Fine Art

Frank Underwood


Whatever happened to this?

Jonathan Yeo has painted the "fictional" portrait of Kevin Spacey's Frank Underwood character for the Smithsonian, and this was in 2016. It hung in the National Portrait Gallery, and, for all intents and purposes, it's probably not even worth $50 in terms of real value. For people who love macabre, scandalous items, it's literally priceless.



Well, this is a relief:

Warner Bros. and the estate of author J.R.R. Tolkien announced Monday that they amicably resolved an $80 million lawsuit over the alleged digital exploitation of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The Tolkien estate and book publisher HarperCollins filed the lawsuit against Warner Bros. in 2012 alleging that the company had breached contract by marketing online games, slot machines, and other gambling-related merchandise based on Tolkien's books. The estate claimed the 1969 rights agreement entitled the studio to create only “tangible” merchandise associated with the books.

I was worried that the Tolkien estate was going broke. Hopefully, they ended up with somewhere close to half of the $80 million they were suing for. If you're like me, and I know I am, then you prefer your Tolkien on the printed page and not on the silver screen or some Blu-Ray player.  I mean, the movies were good, and they really exceeded expectations, but aren't you wondering when they'll just reboot the whole thing and cash in again?

Flooding at the Louvre

It would be the height of stupidity for the curators at the Louvre to "forget" to move the Mona Lisa:

The "Mona Lisa" will stay dry on her upper floor in the Louvre as museums in Paris scramble to protect their world-famous artworks and artifacts from deadly floods.

Flooding in France and Germany has killed 11 people as of Friday -- 10 of them in southern Germany and one on the outskirts of Paris -- and has caused chaos in the French capital, which shut down several busy train lines and part of its metro, adding to the congestion on its roads.

"Due to the level of the river Seine, the Musée du Louvre will be exceptionally closed to the public on June 3, 2016 to ensure the protection of the works located in flood zones. We apologize for any inconvenience caused," the museum said on its website.

I know that we live in an era where our elites are peopled with incompetent boobs, but this is just too much. The priceless artworks will be protected (barring some unimaginable wall of water that overwhelms the facility) but it's the lesser known stuff that could end up getting short shrift. Museums are, typically, in possession of vast amounts of artwork that never gets displayed. Much of this work is damaged when it is warehoused improperly. I hope they're not forgetting to check the basement.

Les Femmes d'Alger

Actually, it's not much of a story--it's more of a testament to the ability of the wealthy to overspend:
In May, Pablo Picasso’s 1955 painting Les Femmes d’Alger (Version “O”) was snapped up at Christie’s for $179 million, setting a record for the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction. Naturally, the headlines focused on the sheer magnitude of the sale, which broke the old auction record of $142 million — the cost of Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucian Freud. The painting itself, though, has a story to tell beyond its price. 
The price tag of $179 million resists criticism because this is a Picasso; however, it's not a major Picasso in the sense that:
Picasso’s friend and biographer John Richardson doesn’t place it “in the first 100 of Picasso’s best paintings.”

Art and Social Conscience

This is a bit of a pipe dream:
When the world is convulsed by a financial disaster, it seems only right that the arts should engage with it. Just to continue with its own concerns, shut away in its little world of galleries and concert halls would seem indecent, while millions are being thrown out of work or onto the street.

History offers an inspiring example of how art can help heal the social wounds brought on by a financial crisis. After the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed, the arts in America took on a new tone, epitomised in the career of Aaron Copland. He foreswore the nose-thumbing modernism of his youth and set about creating a ruggedly populist language, epitomised in such works as the Fanfare for the Common Man (later incorporated into the 3rd Symphony) and those wonderful ballets such as Billy the Kid.

Like the Depression-era artists such as Ben Shahn and playwrights such as Clifford Odets, Copland knew that to be politically effective, art has to speak in terms its audience will understand. In the Thirties, artists themselves often suffered from the same poverty as the Okie farmers and unemployed factory workers depicted in their art. That's why it has such a stirring sense of conviction; it was born out of social solidarity.

