A Dutchman and two Yorkshire men

It was Van Gogh’s birthday the other week. Martin Bailey from The Art Newspaper takes a look at what he was doing on 30 March each year. It ends quite poignantly.

A concise guide to Van Gogh’s adult life: how the artist celebrated his birthday over the yearsThe Art Newspaper
Theo was very worried, writing to him on 29 March: “How pleased I would be to be able to go and see you tomorrow to shake your hand on your birthday. Will it be a celebration for you, or are you still in a state where you find yourself unhappy?” Vincent’s mother posted him a tin of chocolate and sewed him a tobacco pouch. She wrote to Theo: “May the 30th of March not be too unhappy for Vincent. Poor fellow, may he see better days.”

Let’s be more positive and remind ourselves of the joy he took in nature, with this interview with David Hockney from last year at the Van Gogh Museum.

David Hockney on Vincent van Gogh: Full interviewVan Gogh Museum
From 1 March, the colossal works of David Hockney will be on display in the Netherlands. For the first time, this spectacular exhibition offers an extensive and colourful exploration of the common ground between the work of Vincent van Gogh and David Hockney.

Hockney: ‘His paintings are full of movement. What people love about Van Gogh’s paintings is that all the brush marks are visible and you can see how they are painted. When you’re drawing one blade of grass you’re looking and then you see more. And then you see the other blades of grass and you’re always seeing more. Well, that’s exciting to me and it was exciting to Van Gogh. I mean, he saw very clearly’.

That visit to the Netherlands wasn’t without incident, but here’s an interview with another artist from Yorkshire whose latest work goes back to nature in a visually similar way.

Interview: Damien HirstIdler
I’d always made more money the next year than the year before. But it was unsustainable and it bites your arse. They all love you. The bank loves you, and the accountants love you, because they’re taking your money. Every year you get more and more people as well. One guy is taking 10 per cent and then it’s another guy taking 10 per cent and another guy taking 10 per cent and it’s all a big party. But before you know it, suddenly you’ve got an overdraft when before you had loads of cash. The people who give you the overdraft are your best mates as well, smiling at you and telling you that you’re amazing so you keep doing it. […]

You start by thinking you’ll get one assistant and before you know it you’ve got biographers, fire eaters, jugglers, fucking minstrels and lyre players all wandering around. They’re all saying they aren’t being paid enough and they all need assistants. Then one night you ask the lyre player to play for you and they say: “My lyre is all scratched up and I did ask for a lyre technician but you said not yet and if I had one I could come and play for you now.” So you’ve got to have a lyre technician and then you better get him an Uber account too.

Raise a glass to sprezzatura

It’s the weekend! I’ll drink to that, though perhaps not with one of these.

During the Renaissance, drinking wine was a fight against physicsGastro Obscura
The difficulty was the point. Courtiers were expected to embody the ideal of “sprezzatura,” a hard-to-translate word that combines the senses of elegance, sophistication, and nonchalance. In other words, you were supposed to be good at everything, without ever seeming to put any effort into it. What could be a better demonstration of sprezzatura than casually raising one of these sloshing, top-heavy goblets and taking a sip?

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You can see some of them being used in this painting from 1563, Paolo Veronese’s “The Wedding at Cana,” amongst some other wonderful details. Click through for a close-up.

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Looking at it differently

Yes, it’s another post about that virus, but these two articles about it are a little different.

Scientists translate the novel coronavirus structure into beautiful music – Boing Boing
Translating abstract scientific data into sound can give researchers new insight into the complexities of the phenomena they are studying. MIT materials science professor and musician Markus Buehler, who has employed this technique to understand biological materials and develop new proteins, has now transformed the novel coronavirus into music.

Dazzling coronavirus painting by biologist David GoodsellKottke
“You have to admit, these viruses are so symmetrical that they’re beautiful,” said Mr. Goodsell, an associate professor at Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla. “Are bright colors and pretty stuff the right approach? The jury’s still out. I’m not trying to make these things look dangerous, I want people to understand how they’re built.”

