A New Documentary for the Forger Who Infiltrated America’s Art Museums (Hyperallergic)

by Allison Meier on September 26, 2014 original article here.

Mark Landis at home with recent forgeries is the subject of the Art and Craft documentary

Mark Landis at home with recent works (photograph by Sam Cullman, courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories)

For three decades, Mark Landis quietly infiltrated art museums across the United States with donated forgeries, works he carefully copied himself from the whole of art history. Paul Signac, Pablo Picasso, Hans Holbein, less-known names like Louis Valtat — sometimes they even went on display in the galleries. A new documentary called Art and Craftreleased today in Los Angeles, tries to figure out what compels Landis, with a sympathetic portrait of a very curious character.

Mark Landis at home, showing off recent works. CHARACTER NAME: Mark Landis PHOTOGRAPHER: Sam Cullman Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories

Mark Landis at home, showing off recent works (photograph by Sam Cullman, courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories)

Directors Sam Cullman and Jennifer Grausman discovered his story through a 2011 New York Times article, which wouldn’t have existed if not for a man named Matthew Leininger. While a registrar at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, he discovered works Landis was supposedly donating had already been given to other museums. As he dug deeper, he realized just how far the web of forgeries stretched.

The film, however, is much more interested in Landis, although Leininger gets some brooding screen time. It’s obvious the filmmakers were a bit enamored with this small man with his tinny voice, Ignatius Reilly-level confidence, and clever handiwork — employing coffee to stain cheap Hobby Lobby frames to an antique patina, using colored pencils to replicate a chalk drawing, even showing us step-by-step how to make a new Picasso out of a printed copy and some shellac.

It’s clear from the film that the Mississippi-based Landis, whose speech is often a string of old movie quotes, became obsessed with the attention of being a museum donor, and the scenes with his case worker and interviews on his mental health suggest some psychological roots.”I got addicted to being a philanthropist,” he says, noting that it was seldom he had people so nice to him. Yet he adds: “I didn’t do anything wrong or illegal.” And he didn’t, no money was traded, no financial harm that could be prosecuted was done, it was only the integrity of the museums which was marred.

That isn’t the focus of the film, however, nor the possible implications on art value, or the time wasted with his forgeries. Yet Landis is a fascinating figure to watch, as he impersonates a priest, even inviting the filmmakers to witness one of his blatant fake donations, supposedly in honor of a non-existent dead sister. And as an exploration of the value and authenticity of art, it is as good a lesson as any to not take anything at face value, including an otherwise nondescript man whose skilled work may be on wider display than the artists he copied.

Mark Landis at home and at work on a “Picasso”. CHARACTER NAME: Mark Landis PHOTOGRAPHER: Sam Cullman Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories

Mark Landis at home and at work on a “Picasso” (photograph by Sam Cullman, courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories)

Art and Craft is released today in Los Angeles. A full list of screenings is online

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Fisherman Pulls Up Beastly Evidence of Early Americans (Yahoo!)

By Tia Ghose, Staff Writer,  LiveScience.com

A flaked blade unearthed from the Chesapeake Bay along with a mastodon skull shows evidence of weathering in open air, then saltwater marshes, and finally the ocean.

A 22,000-year-old mastodon skull and tool dredged from the seafloor in the Chesapeake Bay hints of early settlers in North America.

The two relics, which were pulled up together, may come from a place that hasn’t been dry land since 14,000 years ago. If so, the combination of the finds may suggest that people lived in North America, and possibly butchered the mastodon, thousands of years before people from the Clovis culture, who are widely thought to be the first settlers of North America and the ancestors of all living Native Americans.

But that hypothesis is controversial, with one expert saying the finds are too far removed from their original setting to draw any conclusions from them. That’s because the bones were found in a setting that makes it tricky for scientists to say with certainty where they originated and how they are related to one another.

“The bottom line is, there simply is no context for these discoveries,” said Vance Holliday, an archaeologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson, who was not involved in the study.

