July 24, 2019

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

Holy cow: After twenty years on parade, Chicago’s cows are finally coming home
General Pencil Company celebrates 130 years of manufacturing in Jersey City
What Happens When an Artwork Is Damaged beyond Repair
Artist wants massive Hubbard Street mural project to become the ‘Art Institute of the streets’
Lunar landing anniversary inspires tributes to the Moon across the globe
Why Painting With a Twist's Founders Replaced Themselves as CEO
ArtSnacks: A Subscription Box That Helps Art-Loving Couples Spend Quality Time Together Exploring Their Creativity
A mystery for the ages: the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist
What's so special about the Mona Lisa?
Almost Every Bob Ross Painting in Existence Lives in a Virginia Office Park
Artists struggle to save Haiti museum after 2010 earthquake


 

 

Holy cow: After twenty years on parade, Chicago’s cows are finally coming home
This month's "Cows Come Home" installation welcomes back life-size fiberglass cows from all over the world

 

If you’ve ever visited the downtown of a major U.S. city, there’s a good chance you’ve seen one. You’ll spot them on street corners, in parks, even on the roofs of buildings. Some are sitting down, but most are standing upright in a walking position. All have horns, some also have hats. And despite looking relatively the same, each one is incredibly unique.

I’m talking about the famous cows from “Cows on Parade”—a 1999 Chicago-based art installation that featured over 300 life-size fiberglass cows. And this July, in an effort to honor the 20th anniversary of the trend-setting exhibition, the city of Chicago is calling the cows home.

How now, brown cow?
In the summer of 1999—after being inspired by “CowParade,” a collection of fiberglass cows in Switzerland—Chicago businessman Peter Hanig, along with Commissioner of Cultural Affairs Lois Weisberg, decided to organize an event where local Chicago artists could decorate cow statues and place them in various spots throughout the city.

Hanig’s mission was simple: Spark joy and give back to the community. Local businesses paid $3,500 to sponsor a cow, $1,000 of which would go to an artist selected from a city-compiled pool. Once the artist was chosen and the work was completed, the cow randomly appeared in a public place, posing for just a few months before being auctioned off and all of its proceeds donated to charity.

And while the mission may have been simple, the impact was anything but. By midsummer, more than 330 cows had been loosed on Chicago sidewalks, their designs celebrating everything from the “L” train to Marilyn Monroe to literary elocution (one particularly brown cow outside of Columbia College had “HOW” painted on one side and “NOW” on the other). Word about these colorful mooers quickly spread, and more than 2 million people flocked to see the statues before they were taken down and auctioned off. And when auction day did arrive in late October, the cows—which were only expected to raise a maximum of $328,000—garnered nearly $3.5 million.

Helyn Goldenberg, who was chairman of Sotheby’s Midwest at the time, told the Chicago Tribune: “We have never estimated anything so poorly in our lives, and we have never been so pleased to be so wrong.”

Cows come home
Since 1999, “Cows on Parade” has spread to 79 cities around the world. It is estimated that over 5,000 cows have been created and more than $30 million has been raised for various global charities. And thanks to the mandated auctions, these flamboyant cows have found homes all over the map, turning up in places like the oldest privately owned residence in New York City and the middle of a glass window in Buenos Aires. In fact, the most expensive cow was Wage Moo, a mosaic-style cow covered in thousands of Waterfold Crystals that sold for $146,000 at an auction in Dublin in 2003.

Unfortunately, Wage Moo won’t be in Chicago for the 20th anniversary event, but there will be plenty of other cows to spark some serious sidewalk joy. Being referred to as the “Cows Come Home” exhibit, 14 different cows (well, technically 14-and-a-half) will be scattered throughout Jane Byrne Park for a month-long display—and it seems more cows get added every day.

When I stopped by to check out “Cows Come Home,” I was utterly (or should I say udderly) blown away by each statue’s level of detail. Everything from the texture of the trees painted on one, to the tiny gold beads adorning the horns of another, the artistry is truly incredible. Each cow comes with its own sign, providing the statue name, the owner, and the original artist. When you’re there, be sure to check out both the water lily-clad cow named Moonet and Hanig’s very own red cow named End of Parade (hint: he’s the reason there are 14-and-a-half).

And if you’re wondering “why cows?”—you’re not alone. CowParade Holdings Corporation, the official owner of the CowParade brand, posted this statement on its website: “The cow represents different things to different people around the world but the common feeling is one of affection. There is something magical about the cow that transcends throughout the world. She simply makes everyone smile.”

If you go
“Cows Come Home” is on display until July 31 in Jane Byrne Park, right behind the Historic Water Tower. The park is open all day, seven days a week. The Historic Water Tower building is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Roadtrippers

 

General Pencil Company celebrates 130 years of manufacturing in Jersey City

Not everything is made in China, after all.

One family-owned business has built a long history in the Jersey City Heights, as the General Pencil Company celebrated 130 years of manufacturing pencils from its Fleet Street factory.

The Weissenborn family has owned and operated the company since 1889, manufacturing a wide array of pencils used all over the world. The company is currently run by CEO and president Katie Weissenborn-Vanoncini, and sales manager Kirstin Wojtowicz.

“We have artists all over the world who want pencils from our factory,” Weissenborn-Vanoncini said. “People show us their art with our pencils and it’s so inspiring.”

Oscar Weissenborn started the company in a largeom inside his family’s home in Jersey City. The next year, he rented a floor over a grocery and later moved into his own factory in Jersey City in 1914. By 1923, the company that was once known as the Pencil Exchange officially became the General Pencil Company.

Mayor Steve Fulop and Councilmen Michael Yun and Richard Boggiano joined the celebration and spoke about the company’s place in Jersey City.

“This is a great story about keeping manufacturing in the United States,” Fulop said during the ceremony inside the old brick building near Route 139.

The company honored Yun for helping orchestrate the event by giving him custom pencils stamped with his name. While the factory is part of the Heights, Yun conceded it technically lies within Boggiano’s ward.

“When anything good, my district,” Yun joked to Boggiano. “Anything bad, your district.”

Weissenborn-Vanoncini said the anniversary celebration is about giving the company time to appreciate those who worked and supported the business through the years. She honored employees who’ve been with the company for over 20 years. But no one came close to MaryAnn Davis Sullivan, who’s worked for General Pencil for more than 50 years.

The longtime Jersey City resident has been with the company since 1962. She has worked under four generations of Weissenborns, holding just about every job in the factory, from labeling boxes to stamping the pencils.

Weissenborn-Vanoncini sometimes asks Sullivan stories about her father and grandfather.

“All these people helped our company and will teach future generations going forward,” Weissenborn-Vanoncini said. “The employees are creative in coming up with new products, it’s a real creative cycle.” nj.com

What Happens When an Artwork Is Damaged beyond Repair

 

On December 24, 2008, one of Jeff Koons’s famed balloon animals—an edition featuring a 10-inch-long red dog—fell and broke into several pieces. Five months later, after examining the sculpture and assessing the damage, insurance company AXA Art determined that it would cost more to repair than the sculpture was worth. AXA paid the owner the insurance premium, declaring the work a “total loss.” The pieces of the broken balloon dog were transported to a large AXA warehouse, where the dog joined hundreds of other “totalled” artworks.

In May 2009, the same month Koons’s sculpture officially exited the art market, New York–based artist Elka Krajewska was talking with her neighbor Rosalind Joseph, who works at AXA in public relations, about these warehouses for so-called “salvage art.” Krajewska was intrigued by the concept of what was once considered a work of art being demoted to an object with no value beyond its materials. In response, she came up with the idea for a museum of salvaged art, a place where these totalled former artworks could find new life in the conversations and philosophical questions they spark: What defines an artwork? How do we determine its inherent value? Is there such a thing as objective value?

Over the next three years, Krajewska registered her Salvage Art Institute (SAI), met with people at AXA, visited their warehouse, and—in concert with Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation—was able to secure a gift of about 40 damaged pieces for the institute’s collection. In late 2012, SAI opened its first exhibition, “No Longer Art,” at Columbia’s Arthur Ross Gallery, featuring its recently acquired collection of totaled art. Among the works were a water-damaged Giacometti drawing, a torn painting by Alexandre Dubuisson, and Koons’s broken balloon dog.

Although Krajewska is an artist, she thinks of SAI more as an educational tool or a means to spark discussion, as opposed to an art project. She said the value of displaying salvage art is the conversation. “It opens up your head and your understanding of what art can be and how we feel about it.”

Matthew Wagstaffe, Krajewska’s long-time assistant, concurred. “These things lie at the intersection of so many areas of expertise,” he said. The liminal status of these damaged works draws interest not only from the art and insurance worlds, but also the wider realms of law, economics, sociology, philosophy, and even literature. (In Ben Lerner’s 2014 novel, 10:04, there’s an “Institute for Totaled Art,” inspired by SAI.) Wagstaffe added that there’s a “strangeness in the objects,” as well as a “degree of accessibility to them,” despite the verbose insurance claims governing their status.

Non-art on tour

Ever since SAI’s first exhibition, the coection has been touring the world. Each exhibition is different, but they all have a few things in common: Visitors are encouraged to interact with and touch the objects; each object is displayed on a moving cart, so people can rearrange the exhibition space as they please; and if they want to find out more about the individual objects, visitors can flip through binders of redacted insurance claim documents tracing damage, declarations of total loss, and transfers of ownership.

At SAI’s most recent exhibition, at Mexico’s Museo de Arte de Zapopan, Wagstaffe said museum security “had trouble with the fact that viewers had to touch and engage with the art. It goes against the basic rule of a museum.”

“I picked up the Koons, and suddenly I was surrounded by security telling me to put it down,” Krajewska remembered. The guards called the museum’s director, which sparked a discussion of the meaning of the exhibition. Krajewska loved it. “There’s a playfulness around the concept of what we value,” she said. Ultimately, Krajewska and the security officers compromised: Visitors could touch the art, but they had to ask a guard for permission first.

It’s not just museum guards who are uneasy about SAI’s collection, watching as visitors smudge a drawing with their fingers or put their hands through a hole in a painting. The shippers also worry. “Shipping is a tricky endeavor,” Wagstaffe said. “There’s a fear that when you re-engage, you bring back that value, so there’s never insurance on the shipment. You remove something from having monetary value and, at every turn, people are trying to bring it back into that.”

At every step, Krajewska and Wagstaffe are diligent to not let any object in SAI’s collection gain value. It’s one of SAI’s nine policies, which collectively read as a kind of manifesto. The first policy is akin to a mission statement: “SAI is a haven for all art officially declared as total loss, removed from art market circulation and liberated from the obligation of perpetual valuation and exchangeability.” An important part of this liberation is the removal of the artist’s name from the object. (An artist’s signature creates value, after all.)

The seventh policy mandates: “The signature of the adjuster meets and cancels the signature of the artist.” In a further effort to liberate its damaged works, when SAI displays its collection, the pieces’ titles list their object number, materials, history of damage, and former artist and title—for example, SAI 0015: materials: aluminum, porcelain; size: 10” x10” x 3”; damage: 12/24/2008, shattered in fall; claim: 05/11/2009; total loss: 05/20/2009; production: 1995; artist: Jeff Koons; title: Red Balloon Dog, Ed. 51/66.

