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Monday, October 15, 2018

Tokyo's Mori Digital Art Museum

This entry is augmented by several video clips; please allow extra time for it to fully load.
An old-fashioned digital print of Tokyo's Mori Digital Art Museum
When I was a Junior in high school (1962) I took a typing class which, as it has turned out, was one of the smarter educational encounters I've ever undertaken. We used to enjoy creating pictures with the various numbers, letters, and keyboard symbols available by using the variable density of each character. Of course, that recollection stretches well past any contemporary definition of digital art. However, as early as 1976, I painted what may be the first digital self-portrait using just such computer-generated characters and a rudimentary application of impressionist color principals. As computers have developed more and more power for less and less cost, digital art has developed along side them from photo editing to digital "paintings" printed out on paper or canvas, framed, and hung on a wall in a traditional manner. Running parallel with this evolution has been an expansion of the very definition of art itself, to include virtually all visual forms of creativity.

Perhaps the most important of these has been various imaginative uses of colored lights. I mean, where would art be without the key element of light? It simply wouldn't exist. Going back in history (my own) I can recall disk jockeys with expensive light arrays which eventually came to be keyed into the music they played. Again, computers came along and geometrically enhanced the possibilities. I mention all this in case you happen to be in Tokyo sometime in the future. If so, don't miss the EPSON teamLab Borderless Mori Digital Art Museum. But in doing, don't expect to see old-fashioned, framed, digital art from the past(top). It's not that kind of museum.

As you can see in the videos above, this type of art is all about light, music, color, lasers, sound, even the movement of air. Thus most of the images I'm using demand video presentations to be truly seen and appreciated. It's a whole new and different art requiring a whole different type of image to even write about. Produced in collaboration with local urban landscape developer Mori Building Co. Ltd., the amazing light displays are housed in their very own building, spread out over two floors in a huge space in Tokyo’s Odaiba district. TeamLab, the Japanese art collective behind the world’s first truly digital art museum, has developed a borderless, boundary-breaking future. There are no frames to mark the limits of the art and the real world. The viewer becomes part of the art itself.

teamLab, Universe of Water Particles on a Rock where People Gather (2018)
It’s taken time, but today, the art world is slowly turning its back on analogue and going digital. Nowhere is that clearer than within the huge, 10,000 sq. meter space, of the Mori Building Digital Art Museum. The museum is divided into five zones and utilizes 520 computers and 470 projectors. TeamLab have transformed a traditional museum space into something futuristic, groundbreaking and challenging. For the teamLab collective, their digital art exists on a separate plane, liberated from the constraints of material substance. In their newly defined museum, they hope to transfer the feelings and thoughts that visitors would have gotten from a physical artwork through their own bodies, relationships and experiences. When an artist can put thoughts and feelings directly into people's experiences, artworks too can move freely, form connections and relationships with people, while embracing the same concept of time as the human body. Such art can transcend boundaries, influence and sometimes intermingle with each other. In this way, all the boundaries between artist, people and artworks, dissolve and the world of teamLab Borderless is created.

Visitors walking freely around the museum are expected to lose themselves in an alternate, art- based, borderless world, immersing themselves in each experience. In Borderless World, visitors are invited to understand and recognize the world through their bodies, moving freely and forming connections and relationships with others. TeamLab Borderless is a group of artworks that form one borderless world. Artworks move out of the rooms freely, form connections and relationships with people, communicate with other works, influence and sometimes intermingle with each other, and have the same concept of time as the human body.

In Athletics Forest (above), for example, teamLab have manufactured a “creative physical space” which trains spatial recognition ability by promoting the growth of the hippocampus of the brain. It is based on the concept of understanding the world through the body and thinking of the world three-dimensionally. In a complex, physically challenging, three-dimensional space, the body becomes immersed in an interactive world. The interactive aspect continues in Future Park, an educational project based on the concept of "collaborative creativity, co-creation". It is an amusement park where you can enjoy the world creatively and freely with others.

teamLab, The Way of the Sea in the Crystal World - Colors of Life (2018)
Is teamLab’s museum is an example of the art world becoming more digital in general? Even the collective can't answer that. But, they explain that digital technology allows artistic expression to be released from the material world and for ideas and experiences to change and flow more freely. In art installations with the viewers on one side and interactive artworks on the other, the artworks themselves undergo changes caused by the presence and behavior of the viewers. This has the effect of blurring the boundary lines between the two sides. When the viewers actually become part of the artworks themselves the relationship between the artwork and the individual then becomes a relationship between the artwork and the group. Another viewer, present within that space five minutes before, or the particular behavior exhibited by the person next to you, suddenly becomes an element of great importance.

