How Erté Shaped Art Deco Design and Style (Invaluable)

Original article here.

Erte, “Queen of the Night” (detail), 1987. Sold for $2,375 via Freeman’s (April 2015).

Much of what we recognize today as Art Deco design was crafted by Erté through his strong and timeless aesthetic. Spanning many areas of visual culture, including illustrations for fashion magazines, costumes for opera and ballet, and sculpture and set design for theater, Erté’s signature style set the tone for the modern era.

Romain de Tirtoff

Born Romain de Tirtoff in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1892, Erté broke free from the conventions of his aristocratic family and moved to Paris in 1910 to follow his ambitions as an artist.

After a couple of years, his breakthrough, and arguably his biggest influence, was brief collaboration with famed Parisian couturier Paul Poiret, who renamed him “Erté” (the French pronunciation of his initials). This set Erté’s trajectory into the fashion world and before long, he was selling illustrations to Paris fashion houses and magazines. World War I and the ensuing economic decline in Europe subsequently caused Erté to focus his attentions to the American market and led him to secure a long-term contract with Harper’s Bazaar magazine in 1915.

Erte, design for the cover of Harper’s Bazaar, 1935. Sold for £6,545 via Sotheby’s (May 2005).

His exuberant style came into its own in the French theater world, where for 35 years, he designed the costumes and sets for esteemed productions such as Folies-Bergere in Paris and the Ziegfeld Follies of 1923, and for a brief period worked on several Hollywood silent films.

Working right up until his death in 1990, Erté produced some 22,000 designs during his career, applying his talents to everything from lighting and furnishings, accessories and jewelry. He eventually branched out into the realm of limited edition prints, bronzes, and wearable art and had his work had a major revival during the 1960s with the Art Deco revival. Erté’s final swansong was in the 1980s when he completed 100 new designs for a Glyndebourne opera production.

Erté Art

The impact of Erté’s contributions to the principles of contemporary fashion, design, and theater, and setting the visual pace within the 20th century, cannot be underestimated. His work set the precedent for the interconnection of art and culture. Erte art majestically encapsulates the taste and aesthetic of the time, with influences drawn from diverse sources such as Russian iconography, Byzantine mosaics, Greek pottery and Indian and Egyptian art.

Admired by celebrities of the time and emulated by the everyday woman, he is one of few artists who has had significant influence over cultural trends. Erté introduced the image of a stylized body draped in beads and furs, which would define and capture the essence of a generation: spectacle, exoticism, and fantasy.

1. Erte Fashion Illustrations

Erté introduced a sense of theatricality into Art Deco fashion, making popular velvet evening wraps with Chinese sleeves and gold embroidery, and long gowns covered in crystal and pearls. His silhouettes, asymmetrical hemlines, eye for unisex clothing, use of metals in fashion, and tailored professional-wear, influenced fashion designers such as Yves Saint Laurent in his 1976 Ballets Russes collection, Oscar de la Renta’s signature embellishments and draping, and the décor of London’s famous fashion emporium Biba, among others.

Erte, “‘L`Inoubliable Nuit, No. 45’,” 1917. Sold for $1,800 via Shapiro Auctions (June 2014).

It is primarily through his contribution to Harper’s Bazaar magazine that Erté became known within the fashion and publishing world, changing the trajectory of fashion illustration. Erté worked for the publication for 22 years and designed more than 240 magazine covers, where he oversaw the magazine’s art direction. Harper’s Bazaar was the perfect medium to reflect the newfound freedom and love of spectacle in early-20th century American society. He portrayed the modern woman in scenes of everyday life, donning exuberant and vibrant colors and textiles, thus putting a new spin on what is perceived as glamorous.

The sense of movement and his painstakingly detailed work, as seen in Sports d’Hiver (pictured below), where Erté drew each individual dot of the snow by hand, is what makes these pieces “outstanding works of graphic art” and “quintessential art deco masterworks,” according to Christine von der Linn, a specialist at Swann Auction Galleries.

