Did You Know that the CIA Has a Secret Art Collection?

An art frame partially shrouded by a red curtain.

Image: Shutterstock

The CIA has an extensive collection of art hanging in its secretive halls. However, as one can imagine, the CIA does not happily volunteer information about its art, and even when a person files a Request of Information Act, the organization doesn’t exactly fully comply. Twenty-nine works of art from the Washington Color School decorate the CIA headquarters’ walls, but chances are, we’ll never see them.

Joby Barron, an Oregon-based artist, has spent the last seven years trying to figure out what’s in the CIA’s collection and trying to get them to provide images of the photographs and paintings they hold. So far, she has not received a single image.

“My interest in the project began in 2008,” Barron says. “I came across a Taryn Simon photograph from her series ‘American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar.’ The photo was of two abstract paintings in the CIA headquarters in Langley, VA. I was instantly intrigued—why did the CIA have these pieces? I wondered what other art they might have and if it was available to the public.”

What Barron does know is that in 1986, Vincent Melzac, a racehorse breeder and art collector, held secret talks with the CIA about giving his collection to them. But her attempts at getting information about the art, which include denied Freedom of Information requests from an agency that is technically paid for by the public, have yielded very little.

Barron started her project Acres of Walls in response to the lack of information she received. Barron attempts to recreate paintings she believes to be in the Melzac Collection, in a three-quarter scale based on descriptions she’s read of the works.

“I liked that the CIA wasn’t aware there was this re-created space out in Oregon,” Barron said. “I also felt an homage to these artists—as it is with any copying or transcribing, you enter the work in a unique way, and I started to love the Washington Color School painters.”

But it is strange, nevertheless, that the CIA is so tight-lipped about a seemingly innocuous collection. What’s so interesting about it that it’s worth keeping silent? It’s all very intriguing, but we’re not likely to get any answers soon—or ever.

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2340 Sandwiches

Two slices of bread with peanut butter or jelly on them on a clean white plate.

Image: Shutterstock

The work mothers do often gets dismissed as not being work. Cleaning, cooking, corralling, comforting: all of it is labor, either physical, emotional, or both. But we measure productivity by paychecks, and all of that labor is unpaid.

Brooklyn-based artist Jessica Olah is trying to illustrate that labor in a performance she describes as “an exercise in empathy” focused on her own mother.

Olah did the math. Her mother made her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich every single school day from 5 to 18. That comes out to 2340 sandwiches.

“I will explore what it was like for my mother to give her time, energy, and love to make a bag lunch 180 days per year for 13 years,” Olah explained on the page of her Indiegogo campaign, which raised the money to fund the project. She wants to draw attention to the lack of value given to “mother’s tasks,” which all too often translates to a lack of value given to the people themselves.

Rather than taking 14 years to make the sandwiches, as her mother did, Olah’s intention is to do so in five days. Her mother, who lives in California, will fly in to New York to witness the finale of the project on Sunday, January 31st, and receive the last sandwich.  The rest will be donated, in two batches a day, to Bowery Mission’s kitchen.

During the project, Olah expects to use fifty-nine 16-slice loaves per day. 10 gallons of locally-made jam and an equal amount of organic peanut butter have been donated, and she hopes those are enough.

If people want to see the finale, Olah predicts she’ll be finishing on time at 6pm on Sunday the 31st. She and her sandwiches are at 12C Outdoor Art Gallery on Avenue C in Manhattan.

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Art to See in NYC Before Monday

An illustration of people walking around Times Square.

Image: Shutterstock

If you’re out and about the city this weekend looking for something to do, we’ve got plenty of suggestions! From photography to paintings, there are lots of things to do in New York this weekend and lots of wonderful ideas to distract you from your work-week sandwich. Check out some of these events going on right now and see if any of them catch your fancy!

Frank Stella, A Retrospective: The Whitney Museum

You have a couple more days to visit this glorious retrospective at the Whitney Museum before it closes on February 7th, but now is as a good a time as any! Frank Stella is one of America’s greatest living artists, and his career spans several decades. The retrospective exhibits 100 of his pieces: paintings, reliefs, maquettes, sculptures, and drawings. The exhibit takes up the entire fifth floor of the Whitney Museum—18,000 square feet!