Deep-sea fishing

Most researchers believe the first Americans crossed the Bering Strait from Siberia about 15,000 years ago and quickly colonized North America. Artifacts from these ancient settlers, dubbed the Clovis culture after one of their iconic archaeological sites in Clovis, New Mexico, have been found from Canada to the edges of North America. [In Photos: The Clovis Culture and Stone Tools]

But in 1974, a small wooden scallop trawler was dredging the seafloor, about 230 feet (70 meters) below the sea surface and nearly 60 miles (100 kilometers) off the coastline in the Chesapeake Bay.

“They hit a snag, or a hang, as they like to say, which meant that something pretty heavy was in their net,” said Dennis Stanford, an archaeologist with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., who has analyzed the find.

When they pulled up their net, they found the partial skull of a mastodon, a distant cousin of the woolly mammoth that began its slide into extinction about 12,000 years ago, Stanford said. The fishermen also noticed a flaked blade made of a volcanic rock called rhyolite.

Rediscovered treasure

The fisherman couldn’t lug the skull back to shore in their tiny wooden boat, so they sawed off the tusks and teeth, tossed the rest overboard and eventually handed portions to the crew as souvenirs. Capt. Thurston Shawn gave the remaining tusk portions, teeth and knife to a relative, who donated the remains to Gwynn’s Island Museum in Virginia. There they sat, unnoticed, for decades.

But while doing his doctoral dissertation, Darrin Lowery, a geologist at the University of Delaware, noticed the teeth and the tusk at the museum, and said, “Ooh, it’s something Dennis would be real interested in,” Stanford told Live Science. [See Images of the Mastodon Tusk and Tool from the Site]

By measuring the fraction of radioactive carbon isotopes (elements of carbon with different numbers of neutrons), the team found that the mastodon tusk was more than 22,000 years old.

There was no way to date the blade precisely, but the deft flint-knapping technique used to make it was similar to that found in Solutrean tools, which were made in Europe between 22,000 and 17,000 years ago.

Melting glaciers raised sea levels and submerged that area of the continental shelf about 14,000 years ago, so the knife must have been at least that old, Stanford added.

In addition, both pieces showed characteristic weathering that indicated they were exposed to the air for a while and then submerged in a saltwater marsh, before finally being buried in seawater.

That finding suggested that the two artifacts were possibly from the same environment — such as the marshes found between sand dunes that are often set back from the seashore. That would have been a perfect place for mastodons to find food, Stanford said.

“They like to chew on bushes and more rough shrubbery,” Stanford said.

To Stanford, Lowery and their colleagues, the discoveries suggest that people lived along the East Coast more than 14,000 years ago — potentially thousands of years before the Clovis culture emerged there. These first American colonizers may have even crossed the Atlantic Ocean from Europe, Stanford said. [Top 10 Mysteries of the First Humans]

Pre-Clovis Americans?

“I think it’s very convincing,” said Michael B. Collins, an anthropologist at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas, who was not involved in the current work.

The weathering on both items — first with open air, then saltwater, then seawater exposure — would be almost impossible to get without them having been on land prior to rising sea levels toward the close of the Pleistocene Epoch, which lasted from 1.7 million to 11,700 years ago, Collins said.

But the person who wielded the rhyolite knife may not have hunted the mastodon, Collins said.

“Those things could have come to rest there together at different times,” with the tool possibly being 18,000 or 19,000 years old, Collins told Live Science.

The idea that the first Americans were European “has been around for a long time, and it’s a tough case to make,” Holliday said.

A 2007 study in the journal PLOS Genetics tied all living Native American populations to ancestors that crossed the Bering Strait from Siberia. If Europeans did reach the Americas 18,000 years ago, they left little genetic trace in living populations.

“There’s absolutely no DNA evidence,” Holliday said.

Archaeological evidence is also scarce. A few East Coast sites, such as Cactus Hill in Virginia and Meadowcroft Rockshelter in Pennsylvania, may have been inhabited up to 16,000 to 18,000 years ago, but the dating and provenance of artifacts from the sites are debatable, Holliday said.

