By Deb A.
Four Olympians are in Pyongchang right now as artists-in-residence. A runner/filmmaker, a javelin thrower/artist, a biathlete/artist and a fencer/artist will all lend their creative skills to the Olympic Art Project, a programme created to "bring the Olympic values to life through art."
There are perhaps only a handful of professional athletes who are also known for their creative endeavours. Here's a look at three individuals who can be found in the middle of the Venn diagram of artists and athletes.
Ernie Barnes claimed to have always been more interested in art than football. He gave this account of ending his football career to paint:
One day on the playing field I looked up and the sun was breaking the clouds, hitting the unmuddied areas on the uniforms, and I said, 'That's beautiful!' I knew then that it was all over being a player. I was more interested in art. So I traded my cleats for canvas, my bruises for brushes, and put all the violence and power I'd felt on the field into my paintings.
(via the New York Times)
His most famous painting, Sugar Shack, graced the cover of Marvin Gaye's album "I Want You."
Christoph Finkel became world champion of sport climbing in 1992, the same year he began studying at Nuremberg's Academy of Fine Arts. He later coached the German national team, and bowed out of the sport completely in 2000. He continues to work as an acclaimed artist, incorporating his climbing skills and his reverence for nature into his works: carefully carved wooden bowls and sculptures created from fallen tree trunks that he drags out of the southern German mountains. Mr. Finkel's art can be found in prominent collections and museums around the world.
Erik Boomer is both a world-class kayaker and a renowned outdoor photographer. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Outside and National Geographic.
By Deb A.
February is the shortest month, but it's no less packed with interesting tidbits from the worlds of art and literature.
A must-read: After the controversy surrounding the temporary removal of a pre-Raphaelite painting at the Manchester Art Gallery, Ellen Mara De Wachter at Frieze investigates the issues that arise when cultural institutions incorporate activism into their programmes.
Masterpiece found: Ben Ewonwu's long-missing portrait of Nigerian princess Adetutu Ademiluyi has been located in a North London flat. (The Telegraph)
An Olympic champion: Whether you follow every triple Salchow or not, you will want to take a look at this extraordinary pavilion. It's covered with Vantablack spray, not the pigment that can only be used by Anish Kapoor. (Dezeen)
Not recent, but related (and amusing): Stuart Semple has protested Mr. Kapoor's exclusive rights to Vantablack with the pinkest pink, the glitteriest glitter, and the blackest black that's actually available to artists. You can purchase any of these as long as you're not Anish Kapoor.
Reading the unreadable: The woman who deciphers centuries-old handwritten documents. "You see [Jane Austen's edits to Pride and Prejudice], and you think—that's so much better than it was before." (Atlas Obscura)
By Deb A.
If you're more likely to be able to name a city's top art galleries than its local sports teams, there's still a good reason for you to be interested in the outcome of today's Super Bowl. It turns out there's more at stake than a trophy and a parade.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art and Boston's Museum of Fine Art have upped the ante by betting paintings: The winning city's museum will receive a free loan from the loser. Here's what's at stake.
If the Philadelphia Eagles win, the city will host Mrs. James Warren (Mercy Otis), painted around 1763 by John Singleton Copley:
If the New England Patriots emerge victorious, Boston's Museum of Fine Arts will proudly display Philly's Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky by Benjamin West (ca. 1816).
By Deb A.
An offer accepted, a gift rejected, and a request redirected: art is on the move this year.
Yes, please: The Bayeux Tapestry
Let's begin with the loan that has been hailed as a diplomatic masterstroke: France's Bayeux Tapestry. Woven nearly a thousand years ago, the artwork depicts the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. It has been requested by the UK twice before, in 1953 for the Queen's coronation and again in 1966 for the 900th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings. Both requests were denied. French president Emmanuel Macron announced that the tapestry may leave the country for the very first time as early as 2020, as long as it can be safely transported.
No, thanks: Bouquet of Tulips
Back in France, two dozen individuals from the country's art scene are urging the city of Paris to reject a gift from Jeff Koons. Back in 2016 Mr. Koons promised to donate his Bouquet of Tulips to the city to commemorate the 2015 Paris attacks. The 12-metre high sculpture of a hand holding flowers is being criticised on several fronts: its proposed location outside the Museum of Modern Art and the Palais de Tokyo is nowhere near the site of the attacks; there was no call for submissions and therefore no opportunity for a French artist to propose a piece; the artist is too commercial and the artwork too crass; and finally, although the sculpture will be donated, it will still cost taxpayers millions to erect it.
