Nasher Sculpture Center Resculpts the Line Between Artifact and Art

Ancient artifacts (a hammer and a knife).

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Are 800,000-year-old tools from North Africa sculptures? The Nasher Sculpture Center, a Dallas-based museum, certainly thinks so.

The museum is currently displaying Paleolithic stone artifacts that are so old they were created by a different species. The exhibition, titled “First Sculpture,” is a curated collaboration between anthropologist Dr. Thomas Wynn and artist Tony Berlant. It opened on Jan. 28, 2018 and will remain on display until April 28, 2018.

Some of the stones on display were collected by Neanderthals, while other stones were carved into hand axes 300,000 years earlier. The oldest “sculpture” on display is a rounded bauble collected by Australopithecus 2.5 million years ago.

Although these stones and tools were not recently found, their exhibit at the museum as “sculpture” is a new take on what art once was and can be.

“Though you may have seen tools like this in natural history museums, the proposition of ‘First Sculpture,’ from its title onward, is that these are not merely instruments, but art; that they were crafted not just for functional reasons but for aesthetic ones,” says Brandon Thibodeaux in his New York Times article, “Was Australopithecus an Artist?”

While many of the artifacts were created primarily as tools, many of the artifacts have naturally-occurring patterns and shapes that mimic nature, such as faces and animals.

“Prehistoric people recognized these shapes, and augmented their mimetic qualities through additional carving,” reads the Nasher Sculpture Center’s description of the exhibit.

Aesthetic choice is most prominent in the displayed hand axes, one of which has curved edges that would’ve offered little benefit technically. Others have holes or shells in the middle of the axes, and alternating colors, that also serve no purpose beyond beauty.

In the depth of a museum of dinosaur bones and relics, these axes and other instruments might have been viewed monolithically, as tools. But, in the light of a modern art center, these artifacts are appreciated also as ancient design and art.

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Welcome to the Age of the Crypto Art Auction

A gavel laid next to bitcoin.

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What happens when the world of cryptocurrency and fine art collide?

One company is exploring what it might be like to bring the two things together. Paddle8, a company that describes itself as “the auction house for the 21st-century collector,” is taking a cheeky approach as they enter the world of bitcoin.

How so? They’ve planned an online auction event for August they’ve named “Bidcoin” to sell money-themed fine art and collectables in an effort to normalize cryptocurrency auctioneering in a playful and splashy way.

They didn’t make the decision on a whim. In 2015, Paddle8 hired bitcoin billionaires Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss to advise their company on how to grow in the changing digital economy. The Winklevoss twins encouraged the company to embrace the crypto community, but for most of the last year Paddle8 has been busy tackling other business tasks.

After merging with European-based Auctionata in late 2016, Paddle8 saw their new counterpart file bankruptcy, causing a good deal of chaos and a mountain of damage-control work. Now that things are relatively more under control, Paddle8’s cofounder Alexander Gilkes says his main priority is “getting back to basics.”

Paddle8 has taken on a new Swiss-based e-commerce partner company called The Native to provide Paddle Lab with a new $8.8 million investment. Paddle Lab will tackle the challenge of developing a technological framework for efficiently coordinating Paddle8’s bitcoin transition efforts.

Making the move of course will carry challenges. Cryptocurrency’s future is in flux—it brings huge returns for some, and strikes fear into the hearts of others. Some companies are making huge profits and seeing stock share boosts due to business moves involving cryptocurrency, but regulatory agencies continue to issue warnings as new fraud cases surrounding digital currencies pile up. The industry is anything but stable.

Nonetheless, Paddle8 and The Native are projecting confidence, arguing that they vet their clients well and are have already taken steps toward managing risks. Whether this is true or not, they’ll be launching Bidcoin on August 18, 2018 to celebrate bitcoin’s 10-year anniversary.

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When Art History and Tech Collide

A beautiful woman taking a selfie.

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Have you seen the new craze? It’s all over Instagram and Facebook. People from around the world are using Google’s free museum app to find their art history doppelgängers!

Google’s Arts and Culture app has been around since 2016. Originally, the app let users browse an immense database of artwork images collected from museums worldwide. The app only recently went viral in a matter of weeks when last month’s update made it to users’ phones.

The gimmick became a fun combination of arts education and innovative tech, matching users’ “selfie” photos to the treasure trove of famous paintings.

The process is simple. Download the app, find the “is your portrait in a museum?” button link, upload a picture of your own face, and then let the app connect you to the famous and historical paintings that best resemble your likeness. Each portrait match lists a unique numerical similarity listed as a percentage, referencing how much the painting resembles the user’s unique facial features.

Facial recognition software has been around for a long time, but only recently has it become complex and detailed enough to match living people to works of art. In the past, facial recognition systems could only recognize faces directly facing a camera, and then only if the subject wore a neutral expression.