Either way, it’s impossible to know how the mastodon tusk and knife are connected, Holliday said.

“You would have to demonstrate that the artifact was associated with the mastodon — in the same geologic layers,” Holliday said.

But many other fishing boats could have come and mixed up the sediments at the ocean floor prior to the scallop trawler’s dredging. And with thousands of years of ocean currents, the artifacts could have originated in different locations. For all anybody knows, an ancient fisherman could have dropped the knife from a canoe 8,000 years ago, Holliday said.

The new discovery was described in May in a chapter of the book “Prehistoric Archaeology on the Continental Shelf” (Springer, 2014), though it has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Why I Teach Plato to Plumbers (The Atlantic)

 
 
Once, when I told a guy on a plane that I taught philosophy at a community college, he responded, “So you teach Plato to plumbers?” Yes, indeed. But I also teach Plato to nurses’ aides, soldiers, ex-cons, preschool music teachers, janitors, Sudanese refugees, prospective wind-turbine technicians, and any number of other students who feel like they need a diploma as an entry ticket to our economic carnival. As a result of my work, I’m in a unique position to reflect on the current discussion about the value of the humanities, one that seems to me to have lost its way.
 
As usual, there’s plenty to be worried about: the steady evaporation of full-time teaching positions, the overuse and abuse of adjunct professors, the slashing of public funding, the shrinkage of course offerings and majors in humanities disciplines, the increase of student debt, the peddling of technologies as magic bullets, the ubiquitous description of students as consumers. Moreover, I fear in my bones that the supremacy of a certain kind of economic-bureaucratic logic—one of “outcomes,” “assessment,” and “the bottom-line”—is eroding the values that undergird not just our society’s commitment to the humanities, but to democracy itself.
 
The problem facing the humanities, in my view, isn’t just about the humanities. It’s about the liberal arts generally, including math, science, and economics. These form half of the so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) subjects, but if the goal of an education is simply economic advancement and technological power, those disciplines, just like the humanities, will be—and to some degree already are—subordinated to future employment and technological progress. Why shouldn’t educational institutions predominately offer classes like Business Calculus and Algebra for Nurses? Why should anyone but hobbyists and the occasional specialist take courses in astronomy, human evolution, or economic history? So, what good, if any, is the study of the liberal arts, particularly subjects like philosophy?  Why, in short, should plumbers study Plato?My answer is that we should strive to be a society of free people, not simply one of well-compensated managers and employees. Henry David Thoreau is as relevant as ever when he writes, “We seem to have forgotten that the expression ‘a liberal education’ originally meant among the Romans one worthy of free men; while the learning of trades and professions by which to get your livelihood merely, was considered worthy of slaves only.”

Traditionally, the liberal arts have been the privilege of an upper class. There are three big reasons for this. First, it befits the leisure time of an upper class to explore the higher goods of human life: to play Beethoven, to study botany, to read Aristotle, to go on an imagination-expanding tour of Italy. Second, because their birthright is to occupy leadership positions in politics and the marketplace, members of the aristocratic class require the skills to think for themselves. Whereas those in the lower classes are assessed exclusively on how well they meet various prescribed outcomes, those in the upper class must know how to evaluate outcomes and consider them against a horizon of values. Finally (and this reason generally goes unspoken), the goods of the liberal arts get coded as markers of privilege and prestige, so that the upper class can demarcate themselves clearly from those who must work in order to make their leisure and wealth possible.

We don’t intellectually embrace a society where the privileged few get to enjoy the advantages of leisure and wealth while the masses toil on their behalf. Yet that’s what a sell-out of the liberal arts entails. For the most part, the wealthy in this country continue to pay increasingly exorbitant tuition to private prep schools, good liberal arts colleges, and elite universities, where their children get strong opportunities to develop their minds, dress themselves in cultural capital, and learn the skills necessary to become influential members of society. Meanwhile, the elite speak of an education’s value for the less privileged in terms of preparation for the global economy. Worse yet, they often support learning systems designed to produce “good employees”—i.e., compliant laborers.  Then, money for public education is slashed, and tuition soars. Those in the middle class, let alone the poor, have to fight an ever-steepening uphill battle to spend their time and money on the arts appropriate to free people.

