I dropped by the Oakland Museum of California Sunday afternoon after my KALX fundraiser shift for their Días de los Muertos community celebration, and it did my soul great good to wander amongst the marigolds and sugar skulls. The madcap chaos of San Francisco Halloween always clashes harsh with my seasonal melancholy, so instead I choose to spend time with the carefully constructed altars of the Days of the Dead that so meaningfully capture memories, love, entire lives. They remind me to celebrate beauty even in the midst of pain and to live life as passionately as I am able. There are some amazing altars inside the museum proper made by local artists and school groups that will be up through the beginning of December, and they make a contemplative pairing with Richard Misrach's photos documenting the aftermath of the Oakland Hills firestorm that are also currently on display. Not easy viewing, but highly recommended nonetheless.
The album cover is one of my favorite art forms, the place where my twin passions for design and music intertwine. Art critic Jonathan Jones recently collected some of his favorites for the Guardian and freely admits that he has a long-standing habit of buying an album for the cover art alone. He takes the Fleet Foxes and their use of Bruegel the Elder as an example of what grabs him:
As for Fleet Foxes, the thrill of their cover is that it ignores all
convention and fashion - instead of a designer image here is raw art.
It is a classic, and so is the recording inside.
Though Jones skews heavily toward Pink Floyd in his choices he does include one of Peter Saville's Joy Division covers, and Saville's work on the Factory releases was an integral part of what got me sucked into the Manchester sound myself back in the day. 4AD's album covers have been consistently gorgeous for almost 30 years now, while the out-of-focus solarized ballerinas on Belly's Star define the entire mid-nineties for me. Probably my favorite cover of all time though is Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation, which I loved well before I even knew who Gerhard Richter was. Funny how all these things come together for me in the end.
Artist Edgar Müller specializes in some crazy-impressive pavement trompe l'oeil. If you stand at the right spot near one of his paintings it might suddenly seem as if the earth has opened up at your feet or that you are in danger of a sneaky sidewalk shark attack, but it's naught but one of Müller's fabricated catastrophes. See more of his work on his site at the link above or in the gallery here.
I was just chatting with my family tonight about how I'm going to try to see at Picasso's Three Musicians at MOMA when I'm in NYC next week as it's currently on display there, and now I coincidentally find out Picasso is also currently enjoying his first show at London's National Gallery. The British exhibit is called Picasso: Challenging the Past and attempts to show how the painter grappled with the work of the masters that preceded him in art history. It's a potentially great concept, but Adrian Searle has some quibbles with the show's installation especially when compared to an exhibition with a similar theme he saw in Spain a few years back:
Picasso in London is a disappointment. Given the exhibition's subtitle
- Challenging the Past - one expects to find him in yet another
head-to-head, still life-to-still life, nude-to-nude series of
confrontations. This is exactly what Paris and the Prado managed. Here,
Picasso is alone in the basement: to see his predecessors, you must
climb the stairs or take a lift, and try and keep Picasso in mind as
you go looking for Degas's La Coiffure, Ingres's Madame Moitessier, or
the odd Sabine Woman or two. Few of the paintings that mattered to
Picasso, or that really provoked him, hang in the National Gallery in
the first place; the Picassos with the strongest links to the gallery's
collection (his reworkings of Manet's Déjeuner Sur l'Herbe, for
instance) haven't come to London, either. So you end up deciding you
are in the wrong museum in the wrong country at the wrong time, stuck
here with Picasso, and that the two of you had better make the best of
To me many of the paintings stand on their own nevertheless, and you can see a selection in the gallery here. I do love his take on Manet, though his portrait of Lee Miller utterly confounds me. You'll have to click through to see what I'm talking about.
Last year London's National Portrait Gallery held an exhibition called Want to See More of Me? featuring photographer Donald MacLellan's gorgeous portraits of both established and up-and-coming British black actors, and the show is currently touring the UK. Gabriel Gbadamosi, however, sees the images not so much as the celebration of diversity they are intended to be but as a throwback to ye olde "tits-and-teeth" approach to head shots:
Want to See More of Me? – the titillating title for an exhibition of photographs of black British actors – is a reminder of that very vulgarity lurking in showbiz. This series of portraits, which has exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery and is now touring the country, is supposed to portray the country's leading acting talent from Britain's black population. But its very title strips its subjects of dignity as they wait, wanting to be recognised. The old bittersweet collision of race and sex is used to play up the appeal of the exhibition. In my opinion it vaguely alludes to the size of his member and the curve of her bottom. It's a cheap shot.
