Art imitates life, or life imitates art?

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Finding visual references, Making an art history comparison, Photo of the day

I recently took a day trip up into New York State along the Hudson River, with stops at Dia:Beacon as well as the town of Kingston. When I first saw this Richard Serra sculpture at Dia:Beacon, I saw it in terms of Serra’s work overall, meaning I was visually reading it as a massive curved abstract sculpture filling a tight space, forcing the viewer to react to it in a confined environment. The title of this sculpture is “Union of the Torus and the Sphere,” made by Serra in 2001.

However, when I was exploring the waterfront in Kingston later in the day, I encountered this view of the bow of the 1898 steam tugboat “Mathilda.” This suddenly gave me a different perspective on Serra’s piece, as it now felt more like a slightly distorted bow of a large ocean liner. My guess is that Serra didn’t intend it to be such a specific visual reference to a boat, but with seeing these both on the same day, it was hard for me to avoid the correlation.

In his 1889 essay The Decay of Lying, Oscar Wilde wrote that “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.” What do you think? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below. Also, scroll down below the first picture for some additional comparison views between the Serra sculpture and the Mathilda tugboat.

Richard Serra sculpture and Mathilda Tugboat

Richard Serra sculpture and Mathilda tugboat

Views of Richard Serra sculpture and Tugboat Mathilda

Fashion and art similarities 400 years apart

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Art and Fashion, Art History, Finding visual references, Making an art history comparison

I really enjoyed a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art last Saturday, and as I’m looking through the pictures I took of favorite art works, I’m finding some interesting comparisons between wildly different objects, such as the painting by Hans Holbein the Younger next to a baseball card, as I noted in my last post.

Here’s another comparison, this time featuring the painting Portrait of a Woman, 1632, by Rembrandt van Rijn, below left, alongside this example of womenswear for Comme des Garcons by noted fashion designer Rei Kawakubo, which is part of the exhibition “Art of the In-Between” currently on view at the Met. (scroll down for more)

ruff collars in works by Rembrandt and Rei Kawakubo

The visual similarities of black and white clothes is one thing, but what I really like is Kawakubo’s avant-garde take on a spiky version of the “ruff collar” seen in Rembrandt’s painting as well as many other paintings by Dutch masters such as Frans Hals, Nicolaes Maes, and Jan Daemen Cool, among others.

Did you know we have an interactive arts game involving ruff collars? Check out the Frans Hals Ring Toss Game!

Baseball cards and fine art

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Art and Sports, Art That Makes You Go "Huh?", Finding visual references, Making an art history comparison

I mentioned seeing a selection of baseball cards at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in my last post, but that wasn’t the only thing I saw on my visit to the museum last Saturday. I made my way through the Modern and Contemporary Art Wing, spent some time in the American Wing, and also wandered through the section of European Paintings from 1250-1800, where I saw this portrait of Hermann von Wedigh III from 1532 (below left) by Hans Holbein the Younger. Considering I saw this painting after viewing the baseball cards, it made me realize there are some similarities in style and presentation with certain baseball cards to fine art such as Holbein’s painting. Check out this baseball card of Fred Fitzsimmons from the 1933 Goudey set … both images show the upper body and head of the man against a bright blue background, looking directly out at the viewer. Both images also feature writing in all caps in the picture area, and both men have an object in their hands.

To be honest, I’m sure the graphic designer working on the 1933 Goudey set wasn’t thinking of Hans Holbein the Younger when he set up the Fred Fitzsimmons baseball card, but it’s fun to find this comparison point between two wildly different types of objects at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Hans Holbein painting and Fred Fitzsimmons baseball card at the Met

Baseball cards at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Art and Sports, Art News

