July 29, 2009

Leo Mol (1915–2009)

Winnipeg sculptor and artist Leo Mol died Saturday at age ninety-four, according to the CBC.

Born in Ukraine in 1915 as Leonid Molodozhanyn, Mol studied sculpture at the Leningrad Academy of Arts from 1936 to 1940 and in the Hague in 1943. During his career, Mol created works that are on display around the world, including bronze sculptures, ceramic figurines, and stained-glass church windows. In 2002, his sculpture Lumberjacks was featured on a Canadian postage stamp.

More than three hundred of his works—bronze and ceramic sculptures, paintings, and drawings—are displayed in the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden in Winnipeg' s Assiniboine Park. The garden was unveiled in 1992 and has been expanded twice since. In 1989, Mol was appointed an officer of the Order of Canada in recognition of his artistic contributions; in 2000, he was awarded the Order of Manitoba.

July 28, 2009

Merce Cunningham's Company Faces Fund-Raising Challenges

In June, Merce Cunningham announced an initiative called the Living Legacy Plan that would safeguard his work and provide for a smooth transition of assets in the event that he should no longer be able to serve as leader of his New York–based dance company. It was an innovative move in a career marked by innovation. But with Cunningham’s death Sunday, his foundation finds itself in the difficult position of having to fund the eight-million-dollar plan as it goes into effect, David Ng of the Los Angeles Times reports.

The Cunningham Dance Foundation said Monday that it has raised approximately $2.5 million toward the $8 million goal, with most of the money so far coming from lead gifts from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Nonprofit Finance Fund. “While Merce was alive, we had the luxury of time to raise the money. Obviously, the effort is even more urgent now,” said Allan Sperling, a Cunningham Foundation board member and chairman of the legacy committee. Tambra Dillon, the Cunningham Foundation’s director of institutional advancement, said, “We have several large financial prospects pending, and we’re confident that we will reach our goal.”

Cunningham’s Living Legacy Plan provides for a two-year international tour followed by the closure of the dance company. Those cities that are already on the company’s schedule will be absorbed into the final tour. After the company’s closure, dancers, musicians and other staff members will continue to receive compensation and career-transition resources for a limited period, provided that the eight-million-dollar fund-raising goal is met in time, according to company leaders. The plan states that all the company’s assets will be transferred to the Merce Cunningham Trust, which will serve as the custodian. The trust, which was founded several years ago, will continue to administer the performance rights for the dances that Cunningham created during his life. In addition, the company will create a series of “dance capsules”—digital packages containing complete documentation of Cunningham’s repertory work. The company said it has just begun working on the capsules and hopes to have ten completed by June 2010. The Cunningham Foundation said it will take three or more years for the entire legacy plan to be completed. The foundation operates on a budget of approximately five million dollars a year, with half the money coming from donors and half from performance revenue.

July 28, 2009

Kenneth Myers Appointed Chief Curator of Detroit Institute of Arts

Kenneth Myers has been named chief curator of the Detroit Institute of Arts, reports Artinfo. Myers has worked at the museum since 2005, serving as both curator of American art and the head of the American-art department. His previous experience includes teaching at Middlebury College, serving as assistant director for research and publications at the New Jersey Historical Society, and working as curator of American art at the Smithsonian Institution’s Freer Gallery of Art from 1999 to 2005. The museum also announced that Alan P. Darr, curator of European sculpture and decorative arts, has been promoted to head of the European paintings, sculpture, and decorative-arts department. Salvador Salort-Pons, assistant curator of European paintings, has also been promoted to associate curator.

July 28, 2009

Sotheby’s and Ritchies Auction Houses Sever Ties

According to Artnet, the seven-year partnership between Sotheby’s and Canada’s Ritchies auction house came apart amid allegations that the latter failed to pay consigners to a May 25 auction of “Important Canadian Art.” The deadline for paying out to consignors was July 8, which Ritchies apparently missed, causing Sotheby’s Toronto office to issue a statement stressing that “Ritchies is the auctioneer of record and is contractually responsible for paying out all consignors to the auction,” but that “Sotheby’s is communicating with each of those consignors of the May 25 sale that we are voluntarily ensuring that all payments due with respect to that sale will be honored.”

The fact that consigners have gone unpaid is not in dispute, though Ritchies head Stephen Ranger emphasizes that “Ritchies has never reneged on paying a consignor—and we won’t.” What is disputed, however, is just who is breaking with whom. Ranger told the Canwest News Service that it was his firm that was terminating the relationship, and stressed to the National Post that the late payments were “not the only issue of contention, unfortunately”—though did not elaborate further as to what the real issues were. Meanwhile, Sotheby’s Canada head David Silcox has stated that the failure to pay consignors is a “cardinal sin,” and is widely quoted as saying that his firm would not renew its contract with Ritchies, which expires on July 31.