Erte, “Sports d’Hiver.” Cover illustration for Harper’s Bazaar magazine. Sold for $8,125 via Swann Auction Galleries (May 2017).

However, most of Erté’s surviving original cover designs for Harper’s Bazaar remain in private collections, therefore, is quite rare to find them at auction. His reproductions from the 1990s as serigraphs or the original Harper’s Bazaar magazines are more affordable and easier pieces to find.

Among the many projects he took up within fashion are the design illustrations and prints Erté created for New York shoe manufacturer Herman Delmanare and the designs for premier New York store Henri Bendel and B. Altman & Co.

2. Erte Jewelry

Erté’s ideas transcended a variety of media, and he even experimented as a jewelry-maker. Though Erte jewelry is less common at auction, they reflect the same principles and aesthetics established in Erte fashion illustrations.

A set of sapphire, sterling silver and gold jewels by ErtŽe, from the limited edition “Nile” collection. Sold for CAD4000 via Dupuis Auctions (June 2018).

Erté started designing jewelry in 1979 for the Circle of Fine Art (CFA) with great success. Together, they produced a total of 328 limited edition designs. Based on the artist’s intricate style and detailed designs, his jewelry is known as Erte “Art To Wear.” He would also draw inspiration from the nautical world (his most recurring and favorite theme), animals, birds (the peacock being his favorite), and Egyptian culture, amongst other sources. From rings to earrings and pendants, he would design each collection under a different theme, such as “Fantasy,” “La Mer,” “Tempest,” or the “The Nile.” Erté’s last “Art to Wear” designs were for a series of numerals in gold. Also keep an eye out for jewelry design sketches, which prove to be highly collectible.

3. Erte Costume and Set Design

During the 1920s and 1930s, Erté designed sets and costumes for a great variety of Broadway theater productions. His innovations in costume design range from performers adorned with large, plumed headdresses, pearls and embroidered trains, and costumes that evoke tableaux vivants. Erté was further set apart from contemporary theater designers by the quality and detail of his finished designs.

Erte, Costume Design: Blue Robe. Via Sotheby’s (February 2018).

Erté’s designs, silhouettes and movement influenced dancers of all genres and styles, inspiring countless imitations. Erte artwork also influenced future costume designers such as American designer Adrian Adolph Greenberg, better known as “Adrian,” and best known for his work in the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz.

His first introduction to the film industry was in designing sets and costumes for Hollywood director Louis B. Mayer, such as the 1925 film Ben Hur. However, his relationship with Hollywood ended fairly quickly, partly due to the fact that Erté’s designs did not translate well into practical costumes. Not fitting within the film industry, Erté moved onto industrial design, conceptualizing utilitarian objects and domestic interiors.

Erte, “Cosi Fan Tutte-Décor of the 4th act,” 1947. Sold for €3,640 via Artcurial (May 2015).

Erté’s highly detailed gouaches played a crucial role in his legacy and ensured the long-term success of the artist. This could be due to the fact that many of his costume and set designs have not survived and it is the gouaches that were preserved by Erté that still allow for a comprehensive overview of his achievements today.

4. Erte Bronze

From the 1970s, utilising the revival of his work, Erté reproduced many of his gouache artworks through serigraphs and lithographs as a way to reach more audiences. In 1980, he produced a series of bronze sculptures, also based on the characters and costumes of his designs. Erté believed that these bronze sculptures allowed him to translate his ideas to an extent that was not possible on the stage or on paper. Erte’s ultimate goal was for these sculptures to become objects of beauty and desire.

Erté, Cold Painted Bronze Sculpture: “Ready for the Ball,” late 20th century. Sold for $1800 via Heritage Auctions (May 2017).

In the 1960s Erte’s career experienced a renaissance, becoming again the reference for a new generation. In addition to his popularity as an artist, it is still evident how Erté’s art has had an effect on almost all aspects of visual culture, both by defining the Art Deco aesthetic and remaining timeless to this day. Erté’s ability to create worlds immersed with glamour, spectacle and fantasy still remains relevant in the 21st century, speaking to the sensibility of a cross-cultural era.

