July 28, 2009

International News Digest


London’s National Gallery is moving one step closer to virtual visits. As Agence France-Presse reports, the museum made an application to make 250 works from its permanent collection available to users of the iPhone and iTouch. Described as a first in the museum world, the move would create a virtual tour with both audio and video commentary for the works. Dubbed “Love Art,” the tour would be organized thematically through twelve of the museum’s galleries. Users-cum-visitors would be able to admire the best of the permanent collection, including works by Leonardo, van Gogh, Rembrandt, Renoir, and Botticelli. In a press release, the National Gallery noted that the application would be free for a limited time, without adding any further details. The two-hundred-plus minutes of commentary would include an interview with museum director Nicholas Penny or the American author Tracy Chevalier, who penned the best-selling Girl with a Pearl Earring. Users will also be able to zoom in on paintings to examine them more closely, albeit without the danger of breaking that golden rule of all museums: Do not touch.


Come September 1, the European Union has banned the sale of incandescent lightbulbs. As the Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Till Briegleb reports, the ban will have an impact on art, specifically works that use lightbulbs for either functional, aesthetic, or historical effects. A case in point is the work of the Russian artist Ilya Kabakov, who often hangs a bare lightbulb in his installations as a melancholic homage to the Soviet-era ideal of electricity, which was not always available to the citizens.

“Unfortunately, there are no exceptions to [the law] 2005/32/EG” writes Briegleb. “And thus artists, restorers, and museum technicians find themselves faced with the bizarre necessity of small-time criminality.” Kabakov is not the only artist to use bulbs. There are 140 in László Moholy-Nagy’s Light-Space-Modulator; the German post–World War II Group Zero was fond of lightbulbs. There’s a host of contemporary artists, including Olafur Eliasson, Carsten Höller, Jorge Pardo, Valie Export, Stephan Huber, Isa Genzken, Mike Kelley, and Adrian Paci. Even artists who did not work explicitly with lightbulbs have used them: Rauschenberg, Kienholz, Tinguely, and Beuys.

As Briegleb notes, the illegal sale of lightbulbs—even to museums—comes with a hefty fine: $70,000. Even if the existing bulbs could be saved, it’s clear that the supply will eventually be exhausted. To keep a lightbulb work by Felix Gonzalez-Torres or Höller shining bright, museums and collectors will need more than one thousand bulbs, since the traditional ones tend to last on average sixty to eighty days under the kind of constant use that is typical for such installations.


Multitasking mobile phones are also making an impact at Paris’s Pompidou Center, just beyond the museum’s walls. As Agence France-Presse reports, nearly 250 fans offered an homage to Michael Jackson by participating in a flashmob in his honor in front of the Pompidou’s entrance. Following the instructions sent by a text message, participants began dancing the choreography of “Beat It,” much to the surprise and the enthusiasm of crowds lingering in front of the museum. Rehearsals had taken place earlier in the day at a dance center in the Marais while the radio station Skyrock took care of the music. “With a handful of friends, we wanted to pay homage to Michael Jackson by taking up the idea of other flashmobs that took place on the same theme in London and Stockholm,” explained the Paris organizer Roxane Planas. “Everything was done very quickly, with small means.”


The Finnish artist Riikka Kuoppala took apart her own installation, only to donate the parts to those in need in Helsinki. As Agence France-Presse reports, Kuoppala’s installation in a Helsinki shop window consisted of food that can be preserved at room temperature. After being on display for three weeks in the capital, the entire work was given away to twenty families in order to raise consciousness about poverty in the Nordic country. “Poverty is increasingly affecting children,” Kuoppala told the AFP. “It’s shocking that society doesn’t take better care of young people.” The twenty-nine-year-old artist may have struck a sympathetic chord among passersby. The installation grew over its three-week display, as people donated more and more food to the project. After Kuoppala was approached to make a work for the shop window, the idea for the project arose when she realized that the shop was located beside a food bank that would be closed for the summer vacations. “I thought that people who were hungry would not be able to wait a month and a half.”


Venice’s Museo Correr could have used a few donations. As the Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Henning Klüver reports, the museum initially postponed the exhibition “Abstractions,” due to financing problems. The show—the second part of an exhibition trilogy celebrating Futurism—was focused on the artist Giacomo Balla. Now that the Venetian region has taken back $700,000 in promised financing, the exhibition will simply not take place at all. The three-part exhibition began in Rovereto and was to close in Milan this fall.

