June 28, 2017

The Palette is available to all interested with an e-Subscription


In this issue:

25 years of art enabling
Kevin Adams steps into his landscapes
Trump wants to kill federal arts funding. What difference would that make?
Discovery or Hoax? News Site Claims Caravaggio Painted Leonardo’s Portrait
Avocado Art Is Here, and Instagram Is Officially Obsessed
Pakistan's 'truck art' has become a global phenomenon
118-Year-Old Painting of a Dead Bird Discovered in a Hut in Antarctica
Longtime benefactor wills record $9 million gift to National Museum of Women in the Arts
The Street Art Hiding On The 69th Floor Of The World Trade Center
The world’s art is under attack—by microbes

 

 

 


25 years of art enabling
Wyndham Art Supplies has been supplying visual artists for a quarter century

TORONTO, ON: In his big city life, back a little more than 25 years ago, Chris Ahlers worked in a popular, quirky art supply shop on Spadina Avenue in Toronto. The place had character.

Ahlers had a couple of jobs to make ends meet while studying film, but the art shop job was special because of the colourful clutter of the place, and because the most interesting of interesting people came through the door.

Those seeking visual art supplies tend to be a thoughtful, reflective and creative lot, and not infrequently eccentric. It's pretty much the same kind of folks in Guelph.

Working at Gwartzman’s taught him the art supply business and rekindled his love of painting. He has been an artist, and an enabler of art as an art supply guy, ever since.

Over the last 25 years, Ahlers, his wife Tammy Ratcliff, along with Ahlers' business partner parents Otto and Margaret, have built one of the country’s leading independent art supply stores. Ask any artist and they will tell you how vital it is to have such a shop in their community. Guelph has a very good one.

Wyndham Art Supplies, owned and operated by Chris and Tammy, borrows from Ahlers’ early experience at Gwartzman’s, but takes it to an even more robust level. Wyndham Arts is a place any artist would be happy to get lost in for an hour or two. There is an anniversary sale on now, and other quarter century celebrations coming. And you can own the t-shirt.

Ahlers sat down on Monday to talk about the 125 Wyndham St. N shop, and the third floor studio space that serves as the Guelph School of Art, a component of the business that offers art instruction of all kinds for all ages.

In between the first (jammed with art supplies) and third (a studio jammed with art-making materials) floors, there is a second-floor picture framing component.

“The customers of an art supply store are tremendous – a very broad cross-section of humanity,” he said. “For the most part, when people come into an art supply store it’s for a good, creative reason.”

Those people, he said, are looking to solve interesting problems, problems of an intellectual, technical and/or spiritual nature – or all three wrapped together.

“It’s usually a happy sort of situation when they come in, one that’s full of potential and positive vibes,” he said. “It’s the nature of the business. We often hear people say that it’s like a candy store in here. The place is packed to the gills with all sorts of weird and wonderful stuff.”

Delving into Wyndham Arts inventory is a kind of artistic treasure hunt. There are layers upon layers of creative tools - a diversity of materials that hold an infinite array of possibilities for the creatively minded.

“One of my original visions was of an antique apothecary type of look,” he said. That vision has been realized.

Ahlers said being an enabler of art is a very good line of work to be in.

“If we’re able to provide materials, and provide hints and some direction in terms of the material properties and suitable combinations, it really does open the flood gates of people’s creativity,” he said. “There are a lot of ‘aha’ moments.”

The business’ art school component has been running for about 15 years, with Margaret Ahlers taking the lead on it in the early stages at the former location at 164 Wyndham. It has grown over the years. Some staff members, who are also artists, teach courses, and there are as many as 20 local artists also on the teaching roster, including Pearl Van Geest, David Caesar, Austin Gibson and Julianna Cox.

Eight week’s worth of Guelph School of Art summer camps are nearly sold out.

Otto Ahlers was the first to propose the idea of starting an art shop in Guelph. In 1992, his son Chris made a three-year commitment to the idea. Three years have become 25. The father and mother remain partners as co-owners of the building. Chris runs the business.

“Otto brought the business acumen, and I brought the art materials angle,” Chris said. “We worked closely, but our little theatres of expertise didn’t overlap a lot. We pretty much gave each other free reign in our respective areas.”

The father was able to temper the son’s “insatiable appetite for inventory.”

Most all Wyndham Art Supplies staff members have been and are artists, with an active creative life outside of work, in a great many artistic areas. The philosophy behind the human resource leaning is that artists are best able to help those in need of art supplies.

“Most of our customers pick up on that pretty quickly, that they are talking to somebody who knows and is interested,” Ahlers said.

The shop has a new and improved website. Check out anniversary deals, product lines, and learn more about Guelph School of Art online. Guelph Today

 

Kevin Adams steps into his landscapes
Washington-based artist is Shenandoah’s Artist-in-Residence

Kevin H. Adams has been so excited while packing up his myriad paints, brushes and canvases — the largest of which will rest on a makeshift “backcountry” easel — he’s like a kid going off to summer camp.

Which isn’t too far of a stretch.

Shenandoah National Park has just selected the highly regarded Rappahannock-based artist as its prestigious June Artist-in-Residence. A former United States Marine Corps officer and combat artist, Adams was previously commissioned by Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona and Glacier National Park in Montana.

“And that was a long time ago,” he recalls in his Gay Street Gallery studio in Washington, which showcases several of the artist’s emerging landscapes and figurative paintings.

The residency runs from Monday, June 12 through Friday, June 23, when by day — “sunrise to sunset, and well into dusk,” Adams expects — he will be painting forests, waterfalls and overlooks deep inside the park, pausing only to sleep at night in a Skyland cabin.

Furthermore, the artist will be sharing his inspiration with park visitors, who on a daily basis will be informed at entrance stations and via online postings on Shenandoah’s website where exactly Adams is painting on a particular day.

“And they can paint with me!” he reveals. “I’m excited to have visitors join me, when I will be able to slow them down — let them see for themselves how precious these parks are, and how fun they can be for young people.”

Better yet, budding artists need not lug art supplies and canvases up and down the trails to whichever perch Adams plants his sizeable homemade easel for the day.

