May 16, 2018

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

In this issue:

The Grueling, Hyper-Competitive Exams That Decide the Futures of Chinese Art Students
Grant Wood: An American artist
Long Disputed, a Painting In Massachusetts Is Now Attributed to Leonardo da Vinci
Healing children after trauma through art—on both sides of the ocean
Art in the buff: Paris museum opens up to nudists
Meet North Korea's art dealer to the West
Artists Sue City of Memphis for Painting Over Sanctioned Murals
Artist explores sometimes surprising connections with nature
People can’t put their phones down, and it’s ruining museums





The Grueling, Hyper-Competitive Exams That Decide the Futures of Chinese Art Students

Very few would question whether applying to university is a stressful process. For many Chinese students, that process is taken to a whole new level—and applying to art school is no exception.

Every year, thousands of Chinese art students travel to the nearest major city for practical exams, part of the application process to get into university art programs. They sit alongside their peers in sprawling hotel conference rooms or athletic facilities, with pencils and paints in tow. Over the course of a full day, or more, they must complete a specified set of art assignments, which will determine their future academic and career opportunities. And the odds aren’t in their favor.

A report by Daxue Consulting in Hong Kong discovered that the China Academy of Art receives around 80,000 applicants per year, and enrolls just 1,600. The Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing averages over 40,000 applicants per year, 13,000 of whom are invited to sit for their exam; the school only accepts between 700 and 800 national students each year. Given the numbers, it’s no wonder that schools go to relatively extreme measures to ensure that judges of the exam cannot be swayed or bribed. In the end, it’s up to the students to ace this practical art exam. But what does that even entail?

The Central Academy of Fine Arts administers its exams each year at five test sites—Beijing, Qingdao, Zhengzhou, Chengdu, and Shenzhen. Students come prepared with art materials that are listed prior to the exam, based on whichever degree they’re applying for. Those pursuing a career in design or architecture, for example, have a full day’s worth of testing ahead of them. Fine arts students sit two days of exams—with six hours for drawing, three hours for color theory, and a final three for sketching.

“It’s an unforgettable experience and I don’t want to participate in it again,” said Li Yulong, a graduate student who studies creative product design at the China Academy of Art in Shanghai. “The standards are very professional, and it’s incredibly hard. When I applied, I had to do a charcoal drawing of a man’s face, a color still-life painting of flowers and fruits, and a sketch.”

The tests do not cater to any individual styles, nor do they necessarily work in favor of students who want to pursue unconventional approaches to artmaking. In a given exam, for instance, all students will draw the same still life, from a photograph or a setup that sits in the front of the room. In another, students may be given the description of a rare animal and are then asked to draw it, based on the information they received. While some prompts ask that you showcase your technical skills, others are looking for creative expression and individuality—but a lot of the actual scoring depends on the judges.

The China Central Academy of Fine Arts selects five to eleven judges each year ahead of its exams for its three art programs. Prior to the exam, the judges are sent to a secret location in an undisclosed Beijing hotel. Upon arrival, they forfeit phones, laptops, and all tools for external communication, which won’t be returned until the judging is complete.

Once the exams are finished at the five testing sites, representatives from the university collect the applicants’ artworks and attach a border to each to hide any signatures or markings that would identify the artist, and assign them a number. The artworks are then put into suitcases and entrusted to one or two people per site, flown to Beijing, and delivered to the judges in their hotel.

“The scores are subjective to some degree,” Xu Jia, director of the international office for the Central Academy of Fine Arts, told Artsy. “Each teacher gives one score that incorporates color, shading, etc., but a score can be changed, say two or three times, to establish whether it should be a higher or lower mark.” Scoring takes three to four days.

Afterwards, the scores are ranked in numerical order, and the first thousand or so are invited to take another exam, the gaokao, or the National Higher Education Entrance Examination.

The gaokao is similar in format, and serves as the original model for the initial art school examinations. While it’s used essentially as a pass-fail determination for students that have made it through the first round, the gaokao is even more painstaking. It takes place over two days and lasts about nine hours. Individuals that fail are removed from the running, and of those who pass, offers are only issued to the artists who made the top-scoring artworks.

The university also accepts about 300 international students every year, all of whom undergo a very different admissions process, which is more similar to the procedures of universities in the U.S. and Europe. Applicants are asked to submit an individual portfolio that will be judged by the professors of the department they’re applying to.

“You need to think twice when you want to be an art student, because you need to pay the price, and that’s not just the costly tuition fees,” Yulong told Artsy. “Some people think of it as a shortcut to a degree because it’s less dependent on academic scores, but with acceptance rates like 4 percent, that’s totally wrong.”