Hallmarks of Erté Art (& How to Spot a Counterfeit)

To better understand the hallmarks of Erté art, and the defining characteristics that collectors should look for, we sat down with Ray Perman, specialist in Erté art at London’s Grosvenor Gallery. Here are his recommendations.

1. Limited Edition Prints

  • Check publications. Erté produced 469 limited editions over the span of 30 years, which are fully recorded in three publications, Erté at Ninety: The Complete Graphics, Erté at Ninety-Five: The Complete New Graphics, and Erté: The Last Works: Graphics / Sculpture.
  • Know the hallmarks of his late works. Later works were produced with embossing and hot foil-stamping, but there are no known fakes of these late editions as the process is too expensive to be viable. The earlier serigraphs and lithographs are printed on high quality Arches paper.
  • Check for blind stamps, signatures, and certificates. All editions have a blind stamp of the publisher and the signature of the artist. A certificate was provided for each print. Potential buyers should ask for this and the provenance of the work.
  • Understand print type and edition size. A number of book and calendar illustrations are often offered as original prints, but these can be easily identified because of the quality, size, and lack of edition number.

2. Sculpture

  • Check publications. Erté produced 146 bronze editions. All are recorded in Erté: The Last Works: Graphics / Sculpture.
  • Look for a foundry stamp. All bronzes bear a foundry stamp, edition number and the signature of the artist. There are no known fakes of Erte’s original sculptures as the cost of reproduction is high and any cast from an original sculpture would be of different dimensions.
  • Understand the difference between Erte and Jules Erte. There have been a number of sculptures offered mastering as Erté, and there are also works produced by a different artist, Jules Erte, that can be confused for the work of Romain de Tirtoff. However, the difference in image and style is easy to detect.

Detail of stamp on an Erte bronze.

3. Original Works

  • Understand the artist’s preferred medium. All known works, with one exception, are pen and ink for early fashion drawings and gouache on paper for theater, Revue and Harper’s Bazaar covers.
  • Look for numbers and stamps on works on paper. Erté kept a record of all his original works, which is unusual for an artist. Each gouache or drawing has a unique number and brief description on the back, and is also stamped “Composition Originale.” The number is noted in the written records along with details of the production and the name of the person who commissioned the work. Fakes can be determined by reference to the records and examination of the work.

About Fiona McKay & Xenia Capacete

Fiona and Xenia are fashion curators and exhibit makers, and founders of White Line Projects, a curatorial and creative studio based in London. White Line Projects curates, designs, and produces a diverse range of outcomes including exhibitions, installations and digital experiences, and websites for a wide range of clients in the fashion and cultural sectors. Fiona, Xenia, and the team at White Line Projects bring a diverse combination of skills and background experience ranging from visual communications and 3D technologies to architecture, art history, and exhibition design to theater design and performing arts.

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Every once in a while your students teach you something new…Part 1

Today, I was reading a paper by one of my students who was discussing a work of art I have never seen before. I am not 100% sure why this image arrested me the way it did and even caused a blog post about it. My first impression when I tried to process it was that it feels like what I have lost and gained about New York City in my life. I loved the gritty old dirty graffiti-filled dangerous city I wanted to run away to since I was a teenager but I love as well how the city is growing and changing; the cost of living not so much. I also feel a loss looking at this image, loss of the old ways in NYC, loss of affordable housing for artists, loss of a certain way of life.

The Death of Graffiti by Lady Pink

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Cao Fei’s First Solo US Museum Show Channels a Dystopic Future China (artnet news)

Cao Fei, Still from Haze and Fog.Photo: Courtesy of MoMA.

Cao Fei, Still from Haze and Fog. Courtesy of MoMA.

 

Cao Fei, La Town: White Street (2014).Photo: Courtesy of MoMA PS1.

