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.

Posted in art | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in exhibits | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in news | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.”

Posted in news | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

Photo credit: Shutterstock

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.

Posted in news | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s Not Just Hollywood; Sexual Harassment Alive and Well in New York’s Art Scene

A man placing his hand on his colleague's bottom.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

After the Weinstein scandal broke, scores of women came forward about their experiences with sexual harassment in the entertainment industry. But the problem isn’t only confined to Hollywood.

This past Wednesday, Artforum magazine publisher Knight Landesman resigned after a sexual harassment lawsuit was filed against him. The lawsuit alleges that Landesman victimized at least nine women. Some of the complaints go back nearly ten years.

Artforum has since released a statement on the matter, and has vowed to create a better work environment for its employees.

“In the past days, we have met with our staff and they have told us that Knight Landesman engaged in unacceptable behavior and caused a hostile work environment,” the statement reads. “We will do everything in our ability to bring our workplace in line with our editorial mission, and we will use this opportunity to transform Artforum into a place of transparency, equity, and with zero tolerance for sexual harassment of any kind.”

The fallout from the scandal also led to the resignation of Artforum’s Editor-in-Chief, Michelle Kuo.

“I resigned because I felt that, in light of the troubling allegations surrounding one of our publishers, I could no longer serve as a public representative of Artforum,” Kuo wrote in an email to ARTnews.

Landesman, 67, is one of the most influential and successful figures in New York’s art scene. Throughout his career, Landesman has had the pleasure of attending the finest galleries and museums the world has to offer. His frequent travels have also allowed him to form powerful connections with elite figures—a career advantage that he allegedly used to exploit up-and-coming female artists.

According to the lawsuit, Landesman committed numerous offenses against at least nine women, which include groping them, sending them vulgar messages, attempting to kiss them, and even retaliating against them when they turned down his advances. The only named plaintiff is Amanda Schmitt, a curator who started working at Artforum in 2009 when she was just 21.

Posted in news | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Street Art Goes Commercial

A mural of Hillary Clinton in front of the American flag.

West Los Angeles street art.
Photo credit: Hayk_Shalunts / Shutterstock

Street art is a controversial topic; some view it as vandalism while others view it as craftsmanship. But instead of condemning the practice, perhaps New York City ought to take a few pointers from Los Angeles.

An increasing number of businesses in LA are reaching out to artists and asking them to create art that encourages people to stop and look—and maybe enter the shops and buy something. Yoga and spin studios, as well as bars and restaurants, are forming partnerships with artists to display their work commercially.

Outside the Line Hotel in Koreatown, for example, visitors can see the “Peace Tree” mural by Shepard Fairey (probably best known for designing to Barack Obama “Hope” poster). Gabriel Ratner, vice president of operations at Sydell Group, the hotel’s owner, is pleased with the reactions of the passers-by when they see the mural.

“People stop by to grab a photo and then end up coming into the hotel lobby for a cup of coffee or a cocktail,” said Ratner.

As Ratner noted, these partnerships are particularly effective in the age of social media, when plenty of tourists want to get a selfie and post it on Instagram or other social media platforms.

The relationship between street art and Los Angeles has a somewhat checkered past. In 2002, even as businesses hired artists to turn brick walls into billboards, the city banned murals on private property as part of an effort to cut down on street art that was just commercial advertising in disguise. The City Council ultimately lifted the ban in 2013—with the caveat that murals couldn’t contain any commercial messaging.

Of course, there are philosophical complications as well, even now. Street art is an offshoot of graffiti, which is all about counterculture and dissent—something street artists still hold onto today. For example, even though Fairey’s work is highly commercialized in some respects, his website proudly proclaims that he has been “manufacturing quality dissent since 1989.” So if street artists are being paid for their work, does that somehow detract from the outsider mentality of the modality’s origins?

Leaving aside the ideology of whether or not artists deserve to be paid for their work (spoilers: they absolutely do), the question of commercialization troubles many street artists, including Colette Miller. Miller has produced some of the most popular LA backdrops on social media today. Her Global Angel Wings 2012 project began as an illegal mural painted in the Arts District in 2012. After her initial success, she started accepting some commissions for offshoot work, including from businesses.

“I know people are trying to make money off my art,” Miller told The LA Times. “But the goal of the wings is to remind people that we are angels of the earth. Whether it’s in a mall, prison, or hospital, it doesn’t matter. We’re divine souls wherever we are, so why be snobby?”

Miller does have her limits, however. When Angel City Brewery commissioned her to paint a set of wings on their building, she agreed—until she returned to find that the company had added its own branding to her work. “This isn’t an advertisement, it’s an experience,” Miller said.

Wherever you stand on the idea of the commercialization of street art, the fact is that it’s a movement continuing to grow in LA—in large part to the opportunities offered by area businesses.

Posted in art | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment