Saturday, May 28, 2011

Art Websites of Interest

I've been visiting a few brand new art-related websites that I thought I would share. For instance, I was thrilled to hear that the Yale Center for British Art has relaunched their website and included, for the first time, a database with digital images for all public domain paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, etc. in their collection. The image you see here of Leighton's charming portrait of Mrs. James Guthrie (1864-5) comes from the new database. Almost every museum is now working toward this goal (e.g. see the collection databases for the Met and the V&A), as it can only increase exposure to a museum's collection. In the case of specialized museums like the YCBA, an online collection database is even more important because it allows people to discover works that people might not have ever known they had. The database launch coincides with an in-house special exhibition highlighting works from their collection. I'll be able to see that show and (finally!) the Thomas Lawrence exhibition when I'm there next weekend. Yale also recently released the incredible news that they are the first university to make available digital images from their museum, archival, and library collections free of charge for all purposes, including publication. From Yale's press release: "In a departure from established convention, no license will be required for the transmission of the images and no limitations will be imposed on their use. The result is that scholars, artists, students, and citizens the world over will be able to use these collections for study, publication, teaching and inspiration." Works still protected by copyright will require permissions from the copyright holder of course, but this is an incredible advancement in the sharing of intellectual property, and it sets a challenging precedence for other universities to follow.

The newly launched website Mapping the Practice and Profession of Sculpture in Britain and Ireland 1851-1951 is a database that highlights the lives and working practices of British sculptors from the period of the Great Exhibition of 1851 to the Festival of Britain in 1951. Information on artists such as Hamo Thornycroft (1850-1925) includes things like exhibition history, chief works, associated studio assistants and pupils, etc., helping to create an integrated understanding of how sculptors were not individuals working in isolation but part of a large production of individuals who interacted with in one capacity or another.

My friend and fellow Solomon colleague CC is once again tapping into her creative juices, this time returning to her former career as a practicing artist. She has launched a site where she is selling prints and collages of her work. She has some beautiful work there, so check it out.

And my friend and fellow PhD Candidate PR has joined the world of bloggers (something I've been telling him to do for years now!) with his new blog Architecture/Cosmopolis. Specializing in Beaux-Arts and classical architecture in America and Europe, he has already written some great posts on things like the recent cleaning of the facade of the New York Public Library and Art Nouveau architecture in Brussels (which bklynbiblio readers will recall is very recently near and dear to my own heart).

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cindy Sherman on Top

Cindy Sherman is on top! I wonder if she likes that idea? It's certainly an empowering image and goes well with the feminist-inspired message that underlies her series of untitled self-portraits, where she dresses up and reinterprets iconographic roles of women as sexualized objects. Rather than conform to the assumptions these roles suggest by their objectifications, because she turns the camera on herself Sherman equivocates and disturbs the power assumed by the (male) viewer who normally controls her with his gaze. When Sherman started this series in the late 1970s and early 1980s, it was a major step forward for feminist photography, and although in some ways the ideas and repetition can seem dated today, in fact what still makes these images powerful is the way they now fit into the long trajectory that has become the evolving history of women, gender, and sexuality in Western art.

But what puts her on top these days is that on May 11 at Christie's New York, her photograph Untitled #96, 1981 (image above: Christie's), broke records for the most money paid for a photograph at auction: $3,890,500 (including buyer's premium). Just a few years ago, I remember a group of art historian friends being amazed to hear that Edward Steichen's photograph The Pond-Moonlight had sold for just under $3m, and now that record has been bumped down to #3. It's kind of amazing when you think about it, because by-and-large these are images printed on paper from negatives. In other words, they're not one-of-a-kinds like paintings. This is not to say that they are less valuable. Rather, because photography was a medium based on its reproducibility, it seems strange to think that anyone would pay millions of dollars for just 1 of these reproduced prints. You can see the running list of the most money ever paid for photographs at auction (private sales, remember, are always higher). Since the list is from Wikipedia, however, be forewarned about possible inaccuracies. For instance, according to this news article, Sherman previously held a record for a photograph sold at auction for $2.7m but that doesn't appear on the list at all. It is curious to see that almost all of these photographs sold at auction are 20th-century works. The first 19th-century work on the list is a daguerreotype by Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey, and that comes in at #12, selling for just under $922,488 (£565,250) from a Christie's London sale in May 2003. By the way, if you think you've seen Girault de Prangey's name on this blog before, you have, twice in fact!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

