Jean-Michel Basquiat and Kerouac’s Subterraneans

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Art History, New York art world in the 1980s

I mentioned recently that I found a bunch of old art magazine articles from the 1980s and early 1990s in my basement … it makes for some interesting reading from an art historical perspective, considering these articles are now 25-30 years old.

One in particular which is quite interesting is titled “The Business of Art” by Allan Schwartzman from “Arts Magazine,” published in November 1988 (“Arts Magazine” went out of business in 1992). Jean-Michel Basquiat had died only 3 months earlier, and the article was trying to make sense of how Basquiat might be viewed in art historical terms now that he had died. The article was accompanied by the picture of Jean-Michel Basquiat holding a copy of Jack Kerouac’s “The Subterraneans,” which was noted as being the gallery announcement for Basquiat’s last show at Vrej Baghoomian Gallery in April-June of 1988. Scroll down for more …

Jean-Michel Basquiat holding a copy of The Subterraneans by Jack Kerouac

I vaguely remember the Baghoomian Gallery, and in trying to find out more about him and his career as an art dealer, I’m not finding much. I did find these interesting pictures, all taken in Basquiat’s studio sometime in 1988, clearly on the same day – we’ve got Baghoomian in front of unfinished Basquiat canvas, top right; Basquiat pointing a toy gun at his head in front of the same painting, and Basquiat with his then-girlfriend, Kelle Inman, also in front of the same painting. I find the gallery invite image especially interesting, though, in terms of Basquiat and his dealer, Baghoomian, promoting the artist as a persona more so than promoting an artwork from the show. Think about it – most gallery invitations showcase one of the more-important art works from the exhibition; but here, Basquiat and Baghoomian are promoting Basquiat as a beatnik, Basquiat as a “subterranean,” which in itself might be a play on the famous story of Basquiat living in the basement of Annina Nosei’s gallery.

Schwartzman’s article asks some of the same questions about the persona of Basquiat being cultivated, wondering if he would be remembered as the “wild child” exploited by the greedy art world? Or as the ambitious, young, upper-middle-class artist violating the system by skipping art school and having immediate fame and success? Or the artist who used Warhol for status? Or Warhol latching on to Basquiat to regain some glory? Was he a “limited season success, a one-liner?”

I think we all know the answers to this now, all these years (and auction records, and museum surveys) later. But it’s interesting to get this slice of Basquiat coverage only 3 months after his death, when no one was really sure what to make of the whole thing.

Basketball cards and fine art: Skybox and Donald Judd

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Art and Sports, Art That Makes You Go "Huh?", Products we'd like to see

From the same series of 1991-92 Skybox basketball cards that brought us Manute Bol as a figure in an El Greco painting, we’ve got this gem: Bob Thornton of the Minnesota Timberwolves standing in front of what looks very much like a Donald Judd sculpture. In this case, we were even able to track down a specific Judd sculpture: “Untitled (Bernstein 88-25),” an anodized aluminum sculpture from 1988, pictured below right.

Of course we know Bob Thornton was not playing basketball in an art museum, and it’s just a computer-generated background – but you have to wonder if the Skybox artist was thinking about Donald Judd when he designed this card.

Bob Thornton of the Minnesota Timberwolves with a Donald Judd sculpture

Buffalo Nickels, Ben Franklin, and the art of James Earle Fraser

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Art History, Artist Spotlight, Found art, Sculpture

I was going through my coin jar today, and was surprised to find a buffalo nickel. I found out that it’s not worth much, because the date has been worn off, and therefore it can’t be determined whether it’s rare or not. But I like the visual style of it, and was curious as to whether there was any info on who designed it.

Sure enough there is info, and the artist’s name was James Earle Fraser, who was commissioned in 1911 to design the nickel by officials in President Taft’s administration. Below is a picture of Fraser along with the buffalo nickel that I found today.