“A grant from the RAAC Claudia Mitchell Arts fund has paid for the art supplies used for the public portion of this residency,” Adams explains, although the Artist-in-Residence program itself is supported by a very generous donation from the Shenandoah National Park Trust.

“Donors to the Shenandoah National Park Trust are proud to fund programs like Artist-in-Residence,” says Shenandoah National Park Trust President Susan Sherman, “which explore new opportunities to connect people with this remarkable landscape.”

Adds Shenandoah Superintendent Jennifer Flynn, “We are excited to have Kevin Adams as the park’s next Artist-in-Residence, to share his talent with our visitors and to continue to create works of art that celebrate and commemorate the wonderful national treasure that is Shenandoah National Park.”

Park visitors also are invited to join Adams for a public program and interactive demonstration on Saturday, June 17, at 1:30 p.m. at the Byrd Visitor Center (mile 51 on Skyline Drive). This event is a scheduled part of Shenandoah National Park’s “Park Neighbor Day,” when entrance fees for all visitors will be waived.

Adams foresees painting 40 canvases during his residency, the largest of which — “4 feet square” — he will present to Shenandoah National Park as part of the residency.

As for the additional 39 landscapes, the artist plans to hold an exhibition of his Shenandoah works in the not too distant future. RappNews

 

Trump wants to kill federal arts funding. What difference would that make?

The wind is up in Wilson, N.C. Giant pinwheels and propellers start spinning atop tall and spindly kinetic sculptures called whirligigs, which have been erected on a village green being developed into Whirligig Park. The rotating wheels drive chains, belts and shafts that, in turn, set in motion whimsical characters and shapes. Little bicycle riders and unicyclists pedal and wave, helicopters hover, birds flap their wings, fighter planes change course.

The fantastic contraptions have been fashioned from the discard pile of American civilization. A freshly painted blue fan, 19 feet in diameter, spins majestically thanks to the graceful repurposing of the rear axle of a truck, while another big pinwheel is adorned with 96 shiny metal milkshake cups. Vollis Simpson, the junkyard artist who built these figures, worked from a palette that also included scrap metal, bicycle wheels, attic ventilators, hubcaps, brake disks, side-view mirrors, light fixtures and highway signs. His day job was moving houses and hauling heavy machinery. He never threw away anything because, as he used to say, “Next week you’ll need it.”

Long before the National Endowment for the Arts, or anybody else, thought his “windmills,” as he called them, were fit for a city park, he erected them on his family’s land out in the country. The effect was so surreal that the grove became a destination that teenage joyriders dubbed Acid Park.

“Back when I started this mess you never heard of this word ‘art,’ ” Simpson, who died in 2013 at 94, once said. “I’m just an old country boy.” So he was stunned, and a bit tickled, when his whirligigs were called upon to help save Wilson’s ailing downtown.

Much as a whirligig is a meditation on cause and effect, on the way consequence builds upon consequence, Whirligig Park fits within a larger web of chain reactions rippling through the nation. As the Trump administration proposes next fiscal year to eliminate four pots of federal funding for culture — the National Endowment for the Arts ($148 million last year), the National Endowment for the Humanities ($148 million), the Corporation for Public Broadcasting ($445 million) and the Institute of Museum and Library Services ($230 million) — communities across the country are left to ponder what difference that would make.

The total money at stake at the four agencies — about $970 million — is a drop in the $3.9 trillion federal budget. That’s a data point that can be argued both ways: Arts advocates say the cuts would scarcely reduce the deficit but would cripple the nation’s cultural life. Budget hawks say the multibillion-dollar culture industry is so well-endowed by philanthropic elites that the comparatively minuscule federal contribution would not be missed.

I found myself paging through descriptions of hundreds of federal grants in search of a few projects to go see for myself. Culture agencies are as politically shrewd as the Pentagon at sowing taxpayer dollars in seemingly every congressional district, and I was amazed at the breadth of aspirations. In the end, I decided to find out what difference it makes to bring pottery- and printmaking to the desert towns of West Texas; why it matters to discuss Sophocles and Upton Sinclair in the basement of a health clinic in Boston; and whether such endeavors would be possible without someone writing checks in Washington.

The whirligigs of Wilson seemed promising as well. They don’t just provide a handy metaphor about the connectedness of things; they’re also an example of one impact of culture funding: the economic development potential of art. Whirligigs, it turns out, can be job creators.

Whirligig Park thrums with a whispery, metallic clatter, and the whirligigs radiate energy outward. It animates the tourists who have discovered Wilson, a city of 50,000 that once claimed to be the largest tobacco market in the world. After the tobacco warehouses closed, Wilson spent decades searching for a new way to generate vitality downtown, but to little effect.

The National Endowment for the Arts was an early believer in the civic power of Simpson’s creations. The project received a little more than $200,000 in 2010 from individual donors, who would go on to contribute $800,000 more by 2017. Then, starting in 2011, the NEA gave grants totaling $469,000 to help with the design of the park and the restoration and installation of the whirligigs. As Wilson officials see it, the federal money helped leverage more than $7 million from other public and private sources — such as ArtPlace America and the Kohler Foundation — to finish the park. In addition, about $35 million in private real estate investment has come to downtown Wilson since the whirligig project launched in 2010. City officials credit most of that capitalistic activity to the whirligigs themselves, and to a broader arts-inflected renaissance suffusing Wilson as a result.

With so much money flowing, it’s natural to question whether it all could have happened without the fraction provided by the NEA. But folks in Wilson say it’s hard to conjure now the uncertainty that existed at the beginning of the project, before the NEA provided one of the first grants. Plenty of residents considered it foolhardy to put so much faith in Simpson’s rusty old windmills. “I thought it was junk,” says Donald Evans, a City Council member who has been converted into a booster of the project.

The NEA provided not just cash, but cachet, and cachet could be redeemed for more cash, making everyone in town a believer. “It put us on the map with the prestigious [private] foundations in the country,” says Henry Walston, president of a family auto-parts business, who championed the project from the beginning. “Here was this little bitty town in eastern North Carolina that all these people started taking notice of. ... Vollis Simpson’s whirligigs could be Wilson’s Eiffel Tower.”