Cao Fei, La Town: White Street (2014). Photo: Courtesy of MoMA PS1.

Cao Fei has seen the future of China and it looks like Detroit—after a Hollywood zombie apocalypse. That’s certainly the impression one receives on entering the 38-old artist’s eponymously titled exhibition at MoMA PS1. In this, her first US museum solo outing, she presents several roomfuls of dystopic scenarios that include alienated teens, utopian musings, digital escapism, and post-apocalyptic clichés.

Hailed as among the most innovative Chinese artists working today, Cao has made video and digital technology her media of choice in exploring the lives of China’s citizens—especially its young citizens—as they struggle with raised expectations, falling economic growth rates, and a repressive society that censors the press and the Internet. In Cao’s still and moving image works, her country’s messy prospects are characteristically seen through the prism of China’s 13-to-35-year-old demographic. Unfortunately, global youth culture is just as conservative in the East as it is in the West.

Born in Guangzhou, also known as the “world’s factory,” Cao has experienced China’s economic boom first hand as well as the topsy-turvy paradoxes brought by one party laissez-faire capitalism. Among these is the absurdity of life in a city like Guangzhou, where Zaha Hadid’s futuristic opera house rises and whose pollution has been likened to a nuclear winter. If there is a place that symbolizes China’s dangerous contradictions, it’s Cao’s hometown; in turn, this fact gives the artist’s predictions of a coming Asian rust belt both their bite and urgency.

Cao Fei, Cosplayers Series: A Ming at Home (2004). Image: Courtesy of artist and Vitamin Creative Space.

Cao Fei, Cosplayers Series: A Ming at Home (2004). Image: Courtesy of artist and Vitamin Creative Space.

Cao’s objects, C-prints, standalone videos, and film installations liberally mix together disparate cultural elements to comment on the roiling changes bedeviling Chinese society. Among the more frequently used tropes in her arsenal are Pop aesthetics, social commentary, digital animation, virtual reality, and an evolving preoccupation with youth subcultures. An artist seemingly addicted to the ideal of roleplaying, Fei uses her performances to embark on various analog and digital fantasies that star herself or others. As the artist told artnet News’s Kathleen Massara, she’s insistently in search of what she has termed “resistant power.”

Cao’s exhibition—tidily curated by Klaus Biesenbach, Director, MoMA PS1 and Chief Curator at Large, the Museum of Modern Art—is arrayed around eight rooms on the museum’s first floor and also occupies the VW sponsored dome in the museum’s courtyard. This last space contains an especially raucous multimedia installation: It’s constituent parts include a stage set, fake Chinatown signage, reproductions of hanging birds, musical instruments and the music video stylings of the NYC-based hip-hop group Notorious MSG, one of Cao’s more entertaining collaborators. (Cao held a performance with the hip-hop group this past Sunday.)

Cao Fei

Notorious MSG, with Cao Fei.

According to the museum literature, the band’s three core members currently work at restaurants in New York City’s Chinatown. Their song “Straight out of Canton” captures a great deal of the joy and some of the potential “resistance” Cao ascribes to the group’s all-immigrant appropriation of American hip-hop. However spunky and fun-filled, though, the irony of VW—a company that has admitted to massively evading global emission regulations—sponsoring this portion of the exhibition should be lost on no one.

If Cao’s early films from the 1990s and early 2000s—eight of which are arrayed in a circle on monitors in one of the show’s last room—consist of low-fi abject fictions involving mostly friends and fellow students from the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, her ensuing projects feature a combination of social realist portraiture and escapist make-believe.

In 2004, for instance, Cao followed a tribe of Cosplayers around Guangzhou. In her photographs and videos a troupe of young adults lunge, thrust, and pose like American Civil War reenactors in full manga and anime costume. Like other global simulators in similar soul-killing locales—say, Brussels or Albany—they ritually refight their own Gettysburgs amid their city’s ubiquitous gray high-rises and concrete plazas.