James Earle Fraser is the artist who designed the buffalo nickel

James Earle Fraser was born in Winona, Minnesota in 1876, and studied art at the The School of The Art Institute of Chicago in 1890, and later at the École des Beaux Arts and the Académie Julian in Paris. He was a pretty busy sculptor throughout the first half of the twentieth century, with many significant works to his name. Four of his better-known pieces are pictured below, clockwise from top left: The Benjamin Franklin Memorial at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia; “The End of the Trail,” circa 1915, at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City; “Contemplation of Justice,” at the United States Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C.; and “Aspiration & Literature,” also located in Washington, D.C.

famous works of art by James Earle Fraser

Fraser sounds like a pretty interesting character from what I’ve read about him just today … I think we’ll have to revisit his art and life again later on the Artsology blog with more in-depth research, especially related to the “End of the Trail” piece – there’s a long story there that deserves some coverage of its own.

Comics and Comic Art Auction at Heritage Auctions

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Art News, Comic Book Art, Finding visual references, Making an art history comparison

I saw an ad in the NY Times for an upcoming auction of Comics and Comic Art on May 13th at Heritage Auctions. One might dismiss a comic book auction as something that might take place in some cheesy hotel meeting room, but this one has previews on May 12th at 445 Park Avenue (at 57th Street) in NYC, followed by the actual auction on May 13th at the Waldorf Astoria, also on Park Avenue.

They have some high-profile and to-be-expected items, like Superman #1 (Summer 1939) with a current bid sitting at $24,000, as well as Amazing Fantasy #15 (August 1962) which featured the introduction of Spiderman, with a current bid of $18,000.

In looking through the offerings, I came up with a couple items that were a little more off-beat, or unexpected, that caught my eye. Below left we have Richie Rich #1 (November 1960), which is currently priced at $35,000. This caught me by surprise – why would this be more-valuable than the first Superman or Spiderman? I guess he’s more-popular than I realized: the character Richie Rich was featured in over 50 different comic book series, and was the publisher’s (Harvey Comics) most-popular character. Considering the current resentment against “The 1%,” one might wonder why this is so, but “despite any negative stereotypes associated with his incredible wealth, Richie Rich is portrayed as kind and charitable” (says his Wikipedia page). I like this description: “A mix of James Bond and Indiana Jones with the bank account of Donald Trump, Richie Rich is an altruistic adventurer who travels the world helping the less fortunate!” I like the sound of that … maybe I need to start reading Richie Rich comics!

comic book auction at Heritage Auctions

I’m also including this Batman comic book from the auction – I just like the humorous cover with the repeating imagery inside of itself. There’s not a whole lot of info as to why this one is valuable (current bid, $1,400), other than maybe this quirky cover or the age of the comic book (December 1941). One of the stories included in this issues details Batman and Robin being invited to Washington D.C., where they are honored by the President and the director of the FBI, who had been wounded by the Joker in an attempt on Batman’s life.

But I learned something new in highlighting this Batman comic – I was curious as to “what’s it called when an image is repeated within itself,” and learned that it’s called “The Droste Effect.” The effect is named after the image on the tins and boxes of Droste cocoa powder (pictured below left), which was introduced in 1904 and popular for decades. But one could argue that a glance through art history shows this effect being used much earlier than Droste’s packaging in 1904: a look at the Stefaneschi Triptych (below right), painted by Giotto in 1320. First note the overall shape of Giotto’s triptych, in the top picture, and then notice the person in the yellow box, with a detail shown below that … he’s offering a mini version of the same overall triptych to the man on the throne. A little research shows that it’s St. Peter on the throne, and Cardinal Giacomo Gaetani Stefaneschi (who commissioned Giotto to make this alterpiece), offering the alterpiece to St. Peter. Scroll down for an even-closer detail showing this image-within-the-image effect. Perhaps the “Droste Effect” should be renamed the “Giotto Effect!”

