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‘Stardust’

A Keen Eye for Fine Faces

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Kate Moss by David Bailey, 2013. (David Bailey)

David Bailey is best known for his ultra glam photos of the fashionable and famous. But a new exhibit pairs these works with anonymous portraits of locals taken during his travels.

Some of his philanthropic efforts are a little more light-hearted. As part of his Democracy project, Bailey offered to photograph visitors to his studio buck-naked from 2001 to 2005—an invitation, incidentally, none ever refused. One by one, he asked his subjects to strip and stand in front of an evenly lit, white background, a mere six feet from his lens; once photographed, every image was printed on the same paper, free from edits, and identically framed. The point? To enforce democracy. Bailey banished variation other than that embodied in the sitters themselves. Six of the resulting life-size nudes hang in the Gallery, and, like the images of nameless subjects from his travels, they highlight the personalities of the sitters who arrange their bodies in certain ways. Model Bernd Kho stands legs-spread, fingers pinching nipples, clearly well within his comfort zone, a smile playing across his lips. Tattoo- and piercing-covered, “Prince Albert” is even easier to read. As Bailey said, “you could hire him for parties!” Who doesn’t love a good exhibitionist?

“Just a little bit of pixie dust”—that’s all Peter Pan needed to fly to Neverland. For Londoners lucky enough to find their way to the National Portrait Gallery, the magical substance guaranteed to provide a lift is Bailey’s Stardust, the ultra glamorous photographs by David Bailey.

On display until June 1, Bailey’s Stardust is a large-scale exhibition involving over 300 portraits, the majority of them newly printed for the occasion. A British fashion photographer who transcends the genre, 75-year-old Bailey selected the images himself, making curatorial choices that illuminate his career spanning half a century.

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From the series Nagaland by David Bailey, 2012. (David Bailey)

Hideout

Where the Nazis Hid Their Art

Built by a mad king and copied by Disney, Neuschwanstein Castle held Hitler’s stash of priceless artworks—until the true-life Monuments Men liberated the stolen collection.

High in the Bavarian Alps, a white castle with soaring turrets overlays a scene of rolling green meadows and snow-capped mountains straight out of a storybook watercolor. The setting is so idyllic it served as Walt Disney’s inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s castle.

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De Agostini/Getty

But the world-famous Neuschwanstein Castle, nearly straddling the German-Austrian border, once played host to something more sinister than the fairytale setting it inspired. During World War II, the Nazis, aiming to amass a world-class art collection for Hitler’s dream of a “Führermuseum,” stashed thousands of paintings inside the castle. When the war ended, it also closed a 12-year period now recognized as history’s largest art heist—raking in priceless masterpieces from the likes of Michelangelo, da Vinci and Vermeer—and the recovery efforts were tasked to an allied unit known as the Monuments Men.

What began as a brain trust of the art world’s finest during the war became a group of 345 men and women from 13 countries that comprised the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Section unit. They spent 1945 seeking out more than 1,000 troves containing an estimated 5 million pieces of artwork and cultural items stolen from wealthy Jews, museums, universities, and religious institutions. And for six years after the surrender, a smaller group of about 60 Monuments Men continued scouring Europe as art detectives. Now, on Friday, and more than 70 years after the recovery began, a George Clooney-directed movie documenting their cultural reconnaissance opened in theaters with an all-star cast.

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Art Saved By the Monuments Men

Child’s Play

The Michelangelo of Lego

Nathan Sawaya was a corporate lawyer. Now he blows minds on a daily basis with his massive sculptures created entirely of Lego bricks. Here’s his wild story.

It’s the most wonderful, weirdest memory. Remember when you were a kid and you’d play with Lego and, when you were done, you would have circular impressions on your thumbs from pressing the bricks into each other?

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Nathan Sawaya

Nathan Sawaya, otherwise known as “The Brick Artist,” knows those impressions well—and not just because he has them tattooed on his wrist. “I had a tattoo exactly like that on my thumb, too, but little did I know that the thumb regenerates its skin so fast that it wiped off after a few months,” he tells me. “My tattoo artist expected it to last six months to a year, but given my profession, it was less than three months and it was gone.”