The digital domain can expand art and change how we view the capacities of art in our world, which can actually help us to create new relationships between people. TeamLab wants visitors to understand how digital technology can expand the conception of art as well as liberate art from a value system based only on physical materials. The museum encourages people to rethink the relationship between humans and nature as well as their relationship with the world. Traditional art museums have tended to treat the existence of viewers as a nuisance. At an exhibition with no other viewers, for example, you are likely to think of yourself as extremely lucky. Yet teamLab encourages people to think of the presence of other viewers as a positive factor. The importance of this shift in thinking stretches even beyond the art world. In modern cities, the presence of other people around us, as well as their unpredictable and uncontrollable behavior, is often seen as an inconvenience to be endured. This is because the presence of each person and those in their vicinity do not have a visible effect on the city. If entire cities were to be wrapped in the type of digital art conceived by teamLab, people would begin to see the presence of other residents in a more positive light.

Described as Tokyo’s most "Instagrammable" spot, the museum is unlike any other experience in Japan. The Mori Building Digital Art Museum is quickly becoming one of the country’s most popular destinations. However, there are a few tips which may help in enjoying the museum. Wear white or light-colored clothing and flat-heeled shoes. Touch everything, enjoying the museum as would a child. Don't rush, and by all means buy your tickets online if you harbor any hope of seeing the museum at a given date and time--or at all.

Mori digital art-museum design room.


Monday, October 8, 2018

John Rankin Waddell

Distorted series, 2015, John Rankin Waddell
Like every other senior graduating from high school, I had a decision to make. What was I going to be when I grew up? I had a lifetime of fifty years (or more, I hope), what was I going to do with it? First, I could do as so many other young males in my class, simply choose not to make such a decision, and instead simply go job hunting. The year was 1963, the Kennedy Camelot era was at its height, the future looked bright, well-paying industrial jobs were plentiful. I could have chosen to leave my working life to chance. Or I could have chosen to pursue a four-year college degree in some field of study.

Jim Lane, Windsor High School,
Class of 1963
Having just graduated from four years of high school, I just couldn't face four more years of college. So, I chose a half-measure, two years at a Cincinnati business college study-ing to be an accountant. (I'd always gotten good grades in high school bookkeeping classes.) To make ends meet, I took a min-imum wage stock-boy job at a local department store. The most important thing I learned in those early education endeavors was that I didn't want to be in retailing or accounting. So, to dodge the draft, I joined the U.S. Air Force for four years, allowing me to grow up and choose a career for which I had both a liking and an aptitude. Those choices came down to two possibilities, journalism, and art. I chose art largely be-cause all forms of literary endeavors required a publisher for success. With painting, I was my own publisher. And since becoming a certified public school art instructor paid better than most art occupations at the time, I got my degree at Ohio University and for the next 26 years endured the joys, trials, and tribulations of bringing art to young people. Later, after retiring, I took up the second of my early career possibilities--writing.

Rankin, celebrity fashion photographer and wristwatch collector.
The British fashion photographer, John Rankin Waddell (above)was born in Glasgow in 1966. He has a similar story to tell. His working name is Rankin. He was brought up in St Albans, Hertfordshire, England. At the age of 21, while studying accounting at Brighton Polytechnic, the young man realized that his interests lay elsewhere and dropped out, taking up the study photography at London College of Printing. As John Rankin Waddell was entering his teenage years, Margaret Thatcher had just begun her stint as Britain’s longest-serving prime minister. Her conservative party was considered by many to be the enemy of the working class and her policies were widely condemned as both vindictive and punitive. In protest, young people turned to art, music and literature as a means of expressing their anger, transforming the Thatcher years into an explosion of cultural rebellion.