300 Posts!

It took 6 months to reach 100 posts, and then 13 more months to reach 200 posts. Since then, it's taken 14 months to reach where we are now: 300 bklynbiblio posts! Huzzah! Fireworks definitely still are in order. The image you see here is a hand-colored etching of fireworks outside Whitehall Palace on the River Thames on 15 May 1749, an event for which the composer George Frideric Handel composed his famous Music for the Royal Fireworks (image: Wikipedia).

Over the past 2 years, Blogger has been keeping statistics on their blogs, and I thought you might find some of the stats about bklynbiblio to be of interest. In the past 2 years, I have had 10,321 page views. Nearly 5,000 of these views have been from US Internet addresses, followed by about 1,000 coming from the UK. Germany, Canada, and Italy make up the next 3. Very interesting to me are the top 5 most frequently visited posts over the past 2 years. I can't tell if #1 is a surprise or not, but here you go: #1. Male Enhancement [July 5, 2010; 397 views]; #2. Review: Yinka Shonibare MBE [Sep 6, 2009; 311 views]; #3. Books of 2010 [Nov 28, 2010; 178 views]; #4. The Passing of Lionel Lambourne [Feb 28, 2010; 169 views]; and #5. 50 UK Days: Week 2.5 [Oct 28, 2010; 157 views]. Among #s 6-10 are my posts on the movie Little Ashes and my thoughts on Anthropomorphizing Canines.

Thanks to my readers for your ongoing encouragement and support! Here's to the next 100 posts!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Random Musings 7

Following up on the blockbuster auction surprise of last fall's $35m Victorian painting by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, the 19th-century Dutch-born British artist stunned people once again at Sotheby's New York's May 5th sale of 19th-Century European art. The picture you see here, The Meeting of Antony and Cleopatra (1880-83) was estimated to go for $3-$5m, and wound up selling for $25,000,000 ($29.3m with buyer's premium). Victorian pictures get criticized for their sentimentality, but it's clear that some people are willing to pay money for these narrative scenes that emphasize drama (or melodrama) over the formal elements of painting as painting. Cleopatra always has been a favorite subject among artists dating to the Renaissance through now, and one cannot help but think of the potential influence of a picture like this directly influencing movie makers of films like Cleopatra (1963) with Elizabeth Taylor. The Art Newspaper noted the following interesting information about the picture's provenance and past sale history: "Well-received at its Grosvenor Gallery debut in 1882 and subsequently owned then forgotten by the distinguished old master collector Sir Joseph Robinson, Cleopatra resurfaced in a 1958 Royal Academy show of the Robinson collection, only to be disposed by Robinson’s daughter Princess Labia at Sotheby’s London in 1962 for the then not inconsiderable sum of £2,000. Steadily rising in price throughout the ensuing decades, the picture last appeared at auction at Christies in 1993, selling for £879,500 (estimated £280,000-£320,000; $1.3m)." In other arts-related news...

A recent study by neurobiologists at the University College London has shown that looking at art has the ability to trigger dopamine, generating feelings similar to those that make you feel like you're in love. Among the artists whose works were shown to people in the study were Botticelli, Monet, Ingres, and Constable. Upon hearing this, I wasn't exactly surprised. Of course beautiful works of art are going to trigger an emotional response! That is actually the point to art, to evoke a response. Much of 20th-century art has forcibly lost this aesthetic basis in favor of other ideas about art (Rothko being perhaps among the few exceptions). Advertisers realized this a long time ago when pictures started making an appearance in ads. Obviously though not every painting or work of art can trigger the same reaction. Some people like landscapes over people, flowers over animals, etc. Similarly, not every person you encounter makes you feel some sort of emotional response either. So I would argue that much of this has to do with one's own particular idea of beauty, preconditioned or socialized, that one brings to the program. Regardless, it is rather fun to think that art can make you feel like you're in love.