Jennifer Allen


July 24, 2009

Moscow’s Architectural Heritage at Risk

Shawn Walker reports for The Independent that Moscow’s skyline and architectural heritage are on the verge of being destroyed forever because of low-quality renovations and thoughtless demolition, according to a report released yesterday by a group of Russian and international activists.

“There is no other capital city in peacetime Europe that is being subjected to such devastation for the sake of earning a fast megabuck,” the Moscow Architecture Preservation Society stated in its report. The authors said that hundreds of important buildings––from nineteenth-century palaces to masterpieces of Stalinist architecture––were being neglected or demolished.

The problems have been blamed on a lack of legal consequences for developers who ruin listed buildings. Critics of the system say that opaque development plans mean the public is left in the dark until works are under way. And while the financial crisis has slowed down some of the more rapacious developers, the dried-up cash flow also means that there is less money to spend on quality renovation work.

“An all-round lowering of standards, the triumph of vandalism, and the obstruction of every last vacant space on the skyline is the legacy that the last decade has bequeathed to Moscow,” wrote Anna Bronovitskaya, an art historian. The report also blamed “a theme park approach to a historic city” and an overabundance of cars.

July 24, 2009

Glasgow Exhibition Draws Criticisms from Religious Groups

A publicly funded exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow is allowing people to write on the Bible in the name of art, and visitors have responded with abuse and obscenity, reports Mike Wade for the London Times. The open Bible is a central part of “Made in God’s Image,” and by the book lay a container of pens and a notice saying: “If you feel you have been excluded from the Bible, please write your way back into it.”

The piece was proposed by the Metropolitan Community Church, which said that the idea was to reclaim the Bible as a sacred text. But to the horror of the church, visitors have daubed its pages with comments such as “This is all sexist pish, so disregard it all.”

The artists Anthony Schrag and David Malone, in association with organizations representing gay Christians and Muslims, curated the exhibition. The community church, which celebrates “racial, cultural, linguistic, sexual, gender, and theological diversity,” had suggested the “interactive” Bible and pens and Schrag said he had been intrigued. Jane Clarke, a minister of the community church, said she regretted the insults that had appeared. “The Bible should never be used like that. It was our intention to reclaim it as a sacred text,” she said.

July 23, 2009

Stirling Prize Short List Announced

Farah Nayeri reports for Bloomberg that Richard Rogers, the architect whose design for a London building was blocked by the Prince of Wales, is a two-time nominee for the RIBA Stirling Prize, Britian’s highest architectural distinction.

Rogers carried two of the six nominations for the award, which will be announced on October 17 and is worth thirty-three thousand dollars. His firm Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners was short-listed for Maggie’s Centre for cancer patients in London and the Bodegas Protos winery near Valladolid, Spain, the Royal Institute of British Architects said in a press release.

The other four nominees for the Stirling 2009 are Fuglsang Kunstmuseum, in Denmark, by Tony Fretton Architects; Liverpool One Masterplan, by BDP; 5 Aldermanbury Square, in London, by Eric Parry Architects; and Kentish Town Health Centre, in London, by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris.

July 23, 2009

Major Arts Projects Threatened in Britain

The funding for some of the most prestigious cultural projects in Britain is in jeopardy because a $165 million black hole that has been discovered in the budgets of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, reports Charlotte Higgins for The Guardian. The scale of the department’s spending overcommitment could derail ambitious building projects such as the British Museum's new exhibition wing, Tate Modern’s redevelopment, the British Film Institute’s film center on the South Bank in London, and the Stonehenge visitor center.

The shortfall has emerged in the capital budget for the fiscal years 2009–2010 and 2010–2011. Senior arts sources variously called the funding crisis “a cock-up” and “quite astonishing.” One source said: “It's hopeless management. Everyone will blame the DCMS for being hopeless, and they are fairly hopeless, so it's not unjustified.”

The DCMS refused to comment on why it had got into a situation in which it had overpromised funds for capital projects by approximately $165 million. However, it is understood that the problem was noted several weeks ago and is being addressed by ministers. A DCMS spokesperson said, “Our capital budget is currently overcommitted. Ministers are examining the reasons for this and looking for solutions. It is possible that difficult decisions will be needed, but none has been taken yet.”