Unsurprisingly, some Chinese art students are choosing to study abroad. The aforementioned Daxue study found that between 2009 and 2014, universities and colleges in the U.K. saw a 158 percent increase in Chinese students studying creative arts, who were paying tuition that was five times as much as they would have paid in China.

While there has been an uptick in creative careers in China, what drives many is the same passion and persistence that motivates students to pursue the arts all over the world. “I do part-time contract and freelance work as an illustrator, but I’m still unsure about how far it can carry me,” Yulong said. “It’s hard to subsist in China just relying on the fact that you love something.” Artsy


Grant Wood: An American artist
Grant Wood created one of America's most familiar paintings. Yet his life story remains unfamiliar to most of us - which is where the exhibit Anna Werner's about to walk us through comes in:

You've undoubtedly seen it before. It's one of the most recognizable paintings in American art: "American Gothic," by the artist Grant Wood (1891-1942).

It's likely the only work many Americans have ever seen by him.

But curator Barbara Haskell of the Whitney Museum of Art, in New York City, is out to change that with a retrospective of his work.

With about 120 pieces in the show, it's the most extensive Grant Wood exhibition that's ever been mounted.

And at its heart is "American Gothic." The people who posed for it were Wood's dentist and his sister. "But when it was first presented at the Art Institute [of Chicago], it was listed as a husband-and-wife," said Haskell.

"One of the interpretations is that actually it's a sublimated portrait of Wood's parents. The broach that the sister is wearing is the broach that belonged to the mother."

"Or maybe we're just reading too much into it?" asked Werner.

"Exactly. But that's what he wanted. He wanted all of us to try to figure out what is going on."

According to Haskell, "He had a vision of American history. He loved the idea of Paul Revere. But this is a great example of how eerie his landscapes and narrative pictures are."

Turns out, there's more to Grant Wood than we knew.

Born in rural Iowa in 1891, Wood's talent was apparent from an early age. After graduating high school, he traveled abroad to refine his craft, but eventually returned home to Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

It was there be became known by his regionalist style, in artwork focused on rural life in America.

"He felt that everyday scenes from Iowa were just as important as the kinds of things that were being taught in the major art schools," said Sean Ulmer, director of the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, which owns the Grant Wood studio, a few blocks away, where Wood lived and worked from 1924 to 1935.

"Grant got into it and said, 'With a few modifications, I can actually live here, bring my mother in here and my sister, and we don't have to pay rent someplace else,'" Ulmer said.

It was there that Wood painted "American Gothic," which won a bronze medal in a competition hosted by the Art Institute of Chicago, and brought the 38-year-old artist national fame. He became well-known, if a bit of a puzzle.

"He wore overalls as a uniform and had this 'Aw, shucks' kind of personality that he presented to the press," Haskell said. "But in fact, he was very sophisticated."

His brief marriage in his 40s, combined with a focus on the male form in his art, raised questions.

"He lived in the Midwest in the 1930s within a community that was very masculine," said Haskell. "He had homosexual tendencies that he was afraid of confronting."

"Do you think he had a happy life?" asked Werner.

"I think he had a very troubled life. I think you see that troubled life in all the pictures. And that's what holds our interest. On one hand, they're bucolic and harmonious and ordered, and then on second glance, there's something else going on."

Although not everyone agrees.

Werner asked Sean Ulmer, "Do you think that this was a man who was in the closet at a time when being gay was not widely accepted?"

"Well, we have no evidence at all that he was gay," he replied. "It certainly was rumored during his own lifetime. I tend to lean more towards the facts that do exist, and looking at the work itself."

That's something the public can do now in New York, and always in his hometown.

Today, Grant Wood is still a household name in Iowa. "Absolutely, and I mean he is beyond a doubt Iowa's most famous artistic son," said Ulmer. "I think that one of the things that Grant Wood really did is shared with a much larger public the beauty that exists in the Iowa landscape and the people who populate that landscape." CBS NEWS


Long Disputed, a Painting In Massachusetts Is Now Attributed to Leonardo da Vinci
Long attributed to Lorenze di Credi, new research suggesting a small panel painting at the Worcester Art Museum is actually by one of the greatest masters of the Italian Renaissance.

For decades, a small Italian Renaissance painting owned by the Worcester Art Museum (WAM) was attributed to the Florentine artist Lorenzo di Credi. Now, after careful study of it that spanned 20 years, “A Miracle of Saint Donatus of Arezzo” has returned to public eye, and it bears new and astonishing authorship. Its label still carries di Credi’s name, but the true artist responsible, conservators believe, was actually Leonardo da Vinci. Just 23-years-old at the time, Leonardo would have painted it as a young student in the workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio, where di Credi, another student, likely played an incidental role in its creation.

