they then rush into the final stretch — the Mona Lisa viewing pen. They have roughly one minute there before the guards shoo them away.

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Back inside the Mona Lisa viewing pen, Gregory Jimenez, 25, a college student from Chile, lifted his fancy camera above the heads of a row of people in front of him and took a shot. “You have to take a photo to be able to appreciate her,” he said as he walked out.

Photographs may be a solution, but they’re also part of the problem. People don’t just want to see the Mona Lisa: they want the picture for social media to prove it. Many don’t look at her at all; they focus on their smartphone screens. Some even turn their backs, beam their finest Mona Lisa smile, and take a selfie, as she grins right back.

Update 12/11/2019

News of a different approach from the Louvre.

The ‘Mona Lisa’ Experience: how the Louvre’s first VR project, a 7-minute immersive da Vinci odyssey, works
Visitors can strap themselves into the state-of-the-art headsets and learn snippets of information about Leonardo’s famous sitter, Lisa del Giocondo, as well as his artistic method and the history of the painting. It will immerse them in what could be the surroundings beyond the frame of what is depicted in Leonardo’s masterpiece, and, at the end, invite them to climb aboard an imagined version of Leonardo’s visionary flying machine—a sketch of which is also included in the exhibition—and soar across the landscape surrounding Mona Lisa’s luxuriant loggia.

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Rothko on the cheap

I’ve mentioned Sedition here before, turning screens into art™. I quite like the way it allows me to feel like an art snob for a while, building up my own art collection albeit very slowly we’re not made of money what with university fees and mortgages and Brexit and all that goodness me.

Here’s one alternative, though, if Rothko‘s mid-century abstract expressionism is your thing and the prices at Christie’s or even John Lewis are a little out of your range.

One Rothko per hour

The title says it all, really. You could always have a go yourself, of course.

Mark Rothko’s genius imitated on an iPhone by Derek Brahney
Why has he created them? Presumably to demonstrate the fast-decreasing level of skill required to create visual material in the digital age (depressing), or perhaps his motivations are less sinister. Either way we’re enjoying them very much.

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Curating at the cliff edge

It could be said that, in taking this project on, Caroline Lucas is taking a break from politics at exactly the wrong moment. But I think this refocussing of priorities, reminding us of what’s at stake, is vital right now.

Too much politics? UK Green party MP and anti-Brexit campaigner Caroline Lucas turns curator
Other paintings selected, by artists such as Victor Pasmore, point to the changes in landscape over the past century. “How can we take all of this for granted?” Lucas says. “What are these familiar scenes going to look like over the next 50 years, a period that will be critical at a time of accelerating climate emergency?”

She also hopes to include an image of Beachy Head chalk headlands in East Sussex by the Turner prizewinning photographer Wolfgang Tillmans. “At this critical moment, being on the edge sums it up. We are at the cliff edge metaphorically, from an environmental point of view and in terms of political change,” Lucas says. A number of contemporary posters from local environmental campaigns reflecting public concern, highlighting the need for action, may also be included.

Everything is political, nothing is neutral

Remember last year I mentioned how the Design Museum’s exhibition on political graphic design had itself become political? Those kinds of debates are still ongoing. Should museums just be preserving cultural heritage, or using their collections to promote social justice and equality? (Is it not obviously the latter?)

Are art institutions becoming too ‘ideological’? A debate breaks out at the International Council of Museums Over Politics in the galleries
What is at stake at the Kyoto meeting on September 7 is more than a battle over terminology. It reflects a debate that has been taking place for the past four decades around whether museums can ever be ideologically neutral spaces. It also reflects a desire since at least the 1980s for museums to be meeting places where ideas can be discussed, turning the museum from a traditional “temple” to a more democratic “forum.” The debate has been given added urgency as institutions in the West face increasing pressure over their colonial-era collections, sources of funding, and historic under-representation of women’s history in particular.

Museum and art gallery cafés

An interesting take on places I often find myself in.

In praise of museum cafes and little restaurants in botanical gardens
Man, I don’t know exactly what it is about the kind of cafe/restaurant that one encounters attached to museums and botanical gardens that brings out the most refined, Edwardian-style lady-of-leisure-who-lunches in me, but I can’t walk past one without being completely overwhelmed by the urge to order an $18 egg sandwich from a cold case, then pick at it for the next two hours at a small, circular table.