Landscaped where a tobacco warehouse burned down, the park doesn’t formally open until the fall. More of the eventual 30 whirligigs are to be installed, a farmers market pavilion is being finished, a performance stage is under construction. On a Monday evening in April, a small crowd of residents gathers for open-mic night and craft beer in a brewery that recently opened in a formerly derelict historical building across the street from the park. “Without that Whirligig Park, we certainly would not be there having a brewery,” says Barbara Conklin, who conceived of 217 Brew Works with her husband, Tom Curran. The brewery expects to expand from six to 10 jobs in the coming months.

Around the corner, in a conservation center in a former auto-parts building, eight metalworkers and carpenters, led by artist Juan Logan, are employed to restore and preserve Simpson’s whirligigs. On another street facing the park, a construction crew frames up 90 market-rate apartments in a vast former tobacco warehouse. The $12 million project, set to open next year, is called Whirligig Station, designed for a growing number interested in moving downtown from the outskirts and from as far as Raleigh-Durham, an hour away. “That project could not happen without the Whirligig Park,” says Dave McCormack, president of Waukeshaw Development in Petersburg, Va., which is developing the space. “It’s going to create more energy downtown and let people who are prospective tenants see it as a destination place, a cool place to hang out, drink beer, go to restaurants and get people thinking about living downtown.”

To be sure, local businesses and individuals chipped in, but to complete the work, “we don’t have those types of resources locally,” says Kimberly Van Dyk, city planning and community revitalization director. “These types of federal resources help bridge the divide between the have and have-not communities.”

There’s money in parts of West Texas when the price of oil is high, but it hasn’t been for a while, judging from the two dozen or so idle rigs disappearing in the rearview mirrors of a curious caravan that just set out from Odessa. The principal vehicle is a pickup truck hauling a 16-foot trailer. The trailer carries the names of sponsors, including a local propane company and a small logo devised in Washington: “Art Works. arts.gov.”

At the wheel is a printmaker named Mario Kiran. He and potter Christopher Stanley, both art professors at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin, have turned themselves into arts riders on the Texas plains, roaming hundreds of miles from Lubbock to the Mexico border, covering 17 counties dotted with rural communities where resources are scarce, even when the oil is flowing. The pair used to invite art classes from public schools to visit the university art department for arts enrichment, until school principals began saying they lacked the budgets to provide buses. So about five years ago, an elementary school invited Kiran to come there. When he arrived, the teacher had no art supplies. Kiran ended up running out to a convenience store for glue and flour, from which he improvised clay with the students. “I was furious,” says Kiran, who grew up in India. “I vented to Chris: ‘This is horrible. This is the United States; this is not India.’ Chris said, ‘Welcome to America.’ ”

Iowa-born Stanley had just had his own shocking experience, visiting a school where the art program had recently been cut. That’s when the idea for Pots-n-Prints was born.

“Chris said, ‘Let’s do a grant, let’s try the NEA,’ ” Kiran recalls. “I said, ‘We’re in Odessa. There’s no way we’re going to get any change from the NEA.’ ”

The trailer rolls into Big Spring, population 29,000, former home of a long-shuttered Air Force base. An arts festival is getting underway on two downtown blocks. Usually the trailer visits schools or Boys & Girls Clubs, reaching thousands of children a year. This is the second time a group of young artists has put on a festival in Big Spring, and both times the trailer has been a featured attraction. The rear doors open and equipment starts emerging, winched and ferried down a ramp. First come the pottery wheels — 10 of them — and hundreds of pounds of clay. Then the silk-screen press with its flash dryer, and boxes of T-shirts. Next the 1,200-pound etching press.

A small crowd gathers to watch the process, waiting for this clown car of infinite art supplies to yield its biggest surprise: a full-size raku kiln, capable of firing up to 2,000 degrees. Long lines form for a chance at the wheels and the two presses. Children and parents tackle the wet clay side by side. Stanley walks among the wheels, pushing his big fingers into the clay, demonstrating how to open a well, how to pinch the sides.

Epiphanies start popping all over.

“I made something!” Loralai Heffle, 7, says with a kind of shock at the slightly lopsided bowl turning in front of her.

The rise and fall and rise of the creations is reflected in the faces of the creators.

“One little piece of clay and her face just lit up,” says Josh Morales, father of Joslyn, 4.

“How do you know when it’s done?” Shandon Farr, 7, asks Stanley.

“That’s one of the biggest questions in all of art,” Stanley says. He prevents another child’s lump from spinning out of control before adding: “You just feel it.”

Greg and Rebecca Medina are making pots alongside their daughter, Madison, 8. “Growing up around here, we’ve never even seen anything like this,” says Greg, a school bus driver. “You think about where these kids are going to get this experience. They’re not going to get it in school.”

“We’re trying to teach Madison that there’s a whole world outside of Big Spring, Texas,” says Rebecca, a math teacher.

Sitting at her wheel in a black dress with a black bow in her hair, Madison holds up her creation. “It’s a cup,” she says. “I’ll probably plant a flower or a seed in it.”

As impressed as I am, I wonder how much difference this festival, this relatively brief chance to make pots and prints, will have in the lives of these families. But there’s also a larger dynamic going on here. The festival and the trailer are part of a fragile arts ecosystem that is sending out tendrils, like a desert flower.

One hundred ten miles west of Big Spring is Kermit, population 6,400. The high school is one of two dozen schools the trailer travels to each year. These visits amount to a kind of art technology transfer, where the professors impart techniques and teaching tips that the teachers can use again.

The trailer visits “just tripled the amount of knowledge I’m able to get to my kids,” says Tonia Tidwell, art teacher at Kermit High School. She used those experiences to make the case to the administration to buy 18 pottery wheels. “For some of our students, Odessa-Midland may be the biggest town they go to in their lives,” Tidwell says. “My kids, that one day a year [when the trailer visits] they get as much knowledge, if not more, than I can offer them in a whole semester. I know that sounds like a stretch. When Chris and Mario leave, the students are on overload. I’m on overload.”

Then, too, the university art students who volunteer on the trailer tell me the experience inspires them to return to their communities and find ways to push art outside the classroom and the studio.

Cost to the taxpayers: two NEA grants of $15,000 apiece. Each was matched with money and in-kind support from other sources, including the Odessa Council for the Arts & Humanities, the University of Texas and propane supplier Fuel Mark Inc. The funding also affords a small honorarium to artists-in-residence who come for a week to teach the college students and then venture out on the trailer.