Embracing change and chance

Inevitably, pieces in the SAI collection undergo further damage, and Krajewska loves how they change over time. The collection includes a diptych drawing made with gunpowder that people tend to smudge with their fingers while handling; when they touch another object afterward, they leave gunpowder fingerprints behind. These kinds of acts connect viewers to the objects, but also tie the objects to one another in a very unique way. Krajewska documents these further degradations in extensive reports on individual objects she keeps in her studio. She sees them as living objects, and her documentation is a history of their lives.

Amid all the meticulous documentation of SAI’s activities and collection, there’s an equally strong element of chance to the project. Krajewska is the first to admit that SAI was formed under extremely serendipitous circumstances: the neighbor who happened to work at AXA; AXA CEO Christiane Fischer’s improbable enthusiasm for the project; Columbia University’s initial willingness to support it. The chance encounters didn’t stop there. Ben Lerner wrote about a fictionalized SAI because Krajewska liked how he described art in his first novel, Leaving the Atocha Station (2011), and called him out of the blue to talk about her new project. Wagstaffe met Krajewska because a friend of his had a studio next to hers. Most of SAI’s travelling shows are the result of curators asking to borrow certain objects or the whole collection. And, at the root of the institute, there’s the randomness of how objects get damaged in the first place.

There’s more chance in SAI’s immediate future: In May, Columbia told Krajewska that the SAI collection would have to move out of their storage space before the end of the year, so Krajewska and Wagstaffe are looking into other options—including a dream of transferring everything to permanent display on a houseboat. Krajewska is an avid sailor, so the problems of both storage and shipping would be solved in one fell swoop. Plus, as Wagstaffe pointed out, “marine insurance marked the early days of insurance, and sailing through international waters means even more liberation for the collection.”

Over time, Wagstaffe has become fascinated with the very idea of insurance, which seeks to anticipate that which can’t be foreseen. “We’re up against things that exceed our ability to change them,” he said. “There’s a strangeness in humans trying to deal with disaster in this very dry language.”

New values

Last fall, Krajewska was preparing SAI’s collection for shipment to Mexico when she came across an unopened box from the original 2012 shipment of works from the AXA warehouse. Inside she found a large, gold pendant with an etching of a bearded face and a large dent suffered in apparent fall. The signature was still legible: “Picasso.”

Around the same time, Therese Patricia Okoumou—the woman who climbed the Statue of Liberty on July 4, 2018, in protest of the separation of migrant families at the U.S.–Mexico border—was found guilty of committing federal crimes. As Okoumou was preparing for her sentencing, Krajewska was working on a special SAI project she said would “allow young students preparing for college in the humanities to interact with our inventory on their own terms,” she said. “Patricia seemed a perfect community liaison for that program.” When Krajewska learned the judge might be more lenient in sentencing Okoumou if she had an employment opportunity lined up, she swiftly wrote up a job offer letter to present to her prior to sentencing.

Krajewska showed up to federal court last March for Okoumou’s sentencing wearing the Picasso pendant around her neck as a kind of good-luck charm. Okoumou avoided jail time and was let off with probation. For Krajewska, the episode showed the pendant had taken on new “cultural value.” After all, it hasn’t been a “real” Picasso in years. Artsy

Artist wants massive Hubbard Street mural project to become the ‘Art Institute of the streets’
Levar Hoard is overseeing the revitalization of the murals, which span nearly a mile and are among the oldest in Chicago.

 

In the 1970s, a railroad viaduct along Hubbard Street west of downtown Chicago became a sprawling canvas.

Artist Ricardo Alonzo and dozens of students spent years painting environment-themed murals on the concrete walls, including images depicting endangered animals, global warming and air pollution.

It was one of the largest expanses of public murals in Chicago. Now, it’s also one of the oldest in the city.

Many of the images are still visible. But many have chipped, faded or been marred by graffiti.

Now, an ambitious restoration effort is underway. Caed the B_Line Project, it’s being spearheaded by another artist, Levar Hoard, whose team is touching up some of the murals and painting others over with new art. Ultimately, the project will include more than 250 images spanning roughly a mile between Ogden Avenue and Desplaines Street.

“I want to make this the Art Institute of the streets,” Hoard says. “I want people to see the art and be changed, be impressed, be astounded by all of the amazing work that is displayed.

“I was tired of going around the world and seeing amazing street art districts but not seeing it in Chicago.”

Hoard began the B_Line Project in 2017. “B_Line” refers to the trains that make a “beeline” on the nearby tracks, which carry Metra trains between the Loop and Elburn on the Union Pacific West Line. Union Pacific Railroad, which owns the viaduct, gave Hoard permission to paint there.

With the help of private donors, Hoard has hired local artists as well as recruited others from outside the country. So far, all of this has cost around $500,000, Hoard says. He has overseen more than 50 murals and hopes to have an additional 40 finished by the end of the year.

Nina Talamantes, a 24-year-old artist from West Humboldt Park, is one of the artists he’s enlisted to work on Hubbard Street. Her mural features two men of color embracing each other, an image she says is meant to fight stereotypes.

“It’s a big honor,” Talamantes says of being part of the project. “Doing this is bringing more light to the local artists that are here and doing the work to make Chicago a beautiful place and recognize what potential is here.”

While some of the original murals are disappearing, Hoard says that’s the nature of this kind of public art.

“The spirit of street art is that it is changing and it is never guaranteed that it will be there tomorrow,” he says.

Alonzo is 79 now and lives in Arizona. He says Hoard “came to visit . . . last year, and we talked about his plans for the project, and I gave him my blessings.”

Alonzo says he hopes “some of the original work stays” because it’s important for people to be aware “of the things affecting our environment.” But he also appreciates the more “personal style” in the newer murals, which aren’t unified by a single theme or approach.

The oldest murals were painted from 1971 to 1979. They included images of a gorilla, a running wolf and black liquid flowing from a faucet.

Another wave of murals began going up in 2000, after some of the originals were damaged during viaduct repairs. Among those that went up then were murals with images of a tiger, a black rhinoceros and a panda surrounded by bamboo.

The newest murals overseen by Hoard still include animals — there’s a child holding a duck, for one — but also more abstract art that isn’t always easy to define.

It all pleases Alonzo. “It warms my heart that the murals are still going, and I want them to keep it alive and keep it beautiful,” Alonzo he says. Chicago Sun Times

 

Lunar landing anniversary inspires tributes to the Moon across the globe
Exhibitions and events at museums and galleries worldwide proves we are still looney for the Moon 50 years after setting foot on it

A half century ago, the first spaceflight to put man on the Moon took off from Florida’s Kennedy Space Centre. Is it a coincidence that this milestone 50th anniversary coincides with a full moon lunar eclipse today? One can only speculate on the cosmic mysteries of the universe—and humans have spent millennia doing just that.

To commemorate Apollo 11’s historic journey on 16 July 1969, museums, galleries and institutions around the world have been turning their sights skyward, launching exhibitions devoted to our enduring fascination with the changeable silver orb that illuminates the night sky and pulls our oceans’ tides.

Indeed, man has been charting the moon’s movements long before we ever dreamed of setting foot on it. At London’s The Map House, Mapping the Moon: 1669-1969 (until 21 August) surveys celestial cartography of the last 300 years. Featuring early 17th-century engravings of the solar system to a rare French horoscope-predicting device from the 1930s, Victorian-era illuminated star maps to Buzz Aldrin's space travel documents, the show charts our ongoing astrological, astronomical and technological pursuit of La Lune.

Our scientific understanding of the Moon is almost difficult to divorce from our artistic interpretation of it, so long has it captured our collective imagination in both disciplines. At the Royal Museums Greenwich in London, the simply titled exhibition The Moon, opening 19 July, features 180 objects probing our relationship to the Earth's nearest celestial neighbour, such as lunar samples collected from Nasa’s Apollo missions and the Soviet Union’s Luna programme, as well as works of art by JMW Turner, El Anatsui and Larissa Sansour. The oldest object in the show, a Mesopotamian tablet from 172 BCE, shows how lunar eclipses were considered bad omens (but do not let that dent your appreciation of today’s eclipse).

Indeed, scientific study and aesthetic appreciation of the Moon seamlessly merge in two shows devoted to lunar photography. At the Metropolitan Museum in New York, Apollo’s Muse: The Moon in the Age of Photography (until 22 September) presents 170 images of the Moon from the dawn of photography to the present, and includes cameras used by Apollo astronauts. On view until 5 January 2020, By the Light of the Silvery Moon: a Century of Lunar Photographs at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, similarly explores how photographic technology radically shifted the clarity with which we saw the Moon, leading us into a worldwide space race to finally experience it for ourselves by sending a team of astronauts to scout its surface.

To be sure, planting a flag in the Moon remains a fantastic concept, one that has inspired many a conspiracy theory given how long the human race has wanted to realise it. Capitalising on the momentous occasion of man reaching the Moon, Christie's is offering the Timeline Book, touted as the key manual used to get Apollo 11 to its surface, in its One Giant Leap: Celebrating Space Exploration 50 Years After Apollo sale in New York on 18 July. Estimated at $7-$9m, the log explains how to undock the Eagle, survey the extraterrestrial ground and, most importantly, how to get back home to Earth. Included in it are notations by Aldrin within moments of lunar touchdown, constituting the first writing by a human being on another celestial body.

If the Timeline Book is not proof enough of a real lunar landing, Sotheby’s is offering videotape recordings of Apollo 11’s touchdown at its New York space exploration sale in New York on 20 July. Purchased directly from a US Government surplus auction in 1976 for $217, the footage is now estimated to go for $1-$2m.

But no matter how much we may try possess it, the Moon ultimately remains a thing of mystery, continuing to inspire wonder in us. It is in that spirit that the Moon Festival launches at venues across London on 19 July with a keynote speech by Booker Prize-winning author Margaret Atwood on the topic of maverick women and the Moon. Boasting a week of programming celebrating Luna’s silvery sublime beauty and enduring mystical intrigue, the festival’s week of events range from a photography exhibition by local artists to moonlit garden tours. Other events explore England’s nighttime subcultures that have long revelled in lunar light, including late-night dance parties and a history of witches worshipping the Moon. The Art Newspaper

 

Why Painting With a Twist's Founders Replaced Themselves as CEO
After 10 years, the founders knew the business was ready for the next stage of growth. But they weren't sure they were the right people to lead the charge.

Chris Hatten’s days were long and soul-fraying. This was back in 2012, when he worked at a residential treatment facility for children who had experienced deep trauma, and then spent his evenings worrying about his bills. “I was stuck,” he says. “I didn’t know what else I could do.” One day, on a whim, he walked into an art studio called Painting with a Twist that had recently opened in a renovated fire station behind his home in Skippack, Penn. The window was filled with colorful artwork; a promotion offered a blank canvas, two hours of painting with an instructor, and a finished product at the end of the night. Wine was welcome, even encouraged.

Hatten joined the weeknight class, and a sense of calm washed over him as he painted. “I tuned everything out,” he says. So he kept returning. Before long, he’d done 100 paintings and become a well-known regular. And in 2015, he decided to go all-in: He walked away from his job at the treatment facility and became a Painting with a Twist franchisee, opening a studio in Bethlehem, Penn.

