A Self-portrait – Death at the Wellcome Collection

Posted November 19th, 2012

Collections, Shows

Try as we might, there’s no escaping death. Art collector Richard Harris has decided to embrace it instead — and wants the rest of us to do the same.

The retired Chicago print dealer has spent years acquiring works imbued with mortality, from 18th-century anatomical drawings to Tibetan skull masks and papier-mache skeletons from Mexico.

Some 300 items from his trove are on display at London’s Wellcome Collection in an exhibition that asks whether art can help us understand and prepare for death.

Standing amid the skeletons and skulls of “Death: A Self Portrait,” the 75-year-old Harris is an incongruously cheerful figure who laughs when asked if he is, perhaps, a little obsessed with death.

“Of course not!” he said Wednesday at a preview of the show, which opened to the public on Thursday and runs until Feb. 24.

“I half-jokingly say it’s a paean to death so he’ll ignore me a little longer,” Harris said. “But I think it’s more that the iconography, the imagery is fascinating. A skull is a skull and a skeleton is a skeleton, but it has been depicted by almost every artist through their own eyes.”

The varying ways that different cultures have dealt with death is what fascinated the Wellcome Collection, which is dedicated to mapping the ways in which art, medicine and science overlap.

Curator Kate Forde has arranged Harris’s artworks into a series of rooms that explore distinct aspects of the relationship between humans and our inevitable demise.

One room focuses on the contemplation of mortality through artistic memento mori, such as skulls placed at the center of still-life paintings.

A section on commemoration includes Tibetan ceremonial bowls made with pieces of human skull; a scarecrow-like grave guardian from the Pacific islands; and skeletons from Mexico’s vibrant Day of the Dead festivities, when families honor departed loved ones.

Another room looks at the powerful relationship between sex and death, through images including a 16th-century engraving of a skeleton standing between the naked Adam and Eve.

A room on violent death includes searing depictions of war, from the 17th-century etchings of Jacques Callot to German artist Otto Dix’s etchings of World War I trench warfare. In Dix’s work, scenes of soldiers in trenches, dead bodies and mutilated corpses are both harrowing and beautiful.

The works span the centuries, from skeletons enacting a triumphant Dance of Death in the 1493 “Nuremberg Chronicle” — one of the earliest printed books — to Rembrandt prints and sculptures by contemporary artists. These include “In the Eyes of Others,” a huge chandelier made from 3,000 plaster bones by British artist Jodie Carey, and John Isaacs’ “Are You Still Mad at Me?” — a not-for-the squeamish sculpture of a decayed and partially dismembered body.

Forde senses a resurgent interest in death among today’s artists — just think of Damien Hirst, with his rotting animal carcasses and diamond-encrusted skull. She suggests it may be a product of Western society’s desire to tidy death away.

“In Western secular culture, death happens offstage, in private. It’s medicalized and professionalized. Only a century back, death would have been at home,” she said. “I do think we have lost some vocabulary of talking about it — talking about mourning and contemplating mortality.”

Art, she says, can help remind us that “death is part of life and not simply a void into which we drop.”

Harris says he does not know the value of his collection, which numbers some 2,000 items and is still growing. His latest purchase, sadly not on display in London, is a 1969 Chevrolet Impala adorned with Day of the Dead motifs.

“My wife,” he said, “has been very understanding and very patient.”

He hopes to take his collection on tour around the world.

“All the world needs, in my mind, to promote the conversation and the dialogue about death,” he said. “It is an event that is going to happen to all of us, whether we like it or not.”

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

More at the Wellcome Collection.


Death And Beauty – When Is War Photography Art ?

Posted November 19th, 2012

Media, Photography, Shows

War Photography Art
“In his Munich art gallery, Daniel Blau has an exhibition called Death and Disaster, which features German and American war photographs (only until 23 nov 2012!).

“A photo is part of reality, or at least a tiny part of it. This reality is always in the past, where it has become elusive for us. The amazing thing about photographs is that they show us something in which we place our faith – we trust the image.

