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.”

New Evidence Emerges Authenticating Lost Gospel Mentioning Jesus Was Married (artnet news)

by Sarah Cascone, Tuesday, August 25, 2015 original article here.

The Gospel of Jesus's Wife.  Photo: Harvard Divinity School.

The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife. Photo: Harvard Divinity School.

New scientific tests indicate that the controversial Gospel of Jesus’s Wife, which suggests Jesus might not have been celibate, could be authentic.

The key line from the papyrus scrap reads “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife . . . she will be able to be my disciple.'” Elsewhere, the Coptic text mentions Mary, possibly in reference to Mary Magadalene, famously recast as Jesus’s wife in Dan Brown’s art historical thriller The Da Vinci Code, which spawned many a conspiracy theory.

When the manuscript came to light thanks to Harvard University professor Karen King in 2012, it was met with a great deal of skepticism. Roughly the size of a business card, the papyrus scrap was widely dismissed—the Vatican was among the detractors—as a modern forgery.

According to the Harvard Theological Review Journal, the papyrus and the ink are about 1,200 years old (it’s believed to be dated to sometime between the sixth and the ninth centuries. (Harvard is also home to the recently-discovered Gospel of the Lots of Mary.)

The main evidence against the discovery is the similarity of the text to a fragment of a rare copy of the Bible’s Gospel of John, written in Lycopolitan, the same obscure Coptic dialect used in the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife.

The two manuscripts have several of the exact same phrases and line breaks, and some suspect both are modern forgeries, especially given that Lycopolitan went extinct 1,500 years ago.

“The two Coptic fragments clearly shared the same ink, writing implement and scribal hand. The same artisan had created both essentially at the same time,” argued Christian Askeland, a research associate with the Institute for Septuagint and Biblical Research in Wuppertal, Germany, in a recent paper in the New Testament Studies journal.

The Gospel of Jesus's Wife compared to an online version of an ancient Coptic copy of the Gospel of John.  Photo: Harvard Divinity School.

The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife compared to an online version of an ancient Coptic copy of the Gospel of John. Photo: Harvard Divinity School.

John Yardley, a senior research scientist at Columbia University, disputes these findings. “In our first exploration, we did state that the inks used for the two documents of interest were quite different. The more recent results do confirm this observation strongly,” he told Live Science.

For King’s part, she argues that both Coptic texts could be ancient copies of earlier texts, and that the similarity of the line breaks is coincidental.

She also discounts any resemblance to the early Christian text the Gospel of Thomas, including the inclusion of a typo found in an online version of the text. King contends that ancient scribes were not infallible, and made grammatical errors.

The papyrus’s current owner has not shared his identity with the world, but the provenance he has provided remains in dispute.

The owner claims to have purchased the fragment in 1999 from a German man named Hans-Ulrich Laukamp, who acquired it in Potsdam, in East Germany, in 1963. Laukamp died in 2002. Those who knew him say he never collected antiquities, and, as a West Berlin resident, he could never have visited Potsdam at the time he is said to have purchased the gospel.

King claims to have photocopies of signed papers confirming the owner’s account. If compared to confirmed instances of Laukamp’s signature on publicly available notarized documents, these contracts could verify the current owner’s account.

Hans-Ulrich Laukamp's signature for September 1997.

Hans-Ulrich Laukamp’s signature for September 1997.

For now, the Gospel’s authenticity is still very much up for debate.

“At this point, when discussions and research are ongoing, I think it is important, however difficult, to stay open regarding the possible dates of the inscription and other matters of interpretation,” said King in a recent letter to the Biblical Archaeological Review.

See These Amazing Images of Easter Island Statues With Bodies–Who Knew? (artnet news)

by Sarah Cascone, Friday, May 1, 2015 original article here.

A fully excavated Easter Island head.  Photo: courtesy the Easter Island Statue Project.

A fully excavated Easter Island head. Photo: courtesy the Easter Island Statue Project.

Easter Island’s monumental stone heads are well-known, but there’s more to the story: all along, the sculptures have secretly had torsos, buried beneath the earth.

Excavations on the Easter Island head.  Photo: courtesy the Easter Island Statue Project.