From the oldest …

Victoria & Albert Museum Dining Rooms
Walking into the Victoria and Albert Museum’s café feels a bit like entering the inside of a Fabergé egg: No space is left untouched by the grandeur of gilded domes, ornate tiles, and ceramic wall reliefs.

The first museum café in the world, the V&A’s original “refreshment room” opened in 1856, but was subsequently demolished and reopened in 1868 as three separate refreshment rooms, which still exist for visitors’ enjoyment.

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… to the nearest (to me, anyway) and best.

Tiled Hall Café at Leeds Art Gallery
The Tiled Hall was originally the main library reading room, and from 1888-1941 it functioned as a sculpture court. The magnificent Victorian hall was renovated extensively in 2007 with the help of English Heritage, to reveal the original fabric of the room. The space is now one of the most popular and iconic eateries in the city of Leeds.

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In the 50s, that was all covered up.

Leeds Central Library Tiled Hall – Leeds Libraries heritage blog
The ceiling and walls of the Tiled Hall were then hidden for nearly fifty years behind a false ceiling, bookcases and panelling. A gallery for staff use was also created in the Tiled Hall where further book stock was shelved, office space for cataloguing services and a staff room created.

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Certainly, growing up in Leeds and visiting the library and art gallery often, I had no idea what was behind all that panelling. When it was finally revealed, it came as quite a shock.

Tiled Hall Cafe – Breadsticklers, Leeds food blog
Thankfully in 2007 the room was restored when a £1.5 million refurbishment took place and the beautiful tiles, marble columns, gold detailed ceilings were brought back to life again. You will now find here a contemporary cafe and great place to eat from breakfast through to late lunch.

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Art in the age of Netflix

The Dalí Museum isn’t the only one to use new technologies to draw in the crowds.

The Cleveland Museum studied how to best engage visitors in the age of Netflix. Here’s what they found
The Cleveland Museum of Art’s initiative, an interactive three-room experience (and app) called the ARTLENS Gallery, is one of the more comprehensive projects in the museum-tech sphere. It offers the opportunity for visitors to virtually explore artworks up close, create their own digital compositions, and learn about the museum’s collection by taking pictures with their phones.

To pre-empt any charges of gimmickry, perhaps, the museum conducted a two-year study on digital technology and visitor engagement.

Perhaps the most interesting figure had to do with millennials, an elusive demographic whose attention—and money—has long been coveted by institutions.

Millennials were 15 percent more likely to visit the digital galleries than older adults (44 percent compared to 29 percent, respectively) and 88 percent said that the digital component of their visits made them appreciate the value of an art museum.

“We’re not competing with other museums. We’re competing with Netflix,” says Jane Alexander, the museum’s chief digital officer. “You can be six years or 80 years old, you can have an art history degree or not—we want people to realize there’s something here for everyone.”

Being there — or not

They say there’s nothing quite like being there in person, whether there is on top of a mountain or in front of a painting. I’m not so sure, though.

Louvre is ‘suffocating’ with high volume of visitors, striking workers sayThe Art Newspaper
Union officials say that Louvre management is failing to address the issue of overcrowding, and that they are “dismayed” by “the shameful image we give of our establishment”. Staff must deal with “angry visitors” unhappy with conditions while emergency evacuation procedures are inadequate, they say.

Why I won’t be joining the queue at the top of EverestThe Guardian
Everest has become largely detached from the rest of climbing and mountaineering. It has become a trophy experience, drawing too many otherwise without much interest in the sport, validated by media coverage that sees Everest as being endlessly “conquered” rather than passé.

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Game of Thrones is ‘game changer’ for NI tourismBBC
“I’m all for tourism in Northern Ireland but this sort of tourism – herding people in and out – they come to see one thing and that’s it,” she said. “For local residents it is frustrating – the constant buses never stop.” … There are also issues at the Dark Hedges outside Armoy, County Antrim. Just 10 seconds on Game of Thrones was enough to make it a tourist attraction. Congestion and damage to the trees led to traffic being banned but that is not always obeyed.

Dalí’s back

Another art and AI post, but with a difference. An exhibition at the Dalí Museum in Florida, with a very special guest.