Painting with a Twist had gotten used to success stories like Hatten’s. The brand was created by two New Orleans women, Cathy Deano and Renee Maloney, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. They wanted it to be a space where people in their community could escape from their daily worries, and that ethos, which clearly connected with Hatten, also easily connected in towns and cities across the country. In less than a decade, the brand grew to 300-plus locations in 39 states.

But growth doesn’t always come easy. A sea of copycats followed, crowding into a category that became known as “paint-and-sip.” Competing concepts followed -- studios like The Rustic Brush, where people can sip wine while making antique-looking wooden signs, doormats, or lazy Susans. And many of Painting with a Twist’s new locations would falter -- leading to disappointments and an unclear path forward.

Last year, as Deano and Maloney wrestled with how to sustain their brand, they attended an event called the Franchise Unconference in Park City, Utah. “There was a session about founders who wouldn’t get out of the way,” Deano says. “I thought, That’s us. It was just getting too big for us, for our wheelhouse.”

So she and Maloney made perhaps the toughest decision of their careers: After building a brand that had become beloved nationwide, they decided to replace themselves as leaders.

Deano and Maloney never meant to get into franchising. The two met in 2003, when their children landed in the same kindergarten class, and they connected over a shared interest in local volunteer work. Then their lives were shaken in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina raged through the region -- flooding Deano’s home, and destroying the moving-­and-storage business that Maloney ran with her husband. The two women tried helping each other out, but the challenges seemed immeasurable. Maloney recalls dumping floodwater from the silver ladles in Deano’s china cabinet, thinking that they had to do something other than wallow.

“We could sit there and feel sorry for ourselves, or we could figure out how to change it,” Maloney says.

They started kicking around business ideas. A friend suggested a “speed art” concept, where people would pay to spend a few hours working on a simple painting with the help of an instructor. Deano and Maloney liked it but were worried it might scare away novice customers. “I’m not an artist, and I’m a little afraid of it, quite frankly,” Deano says. “Renee said the same thing: ‘I don’t know that I’d do that. I can’t paint.’ And I said, ‘But what if you could drink?’ ”

In 2007, they invited family and friends into a large, air-conditioned building on Deano’s property, with painting supplies purchased at a craft store. Deano remembers watching her 62-year-old brother-in-law sitting side by side with her 16-year-old niece, both intently painting a portrait of a reclining woman on a bright red background. The painters hunched over each other’s canvases, offering tips and bonding over the challenge of getting the curve of the woman’s face just right. Deano and Maloney asked their guinea pigs if they would pay to do something like that again. Everyone said yes.

The duo rented a storefront in the suburb of Mandeville, and Painting with a Twist officially opened in November 2007. It was far from glamorous: The 1,000-square-foot space suffered from frequent power outages, and a 30-year-old air conditioner wheezed in Louisiana’s heat. But the new entrepreneurs had low expectations. “I wanted [to make enough money] to send my kid to a camp that was $4,000, and Renee wanted fancy boots,” Deano says, laughing.

They exceeded those goals. Within a year, Deano and Maloney had built a passionate customer base. In August 2008, when their faulty electricity went out in the middle of a class, customers refused the founders’ offer to finish their paintings at a later date. Instead, they pulled up their cars to the storefront and, with the help of the headlights beaming through the windows, finished their wine and their paintings.

“We were like, ‘What’s going on here?’ ” Deano recalls, wondering why their customers were sticking around in the lousy conditions. “And they said, ‘This is two hours when we’re not thinking about the kids, the husband, or FEMA.’ That was the real aha moment for us. This was more than just a little concept.”

The next year, Deano and Maloney opened their second location, in a neighboring suburb. It attracted visitors from all over the country, many of whom were in town volunteering with post-Katrina recovery efforts. Those customers wanted to know how they could take the concept back to their hometowns.

The answer, it seemed, was franchising. That way, visitors could open their own Painting with a Twist back home. But the founders had no idea how to get going. They called up the owners of the successful Louisiana-based franchises PJ’s Coffee and Wow Café, who gave them some advice. Then Deano and Maloney wrote an operations manual, and in 2009, they opened their first franchised location. By the end of the year, they had 24. By 2011, they had 75 -- and started to feel out of their depths

“I was just buried in emails and questions like, ‘Should we spend $50,000 on this IT setup?’ ” Deano says. “I don’t know. Are you kidding? You’re asking me?”

But what was there to do? Deano and Maloney had a simple understanding of franchising. They thought they needed to keep opening units -- that growth was the solution to any challenge. So instead of focusing on what wasn’t working in their business, and learning from it, they just pushed harder on opening more doors. And the result wasn’t good. Over the next few years, as they continued to open locations, nearly 30 studios would go out of business.

In retrospect, they realize, many of those new units were doomed from the start. For example, they opened a studio in Destin, Fla., a beach community with plenty of tourists. But at night, Painting with a Twist struggled to compete with the dominant tourist activities -- local mini golf courses and ice cream parlors. They should have seen that coming.

“We needed a CEO long before we actually got one,” Deano says.

The business world values leaders. We romanticize them. All praise is heaped upon the founders of companies, who craft a mission and inspire a team to action. But that doesn’t mean the role is for everyone. “Too often, people are lured into a leadership role, not led,” says Scott Miller, EVP of thought leadership at the consulting firm FranklinCovey, and author of the book Management Mess to Leadership Success. And so he preaches something that leaders rarely hear: It’s OK to not be the leader.

“There’s no shame in saying, ‘You know what, no thank you,’ ” he says. “Too many people become leaders when they just should have stayed amazing individual producers. I have seen too many extraordinarily productive, influential individual performers move up into leadership and crumble.”

Deano and Maloney hadn’t exactly moved up into leadership, of course. They started a company -- a small and manageable one at first, but one they eventually didn’t feel confident leading. So they chose the path that might seem unflattering but that they felt was best for themselves and their organization: They hunted for someone more qualified.

To start, they got back in touch with the same local franchisors they’d called at the beginning of their journey. They were connected with Joe Lewis, who has spent 20-plus years in franchising, most notably with Smoothie King, which he helped grow from a few dozen units to nearly 1,000. They liked him and, in April 2018, hired him. Then Lewis assembled an executive team made up of other Smoothie King vets -- CMO Katherine LeBlanc and chief development officer Richard Leveille.

They had a lot of work to do.

On a stormy afternoon in May, Lewis looks fully settled in at the company’s headquarters in Mandeville. He leans forward in his seat, holding his hand at eye level to demonstrate the trajectory of a franchise. Many go through a plateau period, he says, and flattens his hand: That’s where Painting with a Twist is now.

“We grew too fast, and now we’ve got to make sure everything’s set,” he says. “I don’t see a reason why this company couldn’t do 25, 50, 75, or 100 [new] units in a year. But you’ve got to be able to support that kind of growth.”

His first order of business was expanding Painting with a Twist’s footprint. Here it was useful for the brand to have copycats; it meant there were smaller franchises in marketplaces where Painting with a Twist wasn’t. Lewis acquired Bottle & Bottega, a Chicago-based paint-and-sip concept with 20 locations in the Midwest and California, and has set out to rebrand them Painting with a Twist.

From there, Lewis says his challenge is to stay ahead of the competition. Painting with a Twist got a head start in the now crowded DIY space, though Lewis and his team admit the brand’s identity has become less focused over the years. He thinks it has the potential to be among the last brands standing as others fall victim to the trend-driven whims of customers-- ­ but it needs to strengthen fundamentals.

“We’re very confident that the demand is there and will be there,” he says. “The question is, who is going to be the concept that’s going to continue to grow and capture that demand when the others start falling away?”

To do that, Painting with a Twist is looking hard at untapped markets. The concept may sound old to people who learned about it a decade ago, but it still has plenty of room for discovery. Roughly half the people who walk into a Painting with a Twist event are experiencing the brand for the first time, Leveille says, and plenty of cities don’t have any paint-and-sip offerings at all.

But the company isn’t eager to repeat its mistakes, so it’s focusing on thoughtful growth rather than runaway growth. That means not just opening new locations, but instead ensuring that the people running those locations are set up for success.

To do that, Painting with a Twist is becoming a lot more selective about who can be a franchisee. Owner qualifications and requirements have been strengthened to ensure that new franchisees have enough money and business acumen to successfully run a studio. The brand has also revised how it selects new locations, and is paying closer attention to market demographics.

Once a new franchisee is in the system, Painting with a Twist is offering them a range of updated tools and services. The brand boosted its internal tech systems, improved supply-­chain costs, and provided access to a digital media agency so that franchisees can fine-tune their social media marketing. It also invested more heavily in its existing training programs. Every other month, new and returning franchisees and their instructors are invited to HQ for several days of coaching focused on leading and engaging customers.

“[Franchisees] sort of have to be a bit of a politician,” Maloney says. “You have to be willing to shake hands and kiss babies and make people feel special.”

The brand is also expanding the services it offers to compete against the other DIY studio concepts. Rather than just have customers paint one of Painting with a Twist’s 15,000 copyrighted designs on standard canvas, new surfaces such as pinewood planks are going to roll out later this year. “It’s kind of like a McDonald’s franchisee having 15,000 different ways to serve a hamburger,” says Leveille.

The changes are slowly creating a much-needed structure and forward-looking awareness that Deano and Maloney had envisioned but couldn’t quite build on their own. As the pair hand off day-to-day tasks to their new exec team, they will remain involved in big-picture ideas, keep up with longtime franchisees, and manage Painting with a Purpose, the company’s nonprofit arm, which helps local franchisees give back to the community.

They feel, finally, that the rest of their brand is in expert hands. “These systems are making it work for the franchisees and the employees,” Deano says. “It’s like watching your baby grow. And we want to see it grow--in a good way. Our goal is to keep the culture intact for the franchisees.”

It’s been just over a year since Painting with a Twist embarked upon its corporate makeover, but the results have so far been encouraging. In addition to the Bottle & Bottega acquisition, the company is moving forward with plans to sign on another 10 to 20 franchisees in the second half of 2019, primarily in the Midwest and Northeast, where it sees growth potential.

Existing franchisees, Lewis says, have been mostly receptive of the changes -- and in some cases, even requested them. (Of course, there’s a bit of grumbling about adopting new systems and practices, but that’s to be expected, he says.)

“We’ve learned that you cannot overcommunicate,” says Leveille, who implemented biweekly teleconferences between the corporate team and Painting with a Twist’s franchise advisory council, which has kept conversations open and constant.

Hatten, the Pennsylvania franchisee, feels reassured. After he opened his first studio in 2015, he saw what felt like countless locations pop up all around nearby Philadelphia, and he worried that the company was growing too fast.

He was so worried, in fact, that he decided to open his new Allentown location simply because he didn’t want to end up competing with another franchisee. The process -- finding a site, getting permits, completing a build-out -- has pulled his attention from his first location, he admits. And he is relieved to see the company focus shift from fast growth to measured growth.

“They’ve realized some of the errors of the past,” he says. (Still: “I’m just glad it’s me opening Allentown and not someone else.”)

