Verso

Is this what happens when you paint a palindrome?

This painting caught my eye recently. I love the idea of not being sure which way round to hang it.

The Reverse of a Framed Painting, and other trompe l’oeil by Cornelis Norbertus Gijsbrechts (ca. 1670)The Public Domain Review
On Easter Sunday 1669, the diarist Samuel Pepys was bowled over by the ability of the Dutch painter Simon Verelst (1644-1710),

who took us to his lodging close by, and did shew us a little flower-pot of his doing, the finest thing that ever, I think, I saw in my life; the drops of dew hanging on the leaves, so as I was forced, again and again, to put my finger to it, to feel whether my eyes were deceived or no. He do ask 70l. for it: I had the vanity to bid him 20l.; but a better picture I never saw in my whole life; and it is worth going twenty miles to see it.

Around the time Peyps was poking the painting of Verelst, another northern European painter, Cornelis Norbertus Gijsbrechts, was also causing confusion with the brush, creating his masterpiece known as The Reverse of a Framed Painting (ca. 1670), an image that is, to modern eyes at least, his most striking.

I love it, but I wonder how it was initially shown off. The gag would be wholly lost if this painting of a frame was itself framed. But weren’t all paintings framed?

I’ve been revisiting my post earlier in the week about the online worldwide Van Gogh exhibition. As well as high resolution scans of the actual paintings, the curators have documented the backs of them too — sturdy, wooden frames covered in gallery stickers. They remind me of airport tags on luggage.

Wheatfield with Crows was in Manchester? I would have loved to have seen that.

Worldwide Van Gogh

We might not be able to get to the galleries, but now some of them can come to us.

He’s the artist I keep coming back to. He’s even on my phone’s lockscreen now.

Van Gogh’s self portrait recreated with stunning sculpture paintingMoss and Fog
Artist Timur Zagirov has created a beautiful rendition of Van Gogh’s famous self portrait, using a myriad of colored wooden blocks. 425 polished pine cubes, to be precise.

I love the idea of an abstract, sculptural painting.

But wait, here’s more Van Gogh. Lots more.

Dive into Van Gogh Worldwide, a digital archive of more than 1,000 works by the renowned Dutch artistColossal
A point of levity during the temporary shutdowns of museums and cultural institutions during the last few months has been the plethora of digital archives making artworks and historical objects available for perusing from the comfort and safety of our couches. A recent addition is Van Gogh Worldwide, a massive collection of the post-impressionist artist’s paintings, sketches, and drawings.

Dutch museums unveil free digital collection of 1,000+ artworks by Van GoghMy Modern Met
Van Gogh Worldwide is a new project by a group of Dutch museums which presents a digital collection of over 1,000 of the artist’s masterpieces. Building off the digitized collection begun several years ago by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, almost half of the post-Impressionist works of this prolific artist are now available to view—with scholarly commentary—from the safety of your own home.

Take a wander yourself, there’s so much to take in.

Van Gogh Worldwide
Van Gogh Worldwide is a free digital platform providing art-historical and technical data about the work of Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890). The artist produced a total of approximately 2000 artworks, and the aim of Van Gogh Worldwide is to present data for these in an accessible way, via a user-friendly website.

The resolution of each image is wonderful, allowing you to get closer to the paintings than you probably could in real life.

And you can even view the paintings in a raking light, to get a sense of just how heavily textured and expressive these were. Not quite as three-dimensional as Timur Zagirov’s wooden blocks, but still.

Getting galleries right — for all of us

It’s been months since I’ve been to a gallery or museum. More of them are reopening, though many are still facing a difficult future. But how they are dealing with their past and present is just as challenging.

Black artists and gallerists on what a more inclusive art world would look likeArtsy
In an interview with Hyperallergic, Brandon explained her comment. “Ever since I started working at SFMOMA, I have watched leadership tokenize their non-white employees all while trying to silence them by implying that their concerns, frustrations, and experiences are not real,” she said. “The events that transpired regarding the Instagram post highlights leadership’s inability to recognize the racism within museums amongst employees and donors.” In recent weeks, five senior leaders have resigned from SFMOMA amid a growing chorus of accusations of institutional racism.

Penn Museum to remove skull collection of enslaved peopleHyperallergic
The objectionable collection belongs to Samuel George Morton, a 19th-century Philadelphia-born, UPenn-educated physician who collected hundreds of skulls, including those of enslaved Africans, Native Americans, and Cubans to try to reinforce his white supremacist, pseudoscientific theory that the brains of some races are larger than others.

