The Daily Pic: Joyce Wieland pushes back the timeline for feline films.
Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa: On Friday, I claimed to have found the earliest YouTube-ish cat video, filmed in 1979 by the artist B. Wurtz, but I warned that someone was bound to point out some still earlier contender. That someone was the Vancouver publisher new-documents.org, who immediately tweeted out the fabulous "Cat Food", shot by Joyce Wieland one full decade before Wurtz did his piece. (Click on today's image to watch it – and let me know if you've got a still earlier cat film up your sleeve.) I'm doubly ashamed of my lapse because Wieland (who died in 1998) sits in two categories of artists I follow especially closely: Pioneering women, and Canadians. I know and love Wieland's work, but this piece had passed me by. It suddenly occurred to me that it's a kind of animal lover's tribute to – or piss-taking of – Warhol's great movie "Eat", which I only recently saw (and in which the cat's appearance is too brief to make the piece count as a contender).
The Daily Pic: Way back in 1979, B. Wurtz proved that filmed felines are art.
On the last day of our all-video week, I present (drumroll, please), THE WORLD’S FIRST CAT VIDEO. It’s an art film, actually, called “The Meaning of Life”, shot by the artist B. Wurtz (yes, him again) in 1979 and newly mounted on the Triple Canopy Web site. (Click on the image to watch the film.) I can’t quite go to bat for this piece the way I could for the Wurtz video I DP’d on Monday, but I think its predictive power alone makes it art-historically notable. According to the old cliche, artists surf the zeitgeist before anyone else gets there – and here’s the ur-YouTube proof. (Yes, I know, Thomas Edison shot a short film of cats boxing back in 1894, but it was so stagey that it doesn’t really count as a precursor to the purely durational, observational cat videos that are the genre’s archetypal form. And I know that today’s DP is tempting fate, since other, earlier cat pieces are bound to come out of the woodwork. But will any of those prove, as this one does ipso facto, that cat videos are art?)
The Daily Pic: Yael Bartana imagines a Jewish migration to Poland.
The latest item in this week’s video festival is the projected trilogy called “And Europe Will Be Stunned”, by the Israeli artist Yael Bartana. I praised it at the last Venice Biennale, but it is showing again at Petzel Gallery in New York, and may just be the best new work now on view in the city. (I have to present this still from the piece, rather than a clip, since Bartana prefers that all viewers get the complete, projected experience.) Bartana’s piece is a pseudo-documentary, built around the fiction that a new party called the Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland has taken root in Warsaw, with the goal of renewing Polish greatness by restoring its slaughtered Jewish population. We get to witness the construction of a new Polish kibbutz, and then the mourning that follows the assassination of the movement’s young founder. Formally, the piece is amazingly subtle – it toys with various documentary styles while always making clear that it’s playing. In its politics, it is both brash and subtle at the same time: It is built around hot-button topics but never makes clear whose side it is on. Its viewpoint is so tempered that it has seen attacks from both fervent Zionists and those most committed to the Palestinian cause. As far as I’m concerned, that means Bartana is doing something right.
Is the insular art world not giving us the excitement we crave? Jonathon Keats, author of the new book, ‘Forged,’ says forgeries are the new masterpieces we should be paying attention to.
What’s your big idea?
Art is in the business of anxiety. For well over a century, artists have been trying to rile us, making us question ourselves and our society. At the most fundamental level, Abstract Expressionism evokes existential angst for instance, and Pop Art satirizes consumerism. But the art world is an insular place, and for the select few who actually go to museums, any potential anxiety is neutralized by mind-numbing curatorial explanations.
A visitor looking at paintings by Han van Meegeren (1889-1947), on May 11, 2010 in the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam. (Robin Utrecht/AFP/Getty)
As a result, legitimate art is doing a bad job of taking us outside our comfort zone. Art forgery, on the other hand, does so brilliantly. Forgers are the foremost artists of our age.
The Daily Pic: Our toughest sculptor films our mighty industrial past.
The latest installment in our “video week” presents a moment from the wonderful film called “Railroad Turnbridge”, shot by Richard Serra in 1976 and now on view (as a digital projection) at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto. (Click on the image to view a clip). The film is nothing more than some black-and-white footage of the massive piece of equipment – usually known as a “swing bridge” – that allowed ships on the Willamette River near Portland to pass to either side of a crossing train track. (The bridge still seems to exist, but now rises up instead of swinging.) In this clip, shot from the bridge-deck itself, the railroad equipment is cleverly assimilated to the camera that is shooting it – with a further parallel being drawn, maybe, between the force of heavy industry in society and the power of central perspective in art. Other passages in the film are more about documenting the machinery itself, and its insanely massive construction. They make you realize how profoundly Serra’s famous heavy-metal sculptures are rooted in the moment of their making, when the heyday of America’s heavy industry was coming to its end. Who would have thought that such tough-guy work had a nostalgic, almost sentimental side?