Cillian Murphy,
John Rankin Waddell
Although not overtly political in his youth, Rankin was swept up in this new wave of creativity. His artistic eureka moment occurred at the age of 21 when he first laid his hands on a friend’s camera. He knew that was what he wanted to do. Rankin first made his name in publishing, founding the groundbreaking monthly magazine Dazed & Confused with fellow classmate, Jefferson Hack in 1992. The magazine provided a platform for inno-vation for emerging stylists, designers, photographers and writers. The period-ical went on to forge a distinctive mark in the arts and publishing spheres, devel-oping a cult following as to forming and molding trends, while bringing some of the brightest lights in fashion to the foreground.

Hugh Grant, dazed and confused, Rankin
In 2001, Hack and Rankin launched AnOther Magazine with a focus on fashion, originality, and distinction. In response to the expanding menswear market, in 2005 AnOther Man was introduced, combining intelligent editorials with groundbreaking design and style. More recently, the Dazed Group has established itself as an online authority, via, and Rankin celebrated Dazed's 20th anniversary, shooting 20 front covers of Dazed favorites and 20 inside covers of the next generation of talent, for the December 2011 issue.

Queen Elizabeth II of England. Rankin told her, "Just smile."
Tapping into the consciousness of the time with his intimate approach and playful sense of humor, Rankin became known for his portraiture of bands, artists, supermodels, and politicians. Having photographed everyone from the Queen of England (above) to the Queen of Pop, Rankin is often seen as a celebrity photographer. However, his plethora of campaigns and projects featuring "real women" marked him as a genuinely passionate portrait photographer, no matter who the subject. Always pursuing personal projects which pushed his limits, high impact charity projects, and groundbreaking commercial campaigns, Rankin has stood out for his creative fearlessness. His first major worldwide and award-winning campaign--Dove's 'Real Women'--epitomized his approach: to reveal the honesty of the connection and collaborative process between photographer and subject. Personal or commercial, Rankin's images have become part of contemporary iconography, evidence of his frankness and passion for all aspects of modern culture, as represented in the photographed image.

Michael Jackson, Rankin
Rankin has published over 30 books, and has regularly exhibits in galleries around the world, as well as his own in London. His museum-scale ex-hibition "Show Off" opened at NRW Dusseldorf in Septem-ber 2012, pulling in over 30,000 visitors in three months. Rankin has photo-graphed some of Hollywood’s most fam-ous people (left) and has shot some world-renowned advertising campaigns, including Nike, Umbro, Reebok, L’Oreal, Hugo Boss, Levi's, Longchamp, Aussi, Madonna for H&M, Dove, BMW, and Coca Cola.

Tumanni & Lawi, 2008,
John Rankin Waddell

The artist-photographer has created landmark ed-itorial and advertising campaigns. His body of work features some of the most celebrated publications, biggest brands and pioneering charities, including, Women's Aid, and Break-through Breast Cancer. Rankin's affiliation with charities has sent him travel the world, creating powerful campaigns both as a photographer and a director. With Oxfam, he vis-ited the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kenya. In 2011, he hosted an Oxglam exhibition, featuring work from some of the world's most tal-ented emerging young photographers, and raising money for the charity.

Medusa, Damien Hirst
and John Rankin Waddell
Rankin has shot covers for Elle, German Vogue, Harpers Bazaar, Esquire, GQ, Rolling Stone and Wonderland. His work has always endeavored to question social norms and ideas of beauty. In late 2000, Rankin published the heteroclite quarterly, Rank, an experimental anti-fashion maga-zine celebrating the unconventional. Over the last few years, Rankin has frequently turned his hand to studies of photography through TV productions. Working with the BBC, he has featured in a number of seminal documentaries--The Seven Pho-tographs that Changed Fashion, South Africa in Pictures, Shooting the Stars, The Life Magazine Photographers, and most recently, an in-depth documentary into the modern approach to death in, Alive: In the Face of Death.

Schwarzenegger, Rankin 
As the archetypal modern photographer, Rankin’s industrious work ethic, versa-tility and tireless self-promotion have al-lowed him to thrive in today’s incredibly competitive photography industry. He has established himself as one of the most influential and far-reaching creat-ives working in Britain today. Rankin lives in London with his second wife, Tuuli, and son, Lyle.