As a professor with lots of experience giving Ds and Fs, I know full well that the value of the liberal arts will always be lost on some people, at least at certain points in their lives.  (Whenever I return from a conference, I worry that many on whom the value of philosophy is lost have found jobs teaching philosophy!) But I don’t think that this group of people is limited to any economic background or form of employment. My experience of having taught at relatively elite schools, like Emory University and Oglethorpe University, as well as at schools like Kennesaw State University and Kirkwood Community College, is that there are among future plumbers as many devotees of Plato as among the future wizards of Silicon Valley, and that there are among nurses’ aides and soldiers as many important voices for our democracy as among doctors and business moguls.I recently got a letter from a former student, a factory worker, thanking me for introducing him to Schopenhauer. I was surprised, because I hadn’t assigned the German pessimist. The letter explained that I’d quoted some lines from Schopenhauer in class, and they’d sparked my student’s imagination. When he didn’t find what I’d quoted after reading all of volumes one and two of The World as Will and Representation, he started in on Parerga and Paralipomena, where he was eventually successful. Enclosing a short story that he’d recently written on a Schopenhauerian theme, he wrote me a long letter of thanks for inadvertently turning him on to a kindred mind.

Once, during a lecture I gave about the Stoics, who argue that with the proper spiritual discipline one can be truly free and happy even while being tortured, I looked up to see one of the students in tears. I recalled that her sister in Sudan had been recently imprisoned for challenging the local authorities. Through her tears my student was processing that her sister was likely seeking out a hard Stoic freedom as I was lecturing.

I once had a janitor compare his mystical experiences with those of the medieval Sufi al-Ghazali’s. I once had a student of redneck parents—his way of describing them—who read both parts of Don Quixote because I used the word “quixotic.” A mother who’d authorized for her crippled son a risky surgery that led to his death once asked me with tears in her eyes, “Is Kant right that the consequences of an action play no role in its moral worth?” A wayward veteran I once had in Basic Reasoning fell in love with formal logic and is now finishing law school at Berkeley.

The fire will always be sparked. Are we going to fan it, or try to extinguish it?

Lack of Air-Conditioning Warps Raphael Painting at Rome Museum (Hyperallergic)

by Jillian Steinhauer on September 11, 2014 original article here.

Raphael, "The Deposition" (1507), oil on wood , 184 cm × 176 cm (72 in × 69 in) (image via Wikimedia)

Raphael, “The Deposition” (1507), oil on wood , 184 cm × 176 cm (72 in × 69 in) (image via Wikimedia)

In order to visit the Galleria Borghese in Rome, you must buy timed tickets online in advance. The museum is so popular that it’s near impossible to get next-day, let alone day-of, tickets (tomorrow is sold out). People flock from all over the world to see its treasures, which include artworks by Bernini, Caravaggio, Titian, Rubens, and Raphael.

What this world-class museum does not have, however, is functional air-conditioning. It apparently hasn’t for six months. And now the heat has claimed its first victim: Raphael’s “The Deposition,” a 1507 oil painting on wood showing Jesus’s body being brought down from the cross. Temperatures and humidity inside the Galleria — where staff have been forced to set up fans and open the windows in an attempt to cool the place down — have warped the Raphael painting; the museum’s DIY fix was to set up a dehumidifier next to the work, a tactic they say has reduced the warping.

But the air-conditioning hasn’t been working for months. And it still isn’t. La Repubblica broke the news of this in May, at which time Galleria Director Anna Coliva told the paper that the air-conditioning system was installed in 1997 and is completely worn out by now, adding that there were also a few years of a complete lack of maintenance. “The request to redo it has already been in play for at least 45 years,” she said. After posing the question of how this was possible, the writer of the article answers his own question: “A request that it’s easy to suppose is lost in the mazes of Italian bureaucracy.”

