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Monday, November 26, 2018

Rabbit Art

Rabbit Spread, 1989, Ditz
Every couple months I feature some animal favored by artists, which has some degree of following among collectors. In choosing rabbits, I debated as to whether to wait until what amounts to the international holiday devoted to the long-eared mammal (Easter), or to feature them now. In my mind, at least, Thanksgiving is the holiday more common associated with such creatures. When my mother's kin used to get together each year to celebrate our national day devoted to giving thanks, turkey, and football, the thankful menfolk took the opportunity to go rabbit hunting after the big meal (kids weren't invited). I can only recall once when my dad took me hunting (for squirrels). He said "never again." He complained I talked too much. I presume that, given their prominent ears, rabbits could sense my presence on the prowl even better than squirrels. Let's face it, despite their cute and cuddly appearance as depicted by artists, rabbits are, for both man and beasts, animals of prey.

The rabbit as a gift in courtship, c. 480 BC
18th-century vintage rabbit clipart.
As is often the case, especially for animals fairly low on the food chain, rabbits have a long history with artists. I don't know if cavemen depicted rabbit hunting, but at least as far back as the ancient Greeks, rabbits have had their place in art. The Greeks (and others) saw the prolific breeding bunnies as fertility symbols. The Greek men some-times gave them as romantic gifts to young men and boys who caught their fancy (above). In more recent times, quite apart from any symbolic sexual association, the one artist most responsible for his depictions of rabbits (or hares) was the German painter and etcher, Albrecht Durer. Two examples (below) have inspire imitators now for centuries. Compare them to some of the works by others seen here.

Dürer's watercolor should be seen in the context of his other nature studies, such as his almost equally famous Meadow or his Bird Wings.
Copyright, Jim Lane
Hans Hoffmann, as seen in his A Hare in the Forest (below), from 1585, owes a debt of gratitude to Durer. Born in 1530, the German painter and draftsman was a leading represen-tative of the Dürer Renaissance. He specialized in watercolor and gouache nature studies, many of them copied from or based on Dürer's work. Although I've painted very few rabbits over the years (only one that I can recall), my own Harey (right) dates all the way beck to 1978. I only just now realized how much it bears a startling re-semblance to Durer's model.

      Harey, 1978, Jim Lane.
A Hare in the Forest from a Durer Drawing, 1585, Hans Hoffmann.
During the 19th-century, rabbit art gained greatly in popularity, not because of their breeding habits or as hunter's prey, but through the literary efforts of writers such as English author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. Carroll's novel, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was first published in 1865. Its opening line, "Alice was beginning to grow very tired sitting with her sister by the river bank, . . . until she saw a White Rabbit with a waist coat and a pocket watch!" Quite apart from popularizing Victorian "bunny art" (below), Carrol's ambassador to one of history's greatest examples of literary nonsense has inspired artists, illustrators, and Walt Disney for generations.

Feeding the Rabbits, circa 1904, Frederick Morgan. Although having nothing to do with the book, the painting has also come to be known as "Alice in Wonderland."
Disney led the rabbit (or should I say "rabid") art-lovers crusade for much of 20th-century, not just with Alice and the White Rabbit (1951), but we must not forget Carrol's equally famous March Hare (below). Then there's Bambi's friend, Thumper, and the adult oriented Roger Rabbit, (Who Framed Roger Rabbit?), though Disney was only one of several players in the production of that $30-million cinematic extravaganza. The 1988 film featured Hollywood idols from the past, both human and animated. Noticeably absent was Warner Bros. Bugs Bunny of Looney Tunes fame.

Disney's rabbit pair, second only to Mickey Mouse in theme part popularity.
Forest Bunny, Marion Rose

No, he's not a cartoon character,
but maybe he should be.