This newly attributed Leonardo is the centerpiece of an ongoing exhibition at WAM that explores its mysterious origins and history. The painting, which depicts the Bishop Saint Donato helping a tax collector find his money, was originally part of a predella from an altarpiece that still decorates the Duomo di Pistoia. Like countless other Italian Renaissance painted panels, this wooden base was cut up, and its three fragments were sold, likely in the Napoleonic era. One is lost, while another was acquired by the Louvre in 1863. Depicting the scene of the annunciation, this panel is on loan to WAM for its exhibition, uniting the two fragments for the first time since their separation.

Commissioned in 1475 from Verrocchio’s studio, the predella was known to have been painted by multiple hands, but exactly who contributed, and to what extent, has long been debated. In fact, WAM’s panel, was actually attributed to Leonardo when it surfaced in 1933 at an art sale, where patrons of WAM purchased it. But when the panel was exhibited that year at the Century of Progress, Chicago’s World’s Fair, its authorship immediately drew suspicion. Art historians wrote to the museum, expressing their various opinions on whether or not it was a genuine Leonardo.

It wasn’t until the 1970s that Lorenzo received full credit for the painting. The museum wanted to publish a catalogue of its European paintings, and invited the late Martin Davies, director of London’s National Gallery, to write entries.

“Davies downgraded it to Lorenzo di Credi,” Rita Albertson, WAM’s chief conservator, told Hyperallergic. His decision essentially erased Leonardo from the picture for the next two decades. “Although Lorenzo di Credi is a charming artist he’s not the most important artist of the time. People really stopped coming to look at the painting before they would publish, repeating what had been written before.”

One curator who did visit the painting, in 1995, was Laurence Kanter, now Yale University Art Gallery’s chief curator. Then a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Kanter questioned the authorship printed on the wall text. He asked WAM’s director to reexamine the painting, pointing out the exceptional detail of Donatus’s blue robe.

“He was looking for brilliance, and he saw the hand of Leonardo, particularly in the robe,” Albertson said. “To his eye, it was clear that Lorenzo di Credi never reached that level of competency.”

Kanter’s questions were strong enough reason for the museum to move the painting to its conservation department for study, where it has resided for the last two decades. In that time, WAM has used x-radiography, infrared reflectography, and x-ray fluorescence to closely examine it. It compared this information with corresponding data observed from the Louvre’s panel, which was always identified as a work by Leonardo, with possible touches by Lorenzo. They found that the landscapes in both are nearly identically in conception and execution.

Advances in technology have also allowed this generation of curators to examine the painting’s underdrawings as never before. Much of it appears sketchy, but preliminary architectural drawings were later reinforced with a ruler, suggesting that someone with a strong interest in perspective — like Leonardo — took extra steps to convey accuracy. The drawing of the bishop also carries a particular delicacy that suggests careful thinking of the body’s underlying structure — how it moves and carries weight.

“Leonardo is interested in the character of the person,” Albertson said. “He’s paying attention to the wrinkles of the face, the reflection in the eyeballs. You see a person who has compassion and an expression of serenity, opposed to Lorenzo’s figures, which really represent the idea of a person.”

The exhibition also features a painting by Lorenzo, “The Annunciation” (c. 1475-1478), for comparison. The scene is more linear and schematic, and it shows the artist’s use of local color. Curators believe that Lorenzo painted the red robe of the tax collector in “A Miracle of Saint Donatus of Arezzo,” but the tonality of the blue in the Donatus’s robe, which has a shimmering iridescence, suggests that Leonardo painted these details. Notably, both predella panels show experimental uses of oil paint, which Leonardo used to create expressive detail; Lorenzo, in comparison, was trained in egg tempera — the predominant method used in Renaissance painting.

“We could very clearly see that [WAM’s painting] was worked on over a period of time by several different hands, by people with different mentalities and skills,” Albertson said. “The more we’ve studied Verrocchio, we come to understand that he relied on collaboration in just about every painting from his workshop. It was a business; they were just trying to get the work done.”

In the last few years, Alberton has studied many di Credi paintings and invited curators of Italian art to look at the predella fragment through a microscope. She has heard a range of expert opinions, and acknowledges that the new attribution will draw controversy.

“It took me a long time to be convinced,” she said. “Whenever you’re dealing with Leonardo it’s always going to be controversial as people bring their own experiences and prejudices.

“This is mostly an invitation for people to look closely and try to make connections about Leonardo as a student. We know his mature work, which is off-the-charts incredible. But this, to us, is where he began. This is the beginning of Leonardo as a painter.”