Deepfake Salvador Dalí takes selfies with museum visitors
The exhibition, called Dalí Lives, was made in collaboration with the ad agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners (GS&P), which made a life-size re-creation of Dalí using the machine learning-powered video editing technique. Using archival footage from interviews, GS&P pulled over 6,000 frames and used 1,000 hours of machine learning to train the AI algorithm on Dalí’s face. His facial expressions were then imposed over an actor with Dalí’s body proportions, and quotes from his interviews and letters were synced with a voice actor who could mimic his unique accent, a mix of French, Spanish, and English.

Behind the Scenes: Dali Lives

Whilst we’re talking of Dalí, let’s go behind the scenes of that famous portrait of him by Philippe Halsman. No flashy, cutting-edge technology this time, just wire, buckets and cats.

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The story behind the surreal photograph of Salvador Dalí and three flying cats
The original, unretouched version of the photo reveals its secrets: An assistant held up the chair on the left side of the frame, wires suspended the easel and the painting, and the footstool was propped up off the floor. But there was no hidden trick to the flying cats or the stream of water. For each take, Halsman’s assistants—including his wife, Yvonne, and one of his daughters, Irene—tossed the cats and the contents of a full bucket across the frame. After each attempt, Halsman developed and printed the film while Irene herded and dried off the cats. The rejected photographs had notes such as “Water splashes Dalí instead of cat” and “Secretary gets into picture.”

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Time.com have a great interview with Philippe Halsman’s daughter Irene on what that shoot was like.

The story behind the surrealist ‘Dali Atomicus’ photo
“Philippe would count to four. One, two, three… And the assistants threw the cats and the water. And on four, Dali jumped. My job at the time was to catch the cats and take them to the bathroom and dry them off with a big towel. My father would run upstairs where the darkroom was, develop the film, print it, run downstairs and he’d say not good, bad composition, this was wrong, that was wrong. It took 26 tries to do this. 26 throws, 26 wiping of the floors, and 26 times catching the cats. And then, there it was, finally, this composition.”

Coincidentally, Artnome’s Jason Bailey has been using AI and deep learning to colorize old black-and-white photos of artists, including that one of Dalí’s.

50 famous artists brought to life with AI
When I was growing up, artists, and particularly twentieth century artists, were my heroes. There is something about only ever having seen many of them in black and white that makes them feel mythical and distant. Likewise, something magical happens when you add color to the photo. These icons turn into regular people who you might share a pizza or beer with.

Making an exhibition of yourself

The faces are real this time, though the galleries aren’t.

Put your head into gallery
Georgian artist Tezi Gabunia wants to trigger a dialogue about hyper realistic issues in art. His modus operandi is falsification. In his work “put your head into gallery”, Gabunia wanted to bring the galleries and the art to the people, and not the other way around.

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Whilst the images are striking, I wonder if he’s just pandering to our vanity, though. I mean, look at the queues.

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Put Your Head into Gallery

Generative art’s rich history on show

Artnome’s Jason Bailey on a generative art exhibition he co-curated.

Kate Vass Galerie
The Automat und Mensch exhibition is, above all, an opportunity to put important work by generative artists spanning the last 70 years into context by showing it in a single location. By juxtaposing important works like the 1956/’57 oscillograms by Herbert W. Franke (age 91) with the 2018 AI Generated Nude Portrait #1 by contemporary artist Robbie Barrat (age 19), we can see the full history and spectrum of generative art as has never been shown before.

Zurich’s a little too far, unfortunately, so I’ll have to make do with the press release for now.

Generative art gets its due
In the last twelve months we have seen a tremendous spike in the interest of “AI art,” ushered in by Christie’s and Sotheby’s both offering works at auction developed with machine learning. Capturing the imaginations of collectors and the general public alike, the new work has some conservative members of the art world scratching their heads and suggesting this will merely be another passing fad. What they are missing is that this rich genre, more broadly referred to as “generative art,” has a history as long and fascinating as computing itself. A history that has largely been overlooked in the recent mania for “AI art” and one that co-curators Georg Bak and Jason Bailey hope to shine a bright light on in their upcoming show Automat und Mensch (or Machine and Man) at Kate Vass Galerie in Zurich, Switzerland.

