Night of the feline internet stars
The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, staged the second Internet Cat Video Festival last night, attracting a 10,000-strong audience to the open-air event and as much if not more international attention than last year. Fans of the You Tube genre enjoyed the film with the most Warholesque title, Cat Sitting Relaxed, as well as the oriental-sounding action video Epic Cat Gymnast Imitate Fireman. But the Golden Kitty award went to The Original Grumpy Cat, which received 20,000 online votes. The feline festival, which took place during the Minnesota State Fair, now hits the road. Eleven tour dates have been confirmed, including the Honolulu Art Museum (7-15 September) and the Milwaukee Art Museum (24 January).
Flushed with art
The public is being offered an usual opportunity to peek into the Art Loo, in London’s Soho. It is probably the smallest building which will be unlocked for the Open House architecture tours on 21 September. The egg-shaped children’s toilet has two unusual features: there are a pair of lavatory bowls side by side (one for a parent and a smaller one for their child), while the side walls and the exterior entrance have glass display cases with works of art and local memorabilia. Designed by the architect Steven Johnson and artist Elaine Duigenan, it was opened in 2007 and funded by Westminster council and the Soho Green community project. The wood-clad capsule building is set in St Anne’s churchyard, lying above the bodies of 100,000 Londoners. The toilet is kept locked, with keys distributed to local families and groups, to avoid it being patronised by the “wrong” sort of users. Entry to the loo on 21 September will be on a “first come basis”.
Sun, sea, sand, Stalin—the appeal of 1930s Russia
The Soviet Union of the 1930s was not, it appears, just a grim, hardline Stalinist haven closed to the capitalist West. An exhibition of pre-war propaganda posters at the Grad: Gallery for Russian Arts and Design in London (“See USSR”, until 31 August) presents a striking new perspective on the Communist regime, illustrating the leisure and health benefits of the “earthly paradise” that is Russia. “‘See USSR’ deals with the flipside of Russian propaganda, showing a very different aspect of the country to that generally recognised. This is a Soviet Union at rest and at play, a country of leisure, comfort and luxury: the USSR through the looking glass,” says a press statement. The alluring Art Deco-esque imagery was meant to entice curious foreigners to the hammer and sickle-state (canny Stalin desperately needed funds for industrialisation). This inaugural show at the new gallery has heavyweight backing: Irina Nikiforova, head of the department of 19th- and 20th-century European and US art at Moscow’s Pushkin Museum, has co-organised the eye-opening poster smorgasbord. The Intourist posters are on loan from the London-based Antikbar poster gallery.
Scottish gargoyle is social media sensation
A gargoyle on a 13th-century Scottish abbey has become a star on social media due to its uncanny resemblance to the monster in the "Alien" film franchise. The gargoyle, located at Paisley Abbey in central Scotland, shares the science fiction character’s cockroach-like exoskeleton, pronounced ribs, sharp claws, and pointed teeth. Could the medieval rock carving have inspired H.R. Giger, the Swiss surrealist painter who designed the Alien monster? Doubtful, says the Reverend Alan Birss, the minister at Paisley Abbey. While the original gargoyles were carved around 1245, most of them were replaced in the early 1990s—right around the release of Alien 3 in 1992. The film may have offered unintentional inspiration, according to the minister. Commenting on the conservator who worked on the ghoulish statues more than 20 years ago, Birss told the BBC: “I’m sure he wasn’t deliberately copying the alien from the film. But it was just his concept of an alien, perhaps."
A fixed-gear Grand Tour
We may have found the ultimate Brooklyn hipster outing. If your idea of having a good time involves spending three hours on a bicycle pedalling through the borough’s “funky and industrial canvases” (according to the press release), look no further than Get Up and Ride, a Brooklyn bike tour company. The trip is designed by James Q, “a local musician” who “has a personal relationship with the up-and-coming arts and culture scene in the area”, says the company’s owner Felipe Lavelle. For $59 per person, Q (maybe he can introduce you to James Bond after the ride) will take visitors through the arty neighbourhoods of Bushwick and Williamsburg to see music and performance venues, chocolate and tortilla factories, and 50 works of street art plus an art gallery. And for any one worrying their hipster cred might be at risk with something as touristy as sightseeing, fear not. “Guests can rest assured knowing that their experience is fresh and authentic,” says Lavelle.
A feast for the eyes and ears
The reopening of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s European paintings galleries back in May calls for a belated celebration, and the museum has just the ($100) ticket for music and art fans alike. On the evenings of 17 and 18 September, visitors are invited to attend not one but four simultaneous concerts going on in the exhibition spaces. Each performance lasts 20 minutes and the music follows the theme of its corresponding gallery. So, the ensembles Quicksilver, Tenet and Dark Horse Consort will be performing, respectively, mannerist sonatas, Venetian madrigals and Dutch Renaissance instrumentals, while the harpsichordist Jory Vinikour will play music by the 18th-century French composer Jean-Philippe Rameau.