A friend of mine was a bit surprised when I texted him from the Metropolitan Museum of Art the other day, telling him about an exhibition of baseball cards that I was seeing there. I think a lot of people might be surprised to learn that the Met has a significant collection of baseball cards, and that they display a small selection of them on a regular basis (although in a very obscure, not so easy to find, back corner of the museum). Below left is a selection of 1887 “Gold Coin Tobacco Issue” baseball cards currently on display, and below right is a view of how the Met is displaying the cards in small groupings, matted and framed. Scroll down for more …

baseball cards from the Burdick Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Met’s holdings of baseball cards total approximately 30,000, and they come from a collection of over 300,000 objects of “printed ephemera” donated to the museum in the 1950s by Syracuse electrician and collector Jefferson R. Burdick (1900–1963). If you’re wondering what we mean by ephemera, it describes items of collectible printed memorabilia, and in the case of Burdick’s collection, includes advertising inserts, postcards, and posters, in addition to the baseball cards.

This was actually the 2nd time I’ve seen the baseball cards on display at the Met, and it was a completely different group of cards from what I saw the first time. The area where they display them is small – maybe 50 feet of wall space – so there might only be 150 or so cards on display from the collection of 30,000 at any time. The big question my friend had was: “do they have the Honus Wagner card?” It was not on display either time I visited this collection at the museum, but they do have it. If you’re wondering what the Honus Wagner card is, it’s like the Mona Lisa of baseball cards. I don’t mean that in an artistic sense, because the imagery of the card is not anything different or unique from the other cards which were issued by the American Tobacco Company between 1909 and 1911. I call it the “Mona Lisa of baseball cards” because it’s probably the most-recognized and best-known card due to its rarity and value. It’s a good story – the American Tobacco Company made a series of baseball cards to promote sixteen different brands of cigarettes and loose tobacco, and once Wagner found out his likeness was being used in this way, he insisted that they cease production of the card, as he apparently did not want tobacco products to be sold to children. The exact number of Honus Wagner cards in existence is unknown, but the estimated number is anywhere between 50 to 200 cards, which kind of adds to the mysterious legend of the card, since that’s a pretty wide range of estimates. The full set that the American Tobacco Company put out consisted of 524 different cards, and the total production is estimated to be tens of thousands of cards for any given player, so you can see how the Wagner card becomes extemely rare by comparison.

Below left is the famous Honus Wagner T206 card, alongside a selection of examples of other cards from the same series.

Honus Wagner baseball card and other T206 cards

I mentioned the value of this card earlier … and you may be wondering, how much is it worth? A Wagner T206 card sold in 2016 for a record price of $3.12 million! Granted, the value of any one Wagner card depends on its condition, so it’s not like all of them are worth that much. You can read more about this famous baseball card here.

As far as viewing this card at the Met, here’s a quote from Freyda Spira, the assistant curator of the museum’s Department of Drawings and Prints: “… we have to limit the amount of exposure it gets in order to maintain its quality. It’s only up every three years or so, because it can’t really be up more than that.” My guess is that they want to limit the exposure to light, so that it doesn’t fade, but considering the obscure location of these cards in the back of the museum, I’d also guess they don’t want to have to set a permanent security guard back there either. Hopefully I’ll find a time when it is on display, and I’ll enjoy checking in on the rotating collection on future visits.

“Lost Jackson Pollock” found in a garage

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Art History, Art News, Found art

I saw an ad in the paper for a “Lost Jackson Pollock” coming up for auction on June 20th at J. Levine Auction & Appraisal in Scottsdale, AZ, and of course this prompts my curiosity. You can read the story in a number of sources online, but here’s the basic overview: a man in Scottsdale was planning a move to a retirement home, and a neighbor came to help with the move. When going through the garage, they found a signed Los Angeles Lakers poster from the 1990s, and thought it might be worth a few hundred bucks. But behind the poster were stacked a number of paintings, including works that were later confirmed to be by noted artists Kenneth Noland and Jules Olitski. The man who had these in his garage had taken possession of them when his half-sister, Jenifer Gordon Cosgriff, died in the 1990s, leaving them behind. He didn’t give much thought to what any of these paintings might be, until the person coming to appraise the Lakers poster thought that it looked like a Pollock.