After WAM’s exhibition, the painting will travel to Yale University Art Gallery, then to Florence, where it will be part of a show on Verrocchio. The Louvre, too, has requested it, for inclusion in its blockbuster Leonardo exhibition, set to open next year to mark the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death. Hyperallergic


Healing children after trauma through art—on both sides of the ocean

When we hear of children caught in the crosshairs of violence, whether on the South Side of Chicago or in the Middle East, we wish we could help them-though most of us are at a loss for how.

But Skokie Jewish native artists and teachers Rena Grosser and Ariela Robinson, and Jewish activist Craig Dershowitz figured out how to leverage their work and talents to help heal the youngest victims of violence.

Years ago, Dershowitz, the executive director and co-founder of Artists 4 Israel (A4I)-an organization that brings healing through art to people in Israel ravaged by fighting-had a conversation with a now-deceased artist and firefighter who served in New York on 9/11. How helpful it would have been, he told Dershowitz at the time, if the children affected by 9/11 had had access to art supplies to distract them on that horrible day.

Dershowitz built on that idea and wondered what if those art tools had the power to heal, too. He and Chicago-based Grosser and New York-based Robinson formed a collaboration through A4I, along with a team of mental health professionals, artists, art therapists, art teachers, and first responders. Together, in 2014, they created "Healing Arts Kits," therapeutic art supplies as a first response tool that Israeli children could use during their time spent in bomb shelters, when forced to flee rocket attacks.

Four years later, A4I has now brought the art therapy kits to children in Chicago, to be utilized in the city's most violent neighborhoods on the South and West Side following incidents of violence and loss. In addition to Chicago, the kits have also been used in New York.

For children, art can elicit expression in a way that verbal communication sometimes falls short. "I've seen the power of how art can be a source for communication, healing, reflection, and positive distraction," said Grosser, an art therapist who teaches early childhood education at Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School.

The kits help children start the healing process, according to Dershowitz, who splits his time between Los Angeles and Israel. "For anyone experiencing such pain, they need an outlet, a new way to see their present and to creatively imagine a better future," he said. "The Healing Arts Kits provide a new way for children, regardless of where they are or the cause of their trauma, to cope and rebuild."

The first test batch of 200 kits were deployed in Chicago this past winter by the A4I team in partnership with Urban Gateways, which engages young people in art, and Chicago Survivors, which steps in to help families with crisis intervention following violent loss.

The kits are designed to be used immediately following a trauma-helping children start to heal by slowing or preventing the onset of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder by providing the child with activities that interrupt the trauma. Clinicians assigned to work with families and their children following violent incidents, such as shootings, homicides, and sexual abuse, administer the kits to the children however they see most effective for each individual child.

Chicago Survivors social worker JaShawn Hill utilizes kits in her therapy. "I have found them to be a great tool to build relationships with the youth, teach techniques to cope with addressing anger and anxiety, as well as open the lines of communications with their caregivers around the emotions they feel," she said.

Among the contents of each kit are bubbles to help children focus on deep breathing; clay to mold representations of their feelings; finger puppets to keep the kids communicating; and a notebook, to channel their thoughts and emotions.

In February, as part of their chesed (lovingkindness) work, students from Ida Crown Jewish Academy-from which both Grosser and Robinson graduated-helped pack kits and write cards of love and support for kit recipients. Grosser said she hopes the Chicago kits, like those in Israel, will soon be used as part of bar and bat mitzvah projects and other service projects.

Proving effective in both Israel and Chicago, the kits demonstrate the universality of both children and of art. "Something that originated for the purpose in Israel so fluidly was able to transfer to Chicago, unfortunately for tragedy and horrific circumstance," Grosser said. "But nothing really had to change, which speaks to the power of art."

Artists 4 Israel plans to bring the kits to other communities in need and seeks partners around the United States. To learn more about Artists 4 Israel, visit Jewish United Fund News


Art in the buff: Paris museum opens up to nudists

A Paris museum opened its doors for the first time to nudist visitors on Saturday, granting them special visiting hours to tour an exhibit in a one-off naturist event.

The Palais de Tokyo contemporary art museum, in Paris’ plush 16th district, is the city’s first gallery to grant such access, though naturists have recently launched other initiatives in the French capital.

A park in the east of Paris, the Bois de Vincennes, last year trialled the city’s first dedicated nudist zone, and the space recently re-opened ahead of the summer months.

Naturist campaigners said the museum event, with around 160 attendees, was a breakthrough in one of the culture capitals of the world.

“The naturists’ way of life of is to be naked. Culture is part of our daily life, and this is a special opportunity,” said Julien Claude-Penegry, communications director of the Paris Naturists Association, in the Palais de Tokyo’s vast concrete and steel hallways.