Dusk and the desert chill begin to enfold Big Spring as Stanley starts packing up the wheels. “It would be nice to go to Congress and show them what we do,” he says. “I know for four years we’ve been able to give a gift back to these communities that was funded by the federal government, and nobody else was doing it. ... Show me where this is bad.”

I didn’t have to go far to find people ready to do just that. At the Heritage Foundation on Capitol Hill, a conservative think tank that advocates for limited government and free enterprise, I met Romina Boccia, one of Heritage’s leading thinkers on fiscal and economic policy, and Mike Gonzalez, a senior fellow with a special interest in the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Boccia started by citing a Giving USA report that estimates that annual private charitable donations to “arts/culture/humanities” total $17 billion. Compared with such a sum, she argues that the relatively small federal contribution is unnecessary. “It’s not even a rounding error,” she says. She doesn’t believe the folks in Wilson and Odessa who say the federal share is an essential component. “It’s easy once you have the grant to say, you know, this is what did it,” she says. “Maybe you have to work a little harder in the absence of it.”

As I described Whirligig Park and the mobile trailer, she deftly turned the very strength of the projects against their need for federal support: “For all of these projects that are really worthy and good, there are lots of generous people around ... especially those kinds of things where you can easily see how this would be great PR” for a corporate donor.

It occurred to me, though, that PR possibilities become most apparent once a project is running — after the feds have come in with seed money. Given how little federal money is involved — just 92 cents per capita supports the NEA and NEH — in those cases where federal support might do some good, is there any harm in that?

Boccia and Gonzalez maintain there is. Consider Wilson, where the whirligig boosters say the NEA lent credibility, enabling further fundraising. Boccia and Gonzalez consider that a distortion of philanthropic decision-making. An NEA grant becomes a seal of approval, tempting some donors not to judge a project on its merits for themselves, they say. And the lack of an NEA grant becomes a barrier for other projects to get private funding.

“Only a limited number of organizations are going to be able to get those NEA grants,” Boccia says. “They have a leg up now, because they can say we have this quality-assurance certificate from the federal government.”

I had gone to Heritage thinking the debate over funding was simply a dispute over the proper role of government, but now I could see there was more to it. I hoped Newt Gingrich, with his penchant for broad strokes, would frame the issues in sharp relief, but when I called him, he only added more nuance.

Back in the 1990s, as speaker of the House of Representatives, he thundered for an end to federal arts funding. This was after two controversial photography exhibits in 1989 were partially funded by the NEA. Gingrich said at the time that rich Hollywood types could fund the NEA if they wanted to.

Now I found him somewhat mellowed on the subject. The difference between the 1990s and now, he says, is back then there was “an all-out drive to balance the budget.” Today, “in the general world of government deficits, where an amazing number of truly dumb things are funded, it’s a little hard to make the case that these shouldn’t be funded. ... There are a lot of historians who have written great American histories based on NEH grants.”

He remains an avowed foe of the public broadcasting corporation. As for the other culture-funding agencies, “I think it would be great fun for Trump to go out and find an intellectual conservative of the first rank to head up these institutions and then watch the left respond,” he says. Or, he suggests, why not open a window of several years during which the federal government would match private donations to create true endowments for culture, then let them run on investment returns with no more federal support?

“The great virtue of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities ought to be that they provide seed money for scholars and artists, and they provide opportunities for young people to be exposed to the arts,” he says.

I told him that sounded a lot like what is happening in Wilson and Odessa. “I think it’s an interesting test case,” he says of the whirligigs. “But let’s stick with the Texas example.” He pointed out that the University of Texas system has one of the largest endowments in the nation. Could it alone have funded the mobile trailer?

“It would be impossible to argue that they accomplish no good,” Gingrich says of the culture agencies. “But I think it’s legitimate to say, Could we at least look at, one, to what degree is there a [liberal] bias, and, two, how much of this gets absorbed by petty bureaucracies, all of whom will testify that they’re really important?”

“My argument is not for or against the institutions per se,” he continues. “I think of all the things we do, it’s pretty hard to argue that they’re among the most harmful. My argument is with the entire academic class, of which they are a subset. The degree to which we’re now sucked into a sort of only-liberalism-counts kind of worldview is what worries me.”

As it happened, my next visit was to watch a couple of members of the liberal academic class in action.

“What do you see here?” asks the Harvard historian, moonlighting in a basement classroom of the Codman Square Health Center, in a working-class section of Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood. He keeps asking simple questions like that, which make the answers seem not so obvious, which reminds the students — nearly all middle-aged black women — of Socrates, whom they read last semester. They are looking at photographs taken by the crusading journalist Jacob Riis more than a century ago, pictures of immigrants crammed into tenements in Lower Manhattan.

“Why do you think Riis took this photograph?” Timothy Patrick McCarthy, the professor, continues, selecting another image.

The students inventory what they see: a seated woman holding a swaddled child on her lap, her eyes cast upward. Beside her is a ladder, and she’s surrounded by buckets, barrels, bundles, a man’s hat on the wall.

“It looks like slavery,” says a student.

“He’s certainly relating this to that,” McCarthy says, then adds: “Those of you who are religious, have you ever seen an image like this?”

“Madonna and child?” asks student Phyllis James.

“Madonna and child!” says McCarthy.

An image of Michelangelo’s “Pieta” flashes on the screen.

“This could easily be read as a sacred representation, where the hat is not literally a man, or a man’s hat; it’s God,” McCarthy continues. “It’s the thing that’s unseen. He captures her looking up, directly at what looks like the hat. Could she be praying? Is this a ladder to heaven? Is this upward mobility in terms of class? ... She isn’t just an immigrant woman with a baby. She also represents something.”

He proceeds to his larger point: “That’s what we do, that’s what this course is about, when we’re thinking about language. Things operate in both the literal and the metaphorical.”

With that McCarthy has handed over another of what his co-professor Jack Cheng calls “the keys to the culture” to people who never had access to the full set that comes with a good college education. In a STEM-obsessed society, the Clemente Course in the Humanities, as these sessions are known, takes an unabashed Great Books approach to education. They were devised two decades ago by the late social critic Earl Shorris, whose central insight was that what keeps the underclass down is being forced to focus so much on the daily struggle that there’s no room for civic engagement. The way to make room, said Shorris, is instruction in the humanities.

