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.

Image: Shutterstock

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.

Image credit: Shutterstock

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.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

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.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

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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Stolen Painting Worth $165 Million Recovered After 32 Years

A man in a ski mask stealing a painting.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

A Houston man has unknowingly incriminated his deceased aunt and uncle in one of the greatest art heists in U.S. history.

Ron Roseman is still in shock after learning that his favorite aunt and uncle, Rita and Jerome “Jerry” Alter, were likely behind the theft of a $165 million painting.

“I just can’t imagine that they would,” said Roseman. “That wasn’t the aunt and uncle that I knew.”

The painting, titled “Woman-Ochre,” was stolen from the University of Arizona’s Museum of Art in 1985. Roseman discovered the painting when he was going through his aunt and uncle’s estate. The highly prized work was hanging behind their bedroom door and was only made visible when the door was shut.

However, at the time, Roseman didn’t think anything of the painting. His aunt and uncle, both schoolteachers, frequently travelled the world. They had amassed numerous artifacts throughout the years, both foreign and domestic. Thus, the painting didn’t seem out of place.

A blissfully unaware Roseman sold the painting along with some other items to an antique store for $2,000. Crazy as it sounds, the antique dealer was also unaware as to the painting’s true origin and worth. It wasn’t until a few savvy customers came in that the antique storeowners were informed about the painting’s history.

“By the time the third customer came in and said something, that’s when we picked it up and locked it in the bathroom,” said David Van Auker, co-owner of Manzanita Ridge Antiques, where the painting was purchased.

And that’s when authorities were notified. As the executor of the estate, Roseman received a phone call from the FBI in regards to the backstory behind the painting.

The FBI “assured me that I wasn’t in any trouble,” Roseman told news station WFAA. “[The FBI] told me that it was a painting stolen from the University of Arizona Museum of Art 32 years ago.”

As for the University of Arizona’s Museum of Art, they’re just happy to have the painting back.

“It was always a concern that the painting had been destroyed and didn’t exist anymore,” said said Meg Hagyard, interim director at the University of Arizona’s Museum of Art. “So, to have it recovered just a mere few hours from us is an incredible thing.”

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‘Send Me Art’ Makes SFMOMA Collections More Accessible Than Ever

A close-up of a woman texting on her cell phone.

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Can’t make it to the art museum? No problem! SFMOMA has a clever new way of giving you access to the art you’d like to see. Their “Send Me Art” program allows anyone with a phone to text the museum the phrase “Send me” followed by an emoji or written phrase (i.e., “Send me cats”) and receive an image of a piece of art from one of the many SFMOMA collections. Someday soon, that’s likely to expand to other collections from around the world as well. It’s a fantastic way to see some of the SFMOMA collections even if you can’t be on site (or if being on site is a bit overwhelming).

SFMOMA is home to nearly 35,000 pieces, many of which were donated by big name locals like legendary Silicon Valley investment banker Thom Weisel. And with the average visitor spending no more than seven seconds on each artwork, it’s no surprise that few visitors can really experience the whole museum—even in several visits.

That’s why SFMOMA’s web and digital platform department came up with a way to make the collections more accessible.

“In a world oversaturated with information, we asked ourselves: How can we generate personal connections between a diverse cross section of people and the artworks in our collection? How can we provide a more comprehensive experience of our collection?” writes SFMOMA’s creative technologist Jay Mollica.

“Send Me Art” is the solution Mollica and his team concocted. Users can text 57251 with the phrase “send me” followed by a keyword or emoji and receive a related image from the collection. For example, texting “Send me the ocean” might result in Pirkle Jones’s “Breaking Wave, Golden Gate” being sent to your smartphone.

The beta run of the program was so popular, other museums around the world—including the Tate in London and the Auckland Art Gallery in New Zealand—have expressed interest in using it for their own collections.

In response, the SFMOMA team has made the basic code they used open source so that other institutions can adapt it to their needs. “We thought that would be more generous than simply promoting our collection,” said Keir Winesworth, head of web and digital platforms at SFMOMA. “We’re not looking for anything in return. We believe in egalitarian access to culture—our society depends on that.”

Of course, there’s nothing like actually going to a museum to experience the artwork. But using technology to make it more accessible means that more people can experience more collections—both at SFMOMA and, if all goes well, at other museums in the future.

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