Cao Fei, RMB City - A Second Life City Planning (2007).Photo: Courtesy of MoMA PS 1.

Cao Fei, RMB City – A Second Life City Planning (2007). Photo: Courtesy of MoMA PS 1.

A second project that goes all-in with a richly evasive Western subculture is the artist’s embrace of Second Life: Linden Lab’s formerly hot, now not virtual world that companies like Amazon, American Apparel, and Disney rushed to brand in the early 2000s (sales in that virtual universe peaked at $64 million in 2006). From 2007 to 2011, Fei purchased enough alt-real estate to build RMB City, a digital mashup of various global gothams she ghosts with China Tracy, her own Western-looking avatar.

In real life—or at least in the artist’s exhibition—the project is represented by a promotional video, white construction tools, and a broker’s reception desk. In the wall text, Cao describes the effects of her installation: “It’s perhaps no longer important to draw the line between the virtual and the real, as the border between the two has been blurred.” The reaction of hardline Chinese officials to this fanciful fairytale is easy to fathom: From Cao Fei’s mouth to Xi Jinping’s ears.

But not all of Cao’s elaborate artworks sound the same naïve fugitive note. In 2006, for instance, she took advantage of a residence in a Siemens lighting factory to juxtapose the daydreams of workers with their lives as they are actually lived inside a manufacturing plant. The ensuing project, Whose Utopia?, materializes these workers aspirations through photographs, a newspaper titled “Utopia Daily,” and a video by the same title. In Cao’s film a prima ballerina in wings and a fuzzy white halo dances amid shop machinery, an older gentleman slides silkily around the factory floor to Chinese pop music, and a young man acts out the dream of being a rock guitarist. Extravagant fantasies all, they are saved from mere amusement by one true thing. They are located inside a place of actual exploitation.

Cao Fei, My Future is Not a Dream No.2 (2006). Courtesy of Hara Museum of Contemporary Art. © Cao Fei / Deutsche Bank Collection.

Cao Fei, My Future is Not a Dream No.2 (2006). Courtesy of Hara Museum of Contemporary Art. © Cao Fei / Deutsche Bank Collection.

Cao’s most recent project, La Town, on the other hand, falls back on Hollywood boilerplate to depict the kind of post-apocalyptic imaginings that animate mass entertainment vehicles like HBOs The Walking Dead and MILFs Versus Zombies. The film, which opens Cao’s current survey, enlists 3D dioramas to present a Breugel-like portrait of civilization struck by an unspecified disaster. As such, it begs for something more specific, less generic, more critical and less dependent on Western clichés—including copycat subcultures—to convincingly make its dystopic point. Despite some inventiveness, the first US museum show by this fast-rising Chinese art star invites adult skepticism. Escapism is not resistance, and fantasy is not utopia.

A Photographer Documents the Fantasy World of Six Shut-In Brothers (Hyperallergic)

by Carey Dunne on March 28, 2016 original article here.

Dan Martensen, from ‘Wolves Like Us: Portraits of the Angulo Brothers’ (2015) (all images courtesy Damiani and Dan Martensen)

Dan Martensen, from ‘Wolves Like Us: Portraits of the Angulo Brothers’ (2015) (all images courtesy Damiani and Dan Martensen)

For 14 years, the six Angulo brothers were locked away from society in a Lower East Side housing project. Their paranoid father forbade them, along with their mother and sister, from leaving the apartment. Movies provided their only window to the outside world: they learned almost everything they knew from obsessively watching films like Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and The Dark Knight, and they spent their days reenacting scenes and violent, movie-inspired fantasies.

Last year, the family went from anonymous shut-ins to cult stars after the release of The Wolfpack, a documentary by Crystal Moselle that told the story of the brothers’ isolated upbringings and eventual journey to freedom. The astonishing documentary, which won the U.S. Documentary Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival last year, led to the brothers’ integration into the outside world — for the first time in their lives, they now have friends, jobs, and Facebook pages; one has a girlfriend.