Anish Kapoor says art gallery ‘tokenism’ with diversity must endThe Guardian
As he prepared to open the UK’s first large-scale art exhibition since the lockdown began in March, Kapoor delivered blistering criticism of the museum world. “Contemporary museums, they need to stop tokenism. Collect an Iranian artist here, a South African artist there or whatever. They need to really begin to try to properly take on … what is contemporary culture today? How do we represent it in objects in our museums. It is not straightforward. But tokenism can’t happen any longer.”

How recent anti-racism protests have pushed a longstanding debate about colonial looting in EuropeThe Art Newspaper
“All these things are connected,” says George Abungu, an archaeologist and former director of the National Museums of Kenya. “If the museums had dealt with it a long time ago, it wouldn’t have been looked at like this. But now history has caught up. Repatriation is part of this discussion about colonialism and racism.”

The museum where racist and oppressive statues go to dieAtlas Obscura
The museum’s message is clear: A monument is not a descriptive account of history, but instead a historical artifact that tells a story about power. In a setting that invites scrutiny, visitors can study Berlin’s monuments to grasp more clearly who had power and how that power was used. […]

“It is a great mistake to describe the monuments as history or heritage,” Neiman goes on. “We don’t memorialize every piece of our histories. We pick and choose those men and women whose lives embodied values we want our communities to share.”

Everything’s okay.

What a little gem of an exhibition. Everything is Going to be OK is an installation by US conceptual artist Allan McCollum, currently on show at the Thomas Schulte gallery in Berlin.

Allan McCollum at Thomas SchulteContemporary Art Daily
From his image archive An Ongoing Collection of Screengrabs with Reassuring Subtitles with currently 1.200 screenshots from American TV series and movies with subtitles such as “It will be ok” or “Don’t worry, Babe,” McCollum has chosen 400 motifs to be printed on canvas, each framed simply in black wood and measuring 26.3 x 43.8 x 4 cm (10.4 x 17.2 x 1.6 in). […]

Allan McCollum began his collection of screenshots in 2015 as a visual essay about the meaning of closeness and comfort in our society. He wants his project to serve as a reminder that it is through the telling and sharing of stories that we perceive the world. It is also a critique of Hollywood and populist rhetoric which both instrumentalize our emotions by promoting the narrative of a hero coming to the rescue, while in reality we depend on being part of a community of family, friends, neighbors and colleagues.

Telling the stories about all this

As I’ve mentioned before, there seems to be no shortage of art galleries and museums to visit digitally during this coronavirus crisis…

2,500 museums you can now visit virtuallyHyperallergic
Google Arts & Culture’s collection includes many of the world’s biggest museums: Tate Modern and the British Museum in London, the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, and the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum in NYC, among hundreds of others. In most, you can browse through entire exhibitions online, and in many, you can also walk through the museum using Google’s street view.

(and how can you let this one pass you by)

Tim alone: Mona’s human artwork is still sitting in an empty gallery for six hours a dayThe Guardian
Tim is one of numerous artworks in Mona and museums around the world that continue to hang, or stand, or sit, in emptiness. As coronavirus has shut down live access to the arts, the art remains. The humans behind, around and under the art remain. They remain in anxious, faithful anticipation of their audience’s return. They hold firm. Steady. Constant.

… but one thing I hadn’t thought about was an exhibition about this pandemic, and how difficult that might be to co-ordinate and collect.

How museums will eventually tell the story of COVID-19Atlas Obscura
Collecting during a pandemic means that curators must grapple with both practical challenges and thorny moral questions. Herman would like the City Reliquary to eventually collect face masks, which have become a ubiquitous sight in Brooklyn and all over the world, but, he says, “we certainly don’t want to take masks off of people’s faces right now to make sure they go into an archive.” (Several museums, including the New-York Historical Society, have donated the protective garb that conservators wear, including face masks and latex gloves, to medical staff.) Scouting for artifacts “is not an essential service at this particular moment,” Herman adds. “But when we look back, it will be essential to see how this has affected us.”

UK Science Museum group is building a coronavirus collection in response to pandemicThe Art Newspaper
The museum will research stories and identify objects linked to the pandemic but crucially “our curators are undertaking this serious project within strict ethical guidelines, given the current global emergency, so as not to distract from vital work,” the spokeswoman stresses. There are no plans to show the coronavirus artefacts, however. “Indeed, we have not talked about a timeframe, and in any event the timing would reflect public appetite,” she adds. […]

Other UK museums are also documenting this historically significant moment. Leeds Museums and Galleries has asked people via its social media platforms to share their “positive and negative experiences… these could be things like hygiene notices, images of your working from home set-ups, diaries or empty shopping aisles.”