Jackson Pollock found in Scottsdale AZ garage

The key in leading to the possibility that this is a Pollock is the fact that Jenifer Gordon Cosgriff lived in New York and was a good friend of Clement Greenberg, an influential art critic who was a major supporter of Abstract Expressionism, and Jackson Pollock in particular. But more importantly than the friend-of-a-friend connection, they tried to track Gordon Cosgriff to a Pollock showing where she reasonably could have acquired the painting in question. Once this was confirmed, the auctioneer brought forensics experts into the mix to analyze the painting itself. “Based on their work and findings, I believe this painting was one of Pollock’s missing gouaches in his catalogue raisonné from the period of 1945 to 1949,” says the auctioneer, J. Levine (pictured above left). However, scholars often debate the authenticity of Pollock paintings, and the Pollock-Krasner Foundation does not authenticate paintings, and so one cannot say with 100% certainty that this is an original Pollock.

I’m not going to pretend that I’m a Jackson Pollock expert by any stretch, but at first glance, the thing that seems “off” to me are these light colored “loop” brushstrokes in the painting (circled in red). The base part of the painting has a Pollock-like feel of the drips that he is known for, but there’s something strange about these loops, which seem hand-applied with a brush rather than dripped like the rest of it. Let’s take a look at some other Pollock works and see if we can find any similar loops.

strange loop marks in a supposed Jackson Pollock painting

Despite my initial skepticism, it’s interesting that one of my first finds in a search is this famous Pollock from MoMA’s permanent collection titled “The She-Wolf” from 1943. You can see a close-up view (below right) with some loops that comes from the near-left side of the full painting, which is seen below left. These loops are also on top of drips and splatters, so maybe my first reaction is not so accurate.

Jackson Pollock She Wolf from MoMA

I decided to look further in a major Pollock monograph by Ellen G. Landau to see what I could find, and I’ll be the first to admit that my initial hunch seems way off-base, as I’m finding loops elsewhere in his work from the 1940s. I guess I have the large-scale drip paintings (like the ones in this feature) so ingrained in my visual memory that I was overlooking the presence of many loops throughout his work. I’ll include a few details of works found in the book below. Clockwise, from top left, we have: detail from “Pasiphae,” 1943; detail from “Guardians of the Secret,” 1943; detail from “The Key,” 1946; and detail from “Alchemy,” 1947.

a look at 4 examples of Jackson Pollock mark-making

I don’t know, what do you think? Is the mark-making of these loops similar enough to suggest that the Scottsdale Pollock is real? Or is the investigative connections between Gordon Cosgriff and Pollock enough to make a conclusion? Please share your thoughts in the comments below …

Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait’s approach might not work for me

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Art That Makes You Go "Huh?", Making an art history comparison, Photo of the day

There’s a wooded area on the edge of our backyard, and we have semi-regular sightings of deer coming around to graze in the area. This buck, below left, came by recently, and it brought to mind the Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait painting at the Brooklyn Museum, which has the funny title “The Reprimand. Ah! You Naughty Fawn, You Have Been Eating the Flowers Again,” from 1852. You can see a detail of it below right, and the full painting below these first 2 images. I don’t think this approach would work for me … although the deer around here do seem desensitized to a human presence relatively nearby (such as when I took this picture), they’re not about to listen to any reprimands any time soon!

a deer in my backyard and a detail from The Reprimand by Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait

fawn reprimand painting by Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait at the Brooklyn Museum

Visiting Dia:Beacon in Beacon, NY

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Art Museum exhibitions, Sculpture

As I mentioned in my last post, I was visiting Beacon, NY today, and of course the main reason for going there was to see the Dia:Beacon Riggio Galleries. I had been there once before, maybe 8 or 10 years ago, so it was good to get back and see it again. A couple of my favorites which I remembered from my first visit – and was glad to get reacquainted with them again – included this sculpture by Louise Bourgeois titled “Crouching Spider,” from 2003.