Back in 2010, Moselle met these long-haired, leather-clad teenagers on the street during one of their first furtive ventures outside their apartment. Fascinated with their tale, she introduced this “Wolfpack” to a photographer friend, Dan Martensen.

For five years, every few months, Martensen photographed the boys in all their masked, superhero-costumed glory. The boys invited him to their three-bedroom Lower East Side apartment in which they grew up, giving him a tour of the imaginary realm they’d created to escape stifling confinement. Shortly thereafter, Martensen invited the Wolfpack to his house in upstate New York. There, “the boys experienced nature – wading through shallow creeks, running across fields – for the first time beyond the frame of their television.”

Dan Martensen, from ‘Wolves Like Us: Portraits of the Angulo Brothers’ (2015)

Dan Martensen, from ‘Wolves Like Us: Portraits of the Angulo Brothers’ (2015)

Wolves Like Us: Portraits of the Angulo Brothers, a new book from Damiani, compiles Martensen’s striking photographs of the brothers’ fantasy world and their first ventures out of their apartment. “In taking these images, my desire was to the reveal the true character of the boys – to give voice to their wildly beautiful imagination – not necessarily to lay bare their past, nor focus upon where they are from,” Martensen writes. Instead of revealing the boys’ backstory, or digging into the reality behind their elaborate imagination, as the film does, the photographs play into this fantasy and give it a stage. Martensen largely shot the boys at their most performative, in Joker masks and Batman suits, aiming cardboard guns at the camera. “As years of confinement finally fade from their psyche, I’ve watched this band of brothers, this ‘Wolfpack’ grow, each becoming in their respective ways, characters of their own making,” Martensen reflects. His photographs suggest that, even if they’re more unusual, these action movie-inspired characters are no less real than the so-called conventional identities any mainstream individual creates and performs on a daily basis.

Dan Martensen, from ‘Wolves Like Us: Portraits of the Angulo Brothers’ (2015)

All photos below from Dan All photos by Dan Martensen, from ‘Wolves Like Us: Portraits of the Angulo Brothers’ (2015)

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How a Book on Nihilism Ended Up on Jay-Z’s Back and Glenn Beck’s Show (Critical Theory)

Imagine this: You, like many of our readers, work tirelessly to write volumes on subjects that only a handful people will read. Unless your name is Judith Butler or Slavoj Zizek, chances are that nobody cares about your latest thoughts on Friedrich Nietzsche.

But then one day, you notice a model wearing a shirt adorned with your book title. Then you’re casually wasting your time on YouTube and Jay-Z is now wearing a jacket also adorned with your book.

That’s exactly what happened to Eugene Thacker, a Media Studies professor at The New School University, who wrote a book on horror and nihilism called “In the Dust of this Planet” in 2011 published by Zero Books. While the book received generally positive reviews on various message boards, it was anything but a New York Time’s Bestseller. And then – it was everywhere.

It started when some words eerily reminiscent of Thacker’s shows up in HBO’s hit show “True Detective.”

“I’m what’s called a pessimist,” the show’s main character proclaims. “We are creatures that should not exist by natural law. We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self, a secretion of sensory experience and feeling programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody when in fact everybody is nobody.”

When asked what inspired the main character, writer Nic Pizzolatto cited, among other books, “In the Dust of this Planet.”

After that, the clothes showed up. Icelandic artist Gardar Eide Einarsonn collaborated with clothing brand BLK DNM to put out fashion with “bold messages.”

Next came the celebrities. Lily Allen posted this to her Instagram and this shot showed up in Jay-Z and Beyonce’s video for “Run.”

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NPR’s “Radiolab,” investigated the matter, talking to both Thacker and Simon Critchley, who explained that nihilism has always been a staple of counter-culture. They even talked to Jay-Z’s costume designer, who went through her rationale for picking the jacket.