Excavations on the Easter Island head. Photo: courtesy the Easter Island Statue Project.

Archaeologists have documented 887 of the massive statues, known as moai, but there may up as many as 1,000 of them on the island (see Rather Weighty Easter Island Sculpture Travels 200 Miles To Be Star of Manchester Museum Exhibition). Most were carved from volcanic rock between 1100 and 1680.

While the island is a popular tourist destination, the statue’s sheer size certainly discourages the type of theft experienced at other historic archaeological sites (see US Tourists Steal Pompeii Artifact and Egypt’s “Indiana Jones” Zahi Hawass Questioned Over Pyramid Theft).

More Easter Island excavations.  Photo: courtesy the Easter Island Statue Project.

More Easter Island excavations. Photo: courtesy the Easter Island Statue Project.

The Easter Island bodies were news to us, but apparently this is not a recent discovery. Photographs of the statues undergoing excavation began circulating in May of 2012, and Live Science asserts that archaeologists have actually known about the bodies since archaeological research on the island, located 2,000 miles west of Chile, began over a century ago, in 1914.

An excavated statue on Easter Island.  Photo: Greg Downing.

An excavated statue on Easter Island. Photo: Greg Downing.

“There are about 150 statues buried up to the shoulders on the slope of a volcano, and these are the most famous, most beautiful and most photographed of all the Easter Island statues,” Easter Island Statue Project director Jo Anne Van Tilburg told Live Science. “This suggested to people who had not seen photos of (other unearthed statues) that they are heads only.”

It was photographs of Tilburg’s 2010 excavations of two of the statues’ buried bodies that sparked online interest in the missing halves of these ancient sculptures. The images attracted so much interest when people started emailing them in 2012 that the Easter Island Statue Project’s website crashed under a rush of three million hits.

More Easter Island excavations.  Photo: courtesy the Easter Island Statue Project.

More Easter Island excavations. Photo: courtesy the Easter Island Statue Project.

Tilburg’s work, which began in 2000, marked the first time the moai were excavated by a scientific team that thoroughly documented the process. “It’s always important to get beneath the surface of things,” she told Fox News.

Photo: courtesy the Easter Island Statue Project.

Photo: courtesy the Easter Island Statue Project.

Photo: courtesy the Easter Island Statue Project.

Photo: courtesy the Easter Island Statue Project.

Photo: courtesy the Easter Island Statue Project.

Photo: courtesy the Easter Island Statue Project.

Photo: courtesy the Easter Island Statue Project.

Photo: courtesy the Easter Island Statue Project.

Art World Scientists Discover the Legendary Secret Behind the ‘Mona Lisa’ Smile (artnet news)

by Amah-Rose Abrams, Friday, August 21, 2015 original article here.

Leonardo da Vinci, "Mona Lisa" (1503–1517)

Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa (1503–1517) Photo: Wikipedia Commons

One of the greatest mysteries in art history has been solved: British academics say they have discovered the secret behind the smile of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa by studying a recently discovered portrait by the Renaissance master, La Bella Principessa.

By comparing the techniques employed in the two works, scientists from Sheffield Hallam University claim to have proved that the enigmatic “now you see it, now you don”t” effect of the Mona Lisa smile was intentional on the part of da Vinci. They have named it “the uncatchable smile.”

The epiphany came by studying La Bella Principessa. The earlier painting, which portraits the young illegitimate daughter of a Milanese Duke, has the same effect as the Mona Lisa: from some angles the young lady seems to be smiling, from others, the smile appears to have vanished.

Leonardo da Vinci , <i>La Bella Principessa</i> (c. 1496)<br /> Photo: via <em>Art Daily</em>

Leonardo da Vinci , La Bella Principessa (c. 1496) Photo: via Art Daily

La Bella Principessa‘s mouth appears to change slant depending on both the viewing distance and the level of blur applied to a digital version of the portrait,” the researchers wrote in a paper published in the journal, Vision Research, according to the Telegraph. “Through a series of psychophysics experiments, it was found that a perceived change in the slant of La Bella Principessa‘s mouth influences her expression of contentment.”