Fortunately Femi Fola has a strong rebuttal to Gbadamosi's argument, and personally I think the pictures are a breath of fresh air in an age when Vanity Fair still puts actors of color behind the fold on their Hollywood covers and Italian Vogue has to stage an all-black issue just to call attention to the fact that black models get a fraction of available contracts. Besides, I never mind seeing images of the marvelous Chiwetel Ejiofor and Sophie Okonedo. Judge for yourself in the gallery here.
There is so much about the Iraq War that makes my heart hurt, but one of the more painful images for me was of the deputy director of the Iraqi National Museum sitting on the floor of his building among the broken and looted remains of myriad priceless artifacts with his head in his hands. So it seems nothing short of a miracle to hear that the museum reopened a few weeks ago with many of its major pieces recovered (some by US troops no less) and restored. However, Maev Kennedy says that there is a sad note that must be considered along with the happiness:
In the joyful headlines over the recovery of iconic pieces such as the
5,500-year-old Warka Mask, a serenely enigmatic alabaster head smiling
faintly at the absurdities of human folly, it was almost overlooked
that thousands of small metal and clay pieces, inscribed tablets and
amulets, seal cylinders, easy to smuggle, hard to trace, of little
commercial value but priceless to historians, have almost certainly
gone for ever.
Still, what a wonderful thing to have some treasures and relics from thousands of years of culture back where they can be enjoyed by visitors. And may the individuals who pilfered the smaller items and then did not return them be tormented by vengeful ghosts.
Talk about a Wunderkammer. An amazing collection of butterflies assembled by brothers Walter and Charles Rothschild and donated to England's Harrow school are being auctioned off at a sale at Bonhams in May. Numbering in the thousands, the winged critters had been stashed away in a room used by the Harrow's IT department where few visited. Walter Rothschild had a severe addiction to collecting to the point where he almost ruined himself financially, but he was able to found London's Natural History Museum with his vast holdings as a result. Mark Brown summarized parts of a recent article by filmmaker Hannah Rothschild about her great-great uncle Walter that she wrote for the Bonhams quarterly:
Between 1899 and his death in 1937, butterflies became the main
focus of his attention. According to Hannah: "Nothing man-made - no
painting by Ingres or Velázquez, none of the jewels of Catherine the
Great nor the intricacies of Mughal art - can come to the shocking
beauty of these creatures ... My great-aunt Miriam used to send out a
Christmas card and got great pleasure from correcting those who assumed
that the image of swirling colours could be a lesser known work of some
famous Impressionist painter. 'You are looking at the greatly magnified reproductive organ of a butterfly,' she would tell princes and statesmen with glee."
Even though I feel sorry for all the poor dead butterflies in the Rothschild collection, it's also impossible not to marvel at the sheer variety of their iridescent and unusually-shaped wings that were gathered from around the world and pinned so carefully in place. Here's hoping the whole lot stays together and ideally ends up in a museum.
The classics nerd in me did a little bounce of joy to see the images that have been released by architect Jacques Rougerie of the proposed underwater museum in Alexandria's harbor that will allow visits to Cleopatra's palace by the scuba-disinclined for the first time since the 5th century. It's a brilliant idea to construct a fiberglass tunnel to the site instead of trying to move the fragile artifacts (which reportedly also contain remnants of the famous Alexandria lighthouse), though the project faces concerns about funding and whether proper site surveys will be conducted before construction begins. Jack Shenker talked to Naguib Amin, local site manager for the Supreme Council for Antiquities, about some of the questions being raised:
Amin rejected claims that money would be better spent giving a makeover
to the city's crumbling downtown buildings, most of which feature
stunning colonial-era architecture. "We view the museum as an integral
component of revitalising the city as a whole," he said.
If everything comes together properly the museum should be open to the public within five years, at which point I will be on the first plane to Egypt to go walk under the water.
This is that thing I do periodically, where I point you to some of my recent favorites from my Flickr friends' photostreams. Unsurprisingly I follow a lot of artists including my long-time favorite comic book writer/artist Paul Pope, and this logo all by itself from his upcoming graphic novel has me salivating with anticipation even though it isn't due out until next year. In typical Pope fashion he's been dropping hints about it since oh 2006.