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Fun with colour

I thought these two went together well.

colors.lol – Overly descriptive color palettes
Created as a fun way to discover interesting color combinations. Palettes are hand-selected from the Twitter bot @colorschemez. The feed randomly generates color combinations as well as their descriptions, with each color being matched with an adjective from a list of over 20,000 words.

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A painting and photography duo poking fun at fine artIt’s Nice That
The idea behind the project is for the pair to travel to locations any arts aficionado may recognise. Environments painted by Paul Cezanne, Claude Monet or Vincent Van Gogh are all visited, but rather than replicating their celebrated works, Hank chooses to paint the pattern of his shirt instead.

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Hockney to the rescue

It’s lovely to see some more of his stuff.

David Hockney shares exclusive art from Normandy, as ‘a respite from the news’BBC News
“Why are my iPad drawings seen as a respite from the news? Well, they are obviously made by the hand depicting the renewal that is the spring in this part of the world.”

The point being that his images are the product of him looking directly at nature and depicting or representing what he sees by transmitting his sensory reaction through his fingers onto paper via a pencil, rather than mediating the process through a photograph.

His pictures are a record of how he, uniquely, is experiencing reality of his subject and the space in which it exists. The one-eyed mechanical camera flattens out all this individual nuance.

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“The only real things in life are food and love in that order, just like our little dog Ruby. I really believe this and the source of art is love.”

I was blown away when I first saw his ipad paintings up close in Saltaire. These look just as charming.

David Hockney’s iPad artwork goes on displayBBC News
An exhibition of artwork drawn on a tablet computer by artist David Hockney has opened in Saltaire, West Yorkshire. The 33 images depict the arrival of spring in the Yorkshire Wolds in 2011.

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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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Spring has sprung, don’t forget

Let’s take a break from all the news about job losses, exam cancellations and social distancing failures to remind ourselves of the date. It’s the first day of Spring!

Spring Equinox 2020: 5 weird traditions to celebrate the first day of Spring todayMirror Online
There is an ancient Chinese belief that you can stand an egg on its end on the first day of spring. The theory goes that, due to the sun’s equidistant position between the poles of the earth at the time of the equinox, special gravitational forces apply.

Or was it yesterday?

Today marks the earliest “first day of Spring” in 124 years for CanadaNarcity
March has always marked the beginning of springtime. For the northern hemisphere, that date has fallen on the 20 and 21 for as long as you can probably remember. That’s because, March 19, the first day of spring 2020, is the earliest it’s been in 124 years.

Either way, it gives me a chance to share this, from David Hockney.

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A message from David Hockney: ‘Do remember they can’t cancel the spring’The Art Newspaper
David Hockney is currently in complete lockdown in Normandy, where he has been since his last exhibition opening. But he is still producing beautiful things, which he wanted to share with us as something positive.

Hieronymus boats

Here’s something you don’t see every day, a floating theatrical and musical festival, dedicated to the work and spirit of Hieronymus Bosch.

A Parade of Earthly Delights: Floating Bosch Parade celebrates painter Hieronymus Bosch in spectacular aquatic eventColossal
A floating parade dedicated to painter Hieronymus Bosch honors the artist’s fascination with the fantastical and absurd in an annual event that embodies his philosophy and aesthetic. The 2019 occurrence of the Bosch Parade included a musical performance played on a partially submerged piano and a scene with two people straddling enormous horns, just two of fourteen vignettes devoted to an evolving story about “power and counterforce, battle and rapprochement, chaos and hope.”

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Stunning photos from the Bosch Parade, the sailing parade in the spirit of Jheronimus BoschDesign You Trust
This floating, poetic parade of art works portrays a universal tale of power and counterforce, battle and rapprochement, chaos and hope. From the chaos after the battle a new order has to emerge. Eventually, old opposites will form the foundation for a new hope in this storyline filled with symbolism and fantasy – as it is in Jheronimus Bosch’s works.

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The perils of DIY book cover design

Well, at least they’re trying, I guess.

The worst book covers on AmazonDesign You Trust
Who needs a professional designer when you can save money and make a book cover by yourself, right? Wrong.

But are the professionals doing a better job?