Elton John, Rankin


Monday, October 1, 2018

Final Paintings

A Bar At The Folies-Bergère, 1882, Édouard Manet (1832-1883), undoubtedly the artist's last major masterpiece.
There's an old saying, usually attributed to the French film actor, Maurice Chevalier: “Growing old isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative.” There are several other permutations of the phrase, which Chevalier uttered in 1959, though it can be reliably traced back to at least 1953. A few days ago I celebrated my 73rd birthday, which is quite an accomplishment in my view, given the number of major health issues I'm coping with and the fact that most of my blood relatives never made it past age 72. However, that was then, this is now. Without getting into an "organ recital," were it not for the miracles of modern medicine, I would have probably been dead a decade or two ago. The other day, as I finished my most recent painting, I morbidly asked myself, will this be my final painting? Probably not, given the fact that history records many great artists still creating up to and including the day they died. Fortunately, art is not a very strenuous activity, ideal for old age.
Lake of Water Lilies, 1917-1920, Claude Monet (1840-1926)
For Example, Les Grandes Decorations (above, 1920-26) are among the French Impressionist, Claude Monet’s most famous works. He had to build a new studio to accommodate the huge, 91 x 2 meter canvases, and in the process almost went blind from cataracts. The paintings were enormous curved murals that depict the famous water lilies that lined his beloved pond. Monet conceived of the idea when he was 70, and it took him ten years to complete the works. The artist painted Les Grandes Decorations when both his eyesight and health were failing. As his eyesight declined, his works turned from vivid, bright colors to blurred mixtures of browns and reds. Monet wrote letters to friends, describing how colors were getting dull and indistinguishable--he even resorted to labeling his tubes of paint. By the time the paintings were finally finished, Monet was on his deathbed. Generously, he donated the fruits of his last ten years to the French government. Today, they hang in l’Orangerie Museum in Paris. Cut from the same cloth was the French painter, Edouard Manet. While still in his mid-forties he began to suffer severe pain and partial paralysis in his legs. In 1879 he began receiving hydrotherapy treatments at a spa near Meudon intended to improve what he believed was a miner circulatory problem. In reality he was suffering from locomotor ataxia, a little-known side-effect of syphilis. In many cases it's difficult to pinpoint even a famous artist's final work of art. In his final years, Edouard Manet painted many small-scale still lifes of fruits and vegetables. However, there is little doubt as to Manet's last major work. He completed A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (top), in 1882. It later hung in the Salon that year. The Folies-Bergère was a popular concert café for a fashionable and diverse Paris crowd. The lively bar scene is reflected in the mirror behind the central figure, the sad bar girl. Her beautiful, tired eyes avoid contact with the viewer--who also plays a double role as the customer in this scene. On the marble countertop is an exquisite still-life arrangement of identifiable bottles of beer and liquor, flowers, and mandarins, all of which anticipate the still-lifes of his final two years of life. From that point on, Manet limited himself to small formats. His last paintings were of flowers in glass vases. In April 1883, because of gangrene resulting from his syphilis and rheumatism, his left foot was amputated. Manet died in Paris eleven days later on April, 30, 1883.

The Sheaf, 1953, Henri Matisse (1869-1954).
Best known as a painter, Henri Matisse was an enormously influential artist who helped define and shape the European visual culture of the early 20th century. His expressive use of color and brush strokes became synonymous with the Fauvist style. In 1941, Matisse, then 72, was diagnosed with abdominal cancer. He underwent surgery that left him unable to walk. Painting and sculpture became physically impossible, so he embraced a new type of medium--cutouts. With the help of his assistants, he began creating cut paper collages, pre-painted with gouache and arranged to compose colorful and lively forms. His last work, The Sheaf (above, 1953), was a piece made from ceramic tile embedded in plaster, completed a year before his death. Even in his final years, Matisse continued to innovate, and redefine the Fauvist movement.