Monday, November 19, 2018

Who Done It

Las Meninas, the Prado version, by Diego Velazquez.
It has long fascinated...even that in the art world today, and for at least a thousand years in the past, the monetary value of art rests not so much on the quality of the work but the name of the artist attached to it. I suppose there is a sort of valid logic to such a rule in that the great masters all did extremely high quality work, their efforts and outcomes well worth a reasonable price (depending upon your definition of "reasonable"). However, today this economic model is long past any definition of reasonable. In its place, the word "ridiculous" comes to mind. In defense of this model, there will always be copyists and their work must be exposed for what it is with prices adjusted accordingly. Complicating this factor is their broad range of competence from easily identifiable trash to works which often confound even the experts.
Two paintings, the giant one unquestionably by Velazquez (top and lower image above) and a smaller version unquestionably by Velazquez or his son-in-law and student, Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo (upper image).
For example, Diego Velázquez's original portrait of the Infanta Margaret Theresa. surrounded by her maids of honor, is the main attraction in Madrid’s Prado Museum. The artist’s use of mirrors and strange angles has long left the piece wide open to interpretation, causing it to become one of the most famous and studied paintings in the world. However, there is a smaller, similar version of the painting which recently gained notice in Dorset, England causing major disagreements, with ongoing questions as to who painted it. The painting was purchased by British MP William Bankes for his home, Kingston Lacy, where it has hung virtually unnoticed for the past 150 years. There are significant differences between the original and this version, causing experts to question whether it was a first draft by Velázquez, or a subsequent copy. Some notable experts believe the Kingston Lacy version to be a first draft, painted by Velázquez perhaps to be approved by the king. However, most experts maintain that it is a copy by Velázquez's son-in-law and student, Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo. The attribution would substantially alter the painting’s worth, which is presently unknown.
A detective in the "who done it" attribution mysteries.
The key to this questionable evaluative model rests with the art and science of attribution. Chief among the "experts" which support this economic "house of cards" is the art historian. However, such writers and researchers are but one group of a number of others whose technical expertise, advice, and best guesses also provide the underpinning which determines auction prices and, unfortunately, bears far too much influence as to what we consider merely "good" art, and rare collectible masterpieces. The fragile nature of this system is very often born out when these art experts disagree (as in the case of Las Meninas), or new evidence surfaces having to do with attributions. Hundreds of millions can quickly come and go when a work's attribution is even questioned, or newly authenticated.
A museum drawing card on a par with Leonardo's Mona Lisa.
In 2017 art history was made when Leonardo's Salvator Mundi (above) sold for a record-breaking $450-million at Christie’s in New York. The seller was a Russian billionaire named Dmitry Rybolovlev. The buyer was the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism. The Saudis were seen to have made a financially sound move, with the picture expected to draw in visitors rivaling those of the Louvre's Mona Lisa. Abu Dhabi has its own Louvre where the painting will be exhibited. However, despite experts previously confirming the da Vinci attribution, various scholars and critics have cast doubts on the painting’s authorship. The painting of Jesus was thought to be one of only twenty known paintings by Leonardo. However, a handful of art historians, da Vinci scholars, and critics have now suggested the piece might actually be the work of the artist’s studio assistant, Bernardino Luini. His work sells for less than $1-million.

Martin Kober and his Michelangelo
Then there is the story of an Italian Renaissance painting owned by a Buffalo resident and its questionable attribution to Michelangelo. While the city of Rome and Vatican recently celebrated the 500th Anniversary of Michelangelo's completion of the Sistine Chapel frescos, a New York State resident is also celebrating Michelangelo and the approaching authentication of a rare 470-year-old painting the owner had stored behind his couch. Italian scholars in several disciplines have compiled a catalog of scientific evidence supporting Martin Kober from and his claim that his 25 by 19-inch wooden panel is an original Michelangelo. The Italian art historian, Antonio Forcellino, sees Kober's painting as being even more beautiful than other versions hanging in Rome and Florence. Infrared and X-ray examinations of the painting show many alterations made by the artist as he changed his mind, along with an unfinished portion near the Madonna’s right knee. Forcellino notes that the unfinished portion proves that the painting could never be a copy of another painting. Forcellino insists, “No patron during the Renaissance would pay for an unfinished copy.” Also, the ownership history, points to the work being done by Michelangelo around 1545 for his friend Vittoria Colonna. The provenance is unbroken. If fully authenticated, the painting could be worth up to $300-million.

