Finding Something Worthy in Every Find

Like busmen, critics often have job-related holidays, leisure time activities that feed into, spill over from — and, with luck, provide respite from — more diligent pursuits in their supposed areas of expertise. One of mine comes remarkably close. In summer I like to browse yard sales, thrift shops and, lately, flea markets, looking for paintings that speak to me. If the price is right (it usually is), I buy them and take them home.

This relatively relaxed form of art viewing often bears out something a friend told me Picasso once said: that any painting contains something worth looking at. From my experience, this may be a somewhat optimistic assessment, but ferreting out the worthy bits in anonymous paintings is great and often instructive fun. And the idea that every time someone applies malleable color to a small rectangular surface, there will be at least one revealing point of contact is cause for optimism. In the same way, I suppose, many poems written by amateurs have one memorable phrase or metaphor.

I was initiated into this pleasurable habit of looking and getting by my husband, who is also an art critic, although I was already inclined toward it by an interest in outsider art. We’ve been together 26 years, and the paintings are beginning to mount up. Sometimes I think we’re running a kind of rescue mission.

Our early acquisitions were occasional and random, made mostly during the summer at yard and house sales on eastern Long Island and then in northwest Connecticut, near our summer rentals. There were infrequent finds on trips, like an amazing pencil-and-pastel drawing of a busy blacksmith’s shop that my husband bought from a street vendor in Rome, or a painting of a ship and an iceberg on an aqua sea that he got, after some bargaining, for the relatively astronomical price of $80 in Kansas City, Mo., while my two brothers looked askance (a frequent expression in my family).

We once spotted a largish winter scene while speeding along Route 17 in upstate New York. It was leaning against a pile of stuff in front of a junk shop. Its white snow and house and stark black trees jumped out, and we skidded to a stop.

This summer we pursued the flea market option to the exclusion of all others, making regular visits to a weekly confab in southwestern Connecticut, where we got some wonderful things, and also some less wonderful ones, for prices from $5 to $35. As with art fairs, the concentration of sellers has its benefits.

The hunt, as they always say, is half the fun. A way to exercise the eye in an after-hours, unstressed way. No deadlines involved (at least not until this series came along). We usually split up, since we cover more ground that way, and either buy on our own or, when we’re not sure, meet to consult. I move faster because I look at almost nothing but paintings. My husband is more thorough, which means that we also end up with the odd object — for example, an old guillotine-style mouse trap that accommodates four victims.

The flea-market experience is akin to snorkeling. You drift about, looking this way and that, waiting for something to catch your eye. Then you swim closer, zeroing in for a better look to see if the rest of what you saw rises to occasion of the part that initially drew your attention. Sometimes the whole thing gels; sometimes the interesting part carries the whole thing. Sometimes it un-gels once you get it home, which is why we have something of a Salon des Refusés in the basement of our current rental.

All but a few of our finds are on Masonite or cheap canvas board; obviously making a painting is easier than stretching canvas. The subjects of the works we end up gravitating to are fairly traditional, which is to say that abstractions are infrequent, and we haven’t come across any that we couldn’t live without. (I think there might be more abstract art on eBay, but we’re not going there.) Instead we have lots of landscapes with or without animals, bodies of water or rustic architecture; a few still lifes; and several examples of what seems to be a popular still-life subcategory: unanchored, free-floating flowers. Figures are rare for us. Inconsistencies of space are frequent and usually a source of enlivening visual tension.

There is something immensely comforting about these works. They come at you entirely on their own, unencumbered by the name, life or personality of the artist, devoid of reputation or blinding auction prices. They lack the white noise of contemporary commentary and opinion that critics usually must work through, either consciously or subconsciously, on the way to their own conclusions when writing about art exhibitions. What might be called their orphanhood or nakedness is liberating. Given the onslaught of the art world and the current mania for contemporary art — largely a good thing, don’t get me wrong — artist-free art can be something of a relief.

In a way, you love these paintings in the simple, uncomplicated way you love pets, and they love you back. You don’t expect them to hold up their end of a conversation about art in the age of digital, or even mechanical, reproduction.

At the same time, the paintings themselves are not totally separate from art in a professional sense. Some are full of diluted strains of art history: assorted trickle-down styles, vague allusions, instinctive adaptations or absorptions of things in the air.

They frequently evoke other art obliquely, at a remove. This makes them half-joking surrogates for art we couldn’t possibly own.

Our bumpy mountain landscape with sagebrush in ochre, orange and olive is a sort of New Mexican-period Marsden Hartley (except for the rather precise barbed-wire fence); a snowy farm scene with a horse and wagon is a very distant cousin of early Chagall; a picnic still life anchored by a robust wicker basket might almost qualify as correspondence school of David Hockney. A rather newish-looking panel painting of stars and galaxy could be a homage to Vija Celmins (or maybe a photograph in National Geographic).

