Archive for the ‘Art’ category

Against Renting out the Sistine Chapel to Porsche

October 18, 2014

Story: http://news.artnet.com/in-brief/rent-the-sistine-chapel-for-your-next-party-136198

I understand the Pope’s good intentions, and of course I believe people should give everything they can to the poor. But to me is a question of access to sacred spaces. It’s similar to the Luke 26:6-13 (“The poor you will always have with you; but you will not always have me”) controversy.

My objection isn’t related to fresco wear from nighttime vieweing–no matter how much hot air can Porsche executives emit, they won’t have the same effect as the prodigious numbers of people ‘shuffling’ through in daytime hours.

We’re likely wearing down the Chapel with all those people. But the totally open-doors policy the Church has taken with the place is beautiful. What is the Sistine Chapel? It’s a depiction of the whole progression of God’s relationship with mankind, of our beginnings and our end, painted at great personal cost by one of the greatest artists the West has ever known, in the center of the church founded by Christ to save mankind, and all you need to come inside and see it is to be a human being yourself. (And 8-16 euros for maintenance.)

Once you make access to this sacred space contingent on how much money you offer, it becomes something less than universal. It becomes just like everywhere else, where being a famous corporation and having a ton of money gets you farther in life. It’d be one thing if the Pope were using the money as a lure to make a full-court-press to the save the souls of all 40 tourists while they were in his house, but from this is being billed as a non-religious function, with a concert and a gala dinner, and already people are interpreting participation in it as a status symbol. I know the Vatican was used for much worse things back in the Renaissance itself but let’s not hold ourselves to such low standards. To me, the Sistine Chapel and other sacred art should be freely given and not for sale.

Two heroes of Japanese liberalism have passed over to the Grey Havens

January 3, 2013

Image

Keiji Nakazawa
Asahi Shimbun Obituary

When Keiji Nakazawa was 6 years old, the Hiroshima atomic bomb vaporized nearly his entire family.

He portrayed this experience in a comic book.

Image

As far as I know, Barefoot Gen is the most famous anti-war work in Japanese history. Search for it in Google Images and it will imprint itself in your mind as well. The art style, typical of fun adventures, makes what is depicted inside feel even worse. Perhaps if a book like this were required reading in American junior high schools, we would not declare another war of choice. Irrespective of America, Nakazawa’s work has doubtless been monumental in Japanese culture. My junior high school there had a student performance of it every few years.

Image

Beate Gordon

Read the New York Times’ obituary. It’s one of those that’s so astonishing you wonder why you’ve never heard of this person before.

Beate Sirota Gordon introduced women’s rights to postwar Japan, writing the clauses specifically guaranteeing them into the Japanese Constitution, emancipating 40 million people, when she was 22 years old.

Gordon studied other nations’ constitutions and drew on her childhood experiences in Tokyo and wrote the articles in a week. A sleepless week. Imagine all your learning and moral training and ethical thought suddenly being put to the test, now, and you have to lay out the future legal status of millions of historically marginalized people.

And then she kept her role a secret for decades.

All she did in the meantime was introduce the West to every kind of traditional Japanese art and every style of Asian performance art she could find. It’s amazing to think of how little even Americans in the highest reaches of power understood of Japan when they began ruling the country after the war. And pre-WWII cultural globalization mostly meant Westernization. Ms. Gordon was very important to turning on the East-to-West cultural flows and contributing to the cultural relations between Japanese and Americans today.

Image

With her parents and Kosaku Yamada in Tokyo in 1928 (source: http://www.shinyawatanabe.net/atomicsunshine/ny/beateintroduction.html)

Mr. Nakazawa, Ms. Gordon, rest in peace. May our generation, too, have people as amazing as you.

The Chinese Painter Who Knocked Picasso Off His Pedestal

February 26, 2012

Zhang Daqian

A Zhang Daqian painting signed in 1947 that just sold for $87.43 million at an American auction. Photo by Cordon Press.