July 22, 2009

Ingeborg Hunzinger (1915–2009)

Ingeborg Hunzinger, one of the better-known sculptors of the German Democratic Republic, has died, reports Die Zeit. She was ninety-four years old. Among her most important works was the sculptural work Block der Frauen (Block of Women), which honored the rebellion of the courageous mothers and wives against the forced deportation of Jewish men in Berlin. The group of sculptures was set up in Rosenstrasse in 1995.

In 1936, Hunzinger began teaching at the Steinbildhauerin in Wuerzburg. Under the Nazi regime, Hunzinger’s Jewish identity left her banned from teaching, but she was able to flee to Italy. She returned to Germany in 1942 and spent the last war years in the Schwarzwald. Later, she taught at the Academy of Art in Berlin-Weißensee and from 1953 worked as a freelance artist.

July 22, 2009

Otto Heino (1915–2009)

Otto Heino, the potter, educator, and symbol of the midcentury California studio crafts movement, has died, according to the Los Angeles Times. He was ninety-four.

The Finnish-American Heino, who worked in collaboration with his wife, Vivika, until her death in 1995, earned an international reputation for robust yet beautiful wheel-thrown stoneware.

In the mid-1990s, he became celebrated in Asia for a buttery yellow glaze that he and his wife had labored on for more than a decade. He claimed to have been offered millions for the formula but never sold it.

Still actively producing work for museums, international collectors, and his home gallery until his death, Heino could throw hundred-pound mounds of clay into twenty-four-inch-wide platters. Without assistants or apprentices, he fired kilns of his own design, producing thousands of pieces a year. Those with the prized yellow glaze, popular during the Chin dynasty, sold for twenty-five thousand dollars and up.

“I am the oldest, richest potter in the world,” Heino told the Times in a 2008 interview.

Though he indulged a passion for cars, purchasing a Rolls-Royce and a Bentley, Heino was also a philanthropist, donating his work and funds to ceramic institutions and the Ventura County Museum of History and Art, which staged exhibitions of his work in 1995 and 2005. Christy Johnson, director and curator of the American Museum of Ceramic Art in Pomona, said the Heinos “represented a time when the artist’s character was considered to be part of the beauty of their pieces. Their devotion to the work, to each other, and to teaching contributed to the fine quality of the work.”

July 22, 2009

Nigerian Officials Charged with Stealing National Gallery Funds

Five Nigerian government officials have been charged with stealing more than $6.8 million of funds meant for the country's National Gallery of Art, according to the BBC.

Anticorruption police say gallery head Joe Musa and four colleagues took public money over the past three years for their own personal use. All five deny the charges, and a hearing has been set for October 19–20.

President Umaru Yar'Adua made the fight against corruption a main priority of his administration. The president pledged to crack down on corrupt practices, but critics say that the prosecution process is slow and few officials have so far been convicted.

July 22, 2009

New Editor for Cahiers du Cinéma

Cahiers du cinéma, the French film journal that was the unofficial house organ of the New Wave movement, announced Monday that it had appointed Stéphane Delorme its editor, according to the New York Times. In a news release, the magazine said that Delorme, thirty-five, had written for the magazine since 1998 and has been a member of its editorial committee since 2001, as well as a member of the selection committee of the Directors’ Fortnight, a film series held concurrently with the Cannes Film Festival. The magazine, which published the writing of directors like Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, said that it would continue to be produced in its present form through 2009 and would likely be relaunched in a new version next year. Founded in 1951 by André Bazin, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, Joseph-Marie Lo Duca, and Léonide Keigel, Cahiers du Cinéma was acquired in February by the book publisher Phaidon Press from the newspaper Le Monde.

July 21, 2009

Foster and Koolhaas Selected for Hong Kong Project

Foster + Partners has been given a second chance to master-plan the $2.7 billion West Kowloon Cultural District in Hong Kong, reports Christopher Sell for the Architects’ Journal. The British architect, together with Rem Koolhaas and local designer Rocco Yim Sen-kee, make up the three-strong team named as consultants on the conceptual plans for the cultural and artistic hub. The trio of firms will take part in all five forthcoming public forums on the overall look, ambience, facilities, programs, and activities.

In 2006, Foster’s plans for the site in Victoria Harbour were put on hold while the authorities carried out a “fresh consultation exercise” over the huge waterside proposals. This move was revealed after Hong Kong’s chief secretary Rafael Hui admitted that Foster’s plans––for an enormous glass canopy covering a stretch of reclaimed land––had not been greeted with enthusiasm by potential developers.