Now there are 31 Clemente Courses given around the country. The free Dorchester course, one of five in Massachusetts, receives about $50,000, or half its annual cost including in-kind services, from Mass Humanities. The state humanities council, in turn, gets half its funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities. “Without the NEH money, we could not continue all of them,” says David Tebaldi, executive director of Mass Humanities. “There’s nothing that we do that has the profound impact on individuals that the Clemente Course does.”

Among the requirements for admission, the students cannot have graduated from college and must come from households getting by on less than what is considered a living wage in the Boston area, or about $13.42 an hour for a single person. In two semesters, meeting twice a week, they take classes in moral philosophy, literature, American history, art history and writing.

They read Plato, Aristotle, Kant and Nietzsche; Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Virginia Woolf, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, Junot Diaz; they survey art from Mesopotamia through Picasso, Pollock and Warhol. The work is demanding, and dropout rates can be as high as 50 percent, but those who graduate receive six credits from Bard College in New York state that can be transferred to other institutions. A consultant’s study requested by private funders and paid for with a foundation grant found that, 18 months after graduation, two-thirds of Massachusetts Clemente graduates had taken college classes, and many reported volunteering for political campaigns for the first time and paying more attention to public affairs.

After class, I ask Phyllis James, the student who made the Madonna connection, why she was taking the class. At 50, she says she was “maxed out” in her work as an administrative assistant for the state courts, unless she got more education. “I always wanted to finish my degree, but you get involved with work, family. Time flies,” she says. “This is encouraging me and giving me a doorway to go the next step to achieve my goals.” Like the woman in Riis’s photo, she sees the Clemente Course as her ladder up.

Carl Chandler, 68, an alumnus, told me about being the keynote speaker at his Clemente graduation a few years ago. During his speech he explained to the audience that graduation day was the anniversary of when he was forced into a homeless shelter for a brief time, his lowest moment. Taking the course was part of his comeback. “I’m always going to be poor,” he said to me, “but that’s no excuse not to be informed, to speak up, to try and better myself. Clemente helps you get on that path and stay on that path. It helps you think more and think better.”

Waldo Aguasvivas, 28, graduated in 2013. He had dropped out of high school and got his GED as he was beginning the Clemente Course. “Courses change people’s lives,” he says. “It changed my view on college, that I wanted more, that I wanted to know more. You can talk to anybody, and that feels good, not to be lost in the classroom or not to be lost when you’re talking to somebody and they’re talking about Aristotle, and you don’t even know who that is because you haven’t given yourself the time or just you never came across it.”

Aguasvivas carried his six Clemente credits to Roxbury Community College, then enrolled at Suffolk University. He’s on track to graduate next semester with a degree in applied legal studies. Next for him is law school, he says. “I never even knew what college credits were. Look at me now.”

It was easy to see how the whirligigs have made Wilson a place of perpetual motion. Mike Simpson, one of Vollis’s three children, showed me where his father originally displayed my favorite of his masterpieces. We were out at the workshop that the elder Simpson built on the family’s land about 10 miles from town. He never worked from drawings. The only evidence of planning were a few smudged hieroglyphics etched in chalk on the concrete wall and floor of the shop. Taken together, the whirligigs are like a cubist diary of a life that began in 1919 and saw the 21st century, with deeply personal references to his family, his World War II service and his life of hard work. “He would say, ‘That’s my life out there,’ ” Mike Simpson says.

“We always say if the wind is up, he’s smiling,” says Carol Kyles, Simpson’s daughter.

The masterpiece shows a wagon being pulled by horses or mules. I love it not just because it’s a beautiful behemoth, but because it’s the most ingenious expression of ripple effects and the conservation of energy. The turning of a 24-foot-diameter fan sets in motion a series of reactions including the waving of the driver’s hand and the wiggling of the horses’ ears. It weighs 10,000 pounds, but the heavy pieces rotate almost daintily because Simpson knew how to impose perfect balance.

Now it’s in the conservation center in Wilson, being restored for installation in the park. In a frame on the wall of the center is a pair of stenciled shapes the size of extra-large gardening gloves. The title above the frame says, “Hands of Vollis Simpson.” All art, scholarship and cultural expression begins with an individual’s singular vision — the genius and the hands of the creator. What happens next depends on other forces. The Washington Post

 

Discovery or Hoax? News Site Claims Caravaggio Painted Leonardo’s Portrait
News of the painting arrives exclusively from a press release issued by an organization called News Press International, which offers shaky proof for its findings.

Every once in a while, a new theory concerning one of art history’s greats emerges, raising questions about these dead, mostly white, and mostly male, artists. Did Rembrandt use optics to paint his self-portraits? Does this pair of panther-riding drunks represent the only surviving metal works by Michelangelo? Did van Gogh slice off his ear to stop his brother’s marriage? And was Mona Lisa a self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci in drag, a portrait of his neighbor, or a cover-up of another portrait?

While many of these claims are based on well-researched studies, some are more dubious. Sometimes a discovery can even seem like a full-on hoax, such as a portrait allegedly of a young Leonardo da Vinci recently unveiled last month at, curiously, an art gallery in Las Vegas. And making the finding even sweeter is the possibility that the artist responsible for painting it was Caravaggio.

News of the painting arrives exclusively from a press release issued by an organization called News Press International (NPI), which also shared a video recap of the gallery event.

“The artwork is believed to have been painted in either 1592 or 1596 when the young Caravaggio made his way to Rome hoping to make a name for himself and win commissions from Vatican patrons,” the release states, adding that Caravaggio ended up working in the studio of Antiveduto Grammatica, where painters were tasked with creating multiple versions of portraits of famous Renaissance figures, such as da Vinci. “Scholars note that this possible ‘Caravaggio’ bears a striking resemblance to known imagery of Leonardo that would likely have been found in Grammatica’s studio … Experts who are reviewing the painting say scientific analysis will be conducted for the next several months.”