Zhang Daqian

The Chinese Painter Who Knocked Picasso Off His Pedestal
This week, Zhang Daqian dethroned the Malagan as the best-selling artist in world auctions. Who was this versatile master?
El País: El pintor chino que noqueó a Picasso
Estrella de Diego reporting from Madrid February 25, 2012

He is sometimes compared to Jackson Pollock for his “dot paintings”, and he was influenced by American Abstract Impressionism and its mysterious colors and ambiguous contours. But just observing one his works attentively is enough to convince you of his greatness. Or seeing one of his most famous portrait photos, which captures him as a handsome old man with a long white beard, absorbed in his work, his arm raised and holding a paintbrush, the essential instrument of painting and calligraphy. This photo shows that Zhang Daqian (Chang Dai-chien) (1899-1983), is more a traditional Chinese painter than an expressionist; he is also one of his country’s most outstanding and admired painters.

This week, his name, little known to the Western public, jumped to the front pages of Western newspapers because his auction sales in 2011 were the best in the world, according to Artprice data. It was the first time in 14 years that Picasso wasn’t in first place. Does this tune sound familiar? Three decades ago, the works of the traditional Chinese painter were available for up to a thousand times less money than they are now, but today the artists of this country are among the most sought-after in auction houses. Not long ago, another Chinese painter, Qi Baishi (1864-1957), earned notice after taking third place on the international art market sales chart after Picasso and Warhol.

It wasn’t the first time the three coincided. In 1956, Zhang Daqian visited Picasso in Niza. He arrived without notice, like a youth, although Zhang was Picasso’s contemporary. The Chinese master, fascinated by Picasso’s brushstrokes, learned to his surprise that Picasso was himself influenced by Qi Baishi, then a nonagenarian. The Spanish artist confessed his admiration for someone he considered “the best painter in the Orient.” In his judgment, nothing could equal Chinese art. He never went to China because he didn’t want to have to compare his work with theirs.

Perhaps Picasso didn’t know that, despite his skill in traditional painting, Zhang Daqian was already immersed in Western art, from which he learned a new way of seeing that broke with the order demanded by his country’s traditional painting, which Shen Tsung-Chien explained at the end of the 18th century like so: “in a good, well set-out painting, all the trees and rocks, all the lines of hills and forests have a very defined place, even though objects like these are actually very variable.” After leaving China at the end of the 40s, Zhang Daqian went halfway around the world – to Argentina, São Paulo, and California – perfecting a style that culminated in his “dot paintings”, which characterized his last work.

Zhang Daqian had always distinguished himself with his malleability. He was born in Sichuan Province to a family that encouraged his dedication to painting and calligraphy. In 1917, he moved to Japan with his older brother to learn coloring techniques, and soon after he traveled to Shanghai, where he had the opportunity to work with two known painting and calligraphy specialists of the era. He got in touch with the great classical masters. The tradition was one of the passions of his life, and soon enough his grand collection of masterpieces spanned the Chinese tradition, including hundreds of works of the Tang and Qing dynasties. His collectionism is essential to understanding his great secret sleights of hand: that is, his forgeries.

Perhaps in his case it would be better to call them false authentic paintings, not copies; according to legend, they were so perfect they still occupy places of privilege in many European and North American museums. One can see he had a rare ability: his first copies of Shitao fooled even the experts. We should clarify, though, that copies – and even forgeries – have a very different meaning in China than they would in the West: Chinese think only great painters can be great masters of imitation.

Perhaps because of this, when he was in his late 50s, he began to develop sight problems and started to work on his “dotted paintings”, it wasn’t difficult for him to start seeing things totally differently. These works are based on the beautiful color spots which he later retouched in his outlines, converting the mysterious blues, greens, and browns into majestic mountains. Many see Pollack in these paintings, although Zhang Daqian insisted on naming the classical painter Wang Mo as his inspiration. Be that as it may, these “dot paintings” are unbeatably healthy on the art market. And they are also influencing new generations, who know that in his work, as Shitao said, “the ink, in filling the brush, fills the soul; the brush, in using the ink, fills the spirit.”