The Daily Pic: James Nares slows Manhattan's rat race to a snail's pace.
It’s video week at the DP, and this is a still from “Street”, an utterly engrossing projection by James Nares that’s now drawing crowds at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. (Click on the image to view a clip that was shot in situ, or go to Nares’s Web site for a different one.) “Street” is nothing more than one hour’s worth of footage culled from 16 hours spent riding a car through the streets of Manhattan, with a video camera pointed out at the pedestrian flow.
What seems to account for the video’s almost magic, irresistible attraction is that it is shot in extreme slow motion and at very high definition. Nares has taken the slow-mo technology usually used to capture the flight of a hummingbird and trained it on his own species, as it too goes about its normal business.
Today’s very extended Daily Pic looks at how that tech causes the video’s entrancing effects, and it includes some guesses from a couple of experts: Alvy Ray Smith, the computer scientist who co-founded Pixar (and who happens to be my brother-in-law) and the Berkeley psychologist Arthur Shimamura. Click “Read Full Story” below to see our dissection of the video’s effects.
– A Slow Trip Through A World Slowed Down: Although it’s clear that the figures that we see on the sidewalks have been artificially slowed – it takes 12 seconds for an umbrella to pop open – we don’t feel as though the progress of Nares’s car has been equally decelerated. Even though that car must have been traveling the streets at a fair clip, to keep up with other traffic, we feel that it is (and we viewers are) moving at a real and normal snail’s pace. In other words, we feel that we are moving at a slow, stately rate through a universe whose contents have been abnormally slowed. At a guess, that could be because we identify completely with the lens of the camera, so that anything it sees feels like it has been seen with our own, untroubled, unmanipulated vision. The effect may also depend on the fact that there aren’t many cues in the scene to tell us how fast our car is really going (a car going 5 and a car going 30 witness basically the same streetscape, though passing by at different rates) whereas the pedestrians’ gait and actions – such as unfurling that umbrella – have a standard duration that we recognize as having been lengthened in Nares’s video. Slow motion filming almost always involves a static camera pointed at a moving subject, which may be why Nares’s use of a moving slow-mo camera seems to produce such novel effects.
Daily Pic: B. Wurtz suffers, or prospers, from aesthetic agnosia.
These are stills from “Metal Sculpture”, a wonderful 1979 film by the New York sculptor B. Wurtz which just went live (as a video) in the new issue of the online magazine called Triple Canopy. (Click on the stills to watch the footage.) The premise is simple, and charming: Wurtz talks about a new metal sculpture he’s discovered and which he assembles as we watch; it turns out to be a perfectly normal folding music stand. His (pretend) inability to recognize the object as the functional thing it is, and his desire to treat it only as art, is a kind of condensation of the spirit that animates a lot of the best art making. I’ve referred to it as aesthetic agnosia – an ability to perceive the stuff in the world but not to recognize what it is or how it works, like the famous Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. Wurtz turns himself into The Man Who Mistook His Stand For His Art, and by doing so, made it so.
In Libya, behold a cultural revolution.
The Libyan poet Khaled Mattawa and I agreed to meet by the Arch of Marcus Aurelius, in the heart of Tripoli. I was there a few minutes early and walked toward the familiar structure in that invisible atmosphere that surrounds us when we find ourselves in a place that has meant a great deal but from which we had been separated. I had not been back to the city of my childhood in over three decades. I left a boy; returned a man.
Under Gaddafi's dictatorship, painting subversive graffiti was a dangerous crime. (Louis Quail/In Pictures/Corbis)
The sun was sharp. The shade beneath the stone arch was as physical and reliable as a lake. The structure was built some 1,850 years ago, a year or two after Aurelius came to power. I remembered the opening lines from one of Khaled Mattawa’s poems—“East of Carthage: An Idyll”—when he addresses the Roman emperor:
Look here, Marcus Aurelius, we’ve come to see
your temple, deluded the guards, crawled through a hole
in the fence. Why your descendent, my guide and friend
From Botticelli to John Updike, the rosebud nipple has long dominated Western art.
In case you haven’t heard, a nipple movement is sweeping the U.K. Ladies from Liverpool to Essex are increasingly looking to define, darken, and enlarge their areolae, shelling out as much as $1,800 for “tittooing,” a not-so-clever nickname for the two-hour tattooing procedure.