You would think that because our ability to exchange information has improved dramatically since the 1930s that the art of today would be more relevant in terms of commentary. It isn't, precisely because the technology and the context is too easy to ignore and misunderstand.

I think thinks were more straightforward in previous eras. There is always subtext, and sly humor, and satire has been ever-present, but the impact of Depression-era art is greater because you could hit people over the head with scenes of pathos and desperation and not be readily accused of manipulation and dishonesty.

What you see above is a distressed piece of euro currency. So, the artist doesn't like money or the design of the money? This is supposed to be a unique and biting piece of social commentary? Really? He colored on and chopped up a large denomination bill. Hey, that's original.

Snark, in other words, has undermined everything in the art world. These images of pathos you're displaying--are you for real or are you being ironic or are you juxtaposing things in order to make people laugh? That's why the impact is greatly reduced.

Situated Cognition and Art

This makes sense to me--the brain absorbs art and creative material in a number of different ways, but the space and context of a museum trumps that of a flat digital screen format.

The point though, is that what do museums do now that they have digitized their collections? There are tremendous works of art that are too fragile to display and there isn't enough space on the floor for the typical museum to display what they have in their collections. Digitization was supposed to preserve and expand that which could not otherwise be enjoyed. It turns out, museums should have been expanding their space and looking for ways to display fragile materials. At least it does from the viewpoint of an enhanced experience.

The Iranian Jackson Pollock

Jackson Pollock, Mural on Red Indian Ground, 1950

Did you know that the government of Iran still maintains a vast collection of modern art acquired before the Iranian Revolution in 1979?
In the last years of the Iranian Shah’s rein, during a particularly flush oil-boom period, the Iranian queen Farah Pahlavi assembled a formidable collection of modern art, now valued at several billion US dollars. The Picassos, Pollocks and Warhols (among many other household names) in Tehran’s Contemporary Art Museum were viewable from the museums’ opening in 1977 until the Iranian Revolution in 1979 at which time the art was deemed ‘Western’, ie decadent and unsuitable for viewing. Curators spirited the art away into a climate-controlled basement vault – there, it has been safe not only from climate extremes but also knife-wielding revolutionaries. The artworks are often lent to other world institutions, but display in Tehran depends on who is leading the country – a few works were mounted in a Pop Art/Op Art show here in 2005, but any works depicting nudity or homoerotic overtones, like Bacon’s Two Figures Lying on a Bed With Attendants, remain hidden.
Has anyone ever tried to trade weapons for modern art? Would the Iranians accept a few Exocet missiles or a tank battalion? Would such a trade be legal?

It's a shame that all of that art remains hidden away in vaults.

Ed Emberley Taught Me How to Draw

The kicker is, I can't draw!

But I do have a good memory, and this is a page I haven't seen in nearly 35 years. It is the assembly line method of drawing vehicles, done by Ed Emberley.

Emberley was an innovated artist who illustrated kids books. That may sound simple enough, but the complexity of his work and the sophistication of his methods put him among the best of 20th Century's graphic artists.

Amazing stuff, and his work has been saved and restored.

Bringing Stefan Zweig Back Into Print

Stefan Zweig is a writer everyone should know:
Stefan Zweig was once ‘the world’s most translated author’ – then he faded into obscurity in the English-speaking world. But a revival in interest is under way, reports Matthew Anderson.
A few years ago the director Wes Anderson was browsing the shelves of a bookshop in his adopted home of Paris when he made a chance discovery. He took down a copy of Beware of Pity, a 1939 novel by the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig, recently re-released in English after years out of print. “I think I read the first page in the store and thought, ‘OK, this is a new favourite writer of mine,’” Anderson told Variety.
Anderson has used Zweig's work to make The Grand Budapest Hotel, a film that it's going to be impossible not to see. I don't know exactly how you would view Zweig today--and how are we going to view Anderson as well? Zweig, in his lifetime, enjoyed a popularity that has eluded Anderson. 