Frida Kahlo loved watermelons. Her husband, Diego Rivera hated them.
The beloved Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo, is well known for her magical realist self-portraits, and her vivid and depictions of the female experience. Viva La Vida (upper image, 1954) was her last work, completed just eight days before she died in 1954 at the age of 47. The official cause of death was declared pulmonary embolism, but many believe her death to be a suicide. Having spent months bedridden after a leg was amputated at the knee, Kahlo was dealing with chronic pain, and had tried to take her life before. On the night she died, she gave her husband, the artist Diego Rivera, a wedding anniversary gift (over a month in advance). The painting is a still life with watermelons, a fruit that in Mexico is laden with cultural symbolism as a popular icon in the Dia de los Muertos (the festival of the Day of the Dead). Kahlo’s Spanish inscription on the melons, "viva la vida" is a haunting phrase, meaning "long live life." Kahlo’s husband, was another prominent Mexican painter and cultural critic. Rivera's large frescoes helped establish the Mexican Mural Movement, while his stormy relationship with Frida was the inspiration for many of her paintings. Several years older than his wife, Rivera died of natural causes at the age of 70, just three years after his wife’s untimely death. His last work, The Watermelons (lower image, above) was a strange echo of his wife's chosen image, which also depicted watermelons. The painting was supposedly produced after Dolores Olmedo, one of his greatest patrons, commissioned him to paint it for her. Initially Rivera refused. Only when Olmedo threatened to commission another prominent artist did the ever-proud Rivera agree. The Watermelons (1957) was the last painting he ever completed and signed.

Self-portrait Facing Death,
Pablo Picasso (June 30, 1972).
Although Picasso worked up until the day he died at age 91; literally painting till 3 a.m. on Sunday, April 8th, which was just hours before his death. There is no small amount of dis-agreement among art historians as to which of several late works by the prolific artist was actually his last. His last well-known work, Self Portrait Facing Death (left) was not his last. It was done a little less than a year before his death, June 30, 1972. The piece is done with crayon on paper, and took several months to complete. A friend, tells of Picasso holding up the drawing beside his face to show that the expression of fear was a contrivance. Some three months later, his friend recalled that the harsh colored lines were even deeper, giving the obvious impression that he was staring his own death in the face. There is much com-mentary about this piece having to do with Picasso's fear of death and how terrified his eyes look. According to a complete catalog of the artist's works in sequential order, it appears that he did several other self-portraits after the one above.

Vincent van Gogh's final painting? Three possibilities.
If there exists some controversy as to the final work of a famous painting icon such as Picasso, imagine the questions arising as to the last painting of an almost completely unknown artist (at the time of his death, that is). The ominous and haunting Wheatfield With Crows (upper image, above) is often mistakenly said to be Vincent van Gogh’s final painting. Although it was certainly one among his final works, scholarly analysis of the artist’s letters indicates that Wheatfield With Crows was completed around two weeks before his suicide in July 1890. That means that van Gogh’s actual last painting was probably Daubigny’s Garden (middle image, above), one of three depicting the large garden of Charles-François Daubigny, a painter whom van Gogh deeply admired. The idyllic garden scene is a sharp contrast to the darker Wheatfield With Crows, offering no apparent hint of van Gogh’s mental torment. However another work from the same month is indeed tormented. Tree Roots and Trunks (lower image, above)was painted in July of 1890 when van Gogh lived in Auvers-sur-Oise, France. The painting is an example of the double-square canvases that he employed in his last landscapes. Van Gogh spent the last few months of his life in Auvers-sur-Oise, a small town just north of Paris, after he left an asylum at Saint-Rémy in May 1890. The painting is considered by some experts to be his last painting before his death. In any case, on the morning of July 27, 1890, van Gogh went outdoors to paint, apparently taking with him a loaded pistol. He then attempted suicide by shooting himself in the chest, although the bullet failed to kill him. He died two days later at the age of 37 in the presence of his brother. Van Gogh never achieved any real success or fame before his untimely death. As a result, his mother disposed of a large number of his works, making the efforts of art historians doubly difficult.

Riding With Death, 1988,
Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988),
died from a drug overdose. 


Monday, September 24, 2018

Ben Robson Hull

Great Ridge Sunrise, Ben Robson Hull. Is it a painting that looks like a photograph, or a photo that looks like a painting?
Rain Man, Ben Robson Hull
It's very likely that the most overused, and misused word in the art world today (or perhaps the entire world) is, in fact, the word "artist." Just try Googling (or Binging) the word sometime and you'll see what I mean. You'll be rewarded with everything from con artists to musicians who can play the violin with their bare feet. In between you'll encounter virtually every profess-sional in the fine arts including, of course, the traditional painters, sculptors, filmmakers, etc. As a writer I'm often guilty of using the "catch-all" term when I should really be more specific. The British landscape "artist," Ben Robson Hull is an excellent case in point. The layman would immediately picture Hull, brush in one hand, palette in the other daubing away at an easel erected in some lovely field, possibly overlook-ing a seashore. There's no question that Hull is an artist, nor that he specializes in landscapes. However, he's probably never painted one in his entire life. Nonetheless, he does have the same mentality and eye for exquisite content, detail, and beauty of any landscape painter who ever cleaned a brush. Ben Robson Hull "paints" with a 36MP Nikon D810 professional camera. The list price for Hull's digital "brush" is around $2,800.