Sawaya’s profession, as it happens, is a sculptor. A Lego sculptor. A Lego sculptor whose exhibition, The Art of the Brick, is breaking attendance records around the world. (And, just in time for the release of The Lego Movie, it is about to return to Manhattan.)

Fever Dreams

Hitler’s Fantasy Museum

Before World War II’s start, Hitler was driven to create his dream museum containing all his favorite Aryan-approved art. Noah Charney on how the Monuments Men had to unravel the thousands of objects plundered by the Fuhrer’s minions—and what they learned from Napoleon.

When Monuments Men Robert Posey and Lincoln Kirstein walked into the white-washed cottage in the German forest that housed Hermann Bunjes, the Harvard-educated one-time SS officer and art advisor to Herman Goring, they learned of an elaborate plan involving the wholesale looting of Europe’s art treasures. Bunjes, hiding in fear of reprisals against SS officers by angry German citizens, told these fellow art historians about the ERR—the Nazi art theft unit—and about Hitler’s plan to create a city-wide museum in his boyhood town of Linz, Austria: a “super museum” that would contain every important artwork in the world, including a wing of “degenerate art,” a sort of chamber of horrors to demonstrate from what monstrosities the Nazis had saved the world. It was news to Posey and Kirstein, who had to restrain their shock. The Monuments Men had heard rumors of art theft and looting throughout the war, but had no idea of the scale (some estimate that around 5 million cultural objects were looted, lost, or mishandled during the war), the advanced level of organization (scores of Nazi officers and hundreds of soldiers were assigned exclusively to the confiscation, transport, and maintenance of looted art and archival material), and the ultimate destination of the choicest pieces—the Führermuseum. It was years into the war, when this encounter took place, and only then did the Monuments Men finally realized what they were up against. Bunjes further detailed a number of hiding places for looted art, including the famous salt mine at Altaussee, in the Austrian Alps, which contained some twelve-thousand stolen artworks, the mother-load destined for the Linz museum. Posey and Kirstein were on the hunt for The Ghent Altarpiece by Jan van Eyck, the most influential painting ever made and the most-frequently stolen, but could hardly believe what they were hearing. Yes, The Ghent Altarpiece was the number one target that Hitler wanted as the centerpiece for his museum, both because of its beauty, fame, and importance but also because it had been forcibly repatriated to Belgium from Germany by the Treaty of Versailles, and seizing it back would right this perceived wrong against the German people. But here was the chance to save not just this painting, but tens of thousands of artworks.

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AFP/Getty

The race was on.

Hitler’s plan for his museum been on his mind for more than a decade, at least since 1934—for Hitler had long stewed upon the idea of capturing The Ghent Altarpiece for Germany, and had even dispatched a Nazi art detective (and Hitler lookalike), Heinrich Köhn, to find the Righteous Judges panel, one of the twelve that comprises The Ghent Altarpiece, which was stolen from St. Bavo Cathedral in Ghent in 1934, and has never been recovered. Köhn was sent to Ghent to find it before the Nazis stole the rest of the altarpiece. The only reason why they would bother hunting for the one missing panel is if they intended to capture the rest of it as soon as the opportunity arose.

Star-Studded

The 100 Coolest Americans

Since the jazz era, Americans have deemed the hippest among us as “cool.” A new exhibit looks back at the stars who have shaped and embodied the concept that is our ultimate tribute.

Parisians have chic, Italians have la dolce vita, Brits have Evelyn Waugh—and Americans will always have cool.

Defining “cool” is a bit like that famous Potter Stewart quote about hardcore pornography—“I know it when I see it.” Who you think is cool, and what you think makes them so, is incredibly personal and subjective.

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National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Mr. and Mrs. Bob Willoughby © Bob Willoughby

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What Is a Photograph?

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Art on the Tracks

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The Daily Beast

An artist creates art to plug a hole in the universe. A model railroad builder is more practical. But can there be art without intention?

Rod Stewart—yes, that Rod Stewart—is a model train fanatic. This, I admit, took me by surprise, although to deep-dyed Stewart fans and model railroad enthusiasts it’s apparently old news. He has, after all, been at it quite seriously for a couple of decades and a model train fan since childhood. The third floor of his Los Angeles home contains a model railroad layout that measures 23 X 124 feet, and he estimates that he has at least another three years before it’s complete.