NPI representative Robert Zane ignored Hyperallergic’s request to specify the expert individuals and scholars involved in examining the painting. But he did explain through email that NPI — which, strangely, doesn’t have an online record — is a brand new website covering the arts, culture, and entertainment. The only expert involved in this case who is identified is Curtis Dowling, an art forgery investigator. Perhaps you know him as host of CNBC’s reality TV series “Treasure Detectives.”

According to Zane, Dowling had been contacted by the anonymous owner of the painting, which had for years resided in their old family home near Florence. Dowling had the honor of unveiling the portrait at the Las Vegas gallery SKYE Art, where he stated that the portrait, if a genuine portrait of a young Leonardo by Caravaggio, could be worth $100 million. The owner appears to have accepted this speculation as fact, as the work hangs in a frame recently made in the style of an Italian Renaissance Casseta (“little box”) frame, with the names of both artists etched around it.

And really, all we can do so far is speculate, given the evidence NPI currently presents. The scholars involved, according to the release, note that this oil painting displays brushwork, texture, color, and use of chiaroscuro all associated with Caravaggio, which is a fair, albeit vague, judgment. Zane also told Hyperallergic that spectral analysis of paint layers has so far revealed traces of white lead — ground pigments, he pointed out, that Caravaggio often used in all his early paintings. But Caravaggio certainly wasn’t the only artist to have used the poisonous pigment.

The rest of their proof is similarly shaky: as evidence, the anonymous experts involved provide proof of a known painting of Leonardo that was likely found in Grammatica’s studio that resembles the mystery painting. They also liken the visage of the alleged Leonardo to that of a figure in the far right of Leonardo’s “Adoration of the Magi.” But we haven’t yet been able to say for certain that the curly haired boy with bangs is indeed a self-portrait.

My favorite piece of presented evidence, though, is that the subject of this newly unveiled painting shares “identical facial impediments” to a bronze statue of David by Verrochio that again, some believe the sculptor modeled after Leonardo, a student in his workshop. These “impediments” comprise a few wrinkles beneath both figures’ right eyes — eye bags, if you will.

Is this a prime example of fake news in the art world? Maybe — and if it’s not, maybe I’ll eat this article. But for now, I’d suggest we file this one under Highly Questionable Claims Concerning 16-Century European Artworks. Hyperallergic 

 

Avocado Art Is Here, and Instagram Is Officially Obsessed
An incredible avocado carving by Daniele Barresi kicked off the trend.

If there is one thing millennials love, it’s avocados. The creamy green fruit is so wildly popular that consumption has doubled in the last decade as supply has shrunk, sending prices skyrocketing and putting demand at an all-time high.

Not helping matters is avocado art. That’s right, it would appear that rather than eating these high-priced foodstuffs, some creative types are putting them at the service of their creative endeavors.

Expert carving designer Daniele Barresi is at the forefront of the trend, transforming an avocado’s soft flesh into an elegant seal surrounding the pit. Now 26, he’s been carving foods since he was just seven years old.

“When I touch my knife, my mind gives up to the heart and it transmits directly, to the hands, giving different forms to the decorations. It’s like magic,” wrote the artist on Bored Panda, sharing his creation and noting that the avocado took only one hour to carve. He’s also a master of watermelons and broccoli, among other unlikely organic art supplies, and claims to have been named vegetable- and fruit-carving world champion twice.

The avo art trend is on point with the Pantone color of the year, Greenery. The artists’ output can be just as delicious as it is beautiful, with the avocado becoming a canvas for seeds, herbs, and other tasty toppings. Dicing the avocado as finely as possible to make it appear “pixelated” is one popular move, while the pit provides another point of inspiration.

Uber-trendy avocado toast—the reason millennials can’t afford houses, says one Australian millionaire—is also getting in on the act. Already known for its artful array of different-colored sandwich toppings, the toast appears to be evolving into a canvas, the avocado cut into hearts or stars, or arranged in elegantly layered slices to sculptural effect, rather than roughly smashed.

Sure, guacamole is amazing enough on its own, but who doesn’t secretly enjoy playing with their food? See more avo art below. artnetnews

 

Pakistan's 'truck art' has become a global phenomenon

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN: They pollute the roads and chug along at a snail's pace, but to their Pakistani owners the rickety trucks are moving pieces of art, commanding attention with garish portraits of flowers, Islamic art, and snow-capped Himalayan peaks.

South Asian "truck art" has become a global phenomenon, inspiring gallery exhibitions abroad and prompting stores in posh London neighborhoods to sell flamboyant miniature pieces.

Yet closer to home some people sneer and refuse to call it "art."

For the drivers, the designs that turn decades-old vehicles into moving murals are often about local pride. Picking the right color or animal portrait is tougher than the countless hours spent on the road.

Truck driver Haji Ali Bahadur, who hails from the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, said green and yellow have been his colors of choice during 40 years behind the wheel.

"We, the drivers of Khyber, Mohmand and other tribal regions like flowers on the edge of the vehicles," he said. "The people of Swat, South Waziristan and Kashmir region like portraits of mountains and different wild animals."

Truck art has become one of Pakistan's best known cultural exports and offshoot toy and furniture industries have been spawned closer to home.

With Pakistan's economy picking up speed and new roads opening up trade routes to China, truck art may soon find new admirers abroad. Aol.

 

118-Year-Old Painting of a Dead Bird Discovered in a Hut in Antarctica
For over a century, a small watercolor of a bird was forgotten in an Antarctic hut under penguin poop and moldy paper.

For over a century, a small watercolor painting of a bird was forgotten in an Antarctic hut. Due to a crusty concoction of penguin poop, feathers, dust, and moldy papers packed around it, the colors and details were almost perfectly preserved when a conservator happened on the painting among the 1,500 objects removed from the hut complex for conservation. As paper conservator Josefin Bergmark-Jimenez described in a release shared this week by the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust, she was so startled by the 118-year-old painting she “jumped and shut the portfolio again.” But after she reopened the paper portfolio, she “couldn’t stop looking at it — the colors, the vibrancy, it is such a beautiful piece of work.”

