Month: July 2009

Dead Butterflies and the King of Cycling


Lance, je t’aime, but what were you thinking?

The bike is gorgeous. Just gorgeous. Damien Hirst created a brand-spankin’ new one for Lance to ride on the last stage of this year’s Tour de France that wrapped itself 8 loops along the Champs Elysees. It was covered in real butterfly wings. Ahh. Is there anything more beautiful?

But let’s come to a screeching halt here: does Hirst create beautiful art? I’m not entirely sure this is his thing. Projects such as the shark in formaldehyde, etc. etc. have all been, well, grotesque. Is creating the sense of beauty an entirely new endeavor for Hirst?

So back on the bike…  Couldn’t they have used fake butterfly wings? Hirst said no, that he was going after the irridescence and shimmer that only real wings could exude. But those poor butterflies…

Which begs the question, does art need to be stark raving real to be beautiful? Don’t synthetics have a place?

Also, is  Hirst saying that Lance is a dead butterfly?


Cheeky to Eeky: Where Public Art Went Wrong

Declared unacceptable: A huge yellow sign spelling out “United States” on the Canada-facing facade of the new border station in Massena, N.Y., is being dismantled because of security concerns.

After years of working closely with the architects, the New York firm of Smith-Miller & Hawkinson, the Customs and Border Patrol (part of DHS) signed off on the final version of a new border-crossing station in northeastern New York State in 2007. Yet three weeks ago, less than a month after the station opened, workers began prying the big yellow letters off the building’s facade on orders from CBP. “There were security concerns,” said Kelly Ivahnenko, a spokeswoman for CBP. “The sign could be a huge target and attract undue attention. Anything that would place our officers at risk we need to avoid.”

I kind of agree. However I don’t think CBP was necessarily balking at the idea that public art would attract undue attention; it was the choice of the huge neon letters that caused the controversy. The big yellow letters of welcome seem almost Disneyland-esqe; not quite the image that a security agency wants to promote. Save that for the welcome center with their big, showy gardens of flowers.

I love the idea; it was the execution that went haywire!

A Cheeky Intervention

THE NYT hit on what could perhaps be an emerging art form: a “nip tuck” for the public eyesore. It could be a new show on Bravo: Project Art Intervention.

One kind of public sculpture practiced by people who want to change the world is the “intervention,” in which the artist subtly alters some existing structure to subvert perceived social complacency. At City Hall Park, under the auspices of the Public Art Fund, the British sculptor Richard Woods has intervened by cladding two octagonal guard booths in panels imprinted with red-on-white brick patterns, giving them the look of cheap amusement-park pavilions. Also, in an indoor lobby, he has covered an elaborately molded door with a flat, printed copy of the door.

It sounds like the emphasis is on performing a “cheeky” makeover, and people love cheeky, which means that polka-dotted fire hydrants could be popping up in your neighborhood by breakfast. But not so fast. Someone ran rampant with the idea of “cheeky” when they removed Damien Hirst’s colossal bronze sculpture of a partly dissected pregnant woman (!) from the outdoor Lever House plaza and replaced it with a giant, white Hello Kitty figure (double up !!) by Tom Sachs. I’m not sure if this intervention really improved the public space or made it that much more of an eyesore.

Perhaps to be successful, the concept of art intervention should just leave “cheeky” out. On second thought, no, I think we could use a little humor interspersed in the madness that is life.

Museum of Knowledge

Mental Maps

Mental Maps

I walked into an exhibit in Budapest, and to my horror, I thought I had walked into my office back in the States. Plastered across the barren-white walls were posterboard-sized mental maps (“mind maps” I call them, for sorting/aggregating/classifying topics and ideas). But the more closely I looked, I realized that at the Dorottya Gallery on ultra-chic Vorosmarty ter, that a new kind of musem was born: The Knowledge Museum.

Here, Bucharest-based artist Lia Perjovschi “proposed an imaginary museum… which comprises drawings, objects, charts, photos, and color prints, [and] is an objectification of the mass of information the artist has acquired through reading, travelling, and creative work. The ‘mental map’ thus created offers a view into those processes of selection that define the artist’s attitude towards the world, her methods of associating things, of building her own understanding of the world.”

First of all, we all need to create a mental map to declutter and organize our messy lives. Everyone’s map would be vastly different, and quite foreign to the next person, but strikingly clear and concise to its owner. All of this is very exciting. Sharing mental maps would be like peeking into your lunch bag in the cafeteria.

“Whatchu got?”

“Reese’s Cups. Whatchu got?”

“A fruit cup.”

[Mortified stare by Mr. Reese’s Cup]

Perjovschi, a collector, created the idea in part because of her interest in “shifting the focus from the spectacle to the learning process.” A disagregated collection, or one where all the parts don’t flow together in some organized way can create 1) bad feng shui, and 2) the anxiety that each individual piece should knock your socks off. But how about if that one particular piece is there not on its own accord, but because it was placed to round out the rest of the collection? To round out your mental map/world view?

Someone could write a thesis on this topic. Or a brief. But I… won’t. THAT’s really too much like work.

A Masterpiece Within A Masterpiece

Tumbling Doll sculptures

Tumbling Doll sculptures

What can I say? Budapest was… simply divine. The vivid cultural fabric, extreme arts emphasis, and pounding nightlife really give Lisbon, Madrid, and Paris a run for their money. I walked up and down posh Vaci ut and Andrassy ut until my legs nearly gave out and biked around kitchy Erzebet ter and valiant Hero’s Square so many times it made my head spin. I ate the onion baguettes fresh from the oven in the metro stops. I ducked into contemporary galleries where the curator walked me around discussing an exhibition till my head grew dizzy.