A costume, she argues, is “like a conversation.” That conversation, in the Jay-Z video was that this man, a “sovereign,” had the world on his back and acted as if he was completely unaware or, to quote the Radiolab host, “didn’t care.”

To top everything off – Glenn Beck discovered the NPR podcast and quickly declared a liberal plot to disseminate eugenics and nihilism via pop culture.

Beck dedicated over 8 minutes of his show back in September to the topic of “nihilism” and how conservatives need to be up in arms about it.

Of course, Beck in his segment could never admit to listening to something run by NPR, and is quick to note our tax-dollars funded the program. Luckily, Beck’s producer listens so he doesn’t have to.

Thacker, by the way, had never heard of Beck, which I find utterly confounding.

There’s a flurry of absurd claims in Beck’s diatribe: Thacker works at a school founded by progressive educators who invented eugenics, or something. Beck was probably referring to New School founder and  progressive John Dewey who never endorsed genetics, and was even arguably against it.

“When you take Darwin,” Beck continues, “and couple it with nihilism and then progressivism you can kill people if it’s for the good of the collective.” Note, “good of the collective” and “nihilism” in hilarious juxtaposition. Beck then posits this as the logic of Nazi genocide – a ridiculous claim  rebuked by even Walter Sobchack when he noted: “Say what you will about the tenets of National Socialism, dude, at least it’s an ethos.”

Not to mention that The New School’s second spiritual founding happened with The New School in Exile by a bunch of academics trying to escape Nazi persecution. But I digress.

“Even if you are a control freak, one thing you learn when you write a book and send it out is that it has a life of its own,” Thacker said. “It’s open to interpretation.”

So is there a liberal plot to spread nihilism? No, not the least because most radical scholars detest both liberal and conservative politics (I can’t speak for Thacker), and because Nietzsche is more often-than-not taken out of context to justify conservative racism. For many philosophers, being taken up by pop culture is more a sign of defeat than a cause of celebration.

When I reached out to Thacker, he didn’t have much to say.

“I suppose that more people have worn my book than have read it,” he remarked.

Do Outsider Artists Really Exist? (artnet news)

Anthony Haden-Guest, Friday, January 22, 2016 original article here.

Joe Coleman, Liz Renay (2010). Acrylic on found triptych.Image: Courtesy of http://joecoleman.com.

Joe Coleman, Liz Renay (2010). Acrylic on found triptych. Image: Courtesy of joecoleman.com.

Days before the Outsider Art Fair opened in New York, artist Joe Coleman was on a panel at NeueHouse, a venue on East 25th which describes itself alarmingly as a “machine for creating.” The supposed theme was Killing Time: The Chronology of Creativity, which sounded enticing, but Coleman, black-bearded and glittery-waist-coated, was in tip-top form, so the discussion—like the screen behind the panelists and the questions from the audience in front of them—focused soon enough on Outsider art.

This is a classification which Coleman went on to denounce as condescending. “I love Henry Darger and Adolf Wofli,” he told the audience. “They are great artists. They aren’t Outsider artists. There’s only good art and bad art.”

Nobody took him up on this. I admire Joe Coleman’s work enormously so I’ll engage with the thorny topic here and now.

There’s a famous story that illuminates the relationship between the Modernists and Outsider artists and it comes from the very beginnings of Modernism. Picasso reportedly bought a canvas by Henri Rousseau in a Paris flea market possibly as early as 1900. In 1908 he threw a banquet for Rousseau which has been described in sometimes hilarious detail. The coats were flung into Juan Gris’s studio, Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas were around, there was prodigious drinking; apparently Marie Laurencin got so naughty that Guillaume Apollinaire had to send her home.

It’s clear that Picasso and the young Modernists thought the retired toll-taker was somewhat a holy fool, and, yes, they were condescending, but it’s also clear that they hugely admired  his work for its authenticity, its visual inventiveness. And that, as with the African masks they were also looking at, had raw energy, just the energy they needed for their project of dynamiting the salon. (The Picasso banquet was a huge boost to Rousseau’s career as well.)