Nefertiti, 1400 AD., painted plaster over stone.
Moreover, it's not just works by relatively "recent" artists such as Leonardo and Michelangelo which have come under closer scrutiny. With replicas made and exhibited around the world, the Nefertiti bust is one of the most recognizable and beloved archaeological discoveries of all time. Until recently, the original 3,400-year-old bust was believed to have been discovered by Ludwig Borchardt in Egypt in 1912. Now exhibited in Berlin’s Neues Museum (above), the bust of Akhenaten’s wife has always caused controversy. Despite many requests from Egypt, Germany has so far refused to give the treasure back. It draws millions of visitors to the museum each year. However, scandal engulfed the statue when two art historians challenged the history of the artifact. They have argued that the bust could be a fake. While it is possible to carbon date the pigments which have been proven to be ancient Egyptian, the bust itself can’t be accurately dated because it is made of stone covered in plaster. (So what?)

Black and White/Number 6, 1951 by Jackson Pollock.
Red, Black & Silver, 1956,
Jackson Pollock? 
And if you think more recent works are any simpler to authenticate, think again. Jackson Pollock's Red, Black & Silver (left) was painted sometime around 1956. The painting is just 24 by 20 inches and wholly unlike any other by Pollock. Increasing the stakes, the painting is probably Jackson Pollock’s final work. Neither the owner or the artist are alive to see the result of this fierce debate, the outcome of which will determine whether this painting is worth up to $50,000 or several million. In 2001, Jackson Pollock’s Black and White/Number 6, 1951 (above) sold for almost $8 million. in 2017, his Number 17A sold for a staggering $200-million. Therefore it’s little wonder that his mistress, Ruth Kligman, spent a lifetime trying to prove that Red, Black & Silver was a genuine Pollock, gifted to her only weeks before his death. Top authorities have denounced the painting as showing few characteristics of authentic works by Pollock (they're right about that). A panel of experts long ago rejected the painting as a fake. However, the panel was established by Lee Krasner, Pollock’s wife, known for her rivalry with Kligman. Forensic tests now confirm Red, Black & Silver was created in Pollock’s home. Yet, even this has not convinced the scholars.

Instead of resolving disputes, fre-quently, scientific findings only reignited another, pitting traditional ways of determining whether a work is genuine against new technologies. Perhaps art historian William Wallace best sums up the "who done it" quagmire which sometimes surfaces to call into question our whole value system as pertains to fine art master-pieces: "Unfortunately, attribution is seldom a definitive affair. Assigning any work to a master is almost always a matter of waxing and waning scholarly opinion. Pieces tend to fall in and out of favor as opinions change over time."

Monday, November 12, 2018

Autumn Art

Captured Light, Cathy Hillegas--Autumn art in a unique light.
When we think of autumn art, most of us think first of color-laden landscapes, usually rife with yellows, oranges, reds, and browns. Sometimes there's a bit of green or blue, thrown in--complementary colors just to break the monotony. Unfortunately, that's just what most such autumn art amounts, to, sheer monotony. Moreover, even though Halloween and Thanks-giving fall during the fall season, they do little or nothing to relieve this monotony. Often, with their trite, stock images, they might be considered the worst offenders along this line.
Autumn, Sorin Apostolescu
For those who have been following my series (this is the final posting), you know I always look for fresh insights into seasonal subjects that all too often tempt artists to fall back on safe (and profitable) images which have been "done to death" by every painter in the phone book and his second cousin. Now I have nothing against landscapes or their dead and dying leaves. I can even tolerate the traditional fall colors (in moderation). What I make no attempt to tolerate is sameness. Five minutes on the Internet inundated by the plethora of leafy paths or streams through the woods are enough to trigger the onset of nausea. Sorin Apostolescu's Autumn (above), though the leaves and colors are somewhat subdued, is a fine example of what I mean. Even the title is tiresome.
Autumn Hawthorn Berries, Ann Mortimer--fall colors, but in pleasant moderation.
First of all, there's a lot more to Autumn art than leafy landscapes. Cathy Hillegas' Captured Light (top) is an autumn still-life. The realm of possibilities for intricate studies of leaves alone opens up a vast area of color and composition that, for some unknown reason, is seldom touched by "autumn artists." Autumn Hawthorn Berries (above), by Ann Mortimer demonstrates the fact that watercolors are an ideal medium for this much-neglected branch of Autumn art. My own contribution to this genre, Final Nesting Place (bottom), is acrylic on Masonite trimmed in such a manner as to "break the frame." The painting is based upon a photo from a chance encounter in our backyard. Originally the painting featured actual dry oak leaves attached in a Postmodern manner to the surface. It's for sale but the buyer will have to supply their own fall foliage.
Autumn art is at its best when it's used as a setting for other content rather than a threadbare decorative motif.
Even some of the most famous painters from the past have fallen prey to the beauty inherent in this time of the year. Above I've chosen the work of Claude Monet (French) and his Autumn At Argenteuil, Autumn Afterglow by John Atkinson Grimshaw (English), and Marlborough Street, Boston, by Childe Hassam (American) as an international representation of what great artists can do with Autumn landscapes without diving into the shallow pool of stereotypical convention. Though the "leaf motif" may be somewhat overwhelming and the subject a bit "Rockwellian," the contemporary painter, Randy Van Beek with his Autumn-Leaves (below), stops short of cornball cliché.