And a side note: their sewer covers are drop-dead gorgeous. I’m not kidding. I had to pause and stare, and even take some pictures (forthcoming).

I’ll miss the overpriced tall brewed coffee (a tiny espresso is just NOT enough), magyar wines, the  ultra cool hot spring-fed baths, catching the Tour de France on the big screen TVs in Burger King on Vorosmarty ter, the striking view of St. Itzvan’s from the hotel room, partying with expats from Nigeria, Jordan, and Iran. And an architectural masterpiece around every corner.

But perhaps most striking was that art was everywhere. The city bled the arts.

The easiest example of this is a striking 1904 Art Nouveau building right at the foot of the most elegant bridge linking Buda and Pest that now houses the Four Seasons hotel. And within the building are Mamikon Yengibarian’s Tumbling Doll sculptures.  I had discovered this Hungarian artist before visiting (see this post), and he did not disappoint. These sculptures scream 1) Giacometti (is it me or am I on a Giacometti kick?) and 2) the weeble wobble — striking and playful, a good metaphor for Budapest itself.

There was so much more like this that I missed, which, lucky for me, just means I have a great excuse to go back.

Budapest: Art’s Home Is Its Castle

Buda Castle

Buda Castle

Before I leave for a gluttonous trip to Budapest for a week (too short, I know) I wanted to research a few of Hungary’s more well-known artists of the past century. I was starstruck!

If a culture’s level of art appreciation is correlated with the architectural importance of the building in which its art is housed, Budapest must be madly in love with its art. The Hungarian National Gallery (HNG) is housed in Buda Castle — the historical castle of the Hungarian kings in Budapest — first completed in 1265. It’s undergone some rough times: during the siege of Budapest in 1945, it was the last major strongpoint of Budapest held by Axis forces, and artillery fire rendered the palace to ruins. It was subsequently rebuilt, and in 1959 the HNG moved in.

Currently on exhibit this summer is The “Művészház” 1909-1914. The exhibit tells the story of the turn-of-the-century organization of artists in Budapest called the Artists’ House (“Művészház”) which organized significant exhibitions of Hungarian and international modern artists, including classic Hungarian painting, impressionist works held by private collectors, and recent works by French, German, Japanese, and Hungarian artists (Austrian artists included Klimt). The organization introduced young artists by organizing jury-free exhibitions which provided an opportunity to artists rejected by other institutions. The Artists’ House also published a magazine and established a free art school.

The HNG features in its permanent collection many prominent Hungarian artists, including Margit Anna (1913 – 1991). Anna’s life tells an interesting story, perhaps one similarly embedded in the cultural fabric of the Hungarian people. In 1937, on a trip to Paris with her husband, Imre Amos (also a painter), she met Chagall and his influence became evident in her early work. After her husband died in a Nazi concentration camp in 1944, Anna’s style became harsher and more elemental and a new motif appeared in her pictures: puppets symbolizing man exposed to history. After 1949, she stopped producing work for awhile, eventually starting to paint again in the 1960s. Her works at that point symbolized suppressed tragedy, with surreal metamorphoses of the puppet motif.

Margit Anna "The Thinker"
Margit Anna “The Thinker”

Meet you here with some (hopefully) magical stories when I get back! 

Tour de France: 5th Stage to Perpignan ‘Dedicated to Salvador Dali’


The Sun of Dali, 1965

The Sun of Dali, 1965


Today is Stage 5 of the Tour de France, and the official TdF website dedicates Stage 5 – Le Cap d’Agde to Perpignan stage  –

to Salvador Dali, who called the Perpignan railway station the “cosmogonic centre of the universe”. The icon of surrealism, who was touched by a form of fascination for the spectacle of cycling, created the 1959 Tour’s postcard. If his influence inspires the pack in the Corbières or along the seaside, anything will be possible.

(By the way, I was going to link to the Perpignan, France, website, but it is only offered in Catalan, French, and Spanish. I find it strangely liberating that it is not offered in English! Sometimes it’s refreshing to be an afterthought.)

I’m still remiss that on a trip to Barcelona a few years ago, I chose the short straw and grudgingly followed my group up terrifying switchbacks to a monastery in the wilds of Spain (where someone in our party got lost and so we remained hot, sweating, and tired on the top of a mountain for two agonizing hours longer than necessary, sandwiched among throngs of other tourists who seemed to be no happier than we were to be there) rather than heading north to Dali’s hometown of Figueres where Dali created his Dalí Theatre and Museum.

Dali’s love of theatrics and “go big or go home” is evident in the actual structure of the museum. It not only claims to be the largest surrealistic object in the world, but the museum was conceived and built by Dali on the ruins of the 19th century Municipal Theatre, which was destroyed in the Spanish Civil War. One unique curatorial twist that the museum offers is “Dali at Night” which takes place in August and is in its 18th year. Between 10 pm and 1 am each night, visitors can drink cava (brought to you by Castella Peralada — a gorgeous vineyard) on one of the inner terraces and watch a slideshow of his works.

If I were at the tour, I may have popped a lawnchair in Figueres with a bottle of cava and in my complete bliss, forgotten entirely about the paleton and its riders.