Recovering the History of Sound in Video Games (Hyperallergic)

by Allison Meier on September 2, 2014 original article here.

Video Games Live orchestral performance of the Tetris theme (photograph by Roxanne Ready, via Flickr)

Video Games Live orchestral performance of the Tetris theme (photo by Roxanne Ready, via Flickr)

The sound of video games has transformed from something seemingly mechanical accenting action to incredibly elaborate acoustic landscapes setting the mood for play. To preserve this history, and show why it’s worth exploring, a new documentary and archive project are underway.

Beep: A History of Game Sound — currently crowdfunding for production on Kickstarter — is directed by Karen Collins. A sound designer and the Canada Research Chair in Interactive Audio at the University of Waterloo, she has written extensively on audio in video games, including in the book Playing with Sound: A Theory of Interacting with Sound and Music in Video Games, released last year by MIT Press. Beep is aiming to be the first film on video-game sound history, and also a means of gathering interviews with key figures in its development that will be available as an archive.

As the funding page for Beep states: “We can’t go back and interview early film composers, but we can interview game sound designers and composers from the early days.” The majority of those people are largely unknown, even to gamers. “Most of us could hum the theme song to Super Mario Bros., but how many people know the name of the composer who wrote that music?,” says Collins in the Kickstarter video. (It’s Koji Kondo, who also did The Legend of Zelda and a prolific number of other Nintendo games.)

 

Image for "BEEP: A History of Game Sound" (courtesy the filmmakers)

Image for “BEEP: A History of Game Sound” (courtesy the filmmakers)

In a technologically nostalgic way, the impetus for Beep is aligned with projects like the Museum of Endangered Sounds. Created in early 2012, the online “museum” is focused on the preservation of sounds from now obsolete electronic media, whether it’s AOL Instant Messenger, Space Invaders, or Encarta MindMaze. Exploring the museum, you start to think of how the sounds of technology have gotten more subtle, from jarring 8-bit noise to gentler, composed sounds. However, in video games, the progress of play is so concentrated on visuals that it can be easy to overlook how audio has been essential to making gaming experiences engaging. Back in 2011, “Baba Yetu” by Christopher Tin for Civilization IV received a Grammy, the first video-game music composition to do so, suggesting that the music of games may be expanding into the mainstream.

The ground Collins is hoping to cover with Beep is ambitious, stretching from Victorian mechanical games to arcades of the 1970s and ’80s, to contemporary responses like the Video Game Orchestra, which gives the full instrumentation treatment to game sounds in live performances. As video games get more recognition as an art form, it will be integral to their history to have a record of these sound creators.

Beep: A Documentary History of Video Game Sound is fundraising on Kickstarter through September 30.

New Evidence that Neanderthals Made Art (Hyperallergic)

by Mostafa Heddaya on September 2, 2014 original article here.

Screen Shot 2014-09-02 at 6.21.28 PM

Figure 4 from the “A rock engraving made by Neanderthals in Gibraltar” report, published August 12, 2014 (screenshot via PNAS)

Researchers have uncovered further evidence that human ancestors may have begun producing cave art earlier than previously thought. A group of European archaeologists have published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences presenting “the first known example of an abstract pattern engraved by Neanderthals.” The pattern, discovered at the southern tip of Spain in Gorham’s Cave, Gibraltar and dating to between 38,500 and 30,500 years ago, could substantially expand our understanding of the genealogy of artistic expression, generally thought to have begun with the cave art of early Homo sapiens, not Neanderthals.

Clive Finlayson, director of the Gibraltar Museum and one of the researchers involved, told BBC News that the discovery “brings the Neanderthals closer to us, yet again.” Previous studies, the BBC adds in their report, have noted evidence of Neanderthal flutes, decorative accessories, and even art.