Pentagram’s Yuri Suzuki creates a crowdsourced sound archive of the pandemic eraIt’s Nice That
Pentagram partner and sound designer Yuri Suzuki has created a new artwork in collaboration with the Dallas Museum of Art which aims to capture the sounds of the pandemic across the world. Sound of the Earth: The Pandemic Chapter invites people from any country to submit their sounds to be part of the digital artwork. Be it cooking dinner at home to an ambulance passing by or online connections with loved ones, the artist is looking for all types of auditory experiences, which will be mapped onto a virtual rendering of the globe based on the location it is captured.

For all the talk of virtual visits, museums and galleries are not having an easy time of it, so I wonder if their own struggles will feature in these stories.

Virtual promenades

What would Mussorgsky have made of these virtual promenades around pictures at exhibitions, I wonder.

Google virtual tour The National Gallery
In 2016, Google created this 360° tour of Rooms 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15 and Central Hall. Immerse yourself in Renaissance masterpieces from Northern Italy, the Netherlands and Germany, including works by Titian, Veronese, and Holbein.

How to explore the British Museum from homeThe British Museum Blog
Did you know that the Museum is the world’s largest indoor space on Google Street View? You can go on a virtual visit to more than 60 galleries – perfect for creating your own bespoke tour around your favourites. See highlights like the Rosetta Stone in the Egyptian Sculpture Gallery or discover gems like the beautiful textiles in the Sainsbury African Galleries.

It’s not the same, though, is it?

The rise of the virtual gallery tour: what works and what doesn’t (yet)Frame
Received wisdom, and newspaper columnists, would have you believe that we’re currently experiencing a revolution in the way we consume art and artefacts online. The British Museum, frequently the institution at the top of the global visitor-number leaderboard, has seen a corresponding surge in its digital audience since it closed its doors. Meanwhile Art Basel has rushed through the development of its digital viewing rooms (which had over €248 million of art on display for its Hong Kong inauguration) and Hauser and Wirth is hosting its first digital-only exhibition, a collection of drawings by Louise Bourgeois.

But for gallery-goers who are yet to log on, visiting these aforementioned virtual venues is likely to result in disappointment.

I found myself nodding along vigorously to this part further down.

Perhaps the answer lies in the more creative use of an established medium. It’s interesting to note that, as lockdown was looming, and perhaps in a nod to the insufficiency of the above interfaces, The Van Gogh Museum launched an alternative form of the gallery tour. A series of seven carefully choreographed 4K films, available on their YouTube channel, walk the user through the museum’s various rooms to an accompanying sound track. It’s clearly a more prescribed way of experiencing both the art and the space, but one that also feels more natural. The camera movement doesn’t equate to a true point-of-view walkthrough; the stabilized image glides through the rooms in a rather disembodied way. But the manner in which it glances across paintings, occasionally stopping and approaching a particularly affecting portrait before pulling back, does a far better job of transmitting the pleasure of being in the presence of the artefacts than staccato jumping and zooming.

That’s certainly been my experience. I’ve been randomly clicking around the National Gallery for a while now, feeling like that Anish Kapoor fan unable to find his way out.

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So I think I’ll head over to the Van Gogh Museum’s YouTube channel, after I’ve been guided round the Tate’s Warhol exhibition.

Andy Warhol exhibition guideTate
This major retrospective is the first Warhol exhibition at Tate Modern for almost 20 years. As well as his iconic pop images of Marilyn Monroe, Coca-Cola and Campbell’s soup cans, it includes works never seen before in the UK. […] Join curators Gregor Muir and Fiontán Moran as they discuss Warhol through the lens of the immigrant story, his LGBTQI identity and concerns with death and religion.

There are other ways of approaching this.

 You can download thousands of coloring book pages from museum collectionsMy Modern Met
This year alone touts 117 PDFs from various cultural institutions that can be downloaded and printed right at home, and colored in. You can jump into the past through local advertisements from the West Virginia and Regional History Center Coloring Book or take a ride on a vintage motorcycle with the Harley-Davidson Archive’s digital collection. Visit these exhibits through pages detailing the beloved fairy tale Cinderella, to fascinating diagrams of medical equipment from a bygone era. Simply, there are coloring pages made for every kind of interest a person may have, and the ones available through the #ColorOurCollections website will help you refine your coloring skills at the same time.

Manchester Museum in Quarantine
We believe connection and inspiration is needed during challenging times like this one. We have uploaded our digital content onto this mobile site so you can explore and enjoy Manchester Museum in your own home. We hope it helps entertain, educate and sparks joy and wonder until we re-open.

An augmented reality tool to sell art during the pandemicDesign Milk
ALL World is a self-publishing platform that allows artists to digitally exhibit and sell their work via augmented reality. Artists and designers can upload images of their work, create AR exhibitions, and then share it with users, allowing them to visualize the work within their own space. By being able to see the work at scale in context, the guesswork of whether or not it will work dissolves which could potentially create more sales. While it’s a great tool for established artists and designers, imagine what it could do for those just starting out and struggling to get eyes on their work.