Generative art, once perceived as the domain of a small number of “computer nerds,” is now the artform best poised to capture what sets our generation apart from those that came before us – ubiquitous computing. As children of the digital revolution, computing has become our greatest shared experience. Like it or not, we are all now computer nerds, inseparable from the many devices through which we mediate our worlds.

The press release alone is a fascinating read, covering the work of a broad range of artists and themes, past and present. For those that can make the exhibition in person, it will also include lectures and panels from the participating artists and leaders on AI art and generative art history.

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Process Compendium (Introduction) on Vimeo

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Art-adjacent

I’ve never thought of myself as an art snob but, after reading this piece about a Winnie-the-Pooh exhibition at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, perhaps I am?

Exit through the novelty exhibition: Winnie the Pooh, destroyer of art museums
Visitors to the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Art Institute of Chicago may reasonably expect to enjoy millennia-old fiber arts or Jeff Koons ego trips—a fully encompassing assemblage of artworks, in other words. And in recent years, the encyclopedic mandate of global art institutions has become still more generous, such that it now includes not just art, but the art-adjacent.

Perhaps it all began with the inclusion of high fashion, as typified by the hit Alexander McQueen and Jean Paul Gaultier retrospectives that won over New York City earlier this decade. Next came pop culture, with, for example, the traveling exhibition “David Bowie is,” which garnered some two million visitors globally. And now, with the arrival of “Winnie-the-Pooh: Exploring a Classic” at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the novelty exhibition trend has cynically bottomed out into outright mania for triviality. […]

The deepening entrenchment of exhibitions like “Winnie-the-Pooh: Exploring a Classic” in the art world’s consciousness has brought with it a sense of malaise. While Klaus Biesenbach’s infamous 2015 Björk spectacle at the Museum of Modern Art led even Jerry Saltz to warn that MoMA was on “a suicidal slide into becoming a box-office-driven carnival,” this Pooh exhibition has been received with ambivalence.

Get over yourself

It must take a considerable ego to venture down this path.

‘Art bastard’ Robert Cenedella sues New York’s biggest museums
Is the art world fixed? That’s what the artist Robert Cenedella charges in a lawsuit against what he terms a “corporate museum cartel”—the Metropolitan, the Whitney, MoMA, the Guggenheim and the New Museum—for conspiring against artists. […]

Cenedella, who has not been exhibited in any of the museums he is suing, is seeking a jury trial and damages totalling $100m.

Needless to say, the museums disagreed.

This artist sued museums for $100 million for declining to show his work. But a judge Isn’t buying it
A lawyer for the museums, William Cavanaugh of Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler, called Cenedella’s claims “implausible” during oral arguments on Monday, adding that many people experience professional disappointment, but “few of us would try to transition that into an antitrust suit.” He requested that the case be dismissed, arguing that Cenedella had failed to demonstrate antitrust standing, a conspiratorial agreement among the museums, or any adverse effect on competition from the alleged conspiracy.

The judge agreed and the case was dismissed.

An artist sued museums $100 million for rejecting his work
In his 32-page opinion (paywall), which was almost as harsh as a critic’s unfavorable assessment of an artwork, judge John Koeltl explains that he’s dismissing Cenedella’s case because the artist hasn’t shown there’s an actual controversy that can be resolved with a lawsuit. “Although the plaintiff assures the court that his work is of a quality that would be shown in the defendant museums if not for the alleged conspiracy, this subjective boast alone cannot substantiate the plaintiff’s claim that enjoining the alleged conspiracy would lead the defendants to begin purchasing his work,” Koeltl writes.

That artnet.com article concludes with:

Despite the dismissal, Cenedella remains undaunted. Responding to the decision, he told artnet News via email: “This lawsuit was never about me. It has always been about exposing the secrecy and insider dealing of the art world, in which curators, dealers, and donors conspire to profit off of the work of a select few artists, regardless of talent or artistic merit. […] This lawsuit was just the first step. I will not stop my efforts to make the art industry more transparent, fair, and accessible for artists. I believe now more than ever that the art industry in America needs to be regulated.”

Why must people jump to conspiracies when faced with a situation they don’t understand?