St. Patrick's Well, Ben Robson Hull

Like most landscape painters, Hull captures other genres besides lovely sunrise vistas as in Great Ridge Sunrise (top). His vertigo-inducing St. Patrick's Well (above) or his more elegant Queen's House Tulip Staircase (left) are repre-sentative of Hull's architectural compositions. Hull's black & white Rain Man (above, right) has garnered several awards in various photographic exhibitions. There's no mistaking either of these for a painting.
Queen's House Tulip Staircase,
Ben Robson Hull

Sleepy Hollow, Ben Robson Hull
Ben’s creativity is driven by the natural environment and the seasons, both clearly visible in his work. Many of his images have been produced locally near his home in Sheffield, England, and the Derbyshire Peak District National Park (above). Travel and architecture often feature in his work. Hull has a real passion for exploring the planet, its people, and special places. Some of Ben’s images have been captured in such diverse places as Peru, Barcelona, London, Paris, Italy, Australia, Austria and all over the UK to name just a few. Ben completed work for a Professional Diploma in Photography at the Photography Institute (2012-–2013) while consuming more than sixty books on photography in a self-teaching effort to provide himself with a long overdo education in art.

Images from Hull's Peruvian photo-expedition.

Before that, Hull graduated from Sheffield Hallam University (2000--2003) with a degree in Civil Engineering followed by a career in the sciences. In looking back, Ben feels the first 30 years of his working life he missed out on art entirely, though he has certainly made up for this lost time recently with Memberships and involvement in his local Pho-tographical Society, the Royal Photographical Society, and various organizations or online groups, which have provided him with great oppor-tunities to exhibit, enter competitions, and receive valuable feedback on developing his body of work.
Two careers and
too many interests.
The life cycle--beauty in life and death.
Ben Hull always tries to find places off-the-beaten-path or those not usually frequented by other people. Most days, however, usually end up with a significant amount of time editing on the computer and then proof printing to get the optimum possible print from the raw data. This can be very time consuming. Many artists spend a lot less time producing a detailed painting than Hull does trying to perfect the perfect print! Hull's evenings are often spent on social media and in contacting clients to discuss requirements. Finally, Hull usually tries to find an hour each day to research his next project, always looking to find something unique and different to undertake.

Hull's "take" on two frequent ingredients in England's gastronomical art--
Strawberries and Sardines. Just never serve them both at the same time.
And what would a British photographer be without two or three iconic stock photos of London? Hull is a frequent contributor to Getty Images. Working in central England, light, location, and of course, the damnable English weather, usually conspire against the would-be photographer, meaning he or she has to react and respond to what they find. Typically, a photography session lasts half a day to a full day depending on the type of subject. Hull tries to capture the subject from as many different angles as possible. He finds it amazing how many times a shot the artist(meaning the photographer) thinks is the best ends up being rejected later as there was something distracting in the background that went unseen at the time. By the same token, backup shots sometimes capture a really fortuitous element without the photographer even realizing it. Hull loves it when these things happen. People often call it luck, and sometimes it is, but there's also the research, planning, and hard work, which play a big part in such shots.

The Tower Bridge (upper image), Big Ben (just above), Winchester Palace and Cathedral all remain. Red phone booths like the one above, also remain, but their numbers are dwindling. I saw very few when we were in London this past spring.
Probably the Best Cat in the World,
Ben Robson Hull