Volunteers were asked to look at the painting from a variety of angles and distances. The conclusion was that, when focusing on the eyes of the painting, viewing from a distance, or when digitally blurred, a delicate smile could be seen. When viewed close up, or focusing on the mouth, however, the smile disappears.

The works were observed from different angles <br> Photo: via the <i> Telegraph</i>

The works were observed from different angles Photo: via the Telegraph

The effect, evident in both paintings, was achieved by using the sfumato (which means “soft” or “pale” in Italian) technique, which uses color and shading to create an optical illusion around the mouths.

“The results from the experiments support the hypothesis that there is a gaze-dependent illusory effect in the portrait of La Bella Principessa,” said Alessandro Soranzo of Sheffield Hallam’s psychology department. “Although it remains a question whether the illusion was intended, given Leonardo’s mastery of the technique and its subsequent use in the Mona Lisa, it is quite conceivable that the ambiguity of the effect was intentional, based on explicit artistic skill and used in line with Leonardo’s maxim that portraits should reflect some ‘inner turmoil of the mind.'”

Until recently, La Bella Principessa was thought to be the work of a 19th century German painter, until it was discovered to be the portrait of 13-year-old Bianca Sforza, the illegitimate daughter of Ludovico Sforza, commissioned on the eve of her marriage in 1496.

Greek Art Dealers Tell Us How to Run a Gallery in Athens On 60 Euros A Day (artnet news)

by Rozalia Jovanovic and Eileen Kinsella, Friday, July 10, 2015 original article here.

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Rebecca Camhi. Photo: via Madame Figaro.

A little over a week ago at the Athens art gallery of Rebecca Camhi, a new client walked into the space and selected two works to purchase: one was a photograph by Nan Goldin and the other was a work by British artist Clare Woods. Soon after, Camhi called the client with a price quote: $14,000 for the Goldin, 15,000 pounds sterling for the Woods. It didn’t matter. The next day, June 29, the banks were shuttered and Camhi’s client disappeared.

“This literally broke the deal,” said Camhi. “She never got back to us.”

Even if she had wanted to buy the works, Camhi said, given the circumstances—holders of Greek bank cards continue to have a 60-euro daily limit on ATM withdrawals and restrictions on moving money abroad—proper transactions were all but impossible.

“Even if she deposited the money in our account,” said Camhi, “we wouldn’t be able to pay our artists abroad. Maybe later I would be able to, but who wants to take that risk?”

Opened in 1995, Camhi’s gallery is housed in a neoclassical structure in the hip downtown Athens neighborhood of Metaxourgeio. She represents important contemporary artists including Rita Ackermann, Karen Kilimnik, and Sean Landers. Like many art dealers in Athens, she’s feeling the effects of the most recent economic crisis that has befallen Greece, especially since June 29, when banks were shuttered and limits were placed on the amount of cash that Greeks were allowed to access.

Installation view of a show at Rebecca Camhi Gallery.

Installation view of a show at Rebecca Camhi Gallery. Photo: Courtesy of Rebecca Camhi.

“What’s been happening in the past few weeks is completely crazy,” said Camhi. “You can’t do any business. It’s not like people are just having financial problems. This is like you’re paralyzed. You can’t get paid, you can’t pay people.”

In the face of the economic instability, collectors are staying safe and angling for more established artists. “[Collectors] are interested in spending money but on internationally established art,” said Camhi. “I suppose there is a sense of safety—as opposed to lesser known artists. If it’s an established artist they would feel that if they have to sell, they could sell it on an international market.”

Other galleries, like Ileana Tounta’s Contemporary Art Center, which opened in 1988 and consists of two exhibition spaces and an art shop, have amended their hours. Tounta’s has shifted from full days to being open only in the afternoons, from 3-8pm. As for paying employees, “We’re trying,” Ileana Tounta told artnet News during a phone call, “but it’s hard.”

While there has been a reported fervor in stocking up on luxury goods like watches and handbags (things that could later be sold abroad), there hasn’t been a similar interest in stocking up on art. In fact, according to Sofia Vamiali of Vamiali’s, traffic to galleries is waning. “People have other priorities and are less interested to visit galleries and exhibitions in general,” Vamiali told artnet News over email.