Zweig's impact across European culture has to be gauged in that arena. It would be too easy to categorize him as a popular author with little substance--that would be unfair. It would be unfair to try and rate him against authors that were in pursuit of other ideals and who eschewed commercial success. Zweig clearly went after popularity and wanted to be widely read--in other words, accessible in a medium that elevates the inaccessible to ridiculous heights. But there's no question that he had an impact on the culture:
“He was one of the first star authors, and even in an age with no TV and very few pictures in the newspapers, people recognised him wherever he went,” says Zweig’s biographer Oliver Matuschek, who has spent 20 years researching the writer’s life and works. “The sheer volume is unbelievable,” says Matuschek. “In the collected works in German there are 36 volumes, and that doesn’t include the 500 pieces of journalism that were published in newspapers and magazines in his lifetime.”
That may explain it--the fact that he wrote in his native German and not English. Translations of his work were commonplace enough, but without the advantage of being a native speaker of English, Zweig may have been forgotten almost entirely because we tend to place more value on English language writers. I would call that a bias.

Is There a Father of Modern Art?

This is an excellent article to read. Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn broke with tradition and painted exactly what he saw. He painted to reflect reality, not to flatter his patrons:
For the art historian Taco Dibbits, director of collections at the Rijksmuseum, the answer lies in Rembrandt’s ability to penetrate to the core of his subject, no matter who or what he was painting. “Over the centuries, Rembrandt has inspired artists in different ways,” Dibbits tells me. “Something that has fascinated a lot of artists is the way he depicts different humours, different moods, different psychologies. There is such depth to his personalities: the essence of his genius is that rather than trying to make people more beautiful than they are, he depicts them as they really are. That makes his portraits immensely humane and approachable – unlike, say, classic Italian portraits, which are far more aloof and less direct. Rembrandt didn’t try to please his subjects or the viewer. With Rembrandt, you are looking at real people.”

Think of that when you read about how awful someone's portrait looks. Perhaps it is supposed to look bad. People often look like hell when you consider that much of what goes into our modern culture--plastic surgery, chemical-based makeup, flattering lighting techniques, Photoshop--exists solely to hide nature. Rembrandt was unafraid to show the world that looking like hell wasn't the worst thing in the world.

Can you really say that Rembrandt was the father of modern art? His techniques were revolutionary but it took centuries for the ideas to really take hold.

The Definitive Jane Austen

This is the definitive portrait of Jane Austen.

Instead of sitting in a museum or on display in a culturally sensitive place, like the museum that bears her name (Jane Austen House Museum in Chawton, Hampshire), it is now in the hands of a private individual.
It belongs to the people, and it should not have been sold to a private collector. But, there it is. This is the wave of the future.

Saying Grace

Of course, only an atheist would pay $46 million dollars for a Norman Rockwell.

I don't mean to be cynical, but it is not one of the finest American paintings ever. It is now the most "valuable" painting in terms of what someone would pay, however. Rockwell was one of our greatest artists, but he had a social commentary aspect to his work that still resonates. His depiction of life in the first half of the 20th Century is without peer.

The Severity of the Danish Character

The problem with this painting is that it is rendered on a black background. Without the ability to see the context of where the children are arranged against the backdrop of their parents and grandparents, the eye is drawn to the fact that they appear to be superimposed against one another, floating in gloom and doom.

In five minutes, someone could photoshop a tiled floor and the barest details of a simply room onto this painting and it would immediately change the way that the eye is drawn to the fact that the subjects are floating in the ether. I think that this is what undercuts the painting. That, and the eye is drawn to the light that illuminates the structures in the background.

My other lame piece of analysis centers around the harshness of depicting people without anything flattering to offset their inherent lack of appeal. This is a royal family? They could be Kardashians. There is no majesty, only the dark severity of the Danish national character.

Banksy Is Running Wild in New York City

Banksy's latest stunt? Take a thrift store painting, change it and give it a new title, and then give it back to the thrift store.

There are no words for how brilliant this is in terms of trolling an art community that has had it coming for a good long while. Everything in New York is about money and Banksy is making people see that every time he drops a pitch-perfect troll bomb in their laps.