Horror books have lost their identityIn Praise of Shadows

For your shelf of earthly delights

I don’t know about you, but I’m very tempted.

Collectable Hieronymus Bosch figurinesDangerous Minds
I’m not a big knickknack person. I like to keep my home sparse in the “tiny objects” departament. But I must admit I really do dig these Hieronymus Bosch figurines. They’re kinda cool-looking in their own obviously weird way. I especially like the ones from Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights.

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Those not familiar with this strange Dutch painter from the 1400s should start here.

Hieronymus Bosch review – a heavenly host of delights on the road to hellThe Guardian
The public face of Bosch, walking the streets of this little city, was that of a good townsman and Catholic. His private thoughts emerge in the most unexpected and miraculous of all the treasures assembled – his drawings. … They show us the secret Bosch, a man with a mind full of monsters. One drawing is called The Wood Has Ears, The Field Has Eyes – a saying inscribed as on Goya’s Caprichos. Human ears hang from the trees. Human eyes stare out of the ground. It is like a Magritte. Only much scarier.

And for a spectacular, in-depth look at his most famous painting, check out this interactive, incredibly detailed version from the team behind the documentary Hieronymus Bosch, Touched by the Devil.

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Extraordinary interactive hi-res exhibit of Bosch’s ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’Colossal
Teaching art history online can be tough, despite a wealth of tools and technologies it’s difficult to create an environment that compares to a great teacher who can make artworks engaging to a live audience. However, this new interactive exhibit of Hieronymus Bosch’s famous Garden of Earthly Delights completely nails it. This is the internet we were promised.

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An unsettling self-portrait

Another reminder of what Van Gogh went through.

Not a fake: Van Gogh self-portrait is his only work painted while suffering psychosis, experts sayThe Art Newspaper
Van Tilborgh believes that the self-portrait was painted in late August 1889, in the asylum just outside Saint-Rémy: “The somewhat unusual type of canvas, the pigments, the sombre palette and the brushwork are all in keeping with his output in the late summer and autumn of that year.”

The painting is now linked to a letter in which Van Gogh wrote that he had made a self-portrait which was “an attempt from when I was ill”. The artist had suffered a severe mental attack at the asylum in mid July 1889, when he tried to swallow paints, but by 22 August he had recovered sufficiently to write to his brother Theo, asking that he be allowed access to his painting materials. Van Tilborgh argues that the artist made the self-portrait a few days later, before he suffered a minor setback and was ill for a short period at the beginning of September.

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It’s an arresting image, though I think the version of it that appears in this article, being somewhat darker, feels much deeper.

Art to remind us what’s at stake

From Madrid and Miami, art that asks us to reflect on the ongoing climate crisis in a visually striking way.

Paintings from Prado Museum Collection given climate change makeoversColossal
Museo del Prado (Prado Museum) recently collaborated on a project with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) designed to coincide with the 2019 UN Climate Change Conference in Madrid. Paintings from the museum’s collection were digitally modified to reflect a future world destroyed by inaction. Rising sea levels, barren rivers, and refugee camps transform works by European painters into a campaign to save the environment.

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A traffic jam of sand cars by Leandro Erlich is blocking Miami BeachColossal
Erlich’s installation, titled “Order of Importance,” is an effort to put conversations surrounding climate change front and center. Commissioned by the city of Miami Beach and curated by Ximena Caminos and Brandi Reddick, the installation features 66 life-sized cars and trucks erected on the beach at Lincoln Road. Made of sand, the vehicles blend in with the surrounding beach and highlight the temporary nature of their construction.

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Leandro Erlich raises climate change awareness with traffic jam installation in MiamiVimeo

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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A new Picasso?

It’s not unknown for artists to change their mind and paint over part of their work as their ideas develop. Earlier, I came across an article about a long-lost Vermeer cupid that conservationists had restored. He wasn’t the only one with mysteries to uncover.

Blue on Blue: Picasso blockbuster comes to Toronto in 2020
The show came together after the AGO, with the assistance of other institutions, including the National Gallery of Art, Northwestern University and the Art Institute of Chicago, used cutting-edge technology to scan several Blue Period paintings in its collection to reveal lost works underneath, namely La Soupe (1902) and La Miséreuse accroupie (also 1902).