Romanesque Now Has a Virtual “Bible”

January 18, 2012

Romanesque Now Has a Virtual “Bible”
The best website yet about the prevailing artistic style of the 11th and 12th centuries debuts: its database will include 330,000 photos of 9,000 monuments from Spain and Portugal.
El País: El románico ya tiene ‘biblia’ virtual
Tereixa Constenla reporting from Madrid January 18, 2012

Arcs on the northern side of San Juan del Duero in Soria. Photo provided by the Royal St. Mary Foundation.

Loarre Castle
A drawing by Peridis of Loarre Castle in Huesca from http://www.romanicodigital.com.

Románico Digital

A ruin can be half empty or half full. Peredis, or José María Pérez, the architect and artist who has done as much for Romanesque as King Alfonso VI of León and Castilla, albeit in another manner and another century, grabbed hold of Unamuno to show the dichotomy. When the author of Niebla (Fog) visited Aguilar de Campoo in Palencia, he only perceived – and wrote – of “ruins here and ruins there”. The author saw destruction and emptiness. He displayed the pessimism pegged to the collective identity of those thinkers who had a front row seat to witness the collapse of an empire. They knew much of despondence, so much that Unamuno himself ended his work with a counterweight: “a ruin can be hope.”

Peridis, perhaps by historical circumstance, perhaps by a blessed nature, perhaps because he was raised beside a great monastic ruin in Aguilar de Campoo, is one of those who proclaims that “a good ruin is cultural patrimony,” or hope. Yesterday he again demonstrated this during his presentation of the website http://www.romanicodigital.com, the most rigorous and exhaustive database yet to exist on the unlimited virtual world about the artistic style that was a part of the backbone of Christian Europe with its pilgrimages.

Launched by the Fundación Santa María la Real (Royal St. Mary Foundation), chaired by the artist, the initiative aspires to be the world’s number one website for Romanesque art within 3 years. It debuts with 4000 monuments and 60,000 digital photos, but in three years it plans to include all 9000 of the vestiges catalogued on the Iberian Peninsula (380 of those in Portugal) and display 330,000 high resolution photos of them.

The next leap is to incorporate the Romanesque footprint in Italy and France, the other countries with the most examples, which do not have their own website. “Everything is on the Internet, the good and the bad,” said Jaime Nuño, Director of the foundation’s Center for Romanesque Studies. There is a lot of information, but we have to ask ourselves whether there is much knowledge.”

The knowledge backed up on this new site is the fruit of persistent work accumulated over 15 years by people kicking around Spain to weave a detailed and unique work, the Enciclopedia del Románico, a true bible of the style which prevailed in the north of the peninsula between 1070 and 1250, before Gothic refinement replaced it in temples and objects.

A proud Peridis assured that this encyclopedia, basically built by unemployed university graduates zealous about documenting an art in danger of extinction, is today a reference book in places like Harvard University and the U.S. Library of Congress, among others. More volumes will be added to the 38 already published to collect Romanesque works in Galicia, Catalonia, and Huesca.

The social and economic aspect of the recovery of patrimony is cardinal for the foundation. It cannot possibly be relocated. “A textile factory can go to China, but the Aqueduct of Segovia can’t,” Nuño indicated. “The patrimony is a primary resource, but much more would be needed to convert it into a manufacturable product, into a resource that could generate wealth and not be seen as a burden,” he defended. José María Pérez recalled that in 1985, when the youth unemployment rate competed with the current levels, a school/workshop was established to restore the Royal St. Mary Monastery that inspired the collective movement that helped restore monuments all over Spain. “We demonstrated that our patrimony is one of the best sources of employment,” he reiterated. “Not only can we take care of it; it’s also great wealth for a touristic country. Romanesque is an art of the countryside, and it is often found in unique locations, in a Spain that is disappearing,” he continued. But together with the threat is the possibility for new joy to blossom. Peridis pointed out that “thanks to great writers like Umberto Eco, the medieval era and Romanesque art are in fashion.”