Past concerns aside, Hatten remains one of the brand’s biggest fans. His collection of paintings has doubled to 200 canvases. He stores them at home and puts his favorites on display, swapping them out depending on the season. Painting with a Twist, he says, will always be more than a business to him. And his future, which used to frighten him, doesn’t look so scary anymore.

“They have a piece of my heart,” he says. “Honestly, I feel indebted to them.” MySA

 

ArtSnacks: A Subscription Box That Helps Art-Loving Couples Spend Quality Time Together Exploring Their Creativity

 

The Scoop: There’s an artist inside everyone, but sometimes we don’t have the supplies that inspire our creativity. ArtSnacks solves that problem with its monthly subscription box designed to deliver a curated sample of premium art products to your home every month. Both professional artists and novice hobbyists look forward to an ArtSnacks surprise at their doorstep, and couples often use the supplies to spice up date night with a dash of creativity. ArtSnacks also has an active community that supports and inspires members around the country.

Sarah Rubenstein decided to get her sister-in-law a subscription box filled with beauty supplies as a gift in 2012 — and it was a big hit. Her sister-in-law loved it so much that Sarah’s brother, Lee, was jealous.

“He wanted a subscription, but I couldn’t find anything for him. He loved art supplies, but there was no subscription box for that. So we thought it would be fun to curate a box of art supplies,” Sarah told us “It turns out that many other people were interested in that, too. So we started ArtSnacks, and the rest is history.”

Sarah and Lee, who had both attended art school, put together their first box in March 2013. At the time, he worked in animation and illustration, while she was in the graphic design industry.

“We’ve been playing with paint and pens and Photoshop for a very long time,” said Sarah, who left her job to transform ArtSnacks from a fun hobby to a full-time venture with her brother in 2015.

Today, the subscription box company helps individuals, couples, and families spend quality time together making art. That process can be especially stimulating for romantic partners, as a recent study found that couples who create art together released a higher amount of oxytocin, also known as “the hugging hormone.”

 

In addition to, sending premium art supplies to subscribers, ArtSnacks sells curated products on its website and hosts challenges on social media. Sarah and Lee even organize events to share techniques and explain new products to art lovers everywhere.

 

Artists can also find inspiration on the company’s YouTube channel and Instagram, where it often features work from members.

 

Designed for Art Lovers by Art Lovers
ArtSnacks has two other full-time employees in addition to Sarah and Lee. They all work remotely and get together monthly for a team outing — often a trip to a museum — in either New York or Boston to stay connected and have fun.

While subscribers range from millennials to retirees, most of ArtSnacks members are between 18 and 35.

“We have a lot of different people who subscribe, whether it’s actual artists looking for new art supplies to grandparents who want to give a gift to a recent grad,” Sarah said. “We have a lot of customers who don’t live around art supply stores. The majority of our customers identify as artists, either as a working artist or if they do it as a hobby.”

And the ArtSnacks process is simple. Once people sign up for a subscription, they’ll receive a box filled with four to five full-size, premium art products, as well as a “menu” that explains each product.

The box also has information on best practices as well as new techniques worth exploring. And the ArtSnacks team tests all products before sending them, and shows subscribers how they can work together to make something unique.

And the company encourages its members to participate in the monthly ArtSnacks Challenge. For these challenges, artists must use only the supplies in the current month’s box to create an original piece of art.

Then, they can snap a picture of their masterpiece and post it to their social media with the hashtag: #ArtSnacksChallenge.

ArtSnackers Community Brings Imaginative People Together
ArtSnacks offers plenty of inspiration on its website and Instagram page through pictures of the artwork people have created using its supplies. The community of so-called ArtSnackers has a strong presence on social media, and many members are active through ArtSnacks Mix, a dedicated platform where subscribers can connect.

“There are people taking photos of their works in progress or fielding ideas on how to price their artwork. It’s less of a forum and more a place to hang out with other artists,” she said. “There’s never a dull moment. Coming from an art background, I have such a strong connection with these people. I love it. Everything we put out has a purpose, and we think of the customer first and how much value we can bring to their lives as they are discovering — or rediscovering — their favorite art supplies.”

Sarah said that people often subscribe to ArtSnacks to create art with their loved ones. Parents love to make art with their children, and couples often plan art-centered date nights to spend screen-free quality time together.

Sometimes the boxes are given as gifts, but other times the supplies are used for homemade gifts.

“During the holiday season we have sales and promotions, but we see a lot of customers making art for their loved ones — whether it’s a card or an entire portrait,” she said. “There’s something about making something yourself, and even more special about giving it to someone — especially if it’s your crush or someone you’re dating. It may deepen the relationship a little more, and we’ve seen a lot of that through ArtSnacks.”

ArtSnacks Will Soon Organize More Events to Encourage Artists to Connect
What started as an idea to bring art supplies to more people has grown into a thriving online community that connects artists from around the country. That success has led ArtSnacks to bring community members together offline, too.

At least once a quarter, the ArtSnacks team will organize events, usually held in art supply stores, to explain new products featured in its boxes. Sometimes artists will demonstrate different techniques designed to educate and inspire.

“Or we’ll meet at a useum and draw for a few hours. Some people just don’t set time aside to draw, so we bring the drawing to them,” Sarah said. “We’ve done a few pop-ups within art supply stores, which have always been great. They gather the artistic community, whether they’re our customers or not.”

The team plans out its schedule well in advance to ensure that boxes please a variety of artists. For example, in October 2019, ArtSnacks will work with Jake Parker, a storybook illustrator who created a movement known as InkTober. During the month, participants are challenged to draw something every day using only ink supplies. ArtSnacks will feature a special box in October and also offer ink product deals on its website.

“It’s about developing good habits, putting together a portfolio of artwork, and also spending a month mastering a new skill,” Sarah said. “We’ll do a lot of work around that, whether it’s videos, meetups, or curating a page on our websites of all ink products. And, if you need to restock before the challenge starts on Oct. 1, we can help you with that.” DatingNews.com

 

A mystery for the ages: the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist
The world’s greatest unsolved art theft continues to obsess—and stump—investigators

The walls of the office of Anthony Amore, the chief of security of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston since 2005, are covered with reproductions of all 13 works stolen in one of the biggest unsolved art thefts in history, when two men posing as police officers made off with treasures by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas, and Manet on 19 March 1990. At Amore’s home, drawings by his daughters of Rembrandt’s The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, one of the works that was taken, hang on the door of his refrigerator. “I’m still wildly obsessed, more than ever,” he says. “I constantly think about those paintings.”

Geoffrey Kelly, the FBI’s lead investigator on the theft since 2002, who works closely with Amore, considers himself “equally obsessed”. On a wall in his finished basement at home is a reproduction of The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, that his wife gave him three years ago. “She frayed the edges because the painting had been sliced out of the frame,” Kelly says.

Despite more than 30,000 leads, hunches, forensic tests, psychic visions, jail house confessions and hundreds of interviews with drug dealers, mobsters, retired police officers, journalists, museum directors, museum guards and art dealers in the US, Europe, Asia and South America, authorities are still no closer to knowing the whereabouts of the works. And although the art has been estimated for some time to be worth $500m, the skyrocketing art market has led some experts to raise the figure significantly. “It’s at least $1bn,” says Otto Naumann, a senior vice president of Sotheby’s and a dealer in Old Masters for more than 30 years. “The Vermeer [The Concert] alone is worth nearly $500m.”

The Vermeer alone is worth nearly $500m.

The theft was explored last year in a ten-part podcast called Last Seen, a joint project of radio station WBUR, a National Public Radio affiliate, and the Boston Globe, which tracked down one lead to Florida—to no avail. There have never been any demands for ransom but tips still come in almost every week. “Some callers have been pestering us and the FBI for years, one of them since 2013. Some are very strange,” Amore says Anthony. “One man recently insisted that JFK Jr and his wife were the thieves and faked their deaths to commit the crime.”

“There are two kinds of tips,” Kelly says. “There are people who have a theory on who was involved in the theft. We check it out. Sometimes it isn’t easy because the suspect might be dead or we will interview a suspect and he denies it,” Kelly says. Investigators can only apply so much pressure to get information, because the statute of limitations to prosecute the theft as a crime expired in March 1995. So suspects are told about the potential for immunity from other legal prosecution and the $10m reward offered by the museum. “Then there are the people who are convinced—they are very specific, that they know where the art is.”

Not long ago, a man told Kelly he had developed technology that could recover the paintings. He then showed Kelly two divining rods and brought him to a street in south Boston. “The man put on headphones, the rods came together and he said the paintings were in a nine-story office building a block away,” Kelly says. “I told him I couldn’t get a warrant for the entire building based on what he told me. I’ll investigate any viable theory but there comes a time when enough is enough.”

If Gentile told us everything he knows, we’d be further along on our recovery efforts

Among those investigated by Kelly and Amore is Robert Gentile, 82, a former mobster suspected of concealing secrets about the theft, who was released from prison last March after serving four years for three gun and drug cases. He insists that he knows nothing about the theft and that he was “framed” by the widow of a mob associate, who said her husband gave Gentile two of the stolen works in around 2000.

The FBI has searched Gentile’s house in Manchester, Connecticut, three times in the last decade with dozens of agents, ground-penetrating radar and K-9 dog units. They found guns, drugs, five gun silencers, $20,000 stuffed in a grandfather’s clock, police hats, badges and a list of the stolen Gardner works with possible black market prices. “If Gentile told us everything he knows, we’d be further along on our recovery efforts,” Kelly says.

“I believe that some of the paintings have changed hands several times over the years. It’s also quite possible that some people have those paintings and don’t know what they have,” Kelly says. “We are confident we know who committed the crime. We believe they don’t still have the art. We don’t know if the art is all together or was split up.”

Other top investigators who have weighed in on the theft disagree about where the works are now held. Robert Wittman, the former head of the FBI’s art crime team says some of the paintings could have ended up in Corsica.

In 2006, when Wittman was still with the FBI, he posed as an unscrupulous art dealer who had clients interested in buying the Gardner paintings. He met two thugs from Corsica who indicated that the Vermeer and one of the Rembrandts were held by a gang there. The operation turned up nothing in the end, Wittman says, “because of bureaucratic difficulties and turf fighting”. But an officer of the French national police agreed with his theory. “Why would the thieves steal a Napoleonic finial instead of another painting?” Wittman says, referring to the gilded bronze eagle decoration also stolen along with the Master paintings. “Because Napoleon was from Corsica.”

The paintings are in Ireland, behind a wall in West Dublin

Charlie Hill, formerly of Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiques Squad, disagrees. “Although Napoleon was from Corsica, the paintings are in Ireland, behind a wall in West Dublin rather than in the US, behind a wall in South Philly.” He declined to elaborate, however.

Kelly and Amore said that they have no evidence that the paintings are in Corsica or Ireland. The FBI believes that in the years after the heist, some of the art was taken to Philadelphia “where it was offered for sale by those responsible for the theft”.

Amore has created an extensive database on his computer that lists every person the investigators have contacted over the years. “I enter every piece of information about every person of interest we’ve heard about,” he says. “I stopped counting but there are at least 30,000 different pieces of information—addresses, phone numbers, vehicle information, biographical data, places of employment. It helps us when I get a new phone call and saves a lot of time.”