"I would think it would be important to consult with the families of the victims," signatory Stéphane Corréard told artnet News. "The probability that they answer, 'a giant bouquet of inflatable floppy tulips in a morbid hyperrealist hand in front of two museums at the other side of the town’ is close to zero."
Not quite: Landscape with Snow/America
The White House sent a request to the Guggenheim Museum to borrow its Landscape with Snow by Vincent van Gogh for the president's private quarters. The Guggenheim politely declined, suggesting it loan the White House Maurizio Cattelan's America instead:
By Deb A.
Happy 2018, dear Readers! It's time once again for a look at some of the best-loved books of the year, via a marginally scientific examination of the top picks from a range of book review columns, including those from the New York Times, the BBC, the Washington Post, The Guardian, the New Yorker, the CBC and more.
There was little consensus across the board, but two novels appeared on nearly every list: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders and Sing, Unburied, Sing (winner of the National Book Award) by Jesmin Ward.
Other popular selections were Mohsin Hamed's Exit West, Min Jin Lee's Pachinko, Patricia Lockwood's Priestdaddy, Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere, and Hari Kunzru's White Tears.
What were your favourite books of 2017? Leave your recommendations in the comments section.
By Deb A.
Artist Qinmin Liu's Angelhaha airline took its inaugural flight on December 6th. It flies one-way to art events only and its message for the world is simple: "happiness". (Angelhaha)
"I think to myself what I could have done if I'd won it at 40": 63-year-old Lubaina Himid has won the Turner Prize. In her interview with The Guardian, she challenges, among other things, The Guardian. (The Guardian)
After over 8,000 people signed an online petition to remove a sexualized painting of a child, the Museum of Modern Art has declined to take down Thérèse Dreaming by Balthus, but welcomes the "opportunity for conversation" that the controversy has sparked. (Artnet)
Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi, which recently became the most expensive painting ever sold at over $450 million, will be exhibited at the Louvre Abu Dhabi. (Reuters)
The air you breathe could soon be the air you use for your next masterpiece: Air-Ink is turning pollution into ink. (CBC)
By Deb A.
Canada's newest contemporary art museum has emerged from an unlikely place: the prairie landscape of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
The Remai Modern's flat blocks of sleek glass and red steel mesh are an ambitious statement in an ambitious city. Parallels are already being drawn with other off-the-beaten-path towns that tried to leverage a world-class museum to put them on the map. But is the $85 million art gallery the next Guggenheim Museum Bilbao?
The gallery boasts the world's most comprehensive collection of Picasso linocuts, as well as works by John Baldessari, General Idea, and Ruth Cuthand. With Ellen Remai contributing over $100 million to the gallery--one of the most substantial philanthropic donations to an art institution nationwide--the future of the collection seems enviably bright. Over the next 25 years, the museum will be able to spend $1 million a year on acquisitions; another $1 million will be available each year for donation matching.
One sore spot, however, is the representation of Indigenous people, a community that constitutes over 10% of Saskatoon's population. Apparently missing the memo from the Sobey Art Award, the Remai Modern, which sits on Treaty 6 land, has no Indigenous curators. Its commitment to the community has come under fire, and some believe that the museum is not doing enough to celebrate and promote local artists, despite its stated goal of being "a leading centre for contemporary Indigenous art and discourse."
In contrast, the Remai Modern's predecessor, the Mendel Art Gallery, had forged close links with the Indigenous community. It was also remarkably accessible, offering free entry to all, seven days a week. Its entire collection of 8,000 works, once available to see for nothing, is now housed in the Remai, where an adult ticket costs $12.
It remains to be seen whether the city will fully embrace its newest addition, and whether art lovers will brave the lack of direct flights from other art hubs such as New York and Paris to experience all the Remai Modern has to offer. One thing, however, is fairly certain: it will take a special sort of art enthusiast to plan a winter trip, when temperatures often drop below -30 degrees Celsius.
By Deb A.
Chris Ofili is arguably best known for creating art with elephant dung. Andres Serrano's Piss Christ was made with the artist's urine. Tracy Emin's My Bed hosted a range of bodily fluids, including one that has recently made headlines again in the art world: menses.
The first major movement in the West of using or depicting menstrual blood in art started in the 1970s, along with second wave feminism. And so it is no surprise that recent efforts to address the period taboo coincide with a reaction to the rise of high-profile misogyny.