Crouching Spider by Louise Bourgeois

Another favorite area is the mezzanine where they have 4 or 5 monumental Richard Serra sculptures all in the same long room. It’s an amazing experience to walk around (and at times inside of) these massive sculptures.

installation of sculptures by Richard Serra

For more information on visiting Dia:Beacon, check out their website here.

Man with puppy sculpture in Beacon, NY

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Found art, Photo of the day, Sculpture

I was visiting Beacon, NY today, and as I was walking down Main Street, I noticed this sculpture of a man with a puppy on his chest, laying down in the grass (it’s on the north side of Main Street just off of North Cedar Street). I saw several other public sculptures on Main Street that had little plaques with the artist’s name and title of the art work, but not for this one … does anyone know who the artist is? (if so, please share with us so that we can properly credit the artist here).

sculpture of man laying in grass with puppy on chest, in Beacon NY

The other sculptures that had plaques (we’ll show some of them soon) were all part of a public sculpture initiative by an organization called Beacon 3D … I don’t see this particular sculpture on their website, but the same location (in this yard surrounded by buildings on 3 sides) is on the site … maybe they can help me ID the artist. At any rate, I love this piece and the way it was situated in the grass, with the figures laying out in the sun – exactly what a real dog owner and his or her puppy might do.

sculpture of man with dog laying in grass in a lot on Main Street in Beacon, NY

Blue Black leads to Red and Yellow

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Art History, Art Museum exhibitions, Art project

The New York Times had an article recently about the artist Glenn Ligon, who has curated an exhibition titled “Blue Black” at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louis. The exhibition will feature 54 works by 42 artists, including Mr. Ligon himself, and will focus on the topic of “… power dynamics, spirituality and the blues as a state of mind.”

It was a trio of pictures from the exhibition that caught my attention, however – I thought it was an interesting selection of works to pair together (from left): Carrie Mae Weems, “Blue Black Boy,” (1997); Kerry James Marshall, “Untitled (policeman)” (2015); and Andy Warhol, “Liz #4” (1963). The common denominator of image colors is the obvious tie here, but the subject matter of these three images in particular could definitely open up a number of conversations about several topics.

Blue Black exhibition at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation

At this point, however, rather than dive deeper into the exhibition concept (since you can do that by reading the Times article), I wanted to have some fun from a curatorial standpoint. I like what Ligon has done by putting these three images together, and I wanted to see if I could play the role of virtual curator and come up with some interesting pairings in other colors.

Here’s a trio of red seated figures, from left: Otto Dix, “Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia von Harden,” (1926); Chaim Soutine, “Le Groom,” (1925); and Picasso’s “Saltimbanque Seated with Arms Crossed,”(1923).

paintings by Otto Dix, Chaim Soutine and Pablo Picasso

Here’s my yellow group, at top: Giorgio de Chirico, “The Dream Turns,” (1913); bottom left: Roy Lichtenstein, “Yellow Still Life,” (1974); and bottom right: Jan Davidsz De Heem, “Still Life with a wine glass, lemon peel, peaches, grapes and cherries on the corner of a partly draped wooden table,” (1643).

paintings by De Chirico, Roy Lichtenstein, and Jan Davidsz De Heem

New graffiti game review by the Bushwick Daily

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Art games, Art News, Graffiti, Street Art

Yesterday we released a new game called The Graffiti Challenge, in which you play as a NYC graffiti artist who travels between Manhattan, Williamsburg and Bushwick in order to look for locations to paint graffiti and to observe graffiti made by real-world graffiti artists. Today, the game was reviewed by Jacque Medina at the Bushwick Daily, who referred to the game as “profoundly inventive.” Thank you! Click here or on the picture to see the full write-up at Bushwick Daily. Click here to play the game.

Review of the Graffiti Challenge by the Bushwick Daily