July 28, 2009

International News Digest

NATIONAL GALLERY VIA IPHONE AND ITOUCH?

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.

LIGHTS OUT FOR LIGHTBULB ARTWORKS?

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.

FLASHMOB FOR MICHAEL JACKSON AT THE POMPIDOU

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.”

FINNISH ARTIST GIVES AWAY INSTALLATION

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.”

EXHIBITION CANCELED DUE TO LACK OF FUNDS

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 28, 2009

Artist M. F. Husain Banned Again at India Art Summit, Following Terrorism Threats

For the second year in a row, one of India’s swankiest art events, the India Art Summit, is being overshadowed by terrorism threats, according to Artnet. The event is set for August 19-22, 2009, at the Pragati Maidan exhibition center in New Dehli, with fifty-four galleries—primarily from India, but including a handful from the US (Aicon Gallery, Thomas Erben) and the UK (Artquest, Lisson, Rob Dean Art, and W. H. Patterson). At the inaugural India Art Summit in 2008, controversy swirled around the organizers’ prohibition of the display of works by M. F. Husain, following threats from right-wing Hindu groups. The ban has been repeated for the 2009 edition, to the dismay of Husain’s dealers, members of the Indian art community, and relatives of the ninety-three-year-old artist.

Husain is regularly referred to as a “legend” of the Indian art world. His achievements, however, have been somewhat overshadowed in recent years by a few controversial works depicting Hindu goddesses Durga and Saraswati in the buff (the artist himself is a Muslim), which have inflamed religious sentiments. Threats against his life led him to go into self-imposed exile in 2006—according to the New York Times, at one point there was even an eleven-million-dollar bounty on his head—and he now divides his time between homes in London and Dubai.

On Sunday, organizers of the India Art Summit released a statement once again forbidding inclusion of Husain’s work by exhibitors. “While we acknowledge the lifelong achievements and the iconic status of artists like M. F. Husain in Indian art, ” it read, “we are unable to put the entire collective concern at risk by showcasing artists who have, in the past, been received with hostility by certain sections of the society unless we receive protection from the government and the Delhi police.”

In 2008, the exclusion of Husain drew the attention of foreign luminaries like Robert Storr, who was quoted as saying that “if you have one of the most famous artists of India not present then people should think twice about how it happened. ” Within India, the incident stirred enough passion that a group of supporters, the SAHMAT collective, organized an exhibition of reproductions of Husain works at India International Center in protest—though anti-Husain vandals did in fact disrupt this show, giving some credence to the fair’s concerns.

July 28, 2009

Adjaye Brought to Brink of Insolvency

David Adjaye has been forced to turn to insolvency experts to rescue his firm from the brink of financial collapse, despite pumping in over eight hundred thousand dollars of his own money to keep it afloat, according to Building Design.

Following a period in which it owed more than $1.7 million to creditors, it emerged this week that Adjaye Associates has entered into a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA), a deal to stave off insolvency under which it will repay 43 percent of its debt to creditors including Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs.

Adjaye, who formed Adjaye Associates in 2000 and was short-listed for the Stirling Prize in 2006 for his Whitechapel Idea Store library, has rapidly developed a reputation as an international architect, opening offices in Berlin and New York and earlier this year winning a leading role to design the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC.

Despite its profile, there are now fears that that the firm’s financial problems will see it struggle to enter public competitions in the future due to rules laid down in the Official Journal of the European Union. The Royal Institute of British Architect’s Richard Brindley said it would be difficult for any practice with insolvency problems to win new work.

Lane Bednash, partner at insolvency practitioner Valentine & Co, which is supervising the CVA, said the arrangement had proved necessary when Adjaye Associates opted to keep staff employed after projects in Birmingham, Abu Dhabi, Kuala Lumpur, and India were stopped or delayed.

“[Adjaye] took a calculated risk on the basis those projects would continue, but unfortunately there were problems that the clients hadn’t foreseen,” he said. Accounts from March 2008—the most up-to-date available—show that the company made a loss of $96,760 and owed more than one million dollars to creditors.

Speaking this week, Adjaye admitted the practice had made some staff redundant last year but insisted it was over the worst of its financial problems and would not be forced to close any part of the business, including the American arm, Adjaye Associates. “The CVA is a reality, but it’s nothing to be ashamed of,” he said. “It was difficult last year due to the financial crisis, but we’re through it now. We have enough work on our books and we’re repaying our CVA very well, so we’re in a good place.”