Perhaps some normality (kind of) is slowly returning.

German galleries will reopen next week with strict precautionsArtsy
Galleries in Germany are carefully preparing to reopen their doors over the next few weeks as the government begins to lift business restrictions in the wake of COVID-19. These reopenings will come with strict precautions including a visitor limit and facemasks.

‘Bring your own mask’: German art galleries prepare to reopen in a new reality, giving US dealers a preview of things to comeArtNet
“I am more than thrilled to be opening again. Galleries cannot exist in an online-only world,” dealer André Schlechtriem tells Artnet News. “My gallery is a personal social space where every visitor is greeted personally by myself or my staff. We are always happy to answer questions and talk about the art we present. That’s what we live for.”

Meanwhile.

‘We are all Edward Hopper paintings now’: is he the artist of the coronavirus age?The Guardian
Who can fail to have been moved by all the images of people on their doorsteps clapping for the NHS last night? They filled TV screens and news websites, presenting a warming picture of solidarity in enforced solitude – all alone yet all together. But there are some far less reassuring images circulating on social media. Some people are saying we now all exist inside an Edward Hopper painting. It doesn’t seem to matter which one.

Art world problems #2

I’m currently re-reading this coffee table book about the guy and enjoyed Brain Pickings’ recent tweets about him, so it was sad to read that one of his paintings has just been stolen.

Van Gogh painting stolen from Dutch museum closed by virusABC News
“I’m shocked and unbelievably annoyed that this has happened,” said Singer Laren museum director Jan Rudolph de Lorm. “This beautiful and moving painting by one of our greatest artists stolen – removed from the community,” he added. “It is very bad for the Groninger Museum, it is very bad for the Singer, but it is terrible for us all because art exists to be seen and shared by us, the community, to enjoy to draw inspiration from and to draw comfort from, especially in these difficult times.”

Problems for museums over here, too.

Anish Kapoor fan gets stuck in virtual exhibitionThe Art Newspaper
A man had to be rescued by the London Fire Brigade after getting lost while taking part in a virtual museum tour. As museums worldwide have had to shut their doors to help fight the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19), many institutions have instead put their creative efforts into online engagement with the public, including providing a plethora of virtual tours of their collections and exhibitions. Unfortunately, in some cases, not enough attention has been paid to the visitor experience.

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Plenty to fill the time

Having to stay at home, with a lot of time on your hands?

The 33 best movies over 3 hours longVulture
Some of these long movies inflate the familiar three-act structure to epic proportions, while others use their expanded lengths to stretch out and wander into unexpected places. We wouldn’t necessarily suggest marathoning these films back-to-back, but watching them one at a time is an experience worth clearing your schedule for.

Pandemics: An essential reading listVulture
Just as the film Contagion has found a second life with news of the coronavirus outbreak, so too are novels about epidemics popping up on reading lists around the country. With stakes so high, it’s easy to see why novelists find outbreaks of disease so compelling. Here are 20 great fictional takes, ranging from the historical to the futuristic.

The 40 best horror movies on ShudderVulture
If you’re new to the service and wondering where to start, don’t fret: We’ve dug into Shudder’s increasingly impressive catalogue to find the best films worth your time, from classics like Halloween to newer entries like Mandy. Watch them all.

Or perhaps something more culturally uplifting.

On coronavirus lockdown? The top online museum and art tours to enjoy from homeThe Art Newspaper
As coronavirus (Covid-19) continues to spread and disrupt the daily lives of people across the globe, forcing many to self-quarantine, we are compiling the best online offerings from artists, museums and galleries. Whether you are staying at home or your local museums and galleries have closed, here are some of the best digital initiatives to satisfy your creative cravings.

No audiences, but concerts streamed to the world. This is a moment in classical music historyClassic FM
Last night, Bach Collegium Japan performed Bach’s St. John Passion at the Cologne Philharmonic. The performance was full of passion and the highest artistry. At the end of the final chorale, orchestra, choir, soloists and conductor turned and bowed, but very poignantly, there was no sound or ovation to be heard.

That’s because in the Spring of 2020, the world’s musicians are not playing to audiences, they are not showcasing their craft for the applause, or even rapt silence. They are simply playing to share music with a world that needs to hear it.

Met to launch “Nightly Met Opera Streams,” a free series of encore Live in HD presentations streamed on the company website during the coronavirus closureMetropolitan Opera
“We’d like to provide some grand opera solace to opera lovers in these extraordinarily difficult times,” said Met General Manager Peter Gelb. “Every night, we’ll be offering a different complete operatic gem from our collection of HD presentations from the past 14 years.”

I wish wish wish they’d show this one.

How an opera gets madeYouTube

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.