Many visitors to the Gardner museum spend time looking at the empty frames that held the stolen paintings and still hang on the walls, but not everyone is interested in seeing them. “I’ve talked to people who used to come here as students,” Amore says, “but they haven’t come back because, to them, the theft is so sad.” The Art Newspaper

 

What's so special about the Mona Lisa?

 

Every day, thousands of people from around the world crowd into a stark, beige room at Paris's Louvre Museum to view its single mounted artwork, Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa."

To do so, they walk straight past countless masterpieces of the European Renaissance. So why does the "Mona Lisa" seem so special?

The mystery of her identity

The story told by one of Leonardo's first biographers, Giorgio Vasari, is that this oil portrait depicts Lisa Gherardini, second wife of a wealthy silk and wool merchant Francesco del Giocondo (hence the name by which it is known in Italian: "La Gioconda").

Leonardo likely commenced the work while in Florence in the early 1500s, perhaps when he was hoping to receive the commission to take on a massive wall painting of "The Battle of Anghiari."

Accepting a portrait commission from one of the city's most influential, politically-engaged citizens might well have helped his chances. A recently discovered marginal note by Agostino Vespucci, one-time assistant to the diplomat and writer Niccolò Machiavelli, records that Leonardo was working on a painting of "Lisa del Giocondo" in 1503

The Italian painter Raphael, a great admirer of Leonardo, leaves us a sketch from around 1505-6 of what seems to be this work. When Leonardo later moved to France in 1516, he took this still unfinished work with him.

However, art scholars have increasingly voiced doubts about whether the image in the Louvre can indeed be Vasari's "Lisa," for the style and techniques of the painting match far better Leonardo's later work from 1510 onwards.

Additionally, a visitor to Leonardo's house in 1517 recorded seeing there a portrait of "a certain Florentine woman, done from life," made "at the instance of the late magnificent Giuliano de Medici." Medici was Leonardo's patron in Rome from 1513 to 1516. Was our visitor looking at the same image Vasari and our marginal diarist describe as Lisa, or another portrait of a different woman, commissioned later?

All in all, just who we are seeing in the Louvre remains one of the work's many mysteries.

A portrait stripped bare

In comparison to many contemporary images of the elite, this portrait is stripped of the usual trappings of high status or symbolic hints to the sitter's dynastic heritage. All attention is thus drawn to her face, and that enigmatic expression.

Before the 18th century, emotion was more commonly articulated in painting through gestures of the hand and body than the face. But in any case, depictions of individuals did not aim to convey the same kinds of emotions we might look for in a portrait photograph today -- think courage or humility rather than joy or happiness.

Additionally, a hallmark of elite status was one's ability to keep the passions under good regulation. Irrespective of dental hygiene standards, a broad smile in artworks thus generally indicated ill-breeding or mockery, as we see in Leonardo's own "Study of five grotesque heads."

Our modern ideas about emotions leave us wondering just what Mona Lisa might have been feeling or thinking much more than the work's early modern viewers likely did.

A 20th century phenomenon

In fact, there is a real question as to whether anyone before the 20th century thought much about the "Mona Lisa" at all. The historian Donald Sassoon has argued that much of the painting's modern global iconic status rests on its widespread reproduction and use in all manner of advertising.

This notoriety was "helped" by its theft in 1911 by former Louvre employee, Vincenzo Peruggia. He remarkably walked out of the museum one evening after closing time with the painting wrapped in his smock coat. He spent the next two years with it hidden in his lodgings.

Shortly after its return, the Dadaist Marcel Duchamp used a postcard of the "Mona Lisa" as the basis for his 1919 ready-made work, "LHOOQ," initials that sound in French as "she has a hot ass."

Although not the first, it is perhaps among the best known examples of "Mona Lisa" parodies, along with Salvador Dali's "Self Portrait as Mona Lisa" (1954).

Cultural furniture

From Duchamp and Dali, we have increasingly seen the "Mona Lisa" used as a trope. Dianne Jones, an Aboriginal Australian artist of Noongar heritage, reprized the work in her inkjet photographic portraits of 2005, which are less pointed in their swipe at white European art and more luminous in their appropriation of Mona Lisa's sense of dream-like plenitude.

The painting appears as cultural furniture in the recent music video "Apes**t" (2019) by Beyoncé and Jay-Z, in which they romp across the Louvre backed by a troupe of scantily clad dancers, striking Lady Hamilton-like poses in front of famous works of art.

"Apes**t" itself closely imitates earlier works of contemporary high culture, not least French New Wave film director Jean-Luc Godard's "Bande à Part (Band of Outsiders)" (1964) in which three friends, including "Mona Lisa"-like Anna Karina (Godard's famous muse), meet up and run through the Louvre in record time.

Meanwhile, the notorious theft of a work of art by German performance artist Ulay in 1976, in which he removed the most famous (and kitsch) painting in the National Gallery in Berlin, Carl Spitzweg's 1839 portrait of "The Poor Poet," was a reprise of the theft of the "Mona Lisa" in 1911.

Many contemporary artists have rubbished all the reverence surrounding bucket-list art visits such as that to the "Mona Lisa."
Recently, Belgian art provocateur Wim Delvoye (whose "s**t-making" machine, "Cloaca" (2000), is one of the centerpieces of Hobart's Museum of Old and New Art) installed "Suppo" (2012), a giant steel corkscrew suppository, under the Louvre's central glass entry pyramid. This made it the first sighting of art in the museum to which the "Mona Lisa"'s visitors flock.

Still, the mysteries of the "Mona Lisa" look set to intrigue us for years to come. It is precisely the breadth and depth of possible interpretations that makes her special. "Mona Lisa" is whoever we want her to be -- and doesn't that make her the ultimate female fantasy figure? CNN

 

Almost Every Bob Ross Painting in Existence Lives in a Virginia Office Park
Now some of the iconic American painter’s work is headed to the Smithsonian.

SOMEWHERE OFF ROUTE 50 IN Herndon, Virginia, next to a LabCorp and across the street from a dentist’s office, there is a warehouse that houses almost every painting ever painted by one of the most recognizable painters in America: Bob Ross. They’re not on display, but are stacked carefully in numbered cardboard boxes; landscape upon landscape, snow-capped peak upon snow-capped peak, happy little tree upon happy little tree.

Ross’s instructional television show, The Joy of Painting, ran on PBS for 31 seasons, from 1983 to 1994, each containing 13 episodes, for which Ross would make three versions of the same painting—one as an initial reference, one that he painted on TV, and a last, more painstaking version to be included in his books. Over his PBS tenure, Ross crafted some 1,143 paintings (there were sometimes guest hosts), according to a recent video from The New York Times. The majority of those landscapes—and they are all landscapes—are housed in the warehouses of Bob Ross Inc., the company that sells his signature how-to books, art supplies, and memorabilia. We’d wager there are enough mountains, lakes, and happy little trees to designate Bob Ross Inc. a national park.

Though Bob Ross Inc. operates out of Virginia—run by Ross’s longtime business partner Annette Kowalski—Ross himself was a Florida man. He was born in Daytona Beach in 1942, and grew up in Orlando. When Ross turned 18, he enlisted in the United States Air Force and was eventually stationed at a base near Fairbanks, Alaska. There, Ross saw snow and mountains for the first time—staples of the landscapes now stacked in heaps in Virginia.

A warehouse is not a gallery, so visitors aren’t encouraged. It’s a fully functional office, Sarah Strohl, the executive assistant of Bob Ross Inc. writes in an email. But many of Ross’s paintings pepper the walls, alongside larger-than-life photos of him holding a baby raccoon, one of his many treasured woodland creatures. “The paintings in the halls are paintings that have hung up in the Bob Ross Inc. offices since the ’90s,” Strohl says. “There are quite a few.”

As one might expect from his 30-minute-episode-friendly style, there is no one Ross that stands out as a magnum opus. Describe one and you might describe a dozen: a waterfall, a stand of trees, a small cabin overlooking a lake. But as a collection, the oeuvre is rather impressive, a testament to consistency, replicability, and dedication.

So when the Smithsonian National Museum of American History set out to acquire some of Ross’s work, they searched for an example that was representative, according to Eric Jentsch, curator and deputy chair of the division of culture and arts at the museum. Jentsch worked with Bob Ross Inc. to select four paintings. He briefly considered acquiring Shades of Gray, a striking grayscale painting Ross made upon request from a colorblind fan (season 2, episode 4), but opted for more quintessential examples of the painter’s typical themes and wet-on-wet style: the book version of Blue Ridge Falls (season 30, episode 13) and all three versions of On a Clear Day (season 14, episode 8).

“There are differences between the paintings, as each had a very particular purpose,” Jentsch says. “The basic concept is the same, but if you look closely, there are differences in the lakefront, there’s more detail.” Jentsch and the museum also acquired a variety of Ross-adjacent memorabilia, including a stepstool he turned into an easel, a palette, brushes he stored in an old ammunition box, fan letters, production notebooks, a Funko Pop figure, and bobbleheads. The Smithsonian has yet to set a date to display Ross’s work, but Jentsch says they hope to soon.

Ross, who died in 1995 of lymphoma, was less concerned with his physical legacy than he was with inspiring a generation of people to pick up a paintbrush. “He was not selling himself as an artist, but selling that other people could be artists as well,” Jentsch says. Fittingly, none of the paintings in Bob Ross Inc. are for sale. In fact, the notion never even occurred to the Kowalskis, according to The New York Times.

“Well, we show people that anybody can paint a picture that they’re proud of,” Ross told the Orlando Sentinel in 1990. “It may never hang in the Smithsonian, but it will certainly be something that they’ll hang in their home and be proud of. And that’s what it’s all about.” Atlas Obscura

Artists struggle to save Haiti museum after 2010 earthquake

Franck Louissaint sighed and frowned as he stepped onto his patio and flung aside shower curtains protecting a painting by a former voodoo priest who became a renowned Haitian artist.

The painting from the 1960s once depicted a seemingly joyous voodoo spirit known as a loa, but it warped into something that looked like a three-dimensional satellite image of mountains after it was damaged by rubble and waterlogged when a 2010 earthquake hit the museum where it was displayed.

"It's like the skin of a crocodile!" exclaimed Louissaint, an artist who expects seven more months of work to fully restore the painting by Robert Saint-Brice.

It is one of dozens of well-known paintings that artists are still trying to rescue nearly a decade after the magnitude 7.0 quake killed an estimated 300,000 people or more and struck countless buildings, including the Museum of Haitian Art of St. Pierre College — one of the country's top institutions. More than 600 other watercolors and paintings by prominent artists are still in storage and in danger of decaying as a small group of artists struggles to restore the damaged works.

While life has begun anew for much of Haiti since the quake, the museum has been shuttered for nine years and only recently opened a tiny room to display a small quantity of art.

On a recent day, 91-year-old museum president Louis Du Bois walked briskly through the building, pointing out the damaged roof and walls as he occasionally put on his glasses to inspect certain paintings.

"We have to reopen to the public," he said. "All the great artists are here."

The quake also devastated other public spaces dedicated to art across Haiti, with $30 million in losses reported at the Museum d'Art Nader, which had one of the world's most extensive collections of Haitian art.