The Droste Effect and a triptych by Giotto

a detailed view of Giotto alterpiece The Stefaneschi Triptych

The Chicken Church

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Architecture, Art That Makes You Go "Huh?", Optical Illusions, Photo of the day

A first glance at The Church by the Sea in Madeira Beach, Florida, reveals nothing too unusual: a few palm trees, stairs coming down from a 2nd floor room, stained glass windows. Not a whole lot to say about it from this view in the parking lot. But let’s go around to another side of the church …

The Church by the Sea, Madeira Beach, FL

One could easily say from this view that perhaps the “Church by the Sea” is also the “Chicken of the Sea.” It has a pretty strong resemblance to a big bird from this angle, one that even the church itself seems to play up, considering the image in their logo from their website, seen below in the bottom right corner.

The Chicken Church, Church by the Sea in Florida

Photography as art – it depends on how you frame it

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Art That Makes You Go "Huh?", Found art, Photo of the day, Photography

I have a neighbor down the street who has always had an unusual front yard … it’s always covered with hard, flat moss, while everyone else on the street has nice grass. You’d think I’d have something better to do than pay attention to a neighbor’s mossy front yard (and I do! Honestly!), but I’ve always thought it looked pretty cool and wondered why only his yard looked that way.

Lately, something happened where all the moss was broken up into chunks and looks like a rugged landscape, and I decided to take a picture of it, thinking there was something artistic about the way it looked. But as I post this picture of a neighbor’s front yard on this arts blog, are you wondering if I’m going to start posting pictures of drying paint next? Where’s the “art” here? Scroll down for more …

abstract looking surface of moss in a front yard

Photography as art used to be more clear-cut – you had artists such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Harry Callahan, and Robert Frank, among many others – who are truly artists who used a camera. And now you have everyone who has a cell phone posting pictures, and it seems like everyone wants to be an “artist” (me included). Truth be told, you can find plenty of absolutely amazing photographs on Instagram, Facebook, and elsewhere, all shot with simple phone cameras, and you wonder, where do you draw the line with determining what is “art?”

Sometimes I think it all depends on how you present it – you can look at a picture on a cell phone and say “yeah, whatever.” Or you can take the same picture, change the scale, frame it, put it in a gallery space, and suddenly it’s art. Or is it? Here’s a couple of my moss pictures in a different setting – what do you think of them compared to the first one? Click on the blog post title link and share your thoughts in the comments section.

fine art photography from cell phones

Studio Job at MAD (Museum of Arts and Design)

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Art Museum exhibitions, Art News, Furniture, Products we'd like to see, Sculpture

I thought after living either in or around NYC for the past 25 years that I had been to most of the museums in the area, but I guess that’s a foolish thought to have … I haven’t been to MAD, and to be honest, hadn’t really heard of it before now! “Mad” is the “Museum of Arts and Design” on Columbus Circle, at the southwest corner of Central Park. I think they also have one of the more-cool logo designs I’ve seen for a museum, as well as a cool building (see top left, below).

I think I need to pay a visit to MAD, though, based on what I’m seeing regarding their current show: “Studio Job: MAD HOUSE,” which runs from March 22 to August 21, 2016. This exhibition is the first American solo museum exhibition of the work of collaborators Job Smeets (Belgian, b. 1970) and Nynke Tynagel (Dutch, b. 1977), who established their atelier, Studio Job, in Antwerp in 2000. As you can see by the two examples of their work below, they make some pretty crazy stuff. Top right (below) is “Perished Bench,” from their “Perished” collection featuring images of animal skeletons. It’s made of macassar ebony with laser-cut bird’s eye maple inlays. At the bottom is “Train Crash,” a bronze sculpture/table which – according to Smeets – symbolizes the romantic break-up of the two designers. Smeets said, “although we’re still creative partners, the energy caused by this abrupt ending is also the beginning of a new direction in our lives and an important inspiration for new work.”

I’d like to provide a link to the Studio Job website, but want to mention in advance that the home page just shows their name … so I’ll link to the page that one reaches when you click through to enter the site – it’s a minimalist-looking page (quite a contrast to the outrageous visual quality of their work) with a listing of calendar events and links. But here’s why I want you to check it out – when you click this link, make sure to have your volume on, as they play a short and unusual music piece. Once it’s over the page goes blank. It’s a pretty funky concept for a web page, and just adds to their “cool factor,” in my mind.