More on that.

New research reveals secrets beneath the surface of Picasso paintings
Secrets beneath the surface of two Pablo Picasso paintings in the collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) in Toronto have been unearthed through an in-depth research project, which combined technical analysis and art historical digging to determine probable influences for the pieces and changes made by the artist.

But x-ray and infrared analyses can only go so far. What if we roped in some neural networks to help bring these restored images to life?

This Picasso painting had never been seen before. Until a neural network painted it.
But from an aesthetic point of view, what the researchers managed to retrieve is disappointing. Infrared and x-ray images show only the faintest outlines, and while they can be used to infer the amount of paint the artist used, they do not show color or style. So a way to reconstruct the lost painting more realistically would be of huge interest. […]

This is where Bourached and Cann come in. They have taken a manually edited version of the x-ray images of the ghostly woman beneath The Old Guitarist and passed it through a neural style transfer network. This network was trained to convert images into the style of another artwork from Picasso’s Blue Period.

The result is a full-color version of the painting in exactly the style Picasso was exploring when he painted it. “We present a novel method of reconstructing lost artwork, by applying neural style transfer to x-radiographs of artwork with secondary interior artwork beneath a primary exterior, so as to reconstruct lost artwork,” they say.

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Devolving politicians

Banksy painting of chimps as MPs sells for record £9.9m at Sotheby’s
The timing of the sale was impeccable, coming exactly four weeks before the revised Brexit deadline and a year after Banksy’s Girl with Balloon (2002) was shredded via remote control in the same saleroom. That work sold for £1.04m with fees after it was legally designated a new work by Banksy’s handling service Pest Control and renamed Love is in the Bin a week after the auction in October 2019.

Banksy painting of MPs as chimpanzees sells for record £9.9m
Chimpanzees first appeared in his work in 2002, with his piece Laugh Now. The painting shows a row of apes wearing aprons carrying the inscription “Laugh now, but one day we’ll be in charge”. In 2009, Banksy said of Devolved Parliament: “You paint 100 chimpanzees and they still call you a guerrilla artist.”

The Cockroach by Ian McEwan review – a Brexit farce with legs
But in truth the parallel is misleading. It is not just that in McEwan’s case the metamorphosis is reversed: Sams is not a human transmuted into an insect but a cockroach who has taken over the body of the prime minister of the UK. (The room in which he awakes is in 10 Downing Street.) It is also that this fable is much more Swiftian than Kafkaesque. In The Metamorphosis, the story is really about the strangeness of everyday life and the human capacity to deny it. The world of The Cockroach is more like one of Swift’s parallel universes where political and intellectual idiocies are not so much reduced to absurdity as magnified into towering follies.

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A new ‘modern’ art

I’m trying to resist signposting to simply everything on Colossal, as it’s all amazing, but I thought these recent posts work well together — paintings, but not as we know them.

Glitched paintings by Olan Ventura give a contemporary twist to 17th Century still lifes
Philippino artist Olan Ventura creates lavish acrylic paintings in the tradition of 17th century Dutch still lifes. Replicating the smallest details of iconic works such as Jan Davidsz de Heem’s Vase of Flowers (c. 1660), Ventura veers off course with striking glitches and drips that shoot off the canvas edges, seeming to pull grapes, lobsters, and roses from the past into the present.

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Landscapes by Jason Anderson blend precise pixelation and hazy abstraction
U.K.-based artist Jason Anderson creates abstract urban landscapes using pixelated patches of pastel-toned oil paint. Each work on linen has a single focal point of bright yellow usually representing the rising or setting sun, though in the painting above the illumination comes from an approach train. Anderson balances the natural and manmade by primarily featuring infrastructure—ships, marinas, trains, buildings—that appears small and distant within each pastel haze.

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And whilst these images aren’t strictly paintings, they strike me as following that same ‘glitchy-made-real’ feel.

