Nasher Sculpture Center Resculpts the Line Between Artifact and Art

Ancient artifacts (a hammer and a knife).

Image credit: Shutterstock

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.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

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.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

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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