Month: August 2009

Art on a Bus, Art in a Museum: How Do YOU See It?

Promotion for the Cleveland Museum of Art's new East Wing

Friday morning, while navigating a stream of rush-hour traffic, a bus whizzed by. Usually rattled by anything five times the size of my car, I grumbled and looked up. But what I saw on that big ‘ole bus made my day! Why? Splashed on the side was a huge banner (above) advertising the Cleveland Museum of Art’s new East Wing (fabulous, by the way — all glass, glossy floors, and a bow to the 19th century original building). Its message was magnificent!

“How Do YOU See It?” read the caption on the banner in milk-colored script. The museum was inviting the public to share their views of what the art means to them. Usually you walk through, read the placards, and take away the curator’s view. Or if you take a tour of the museum, you come away believing the docent’s view. Or maybe when you stare up at the painting you only try to figure out what the artist herself was saying. Here it’s all about the individual viewer and their impressions. What does the artwork make the viewer feel, see, think about?

[Shameless plug, but this is exactly my theme in my book Degrees of Freedom.]

When you enter the galleries, you are invited to share your take on the CMA’s works of art by submitting comments using interpretive cards available on-site at the museum. The Cleveland Museum of Art cards, which are an assortment of works by Modigliani, Avedon, others, read: 


Everyone interprets art differently. Consider this an invitation to use this card as a canvas upon which to describe, draw, paint, decoupage, distress, haiku, or whatever will best communicate how you see this piece of art.


Now, if I can just get my hands on those cards (which will be used by the museum for promotional purposes) – what a feast!


Sweet to the Swiss: Giacometti’s Mug on a Swiss Bank Note

Giacometti on the Swiss 100-franc bank note

Giacometti on the Swiss 100-franc bank note

In Berlin recently, police confiscated hundreds of bronze statues alleged to be Alberto Giacometti’s and arrested an art dealer and others on allegations of selling the fakes around the world.

Cops, robbers — that’s always exciting. But even more exciting was the last line of the article (do journalist’s always save their best punch for last?).

Giacometti is depicted on Switzerland’s 100 franc note. 

Why? He was born in Borgonovo, now part of the Swiss municipality of Stampa, near the Italian border.

Some fun facts:

  • In 1962, he was awarded the grand prize for sculpture at the Venice Biennale, and the award brought with it worldwide fame. Even when he had achieved popularity and his work was in demand, he still reworked models, often destroying them or setting them aside to be returned to years later.
  • As his last work he prepared the text for the book Paris sans fin, a sequence of 150 lithographs containing memories of all the places where he had lived.
  • Giacometti died in 1966 in Chur, Switzerland. His body was returned to his birthplace in Borgonovo.
  • JUICE ALERT! In May 2007 the executor of his widow’s estate, the French foreign minister, was convicted of illegally selling Giacometti’s works to a top auctioneer.

How much does Giacometti mean to the Swiss? Well, how much is a 100 bank note worth?

100.00 CHF


93.5084 USD

A lot!

I’ve Hit a Wall At the Museum

Bravo! This placard is in-depth! Compelling! Sparks curiosity! I want to grab my gallery neighbor and sit down and chat about body fluids!

There’s the mud-flinging debate going on about whether museums do a good enough job with those rectangular wall cards that appear below eah artwork that describe the work you are staring at. I’ve had a wide-ranging experience with their helpfulness; sometimes it varies by curator, sometimes it’s the product of an entire museum that fails a standard. (Good: Cleveland Musem of Art. Bad: Corcoran Gallery in DC.)

Some merely provide the name (often “Untitled”, sigh), dimensions, and year created (see below). Oh, and maybe the owner/benefactor (shout out to the exibit’s bankroller!)

I want the historical context, the art period and artists of influence, the artist’s world view, the intricacies of the artist’s bio spelled out right there before me. Given more information, the experience is that much richer — as much to process as possible. I think it gives the piece even more dimension and richness.

Alternatively, some people don’t like to be “told” what is going on in a painting; they like the unfold the mystery themselves. OK, so don’t read the placard.

Grrrrr. This placard is stark. Rote. Devoid of creativity. It leaves just me and the artwork, baby.

Art: What Does It All Mean?

Art as Experience

Art21 has an excellent list of books on art education that are required reading! I’m going straight to my local bookstore to check out these titles.

John Dewey’s Art as Experience
Based on John Dewey’s lectures on esthetics, delivered as the first William James Lecturer at Harvard in 1932, Art as Experience has grown to be considered internationally as the most distinguished work ever written by an American on the formal structure and characteristic effects of all the arts: architecture, sculpture, painting, music, and literature.

Elliot Eisner’s The Arts and the Creation of Mind
Eisner presents strong arguments for the inclusion of aesthetics as a core element of the school curriculum. He firmly addresses assessment and evaluation in the arts, proposing a shift from the evaluation of outcomes to the evaluation of process.

Anne-Celine Jaeger’s Image Makers, Image Takers: Interviews with Today’s Leading Curators, Editors and Photographers
This guide to photography draws upon in-depth interviews with established photographers from the fields of fashion, art, portraiture, documentary photography, and advertising as well as comments from picture editors, curators, agency directors, and publishers who reveal what they look for when choosing an image.

Art Hotels: Fashion or Function?

The Colombe D'Or in St Paul de Vence

Alexander Calder’s surreal poolside mobile at the Colombe d’Or, Provence.

Ever stayed in an art hotel? I haven’t actively sought them out, and even if I did it’s not likely I could afford them anyway. But I guess that depends on the definition of an “art hotel” because would you consider an art hotel one that harbored art of not-so-prominent artists? Technically it is an art hotel.

