Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sex and Drugs: Botticelli’s Dirty Little Secret

While researching the Botticelli’s Venus and Mars (shown) at the National Gallery, London, David Bellingham, a program director at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, made an interesting discovery. The fruit held by a satyr lurking in the bottom right corner of the painting bore a resemblance to the fruit of the plant known to scientists as Datura stramonium, and known to others as “the thorn apple,” “locoweed,” or “the Devil’s trumpet.” Those who have tasted of this forbidden fruit often hallucinate to the point of madness and stripping off of clothes. Botticelli gives us in Venus and Mars the fifteenth century version of sex and drugs. If only rock and roll had been invented back then… Please come over to Picture This at Big Think to read more of "Sex and Drugs."

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Status Anxiety: A Social Scientist’s View of the Art World

In a recent article in The Australian, Matthew Westwood writes about Canadian social scientist Sarah Thornton, whose book Seven Days in the Art World (cover above) “explores the dynamics of creativity, taste, judgment, status, money, and the search for beauty in life.” In other words, this social scientist argues that contemporary art is not a science, and that judging great art and great artists has always been a cutthroat business in which status rather than talent often reigns supreme. It’s easy to understand these concepts when discussing contemporary art, where status is as freshly bestowed and easily wiped clear as wet paint. But Thornton’s thesis holds value even for the hallowed halls of art history. Please come over to Picture This at Big Think to read more of "Status Anxiety."

Friday, May 28, 2010

Out of Africa: Dynasty and Divinity at the British Museum

For many people, even those most enlightened when it comes to art and culture, Africa remains “the dark continent” out of which little emerges that sparks interest. The Museum for African Art, set to open in 2011 in New York City, hopes to shine new light on the ancient art of Africa and establish that tradition as just as rich, diverse, and important as those more familiar to the Western world. Featuring more than 100 bronze, terra-cotta, and stone sculptures created between the ninth and fifteenth centuries, Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria kicks off this effort to bring a taste of the majesty and magic of African art to the west while simultaneously drawing in the imaginations of the intellectually curious who have always wanted to pierce to the heart of the darkness surrounding a continent and its people. Please come over to Picture This at Big Think to read more of "Out of Africa."

[Image: Head called “Lajuwa.” Ife Palace, Ife. 12th-15th century C.E. Terra-cotta. © National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Nigeria. Photo Courtesy Museum for African Art/Fundacion Marcelino Botin. (Photo: Karin L. Willis.)]

[Many thanks to the Museum for African Art for providing me with the image, press materials, and a review copy of the catalog for Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria, which will be one of their inaugural exhibitions when they open in 2011.]

Thursday, May 27, 2010

To Catch a Thief: Why American Museums Are Safer Than European Museums

A recent Washington Post article by Jacqueline Trescott and Dan Zak made the bold, but hard to argue with statement that United States museums foil thieves much better than their European counterparts do, for a vast number of reasons, some of which are beyond the control of museum administrators. Art crime is a $6 million USD business, but a fraction of that happens on American soil. What, if anything, can United States art institutions, the new kid on the art world block, teach the old heads of Europe? Please come over to Picture This at Big Think to read more of "To Catch a Thief."

[Image: George Braque’s 1906 Olive Tree Near Estaque, recently stolen from the Paris Museum of Modern Art.]

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Warm Kiss: Cartier-Bresson Speaks in “The Decisive Moment”

“The camera is a weapon. The camera can be a machine gun. It can be a psychoanalytical couch. It can be a warm kiss,” opines Henri Cartier-Bresson in The Decisive Moment: Photographs and Words by Henri Cartier-Bresson, the 1973 film production recently re-released by Microcinema to coincide with Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Modern Century at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Speaking in fluent English, Cartier-Bresson describes in vivid, impressionistic phrases the nature of his art as 69 of his most memorable images appear on the screen. The effect is, indeed, like a machine gun in its rapid fire, like a psychoanalytical couch in its insight into the human condition, and, perhaps most importantly, like a warm kiss in its intimacy and pure sensual joy. Please come over to Picture This at Big Think to read more of "A Warm Kiss."

[Many thanks to Microcinema for providing me with a review copy of The Decisive Moment: Photographs and Words by Henri Cartier-Bresson.]