When it comes to photos of war atrocities, death and destruction, the case is even more interesting, as there’s a moral in addition to an artistic aspect. Over the years I have amassed a collection of photos that contain both a particularly high degree of artistic value and a moral message. They were also all printed at the time of being taken, and are thus vintage and display zeitgeist.” (Daniel Blau about War Photography Art )

“Whether to view these photographs as documents or art depends on one’s perspective. The pictures bear witness not only to death and destruction but also to the power of imagery as a propaganda tool, and how our perception of historical images changes over time,” writes Marcus Woeller from DIE WELT/Worldcrunch (and if you don’t know Worldcrunch, you should really have a look. They translate stories from mayor newspapers and you can help them out crunching the news: “The most relevant foreign-language stories are produced in English by Worldcrunch staff and contributors around the globe, deployed to react quickly to breaking events and find the best content in the international media.” We continue with our program…)

“One 1943 photograph of a German soldier standing next to an anti-aircraft gun is impossible to take in as mere documentation. The photographer framed the black-and-white shot as beautifully as an artist, just as 19th-century German landscape painter Caspar David Friedrich composed a canvas. The heroic lone soldier next to his gun is juxtaposed against a supremely romantic tundra landscape near Murmansk, in Russia. The triangular composition and deep light-and-dark contrasts raise the image to the level of art.

Another WWII image shows a soldier on a dune. He is part of the landscape. Yet he’s dead; there’s a hole in his helmet from the shot that killed him. Abstracted as art, the scene has something “romantic and wonderful” about it, says Blau, which makes it “hard to believe that it is just a snapshot taken by a photographer trying to avoid a hail of bullets. I ask myself: to what extent did the photographer have any control at all – to what extent is he an artist, or is he merely an observer?”

Magnum photographer Robert Capa, a Hungarian-born American, became famous as an “embedded reporter” whose lens captured the speed and irrationality of battle. By contrast, his photo of the dead soldier almost looks staged, or at least as if he had taken a lot of time to find the right angle and create a harmonious composition, apparently untroubled by the moral considerations such an endeavor could call up.”

Read on at Worldcrunch.

Photo: One of Robert Capa’s “The Magnificent Eleven” – War Photography Art


PES – The Man Who Turns Grenades Into Guacamole

Posted November 19th, 2012

Animation, Videos

The mysterious PES has produced some of the most popular videos in the last 10 years. Now that Fresh Guacamole landed a slot on the Oscar short-animation short list his identity has become public. Wired met the man behind the stop-motion-madness which has made so mny people smile.

One day in 1997, PES walked into a screening of The Conspirators of Pleasure by Czech animator Jan Švankmajer. “I marveled at a person pulling off a feature film without any words and became curious about this stop-motion technique,” PES said. “I remember seeing it in Clash of the Titans but he was using it in a totally different way, as a language of objects.”

To soak up the stop-motion sensibility, PES bought everything by Švankmajer he could find, including old VHS tapes and bootlegs. “I watched them over and over and over,” he said. “The genius behind these films opened up this notion that I have ideas about objects, too. That’s where my approach was born, though I wanted to do it with a little bit of a narrative versus surrealism.”

Wired: “The stop-motion auteur now known as PES lived in a tiny New York apartment while working a day job at an ad agency when he asked the simple question that would launch his new career.

“These two chairs had been given to me by my parents,” he told Wired by phone. “I was up one night in our bachelor pad with my roommate thinking, ‘What would these chairs like to do after being cooped up in a house for 25 years?’”

The answer: Roof Sex.

“When I told my parents I was going to make two chairs fuck, they said, ‘That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard.’”

Millions of web viewers begged to differ. The 2002 stop-motion short, which showed two stuffed chairs going at it atop a Manhattan apartment building, went viral and earned a Best First Film trophy at France’s influential Annecy Animation Festival. Then PES got really busy: His string of strangely hypnotic short films has attracted nearly 34 million views on YouTube and cemented his reputation as one of the most inventive DIY filmmakers of his generation. Last week, his ingenious Fresh Guacamole landed a slot on the Oscar short-animation short list.

Read the Interview at Underwire here.

When PES curated the Youtube Homepage

The Essential PES


Salvador Dali retrospective at the Centre Pompidou

Posted November 19th, 2012

Shows, Surrealism

Salvador Dali retrospective
From 21 November to 25 March 2013 the Centre Pompidou in Paris will host a major retrospective on Salvador Dali, that will be seen next year in the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid. This was announced today by the prestigious modern art museum of the French capital.

The temporary exhibition at the Centre Pompidou which took place in years 1979-1980 is still the most visited in the history of that institution.

The forthcoming exhibition is curated by Montse Aguer, Director of the Centre for Dalinian Studies, Jean-Michel Bouhours, curator of the National Museum of Modern Art/Industrial Creation Centre in Paris, and Thierry Dufrêne, professor of contemporary art history at the University of Paris West Nanterre, Jean-Hubert Martin as curator, former director at the National Museum of Modern Art in Paris.