What’s also interesting about this duo is that while they are “designers,” in many ways they blur the line between design and fine art. They often sell their work to collectors via galleries rather than to decorators via showrooms, yet they’re not fully “fine artists” because their work still retains a function, such as this bench and table. I don’t know about you, but if I had the money to spend $71,500 on this bench (as it sold for this price in auction at Sotheby’s), I don’t know how much time I’d actually spend sitting on it!

Museum of Arts and Design exhibition featuring Studio Job

U2’s The Edge performs at the Sistine Chapel

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Art News, Music

I was just running an errand and the DJ on the radio said something about The Edge (from U2) and the Sistine Chapel … I couldn’t help but come home and look up what that was all about.

The Edge was in Rome for a conference on regenerative medicines, having an interest in the subject due to his father having died of cancer and his daughter having fought leukemia. He’s also a board member of the Angiogenesis Foundation, an organization whose mission is to improve global health by advancing angiogenesis-based medicine, diet, and lifestyle. He was asked to perform in The Sistine Chapel as part of the Cellular Horizons conference, where over two hundred scientists, doctors, researchers and philanthropists came together to discuss ways to combat diseases like cancer.

Check out this brief clip of The Edge performing in the Sistine Chapel, with a great camera pan up to the ceiling to see Michelangelo’s masterpiece:

What’s in the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art?

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Art Museum exhibitions, Art News

I read an article in the NY Times recently about the political battle in Chicago over waterfront property with George Lucas and Mayor Rahm Emmanuel on one side and a local activist group called “Friends of the Parks” on the other side. Lucas would like to use the land to develop his planned museum dedicated to Narrative Art, and the opposition would like to keep the space as a public park. There’s no opposition to the museum or its holdings, just to the waterfront location.

At any rate, I’m not too interested in the political battles, but I am curious as to what exactly is in the collection that will eventually make up this museum, when and if it obtains an actual property. According to the Times, it includes George Lucas’s art collection, so it’s not just going to be Star Wars and Indiana Jones-related items. The collection includes illustration, children’s art, comic art, and photography, as per the collection’s overview page. I’m going to browse through and select a few favorites to share with you here, to give you a better idea of what is in the collection.

Below left we have a Norman Rockwell painting, “Dreams of Long Ago,” circa 1927. Below right we have “Warrior on Steed” by Frank Frazetta, circa 1984, both of which are from the “Illustration” section of the collection.

Norman Rockwell and Frank Frazetta

Here’s two examples from the “Comics” section: at left, David Levine, “Andy Warhol as Dopey,” (no date given). At right we have a detail from Jean-Luc Giraud’s “Starwatcher II,” from 1985.

Art by David Levine and Jean-Luc Moebius Giraud

Two examples from the “Photography” section include at left: Alfred Stieglitz, “The Steerage,” 1911, and at right: Dorothea Lange, “Migrant Mother,” 1936.

Stieglitz The Steerage and Lange Migrant Mother

It’s not surprising that Lucas would have collected top-level art such as these works by these artists … hopefully the disagreements over placement of the museum can be resolved sooner rather than later so that this amazing collection can be shared with the public.

Check out some library books with your Shepard Fairey card

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Art News, Art That Makes You Go "Huh?", Products we'd like to see

On April 19th, the Los Angeles Public Library system presented their first artist-designed, limited-edition library card featuring art by Shepard Fairey. You can see Fairey pulling back the curtain to reveal his design at the press launch for this special event. The card is available at all 73 locations of the Los Angeles Public Library. So if you’re in L.A. and want to do us a favor, pick us up one and send it to us to add to our collection of curious art-related objects.

library card for Los Angeles Public Library by Shepard Fairey

It’s a nice card, but considering that Fairey initially got famous for his Andre the Giant “Obey” street art campaign, wouldn’t it be cool if he had designed a card instead featuring a tough librarian imploring people to “obey” and return books on time in order to avoid fines? Here’s our idea for a different type of Shepard Fairey library card:

Our design for a Shepard Fairey library card