July 28, 2009

Pope Condemns Bible “Vandalism” Exhibition; CAA Signs Anticensorship Brief

The pope has condemned as “disgusting” a Scottish art exhibition that invites visitors to deface a copy of the Bible, reports The Telegraph.

The exhibit, Untitled 2009, is part of the “Made In God’s Image” exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow and was thought up by local artist Anthony Schrag. The intention was for gays and transsexuals who felt left out of religion to “write their way back in” to the holy book. But visitors offered pens by gallery staff had other ideas and have scrawled a series of puerile and obscene remarks.

One person wrote: “This is all sexist pish, so disregard it all,” while another wrote: “Mick Jagger and David Bowie belong in here,” and another described the book as “the biggest lie in human history.” The message “I am Bi, Female & Proud. I want no god who is disappointed in this” was written on the first page of Genesis.

The subsequent complaints have led to the organizers of the exhibit putting the Holy Book on show in a locked case and inviting visitors to write their comments on blank sheets of paper instead.

But it was too late to appease the pope. The adviser to the head of the Catholic Church said the project was “disgusting and offensive.” He added: “They would not think of doing it to the Koran.”

Schrag undertook the project alongside members of the Metropolitan Community Church in Edinburgh. The exhibit also features footage of a woman ripping pages from the Bible and stuffing them into her underwear and mouth.

Church minister Jane Clarke told the Daily Mail she was “saddened” that people had abused the interactive offer. “I had hoped people would show respect for the Bible,” she said.

In unrelated news, the College Art Association has announced that it will support and sign a brief submitted by the National Coalition Against Censorship urging the Supreme Court to uphold the Court of Appeals’ move to strike down US Code Section 48, which criminalizes the commercial depiction of animal cruelty. The law was enacted by Congress in 1999 in order to protect animals, according to the New York Times.

The Court of Appeals struck down the law in the United States v. Stevens, a case that will be argued in the Supreme Court this fall.

CAA president Paul B. Jaskot and executive director Linda Downs write: “The College Art Association joins the National Coalition Against Censorship in urging the Supreme Court to uphold the decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in striking down Section 48 as unconstitutional. Section 48 is unconstitutional because it could deter and punish the production, distribution, and even the simple possession of constitutionally protected speech. If the decision is reversed, not only will some lawful expression depicting animals being killed or injured be subject to criminal sanction, but the ramifications are also far-reaching: Congress and the states could outlaw the creation and possession of artworks that depict certain types of conduct simply on the basis that the conduct itself is illegal.

“This would chill a wide range of expression, including, potentially, art that depicts such criminal activities as terrorist acts, drug use and certain types of sexual behavior. Although CAA does not condone cruelty to animals or any other sort of unlawful conduct, CAA has long and firmly opposed artistic and scholarly censorship of all kinds.”

July 27, 2009

Merce Cunningham (1919–2009)

Merce Cunningham, the American choreographer who was among a handful of twentieth-century figures to make dance a major art and a major form of theater, died Sunday night at his home in Manhattan, writes Alastair Macaulay for the New York Times. He was ninety.

Cunningham ranks with Isadora Duncan, Serge Diaghilev, Martha Graham, and George Balanchine in making people rethink the essence of dance and choreography, posing a series of “But” and “What if?” questions over a career of nearly seven decades.

He went on doing so almost to the last. Until 1989, when he reached the age of seventy, he appeared in every single performance given by his company, Merce Cunningham Dance Company; in 1999, at eighty, though frail and holding onto a barre, he danced a duet with Mikhail Baryshnikov at the New York State Theater. And in 2009, even after observing his ninetieth birthday with the world premiere of the ninety-minute “Nearly Ninety,” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music he went on choreographing for his dancers, telling people as they went to say farewell to him that he was still creating dances in his head.

In his final years he became almost routinely hailed as the world’s greatest choreographer. For many, he had simply been the greatest living artist since Samuel Beckett.

He had also been a nonpareil dancer. The British ballet teacher Richard Glasstone maintains that the three greatest dancers he ever saw were Fred Astaire, Margot Fonteyn, and Cunningham. He was American modern dance’s equivalent of Nijinsky: the long neck, the animal intensity, the amazing leap. In old age, when he could no longer jump and when his feet were gnarled with arthritis, he remained a rivetingly dramatic performer, capable of many moods.

International fame came to him before national fame. Yet he was always a creature of New York. Close to the founding members of the so-called New York Schools of Music, Painting, and Poetry, Cunningham himself, along with Jerome Robbins and the younger Paul Taylor, led the way to founding what can retrospectively be called the New York School of Dance.