“Today, the mentality is changing. Naturists ... are pushing past barriers, taboos or mentalities that were obstructive.”

According to the association, which has 88,000 followers in Paris alone, there are 2.6 million naturist practitioners in France.

Next in store is a nudist clubbing night planned for later this year.

Nudist events at museums are not unheard of. A gallery in Vienna invited visitors to take their clothes off for a special viewing in 2013 of an exhibit dedicated to paintings of male nudity, while a museum in Australia has also opened its doors to naked viewers. Reuters


Meet North Korea's art dealer to the West

In a sleepy town in Tuscany, over 8,000 kilometers from Pyongyang, you can find one of the West's largest collections of North Korean art. The man behind the operation, Pier Luigi Cecioni, has been bringing North Korean artworks to Pontassieve -- a small commune just a stone's throw from Florence -- for over 10 years.

The pieces in his collection all come from the same Pyongyang art studio, Mansudae. With an estimated 4,000 employees, it is the largest state-run art house in North Korea -- and one of the largest art production centers in the world.

Cecioni formed his working relationship with Mansudae back in 2005, when, during an official tour of the country with an Italian orchestra, he asked to look at some North Korean art.

"Once I was there, I said, 'I'm actually very interested in art -- do you have anything to show me?'" Cecioni said in his studio. "They brought me to Mansudae's studio. Nobody had ever heard of it (in) the West, so I asked them whether they would they be interested in doing some business in the West, and they said 'sure.'"

With over 1.2 million square feet of studio space, Mansudae produces an array of artworks, including woodcuts, oil paintings, charcoal drawings, embroideries and even jeweled paintings made from semi-precious stones. Cecioni sells them all, with prices ranging from $300 to $7,000, depending on the size and detail of the work.

The best-sellers, he explained, have been hand-painted propaganda posters, which are the most affordable and have proven popular with art collectors.

Cecioni said that dealing with the state-run art house has proven to be surprisingly easy. "Doing business with North Korea is, in a way, very old fashioned," he said. "They're very trustworthy. What they say, they do. And what you say, you have to do."

How Cecioni imports the artworks -- some of which are over two meters wide -- is similarly straightforward: "There is DHL in Pyongyang. So they are sent through DHL to us, and they arrive in five days," he said.

Sanctions taking effect

Beyond the world of art collectors, Mansudae is best known for large bronze statues, which can be found in African countries such as Namibia and Senegal.

The sale of these socialist-style statues has, however, come under scrutiny from the United Nations, which last year blacklisted the studio as part of tightening sanctions against Kim Jong Un's regime. It is believed that the monuments were being paid for in cash or land, helping North Korea evade existing sanctions and take in millions of dollars in income.

"This money is highly significant," the coordinator of the UN Panel of Experts on North Korea, Hugh Griffiths, told CNN in December 2017. "We are looking at at least 14 African (UN) member states where Mansudae alone was running quite large construction operations."
Cecioni only deals in two-dimensional art, claiming that Mansudae's statue business is separate from the studio's main operation -- despite being run under the same name.

"It's like a big art company, there are many branches," he said. "The money they received from us essentially goes back into running the studio. The very large statues -- that's Mansudae, but it's so different from the other things they do. It's definitely a multi-million-dollar enterprise, so I'm sure there is some direction from the (state)."

Despite Cecioni's convictions that the art he buys plays no significant role in generating income for the regime, his business was still impacted by last year's UN sanctions.

"The sanctions that are on Mansudae specifically -- I think they were not well placed," he said. "I don't think they had the right perception of what Mansudae really is. They aimed at the statues, and they also hit the things we do, which are irrelevant for the economy of the country."
Cecioni's ability to acquire new works has come to a sudden halt. "The sanctions on my business have had a tremendous effect, because we cannot import anymore," he said.

But while the Italian is not bringing in any new artworks, he still has over 300 pieces in storage. Demand from international customers hasn't slowed, he said.

But instead of selling from his existing stockpile, Cecioni has begun rejecting sales, saying that the art has always been difficult to accurately value, and that he wants to keep the works he has on hand until he can start importing again.

"We are not really trying to sell anymore," he said, "because we cannot replenish our inventory." CNN


Artists Sue City of Memphis for Painting Over Sanctioned Murals
Twelve artists who created murals at the behest of nonprofit Paint Memphis, Inc. are suing the city for buffing five of the murals and threatening to erase three more.