Fashion is with it, and technology is as well: the new website received the collaboration of the Ministry of Industry, Tourism, and Commerce and the Foundation for Technological Innovation (Cotec), contributing in its manner to the preservation of a style that used architecture and sculpture to enlighten the masses and which generated a cohort of artists and artisans capable of bringing forth sounds from stones.

Medieval Prowess
-Spain, Italy, and France are the countries with the most remaining testimonials to Romanesque art.
-The site includes information on 4000 monuments, and by 2015, it will incorporate another 5000 structures from Huesca, Catalonia, and Galicia into its catalog.
-In addition to digital photos, the site offers architectural plans, geolocation maps, and historical documentation.
-It also hosts a virtual community about Romanesque, which permits users to load photos and commentaries for each monument.

Gaudí Revival in Vietnam: The Crazy House in Dalat

December 9, 2011

La Casa Loca en Vietnam
Photos and Captions by Zigor Aldama
Dalat Casa Loca Tree Hollow
Part of the building looks like a gigantic tree hollow.
Dalat Casa Loca Caves
Some interiors imitate the caves of Vietnam’s Halong Bay.
Dalat Casa Loca Eagle Room
The Eagle Room is designed with U.S. artistic elements in mind.
Dalat Casa Loca Pass
Some of the facades look sinister enough at night to disturb the hotels’ guests.
Dalat Casa Loca Tree Hollow Entrance
Entrance to the tree hollow-like structure.
Dalat Casa Loca Tree Structure
From a certain perspective, the organic forms and lack of straight lines recall the style of Gaudi, whom the architect of the complex recognizes as his inspiration.
Dalat Casa Loca Passageway
The passageway that unites the arboreal structure with the caves.

Gaudí Revival in Vietnam
The daughter of a Communist ex-president constructs a “crazy house” with her gaze settled on the Catalonian architect
El País: Gaudí resucita en Vietnam
Zigor Aldama reporting from Dalat, Vietnam November 28, 2011

It has the impossible organic forms, the Neo-Gothic details taken to excess, and the incoherent spaces: from a claustrophobic catwalk to a colossal room. Nor it is lacking the grays and soft ochers splashed with some notes of color. The work is doubtless inspired by nature: this is similar to a gigantic tree with branches serving as handrails; that is a cave with stalactites and stalagmites; hanging everywhere are big spider webs – both artificial and real ones – functional toadstools, and monsters with brilliant red eyes.

To be honest, some of its corners provoke shivers: at night, the gates screech, and the windows stare fixedly as if they were the eyes of faces drawn on the facades. Yes, one could imagine it to be a work of Antoni Gaudí, although some elements of this “crazy house” (casa loca) are more reminiscent of the melting clocks of the surrealist Salvador Dalí. But surely neither of the two Catalonian artists ever heard the name of the city that took in this building which brusquely breaks with the duality imposed by its European colonial architecture and sober Communist delineation: Dalat, Vietnam.

It’s no wonder the hostel Hang Nga, The Moon’s Sister, has become one of the principal tourist attractions in this unusual city, a former mountain retreat for French colonists. The establishment, inaugurated in 1990, was designed by Dang Viet Nga (born in Vietnam in 1940), daughter of the president of the State Council from 1981 to 1988, Truong Chinh, who received a doctorate in architecture from the University of Moscow. Following in the footsteps of the Sagrada Familia (Holy Family) basilica in Barcelona, it is still under construction, though Dang hopes to complete her masterpiece in a more modest period of time than the Barcelonese cathedral (itself slated for completion in 2026, the centennial of its architect’s death): two years.

The house’s construction has not been the least bit conventional itself. Dang doesn’t draw plans, just sketches and ideas, which eight local artisans, none experienced in architecture, make into reality, supervised by an engineer tasked with keeping the dream from crumbling. Everything is done by hand, including the furniture, which has to complement the always asymmetrical forms of the rooms.