Sure, it could be a passing fad, but big nipples are in—and tittooing is poised to upend the landscape of breasts as we know them in the Western world. Taking our cues from the arts, we’ve long idealized the small, salmon-colored nipples of Botticelli’s Venus. Fashion tends to favor small nips as well (Kate Moss’s dime-size areolae are almost as famous as the model herself). Nipples are slightly more varied in the adult-entertainment industry, but there’s little diversity when it comes to highbrow smut. Playboy’s bare-breasted models may be buxom, but their nipples are rarely larger than pepperonis.
Despite the new trend overseas, scientific evidence suggests both women and men are partial to petite nipples. In a 2011 study, a plastic surgeon in the U.K. surveyed 100 models’ breasts in attempt to determine what factors make some more appealing to the eye than others. Proportion was key, but his “Analysis of an Ideal Breast” also found that nipples accounted for very little surface area on said perfect breast.
To be sure, the small nipple ideal is subjective, even silly, given that no two nipples are the same in reality. But artists, poets, and breast-obsessed men alike have been drawn to the ideal for centuries.
A new retrospective of the late American art prodigy Keith Haring opens at Paris’s Modern Art Museum.
An extensive retrospective of the late American artist Keith Haring opens today at the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris. The exhibition, titled The Political Line, showcases some of the highlights from Haring’s formidable career, which spanned just over a decade. (Sadly, the artist passed away in 1990 at the age of 32 due to complications related to HIV/AIDS.)
Through his art, Haring commented on some of the most important socio-political issues of his time and, fittingly, this exhibition trails the major themes that influenced his work: capitalism, mass media and religion, racism, and his campaign against drug use and AIDS (he himself was diagnosed with HIV in 1988). Ultimately, the messages he conveyed were just as important as the medium itself.
“This is not something that he simply put into his work: this is a reflection of who he was as a person,” Julia Gruen, director of the Keith Haring Foundation, explained at yesterday’s press conference. “What you are going to experience with this exhibition is the great passion and idealism of this young artist. He put part of himself out there, so that you can reflect and you can interact with the experience of his time. He was very engaged in his whole moment.”
Upon arriving in New York in 1978, Haring fell in love with the energy of the city—particularly its prolific street-art culture—and he painted some of his earliest works on billboards, in the subway, and in other available public spaces. As such, he became a great champion for the democratization of art. “The public has a right to art … Art is for everybody,” he once said on his desire to make his work accessible to all. His approach was also a most pertinent way for him to get his message across.
The Daily Pic: Elli Chung contemplates veggie aesthetics.
This lovely, funny image is by Elli Chung, from her show at Julie Saul Gallery in New York. The title is “KAWA AKAGO, An Infant Monster Who Lurks Near Rivers and Drowns People” – the show illustrates moments from Japanese folk tales – but that name does not at all reflect my first impressions of the photio. I saw this naked tuber as entirely within the Western tradition of nude beauties on riverbanks, with echoes of Titian and Courbet’s “White Stockings”. Rather than seeing a threat in it, I found a note of sadness, as the vegetable contemplates its failure to live up to that aesthetic and erotic tradition.
The Daily Pic: The Viennese artist makes room for video's supporting cast.
In this age of projected art, six screens demand equal billing with the images shown on them. The installation is by Heimo Zobernig, and I saw it in a group show at Leo Koenig gallery in New York. In person, the effect is quite strange: By now, we’re used to found objects getting used as sculpture, but here it’s as though pedestals replaced the works that normally sit on them. Rather than fading into the background, like the well-trained servants of aristocracy, Zobernig’s screens insist on being recognized in all their individuality and distinct objecthood: Here’s one wearing a yellow belt; there’s one discretely detailed in green; here’s another, standing proud and taller than all his kin, in a suit of silver that’s brighter than anyone else’s.
The Daily Pic: Designer Yuya Ushida makes a sofa from recycled eating sticks.
Designer and engineer Yuya Ushida “unfurls” his “SOFA_XXXX”, which isn’t X-rated, but gets its name from the X joints that give it both structure and expandability. (Click on the image to see a video of its laborious production, and then its fascinating use.) I saw the piece in the “Against the Grain” show at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, where a wall text explained that its first prototype was made from about 8,000 recycled bamboo chopsticks – China alone throws out about 90 billion of them each year – which were hand-drilled by Ushida as a student project for the design academy in Eindhoven. It seems that the versions of XXXX going into mass production may be made from plastic, and so won’t be as “green”. Maybe the trick would be to publish DIY plans for sofas to be made by anyone who eats lots (and lots) of take-out Chinese.
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