This summer I found and bought a darkish lakeside scene with a green building and deep lavender water that I christened “The Munch.” The rather cheerful terrace and cafe tables don’t seem too Munch-like, but over all, it has a certain seductive moodiness. None of our yard sale or flea market acquisitions are going to result in any major, or even minor, discoveries in the world of outsider art. Yet they’re not to be underestimated. Someone felt the need to make them and did; this urgency comes across and has been perhaps their saving grace. Because in the end they were saved, if only on the theory that they might bring a few bucks.

These paintings confirm that the desire to make art is widespread, a diffuse thing in culture. They also verify the great elasticity of the medium, its ability to encompass all sorts of desires and levels of skill, not to mention the tendency for desire to become its own kind of skill.

The contradiction inherent especially in representational painting — that it renders three-dimensional forms on a two-dimensional surface — creates numerous challenges, the solving of which opens an infinity of expressive possibilities, manifest in unexpected textures and strange twists of space. Every attempt gives you some further insight into the activity as a whole, meaning that Picasso was much more right than wrong.

Botched Art Restoration Becomes Online Sensation

The Spanish octogenarian whose botched do-it-yourself attempt at restoring an old fresco painting has gone from disaster to tourist attraction and Internet meme.
The woman, now identified as Cecilia Gimenez, found herself in the headlines earlier this month when it was revealed that she had attempted to repair a one-of-a-kind, century-old fresco by the Spanish painter Elias Garcia Martinez housed in her church for decades with a few broad brushstrokes.
WATCH: Woman Ruins Ancient Fresco in Restoration Attempt
The result of her work on Martinez’s “Ecce Home” was described as resembling, “a crayon sketch of a very hairy monkey in an ill-fitting tunic,” by one BBC reporter at the time, but has now developed a legion of supporters online and become a tourist draw at her church, the Santuario de Misericodia church in Borja, in northeastern Spain.
After church officials and officials at the Centro de Estudios Borjano museum, to which the painting had been donated by the artist’s granddaughter, announced they were assessing the damage to the painting and determining whether a professional could restore it, the story went viral.
The Beast-Jesus Restoration Society, a cheeky reference to Gimenez’s artistic impact on Martinez’s work, was formed online along with a Tumblr page of Photoshop tributes pasting the fresco’s now blurry head on masterworks like Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam.”
A petition started in Madrid that calls Gimenez’s work “a clever reflection of political and social situation of our time” now has more than 21,000 signatures asking the church to leave the painting alone and ditch any recovery effort.
Meanwhile the century-old painting has also been subject to a very 21st century treatment with the creation of its own Twitter handle, @FrescoJesus, that laments the notoriety it has received.
“STOP LAUGHING! IT’S NOT FUNNY!!!,” reads one Tweet, immediately followed by, “HAVE I NOT SUFFERED ENOUGH YET!? ”
Gimenez, said to be in her 80s and, according to reports, an artist herself, has now spoken out too, saying it was no surprise to people in the church that she was working on the painting.
“(The) priest knew it! He did! How could you do something like that without permission? He knew it!,” she said, according to the BBC.
Gimenez’s DIY attempt was discovered after the painter’s granddaughter donated the work to the archive of religious paintings housed at the Centro de Estudios Borjano, also in Borja.
Juan Maria Ojeda, the city councilor in charge of cultural affairs, told the Spanish newspaper El Pais that the woman turned herself in and admitted causing the damage when she realized it had “gotten out of hand.” He added that the woman, who was not identified, attempted to restore the work with “with good intentions.”
The work has also proved a tourist draw in the town of Borja itself where hundreds of visitors have lined up outside the Iglesia del Santuario de Misericordia church to take a look for themselves.
“The previous painting was also very pretty, but I really like this one,” one visitor woman told a local public television station, according to the AFP.
While the adulation is all a bit ironic, it is noteworthy because Gimenez’s non-attempt to create a piece of art has garnered the painting more attention than it ever would have received on its own. The piece, to which no figure of its value has been attached, is said to hold more sentimental than artistic value because Martinez’s family is known in the local community.

The Beatles Painted This Picture While They Were Holed Up In A Tokyo Hotel

The Beatles weren't much known for their painting skills, but a rare canvas painted by all four band members while they were holed up in a VIP suite at the Tokyo Hilton in 1966 is about to hit the auction block.