Whether this new success will lead to sustained interaction with Google’s Arts and Culture app is yet to be seen. We also can’t know if the technology served to significantly educate its users about art history. Nevertheless, the project was a success if measured squarely in engagement.

Social media feeds have been flooded with screenshots of doppelgänger art pieces, and they don’t seem to be letting up. It also may represent a new trend toward applying face recognition technology to a diverse array of campaigns and products. After all, who’d have thought facial recognition tech could make museum paintings go viral?

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The History of Multimedia Art

A digital projection of an artwork. This piece is part of a multimedia art exhibit called the "Klimt Experience" which is based on the works of Austrian painter Gustav Klimt.

The “Klimt Experience,” a multimedia art exhibit based on the works of Austrian painter Gustav Klimt.
Photo credit: Paolo Bona / Shutterstock

Multimedia art is a sophisticated art form that combines two or more of the following creative formats: drawing, painting, sculpture, audio, literature, digital, or performance. It has become immensely popular in recent years, as evidenced by the growing amount of multimedia installations being displayed in galleries and museums across the country.

Even colleges are capitalizing on the trend. At Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA) in Portland, OR, for example, MFA students exhibited their multimedia projects at a nearby gallery. Similarly, the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) is hosting an upcoming exhibit titled Undocumented Stories, which uses multimedia art to lend a unique perspective into the topic of immigration.

As popular as it is today, multimedia art is not a modern-day invention. Its origins can be traced back to 1966, when showman, artist, and songwriter Bob Goldstein first used the word “multimedia” to promote one of his upcoming shows. Some say he was inspired by composer Dick Higgins, who coined the term “intermedia” two years earlier to describe art that couldn’t be classified into one specific category.

As time went on, “multimedia art” took on a whole new meaning. Today, it’s most often associated with art that incorporates the use of technology. For example, an audio recording might play alongside a light display. A dancer might perform against the backdrop of a short film. A poem might incorporate the use of animated images.

As technology continues to advance, and new art forms begin to emerge, it’s likely that the term “multimedia art” will take on an entirely new meaning. It’s also possible that a whole new list of terms will be used to describe multimedia work as it relates to the specific era in which it was created. The meaning of multimedia art has changed over time, so it’s quite plausible that it will change again in the near future.

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What Role Does Art Play in Satire?

An animated woman laughing.

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Some satirical forms, such as political cartoons, have long been walking the line between satire and art. This begs the question: Does art take itself too seriously? Furthermore, is there any room for silliness in contemporary art?

At Comfort Station in Chicago, Illinois, a group exhibition titled “Play the Fool” doesn’t leave these questions open-ended. The answer is undoubtedly, “Yes.”

“There are plenty of reasons we wouldn’t want to talk about the role of stupidity in art and life, be it fear or failure of the belief that art is too important to laugh about,” reads an official description for the event. “But avoiding the issue means we miss out on a wide range of human experience, not to mention a slew of creative possibilities.”

Monikered “a brilliant show about ‘stupid art’” by the Chicago Tribune, the group exhibition featuring sculpture, painting, and animation began with curator Ben McElroy Fuqua searching for artists whose art incorporated the “humiliations of daily life” into their artwork.

Patrick Wilkins was one of three artists whose artwork (alien and caricature-like) embodied this quality.

Miri Phelps and Zeyi Li, each with their own well-defined styles and takes on “foolishness,” round out the rest of the exhibition. While Phelps approached the subject by pointing fun at country music through sculpture, Li, a Chicagoan, used various unsettling animations to experiment with humor.

“Play the Fool” was only open for a short time, Dec. 2–31 2017, in Chicago. But the idea of taking art less seriously and using canvas, animation, or sculpture as tools to ask questions and make the art world more light-hearted and humorous continues to trend in the arts community. From a Scandinavian film satirizing a modern art museum to the Daily Telegraph’s “Social Stereotypes” feature, perhaps 2017 could be coined “The Year of Satire” in the art community.

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Hurricane Irma Debris Turned into Art

A bunch of fallen trees outside a Florida home---a result of Hurricane Irma.

The aftermath of Hurricane Irma.
Photo courtesy of Bree McGhee via Flickr CC.

They say every cloud has a silver lining. In this case, even the darkest of billows have one.

No one embodies this philosophy more than Laura Baker, who has used the devastation of Hurricane Irma as inspiration for her art. Baker, who is a woodturner, crafts vases, bowls, and other decorative pieces out of the debris left behind by the category 5 storm.

“It’s definitely therapeutic,” Baker told NBC Miami. “I think people come out here and work and look at it as a way to kind of get away from everyday life. For me, it’s the creativity. I just love to come in with something that’s so raw, and come out with something that’s really amazing.”