“Postcards from the Edge Preview Party, Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

This exhibit opening, open from 6-8 P.M. at 530 West 22nd St., is a group show and benefit featuring small works the size of postcards. Each postcard sells for $85, and you won’t know the name of the artist until you purchase your piece. The exhibit will benefit the Visual AIDS organization, and admission to the preview party includes two raffle tickets for the chance to win any of the artworks.

“Shirley Clarke Shorts Program,” the Museum of Arts and Design

Experimental and independent filmmaker Shirley Clarke did most of her work in the 50s and 60s, and now a screening will provide a retrospective on that career. The screening, done in partnership with the “Eye on a Director: Shirley and Wendy Clarke” exhibit, will feature a number of Clarke’s short films, some of which are rarely seen. The screening takes place at the MAD Museum, 2 Columbus Circle, at 7 PM. Admission is $10.

Danielle Dean at the Studio Museum in Harlem

If you’re interested in learning about one of NYC’s coolest artists, attend her talk on Sunday, 1-2 PM, titled True Red. The British-American artist of Nigerian descent creates videos, installations, and drawings inspired by pop culture, news, and advertisements. One of her short films will be screened at the event!

Attending any of these? Let us know by leaving a review below!

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NYC Subways Become Art Havens

A shadow walks by a bright subway mural.

The Return of Spring/The Onset of Winter mural, by Jack Beal, seen at the Times Square subway station in Manhattan | Photo for the Washington Post by Ana Paskova | Stars and Stripes

After a long history of trying to erase graffiti art from its Subways, New York City has now begun to embrace the paintings of its transit halls. Color brightens the dim industrial spaces, brightening it, bringing light to the bright works. In the last 30 years, the Metropolitan Transit Authority has commissioned 300 works of art across five boroughs, and what’s great about these commissions is that they’re meant to reflect the specific site they’re in and its architecture.

But for a long time, New York wanted its subways free of graffiti. In 1972 then-mayor John Lindsay declared a “War on Graffiti,” and the city spent millions of dollars over the next two decades to try and get rid of all graffiti. As a result, a kind of war over public space emerged, over which artists risked their freedom and work to create art.

Happily, the tables are turning on public art. MTA keeps a small amount of money in its budget to finance subway artwork, a “recognition that we’re spending significant sums on improvements and want to give people something that’s aesthetically pleasing,” says Lester Burg, senior manager of MTA Arts and Design.

People are noticing the changes and appreciating the art MTA puts there. “I first noticed these small figures by Tom Otterness years ago when I was a graduate student at NYU,” says Gina Fuentes Walker, a Manhattan artist. “I still love to look at them while waiting for the train.”

Now, many of the renovated stations keep their art proudly on display with laminated glass screen window panels, to protect them and to keep them vibrant. Artists are excited to create works of art that enter into people’s everyday lives. Xenobia Bailey, a fiber artist from Harlem, was chosen to fill two ceilings at the 34th Street-Hudson Yards station, the first new one to open in 25 years.

“It’s the cosmos,” Bailey says of her work, brightly colored and vivid. “I wanted the pieces to be motivating like the sunrise, sunset, and shooting stars. I wanted to design something with a similar ambience that would inspire an invigorating state of being.”

If you’re hopping on a subway in town today, be sure to take a long look at the art waiting for you there!

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Pairoj Pichetmetakul’s “Positivity Scrolls”

Pairoj Pichetmetakul paints scrolls on a sidewalk.

The Positivity Scrolls | Pairoj Pichetmetakul

Pairoj Pichetmetakul began his art project “The Positivity Scrolls” as an apology. In 2013, he saw a young thug viciously beating up an elderly homeless man, and out of fear he just walked away. He had plenty of reason to fear for his own safety if he’d interceded – he was a recent immigrant who spoke little English, with no way to call for help – but the incident left him deeply troubled.

So he sought amends through art.

Now, Pairoj seeks out the homeless in New York City, accompanied by an art cart and long, long rolls of canvas. He made that elderly man invisible. Now he seeks to bring visibility, positive visibility, to every homeless person he meets. He asks them questions about their lives, their wants, and he asks, last, if he can paint them.

Most, he says, say yes.

Inspired by his past as a Buddhist Monk in Bangkok, and specifically by the scroll paintings that adorned Wat Hua Krabue Temple where he lived, he paints his new friends onto 150-foot-long rolls of canvas, cut into manageable lengths for transport and then stitched together again when full. So far, he’s filled four and a little more, with 250 side-by-side portraits.