Why a new study about finding art-world success doesn’t mean what you think it means (and other insights)
Our columnist examines how art-market research published in the journal ‘Science’ may not be as specific to the art world as we think.

Design Museum’s political exhibition gets political

It was supposed to be an exhibition about politics …

Design Museum to exhibit political graphic design from past decade
An exhibition at London’s Design Museum will present the most poignant political graphic iconography from the past decade, created in the wakes of events such as the Charlie Hebdo attacks, Brexit, and Donald Trump’s presidency.

… but the Design Museum’s Hope to Nope exhibition is caught in a political controversy of its own. Here’s a post from one of the groups of artists involved, BP or not BP.

Artists say ‘Nope’ to arms
This morning, we’re part of a large group of artists, designers and activists who have written to the Design Museum asking that our work be removed from the current Hope to Nope exhibition of political art. […] Why are we demanding our stuff back? Because last Tuesday, 17th July, the museum hosted an arms industry event as part of the Farnborough International arms fair.

They’re not the only ones unhappy with where the Design Museum gets its funding from.

30 artists have requested their work be removed from Design Museum exhibition
The letter states that, “We refuse to allow our art to be used in this way. Particularly jarring is the fact that one of the objects on display (the BP logo Shakespeare ruff from BP or not BP?) is explicitly challenging the unethical funding of art and culture. Meanwhile, many of the protest images featured in the exhibition show people resisting the very same repressive regimes who are being armed by companies involved in the Farnborough arms fair. It even features art from protests which were repressed using UK-made weapons.”

The letter and full list of signatories are published in full on Campaign Against Arms Trade website.

Design Museum – Campaign Against Arms Trade
It is deeply hypocritical for the museum to display and celebrate the work of radical anti-corporate artists and activists, while quietly supporting and profiting from one of the most destructive and deadly industries in the world. Hope to Nope is making the museum appear progressive and cutting-edge, while its management and trustees are happy to take blood money from arms dealers.

The Guardian quotes a statement from the Design Museum in response to this.

Design Museum challenged over private ‘arms industry’ event
“The Design Museum is committed to achieving its charitable objective to advance the education of the public in the study of all forms of design and architecture and is thus a place of debate that, by definition, welcomes a plurality of voices and commercial entities. However, we take the response to Tuesday’s event seriously and we are reviewing our due diligence policy related to commercial and fundraising activities.”

They’ve acknowledged (kind of?) the controversy on their exhibition webpage …

Hope to Nope: Graphics and Politics 2008-18
As of 1 August, some artwork has been removed from the exhibition, before the exhibition closing date of 12 August, at the request of the lenders. As a result, and until the end of the run, the exhibition will now be free to visit. […] ‘We are sorry for any disappointment caused for visitors. We believe that it is important to give political graphics a platform at the museum and it is a shame that the exhibition could not continue as it was curated until its original closing date’.

… but have not made their peace yet with the artists and designers involved.

Design Museum attacks its own exhibitors, defends working with arms dealers
We were shocked to see the Design Museum’s latest statement about our request to remove our art from the Hope to Nope exhibition. Rather than engaging with the issues we and other exhibitors have raised, the museum has instead made the bizarre (and offensive) suggestion that over 40 artists and groups featured in its exhibition have all somehow been duped by some mysterious ‘professional activists’.

#artworldproblems

I would say staff at this museum dedicated to the Fauvist artist Étienne Terrus need to look into hiring a few skips, as they’ve got a lot of rubbish to get rid of.

‘Catastrophe’: French museum discovers half of its collection are fakes
Eric Forcada, the art historian who uncovered the counterfeits, said that he had seen straight away that most of the works were fake. “On one painting, the ink signature was wiped away when I passed my white glove over it.”

Meanwhile, from works of art that shouldn’t be in galleries, to those which were but are no longer.

Bad week for art world as Jeff Koons piece is smashed and imitation Happy Meal thrown away
May evidently did too much of a good job, as a cleaning crew working at the Marco Polo HongKong Hotel which hosted the Harbour Art Fair, mistook it for the real thing and threw it away. “A lot of my pieces involve very small alterations to familiar items: changes that aren’t maybe obvious at first glance,” the artist explains, adding that “initially, I didn’t find it funny at all. But later I realised it meant my imitation had been a success.”

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