 

But the Museum of Haitian Art is one of the few worldwide to host Haitian paintings from the 20th century. The museum, which previously drew 9,000 visitors a year, was established in the 1970s by art lovers to commemorate U.S. painter DeWitt Peters and is tucked into the southeast corner of Port-au-Prince's historic area. It features mostly donated artwork.

Fewer than a dozen paintings are currently on display, including one titled "Marriage of Interest" by Rigaud Benoit, who is considered a master of Haitian painting, and "Tower of Babel" by Préfète Duffaut, whose work was collected by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Both men also painted murals inside a cathedral in Port-au-Prince that was flattened by the earthquake.

The museum's oldest painting dates to 1945 and is by seminal Haitian artist Hector Hyppolite.

The Smithsonian Institution has helped the museum restore some paintings, as has the Louvre, which also donated 1,000 copies of a catalog illustrating all of Hyppolite's paintings so local officials could sell them to help generate money.

But the museum still has blank, white walls, with hundreds of works stacked in a narrow storage area exposed to heat, humidity and other dangers. They are taken out only for the occasional cleaning while the more than 30 earthquake-damaged works are being restored.

Among those needing attention is a 1960s lush jungle scene by Jean-Claude Toussaint, which is nearly ripped in half and also slashed diagonally. The painting remains rolled up with yellowed masking tape that has lost its stickiness.

Du Bois estimates that the museum needs $50,000 to reopen, noting the roof must be fixed and the electricity repaired before additional paintings can be displayed.

For now, he and others are relying solely on the restoration efforts of artists such as Erntz Jeudy of nearby Quisqueya University.

Jeudy recently sat in front of a 71-by-79-inch (180-by-200-centimeter) painting by Miami-based artist Edouard Duval Carrié titled "The Republican Army of Santo Domingo," which was stripped down to blank canvas in certain areas.

"This means a lot to me because it's the restoration of a very rich heritage," he said. "It's great to be able to work and transmit this to future generations."

It's a feeling familiar for Louissaint, who works up to 10 hours at a time to restore Brice's painting. He said it makes him proud to have permission to touch such artwork.

"It's the story of the old Haiti," he said. "It starts to live again." abcNEWSCancel


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July 10, 2019

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


In this issue:

Street artists turn anonymous building into an amazing bookcase illusion
Goodbye, L&I: Downtown’s lone art supply store selling out its stock
Have we all underrated the humble pencil?
Ignored by the Louvre, 'lost' Caravaggio bought in private sale is destined for 'important museum'
What can the arts expect from next UK prime minister?
The Mona Lisa is on the move this summer at the Musée du Louvre
How Big Mike, a Barbershop Painter, Broke Into the Art World
Millinery mix up: scholar says Van Gogh Museum has mistaken hatted portraits of Theo and Vincent

 

 

 

 

Street artists turn anonymous building into an amazing bookcase illusion

Upon first glance, this building might look like one of the coolest bookshelves you’ve ever seen, but it’s actually one of the coolest murals you’ve ever seen. Street artist Jan Is De Man’s latest creation in Utrecht, in the Netherlands, truly fools you into believing that the side of this building is a three-dimensional bookcase.

Jan Is De Man was asked by the owners of the buildings who are friends of his to create a mural and the artist took on the challenge and added a little community spirit to it — he asked the local residents to suggest book titles to be featured in the piece. Anything was acceptable, except for religious or political works.

The artist told My Modern Met, “We’ve noticed that this project brought people together without pushing it. They met each other through books. Regardless of the differences in cultures, regardless of the differences in political point of views. Regardless of being extreme right or extreme left. Books are magical. They tickle your brain. And everyone can read the same book, but feel something different.”

De Man and his collaborator, artist Deef Freed, wanted the books on the shelves to be as diverse as the neighborhood itself, and ended up representing a variety of literature across eight different languages. Matador Network

 

Goodbye, L&I: Downtown’s lone art supply store selling out its stock

SILVER CITY, NM: Downtown’s arts community is at a turning point, as Leyba and Ingalls Arts sells out its stock of art supplies in preparation for the supply store being shut down. The store and gallery has, in one way or another, been the hub for artists in Silver City since 1996.

For the past 15 years, L&I has been located at 315 N. Bullard St., and has been home to supplies, framing services, workshops, and the Mimbres Region Arts Council Youth Mural Project.

Diana Ingalls Leyba, who owns the store with her husband, Bob Leyba, has been selling art supplies for 35 years, beginning on the East Coast. This is the latest phase in the long metamorphosis of L&I, as it has moved between three locations in Silver City after originally being set up in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia.

Ingalls Leyba began selling art supplies after she graduated from the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia.

“I had a degree in art, and I wanted to make sure I could make a living,” Ingalls Leyba said, “so it seemed like a smart thing to do.”

As an artist herself, this business endeavor has informed her art in many ways.

“It’s been an education,” she said. “I’ve incorporated stuff into my work that I would not have if I hadn’t owned a store.”

Before moving to Silver City and setting up the shop, Ingalls Leyba frequently visited a friend of hers here, and decided that it would be home.

“I liked the location, the big, blue open skies, the clarity of light and the people,” she said.

Since making the move, Ingalls Leyba has been an integral part of the art community in many ways — hosting workshops, coordinating the youth mural project and sharing her keen knowledge of art and art supplies.

“To me, she’s been indispensable,” said Lois Duffy, a painter who has been in Silver City for over 20 years. Duffy is from the East Coast, but recalls when she first moved to Silver City from Florida.

“She had that little store on Texas Street, and I moved here and I needed art supplies — so I went in and introduced myself,” Duffy said.

Since then, Duffy has used L&I as her main source for supplies. Though she is strictly a painter, she appreciates the large array of supplies that Leyba and Ingalls offers.

“She carries such a variety of products for such a small store, and especially for such a small town,” she said.

The supplies that Ingalls Leyba offered were valuable, but her experience and knowledge of how to use those supplies has been instrumental in her ability to help customers leave the store with what they need — even if they didn’t know it’s what they needed.

“I can’t stress this enough,” Duffy said. “It’s her personal service and the knowledge she offers that is worth so much.”

In the decades that Ingalls Leyba has been selling art supplies, she’s seen many things shift with time.

“[My stock] has shifted,” she said. “It needs to, because the focus of artists shift — things change.”

Not only have the things being sold by L&I shifted, but the ways in which artists find and purchase their supplies has, too.

“The internet, it does change things,” Ingalls Leyba said. “There’s so many places to buy things online, that it makes it hard to have a little brick and mortar business.”

Though there may be a larger offering of art supplies online, there are certain things about the shopping experience that are lost.

“Silver City is gonna miss that store,” said local painter Paul Hotvedt, who has also used L&I as his main source of supplies since moving here. “If I need something and I need it now, I know I can always go down there and get it.”

Hotvedt went to school with Ingalls Leyba in Philadelphia, and said he believes that this “is the passing of an era.”

“I’m gonna miss the camaraderie,” Hotvedt said. “Just going down there and talking art.”

That immediacy is lost when purchasing online, as well as the knowledge and advice that Ingalls Leyba offers.

“Coming in here and touching, looking and feeling actual color and supplies is different than talking online,” Ingalls Leyba said. “You’re getting someone’s experience, service and expertise.”

“Anything that you buy in person, you can look at it, feel it and compare it to another brand … you can see what it looks like and see what it feels like in your hand,” Duffy said. “That’s something you can’t do online.”

Ingalls Leyba is closing down the store in an attempt to focus more on other aspects of her art and life.

“I’m trying to simplify,” she said. “I want to streamline my life so that I can actually do artwork.”

Even without selling supplies, Ingalls Leyba has plenty to do — she’s currently working on six paintings, three sculptures, and a children’s book.

Though the art supply store is closing, L&I will still offer all of its other services.

“I have a feeling there will be an overlap,” said Ingalls Leyba, explaining that there is not a set closing date for the supply store. “Every time we’ve moved, we’ve never closed.”

Right now, the supplies are being offered at a discount, from 25 to 75 percent off. While selling out the art supplies, Ingalls Leyba will be transforming the space into a few main spheres: a gallery, a studio, and a space for the youth mural project and workshops.

Ingalls Leyba hopes the void left by her closing will not last long.

“It would be nice if someone decides to step up and open a shop,” she said. “I would be helpful and supportive, in terms of information and inventory.

“When we moved here to town there was one art supplies store that was closing while we were opening up,” said Ingalls Leyba. “I think life is full of some kind of serendipity like that.” Silver City Daily Press

 

Have we all underrated the humble pencil?

When the great 19th Century American writer Henry David Thoreau made a comprehensive list of supplies for an excursion, he specified obvious items like a tent and matches, and added string, old newspapers, a tape measure and a magnifying glass.

He also included paper and stamps, to make notes and write letters.

Strange, then, that he omitted to mention the very pencil with which he was making the list. Stranger still, when you realise that Thoreau's family made its money by manufacturing high-quality pencils.

The pencil seems fated to be overlooked. It's the theme of an old English riddle: "I am taken from a mine, and shut up in a wooden case, from which I am never released, and yet I am used by almost everybody."

We say the pen is mightier than the sword, but not the pencil - it's too easily erased.

We don't even give it the courtesy of a sensible name. "Pencil" is derived from the Latin word "penis" meaning "tail", because Roman writing brushes were made from tufts of fur from an animal's tail.

"Lead pencils" achieve the same effect without needing ink.

Or, indeed, lead - they actually contain graphite. The idea of graphite on a stick of wood is about 450 years old.

The pencil has a number of champions.

Pencil historian Henry Petroski points out that its very eraseability makes it indispensable to designers and engineers. "Ink is the cosmetic that ideas will wear when they go out in public," he writes. "Graphite is their dirty truth."

"Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes," is the novelist Margaret Atwood's first rule of writing. "Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can't sharpen it on the plane, because you can't take knives with you. Therefore, take two pencils."

And then there's the American economist Leonard Read, who was a crusader for the principles of small-government free-market economics.

In 1958, Read published an essay entitled "I, Pencil" - written in the voice of the pencil itself.

While the pencil in the English riddle seemed resigned to its obscurity, Read's pencil is loud and a touch melodramatic: "If you can become aware of the miraculousness which I symbolize, you can help save the freedom mankind is so unhappily losing."

Read's pencil is well aware that it doesn't immediately appear impressive: "Pick me up and look me over. What do you see? Not much meets the eye — there's some wood, lacquer, the printed labeling, graphite lead, a bit of metal, and an eraser."

And yet, the pencil goes on to explain, collecting its cedar wood required saws, axes, motors, rope, and a railway car. Its graphite is from Ceylon - modern-day Sri Lanka - mixed with Mississippi clay, sulphuric acid, animal fats and numerous other ingredients.

And don't get the pencil started on its six coats of lacquer, its brass ferrule, or its eraser - made not from rubber, it wants you to know, but from sulphur chloride reacted with rape-seed oil, made abrasive with Italian pumice and tinted pink with cadmium sulphide.

Read's pencil writes a stirring conclusion: "Leave all creative energies uninhibited. Have faith that free men and women will respond to the Invisible Hand. This faith will be confirmed."