This past weekend my friend KB came to visit from California, and we went to the Brooklyn Museum to see the Sam Taylor-Wood Wuthering Heights-themed photographs of the Yorkshire moors (unfortunately, more interesting in principle than in reality), and Lorna Simpson's thought-provoking exploration of African-American identities. I especially liked her collage-like piece Please remind me of who I am, 2009, appropriates discarded photo booth pictures of Blacks from the past, arranging them interspersed with small blank boxes that I believe represent identities we've already forgotten and are now lost for good. KB also stopped by the Met and saw the Alexander McQueen fashion exhibition, which she said was amazing. I absolutely have to agree. I finally saw it last week, and it is incredible, installed both like a runway event and performance art. Over 12,000 people saw the show in one day, and currently people are waiting up to 30 minutes to get in. They've already run out of the first print run of the catalogue (the holographic cover of which is pictured here).

In my last Random Musing, I had reported on some census stats regarding my Brooklyn neighborhood. Imagine my surprise to discover that the neighborhood along Columbia Street ranks as the NYC neighborhood with the most same-sex couples. Who knew!? That's the area just outside my door and across the BQE (Broolyn Queens Expressway...which I fondly call the BQE River because of its constant churning of traffic). I cross the BQE River every once and a while to venture into that area, but I never stay very long because it's pretty much a dead zone. In fact, there is nothing there that would lead you to believe it was filled with gay couples. Although, come to think of it, the B61 bus runs through there and that is the bus that takes you not just to Park Slope but also Ikea. It's also one of the cheapeast neighborhoods in NYC and still close to Manhattan.

Finally, my latest music obsession these days isn't Lady Gaga, but I do seem to be going gaga over Adele. Admittedly, so is everyone else, but you can tell why. She really does have an incredible voice, full of soul and a certain sort of anguish that strains you when you listen her croon out a ballad or pop tune. And to top it off, she's beautiful, in the very natural, unexpected way that isn't a cardboard cutout or a model. Here's the video for "Rolling in the Deep."

Saturday, May 7, 2011

British Collectors

There's another gem of a museum in NYC called The Frick Collection that I always recommend to visitors who want a bit of art but don't have time for the large collections at the Met or MOMA. The bequest of American industrialist Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919), this museum was originally his house and thus showcases his art collection as part of a domestic Gilded Age interior, providing the visitor with an experience different from the usual encounter with paintings hanging on walls in museum galleries. The Frick Art Reference Library, established in 1920, is one of the best art research libraries in the country. Frick amassed an incredible collection of paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts from the early Renaissance through the late 19th century. The Fragonard Room is one of my favorite spaces in the museum, and they have a virtual tour online so you can see what the room looks like. You may recall that I had highlighted Colin Bailey's talk about these paintings at the CAA conference in February. The beautiful portrait you see here of The Hon. Frances Duncombe was painted ca. 1777 by Thomas Gainsborough, one of my favorite British painters. This work was owned by Frick, but among its previous owners was the Jewish banking magnate Lionel de Rothschild, a British collector about whom I heard a fascinating talk on Friday.

In 2007 the Frick established the Center for the History of Collecting in America. This weekend they held a two-day symposium entitled British Models of Art Collecting and the American Response (here's a PDF of the program). I wasn't able to go to the entire symposium, but I attended the Friday afternoon session of papers, which focused on British practices. Overall, the papers were interesting, but because this was done as a series of formal presentations, there were no opportunities for questions, which I found disheartening. The keynote address by James Stourton (Sotheby's London) was an overview of the history of art collecting in British history from the period of the 1600s into the 20th century. Encyclopedic in scope, his informative presentation set the stage for the rest of the papers, highlighting not only the change in patronage from the aristocracy to the nouveau riche industrial middle classes. Jordana Pomeroy (National Museum of Women in the Arts) gave a talk on the sale of the Duc d'Orléans collection in the 1790s, which brought into England for the first time many of the greatest works of art from the Renaissance. Hugh Brigstocke (Walpole Society) presented a very detailed biographical talk about the artists William Young Ottley and James Irvine acting as dealers on the European continent during the years of the French Revolution.

