Embassy Tour of Art

Private residence on the DC Embassy Tour

Private residence on the DC Embassy Tour



On Sunday I walked around upper northwest DC along Massachusetts Avenue and around the Kalorama area which borders Dupont Circle to the west to trot through some pretty amazing ambassadorial residences and  embassies. Each year different countries are featured. This year we saw the French Ambassador’s Residence (1910, beaux-arts mansion), Residence of the Ambassador of the Netherlands (old master paintings, tapestries), Embassy of Portugal, Residence of the Ambassador of Venezuela (classicist and abstract paintings), and the home of the Ethiopian ambassador.

I ogled at a Bonard in the French Embassy (what I would do to throw a party on the sweeping back terrace overlooking a leafy forest in the heart of DC). The Venezuelan residence had an impressive collection as well of contemporary Venezuelan artists. The Ethiopian ambassador had probably the most unique conversation piece I’ve seen – a gigantic  hollowed-out jug (size of a small cow) that stored wine. The wine is served using a ladle. Very cool presentation, though there’s no way to temperature control the liquid. (But that’s just a small detail at happy hour anyway.)

But most fascinating, I’ll have to admit, were the two private, non-ambassadorial residences on the tour. One was the home of a former State Department curator; the other was the home of a graphic designer.

Perhaps the ultimate job would be state department curator – jetting all over the world to place art in the U.S. embassies. What a unique foreign collection you could amass. And that she did. Ranging from Turkish tapestries to a sarcophagus of an Egyptian king, her treasures were spread all over the first floor of the massive rowhouse.

The graphic designer’s rowhouse was equally impressive, with a Buddha wading pool that he installed on his small terrace complete with silk waterlilies the color of the rainbow, to a genuine Miro in his bedroom (yep, he allowed all of DC to traipse through his entire home), to two huge pink poodles flanking the living room fireplace.

Next year, I think I’m going to be equally excited to see the bling in the private homes of “average” Americans.


Art Latches On To… The Guiness Book of World Records?

Is art latching onto the concept of “go big or go home!” “Whoever accumulates the most, wins!” “I have more than anyone else in the world!” Is more and bigger, better? I ask because:

Starting in the early nineties, Michael Anderson, a Bronx-born artist, began to amass what has come to be regarded—unofficially, and mostly by Anderson himself—as the world’s largest collection of graffiti stickers…For years, they sat quietly in notebooks in the artist’s Upper West Side apartment. Last April, the owners of the new Ace Hotel at 29th and Broadway came calling with a mural commission. Completed last month, it’s most likely the only museum devoted to this extremely ephemeral form. 

I love this. Anderson calls himself a curator, largely because the graffiti were all done by graffiti artists, whose work he cobbled together, printed on silk paper, and assembled in a collage.

But the striking part of it is how many, which leads you to “wow!”

It’s about scale and the idea that by simply viewing  something that we can feel really small or on top of the world or invincible. It’s not about each and every individual sticker; it’s the menagerie that tricks the eye and the mind into going somewhere else.

I talked about this “bigger is better” concept here as “critical mass” 

anything portrayed in critical mass will be poignant. 1,000 butterflies, 1 million grains of sand, 40 carats of rubies…

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.

Pinault’s Emerging Artists



So who does Francois Pinault consider “emerging artists” such that he would include them in his collection now on view at Venice’s Biennale?  (For more on Pinault and the Biennale, see article below.) Apparently, he’s plucking artists that others (Saatchi, etc.) have already identified as gems and have given a shot at a big-time exhibition. So it sounds like he’s letting others (Saatchi) do his guesswork for him, just like how he may tap Mellon or UBS to help choose his business investments (Pinault holds the Gucci group and numerous other well-known establishments). If Pinault has similar success with picking winners in art as he has with his businesses, then roll the dice, I’m placing my bets with Pinault’s list.
So what are Pinault’s picks doing in terms of their art? What are their visions? Here’s two:
Matthew Day Jackson – in his Saatchi Gallery bio he says he’s “a sculptor who repurposes frontier symbols for political aims” — a unique concept and pretty fascinating on many levels, from the historical perspective to re-engineering “found” pieces. In Sepulchre, he took his punk t-shirts and stitched them into a mast. Is he saying that punk are the new pirates? I’m waiting for the eyepatch to come into fashion. 
Adel Abdessemed

Adel Abdessemed

Adel Abdessemed — Personally, I don’t know how he is still considered an “emerging” artist. His  CV is PHAT (10 pages!): solo and group shows all over the world, from Turin to Tenerife, and including the Pompidou and the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. His works are big: at David Zwirner’s gallery in Chelsea he installed “Telle mère tel fils (which translates as “Like Mother Like Son”), which was created out of the nose and tails sections of three commuter airliners; connected by a tunnel made of white felt, the piece twists and turns like a giant serpent.” And like Matthew Jackson, he uses a lot of “found” pieces. His work has evolved from his upbringing in Algeria, but rather than focusing his art on the political climate there, he reacts to politics on a global scale.