These choreographers both combined and rejected the rival influences of modern dance and ballet, notably the senior choreographers Martha Graham and George Balanchine. They absorbed aspects of ordinary pedestrian movement, the natural world, and city life. They tested connections between private subject matter and theatrical expression. And they reexamined the relationship between dance and its sound accompaniment.

With his collaborator and life partner, John Cage, Cunningham’s most celebrated achievement was to have dance and music composed independent of each other. His choreography showed that dance was principally about itself, not music, while often suggesting that it could also be about many other things as well.

Mercier Philip Cunningham was born on April 16, 1919, in Centralia, Washington. Like many artists, he grew up feeling different, “from about age two.” Later, with this in mind, he made a solo for himself called Changeling, 1957. But he also took his birthplace with him. Even the names of Cunningham works like Borst Park, 1972, Inlets, 1977, and Inlets 2, 1983, all made in New York, referred to parts of Washington.

In 1938, his instructor Bonnie Bird at the Cornish School in Seattle hired the young composer John Cage as her chief accompanist and music director. Bird and Cage introduced Cunningham and other dance students to the photography of Edward Weston (whose son was a Cornish student) and to the paintings of Paul Klee and Mark Tobey.

In 1939, Bird took her students to the first West Coast session of the Bennington College modern dance Summer School at Mills College. Cunningham was twenty. His extraordinary dance talent—his jump was phenomenal and remained so for many years—was immediately recognized. He accepted an offer from Martha Graham, and that September moved to New York. Stepping onto a New York sidewalk for the first time, he looked at the skyline and, as he often recalled, said, “This is home.”

Graham, unsure that her teaching methods were sufficient for him, sent him to study at the School of American Ballet. The second man to dance in Graham’s previously all-female company, Cunningham, remained a member of it until 1945. In 1942, Cage and his wife, Xenia, an artist, arrived in New York. Cage urged Cunningham to choreograph, and the two began to develop what would emerge in the early ’50s as the most radical of their ideas about dance theater—that dance and music should be performed at the same time but prepared separately, both autonomous and coexistent.

They also became lovers, and the ensuing breakup of the Cages’ marriage was painful. For many years only a few people realized that the Cage-Cunningham relationship was sexual. Although their offstage partnership became an open secret, the subject was not open until 1989, when Cage, answering an unexpected public question about it, surprised everyone by replying, “I do the cooking, and Merce does the dishes.”

Cunningham began to present his own choreography in 1942. In 1944, with music by Cage, he presented a performance of dance solos that he later regarded as the true beginning of his career as a choreographer.

It took many years before Cunningham achieved celebrity as an independent choreographer. Perhaps this long period of relative obscurity allowed him to experiment. Like Cage and other composers, as well as several painters, he began to play with chance as a compositional tool. The point had nothing to do with improvisation; Cunningham choreography was very precisely made. Rather, he wanted to banish predictable compositional habits.

He and Cage were excited by the summer schools they attended at the Black Mountain College in North Carolina. It was there, in 1953, that the Merce Cunningham Dance Company gave its first performances, and it was there that Cunningham and Cage met the young painter Robert Rauschenberg, who embraced their ideas.

With Rauschenberg, the Cunningham dance theater became a three-way demonstration of the autonomy of the theater arts. The dancers often did not know what their costumes, decor, or music would be until the dress rehearsal or first night. Cunningham, Cage, and Rauschenberg all found this liberating, and the work cemented them as colleagues: In tours across America, Cage would drive the company van while Rauschenberg took charge of the lighting.

From the mid-’40s, Mr. Cunningham began using other composers as well, including David Tudor, Christian Wolff, Earle Brown, Morton Feldman, and Toshi Ichiyanagi and in recent years Brian Eno, Gavin Bryars, and (in 2009) Sonic Youth.

Cunningham continued to experiment. In the ’70s, he became fascinated by filming dance. In 1989, he began to explore composing dances on a computer. This became, until late in his life, his main method of dance-making.

John Cage died in 1992. Although he had advocated the autonomy of the arts, he was often a controlling figure. Cunningham once said of life without Cage: “On the one hand, I come home at the end of the day and John’s not there. On the other hand, I come home and John’s not there.”

Cunningham often spoke and wrote movingly about the nature of dance and would laugh about its maddening impermanence. “You have to love dancing to stick to it,” he once wrote. “It gives you nothing back, no manuscripts to store away, no paintings to show on walls and maybe hang in museums, no poems to be printed and sold, nothing but that single fleeting moment when you feel alive.”