Installation view of Athanasios Argianas's 2011 solo show. Photo: Courtesy of the Breeder.

Installation view of Athanasios Argianas’s 2011 solo show. Photo: Courtesy of the Breeder.

stablished in 2004, Vamiali’s was the first contemporary art gallery in the Metaxourgio district, which is home to many galleries, museums, and cafes. But now it’s struggling, and it has had to postpone some of the more ambitious projects of the kind it had organized in the past.

“The art market is basically dead right now in Athens,” said George Vamvakidis in a telephone interview. Vamvakidis is a co-founder of The Breeder, a successful gallery that specialized in Greek contemporary artists and is known on the international art fair circuit. “The state is unable to fund the arts and the private collectors, the biggest ones, choose not to support the local market. So as a result almost every single commercial gallery of our generation has closed its doors.”

George Vamvakidis and Stathis Panagoulis of the Breeder, Athens.

George Vamvakidis and Stathis Panagoulis of The Breeder, Athens. Photo: via artnet.com

Despite the galleries of his generation—roughly 8-9, which, like The Breeder, opened in the early 2000s—having closed, The Breeder has just launched a new artist residency program. The artist—LA-based Ben Wolf Noam—arrived just as the crisis struck.

“The day he landed,” Vamvakidis, a co-founder of the gallery, said, “was the first day of capital controls.”

Yet, despite the odd timing of the residency, it seems the setbacks for The Breeder were mostly logistical. “We had to pay for the production of the work that he’s doing. Everybody here wants to be paid with cash. You can’t take cash out of the bank, the businesses won’t accept credit because they’re insecure.”

Installation view of site specific graffiti project at Vamiali's. Photo: via Vamiali's website

Installation view of site specific graffiti project at Vamiali’s. Photo: via Vamiali’s website

For example, something as simple as the purchase of an air compressor (to create airbrush art) for Noam, whose show will open next at the gallery, was a nightmare. “You can’t pay through PayPal or iTunes. You can’t use your credit card to buy from a foreign company. You can’t buy something online.”

A number of galleries also noted that as a result of the crisis, they’re unable to participate in art fairs.

“It has been hard for the last two years I have to say,” said Ileana Tounta whose gallery’s roster is heavy on Greek artists and who regularly participated in international fairs including Art Basel, Art Frankfurt, ARCO, and Art Cologne. “We’re trying to keep the gallery open and at least we try to bring people in to exhibitions.”

Though The Breeder specializes in Greek contemporary artists—like Jannis Varelas and Andreas Angelidakis (whose work took over the gallery’s booth at this past iteration of Frieze New York)—it has managed to stay afloat, because of its international collectors. In October, the gallery will go ahead with plans to attend Frieze London.

Installation view of the current solo show of Dimitra Vamiali "The Fine Qualities of Distressed Paper."Photo: via Ileana Tounta's website.

Installation view of Dimitra Vamiali’s solo show “The Fine Qualities of Distressed Paper” at Ileana Tounta. Photo: via Ileana Tounta’s website.

The upshot of the crisis, according to some of the dealers, is that it has caused something of a renaissance in the country. Vamiali said the crisis became “an inspirational turning point for many artists.” Vamvakidis said that artists are “liberated from the forces of the market” and for this reason Athens has become something of a creative hub because of the resultant creative energy and the low cost of living. “Artists that are working under those circumstances—who have the balls to produce work that is totally unconventional,” said Vamvakidis, “are producing really brave work.”

Camhi says it’s not the end of the gallery business in Greece. Her gallery continues to be up and running despite the financial pressures. Currently on view is “Ormiale,” a group show with “works and objects” by Fabrice DomercqJasper Morrison and Marc Newson that runs through July 25. The opening included the presentation of wine from the vineyard that the three designers own in Bordeaux.

“It’s not like galleries have collapsed or anything,” she said. “We have opening hours. We continue our emails.”

Greek Artist Demolishes His Own Work to Avoid Bizarre Government Fine (artnet news)

By Christie Chu, Tuesday, August 25, 2015 original article here.