As the New Zealand Herald reported, when Bergmark-Jimenez found the painting in September of 2016, it was not initially clear who had painted the dead bird, especially as tree creepers are not native to Antarctica. The structure in which it was left on a bunk is one of the two Cape Adare huts, built by an 1899 expedition led by the Norwegian explorer Carsten Borchgrevink on an eastern peninsula of Antarctica. These were later used in 1911 by the party of Robert Falcon Scott. It just happened that conservator Bergmark-Jimenez attended a Canterbury University lecture on the art of Dr. Edward Wilson, a member of Scott’s expedition, and made the visual connection between the bird and Wilson’s work and handwriting. Wilson was a doctor, scientist, and painter; his hometown of Cheltenham, England, now has a permanent collection of his art in the Wilson gallery and museum.

Supported by a 1911 newspaper found alongside the painting, the Trust attributed the tree creeper to Wilson. Wilson, like the painting, didn’t make it back from the 1910-13 Terra Nova Expedition. The whole expedition party perished on its return from the South Pole. The curious 1899 date on the painting may indicate that Wilson painted it years before, when he was recovering from tuberculosis in Europe, although the mystery of why he brought it to the isolated hut remains.

In the video embedded below, shared by the Trust, you can hear more about the discovery of the painting. Like all of the objects removed from the hut back in 2015, the painting will eventually return to Antarctica following the stabilization and restoration of the huts, in compliance with the site’s status as an Antarctic Specially Protected Area. According to the BBC, a high-quality reproduction has already been made of the work by the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch, New Zealand. As the Trust notes in the video, the huts are uniquely significant as the “only example left of humanity’s first building on any continent.” Hyperallergic

 

Longtime benefactor wills record $9 million gift to National Museum of Women in the Arts

Madeleine Rast became a supporter of the National Museum of Women in the Arts before it opened its doors in 1987, and she remained a loyal and generous donor throughout her life.

But the California business professional, who died on Jan. 29 at 92, saved her biggest gift for last: a $9 million bequest from her estate that is the largest single gift in the museum’s 30-year history.

“You can’t help but cry tears of joy,” said Susan Fisher Sterling, the museum’s director. “She felt we were doing the job she wanted us to do. She was eager to support an institution that was thriving.”

The donation to the museum’s endowment fund eclipses a $5 million gift from Helen Walton that was made in 1999 to kick off the endowment campaign. Rast’s bequest brings the endowment fund to $59 million, Fisher said.

Rast was born in Zurich in 1924. She moved to California as a young woman, and she held clerical jobs as she earned an accounting degree. She worked in the private and public sectors, fashioning a successful career in accounting and becoming a savvy investor.

Rast was a founding member of the museum, an annual donor and a member of its advisory board.

Rast established the bequest in 1986, after the museum’s founding but before it opened its space on New York Avenue NW, just blocks from the White House. At the time, the gift was valued at $2 million, according to museum officials. They did not know until this year that it had grown to more than four times the original amount.

“It was a jaw-dropping moment,” Sterling said about learning its final value.

Rast explained the reasons behind the bequest in 1993, when the future bequest was made public.

“The achievements of women artists of the past have generally been overlooked and ignored, yet many women persisted, developing their talents and producing magnificent works of art. Today’s artist still faces the same set of problems,” she said in an interview from her home.

Rast was one of many founding donors who shared the passion of museum founding director Wilhelmina Cole Holladay to create an institution to support and develop female artists. Holladay described Rast as a steadfast advocate and dear friend, and said in a statement that “her generous gift to the museum will enable future generations to enjoy the highest standards of exhibitions and programs and help make us more visible throughout the world.”

Sterling knew Rast well, having joined the museum staff as a junior curator in 1988. “I met Madeleine Rast early on,” she said. “She was eminently practical, and she felt personal pride in the museum’s success.”

Rast did not visit much of late, Sterling said, but her support was nonetheless significant. She underwrote a video celebrating the museum’s 30th anniversary, a piece that Sterling let her preview.

“She was so happy about it,” Sterling said. “She loved the arts. She had an energy and sparkle when she spoke about the arts.” The Washington Post

 

The Street Art Hiding On The 69th Floor Of The World Trade Center
The project is called an “art world in the sky.”

NEW YORK, NY: Is street art still street art if it dwells not on storefronts and avenues but 69 floors up in a Manhattan skyscraper? This is the question at the root of “ART4WTC: Gallery in the Sky,” an artistic collaboration between street art legends in the unlikely setting of 4 World Trade Center.

Ron English, Jenna Morello, Lauren YS, Stickymonger and Kimyon333 are among the artists contributing to the project, which collapses the space between renegade, guerrilla artwork and corporate design.

“What I find so entertaining is this contradiction of terms on all levels,” creative producer Robert Marcucci said in a statement. “And the fact that it is nestled in this very corporate structure gives it the attention I think it deserves ― a proper look at a contemporary art movement born out of a extremely stressed fabric of modern society, that is evolving more and more each day, blending various styles of art and sending a message out to larger audiences.”

Marcucci explained that the recruited artists had free rein to create whatever they so pleased in the space of the open 69th floor, though they were encouraged to seek inspiration from New York City, as well as the memory of 9/11 and ideas of rebirth, strength and patriotism.

The project, dubbed an “art world in the sky,” captures the strange juxtaposition of corporate wealth and street energy that is unique to New York City. See some of the work below. The Huffington Post

 

The world’s art is under attack—by microbes
Bacteria and fungi are a menace to paintings, sculptures, and ancient artifacts.

We’re used to seeing famous works of art and historical artifacts marred by the elements. They can be eroded by wind and water, faded by sunlight, or nibbled by insects. But cultural relics can also be damaged by hordes of even tinier invaders: bacteria, fungi, and algae.

“Microorganisms are a big problem for cultural heritage,” says Franco Palla, a biotechnologist at University of Palermo in Italy. These tiny invaders have wrought catastrophic damage on historic sites like the Lascaux cave paintings in France and the Titanic—the infamous ship is being devoured by a tenacious species of metal-hungry bacteria.

That’s why scientists and conservators are working to identify what kinds of bacteria are colonizing an artifact, purge them, and make sure they cannot return. Some are even enlisting bacteria to help protect historic sites.

Researchers like Palla are dedicated to protecting the world’s cultural treasures. “In the countries like Italy and regions like Sicily, our artwork is a source of work and money,” he says. “You are doing research for something that is really important for the city, for the people, for the history of a country.”