He takes an interesting perspective on his “organic” work versus pop art:




My work is organic, constantly evolving. All of my artworks spring from an intuition of an image in construction. Things change as the work comes to life and it’s the direct experience of this construction that produces the result—as opposed to Pop Art, where the object is already finished before the work of art is created.

OK, will look at more of Pinault’s pics in the next post.


Art and the Made Man: What Have You Done For Me Lately?

A struggling artist clamors for the eye of Pinault

A struggling artist clamors for the eye of Pinault

OK, call me amateur paparazzi, star-gazer, a girl tripping in her stillhettos, but I was rummaging around  looking for articles/glam shots on Venice’s Bienniale and stopped cold when I saw the above pic calling out Francois Pinault. The Francois Pinault Foundation has transformed Venice’s Punta della Dogana (customs building) into a contemporary art center, which opened in June 2009 for the Biennale. It contains (some of) Pinault’s permanent contemporary art collection.

I’ve done a few double-takes on this man in the past. On Forbes list of billionaires around the world, he’s 39th. He’s got Selma Hayek on his arm (they got married in Paris’s City Hall.  Classy.) He owns the Gucci Group (inc. Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta), Christie’s auction house, and Château Latour (!!!).

So man with the money, what have you done for me lately? Ahh, that’s right. Selling off classic works (Jaspar Johns’, etc.) to make room for emerging artists. (I intuit “emerging” artists to mean “struggling” artists, but that’s just my take? It’s like emerging writers…)

Anyway, bravo Pinault. Next to your Jeff Koons, Sigmar Polke, Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince, Cy Twombly, Takashi Murakami or Jake & Dinos Chapman you place pieces by emerging talents such as Matthew Day Jackson, Adel Abdessemed, Wilhelm Sasnal, Richard Hughes, Nate Lowman, Mark Bradford and Kai Althoff. (I’ll write more about these emerging artists in my next several posts.)

So how can we get more enterprising men (AND WOMEN!) like Pinault in the mix? Doesn’t everyone want to be married to Selma Hayek?

And now, the more I think about it, there IS a difference between emerging artists and struggling artists. Emerging artists are those who have “made it” but are new on the scene. Struggling artists just haven’t made it to the scene yet. OK, that’s fodder for the next post.

Local or Foreign Artists: Who Paints the Town Better?

Manuel Garcia Rodriguez Vista de Sevilla, Museo de Bellas Artes

Manuel Garcia Rodriguez Vista de Sevilla, Museo de Bellas Artes

The Museo de Bellas Artes in Seville, Spain, acquired the piece Vista de Sevilla from Seville artist Manuel García Rodríguez. He was part of a group of pioneer Sevillian landscape painters known as the School of  Alcalá, which focused almost exclusively on painting the Guadalquivir river that cuts through the heart of Seville. 

This brings up the question: are local artists the best to portray their city? In one sense, they’ve walked the streets a thousand times, they know the shortcuts through quiet streets, and they understand the nuances of the language, the customs, the culture. On the other hand, they may not be able to see the forest for the trees. A tourist, upon first stepping foot on the Seville streets, may bring with them a “comparative culture” analytic. Because they are not familiar with the streets, the architecture, the language, they are better able to acutely define what Seville is and whether it is timid, lazy, fast-paced, or unforgiving. In addition, a tourist will elicit a reaction from the locals (whereas locals tend to ignore other locals) and this tells volumes. (Whether the reaction/feeling is authentic or not is another story).

It would be an interesting experiment to have a local artist and a foreign artist paint the same subject matter, and then have a blind judging by locals. Wonder who would win?

The Dawn of the Metrocurator

The New Curator  has come up with a new concept (at least to me) of curating in big cities where there’s a lot to curate: Metrocurator. New Curator defines it like this:

Metrocurators is the term I used to describe a new generation of curator that’s lightweight, deals in very little bureaucracy, has a DIY attitude because of very limited funds and basically is running all over a city pushing small outbreaks of museums into public spaces.

It’s fabulous concept, and the article goes on to explain that the metrocurators might get their “stuff” from venture culturalists (another brilliant concept, but that’s not new). But why is this metrocurator concept new? Is it because we hoard our art? Is it because no one has been stricken with the idea that they could ship out their art on loan? Or maybe they think that their collection is paltry and nobody would want to look at it (I’m in this category). Or that they have a random grouping of art and it doesn’t work collectively (but I think the point of metrocurating is that it’s pulled together from various places anyway, to culminate in an exhibition.) Or maybe people are just too busy to go to the trouble. Too busy to share.

I’m not sure where the museum would be housed (has the metrocurator snagged a downtown loft with brilliant lighting?). I don’t think people who do have art to offer would want the random public traipsing through their home.

I think it’s a concept that needs molding & sculpting. But it’s a great one.