It seems the only thing more popular these days than leveraging the creative energy of mural artists to bring excitement, tourist trade, and visual interest to cityscapes is for cities to buff over the work of these artists with little provocation or explanation. On April 25, 12 artists being collectively represented by Eric M. Baum of New York City firm Eisenberg and Baum, filed a federal suit against the city of Memphis for painting over five artworks painted by the plaintiffs in January of 2018, as well as over the City’s threats, approved by the City Council, to paint over and destroy another three artworks. Plaintiffs are also represented by Memphis attorney Lucian T. Pera of Adams and Reese LLP.

The artworks were created based on authorization by the city for a program managed by a local nonprofit, Paint Memphis, Inc., which commissioned the artwork and selected the artists — plaintiffs Philip Binczyk, Zach Kremer, Beth Warmath, Chad Ruis, Jules Veros, Kathryn Crawford, Kiera Pies, Angel Montoya, Chase Kolanda, Jack Mears, Shane Boteler, and Meghan Gates.

“Paint Memphis was a celebration of the arts that enlisted a diverse group of talented artists to help beautify walls around the city,” said one of the artists, who preferred to be identified as WRDSMTH, in an email interview with Hyperallergic. “We were hand-chosen to paint individual pieces of art on select walls. All of this was approved by the city prior to our arrival in Memphis. Street artists and muralists run the inherent risk of their work getting damaged or covered by graffiti artists and taggers, but it is distressing that the city of Memphis would destroy the art that it sanctioned, especially works created by artists who have passion for the art they created.”

“Memphis is my hometown, where I graduated from the University of Memphis, where I have family, friends, artists, and musicians I’ve grown up with,” said Beth Warmath, another plaintiff, whose mural depicting a tiger was buffed. “I made this piece of art to represent the Memphis Tigers and everyone in my hometown. This was a legacy to show the community we can conquer anything we dream up, if we work hard enough. This was one of my biggest accomplishments, and I was very proud to show it off.”

The sudden change of attitude by city authorities on the approved mural project — believed by many to be the result of complaints to City Council members — came as a big surprise to all involved parties, including Paint Memphis, Inc.

“Paint Memphis has worked with the City of Memphis for three years, painting on flood walls and underpasses,” said Karen B. Golightly of Paint Memphis, in an email interview with Hyperallergic. “We helped to establish the first city-sanctioned permission wall in 2015, at Chelsea and Evergreen. We painted on that floodwall for 2015 and 2016, then moved to an underpass on Willett between Lamar and Central in 2017. This wasn’t quite enough space, so we worked with a private property owner to paint his adjoining property as well, covering over 33,000 square feet in one weekend (September 30, 2017). We had an agreement with the city that if any work was considered offensive to the organization’s standards and guidelines (no nudity, no profanity, no gang or drug images), then we would buff it.”

As can be seen in the complaint, which includes pictures of most of the disputed murals before and after they were buffed by the city, none of these guidelines were violated by any of the compromised works. According to Golightly, several members of Memphis City Council claimed that their constituents complained about some of the murals, with the greatest number of complaints coming over Dustin Spagnola’s zombie mural. Spagnola is not a plaintiff, because his mural was on private property; the owner agreed to keep the piece, thus there was no action that the city could take.

“I cannot tell you why some City Council people objected the way they did,” said Golightly. “I’m not sure how a cow skull could be deemed offensive when it is a sacred Native American object” — referring to the subject of a mural by Kathryn Crawford, one of three works that is slated for buffing and currently being kept in limbo by the legal injunction. “And Elvis with the snakes [another of the murals on the chopping block, by Jules Veros], well, that isn’t offensive to me, but art is subjective, and it might be to some people. I think that it’s fine to have a reaction to art. Hopefully we don’t all have the same likes and dislikes and we can agree that it is subjective and you should embrace what you do like. But it isn’t the city’s job to censor artists, nor break federal laws protecting art.”

Speaking of those federal laws, the Memphis suit has legal counsel with solid experience representing them; Baum made headlines earlier this year after obtaining a $6.7 million verdict on behalf of 21 artists who had their work destroyed by New York City property owners who destroyed public artwork at 5Pointz. Sadly, the censorship and destruction of public art seems to be a growth area for Baum, who also filed suit on Monday, April 30, on behalf of Pittsburgh-based artist Kyle Holbrook — founder and CEO of the Moving the Lives of Kids Community Mural Project. The suit alleges that numerous landowners destroyed eight of his murals over the last three years, breaching their contracts with him not to destroy or remove the works and violating the federal Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (VARA). Baum has also been retained as legal counsel for artist Carolina Falkholt, whose high-profile phallic murals have been quickly censored in both New York and Stockholm in the last six months.

Though Baum has been successful in netting remuneration for destroyed works on behalf of his clients in the past, another tangible benefit of these suits is to increase awareness for artists about their VARA rights. After all, for many of these artists the goal is not to win compensation for damages, but to not have their work damaged in the first place.