The "Invisible Hand" refers to the idea that unseen market forces balance the demand and supply of goods in a free market.

That's why critic Anne Elizabeth Moore calls the essay a a "seductive metaphor for spontaneous order", and it garnered wider fame when the Nobel prize-winning economist Milton Friedman adapted it for his 1980 TV series Free to Choose.

Friedman drew the same lesson from the humble pencil's formidably complex origins - it was an astonishing testimony to the power of market forces to co-ordinate large numbers of people with nobody in overall charge: "There was no commissar sending out orders from central office; it was the magic of the price system."

Go back in time 500 years or so, and you'd have seen the magic of the price system swing into action for yourself.

Graphite was first discovered in the English Lake District.

Legend has it that a ferocious storm uprooted trees in the idyllic valley of Borrowdale. Underneath their roots was a strange, shiny black substance that was initially dubbed "black lead".

It was quickly used as "a marking stone", as celebrated in this 300-year-old market seller's cry: "Buy marking stones, marking stones buy; Much profit in their use doth lie; I've marking stones of colour red; Passing good, or else black Lead."

Because graphite was soft yet heat-resistant, it was also used for casting cannonballs.

It soon became a precious resource - not quite as pricey as its fellow carbon-based cousin the diamond, but valuable enough for miners to be supervised by armed guards as they changed out of their clothes at the end of the shift, lest they try to smuggle a nugget away.

By the late 1700s, French pencil manufacturers were happily paying to import high-quality Borrowdale graphite. But then war broke out, and England's government sensibly decided not to make it easy for the French to cast cannonballs.

What were the pencil-makers to do? In stepped Nicolas-Jacques Conté, French army officer, balloonist, adventurer - and pencil engineer.

Conté painstakingly developed a way to make pencil leads from a mix of clay with low-grade powdered continental graphite. For these efforts, the French government awarded him a patent. And this is where we might start to question whether Read's pencil is right to be so fiercely proud of its free-market ancestry.

Would Monsieur Conté have put such effort into his experiments without the prospect of a state-backed patent?

Economist John Quiggin raises a different objection. While Read's pencil underlines its history of forests and railway carts, both forests and railways are often owned and managed by governments.

And while Friedman was right that there is no Pencil Tsar, even in a free-market economy there are hierarchies.

Leonard Read's loquacious instrument was made by the Eberhard Faber company, now part of Newell Rubbermaid - and, as in any conglomerate, its employees respond to instructions from the boss, not to prices in the market.

In practice, then, the pencil is the product of a messy economic system in which the government plays a role and corporate hierarchies insulate many workers from Friedman's "magic of the price system".

Read might be right that a pure free market would be better, but his pencil doesn't prove the case.

It does, though, remind us how profoundly complex are the processes that produce the everyday objects whose value we often overlook. The economy that assembles them for us cheaply and reliably is an astonishing thing. BBC

 

Ignored by the Louvre, 'lost' Caravaggio bought in private sale is destined for 'important museum'
Estimated to sell between €100m-€150m at auction on Friday, an anonymous buyer has snapped up the disputed painting that was discovered in a French attic

Five years after its discovery in the attic of a family home near Toulouse, a painting of Judith beheading Holofernes—later attributed to Caravaggio by the Old Master specialist Eric Turquin—has sold privately ahead of a public auction planned for this Friday in the south of France. The Paris-based Turquin of Cabinet Turquin and the Toulouse-based auctioneer Marc Labarbe announced today that the dramatic, large-format painting has been sold in a private sale to a foreign collector and will leave France.

The work was estimated to sell between €100m-€150m, but bidding was to start at €30m. The price and the identity of the buyer, who might make their own announcement soon according to Eric Turquin, were not disclosed, and a confidentiality agreement was signed. But, Turquin says, the collector pledged to loan the painting to an “important museum”, meaning that such an institution would be ready to accept the expert’s attribution to Caravaggio.

Turquin says he is “thrilled” by the outcome of this saga, which began when the painting was allegedly found in the Toulouse attic where it had been long forgotten. The attribution divided art historians; some believe that it could be by Louis Finson, a Flemish copyist of Caravaggio who lived in the south of France after spending time in Italy. Turquin claimed that the few known works by Finson do not match the quality of the painting and that the recent restoration and analysis of the work, which was in “an exceptional state of conservation” according to the press release on the sale, brought new elements to his thesis.

An export ban on the painting, which was declared a “national treasure” in April 2016, was deferred for 30 months, but the Musée du Louvre in Paris declined to buy the work. The ban was lifted last December. The work has since been shown at the the Colnaghi gallery in London, Galerie Kamel Mennour in Paris and Adam Williams Fine Art in New York. The Art Newspaper

 

What can the arts expect from next UK prime minister?
While Boris Johnson describes himself as a keen painter and Jeremy Hunt spent time as culture minister, the sector is likely to remain far down the agenda

A week is a long time in politics, as Harold Wilson once said, and so has proved for Boris Johnson. On 18 June the Times reported that he and his new partner Carrie Symonds would “relax each evening by painting together”. Just two days later the peace was shattered by screams and the sound of breaking glass. Painting was definitely off the agenda. Until that moment, Johnson was far ahead in the battle for the premiership, but now his rival Jeremy Hunt is in with a chance.

So which candidate would be more sympathetic towards the arts? Johnson, who has always been fascinated by history and the classical world, was appointed shadow arts minister in May 2004. But as so often, his personal life would take its toll on his political career. Six months later the Tory opposition leader sacked him for lying about his love affair with the journalist Petronella Wyatt.

Johnson’s most important impact in the cultural field came when he was elected Mayor of London in 2008. He then chose Munira Mirza as his deputy mayor responsible for education and culture, who was one of the masterminds behind the organisation of the Cultural Olympiad for the 2012 London Games. Johnson also supported the Museum of London and the Fourth Plinth sculpture competitions for Trafalgar Square. His greatest cultural legacy from his eight years as mayor may well be the backing he gave to the creation of V&A East on the former Olympic site in Stratford, together with the lingering lessons of the London Garden Bridge debacle. (The scheme was designed by Thomas Heatherwick, and abandoned before construction, at a cost of £53.5m.)

Hunt served as the shadow secretary of state for culture from 2007, before being appointed as the culture, media and sport secretary under David Cameron from 2010 to 2012. The post covered the London Olympics, so Hunt then worked closely with his current political rival. Hunt also put much effort into dealing with pressing media issues, with culture largely being left to his committed arts minister, Ed Vaizey. This was a period of deep cuts in government funding and Hunt’s response was to encourage private philanthropy for the arts.

In 2012, Hunt was promoted to health secretary, a post he held until July 2018, when he became foreign secretary. This followed Johnson’s resignation from the post over Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit policy.

Neither man is likely to have much direct influence on cultural policy, since it is so low down the political agenda, but two key issues will have an impact on the arts.

First, public expenditure—and whether the culture department is likely to suffer from further cuts. So far, the indications are that Johnson’s tax-cutting agenda is more likely to result in a funding cut: health, education and the armed forces are less likely to suffer. And the most important issue is Brexit, of course, with Johnson determined to leave the European Union by 31 October come what may, “do or die”—a policy abhorred by the vast majority of those in the UK arts scene.

The UK’s 160,000 members of the Conservative Party will now have an opportunity to choose between Johnson and Hunt, with the result expected to be announced on 23 July. Theresa May would then stand down and the new prime minister will choose their cabinet. Parliament will resume sitting in early September and the looming Brexit deadline is 31 October. The Art Newspaper

 

The Mona Lisa is on the move this summer at the Musée du Louvre
The Leonardo painting, which is seen by thousands of visitors each day, is temporarily leaving its home during renovations to the gallery

Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa (around 1503-19) is on the move and will spend the summer alongside paintings by Rubens in the Musée du Louvre. On 17 July, the panel will leave the Salle des Etats, which houses the museum’s Venetian paintings, as the gallery will undergo major renovations lasting three months. The main change for Leonardo’s work will be a new protective glass and a change of lighting, which may reduce reflections of other works on the glass visible since its instalment in 2005 (it was chosen because it is one of the largest in the royal palace). Not only could you see the lively figures of Paolo Veronese’s Wedding Feast at Cana (1563) on top of the Mona Lisa’s famous smile, but the glass has become more opaque with time.

The main objective of the renovation works in the gallery is to enhance the presentation of large works by Titian, Veronese and Tintoretto by repainting the walls in a more luminous colour and improving the lighting, says the head of the painting department Sébastien Allard. These works have already been removed to another gallery, Passage Mollien, but The Wedding Feast at Cana, the museum’s largest painting, cannot be moved and will be put in a protective case during the works. The renovation is part of the rehanging of all the painting galleries that the museum director Jean-Luc Martinez started five years ago.

The Mona Lisa will stay in its air conditioned and bullet proof case while in the Medici Gallery this summer. A week or two before the opening of the major Leonardo retrospective (24 October- 24 February 2020) planned for the 500th anniversary of his death, the painting is due to return to the huge concrete wall where it has hung for the past 14 years. The Mona Lisa cannot be part of the show, as only 5,000 visitors a day can enter the exhibition hall, while the museum has at least 20,000 visitors a day, many of which go to see the Mona Lisa. The Art Newspaper

 

How Big Mike, a Barbershop Painter, Broke Into the Art World
From lunch-break sessions at the easel to Instagram fame to a solo show at a Chelsea gallery. In the words of one art dealer: ‘How dare he use such colors?’

Michael Saviello sat on a little stool in a Chelsea art gallery wiping sweat from his forehead as his new gallerists breathlessly praised his latest paintings. Mr. Saviello, known to everyone as Big Mike, was taking the day off from Astor Place Hairstylists, the East Village barber shop he has managed since 1987. He was preparing for his first solo show, which would mark his debut to the New York art world.

And from the sound of it, the New York art world wanted a piece of Big Mike.

“You can instantly tell this is a Saviello,” said Guillo Pérez, gesturing to Mr. Saviello’s painting of Tupac Shakur wearing a bandanna. “You can see this was painted by someone chiseled from the effects of life. Every brush stroke has a human fingerprint.” He added: “Mike is not some young buck. He’s not some nobody. Big Mike is a mover and shaker. We start him at $5,000.”

He was joined by another gallerist, Blake Emory, who stood before a painting Mr. Saviello made of his wife, Harriett, an elementary schoolteacher, surrounded by flowers. “Mike’s work incites controversy,” he said. “How dare he use such colors?”

Paul Calendrillo, who runs a gallery nearby, had stopped in to study Mr. Saviello’s work. “The turmoil in these brush strokes reminds me of Joan Mitchell,” he said. He also gave Mr. Saviello some advice. “Critics? They’ll come once. Then never again.”

Mr. Saviello listened quietly. Afterward, he needed to clear his head.

“I feel like I’m intruding on the art world,” he said.

He strolled through some galleries in the building. He came upon Mary Tooley Parker, who was setting up an exhibit of her hooked rugs, which pay tribute to folk artists like the quilters of Gee’s Bend. It was her first solo show, she said, and she’d won a prestigious grant making it possible.

“Where have you shown before?” she asked.

“People know me on Instagram,” he said. “This is my first show, too.”