An artist's best friend
Animals are our friends, confidants and, it turns out, artistic colleagues. To “lighten our spirits” during the dog days of summer, the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art has been kind enough to create a Flickr page devoted to pictures of artists with their four-legged friends. Digging through its collection, the institution has selected a photo for each of the 31 days of August, showing “artists with their pets as faithful companions, willing models, or members of the family”. This special relationship is widened to include other members of the animal world in the forthcoming show at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, “Beyond Human: Artist-Animal Collaborations” (19 October-7 September 2014). Rather than just look at how artists use live animals in their work (think William Wegman’s Weimaraners, not Damien Hirst’s cows), the show includes some interesting pieces created specifically for non-humans. So, you’ll find guitar music channeled into Puget Sound by the artist Jim Nollman for orcas and dolphins to enjoy or a miniature museum for cultivated crickets created by Amy Youngs.
Nelson Mandela is a poster boy
An exhibition of 95 posters depicting Nelson Mandela is making the rounds in South Africa. In May, two South African designers, Mohammed Jogie and Jacques Lange, put out an open call on Facebook for posters inspired by the leader to celebrate his 95th birthday on 18 July. They received over 700 submissions in two months. “The project started before [Mandela]’s heath deteriorated and he was hospitalised, so it was not a reaction to his current condition,” Lange said in an interview with Printmag.com. A selection of the best posters, created by designers from Australia to India to Mexico, opens today at the Open Design Expo in Cape Town. In early 2014, copies of the posters are scheduled to be sold at auction to benefit the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital Trust, which is working to build Africa’s third children's hospital.
New social media site sticks to the (art) rules
Those bright sparks at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London have devised a new “online forum designed to generate debate around contemporary art” called Art Rules. Visitors to the site are given the Herculean question “What is your definition of art?”; healthy debate should then ensue around the pithy responses (a Twitter-esque 140 characters maximum) or “rules” as they are known. The more people 'Agree' with a rule, the larger it will appear on the website. Initial comments posted on Art Rules that have proved popular include this bemusing statement from the BBC’s Arts editor Will Gompertz: “Art has no purpose without a point, but is pointless if it has a purpose.” The London-based artist collective Lucky PDF is rather more succinct, saying: “Don’t work for free.” Go to: artrules.ica.org.uk
A grilling for Shaw from the 1 Granary gang
The students at Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design in London have produced a striking, astute glossy magazine called 1 Granary, which features all kinds of visual and textual treats including an illuminating interview with the artist and college alumni Raqib Shaw. The work of Kashmir-born Shaw “is basically a gigantic middle finger thrown up at minimalism, its nail polished in a limitless bounty of shellacked, hyper-technicolor goodness”, says the intriguing interview introduction. Shaw, known for his rhinestone-studded, glitter-smattered intricate works, utters the rather fetching line: “If talent could be taught, I would be Maria Callas.”
Sigmund's sojourn in kiss-me-quick Blackpool
Not many people know that psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud was enamoured with the northern seaside town of Blackpool in the UK. “It is a little reported fact that in 1908 Freud visited the fairground attractions of Blackpool, writing fond letters of the experience back to his family,” says a press statement for a new exhibition at the Grundy Art Gallery in Blackpool (“Dreamland”, 17 August-2 November). Freud obviously had a thing about funfairs (perhaps it was the sight of grown men shrieking on the Ghost Train), having visited the fabled Coney Island in New York in 1909. The artist Zoe Beloff will present previously unseen material relating to Freud’s visit to Blackpool, as well as drawings and photographs purportedly produced by the Coney Island Psychoanalytic Society, an organisation founded in 1926 by Albert Grass, an amusements designer at Coney Island. Purportedly is the key word; when asked by the New York Times in 2009, if the society actually existed, Beloff’s rather enigmatic answer was: “That’s a good question. What do you think? Let’s think about interpreting this. That’s what Freud was about, taking real things and recontextualising them to see what that says about us. Maybe that’s the approach I took.” Those keen on British seaside humour might savour paintings Beloff has produced incorporating a series of saucy Blackpool postcards.