Monday, September 17, 2018

A Tale of Two Terminals

Grand Central Station--designed (and redesigned) for busy.
"It's like Grand Central Station around here." That's a phrase my mother sometimes used when friends or relatives came calling or during other stressful moments when it seemed to her that the whole world had invaded our otherwise quiet, small-town home. I know for a fact she never passed through the famed New York City landmark and probably had only the vaguest idea of what it looked like. I know I certainly didn't. In all likelihood she knew only that it was a very hectic busy place. I was a senior, about to graduate from high school before I ever laid eyes on the early 20th-century Beaux-Arts architectural masterpiece trying to impart the same graceful French stylings of the Orsay Train Station in Paris  (now a museum), to the rapidly expanding transportation needs of a modern, bustling, hectic, busy city. That was 1963. I was quite unaware of the fact that New York City's other major rail hub, nearby Penn Station, was about to give up its structural "life" in what would become an historic, landmark case of greed and architectural desecration. The controversy resulting from the demolition of Penn Station was the catalyst for New York City's Landmark Preservation Commission which would, just a few years later, save Grand Central Station from a similar fate.
Penn Station main concourse, circa 1956.
Both terminals were architectural relics of a bygone era of grand palaces and hotels almost before they were built. Grand Central Station began rising from the huge mass of limestone bedrock undergirding the Manhattan "concrete jungle" in 1903. The New York Central and Hudson River Railroad, the New York and Harlem Railroad, and the New York and New Haven Railroad all came together on 42nd Street to facilitate rail traffic in and out of the city. The present-day building, designed by Bradford Gilbert, was erected to replace the former Grand Central Depot (below-upper image), built on the site in 1871. No one protested when it was torn down. By today's standards, and even those of the time, it was one of the ugliest buildings in city.
The old Grand Central Depot was designed for steam locomotives. Its 1903 replacement handled only electric.
From the advent of mass rail transportation during the second half of the 19th-century, architects struggled mightily to adapt antique styles to the new and demanding requirements of bringing people, and the "rolling stock" to move them about, together without disrupting the social niceties of the time. Starting in England, but equally perplexing in big cities like New York, for the most part these architects and engineers failed miserably as the concentrated as much (or more) on style than they did function. Grand Central and Penn Station terminals were among the monolithic battlegrounds where this conflict can best be seen. Penn Station died in this war. Grand Central Station suffered numerous architectural "wounds."

In that both stations had much of their "guts" underground, the massive excavations needed to construct the all-important passenger platforms could only have been accomplished through the arrival of the William Otis steam shovel in 1839.
Most of the station's 49 acres is underground. Beside the Metro North trains, you can get subway trains 4, 5 to the Bronx or Brooklyn, the 6 train north to the Bronx, the 7 train to Queens, or S train to Times Square (I always take a cab). There's also a special underground line, which is no longer used nor available for public view, from Grand Central to the Waldorf Astoria. This was so that President Franklin D. Roosevelt would not be seen by the public as he traveled to and from the hotel and was helped in and out of the train due to his physical disabilities.

By the early years of the 20th-century, the automobile had come to dictate the layout, if not the facade, of Grand Central Station as much as the unseen "electric trains" below.
For the rest of us, there are several entrances to Grand Central Station. From the east, you pass through a market filled with fresh loaves of bread, cheese, jams, caviar, fruits and vegetables arrayed like fine jewelry. From Vanderbilt Avenue on the west side, there are restaurants and shops. The north entrance may seem the least interesting, but has some of the finest restaurants in New York. However, the best way to enter the station is from 42nd Street, where you'll see the old Pan Am Building (now the home of MetLife) rising behind the station like a backdrop (below).

The 42nd Street (at Park Avenue) entrance to Grand Central Station today.
The four-faced clock can be
read from any angle.
Above the main entrance is the Tiffany clock surrounded by Roman gods. There you'll pass through heavy oak and glass doors into a room that houses the photography and art exhibitions whenever they are held. Just beyond that, the main terminal with its ceiling, vaulted, and exalted, painted with the constel-lations of the zodiac (below). The old ticket windows are still there along the wall along with the four-faced clock (right) above the information booth. Across the way are the numbered entrances for the tracks for the trains heading out of town.