“Oh,” she said.

Big Mike’s arrival on the New York art scene was triggered by a perfectly modern sequence of events, including a flush of Instagram fame, and he still doesn’t know what to make of it. When Mr. Saviello started painting at the barber shop during his lunch breaks two years ago, he never thought anyone would want to buy his work, or that he’d end up with a show in a Chelsea gallery. His solo show opened earlier this month at the ESP Gallery in the Landmark Arts Building and it runs until early July.

The day after he met with his gallerists, Mr. Saviello, 58, was back at Astor Place Hairstylists, barking into a telephone that constantly rings and yelling to his fleet of barbers. He seemed fatigued, but he was excited.

“I had to look up Joan Mitchell — I thought they said Joni Mitchell,” he said. “To be perfectly honest, I’m still processing everything that’s been happening to me. My wife keeps saying I’m a disrupter in the art world right now. They don’t know what to do with me.”

As a longtime manager of Astor Place Hairstylists, Mr. Saviello presides over the legendary subterranean barbershop, a cash-only haircut factory that retains more than 40 barbers with names like “Zack Attack” and “Don Fifi.”

Mr. Saviello’s ritual commences at lunch. He walks to the storage room that has become his studio, and he shuts the door. He pours himself a glass of red wine, slips on a ragged shirt, puts on some Tony Bennett and sits in front of his easel. The room is lined with his paintings, which include portraits of Biggie Smalls, Marilyn Monroe, Rihanna and his wife. Last year, he painted Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has had his hair cut at Astor since he was a student at New York University.

And on a recent afternoon, Mr. de Blasio sat for a trim with his security detail standing nearby. As a razor buzzed his sides, he discussed Mr. Saviello as an artist.

“I’m a big fan of Canaletto,” the mayor said, “and what Canaletto did was sit in the plazas of Venice studying people and taking in their humanity, and then he realized them with dignity in his paintings. I think that’s true of Mike. Every day, Mike watches this great swath of humanity enter through this barber shop, and it has influenced him as an artist.” Mr. Saviello’s painting of the mayor currently hangs in Gracie Mansion.

As a boy growing up in Bayonne, N.J., Mr. Saviello dreamed of becoming an artist. Every summer, he visited relatives in Italy, and he became mesmerized by the works of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. When he was 11, he said, he won a national drawing contest for his picture of Tippy the Turtle.

But in high school, Mr. Saviello played varsity football, and after graduating from Rutgers University, he started running a pizzeria. “I always wanted to paint my whole life,” Mr. Saviello said. “But I came from a working-class Italian family. My dad was like, ‘You want to be a painter? Who are you kidding? You’re going to become a construction worker.”

Mr. Saviello got a job at Astor in 1987, and over the years, he’d encounter artists like Keith Haring and Andy Warhol when they stopped in for haircuts. “I’ve met so many artists here and they’re always struggling,” he said. “It made me realize I’m a practical person. I wanted to be an artist, but not the broke kind.”

“There’s an art professor from Cooper Union who comes here,” he said. “I showed him my paintings. I said, ‘What is art?’ He couldn’t tell me. No one can tell me. I’m trying to figure it out, but no one will tell me. One guy said, ‘Art is whatever they will pay for it,’ and that’s the best explanation I’ve gotten yet.”

Today, Mr. Saviello lives with his wife in the Poconos, where he raised his two children, and he wakes up every day at 5 a.m. to drive into the city. He enjoys his work at the barbershop, and his gift, the barbers say, is his knack at pairing customers with the stylist suited for them. “I judge someone the moment they walk through the door,” Mr. Saviello said. “I know who I am going to send them to before they even talk. I see their soul in their eyes. I can even see bad people.”

But he always regretted not pursuing art. One night two years ago, as he was closing up the shop he noticed a canvas sitting on a heap of trash, and he salvaged it. A month later, he surprised his wife with a painting of her. Shortly after, she was given a diagnosis of breast cancer.

Painting suddenly didn’t feel as urgent, but as she endured chemotherapy, Mr. Saviello felt drawn to his easel, and he started laboring on a new painting. Finally, he emerged with a surrealistic work that featured him protecting his wife from the grim reaper.

“Mike is not a reflective person,” said Harriett Saviello, 58, whose cancer is in remission. “He hates talking about his feelings. But he started using his art to process what was happening to me.

“Our dog, Luigi, just died,” she added. “He doesn’t like talking about that either, but I think he’ll start painting Luigi soon.”

By that winter, Mr. Saviello had found his stride as a painter. And then his art career got an unexpected boost.

A young customer wearing a Yankees cap named Nicolas Heller sat down for a haircut one afternoon, and he noticed Mr. Saviello’s painting studio. He took a picture and posted it to Instagram. When he got another haircut a few weeks later, he posted another picture. Before long, young followers of @NewYorkNico were making pilgrimages to visit Big Mike, and after Mr. Heller made a short film about him, people started stopping him in the streets.

Mr. Saviello had become one of the recurring characters on Mr. Heller’s popular Instagram account, which celebrates the city’s eccentrics. Mr. Saviello got an Instagram account of his own soon enough and he now posts regularly about his painting life.

“I call myself the unofficial talent scout of New York,” said Mr. Heller, 30, whose account has 180,000 followers. “Without Instagram, none of this would be possible, and it’s always interesting for me to see what happens to these people after I’ve shined a spotlight on them, and how they use the platform for good.”

As Mr. Saviello’s viral fame grew, one of his customers approached him. “He saw everything that was happening to me,” recalled Mr. Saviello, “and he said, ‘Mike, you’re becoming hot. It’s time for you to have a show in my gallery.’” And so he did.

At the opening for Mr. Saviello’s show, the gallery throbbed with his fans. Italian heroes were served on a buffet table, and guests stood in front of Mr. Saviello’s paintings while studying a price sheet and sipping red wine. The most expensive work was a chess board sculpted by Mr. Saviello. It was listed at $10,000.

LeRoy Mace, a musician, considered Mr. Saviello’s surreal portrait of Rihanna. “Mike’s art went viral because it speaks to the soul,” he said. “There’s no denying it.”

Frank Sciotto, who was a fraternity brother of Mr. Saviello’s at Rutgers, drove in from New Brunswick to support him. “I can hardly draw a stick figure,” he said, “but it looks like Mike stuck with his art and is starting to do really well.”

By midnight, the gallery had cleared out, and it was littered with empty wine bottles. Mr. Saviello had posed for countless selfies, and he had followed dozens of people back on Instagram, but no paintings were sold. Guillo Pérez, one of the gallerists, cleaned up. “I didn’t close anything tonight,” Mr. Pérez said, “but I planted the seed.”

As Mr. Saviello prepared for the long drive back home to the Poconos with his family, he seemed pleased with his debut. “Do I wish I could be considered a great artist one day?” he said. “Do I wish someone might look at my stuff one day and say, ‘That’s a Saviello’? Of course I do. And it’s going to happen if I let it happen.” The New York Times

 

Millinery mix up: scholar says Van Gogh Museum has mistaken hatted portraits of Theo and Vincent
Major exhibition at the Noordbrabants Museum in the Netherlands will show latest research in the confusing identity saga as Amsterdam museum renames work

A pair of portraits at Amsterdam's Van Gogh Museum depicting Vincent and his brother Theo are the subject of a continuing identity debate. Painted in 1887, when Vincent was living in Montmartre with his brother Theo, both small pictures were long assumed to be self-portraits, with Vincent wearing two different hats. Then, eight years ago, the museum determined that the man with the felt hat was Vincent and the one with a straw hat was Theo.

The Art Newspaper can report that this theory will be challenged in an exhibition which opens in the autumn at the Noordbrabants Museum in s’Hertogenbosch (Den Bosch) in the Netherlands, Van Gogh’s Inner Circle: Friends, Family, Models (21 September-12 January 2020). Its guest curator, Sjraar van Heugten, knows the pair of portraits well, as an ex-head of collections at the Van Gogh Museum. Now an independent scholar, Van Heugten believes that his colleague has it the wrong way round. He argues that the man in the straw hat is Vincent and the one in the felt hat is Theo.

When the sitters' identities were first challenged in 2011, it came as a considerable surprise. Vincent, a notoriously casual dresser, might have been expected to sport a straw hat, which would be comfortable for painting outside. Theo, a respectable art dealer, would surely have worn a more formal felt hat. Indeed, when Vincent was in Paris he apparently did not even own a felt hat, according to Theo’s brother-in-law.

The Amsterdam museum’s explanation eight years ago was that the two men had swapped hats, probably as “a joke”. Louis van Tilborgh, its senior researcher and a distinguished specialist on the artist’s Paris period, suggested that Vincent was playing on the fact that he often depicted himself in self-portraits with a straw hat. Exchanging hats with Theo was therefore a family jest. “It very much looks as if the brothers are wearing each other’s hats,” he concluded.

Van Tilborgh’s main evidence for determining that the man in the straw hat is Theo is the physical characteristics of the face. He pointed to the colour and shape of the beard, which is ochre (rather than the orange-red of Vincent), and it was respectably trimmed, rather than in Vincent’s more unkept style. The ear is also rounded, as in photographs of Theo, while Vincent’s other self-portraits suggest he had more fleshy ears.

But Van Heugten tells The Art Newspaper: “It is unlikely that Vincent would have depicted Theo in rather nonchalant summer attire and himself dressed as a respectable gentleman.” He says that Theo had light grey-blue eyes, while Vincent’s self-portraits suggest that he had greenish eyes (Vincent’s were often portrayed as green, sometimes bluish, sometimes dark, but never greyish-blue as in the man with the felt hat). Another accepted self-portrait with a straw hat clearly shows Vincent with a green pupil (with blue in the rest of his other eye).

The Van Gogh Museum now concedes that Van Heugten may possibly be correct about the man with the straw hat, and it has given the picture a new title: Self-portrait or Portrait of Theo van Gogh. A statement published yesterday says: “In light of the fact that we are dealing with painted portraits and not photographs, it remains difficult to effectively weigh up arguments regarding physical similarities; after all, there are any number of reasons why the artist may have deviated from reality.” With this uncertainty, the museum has taken the unusual step of giving the painting a double title.

But disagreement still remains about the other portrait—the one with the felt hat. The Van Gogh Museum believes that it is a self-portrait, since it is so similar to another fully-accepted self-portrait in the Rijksmuseum.

The Noordbrabants Museum disagrees about the Van Gogh Museum’s portrait with the felt hat. In their exhibition, it will be displayed as Portrait of Theo van Gogh. With the two pictures with their different headgear hanging beside each other, visitors and scholars will have the opportunity to decide for themselves. No other Van Gogh portraits of Theo are known, so it is important to sort out which of the pair represents the artist’s younger brother. The difficulty is that the two brothers did look so alike.

The debate over the pair of paintings has echoes of a similar issue over a photograph. Until last November a photograph of a boy was always thought to be of Vincent, aged 13. Fresh research shows that it is in fact Theo, at 15.

Since Theo played such an important role in Vincent’s life, it is fascinating to know how he was portrayed by the artist. After the Noordbrabants exhibition the pair of paintings will return to the Van Gogh Museum where, as usual, they will be hung next to each other. The Art Newspaper