Russian art magazine goes online only
Russia’s art world was caught by surprise on Wednesday by reports that ArtChronika, the country’s main glossy art magazine, was being shut down. By Thursday, it was clear that the publication, founded in 1999, had been hit by another common malady of the Internet age: it would survive, but only in electronic form. According to a press release posted on the magazine’s Facebook page, Shalva Breus, the wealthy art collector who publishes the magazine, assured readers that ArtChronikawould continue to come out, and that employees could either choose to stay with the electronic version or take buyouts. Breus’ ArtChronika Foundation launched a contemporary art museum in 2012 in the Udarnik, a landmark Stalin-era cinema opposite the Kremlin.
Bloggers for Detroit
More than a dozen art websites are taking part in “A Day for Detroit” today to spotlight works of art that could be lost if the Detroit Institute of Arts' collection is sold to help pay down the city's $18b debt. “We encourage people to visit our sites to be reminded of the art that could be lost to Detroit,” Tyler Green, the founder of the participating blog Modern Art Notes, wrote in an email. He says the effort is one way “in which the national art community is trying to raise public awareness of the possible disaster hanging over Detroit and the Detroit Institute of the Arts”. Among the websites participating in the initiative are Art F City and Bad at Sports.
If at first you don't succeed
One year after her botched “Ecce Homo” restoration attracted global attention—and an epidemic of parodies online—Cecilia Giménez has picked up the paintbrush again to prove that she can, in fact, paint. “They told me I was too old to be doing such things, but with this new painting I have demonstrated that Cecilia can do something right,” she says. The 82-year-old has already had her (somewhat lopsided and fuzzy) portrait of Christ appear on bottles from Bodegas Ruberte, a winery in Borja, Spain, where the original fresco can be found. Now she is being celebrated with her own wine, “Edición Especial: Cecilia Giménez”, priced at €7 per bottle. The label features a new work by Cecilia and we have to admit, it’s a noticeable improvement on her first attempt. Beside spurring her artistic skills, Giménez’s internet fame has done wonders for the region, with around 70,000 visitors travelling to see her restored “Ecce Homo” in the Sanctuario de Misericordia last year, which raised €50,000 in donations for the foundation that runs the church. She is finalising an agreement with the foundation this month that gives her 49% of the proceeds from the sale of merchandise and the €1 entry fee to the church, and plans to give her cut of the profits to muscular atrophy charities, her lawyer says, because her son suffers from the condition. Cheers, Cecilia!
Rotterdam theft to get blockbuster treatment
An action movie based on last year’s theft of seven paintings worth an estimated €18m from the Kunsthal Rotterdam is in the works. The Romanian director Tudor Giurgiu is teaming up with the photographer Cristian Movila to make the feature film, which will chronicle the suspects’ journey from a small Romanian village to worldwide ignominy as the alleged perpetrators of the largest art heist in recent history. “The subject sells itself, it is an excellent pretext for an action movie,” Giurgiu told the Romania Insider. Last October, two thieves snuck into the museum overnight and snatched works by Monet, Picasso and Matisse in under three minutes. “The speed of the robbery, the psychology and motivation of the robbers, the fact that they come from an isolated community, from a village inhabited mostly by old people, all will give colour to this universal story,” Giurgiu says. The film will also focus on Olga Dogaru, the mother of one of the suspects, who confessed to—and then quickly denied—burning the masterworks in order to protect her son. Due to the global interest in the case, Giurgiu plans to direct the movie in English. Producers in the UK, the Netherlands and the US have already approached him about possible partnerships, he says. Meanwhile, the trial of six Romanians suspected to have been involved with the theft is scheduled to begin on Tuesday in Bucharest.
Swagger portraits celebrate Hermitage's top cats
The State Hermitage Museum has contributed to the genre of cat portraiture in the grand manner by commissioning an artist to render its famous feline guardians dressed in Tsarist court costumes. The Uzbek artist Eldar Zakirov has created the series “Cats of the Hermitage” for the Hermitage Magazine based on works in the St Petersburg museum’s collection. The magnificent moggies are depicted with deadpan expressions, dressed in historically accurate uniforms, such as The Hermitage Court Chamber Herald Cat. In 1745, Empress Elizabeth ordered that Russia's best cats be brought to the Winter Palace to rid it of rats. They have been guarding the Hermitage's treasures ever since and are now regarded as treasures in their own right.
Eid in Venice?
As Muslims start celebrating the festival of Eid, Art Dubai shares the second edition of Posting Ramadan, a collection of blogs by artists, photographers and collectors worldwide recording their experiences during the Holy Month that has just ended. Among the contributors is Mohamed J Al Serkal, who was an intern at the UEA Pavilion at the start of the Venice Biennale (until 24 November). He wondered how he'd cope fasting in Venice. "The smell of the oven-crusted pizza, the tangy four-cheese risotto, and concluding the night with an icy cold Grom gelato... Your control will be tested to the ultimate high," he writes. "Your strength will be considered a virtue, and it will be alerted by the sounds and smells of Venice.” Fasting is much easier at home in Sharjah, he acknowledges. Yet he envies fellow interns observing Ramadan during the Biennale. "It will be an experience like none other,” he writes, leaving readers to imagine what Eid in Venice might be like. An over priced gelato probably never tasted better. For more posts, see Art Dubai's blog.