Each band member painted one corner of the 30x40 canvas, called "Images of a Woman," during their one and only trip to Japan. It was given to the president of a Beatles fan club in Japan after it was completed.
There's no official estimate from auctioneer Philip Weiss Auctions as to how much the piece could go for, but according to Paul Frasier Collectibles:
The work was sold to a dealer in Osaka for approximately $191,000 in the mid-1990s and appeared again in 2002 on eBay, though it is not certain the exact amount it sold for. A Liverpool Echo report before the sale suggested that the painting might achieve as much as £350,000.
The auction, which also includes artwork by Frank Zappa and a jacket worn by late rapper Biggie Smalls, will take place in Oceanside, NY September 14.

Ukrainian Art Exhibit Offers Real-Life ‘Sleeping Beauty’ Fairy-Tale



Art... A human activity having for its purpose the transmission of the highest and best feelings to which men have risen. - Leo Tolstoy

Naysayers who believe fairy-tale dreams don’t come true should take a look at a new art installation in the Ukraine that features sleeping beauties.
They should, however, think twice before actually entering the exhibit. Any man who enters the exhibit and kisses one of the rotating sleeping beauties on the lips and sees her eyes open is required to marry her.
“Everybody, any viewer, will have to sign the contract, which says – this is very important, because nobody has to - ‘if I kiss the beauty and she opens her eyes while being kissed, I marry her,’” Taras Polataiko, the Ukrainian-Canadian artist behind the exhibit, told the U.K.’s The Telegraph.
In the modern take on the classic fairy tale popularized by Disney, each “sleeping beauty” lies on an elevated bed in the exhibit, housed at the National Art Museum of Ukraine, in Kiev. Five women have so far signed up to be beauties and will rotate “sleeping,” dressed in an all-white gown, in the museum for two hours at a time daily through the exhibit’s end Sept. 9.
Like their potential Prince Charmings, the beauties also had to sign contracts, putting in writing that, “If I open my eyes while being kissed, I agree to marry the kisser.”
Besides being willing to commit their lives, the men and women who participate also have to be older than 18 and, importantly, not married.
“I hope they [men] come, so it will be more interesting for the beauties,” Polataiko said. “But I really don’t know. It’s a really serious thing. It’s marriage.”
The exhibit opened Aug. 22 but, so far, has not resulted in a love match, contractual or otherwise.

Of art and nudity

 Last week, the Edinburgh Airport briefly censored a Picasso poster after a passenger complained about the nudity. In a brief piece I wrote in Sunday’s Washington Post, I opine that the problem is less the nudity than the art. The woman is blue, her hair is green, and she has a breast growing out of her sternum; it’s my contention that if the image were more realistic, it would bother people less, and that it’s the very unfamiliarity of the depiction (“unfamiliar” 80 years after it was painted) that makes some viewers resist. What are your thoughts?

This is not unrelated to classical music. I always tell the story of seeing a woman at a quartet recital sleep happily through Mozart and Brahms and bristle like a wet cat throughout the Lutoslawski, perhaps not realizing it was the only piece on the concert that she actually heard. I think that more literal representations of the female form might be akin to Mozart: people are able to perceive them as simply “pretty” and let them fade into the background.


Putting a Good Face on Street Art, to Upgrade Atlanta


When she arrived in Atlanta on Wednesday, the subway underpass was blank concrete, speckled with dirt, spiderwebs and weeds. By Sunday, Ms. Freeman, a 25-year-old Memphis muralist, will have turned it into her latest artwork: a lattice of blue and pink shapes, brightening a once-dull roadway.

She will also have joined an assault on blight in Atlanta. Here in a city with one of the nation’s highest foreclosure rates, a project called Living Walls commissions artists to spruce up recession-hit neighborhoods.

While traditional graffiti may often be seen as a sign of urban decay, these murals — sprawling, brightly colored portraits and designs — aim to instill some optimism.

The Atlanta-based project, which began last week and ends Sunday, gives 28 artists their own spaces: sides of buildings, foreclosed houses and subway underpasses. All paintings are done with owners’ permission and city permits, in neighborhoods like the crumbling Edgewood district, not far from where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. grew up.

“Painting a mural is not just saving money for the wall owner,” said Monica Campana, who helped found the project in 2010. “It’s giving a new look to a block, and it may be helping the neighborhood economically.”

This year, its third, Living Walls has invited only female muralists. The goal is to showcase the creations, in aerosol and latex paint, of women from around the world, including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Italy and Spain. The project, which includes lectures and parties celebrating street art, is also meant as an alternative to larger conferences, like Art Basel Miami or the Congress for the New Urbanism.

As Living Walls has grown in scope and recognition, its sponsorship has expanded to include a prominent law firm, the Museum of Design Atlanta and the W Hotel, where the artists receive free lodging. And there are other signs of Atlanta’s embracing street art. A 22-mile loop of jogging trails and public parks under construction around the city now features an array of commissioned works. “We’re not New York, we’re not L.A., we’re not Miami, with the history of street art,” Ms. Campana said. “But in a sense, that’s what’s appealing: you can bring street art to a new city.”