He hasn’t shown many of the paintings publicly. It’s hard to find space to exhibit anything on that scale. But exhibition is not the point. The point is Pairoj, his canvas spread on the sidewalk while he paints with a broad brush the face of men, women and children that the world all too often chooses not to see. And while he paints, his own hat is out for the subject of his painting. He draws eyes and donations, and never keeps a cent.

Pairoj says that if he ever gets to exhibit the expansive scrolls, he plans to donate the proceeds to The Bowery Mission in Lower Manhattan, a provider of shelter, food, and medical care for homeless New Yorkers where he is a volunteer.

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Brothers Seek to Reclaim Father’s Art Collection

Andre Salz.

Andre Salz, son of Sam Salz | New York Post

Two brothers are hoping to recover the masterpieces that used to belong to their father’s collection. Marc and Andre Salz allege that their stepmother, Janet Traeger-Salz, sold off many great works of art, worth tens of millions of dollars, after the death of Sam Salz. The brothers believe she pocketed the cash before she died last year at 99 years old.

The story sounds like the stuff of Disney villainy. Salz, a notable and successful art dealer and collector, left most of his impressive art collection to his two sons. His collection includes Monet’s “La Seine a Argenteuil” and Edgar Degas’ “Horses in a Meadow,” but it seems that these pieces, and many of his others, were sold off in secret.

The brothers’ suit claims that Traeger-Salz sold the Monet piece in 1988 and shortly after, a painting of the same name garnered $14.5 million at a Christie’s auction. The Degas piece was sold by the National Gallery of Art in 1995, and Renoir’s “Still Life with Figs” was sold in 2009.

The prosecuting attorney in the case, Irini Tarsis, noted that Marc was able to track down the sold pieces via new technology. “Art law is a field that has been growing and there’s more information that may be gleaned through robust provenance research,” Tarsis said.

Marc has requested that a judge appoint him as the administrator of his father’s estate so that he may sue his stepmother’s descendants. Currently, the account is managed by an attorney who lives in the Caribbean.

For his part, Sam Salz spent a lifetime building his collection and his career. A self-admitted poor painter, Salz only bought pieces he personally liked. “I believe in paintings like I believe in God,” he told the New York Times in 1964.

Born near Vienna in 1894, Salz entered the Fine Arts Academy there at 17 and then spent several years in service with the Austrian Army. He opened a gallery in Cologne in 1923 to exhibit Chagall’s work and would go on to open and exhibit many other galleries, pieces, and artists.

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Baryshnikov Arts Center Announces $1 Million Cage Cunningham Fund

Pianist Alexei Lubimov stands next to a beautiful wooden piano.

Alexei Lubimov | Monday Evening Concerts

After campaigning for two years to raise funds, the Baryshnikov Arts Center has announced the first recipient of its new Cage Cunningham Fund: Russian pianist Alexei Lubimov. Lubimov is set to put his $50,000 toward supporting new work from composers he deems as being at the forefront of musical innovation.

Thanks to 80 generous donors, including Chris Flowers (J.C. Flowers & Co.) and Colleen Keegan (Creative Capital), the BAC has been able to put together this fund in honor of John Cage and Merce Cunningham, who ran an innovative dance studio in the 60s and 70s. The studio was known for being particularly innovative and adventurous.

In addition to the fund, the BAC has named its Studio 6A the John Cage and Merce Cunningham Studio.

Starting with Lubimov in 2016, the Cage Cunningham Fund will be awarded annually to an artist committed to collaboration, experimentation, and rigor. Lubimov definitely fits the bill: he’s known for his dedication to both 20th century work and Baroque music played on historically accurate instruments. And in the 1960s he was extremely influential in getting Western music and the arts performed in the Soviet Union despite the opposition of censors.

In fact, John Cage was one of the artists Lubimov brought to his homeland. They met in 1988 when both participated in the International Contemporary Music Festival in Leningrad.

“Alexei Lubimov is an ideal fit for the inaugural Cage Cunningham Fellow,” said BAC Artistic Director Mikhail Baryshnikov. “Not only does he demonstrate extraordinary breadth of musical appreciation and expertise, but he is also a champion of risk-taking and an advocate for freedom of expression and creativity.”

Lubimov moves the BAC’s mission forward by supporting New York City-based artists as well as artists abroad, creating international cooperation and exchange of ideas

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