Autumn Leaves, Randy Van Beek
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer,
1905, Gustav klimt
It's likely that few artists ever contemplate an Autumn portrait, or if they have, few would be up to the task of painting one. Although the Austrian painter, Gustav Klimt might find the whole idea of an Autumn portrait a bit far-fetched, even amusing, his Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer (right), from 1905, seems to me to fall into that category. The colors, with their gold leaf base are certainly fall-like. Even his abstract shapes suggest those of leaves all but enveloping his wealthy client. Klimt seems to be suggesting Autumn without falling back on the obligatory leafy landscape. The paint-ing, stolen by the Nazis during the war, sold for $88-million in 2006. They buyer was Op-rah Winfrey.

Autumn Dragon, Ethan Aldridge
There are two other areas of Autumn art people seldom consider, one being fantasy art, such as Autumn Dragon (above), by Ethan Aldridge. Though some might consider Aldridge's art as illustration rather than fine art, it's a dichotomy with which I've never been comfortable. What difference does it make if the art is done for publication or a painting which may (if it's popular) be reproduced using some type of print mechanization?  The other type is Autumn figures. That question never arises with regard to the Czech painter Alphonse Mucha's Four Seasons (below), from 1896. Even though his works (he did several permutations on the "four season" theme) have been reproduced in some quantity both during and after his lifetime (1860-1939), his Art Nouveau figures are among the finest to be found in that style.

Four Seasons, 1896, Alphonse Mucha. The Autumn figure is enlarged.
The error so many painters of Autumn landscape make is in lavishing too much attention and detail upon leaves, trees, and fees (what sells), forgetting that such items make a far better background for their work than as their primary emphasis. Heidi Malott's Soybeans Ready for Harvest (below), is simplicity underscored. Her loose, Impressionist handling of the paint, along with her intricate cloud studies, create a strong beginning. Yet they leave the viewer yearning for some point of interest upon which to focus, even though the work is a welcome relief from what so often is "too much of a good thing."

Soybeans Ready for Harvest, Heidi Malott
Copyright, Jim Lane
Final Nesting Place, 2000, Jim Lane