The ceiling of the Grand Central Station main concourse featuring the art of Paul César Helleu.
The original Penn Station, designed by the Beaux Arts architects McKim, Mead & White, opened in 1910. It was one of New York's grandest structures. In this day and age, it's hard to believe the Pennsylvania Railroad got away with demolishing this Neo-classical white beauty. If they needed a big parcel of land, why didn’t they tear down the Port Authority Bus Terminal instead? Few would have protested that. Penn Station’s destruction subsequently ushered in an era of historic preservation. The building was demolished in October of 1963 to create the current facility. The ensuing controversy helped fuel the preservation movement in New York and the passage of the Landmarks Law in 1965.
New York City's Penn Station was named for the Pennsylvania Railroad, it's builder and original tenant.
About ten block and 55 years now
separate the two transportation
landmarks. A tail of two terminals
unites them.
Penn Station occupied an eight-acre plot bounded east and west by Seventh and Eighth Avenues, and north and south by 31st and 33rd Streets in Mid-Town Manhattan. The original Pennsylvania Station head house (for passengers) and train shed (for trains) were considered a masterpiece of the Neo-Classical style and one of the great arch-itectural works of New York City. Penn Station maintained its arch-itectural grandeur until World War II, when rail usage started to decline. In the 1950s, the Pennsylvania Rail-road sold the air rights to the prop-erty and downsized the railroad sta-tion. The above ground head house and train shed of the station were demolished and replaced by Madi-son Square Garden and Pennsyl-vania Plaza between 1963 and 1969. Today, the site is also occu-pied by a hotel and an office build-ing. Below ground, the concourses and waiting areas were heavily renovated during this time. However, the platforms at the station's lowest level were not significantly modified, and evidence of the original station still exists at platform level.
New York City's Penn Station today (or what's left of it).
"Any city gets what it admires, will pay for, and, ultimately, deserves. Even when we had Penn Station, we couldn’t afford to keep it clean. We want and deserve tin-can archi-tecture in a tinhorn culture. And we will probably be judged not by the monuments we build but by those we have destroyed."
--"Farewell to Penn Station,"
New York Times editorial, October 30, 1963 

Monday, September 10, 2018

Lace Sculpture

Agnes Herczeg's twigs and thread
Over the past century or so Modern Art has often been propelled forward by what we've come to call "mixed media." Picasso comes to mind first and foremost for his introduction of extraneous materials such as newsprint, wallpaper, fibers, and other manmade items into his paintings. I also recall his famous bull's head made from a metal bicycle seat with bicycle handlebars welded to the rounded part to form horns. As photography freed art from the demands of representing real life in a realistic manner, artists embraced "art for art's sake" or simply art about art. From then on virtually any material and any technical craftsmanship such items demanded became acceptable when used in a creative manner to impart the artist's vision or message. Some such works fall under the heading of "conceptual art" in which the message dominates the work itself. Such work often raises the question, is it art or is it not?
None of Agnes Herczeg's dainty masterpieces bear a title.
Hungarian artist Agnes Herczeg would probably take offense at labeling her exquisite little creations (top) and the piece above as mixed media. They are, in fact, a happy marriage of tatting (lace making) embroidery, even macramé with the simplest, yet carefully chosen support of wood in its natural forms. Only now, in examining the photos of Herczeg's work did I realize than not one of her pieces bears a title (at least insofar as I've been able to determine). That makes her art difficult to discuss on an individual basis. She apparently considers that each piece speaks for itself, or perhaps invites the viewer into the creative process by adding titles themselves. In my case here, I'll take the first option and leave the latter to those seeing Herczeg's work for the first time.

"Gazing into Infinity."
Herczeg combines delicate lace art with branches of found wood to create scenes depicting the contemplative beauty of human-ity. This is not art for art's sake. The intricate portraits showcase women as they recline, sleep, and gaze as if into infinity. The wood serves as an anchor for their activities, a place where the characters rest their bodies, or the floor on which they stand. Herczeg also uses it as a striking visual contrast--the looseness of the lace and the solidity of the wood are at odds, but become harmonious when linked together.

At times, Agnes Herczeg's works take on a fairly abstract appearance.

Herczeg’s lace sculptures are created using traditional techniques. She has extensively stud-ied the crafts of embroidery and lace-making, from needle lace to macramé. She incorporates a variety of these stitches into each composition. This proves to be a meticulous, detail-oriented endeav-or. Lace-making is an extremely time consuming occupation, taking several days just to complete even a small piece.
A sculptural delicacy.
Because the lace art is so tedious, it’s vital that Herczeg has a well-thought plan for how to execute the work. “Design is a significant part of the creative process,” she explains, “ because I have to think through not only the visual appearance of the work but its overall structure and the order of the individual steps.” Despite the rigidity of her process, Herczeg's pieces reflect freedom and even spontaneity as the threads drape from the wood.