The earliest appearance of cave art has been dated elsewhere in Spain to approximately 40,000 years ago, a 2012 discovery that unseated France’s Chauvet cave paintings as the world’s oldest. And although modern humans appeared some 45,000 years ago, Finlayson added that they reached the Iberian peninsula later than other regions, bolstering the hypothesis that the Gibraltar discovery is original Neanderthal handiwork and not inspired by human contact.

Whether or not these most recent discoveries of marks can be considered art remains a point of contention, and the authors of the Gibraltar study specifically establish that the marks had to have been made intentionally.

Francesco d’Errico, who oversaw the experiments in the Gibraltar study and is research director of France’s Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in Bordeaux, told BBC News that the geological circumstances of the marks establish their intentionality.

“[Dolomite] is a very hard rock, so it requires a lot of effort to produce the lines,” d’Errico said.

Two Imposing Maya Cities Uncovered in Southern Mexico (Hyperallergic)

by Laura C. Mallonee on August 28, 2014 original article here.

The facade of the monster doorway in Lagunita (all images courtesy of Ivan Sprajc)

The facade of the monster doorway in Lagunita (all images courtesy of Ivan Sprajc)

The remote Calakmul Biosphere Reserve in Southern Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula was once home to a powerful Maya kingdom. It ruled the region for 12 centuries until about 800 CE, after which its inhabitants mysteriously disappeared. Visit the UNESCO-protected jungle today to find more than 100 stelae and nearly 7,000 structures hidden beneath the lush trees. So many ruins remain, in fact, that archaeologists are still discovering them.

A researcher stands beside a stela on site in Lagunita

A researcher stands beside a stela on site in Lagunita

Last week, the research center of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts announced that an archaeological expedition led by Ivan Sprajc has uncovered the remains of two Maya cities, Lagunita and Tamchen.  Slowly, the blueprint of a vast civilization is materializing. In 2013, Sprajc’s team found the only other city, Chactún, in the nearly 1,900-square-mile area.

The existence of Lagunita was already known, though. In the 1970s, an American archaeologist named Eric Von Euw documented the city in a number of sketches, but the site was lost for four decades after he failed to record its exact location.

“We found the site with the aid of aerial photographs,” Sprajc explained in a press release, “but were able to identify it with Lagunita only after we saw the facade and the monuments and compared them with Von Euw’s drawings…”

At Lagunita, Sprajc and his team found palatial ruins surrounding four main plazas. Other surviving structures include a ball court, a 65-foot-high temple pyramid, three altars, a number of reliefs, and 10 stelae — one engraved on November 29, 711 CE by a Maya lord who ruled 80 years but whose name is now too faded to read. The site’s most extraordinary find was a zoomorphic doorway resembling a monster’s open jaws — a cosmological symbol of life’s origins.

Octavio Esparza, the project epigrapher, said that the large number of monuments in Lagunita means that it “must have been the seat of a relatively powerful polity, though the nature of its relationship with the larger Chactún, lying some 10 km to the north, remains unclear.”

Six miles northeast of Lagunita lies Tamchen, Sprajc’s other great discovery. Its name, which translates to “deep well” in the Yucatec Maya language, honors more than 30 surviving chultuns — deep underground chambers for collecting rainwater. Settled between 300 BCE and 250 CE, the city was inhabited at the same time as Lagunita. It has the same plazas and buildings, as well as the hilltop ruins of three temples arranged around a courtyard.

Both sites pose challenges to future Maya research, as many irregularities crop up in Lagunita and Tamchen. For one, pyramid temples and monuments with inscriptions are rare in the Rio Bec region, but they’re plentiful in these cities. Secondly, though abandoned around 1000 CE, a few of the stelae were modified sometime after. Several Postclassic structures (built between the 10th and early 16th century) were also found, as well as many other peculiar elements.

The press release states that these oddities reflect “continuities and ruptures in cultural traditions,” though their meanings remain mysterious. Archaeologists hope that the largely untouched region to the north might possess similar characteristics that would help decode them.

A stela from lagunita

A stela from lagunita

A chultun in Tamchen

A chultun in Tamchen

A large structure hidden in the trees in Lagunita

A large structure hidden in the trees in Lagunita