Around the world with Ziggy Stardust
Bowie fans rejoice! The V&A announced today that its hugely popular retrospective of the glam rocker David Bowie is going on a world tour. After it closes in London on 11 August, “David Bowie is” goes on view at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto this September, and then travels to the Museum of Image and Sound, São Paulo. The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Chicago is so far the only US venue for the exhibition, which features more than 300 objects from the musician’s archive, including costumes, set designs, album art and performance material. The show has been a massive blockbuster for the V&A, selling more than 67,000 advance tickets and seen by around 300,000 visitors since it opened in March, so admirers of the musical chameleon should start making their travel plans early.
Update: the Groninger Museum has announced that it is bringing "Bowie" to the Netherlands in December 2015. Where next?
Billy Zane: 'I feel I am digging a tunnel to another land'
The actor Billy Zane may be better known for his roles in films such as "The Kill Hole" and "Leprechaun's Revenge". But who knew that he makes paintings which, according to a press statement, "have drawn comparisons to both Abstract Expressionism and the Neo Expressionist movements"? Fans of Zane's work can gain insight into the actor's aesthetic side with his first solo UK show due to open at Rook & Raven gallery in Fitzrovia, London, this autumn ("Seize the Day Bed", 11 October-7 November). “'Seize The Day Bed' is a song to duality in a sun burnt Southern Californian driveway. An offering of improvisations on canvas and paper derived from the influence of opposing forces; a bi-polar, analogue construction in our virtual world of multitasked, second screen experiences," Zane observes. Any other thoughts? “For me, the act of painting is a seduction by way of a contradiction. While creating on the ground is labour-intensive work, I am somehow transported beyond the physical. Rather than adding layers of paint, I feel I am digging a tunnel to another land," Zane says.
Hou Hanru named artistic director of Rome's Maxxi museum
Hou Hanru, the Chinese critic and curator currently behind the fifth Auckland Triennial, has been named as the artistic director of Rome’s Maxxi—Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo, Italy’s first national museum for contemporary art, opened in 2009. The board members Beatrice Trussardi and Monique Veaute, along with Giovanna Melandri, the president of the Fondazione Maxxi, made the announcement on 1 August, and Hou is due to take up his post in September. He will be responsible for planning the institution’s diverse cultural output, from architecture and design to contemporary and performance art, and is expected to work closely with the directors of the museum’s architecture and art programmes, Margherita Guccione and Anna Mattirolo. Guangzhou-born Hou is perhaps one of the best-known curators from Asia, and his global presence and outlook (he is based out of Paris and San Francisco) is expected to strengthen the museum’s position on the international scene. However, he has his work cut out for him: the current economic crisis in Europe has put a strain on publicly funded arts institutions, so much so that, in April last year, the Italian ministry of culture effectively took over Maxxi, transferring control of the foundation to a commissioner. The ministry said it did so because the museum board was unable to set a satisfactory budget for 2012. In October that year, Giancarlo Galan, the then minister for culture, placed Melandri, a congresswoman for his party, at the helm of the foundation.
Find 30 years of New York's public art on your smart phone
Thirty years ago, thanks to its then-mayor, Ed Koch, New York City passed the Percent for Art programme into law, which sets aside 1% of the construction cost of city-owned buildings to be used to commission public art. Since 1983, the city has installed works at 300 sites throughout the five boroughs, with 80 more pieces under way. To celebrate the anniversary, the Department of Cultural Affairs has teamed up with the Department of Information, Technology and Telecommunications to launch a mobile website and apps, making the collection of public art accessible from your smartphone. Visitors or art-hunting locals can go to www.nyc.gov/percentmobile to see an interactive map that allows them to find the nearest Percent for Art projects, and they can check-in at more than 100 sites on the social media app Foursquare to help earn a “Big Apple” badge. Meanwhile the Percent for Art NYC blog on Tumblr highlights individual projects and offers news on the programme. With works being unveiled every day—such as Shakespeare Machine by Ben Rubin at the Public Theater lobby, Chakaia Booker’s outdoor sculpture Sugar in My Bowl, at the Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn and Tony Oursler’s video works at the Frank Sinatra High School in Queens—expect to see updates soon.