The Chinese official newspaper People’s Daily called the hostel one of the ten strangest buildings in the world, and not in vain: it’s difficult to determine how many floors it has. For Dang, who recognizes that her inspiration is “The Great Gaudí” without batting an idea, the building is just “the union of technique and art”. Nevertheless, the creator recognizes that many officials in the Dalat People’s Committee, her old colleagues, do not approve of her work.

“There have been problems, and I haven’t lacked for people discrediting me as crazy, but fortunately, in Hanoi there are people who understand what I want to achieve.” Thanks to those people, who revoked the local authorities’ prohibition, she received permission to begin construction, 18 years after asking for it. Now the building is a money magnet.

For a modest sum (20-60 euros), one can spend the night in one of the rooms, “which are similar to tree houses and have different characteristics.” For example, the tiger room, designed for Chinese guests who adore kitsch, the eagle room, made more spacious to accomodate the volumnious bodies of Americans, and the ant room, in honor of the laborious work that made Vietnam imperialism’s worst nightmare.

The suite is dedicated to the bee, which symbolizes the collaborative union of living beings which can add up to a little cascade. “There are bees in every country, and this habitation does not have a nationality. It represents the world coming together to make a better world.” Visitors are coming from every corner of the planet; those who only want to have a look need only pay 30,000 dong ($1.43) for entry.

There are more than a few people coming to see it. The “crazy house” is already an obligatory stop for all the travelers seeking fresh air in Dalat. “I didn’t expect to find soething like this in Vietnam, much less in Dalat,” Miguel Saavedra, a Spanish tourist, wrote in the guestbook. “This building is like a dream that’s out of place, and I admire the bravery of its architecture. But not all share his enthusiasm. Dang’s cement insanity has provoked debate. Some of her colleagues have openly criticized it in the Vietnamese press, saying it does not have aesthetic cohesion or functionality. These aren’t empty words: a blueprint like this would be swiftly rejected in Spain for not satisfying any safety requirements. If you had one drink too many here, it could easily be your last.

But this fairy tale, which would often remind Anglo-Saxons of Walt Disney’s creations, has practically unlimited resources, and it is continuing to transform. The number of rooms is growing though the hostel does not have a very good reputation among those who have spent the night there. “Most complain that the beds are too hard, and the visitors are too noisy from the first light of morning onward,” says Trang Hung, a local tour guide. “And there are also people who say they were frightened,” she adds with a laugh.

Secret of Cupola of Florence Uncovered

November 13, 2011

Santa María del Fiore Cupola, 15th Century
The dome of the Santa María del Fiore cathedral in Florence, a work of Brunelleschi from the 15th century.

Secret of Cupola of Florence Uncovered
Italian architect Massimo Ricci discovers the technique used by Filippo Brunelleschi.
El País: Desvelado el secreto de la cúpula de Florencia
Lucia Magi reporting from Bologna November 10, 2011

It took almost forty years for Italian architect Massimo Ricci to discover what has been a mystery to his colleagues for six centuries: the technique Filippo Brunelleschi used to construct the cupola of Santa María del Fiore (Saint Mary of the Flower), the Cathedral of Florence. The Renaissance genius not only took care to raise a robust and spectacular monument, a symbol of renewed humanist confidence after the medieval terrors; he also successfully hid the secret of how the structure is supported. “Playing tricks, throwing others off the scent, and confounding ideas were typical features of Brunelleschi’s personality,” Ricci commented last night while presenting his discovery to citizens assembled in the Palazzo Vecchio – Florence’s town hall – and to those following online on the National Geographic Society‘s website.

“Brunelleschi thought it was funny that no one could crack his secret.” ‘Twas a secret well guarded, under a skin of red bricks and ribs of ivory. From the beginning of Brunelleschi’s work in 1425, he guarded the mystery with a trick: the workers placed the visible bricks in a different way than the bricks in the internal dome which actually supports the weight of the structure to trick those who thought they could master the architectural technique by only viewing the outside. The internal bricks “are laid diagonally, like the spine of a fish,” explained Ricci, “without using any metal, contrary to proposals of previous scholars. It was achieved thanks to a system of ropes which allowed him to calculate the exact position and angle in which to place each brick.” In order to further confuse potential imitators, Brunelleschi ordered “that the bricks on the outside be marked with grooves to make people believe they were placed lengthwise rather than sideways. It’s a unique system never repeated in all of history.”