Photographs of animals and architecture are sliced and rearranged into bizarre collages by Lola Dupre
Spain and Scotland-based collage artist Lola Dupre (previously) continues to surprise and delight with her unusual composite images. Rather than incorporating unique individual collage elements that contrast with each other, Dupre works with repetition and duplication to build bizarrely proportioned pets, buildings, and human figures. By layering and off-setting shards of the same photo in a sort of visual syncopation, Dupre stretches and bends otherwise familiar subjects into surreal images.

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Beautiful physics

Another great find from Brain Pickings, the French mathematician and journalist Amédée Guillemin and his 1868 physics textbook Les phénomènes de la physique.

How nature works, in stunning psychedelic illustrations of scientific processes and phenomena from a 19th-Century French physics textbook
In consonance with the pioneering 19th-century information designer Emma Willard’s conviction that knowledge is most readily received when “addressed to the eye,” Guillemin understood that the fundamental laws of nature appear too remote and slippery to the human mind. To make them comprehensible, he had to make their elegant abstract mathematics tangible and captivating for the eye.

He had to make physics beautiful.

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I’d say he succeeded, wouldn’t you?

Another mysterious Da Vinci

Is it a real Da Vinci? And who really owns it? Not questions about the Salvator Mundi, this time.

Family claims quarter share of disputed Isleworth Mona Lisa
The attribution of a painting known as the Isleworth Mona Lisa has been a matter of dispute for more than a century. Its owners say it was an earlier portrait by Leonardo da Vinci of the same woman, Lisa Gherardini, whose likeness hangs in the Louvre. Other experts believe it is a later copy of the world’s most famous painting.

This week it has emerged that the painting’s ownership is also bitterly contested. Giovanni Battista Protti, a lawyer based in Padua, represents a family who he says owns 25% of the portrait. A civil court in Florence, where the painting has been on show for the past six weeks, has now set a hearing for the ownership dispute for 9 September.

Don’t sweat the details

Two artists, one approach.

Palette knife smudges and heavy brushstrokes form colorful abstract portraits by Joseph Lee
Lee began painting as a way to channel his creativity after a failed acting audition. “After working on a long project, I needed to protect my energy and be selfish with my time,” he told Shape/Shift Report. “I don’t have any formal artistic training and coming from a theater background, human behavior and emotions were the closest references I had to paint.” Describing his process as “a bit of a blur,” Lee says that he shuts off mentally and fully engages with the work. No two days are the same, and that’s the way he prefers it. “I am not conscious of what I am doing much of this time,” he explained.

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Thick brushstrokes form plump songbirds in oil paintings by Angela Moulton
Chickadees, barn swallows, and goldcrest kinglets emerge from impasto oil paintings by Angela Moulton. The artist works in the aesthetic space between realistic and stylized, using natural tones that are slightly keyed up, and following the body and beak shapes of each bird while giving them just a bit of extra plumpness. Thick brush strokes form the birds’ bodies in just a couple of deft swipes.

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Accidentally empowering museum audiences

I’ve always believed that the central tenet of interactive art, borrowed from Quantum Theory, is that the act of observing affects that being observed. Perhaps we could see these two recent news stories as examples of that.

Safe sealed for 40 years until museum visitor spins the dial
“I said, ‘That’s quite the time capsule.’ I said, ‘I’m going to try this now for a laugh.'”

He leaned his ear close to the lock, began cranking the lock and listened intently for the telltale click, click, click.

“I put in 20-40-60, three times right, three times left, one time right. Tried it, it’s like, oh my God.”

The door creaked open. The room filled with a cloud of dust and a round of applause.

“When it opens, total surprise and amazement, right? I have a little bit of luck but hopefully I didn’t use it all up on this one.”

Solved: A case of mistaken identity in a Madrid art museum
Pastor, who is 39 years old and currently living in Luxembourg, was so sure he was looking at Rodin that he thought he had misread the caption. While still in the museum, he began googling Leopold—who is remembered primarily for presiding over a genocide in the Belgian Congo. While the two men clearly shared a resemblance, Pastor couldn’t shake the feeling that this was a case of mistaken identity, and he resolved to get to the bottom of it.