Arthur MacGregor (Journal of the History of Collections) presented on 18th-century collectors like Charles Townley and Henry Blundell. These collectors were interested mostly in Roman antiquity, and he argued that the acquiring of ancient sculptures and the construction of classical-style country estates were interrelated obsessions. Michael Hall (Rothschild Collection) gave a very interesting talk about the aforementioned Lionel de Rothschild (1808-1879) as an art collector, pointing to his own first tours of northern Europe at the age of 19 as a source that helped guide him in his lifelong art collecting practices, typically of works quite different from that of his contemporaries. The independent scholar Julia Armstrong-Totten also gave an informative and engaging presentation on the art dealer John Smith and how in the 1830s he sought new ways to rejuvenate his business, including publishing his multi-volume series of art books in the 1830s as a way to expand his clientele. The last paper I heard was by Jeremy Warren (Wallace Collection), who spoke about the different art collecting practices of the 4th Marquess of Hertford and his illegitimate son Sir Richard Wallace. Their collections eventually led to the superb Wallace Collection in London, which I first visited last Fall.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

For McQueen: The Costume Institute Gala

I had hoped to write about The Costume Institute Gala yesterday, the day after the actual event, but I wound up with an excruciating headache that had me in bed by 8pm last night. You'll recall I wrote a bit about the event last year. It is a major highlight of the NYC invitation apparently got lost in the mail...again. This year's gala was tied to the spring/summer exhibition Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, which has now opened at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and closes July 31. McQueen was known for his Gothic-inspired designs, unusual materials, and seemingly borderline-painful wear (think Lady Gaga's stilettos). I haven't seen the actual show yet, but from the catalog and the fact that McQueen is a name on pop culture lips, you know the show is going to be a huge success. This is the first museum retrospective of his work. Born in Britain in 1969, Lee Alexander McQueen committed suicide in February 2010, some say at the pinnacle of his career. Of course his dying young now has immortalized him as a Romantic hero, following in the steps of other great men who died at the height of their creative youth, such as the poet John Keats, the painter Théodore Géricault, and the actor James Dean. And in case you've already forgotten, the wedding dress worn by HRH Princess Catherine (Duchess of Cambridge) last Friday was designed for the House of McQueen by Sarah Burton, creative director.

The Gala itself is a major red-carpet event with the who's who of celebrities and fashionistas in attendance. This year's event was hosted by Vogue editor Anna Wintour (left), who looked quite chic in this gown by Chanel (photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/FilmMagic). Her co-hosts were actor Colin Firth and designer Stella McCartney. A number of people wore McQueen-designed outfits, including Sarah Jessica Parker, Salma Hayek, and Chloe Sevigny, Vogue European editor Hamish Bowles in his tartan-inspired suit, and Daphne Guinness in her outrageous swan-themed dress. Madonna had on a lovely 1930s-inspired Stella McCartney gown. But there was some serious misses on the red carpet too. For instance, no one will ever doubt that Beyonce has breasts after seeing them practically bursting out of her skin-tight matador-meets-mermaid outfit. Christina Ricci looked like a cross between Morticia Adams and Charlotte the Spider in Zac Posen's corseted gown. Serena Williams bore a striking resemblance to a wedding cake with sparklers. And poor Barbara Walters looked like she rolled out of bed wearing her bedspread and grabbed a fringed valance for her shoulders. Fortunately hope was not lost for all. Penelope Cruz (above) was stunningly elegant in her Oscar de la Renta gown (photo: Larry Busacca/Getty Images). And even though I prefer to see him shirtless, Matthew Morrison (right) looked adorable in his Dolce & Gabbana tuxedo (photo: Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images). To see all the hits and misses for yourself, check out the articles and slideshows put together by The New York Times and New York Magazine (the latter being my image source for what you see here).