The show will contain more than two hundred pieces, including paintings, sculptures and drawings, designed to show the inner workings of the artist and provocateur who was lampooned for his political stances and the money he made from his art, and once quipped: “The only difference between me and the Surrealists is that I am a Surrealist.”

Dalí will also be presented as a pioneering in performance art and happenings and author of ephemeral works. Some results wil be shown of his participation in the field of photography, theater and film. It is a selection of works from the collections of the Dalí Foundation in Figueres, the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid and the Dalí Museum in Florida, the three major organizers of the retrospective together with the Centre Pompidou. From 23 April to 2 September 2013 the exhibition will be hosted by the Reina Sofía Museum in Madrid.

ikono special: Best of Salvador Dali


19th century paintings from Musee d’Orsay at new museum in China

Posted November 18th, 2012

China, Shows

Musee d'Orsay
France’s Musee d’Orsay on Friday opened a major exhibition of paintings from the 19th century at the new modern art museum in China’s commercial hub of Shanghai, museum officials said Wednesday.

Many of the 87 paintings by artists in the French Naturalism movement, including works by Gustave Courbet and Jean-Francois Millet, are being shown in China for the first time, exhibition organisers told a news conference.

“It’s a very large exhibition. We have sent large format paintings and we have sent very famous paintings by Courbet and Millet,” Guy Cogeval, president of the Musee d’Orsay, told AFP.

“A lot of them are shown in China for the first time,” he said.

Chinese media has put the value of the paintings in the exhibition at 185 million euros ($236 million), though officials declined to confirm that figure.

Shanghai’s China Art Museum said the show, which was assembled in 11 months, is the largest international exhibition hosted by the museum since it opened in October.

The China Art Museum is expecting 3,000 visitors a day for the exhibition, which runs more than three months to February next year, officials said.

“There is a link between this exhibition and China today,” said Xavier Rey, a curator for the painting department of the Musee d’Orsay.

Naturalist painting in the second half of the 19th century featured realistic depictions of everyday life, but it was also a reaction to tremendous social and industrial change, he said.

One of the highlights of the exhibition is Millet’s “The Gleaners”, which depicts three women searching for wheat after the harvest.

The China Art Museum is heavily weighted towards Chinese art, but one floor is devoted to foreign works on loan from foreign museums.

The exhibition “Millet, Courbet and French Naturalism” will return to France next year in time for an October showing at the Musee d’Orsay, said Olivier Simmat, the museum’s head of international affairs.


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Louvre and San Francisco Museums Sign Pact

Posted November 17th, 2012

Museums, News, Shows, USA

Louvre and San Francisco
A collection of rare French royal treasures goes on display in the Legion of Honor on Saturday. It is the first exhibition in a new agreement between the Lourve in Paris and San Francisco’s fine arts museums.

The works of art are delicate, bold, stunning, and dazzling. They are from the time of King Louis XIV through the French Revolution — a time when the kings made Paris became the cultural capital of the world.

“They were always buying contemporary art and to try to have the best in every field,” said Musee de Louvre director Henri Loyrette.

And they commission work, too. This exhibition opens as the Fine Arts Museums president Dede Wilsey and the Louvre ‘s Loyrette signed a major accord for an exclusive series of exhibitions and exchanges between the two cities for the next five years. It is what Mayor Ed Lee calls part of his goal to broaden the city’s international standing.

“The relationship that is forged with our sister cities is reflected on the strong exchanges that are going on,” said Lee.

So now we take this exploration into this world of French artistry to appreciate it.

“To look carefully at these objects to see how they are made, and what kind of history they tell. It’s also a kind of history of France from Louis XIV to the French Revolution. It’s also a history of taste,” said Loyrette.

This exhibit really is about the passion and the artistic commitment of French royalty. And this collection is of historical significance since it is the first time we’ve seen these works outside of France.

It is, in a sense, a traveling show because the kings would move some of them from palace to palace. But to get them here required years of negotiations.

“There is a lot of back and forth. Their curators coming here, ours going there,” said deputy director of the Fine Arts Museums Richard Benefield.

The results are now showing only in San Francisco. The collection will run to next march, with more to come from Paris.

Text from ABC/KGO-TV/DT.
Image from SF Appeal.


Get your Spire – Adopt a Gargoyle in Milan

Posted November 17th, 2012

Architecture, Italy

Milan cathedral has launched a campaign to adopt its gargoyles (or spires) to help it raise the 25 million euros ($32 million) needed to clean up the landmark monument as culture budgets take a hit from the crisis.

A total of 135 gargoyles are up for adoption and donors who cough up more than 100,000 euros ($128,000) will have their name engraved under the gargoyle.