In 2015 Rupi Kaur's photo showing the artist with a bloodstain at her crotch was removed (and subsequently reinstated following public backlash) from Instagram, leading Ms. Kaur to object to a world that "will have my body in an underwear but not be okay with a small leak."
Six months later, American artist and activist Sarah Levy used her period blood to create a portrait of a presidential candidate who reacted to tough questions at a debate by claiming the female moderator had "blood coming out of her wherever". He is now president, and the painting was purchased this year by the Museum of Military History in Dresden, Germany. It's hard to say which fact is stranger.
The latest controversial attempt to normalise a regular function of the bodies of half of the earth's human population can be found in an equally surprising place: the Stockholm subway. Its new exhibit by Liv Strömquist is a series of black-and white felt pen drawings that feature the occasional blotch of bright red between women's legs. Some have hailed it as a coup for womankind, while others have recoiled in disgust, angry at their newly uncomfortable commute.
For those who prefer to decide when they will be confronted with the reality of women's reproductive cycles--a luxury most women do not have--there's Period Piece in London, which "seeks to provoke critical dialogue about shifts in contraceptive technologies and constructions of the 'natural' around women's bodies." With music composed from ovulation cycles and poetry based on reactions to the Catholic church's rejection of birth control in 1968, the exhibit finds new, less confrontational ways of talking about periods. It is a pop-up event by the Science Gallery London, which opens officially in 2018.
For a brief overview of period art, this piece by Kristen Cochrane is a good place to start.
My country is
There are 7000 human languages in the world. Over half are endangered; one dies every two weeks. What happens to cultures as languages disappear?
The Southbank Centre's Endangered Poetry Project was created to preserve the unique poetic traditions of languages on the brink of extinction.
By reflecting a way of understanding the world, poetry gives us a glimpse into a culture: the ideas people have, what they care about, and how they interpret their surroundings. Documenting poems not only offers us insight into how others live, but also provides us with a novel way of seeing the world around us.
"I'm Iranian and I grew up in Germany--when I came to the U.S., it was very strange to me to learn that the colour blue stands for sadness," Dr. Mandana Seyfeddinipur, the head of the Endangered Languages Archive at SOAS University of London, explained to the BBC. "To me, blue is hope--the sea and the sky."
The intricacies of poetic language are windows into worldviews that can inform our own perspectives, or keep our cultural memories alive. According to Dr. Seyfeddinipur, reading poetry from other cultures "makes you more agile in thinking, because you have to be flexible," incorporating foreign concepts that may not appear in your own culture into your way of thinking.
Members of the public are invited to submit well known poems in an endangered language to the Centre to preserve them for future generations. The call is open until the end of this year.
By Deb A.
Ursula Johnson, also known as Little Bear, is this year's winner of Canada's Sobey Art Award.
The prestigious prize recognises the country's most promising contemporary artists under the age of 40. This year's shortlist included a record number of women (four of five of the artists are female) and two Indigenous artists from the five regions.
Ursula Johnson, representing the Atlantic region, is a performance and installation artist of Mi'kmaw First Nation ancestry. She descends from a long line of artists, including Caroline Gould, her great-grandmother and master basket weaver. Often incorporating basketry traditions into her art, Ms. Johnson explores identity, community, colonialism, and her Indigenous heritage: she wove baskets around herself for her Basket Weaving (Cultural Cocoon) series (2003-2015), was symbolically scalped in Elmiet (He/She Goes Home) (2010) to draw attention to Nova Scotia's history of scalping, and collaborated with Soto Pow Wow dancer Bert Milberg for Hot Looking (2014), a commentary on the appropriation of indigenous culture.
"I will now have the tremendous opportunity to work on a larger scale and expand the reach of my work to a broader community while exploring more diversity in materials and content as well as beginning to create a network of collaborators internationally!" Ms. Johnson said of her win.
Her desire to work with and learn from others was just part of the reason Ursula Johnson received the $50,000 CDN award; the selection committee noted that she "was singled out for her strong voice, her generosity and collaborative spirit. Through her work, she redefines traditional materials and re-imagines colonized histories."
Ursula Johnson is a talented, insightful artist with a strong sense of community, history and social justice--in other words, a fitting representative for the nation's contemporary art scene in a year in which Canada's colonial history has come under the microscope and gender and identity politics dominate public discourse.
The shortlisted artists, Raymond Boisjoly (West Coast & Yukon), Divya Mehra (Prairies & North), Bridget Moser (Ontario), and Jacynthe Carrier (Quebec), will each receive $10,000 CDN. All five artists' works are on display at the Art Museum at the University of Toronto until December 9th.
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