Photo: via Greekreporter.com

Photo: via Greekreporter.com

A statue of a mermaid by Greek artist Dionysis Karipidis, which was created in 1997 on the Portokali beach in Chalkidiki, Greece, has been destroyed by the hands of its own maker.

The artist took to his statue with a sledgehammer when he was asked by the area’s tourist authorities to pay a fine for “destroying the natural landscape,” according to the Greek Reporter.

Chalkidiki is known for its three peninsulas that stick out into the Aegean sea like Poseidon’s trident. Famous as a tourist spot, the Greek peninsula is also known as the birthplace of Greek philosopher Aristotle.

The mermaid, which is carved from the natural limestone on the beach, has been a tourist attraction for almost a decade. The issue arose a little over a year ago when the artist, who has largely remained anonymous, received a letter from the local municipality leveling a 533 euro fine for the work. In March 2014, Karipidis responded with his own letter stating that if he was forced to pay the fine, he would destroy his work.

Photo: via  Moco-Choco.com

Photo: via Moco-Choco.com

According to the town’s mayor Yiannis Tzitzios, the fine was imposed by the tourist authorities even though the municipality did not want the sculpture to be destroyed. Why did the authorities wait almost two decades to level the fine? Perhaps it has something to do with the country’s economic crisis.

“The fine has not been attested by the municipality, but since the offense took place in our area, we were forced to collect it. Once we received Karipidis’ letter we sought every legal way to delete the fine or pay it with municipality expenses,” said the mayor. “However, we found this to be illegal. Therefore, the city council chairman proposed that we pay the fine ourselves, as individuals, and not with the municipality’s money. Unfortunately, due to a misunderstanding, we did not have enough time to sort out the issue.”

$4.5 Million Frank Gehry House Sells for Less Than $1 Million (artnet news)

by Eileen Kinsella, Thursday, May 21, 2015 original article here.

The guest house Frank Gehry designed for Penny and Mike Winton in 1982. Image: Courtesy of Wright, Chicago.

The guest house Frank Gehry designed for Penny and Mike Winton in 1982. Image: Courtesy of Wright, Chicago.

Despite considerable hype—including a lengthy catalogue entry with accolades from architecture experts and fellow artists—a custom built house by starchitect Frank Gehry fell far short of earlier estimates and just below the presale estimate at Wright auction house in Chicago yesterday (see Raymond Pettibon Has Gehryish Taste in Apartments and Gehry’s Eisenhower Memorial a Go, Geffen Contemporary Remodel Next?).

Winton Guest House, Gehry’s “sculptural building” composed of six geometric forms clad in a range of building materials and finishes, sold for a hammer price of $750,000 ($905,000 total) on May 19, after “five minutes of lackluster bidding,” according to the Minneapolis Star TribuneIt was once valued at $4.5 million, but estimates were tamped down to $1 million to $1.5 million for the sale, the Star Tribune reports (see Frank Gehry Fired From World Trade Center Arts Complex Job and Frank Gehry Gives Spanish Critics the Finger).

The house, which has won numerous awards, was commissioned by Minnesota arts patrons Penny and Mike Winton after they read a feature on Gehry in a 1982 edition of the New York Times Magazine. According to the Wright catalogue, the house was initially situated on the Wintons’ 12-acre Lake Minnetonka property and then moved in 2008 to Owatonna Minnesota. “Upon purchasing this work, the structure will again need to be relocated,” the catalogue states.

The six forms that make up the house include: a 35-foot tall pyramid-shaped living room finished in black painted metal; a curved bedroom covered in dolomite limestone from southern Minnesota; a cube-shaped fireplace alcove covered in brick; a rectangular garage and kitchenette covered in Finnish plywood and strips of aluminum, and a rectangular loft in galvanized steel and a second bedroom with a slanted roof, also painted in black metal.

The house was sold by the University of St. Thomas which acquired it in 2007 as a gift from Kirt Woodhouse, a real estate developer who purchased it from the Wintons in 2001.  The new owner, who was not identified will have to move the house at “substantial additional cost,” the Star Tribune reports.