Art under siege

Microbes have found their way into museums, caves, and ruins. “Almost any cultural artifact is prone to colonization by microorganisms,” Ana Zélia Miller, a geomicrobiologist at the Institute of Natural Resources and Agrobiology of Seville’s Environmental Microbiology and Cultural Heritage research group in Spain, said in an email.

Some artifacts like leather, wood, parchment, or textiles are made with organic materials that microbes like to feast on. It used to be common for artists to use egg tempera—pigments mixed with egg yolks as a binding agent—that has left their paintings more susceptible to infestation. Mold can also take hold when paintings hang against a cold wall where condensation can form.

In other cases, microbes secrete acidic compounds that corrode metal. Even stone monuments and statues aren’t safe; rock-dwelling microbes can cover them with disfiguring gunk or destroy them from the inside. On the American Indian Museum in Washington, D.C., cyanobacteria (also known as blue-green algae) have set up shop where water has flowed over the building façade. These colonies are a nuisance because their dark pigments leave stains like ink drippings along the walls. But the bacteria also make a biofilm, or layer of slime that anchors the community in place and keeps them from drying out. This moist environment attracts other microbes that bore into the stone and weaken it. “That humidity really sets up the conditions where everything can get a toehold,” says Paula DePriest, deputy director of the Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute in Suitland, Maryland.

In fact, water is usually the key ingredient for microbial disaster, she says. “It’s high humidity we really associate with most of the damage we see from microbes.” Some outdoor monuments or archeological sites are found in moist environments. In other cases, a previously sheltered treasure can be exposed to microbial invaders.

During excavation from ice or water, damp objects will be brought into spore-filled air. When sunken ships are brought to the surface, microbes are drawn to the waterlogged wood. Hurricanes or other disasters can also soak precious artifacts. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina flooded Southern University at New Orleans, leaving its collection of African art open to infestation. “Fungi was just growing all over it because no one could get back in there for months,” DePriest says.

Human visitors can also unknowingly introduce marauding bacteria and fungi. In ancient caves, tourists can carry in skin flakes, cloth fibers, and other materials microbes like to dine on. Having people around also changes the humidity and other ambient conditions, making it easier for pests to grow. This is what happened in Lascaux, where fungi devastated some of the oldest cave paintings in the world. Even the lights installed to help tourists navigate historic caverns encourage microbes to grow, Cesario Saiz-Jimenez, another member of the Environmental Microbiology and Cultural Heritage research group, said in an email.

He, Miller, and their colleagues have investigated the crises at Lascaux and other murals, crypts, and catacombs. In Altamira Cave in Spain, white colonies of microbes have been found dotting Paleolithic paintings. Saiz-Jimenez and his team recommended that the cavern stay closed to the public to avoid a similar fate to Lascaux. This advice has not always been heeded, although there are now replicas of Lascaux, Altamira, and other caverns for archaeology buffs to enjoy.

Once an artifact is within their grasp, microbes get busy quickly. Fungi-related damage can show up within 48 hours. And once an artifact has been attacked, it’s more vulnerable to being infested again. “It’s a little more degraded, a little more frayed,” DePriest says. “Already the fibers and [other] compounds are broken down, so there are just more entry points for the insects or the microbes to get a hold.”

Microbes that colonize artwork may also cause respiratory problems for human visitors, but little is known about these risks, Palla says.

Fighting back

The good news is we can ward off microbial infestations by storing artifacts in conditions that don’t encourage spores to settle and germinate. This means keeping things cool and dry. “In an indoor environment, like a museum or a library…you can control the temperature, humidity, and light,” Palla says. Conservators also use UV-C fans to filter spores from the air and zap them with ultraviolet light.

Collections that are open to the public can’t be chilled very much. “It’s not very practical in museum settings, where you actually want people to see objects without being cold,” DePriest says. One exception is Ötzi the Iceman, a natural mummy who froze in the Italian Alps 5,300 years ago. He’s kept in a cold cell in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Italy that emulates the glacier he was discovered in.

Once a piece of artwork is colonized, it must be dried and cleaned before conservators can get to work restoring it. Artifacts can also be placed in a chamber filled with gases like argon. Eventually, the lack of oxygen will defeat most lingering microbes.

For some treasures, long-term protection is in order. Meteorites are often stored under nitrogen to deter microbes. “They don’t want to have to differentiate between Earth microbes and any signals from the origins of meteors,” DePriest says. Conservators have less control over outdoor artifacts, although they can treat them with biocides that prevent microbes from growing.

It can be difficult to keep track of all the different microorganisms that prey on each type of artifact, Miller says. But identifying what kinds of microbes have set up shop on a piece of art and how they are harming it is crucial to getting rid of them without causing further damage. In Lascaux, conservators at one point used a biocide meant to eliminate the fungus causing black stains on the cave’s famous paintings. It actually ended up boosting fungal diversity in the cave, Saiz-Jimenez and his colleagues discovered.

And these chemicals aren’t necessarily good for the environment, the artwork, or the health of conservators and tourists. So Palla and his colleagues have proposed an alternative solution: thwarting nuisance microbes with extracts from plants. They are testing garlic, mint, and tea tree oils. These compounds are part of the plants’ natural defenses against infestation, he says. The team is currently testing plant oils on the mosaics at Solunto Archaeological Park, an ancient city in Sicily.

There aren’t a lot of situations when having bacteria swarming over your art is considered a good thing. But every once in awhile, microbes are welcomed in; some scientists are investigating whether bacteria and fungi can be used to break down graffiti on heritage monuments. Bacteria can also help remove black, pollution-filled coatings from marble sculptures, Palla says. The microbes secrete compounds that alter the chemical makeup of the crusts, making them easier to remove.

Microbes may be able to preserve or restore monuments, but it’s not clear yet how well this will work, DePriest says. “Trying to figure out how you would have a microbe only attack the thing that you’re interested in getting rid of and not accidentally damage the primary material is the real issue.”
One hurdle will be making replicas to test these microbes on before unleashing them on cultural treasures. “You can make mockups, but sometimes the mockups don’t represent the situation you’re confronted with,” DePriest says.

And sometimes, microbes are the art. A few artists have started to turn to bacteria as their unorthodox but colorful medium of choice. It's all a matter of perspective. Popular Science