Baker considers woodturning a hobby. She developed the skill through her involvement with Gold Coast Woodturners. On an average day, she and her colleagues will sift through dozens of fallen trees, salvaging what they can and turning it into art.

“On a Saturday, we went out to some of the local properties here and we picked up big chunks of wood and brought them in. So everybody’s been using that,” said Baker.

As for local community members, they couldn’t be happier. Fallen trees are often seen as a nuisance, so to have someone offer to take it off their property for free is a huge boon.

Better yet, Baker and her fellow woodturners will sometimes give the finished pieces to the property owner as a special gift. It’s a metaphor to look for the beauty in every situation.

And although it takes quite a bit of time to create a finished piece, Baker and her friends say it’s worth it in the end.

“It’s not hard,” said Ron Purnell, a teacher at Gold Coast Woodturners. “It’s like everything else in life; it’s hard until you learn how to do it.”

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Los Angeles Named America’s Art Hub

A colorful illustration of downtown Los Angeles.

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New York City took a demotion yesterday, after Richard Florida of CityLab crowned Los Angeles the new art capital of the U.S. The Big Apple has been at the center of America’s art industry since god-only-knows-when; so naturally, New Yorkers aren’t taking the news lightly.

Los Angeles’ newly acquired title is based off economic data that suggests the city has the largest amount of employed and self-employed artists. Surprisingly, it also has a higher concentration of artists than NYC, even though its general population is much smaller.

For years, prominent artists and musicians like David Byrne, Moby, and Patti Smith have warned that the rising cost of living in cities like New York, L.A., and San Francisco will drive away most of the artistic talent. But that doesn’t appear to be the case based on this data set gathered from the years 2011 – 2016.

“While it is surely harder for younger, struggling, yet-to-be-established artists to afford living in these cities now, they remain the country’s preeminent artistic centers,” Florida explained. “Interestingly enough, leading tech and knowledge hubs, such as Austin, Seattle, Portland, Nashville, and even San Jose, in the heart of Silicon Valley, also number among the nation’s leading art scenes.”

And while the reason for this cannot be attributed to one main cause, Florida has a few theories as to why artists are still flocking to major cities.

Theory number one is that there is an increase in demand for multimedia artists, which would explain why creative types are congregating in tech hubs. Another theory is that artists are chasing the “big bucks.” Big bucks, of course, is in quotation marks because while these megacities may pay more than their smaller counterparts, the higher cost of living doesn’t always offset that.

But don’t forget about the ol’ stardom appeal. Since their very inception, major cities like New York and Los Angeles have represented prosperity and fame. Big dreams and big cities go together like bagels and lox.

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Connecting Ancient Art with Modern Audiences Via Technology

An illustration of a woman holding a laptop.

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Even in historical art, technology is never very far away. As part of the de Young’s “Teotihuacan: City of Water, City of Fire” exhibition, for example, 14-year-old Minecraft aficionado Trevor Fox helped produce a digital map that lets visitors virtually walk through the city.

In fact, the de Young has several exhibitions running right now that use technology and a modern sensibility to connect visitors to history. In addition to “Teotihuacan,” the recent reinstallation of the Art of the Americas gallery features Native American art both old and new, courtesy of donations from area businessman Thom Weisel. “The Maori Portraits” brings some of the most prominent historical Maori leaders to modern audiences who may not have met them. And “The Propeller Group: The Living Need Light, the Dead Need Music” makes multicultural funerary practices accessible via film.

Teotihuacan: City of Water, City of Fire
September 30, 2017 – February 11, 2018

The Minecraft tour of the ancient city of Teotihuacan may be the most prominent method used by an exhibit to really grab its audience. Minecraft, released in 2011 to huge success, has been used to design a walkthrough of the Teotihuacan to give museum-goers a sense of what it was like, right down to the pyramids and pathways.

Co-creator Trevor Fox is the son of Andrew Fox, de Young’s senior web and interactive developer. Together they spent more than a year putting together the walkthrough using data from archaeological maps, aerial and satellite photographs, and Google Street View images.

Reinstallation of the Art of the Americas Galleries
August 19, 2017 – March 25, 2018

It doesn’t use Minecraft, but the Art of the Americas galleries do provide a modern look at the more than 200 art pieces that make up the Weisel Family Collection. From 11th century Mimbres ceramics to 19th century Navajo weavings (often created as experiments with new methods and technologies as they became available), visitors can see a variety of styles and time periods, coming away with a real sense of how these art forms have developed over time. In fact, much of the ancient art is displayed right alongside the more modern pieces to provide context and a look at how the technologies used to make them have changed.