“Art is a vital piece in the rise of a neighborhood — I take great pride in contributing directly to the rise of neighborhoods through my art,” said MegZany, another plaintiff in the Memphis suit. “People are inspired to perform positive acts when their life is enriched with art — that is a magical symbiotic relationship between the artist and the viewer.” Hyperallergic


Artist explores sometimes surprising connections with nature

Arturo Garcia rose, bundled up in a puffy green vest and denim blue hoodie, and staked his easel amid the pale golden grasses of Wyoming's Wind River Reservation, home to the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho. It was so windy he had to keep one hand on a canvas the size of a school notebook. It was so cold an onlooker got out of her car to offer him her gloves — he could only wear one, as he needed a bare hand to manipulate the palette knife he uses instead of a brush to apply energetic lines and bold colors. Grass blew into his paint.

The Mexican-born artist based in the Denver area persevered for an hour and a half to record the moment last autumn when 10 American bison, tails whipping like flags, lumbered out of a trailer. The mini stampede and a similar release a year earlier were part of an effort by tribal leaders, the Wyoming Wildlife Federation and the National Wildlife Federation to restore the majestic mammal to an ecosystem of which it is a key part and to the stewardship of a people who see their own marginalization paralleled in the near annihilation by white settlers of an animal sometimes called buffalo.

"I could not let that opportunity go," Garcia said in an interview months later in the kind of space in which he's more used to working: a cozy, well-lit studio at the Denver Art Museum, where he was doing a short residency.

"I did the real deal — plein air, 30 degrees, which felt like 30 below," he said of his work in Wyoming. "It's very challenging painting like that. Especially in the morning when shadows change so fast. The more challenging it got for me, the bigger the smile I got on my face."

The opportunity came to Garcia after conservationists and Wind River residents took note of his connection to bison. In 2014, he had set himself the task of painting the animals for which Colorado is known. He depicted elk, moose, sheep.

"The bison was the last painting I did in the series. It produced something in me I can't explain," said Garcia, whose work has been exhibited in U.S. and Mexican galleries. "I go on painting binges — portraits, trees, bison. Bison has lasted longer than any other."

He has seen bison in small herds in preserves near Denver and photographed them in Yellowstone. A quest to learn more about his muse led to conversations with Native Americans. As Garcia gained Eastern Shoshone and other friends, he thought back to his own past.

"All my uncles were skinny, tall, with big foreheads," he said. "People would refer to them as Indians. And they didn't like it."

Garcia began to question that sense of shame. He came to a realization: "To be Indian is a beautiful thing. To be human is a beautiful thing. I am of the land. I am of the universe.

"The bison has brought me to an encounter that I did not have any idea I was going to have with myself."

As a wildlife artist with Mexican roots, it was natural for Garcia to take part in the Americas Latino Eco Festival, an annual event in Colorado co-sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation that has since 2012 brought artists, scientists and policy makers together to discuss environmental concerns. The children of NWF Rocky Mountains Regional Executive Director Brian Kurzel took part in a workshop led by Garcia during the 2015 festival. Kurzel said he got more time to speak with Garcia at the festival the following year, when he learned of the artist's interest in bison and shared details of NWF's Wind River project.

The 2.2 million-acre reservation had been part of the bison's habitat before the U.S. government encouraged the extermination of millions of buffalo across the Great Plains and the West in the 1800s. For more than a century, no bison had roamed Wind River.

Garcia's work could inspire others to learn more about bison and "help create the next generation of advocates," Kurzel said.

By the time NWF brought Garcia to Wind River for both the 2016 and 2017 releases, he had already done scores of bison paintings. In addition to creating more of his own work while in Wyoming, the artist led workshops for Native American school children.

Jason Baldes, in charge of the bison project for the Eastern Shoshone, said in an interview that Garcia's paintings capture the animal's power, its connection to Native Americans, and the possibility of healing for both the beast and the people who have been pushed onto reservations.

"And he's such a caring individual," Baldes said. Garcia "wanted to provide young people the opportunity to express their own art."

Native elders also responded to Garcia. NWF's Kurzel described a Shoshone woman closely observing the painter at work after she gave a traditional blessing at a bison release.

"These two great artists came together," Kurzel said. "They were part of illustrating the connections between nature and people."

Baldes, the son of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who had worked to rebuild the reservation's game populations, said that returning bison to Wind River is for him and other Shoshone "a way to reconnect with an animal that was removed from us as a way to kill us off."

The animal's meat provided his forefathers food, its hide clothing and shelter, its bones utensils.

"The bison, being a gift from the creator, was essential to our spirituality," Baldes added.