The above pic  from an article in the UK’s Guardian gives me anxiety. Who wants to sunbathe under THAT? While it’s cool and everything, when I’m in the sun, I’m in the sun, and I can’t imagine that hovering over me when I’m enjoying a cocktail (can you even see the person sitting next to you?) or trying to get some rays (casts too many shadows). And what about the colors? While the whole idea of the mobile sounds light and airy and appropriate for your mood at the pool, the colors are kind of dark. Perhaps the lines should be more sinuous, like your idea of a lazy afternoon at the pool.

I do love this concept of essentially sleeping in a gallery. But how about adding some functional art into the mix? A piece of art on which you can rest your cocktail?

Here’s an interesting book written by the Curatorial Director of Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in NY, that details the domestic furniture, lighting, and design objects of Minimalist and Post-Minimalist artists from the 1960s to the present. Features work by Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, Dan Flavin, Scott Burton, Robert Rauschenberg, John Baldessari, Rachel Whiteread, Richard Tuttle, and Isamo Noguchi.

Now that’s something that somebody could rest a cocktail on.

Antony Gormley: Life Beyond the Fourth Plinth

antony gormley, domain field, garage center for contemporary culture

Like Antony Gormley? The contemporary artist who asked volunteers to set up their own “piece of artwork” on the top of Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth? (see my write ups here and here.) Well, he’s got a new exhibit at Moscow’s Garage (get ready for some Cyrillic) right now called “Domain Field”. The works on display are of the human form. Cool stuff.

On Gormley’s website, he lists all of the places where he has his work on display publicly. BRAVO to the public works people at the below cities for recognizing the value of exhibiting art. Look where you can find Gormley’s art on your way to the metro/home/school/park/grocery store:

OUT OF THE DARK, Martinsplatz, Kassel, Germany, 1987
SCULPTURE FOR DERRY WALLS, Derry, Northern Ireland, 1987 – 2001
SOUND II, Winchester Cathedral, U.K., 1989
OPEN SPACE, Place Jean Monnet, Rennes, France, 1993
IRON:MAN, Victoria Square, Birmingham, U.K., 1994
HAVMANN, Mo I Rana, Norway, 1995
BEARING III, Tongyoung City, Korea, 1997
ANGEL OF THE NORTH, Gateshead, U.K., 1998
RHIZOME II, Expo Parque, Lisbon, Portugal, 1998
QUANTUM CLOUD, The Thames, Greenwich, London, UK, 2000
WELL, Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, The Hague, Holland, 2000
PASSAGE, Caumont, Picardy, France, 2000
PLACE OF REMEMBRANCE, Oslo, Norway, 2000
MIND-BODY-COLUMN, Osaka, Japan, 2000
STEHT UND FALLT, Jakob-Kaiser-Haus, Dorotheenblocke, Berlin, Germany, 2001
HERE AND HERE, Hoganas, Sweden, 2001
PLANETS, British Library, London, UK, 2002
INSIDE AUSTRALIA, Lake Ballard, Western Australia, 2002/ 2003
BROKEN COLUMN, Stavanger, Norway, 2003
ANOTHER PLACE, Crosby Beach, Merseyside, UK, 2003
FAI SPAZIO, PRENDI POSTO, Poggibonsi (part of Arte ‘all Arte 9), Italy, 2004
YOU, The Roundhouse, London, UK, 2006
RESOLUTION, Shoe Lane, London, UK, 2007
ANOTHER TIME XI, Exeter College, Oxford, 2009
PLANT, MacDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Cambridge, 2009


Oh, and here’s some Cyrillic, just to give you your fix for the day: «Поле притяжения» Энтони Гормли

Data Visualization: Is It Art?

Depicts 20,500 tuna, the average number of tuna fished from the world's oceans every fifteen minutes.

Depicts 20,500 tuna, the average number of tuna fished from the world's oceans every fifteen minutes.

Zoomed in even closer

Zoomed in even closer

Does art spur emotion or does emotion spur art? (Well both, duh.) But data visualization seems to throw its weight into this debate.

Here’s a fascinating article from the NYT on data visualization. I’m such a visual learner that data visualization is right up my alley. I can’t fathom a string of numbers, but I can get the essence of 1,000 sharks’ teeth or 2 million fish. (I was talking yesterday with a colleague about that other type of “string” — string theory. You can imagine that my eyes were glazing over.) I wrote something about “volume” on my blog recently in the “Guiness Book of World Records” post… someone had collected thousands of graffiti stickers and then posted them in a room and called it art. And there was the photo of hundreds of clergy at St. Peters. These perhaps lean more toward the wow! factor than being art for art’s sake. Maybe.

So what is data visualization? From the NYT:

Data visualization…is an interpretation, a different way to look at and think about data that often exposes complex patterns or correlations.

Data visualization is a way to make sense of the ever-increasing stream of information with which we’re bombarded and provides a creative antidote to the “analysis paralysis” that can result from the burden of processing such a large volume of information. “It’s not about clarifying data…It’s about contextualizing it.”

My favorite (and the most easy to interpret) example of this is Chris Jordan’s portraits of global mass culture in the “Running the Numbers” photography series which he uses “as a bridge between alienating information and its emotional impact.” The photos above, for example, illustrate a specific quantity of something: the number of tuna fished from the world’s oceans every fifteen minutes.

But is this art? In Chris’ work, which largely shows the effect of human consumption/impact I guess you could say that he used emotion (poor tuna!) to spur art:

large amounts of fact data > emotion > “emotional” data > becomes art

Which turns on its head the below philosophy that puts art at the beginning of the chain — that seeing a piece of art spurs emotion:

art > perception of art > perception of beauty > spiritual and physical love (emotion)

This second concept flow is the central theme of Degrees of Freedom.