The Maori Portraits: Gottfried Lindauer’s New Zealand
September 9, 2017 – April 1, 2018

Gottfried Lindauer, one of New Zealand’s most prolific portrait artists, is the mind behind the work in this exhibition, which features some of the most important Maori ancestors and their stories. The 31 rangatira, or “men and women of rank,” connect viewers from a variety of cultures with these historical people painted between 1874-1903. Lindauer worked primarily from photos, incorporating modern technology into the more traditional portrait format.

The Propeller Group: The Living Need Light, the Dead Need Music
July 1, 2017 – June 30, 2018

New to the de Young, the Propeller Group film finds connections between southern Vietnamese and southern American funeral traditions. Real funeral rituals are documented as well as staged performances to celebrate life, death, and the transformation of spirit. The film is available alongside funerary artifacts and is located near other related exhibits, including the de Young’s Southeast Asia holdings and its African American art. The newer technology of film is used to bridge the gap between a modern viewer and these ancient rites.

Whether through video games, new art techniques, or film, technology can be used to bring more meaning and understanding to a variety of art.

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Art to See in New York: Winter Edition

An elderly woman in a festive sweater looking at artwork.

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If you’re in New York now—or plan to be in the near future—you probably know the city for the mecca of art that it is. With so much to see and do, it can be overwhelming to know where to start. Here are a few exciting, current art exhibits to get you on the road to exploring the city.

Jacqueline Humphries
On display at Greene Naftali through December 16, 2017

Humphries’s 10 large-scale paintings may not look like much from far away. But if you get up close and personal, you’ll see each is made of thousands of tiny, stencil-cut characters. Derived from typesetting and computer coding, the characters are set over remarkably dull backgrounds—blue, gray, and teal—that bring out their strangeness. It’s an opportunity to rethink how we see artifice and patterns in a modernized version of Georges Seurat.

Drawn to Greatness: Master Drawings From the Thaw Collection
On display at the Morgan Library & Museum through January 7, 2018

Over the past 60 years, New York art dealer Eugene V. Thaw and his wife, Clare Eddy Thaw, collected more than 150 master drawings, now on display. These pieces represent important artists at key moments in their careers, including Mantegna, Rubens, Rembrand, Goya, Gaugin, van Gogh, and many more. The Morgan Library & Museum’s website also has a video introduction to the exhibit, as well as an audio guide narrated by the library director and curators.

Laura Owens
On display at the Whitney Museum of American Art through February 4, 2018

With techniques including embroidery, felt applique, digital printing, this exhibit of Owens’s mid-career work highlights her bold and experimental work. In the 1990s Owens set the stage for a new kind of painting that included goofiness and unusual materials. Her use of space and her methods may have changed over the years, but as this exhibit proves, her trend-setting innovations remain.

Streams and Mountains Without End: Landscape Traditions of China
On display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through January 6, 2019

No list of art happenings in New York would be complete without mentioning the Met. In this exhibit, visitors are encouraged to look beyond modern images of China and experience its green, wide-open spaces. While this is technically a reinstallation of a collection with only a few loans, it features many pieces of Chinese art that haven’t been seen in a decade or more. One piece is debuting after having been acquired one hundred years ago. And if paintings aren’t enough for you, there are also ceramics, textiles, and scholar’s rocks on display.

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Thief Returns Stolen Art

A person wearing a ski mask stealing a piece of art.

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In a bizarre turn of art-related events, a woman was recently caught on video mailing stolen art back to the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

The two photographs, valued at $105,000, went missing from MoMA PS1 in Long Island on October 30. They were returned via mail the following Friday.

The woman who appears to have stolen them was witnessed at a FedEx store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn that Friday evening, mailing the art back to MoMA, which is a partner museum to MoMA PS1.

“The only thing weird was that she asked if she could write on the box, and she wrote, ‘Please open immediately,’” recalled FedEx storeowner Charlie Bournis. When asked why she wrote it, the woman didn’t answer.

MoMA PS1, home to the photographs, likely sees some fairly unusual things (though hopefully not in the same vein as this robbery). It’s one of the oldest and largest nonprofit contemporary art institutions in the US. Unlike typical museums, MoMA PS1 functions as an experimental exhibition space for modern art. It was founded in 1971 by Alanna Heiss as the Institute for Art and Urban Resources, Inc. In 1976, MoMA PS1 opened its first major exhibit, Rooms, in Long Island. Ever since, it’s been used as a studio, performance, and exhibition space to support artists from around the world.

After a significant renovation, MoMA PS1 reopened in 1997 as the PS1 Contemporary Art Center. In 2000, it became an affiliate of MoMA and changed its name to MoMA PS1, as it’s now known.

While the curators of MoMA PS1 are no doubt pleased to have their photographs back, the police have had no success finding the culprit behind the robbery. Police are currently requesting help in tracking her down. According to the security video from the FedEx store, the woman is a 20-something blonde wearing a dark cap, glasses, a black overcoat, tan pants, and tan shoes.

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