I would have known nothing about this had someone not sent me the February issue of Model Railroader magazine with a feature about Stewart’s passion. I laughed when saw the story. And then I began reading about the depth and breadth of his zeal (he has two assistants, he rents an extra hotel room on the road when he’s performing for designing, building, and painting the structures that populate his layout). Then I studied the photographs in the magazine closer—and the more I looked, the more impressed I became. The attention to detail, coupled with carpentry skills and a painter’s eye (he’s colorblind and someone has to check his reds and greens, but still), strongly suggest that here is an artist—a nutty artist, maybe, but an artist.

This begs the question: what is an artist? The answer grows harder to formulate by the day. Someone who makes something out of nothing? Someone who clarifies the world in ways no one had thought of before? Yes and yes, surely, but we know there’s more to it than that. Art, more and more, is a know-it-when-you-see-it commodity.

Are all model train enthusiasts artists? No, but some of them certainly are. You have only to Google model train layouts to behold a wealth of creation. Cities, towns, landscapes—some of them are small, some enormous, some exact replicas of some place and time, and others purely the imaginative creations of their makers. Part of our fascination with this activity has to do with nostalgia, but part also has to do with that far more obscure fascination with making things small, with creating a ship in a bottle, or a small town the size of a suitcase. The people who make these things, the best of them, are curators of the past and creators of totems that resonate in our minds in strange ways. Whenever I stare at a particularly complex train layout, my first thought is always how little the model trains have to do with it. They’re almost an afterthought.

The Color Black

Abstraction Colored by Race

Sam Gilliam’s “One Thunder”, from 1970

(Courtesy Michael Rosenfeld Gallery)

Sam Gilliam works with form and hue, but we always see history in it.

This is Sam Gilliam’s “One Thunder”, from a show at Michael Rosenfeld Gallery on abstraction by Black artists ­– about as vexed a subject as you could ask for. Does Blackness, as a social color, change the hue of all the other colors it touches? Does the very fact of a Black artist not working with figuration, and not addressing issues of race, become a salient refusal – and therefore as political as anything else? This 1970 Gilliam strikes me as notably concise and self-contained, from an artist who hit his stride by sprawling work across rooms. It also evokes the pointed hood and robes of a Klansman.

This is the last Daily Pic to be cross-posted to TheDailyBeast.com. The series will continue uninterrupted at BlakeGopnik.com, and there should be news soon about a new second venue.

COLOR SPLASH

Capa in Color

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Robert Capa/International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos

His vivid black-and-white photographs of Allied troops landing at Omaha Beach in 1944 remain legendary, but Robert Capa also shot in color, as showcased in a new exhibition at the International Center of Photography in New York.

The photographer Robert Capa took one of the most enduring images of war—the Allies’ D-Day landing at Omaha Beach during World War II—and created an enduring legacy by co-founding the agency Magnum. The fearlessness he possessed and the realities and effects of war, on and off the battlefield, that he captured secured Capa as a master of black-and-white photography during the first half of the twentieth century.

But what is less well-known, due to his legendary black-and-white shots, is that Capa was an equally assured color photographer as an exhibition at New York’s International Center of Photography (ICP) is set to reveal.

The Hungarian photographer was born Endre Friedmann in Hungary in 1913. Seeking a career as a writer, the young Friedmann left home for Germany at the age of 18, but soon found work as a photographer and grew to love the occupation. However, due to the persecution of Jewish citizens that was beginning to spread, Friedmann decided to conceal his identity, changing his name to “Robert Capa,” and moved to France.

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Pablo Picasso playing in the water with his son Claude, Vallauris, France, in 1948. (Robert Capa/International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos)

Waiting in Vain

Our Kids' Purgatory

Greg Miller, "Ryan" (2013), from the series, “The Bus Stop at the End of the Driveway”

(Courtesy ICP, NY)

Greg Miller catches school children as they wait for their bus to come in.

A photo from the series “The Bus Stop at the End of the Driveway”, by Greg Miller, again from the faculty show at the school of the International Center of Photography in New York. The title is more or less self-explanatory: These are exurban kids waiting for their school buses in the early a.m. Ryan’s photos represent a moment and a place and an event – and even figures – that we mostly overlook. It’s always great to see photography doing its job of ostension.

For a full visual survey of past Daily Pics visit blakegopnik.com/archive.

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