Garcia's bison works recall cave paintings of the animals on which prehistoric humans relied, too. Garcia depicts bison and dramatic landscapes in cool blues and grays and sunset browns enlivened with primary colors streaked on the animals' bodies that are reminders that nature offers surprises to those who look closely.

"At first I was a little bit taken aback by" the modernist bright dashes, Baldes said. "But they grow on you."

Garcia, meanwhile, was looking forward to visiting Wind River again one day.

On his last visit, the artist said, "it felt like home." mySA


People can’t put their phones down, and it’s ruining museums

I had never seen the Holocaust Museum’s permanent collection. As the daughter of a Jewish refu­gee, I knew it would feel deeply personal, prompting me to think about what might have happened had my father not fled Germany and found safety in 1938, and to mourn the millions of victims who hadn’t.

As I made my way through the museum last year, I heard a man’s voice. I was on the middle floor, which details the Nazis’ concentration camps, gas chambers and killing fields, when he walked past me.

The man was jabbering loudly about his dinner plans — on his phone.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum asks us to be respectful of fellow visitors. But shouldn’t that be obvious? Not today. We’ve become so accustomed to interacting through our phones that we’ve forgotten about everyone else in the room. That obliviousness has found its way into more and more exhibitions across the country, as museums rebrand themselves as community spaces that foster “interaction” with hashtags and tweets.

Encouraging that interaction has come at a cost. Consider the Renwick Gallery’s latest exhibition, “No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man.” The artwork is exactly what you’d expect to see on Instagram: immersive, interactive, eye-catching. And sure enough, the museum invites visitors to use a hashtag that’s been on Instagram more than 8,000 times.

What isn’t apparent on Instagram is the crush of humanity that results when everyone points their phone at a single object. During a weekend visit to the Renwick in April, wherever I walked I was either stuck behind someone snapping a photo or stepping into someone else’s shot.

It didn’t help that the place was packed. (In its first month, “No Spectators” had more than 130,000 visitors.) But this has nothing to do with crowds. It’s about priorities. Those visitors were so concerned with their own photos that they neglected people like me who were trying in vain not to trip over a crouched Instagrammer or an outstretched arm.

I have nothing against taking pictures of art. If you want to be among the crowds that snap photos of the Mona Lisa, by all means: Go ahead. There’s an important debate to be had over the effect Instagram has had on art lovers, and whether people can truly connect with art when they’re looking at it through a camera lens.

Blame this all you want on the rise of social media or on millennials like me, but this isn’t about that, either. It’s about how we treat one another, and the role technology is playing in our human — not digital — interactions. I’m firmly against talking on the phone at the Holocaust Museum. I’m also against snapping a photo of the Mona Lisa with complete disregard to the person behind you — who, by the way, is now looking at her famous gaze through the tiny screen in your hand.

In the past, a museum was where you could lose yourself in a world fashioned out of oil paint. The etiquette was clear. Visitors were expected to stand at a distance, not only to protect the art, but also because this allowed the rest of us to see it, too.

Now the rules are hazier. Museums are doing away with the velvet rope that separated mere mortals from the masterpieces. Some — including the Renwick and Hirshhorn — are encouraging us to touch some of the work. When the paintings of Barack and Michelle Obama debuted at the National Portrait Gallery in February, the museum accommodated the crowds by establishing lines for photo-taking.

The result is that museums have never felt more welcoming. Art is no longer cold, standoffish, unapproachable. Works by artists such as Yayoi Kusama, whose exhibition at the Hirshhorn inspired countless selfies and never-ending lines, have shattered those stereotypes by creating viral installations that allow viewers to step inside the art.

Much of the debate surrounding the rise of “made-for-Instagram” exhibitions has targeted museums. But Nora Atkinson, the curator behind “No Spectators,” disagrees with the notion that the Renwick chooses large-scale installations only for the Instagrams. For her, it’s about showcasing imaginative works, and challenging the idea that art is a secret language few understand.

The result may be Instagrammable, though only by chance. “That’s the way visitors communicate these days,” Atkinson said. “Twenty-first-century museums are as much about being a social space as an educational space.”

So phones are encouraged. The use of hashtags is celebrated. And, according to Atkinson, the photos will never stop. Museums will continue to encourage photography, even as some of us yearn for at least a middle ground. “I personally can understand why some people might be annoyed with it,” she said. “It’s not my place to be telling people how they should interact with the artwork.”

The problem is how we interact with other people, and whether anything will fill the void left by more traditional exhibitions. Freeing ourselves from Twitter and breaking-news alerts has never felt more necessary. The etiquette that allowed for that in museums is gone — and it’s not phones, but people, who have ruined it. The Washington Post



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