Ricci and his team successfully unraveled the mystery thanks to very refined technological advances and a crack that opened in the vault. Into this fissure they inserted a probe which opened and walked between one brick and another while recording what it saw. Ricci directed the minuscule camera and, as if he were a doctor performing an endoscopy on a patient, drew an outline of the core of the monument. He saw what no one ever had the chance to admire before.

In the lounge of the Florence City Hall, there were also models of the three cranes used to raise the cupola and the boat Brunelleschi invented to bring materials from the sea to the city over the Arno river. “This craft is another example of his genius,” Ricci said in closing. “It’s the first example in history of a boat with a propeller, like the airplanes of today. And it’s also the first case of a creator receiving intellectual property rights: Brunelleschi constructed this boat for himself alone and paid for it out of his own pocket. He received permission from the Palazzo Vecchio to rent it out and demanded that any imitation of it be burned.” Quite a character, that Brunelleschi.

“Wrinkles”: An Exceptional Comic, An Outstanding Movie

September 20, 2011

Wrinkles 1
A photogram from Ignacio Ferreras’s animated film Wrinkles.

Wrinkles 2
A vignette from Wrinkles by Paco Roca, winner of the National Comic Award.

“Wrinkles”: An Exceptional Comic, An Outstanding Movie
The cinematic version of Paco Roca’s comic is screened in Zabaltegui
El País: ‘Arrugas’, un cómic excepcional, una película sobresaliente
Gregorio Belinchón reporting from San Sebastián September 19, 2011

Arrugas (Wrinkles) is not just any comic. It is the comic that has demonstrated that Paco Roca is a master. It is the comic that has vignettized Alzheimer’s. Replete with perfect visuals, with artistic twists and turns that take the reader into the horrifying world of the loss of memory, Wrinkles depicts the degradation of Emilio, the retired branch director of a bank, day by day in his home. Wrinkles is now a film. And what a film it is. Produced by Manuel Cristóbal, who rejected offers to make it with real-life actors “because the magic would have been lost”, and directed by Ignacio Ferreras, responsible for the drawings which perfectly duplicate Roca’s lines, the film was screened at the first hour of this morning. It was a pivotal moment, as it was the first time Paco Roca saw it.

The author, who won the 2008 National Comic Award for this work, did not seem very nervous before the screening. He made small talk with Ferreras, who was sitting on one side, and this journalist, who was seated at the other. During the screening, the artist asked the director a pair of questions about certain changes and artistic decisions. The rest of the time, there was respectful silence in the theater accompanied by a murmur of tears in the background. The session ended after 87 minutes. There was applause. The first spectators, who ran out of the theater, missed out on a gift: Rosa Lema, age 101 and suffering from senile dementia, sang a song during the credits, a treasure the soundman found in one of the homes he visited.

After turning on the lights, Roca sighed with relief: “Obviously some things changed, including the characters [one of the protagonists even had a different nationality], but the spirit is there. It says what I wanted to say.” Cristóbal explained: “The trick of going to white when Alzheimer’s begins to devour neurons during the vignettes couldn’t be translated to the screen. It didn’t work.” “It’s not important,” answered Roca, “because I see my comic there. I was worried about the ending, how the threads would be tied up and whether it would hold up. It certainly does.” He turned to his right and embraced Ferreras, who had been watching him from the corner of his eye with a certain precaution. “Congratulations.”

It will be another thing to see it in theaters. Now, with the picture already finished, Cristóbal is negotiating the commercial distribution. “We wanted to do it with Wrinkles already in hand, so they could see it and know its potential.” Judging from this morning’s screening, it has that in abundance.