Monday, November 5, 2018

Qatar Architecture

The skyscraping architecture of Doha, Qatar's capital and only major city, ranges from exquisitely beautiful to (for lack of a better term) ghastly.
Most Americans have never heard of the tiny, Middle-Eastern country of Qatar. Recently, our U.S. Air Force son was sent to that country on six-months of temporary duty. It's a country rich in oil and sand--lots and lots of sand...well, both, really. For those drawing a blank at the mention of the name, Qatar is situated on a peninsula on the northeasterly coast of the Arabian Peninsula. Its sole land border is with Saudi Arabia to the south, with the rest of its territory surrounded by the Persian Gulf. It's also a Middle Eastern hotspot (politically and literally); a place where it's 105 in the shade nearly 24/7. Fortunately it's heavily air-conditioned (our son calls it "refrigerated.) Beginning in 1992, Qatar has built intimate military ties with the United States, and is now the location of U.S. Central Command’s Forward Headquarters and the Combined Air Operations Center. The country is gifted with the world’s largest per-capita oil and natural gas reserves. In 2010, Qatar the economy grew by 19.40%, the fastest in the world. Such outrageous wealth begets outrageous art and the medium of choice seems to be skyscrapers (above). The time-lapse images below illustrate this amazing growth.
What a difference a decade makes! The Doha skyline has caused some to label it "skyscraper city."
Our son refers to Doha as "the poor man's Dubai," poor being a relative term in the Arabic world. Although he's easily impressed with such radical extravagance, he also notes that Doha has to be seen to be believed. Therefore this posting is going to be heavy on images and light on text (which would be inadequate in any case). Doha is home to the Education City, an area devoted to research and education. The city of Doha held the 2006 Asian Games, which was the largest Asian Games ever held. Doha also hosted the 2011 Pan Arab Games and most of the games at the 2011 AFC Asian Cup. Doha will also host a large number of the venues for the 2022 FIFA World Cup and is currently bidding to host the 2020 Summer Olympics. Today, the World Cup competition, though still some three years in the future, is the driving force behind some of the most dramatic new architecture of this century. It's still early, but I dare say, for better or worse, Doha is what the 21st century will look like--an architectural wormhole glimpse into the future.
Doha, Qatar, now the most expensive real estate in the world.
As the venue for Qatar’s 2022 World Cup bid, the Lusail Iconic Stadium (below) will provide a world-class football (soccer) facility for 86,250 spectators during the opening ceremony, group games and final. Reflecting Doha’s culture and heritage, the stadium is designed to be highly energy efficient and capable of performing in extreme summer climatic conditions. The stadium has a near-circular footprint and sits on the masterplan’s primary axis, which divides the stadium precinct into two halves. Encircled by a reflective pool of water, spectators cross the ‘moat’ to enter the building via six bridges. An outer pedestrian concourse extends from the water towards an array of smaller amenity buildings and a hotel at the stadium’s perimeter. The saddle-form roof appears to float above the concrete seating bowl, discreetly supported by a ring of arching columns. Its central section can be retracted to allow the pitch to be either open to the sky or fully covered.
The Doha stadium complex encompasses not just one, but three major venues. (Architects: Foster and Partners).
Spectators traveling to Doha will likely arrive at Hamad International Airport. This massive complex will eventually stretch across 29 square kilometers. This will include the multi-concourse Terminal 1 as well as the Emiri terminal (for VIPs), a second passenger terminal, vehicle rental, cargo, maintenance hanger and catering facilities. Airport City (below) is a new 10 sq. km development where 200,000 people will live and work, linking the new Hamad International Airport with the city of Doha. The 30-year masterplan calls for a series of four circular districts along a spine parallel to the HIA runways, intended to create a strong visual identity and districts with unique identities. Phase One of the masterplan, will link airside and landside developments for business, logistics, retail, hotels, and residences, and will be mostly complete in time for the 2022 World Cup.
The link between sky, land, and water.
Guests at the 2022 World Cup will likely stay at one of dozens of brand new hotels sprouting up like newly planted sod (the only grass in the country). One of the more radical designs is that of Iraqi/British architect Zaha Hadid's 38-story, fluid-form hotel as part of a new coastal city in Qatar (lower image, below). The 70,000-square-meter hotel and residential building is one of two projects designed by Zaha Hadid for Lusail City, ahead of her unexpected death earlier this year. Based on the form of the desert hyacinth, completion is scheduled for 2020. Lusail City, will also boast the Katara Towers (upper image, below) with its iconic “crossed swords” twin towers. Designed by German-based design firm, Kling Consult, the 300,000 sqm development features a five-star hotel geared toward business travelers with its meeting and conference facilities, and 614-room “six-star” luxury hotel. Along with that comes an apartment block for permanent residents, restaurants, a VIP cinema, shops, and a private cigar lounge.