Smaller donations of between 10 euros and 100 euros can be made through the campaign’s website at

The pink marble Gothic cathedral, which was begun in 1387, is a much-loved symbol of the city but has to be cleaned up regularly from pollution.

Gargoyles, which are used as drains for rain water, are typical of Gothic architecture and usually depict grotesque figures.

The cathedral’s management said it wanted “to encourage the Milanese and citizens of the world as a whole to be protagonists in the history of the cathedral… a priceless treasure that belongs to all of humanity.”

Contacted by AFP, cathedral authorities said that since the launch of the campaign Adopt a Gargoyle last month they had received eight donations of 100,000 euros as well as several smaller donations for a total of 10,000 euros.

Culture has been one of the sectors hardest hit by the financial crisis in Italy. The Italian state allocates just 0.21 percent of its budget to culture, even though it holds half of the world’s cultural heritage.


Also on this blog: Gargoyles – Glorious Gruesome Grotesques


Original Rubens “Mary Magdalene in mourning with her sister Martha” found in museum

Posted November 17th, 2012

Art History, News, Old Masters, Restoration

Russian art experts have uncovered what is believed to be an original Rubens painting in a small-town museum in the Urals mountains region, its director said Friday.

The painting called “Mary Magdalene in mourning with her sister Martha” was long assumed to be a copy, but restoration revealed it to be “undoubtedly” an original by the 17th century Flemish painter, museum director Valery Karpov told AFP.

It was unveiled Thursday in the museum in the small town of Irbit around 200 kilometres (124 miles) from the nearest big city of Yekaterinburg.

The head of painting restoration from the Hermitage museum in Saint Petersburg, Viktor Korobov, examined the painting on Thursday, and said it was “undoubtedly an original, created with the participation of Rubens’ pupils,” Karpov said.

The face of Jesus’s follower Mary Magdalene and her arms are believed to have been painted by Peter Paul Rubens himself, while the figure of her sister could have been painted by pupils in his large workshop, Karpov said.

The Hermitage gave the painting to the provincial museum in 1975, when Karpov, then its young director, asked for some art to fill its walls, hoping only for good-quality copies.

The Irbit museum kept the painting in its archives since it was in a poor condition and only last year received state funding to restore the painting.

The painting is known to have been owned by a teacher at a military medical academy at the end of the 19th century. It was requisitioned by the Bolsheviks, who passed it to the Hermitage in 1931 labelled as a Rubens copy, Karpov said.

The painting closely resembles an original in Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum, but “there are many differences in the details… Our painting is more vivid, the face is more noble, the hair is golden as typical for Rubens,” said deputy director Andrei Gamlitsky.

Rubens would often paint several versions of paintings, up to eight sometimes, and would use his pupils to help him, among them Anthony Van Dyck, the future court painter.

The painting will now undergo further testing including analysis of the canvas and the undercoat, Gamlitsky said.



Investment Art – A Beginner’s Guide

Posted November 16th, 2012

Art Market, Business

Investment Art
Oscar Wilde may have been mistaken when he claimed “all art is quite useless”. A new use for art has been emerging in recent years, and it may be the most pragmatic of all – as a solid investment. In a time when stock markets are sinking, debts are rising and the looming threat of double-dip recession cannot be entirely eliminated, the art market still sporadically dazzles with record-breaking profits. The unique economic buoyancy of art has long caught the eye of not just aesthetes, but also discerning investors.

The New Statesman writes: “Art now falls under the category of the “SWAG” asset. The term, coined by analyst Joe Roseman of Investment Week denotes “alternate investments” which manage to defy economic gravity – namely silver, wine, art and gold.

As well as being decidedly sexier than the FTSE 100, the trend of investing in luxury assets makes a lot of economic common sense. SWAGs often outperform other equities in times of economic downturn for several logical reasons. Firstly, they benefit from the uniquely profitable principle of “scarcity economics” (their value is related to their rarity). Secondly, in an unsteady market, people are drawn to stability, and all the SWAG assets are durable – they have a historical precedence of desirability and can be bought and stored almost indefinitely. Lastly, as their returns are not related to the patterns of the stock market, they add a sensible diversity to any portfolio, the literal asset equivalent of not keeping all your eggs in one basket.

So, we’ve all been there – you’ve got a few spare million in the savings account and you can’t decide whether to invest in the Damien Hirst or the Château Lafite. Luckily, help is at hand. The art market’s unique ability to maintain a bubble of prosperity amidst a global recession has given rise to a new type of business – the art investment advisor.”

Read on at The New Statesman: Investment Art

(Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)