Henry Darger, Untitled (They are chased again however, and have to give up for want of breath). Photo: Andrew Edlin Gallery.

Henry Darger, Untitled (They are chased again however, and have to give up for want of breath). Photo: Andrew Edlin Gallery.

Outsider art still has that special energy. You could see it, an  unmistakeable difference, in the images onscreen at the NeueHouse. Artists like Darger, Wofli and yes, Coleman are different from mainstreamers, but not just because they are schizophrenics (as was Wofli) or have bizarre drives (as most certainly did Darger). Outsider artists are not ‘outside’ just in the sense of being untaught, or disadvantaged, but because they and their work operate outside the Great Game of the art world. And, most important, unlike almost all professional artists, who turn out a fair amount of product—yes, I do include you, Picasso—they mean every thing they do, every single piece they make.

Which is precisely why Outsider art is a focus of such interest right now, a time when a whole new cast of slick derivative tricksters is dominating the artscape. Yes, folks, there’s a whole new Salon out there. That is why prices of the great Outsiders are skyrocketing, and it is why Coleman is perfectly correct in his belief that they belong with the other greats. And they will, in time, join them. Which is also, by the way, why we are seeing a surge of faux, unfelt Outsiderism into the marketplace. But that is an old, old, always depressing story.

Prehistoric Caves May Contain Oldest Paintings of Volcanic Eruptions (Hyperallergic)

by Claire Voon on January 25, 2016 original article here.

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L: General view of the Megaloceros panel showing the spray signs (photo credit D. Genty); R: Detail of the Megaloceros panel (photos V. Feruglio-D. Baffier) (all images © 2016 Nomade et al, used under CC BY 4.0)

Since its discovery in 1994, the Chauvet-Pont d’Arc cave in southern France has been a rich site for researchers to study prehistoric art, featuring early paintings of both animals and humans on its walls. Now the ancient site — which in 2014 received UNESCO World Heritage Site status — may also present the oldest depiction of a volcanic eruption discovered yet, according to a study recently published by a team of French scientists in the journal PLoS One.

“Our work provides the first evidence of an intense volcanic activity between 40 and 30 ka in the Bas-Vivarais region,” researchers write in the study, “and it is very likely that humans living in the Ardèche river area witnessed one or several eruptions.”

Likely finger-painted with red and white pigments, the paintings resemble little fountains — “spray-shape signs,” as the team describes them. They appear on the walls of various galleries in the cave; one appears to emerge from the head of a Megaloceros, which was later drawn in charcoal and partially covers the abstract pattern. The researchers, comparing the age of the symbols with dates of local volcanic activity, believe the cave dwellers were responding to an eruption that occurred approximately 36,000 years ago. The closest volcano would have stood in the Bas-Vivarais region, a little over 20 miles northwest of the cave.

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Çatalhöyük mural painting in Turkey, considered the oldest depiction of a volcanic eruption, dated from the 8th/7th millennium BCE

“There’s no way anybody could prove that it is a volcano that they depicted, but for us it’s the hypothesis which is the most probable,” Sebastien Nomade, who led the study, told Nature.

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Petroglyphs depicting the Porak volcano eruption in the Syunik region of Armenia

If the scientists’ claims are true, the paintings would predate the nearly 9,000-year-old Çatalhöyük mural in Turkey, previously identified in the early 1960s by archaeologist James Mellaart as the earliest representation of such an eruption. Another known depiction is found in southern Armenia, where a group of six petrogylphs dating to the 5th millennium BCE show eruptions of the Porak volcano. The Chauvet image would also predate Pliny the Younger’s famous description of the 79 CE Vesuvias eruption.

“I think they make a pretty good case that it’s potentially a depiction of the kind of volcano that one sees on the landscape,” as Michael Petraglia, a University of Oxford archaeologist (unaffiliated with the study) told Nature. “Maybe there’s more of this out there than we have realized.”