(Just above) Zaha Hadid's desert hyacinth, Lusail City, Qatar.
One of the earliest symbol's of Qatar's architectural "explosion" is a work by Chinese architect, I.M. Pei. His Museum of Islamic Art (below), is situated just offshore in Doha at the southern end of Doha Bay. The museum, which opened in 2008, was designed by Pei, with an interior designed by Jean-Michel Wilmotte. While it maintains a style typical of Pei’s work, the building incorporates elements derived from ancient Middle Eastern structures. The museum is noted for its vast collection of Islamic art spanning 1,300 years, including many prized examples of Arabic calligraphy, early Islamic books, ceramics, glass, ivory, jewelry, metalwork, miniatures, textiles, and woodwork.
Qatar, where the architecture of the East and the West come together to breed the 21st century look of urban wealth.
The Aspire Tower,
Hadi Simaan
Another early beacon of soaring Qatar arch-itecture is the Aspire Tower in Doha (left), de-signed by the American architect, Hadi Simaan. Sometimes referred to as the "Torch Tower," the lighting scheme (below) consists of a grid of nearly 4000 tri-color LED luminaries individually addressed to allow animated patterns to be played across the tower’s skin. The luminaries were designed to provide high visible brightness through the principal viewing area below the horizontal with upward light spill minimized to reduce light pollution. The initial graphics were created for the opening ceremony of the Asian Games. The lighting not only illuminates the architecture, but creates a variable and dynamic form for the building allowing it to respond to the many different events that will happen in "sports city”.
Day or night, Hadi Simaan's Aspire Tower lives up to its name.
So, what does a city with more money, more commerce, and more skyscrapers do when it runs out of real estate (at any price) upon which too plant its 21st century icons? It builds more land, as seen in The Pearl-Qatar (below), an artificial island spanning nearly four square kilometers. It is the first land in Qatar to be available for freehold ownership by foreign nationals. As of January 2015, there are 12,000 residents. Once fully completed, The Pearl will create over 32 kilometers of new coastline, for use as a residential estate with an expected 18,831 dwellings and 45,000 residents by 2018. The island is located 350 meters offshore of Doha's West Bay Lagoon area. In 2004, when the project was first revealed, the initial cost of constructing the island stood at $2.5 billion. It is now believed the project will cost $15 billion upon completion.
Doha's Pearl-Qatar. Global warming; what global warming? It's always warm in Qatar.
The defacto home for all this economic and architectural development is Doha's financial district (below), which is itself a spectacular center of the city's skyrocketing urban design. The Barwa Financial District Project in Doha consists of two nautilus forms spiraling in opposing directions. Together, they create a dynamic flow of mass and space. The spiraling geometry builds up the movement of the towers to create the pinnacle at the southwest corner of the site, a landmark tower visible from the West Bay Area as well as the main road arteries west of the city. The project has an outer ring of six office towers ascending in a clockwise direction from 20 to 35 stories in height. The four inner rings of towers, are comprised of three office buildings and a hotel, ascending from 31 to 50 stores in height. The placement of the nine office towers and their opposing movement of heights help maintain maximum views as well as ensuring that all the buildings have access to natural light.
Doha's Barwa Financial Center, the architectural pipeline for Qatar's rampant economic development.
It would seem that there's no end to the impressive urban development of Qatar's Doha, just as there seems to be no end to the photos I've collected for this posting. Below I've identified a representative selection...sorry for the lack of details on each one, but writers, like readers, do have a limit to their attention span; and it's likely we've all reached that point by now.
Qatar National Library is reminiscent of that in Alexandria, Egypt.
Qatar Science and Technology Park
Architectural Minimalism (A pickle with a toothpick?)
Qatar National Convention Center
"[With] skyscrapers that tower over the Corniche, Doha's Waterside Drive, and it's an amazing skyline...There's a building that looks like a great blue cylinder whose top...It looks like Darth Vader helmet at the top of it...a building that looks like a big pickle with a toothpick stuck out of the top and another that's kind of like a vase on a potter's looks as if it was a huge architectural competition and everybody won and everybody got to design a building."       
                                         --Robert Siegel
Tornado Tower,
Robinson Pourroy architects
Al Bidda Tower,
GHD Architects

Doha Ford Showroom

The Zig-Zag Tower
The Fat Tower

Al Hitmi Office Building by NORR