Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘art’

18 JULY, 2011

Ai Weiwei: Without Fear or Favour, a BBC Documentary

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Exploring the role of art as an agent of change, or what 100 million porcelain seeds have to do with Twitter.

Creative visionary, political activist and post-modern Renaissance man Ai Weiwei is China’s most widely known and politically vocal contemporary artist. His now-legendary Sunflower Seeds installation for the Tate Modern in October 2010, which took 2.5 years and 1,600 Chinese artisans to produce 100 million hand-crafted sunflower seeds from the finest Chinese porcelain, offered powerful commentary on consumerism, Chinese industry, human rights and collective labor. In February 2011, a 220-pound pile of the seeds sold for $559,394 at Sotheby’s in London. On 3 April, 2011, Ai Weiwei was detained under harsh conditions for over two months without any official charges being filed, on allegations of “economic crimes.”

On June 22 2011, following a large and sustained outcry by international human rights organizations and prolific Western media coverage, the Chinese government released Ai Weiwei on bail, under a number of conditions. But the controversy surrounding his work and the provocative political questions raised by his arrest remain an important part of the global dialogue on art, activism and freedom of speech.

He uses the publicity he gets in a very knowing way, and he uses exhibitions and projects, like the Bird’s Nest stadium, as a platform to be visible and to be able to turn them against themselves. And that’s extremely interesting, and a very sophisticated way of being an artist.”

This fascinating hour-long documentary titled Ai Weiwei: Without Fear or Favour, released by BBC One’s Imagine program earlier this year and recorded shortly prior to Ai Weiwei’s arrest, helps contextualize his work, its cultural significance and its implicit political tensions. Ironically, the film — which deals with issues of openness, censorship and accessibility — is not viewable outside the U.K. thanks to BBC’s restrictive digital media policies, but it’s available on YouTube in its entirety, at least for the time being, thanks to what seems to be Ai Weiwei’s own Chinese YouTube account. Enjoy.

Ai Weiwei is, to my mind, the most significant Chinese artist we are aware of in the West. He’s articulate, he’s passionate, he goes to the edge, he’s unafraid of criticizing the politics and the situation in his own country, nor indeed is he afraid of criticizing Western capitalism.”

For more on Ai Weiwei, his work and convictions, look no further than the excellent Ai Weiwei’s Blog: Writings, Interviews, and Digital Rants, 2006-2009, culled from the salvaged archive of the artist’s blog, which was taken down by the Chinese authorities in 2009. Courageous, honest and effusively eloquent, Ai Weiwei’s writing offers a rare lens on the mental and physical state of present-day China, the role of contemporary art in politics, and the role of the artist as an agent of change.

via +Mel Exon

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18 JULY, 2011

A Brief Visual History of Vintage Typographic Scripts

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From Victorian letters to modernist lettering, or what Venice has to do with children’s penmanship.

Iconic design writer Steven Heller has previously delighted us with a peek inside the sketchbooks of famous graphic designers and a fascinating look at the design and branding of dictatorships. Now, he and his partner of 28 years, acclaimed designer Louise Fili, are back with Scripts: Elegant Lettering from Design’s Golden Age — a treasure chest of typographic gems culled from advertising, street signage, type-specimen books, wedding invitations, restaurant menus and personal letters from the 19th to the mid-20th century. Ranging from the classic to the quirky, the 350 stunning images are unified by a common thread: All the typefaces featured are derived from handwriting or symbolic of the handwritten form, and the letters in each touch each other. And in a day and age when pundits are lamenting the death of handwriting as a much deeper cultural death, there’s a special kind of magic about the celebration of beautiful scripts.

We started gathering materials for the book by just going through the shelves of my studio: the stunningly timeless black, white and red St. Raphael enamel sign, French button cards, type specimen books and of course my albums of sign photos. While many of the selections were obvious, some were serendipitous: For example, while teaching a summer masters workshop in Venice, two of my students gave me a composition book they had unearthed from a recycling bin on the Grand Canal. It was from 1923 with verses written in perfect Italian school children’s penmanship.” ~ Louise Fili

At once sentimental and visionary, Scripts is a living capsule of the near-forgotten beauty and allure of vintage lettering, but also of books themselves — lavish, vibrant, tactile, with lush typography winking at you from the page in come-hither seduction unlike the screen ever could.

Images courtesy of Felt & Wire

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14 JULY, 2011

The Lists, To-dos and Illustrated Inventories of Great Artists

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What a 21-point scale of self-confidence has to do with Adolf Konrad’s carry-on and Picasso’s favorite artists.

We’ve previously taken a voyeuristic look inside the notebooks and sketchbooks of great creators and, today, we turn to an even more private facet of the creative self: the list. Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists’ Enumerations from the Collections of the Smithsonian Museum offers a surprisingly intriguing glimpse of some of the 20th century’s most remarkable creators — including Pablo Picasso, Joseph Cornell, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Andrew Wyeth and Janice Lowry, among dozens of others — revealing their personal habits, priorities and decision-making schemata through the lens of the seemingly mundane and, in the process, demystifying artmaking and the creative life.

From a list Finnish-born architect Eero Saarinen made of his second wife’s positive attributes, to designer Harry Bertoia’s 1932 self-rating chart for a school assignment, rating 21 of his characteristics on a spectrum from Very Poor to Excellent, to Picasso’s recommendations of artists he liked for Walt Kuhn’s 1913 Armory Show, these wonderful and fascinating seventy-or-so artifacts reveal as much about their creators as they do about the values, fixations and points of interest of their respective eras.

Eero Saarinen's list of Aline Bernstein's good qualities, ca. 1954. Aline and Eero Saarinen papers, 1857-1972.

Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art; copyright F+W Media Inc. 2011.

Harry Bertoia's 'My-self Rating Chart' school assignment. Harry Bertoia papers, 1917-1979.

Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art; copyright F+W Media Inc. 2011.

Pablo Picasso's recommendations for the Armory Show for Walt Kuhn, 1912. Walt Kuhn, Kuhn family papers, and Armory Show Records, 1859-1978.

Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art; copyright F+W Media Inc. 2011.

Janice Lowry's Journal #98, 2002-2003.

Image courtesy of the Archive of American Art.

Franz Kline's receipt from John Heller's Liquor Store, Dec. 31, 1960. Elisabeth Zogbaum papers regarding Franz Kline, 1928-1965.

Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art; copyright F+W Media Inc. 2011.

Adolf Konrad's graphic packing list, Dec. 16, 1973. Adolf Ferdinand Konrad papers, 1962-2002.

Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art; copyright F+W Media Inc. 2011.

Lists comes from Princeton Architectural Press, purveyors of the visually compelling and culturally intriguing. Original images from the book are currently on display at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York until October 2, 2011.

via GMSV; images via Imprint

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