The city has also redoubled efforts to rub out a different form of street art: illegal graffiti. Two years ago, the mayor created a graffiti task force and the Atlanta police dedicated a full-time officer to track down the most prolific offenders. Last October, the city arrested seven men between 19 and 29 who they said were responsible for 800 acts of graffiti vandalism. They received fines and probation.

One of those arrested, Josh Feigert, 28, sees a double standard in the city’s embrace of projects like Living Walls, while it cracks down on graffiti. “It seems hypocritical,” he said. “I would hope people would learn a little more about graffiti, and that it is an art form, as well.”

But a police spokesman, Carlos Campos, said it was not the department’s job to determine the line between art and graffiti.

“If someone spray-paints on a piece of property that doesn’t belong to them, without permission, that is a crime,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how beautiful or artistic it is.”

R. J. Rushmore, a blogger who created a popular site called Vandalog about street art, said the form was so dominated by men that he had mistakenly assumed that some new, anonymous artists were men.

“This really bucks the trend of it being a boy’s club,” he said.

Shanda Rogers is a makeup artist at a salon in the East Atlanta neighborhood where one of the murals was painted. A formerly drab wall is now covered with the bright zigzags and the smiling faces of three Jamaican children.

“It just makes me want to dance,” Ms. Rogers said. “This whole neighborhood feels different.”

Even once-skeptical neighborhoods have embraced the murals. Rodney Bowman, a carpenter, had grown so frustrated by illegal graffiti artists that he spent a night in a tree waiting to catch the vandals who struck at a nearby church. But he found a mural by Living Walls to his liking.

“Graffiti is just some scrawl,” he said. “But this is beautiful. This is art.”





Ivory Neo-Assyrian plaque

 Ivory Neo-Assyrian plaque with a rampant goat eating a plant. The Syrian-style plaque dates back to the 8th century BC and was found in Nimrud

William Morris, Bird, 1878

This pattern was registered in 1878; Morris designed it for the walls of the drawing room of his family home, Kelmscott House, in the Hammersmith area of London, which they occupied from 1878 until his death in 1896. It continued to be made after Morris & Company established textile production at Merton Abbey in 1881, and it was produced in three colorways. Morris himself referred to this type of fabric as “woven wool tapestry,” though it is not technically a tapestry weave but a doublecloth. The effect of this heavy wool fabric when used as a wall covering, as it was at Kelmscott House, is a fine example of Morris’ interpretation of the decorative arts of that era.

Asher B. Durand, Landscape—Scene from “Thanatopsis,” 1850

Inspired by William Cullen Bryant’s poem “Thanatopsis,” this landscape was first exhibited at the National Academy of Design in 1850. The catalogue noted lines from Bryant’s poem. After the exhibition, the picture was acquired by the American Art-Union and distributed in the same year to one of its subscribers. Durand’s son noted that after this his father got the picture back, repainted parts of it, and sold it to Mr. B.F. Gardner. Durand briefly resumed painting large philosophical landscapes after the death of Thomas Cole, using his works as models. The presence of a funeral, of a farmer’s daily work, and of the ruins of man in ancient nature reflects the poem’s emphasis on the permanence of the earth and the creation and reversion of man from and to its soils

Bryant first wrote the poem when he was about 17, after reading the British "graveyard poets" (e.g. Thomas Gray, "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" and Robert Blair, "The Grave")and William Wordsworth's Lyrical Ballads. In particular, there are parallels to Wordsworth's Lucy poems, especially "A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal":
A slumber did my spirit seal;
I had no human fears:
She seemed a thing that could not feel
The touch of earthly years.
No motion has she now, no force;
She neither hears nor sees;
Rolled round in earth's diurnal course,
With rocks, and stones, and trees.
Bryant enlarged "Thanatopsis" in 1821, 7 years later, adding the final injunction and giving the poem a kind of religious point.


      O him who in the love of Nature holds
      Communion with her visible forms, she speaks
      A various language; for his gayer hours
      She has a voice of gladness, and a smile
      And eloquence of beauty, and she glides
      Into his darker musings, with a mild
      And healing sympathy, that steals away
      Their sharpness, ere he is aware. When thoughts
      Of the last bitter hour come like a blight
      Over thy spirit, and sad images
      Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall,
      And breathless darkness, and the narrow house,
      Make thee to shudder and grow sick at heart;--
      Go forth, under the open sky, and list
      To Nature's teachings, while from all around--
      Earth and her waters, and the depths of air--
      Comes a still voice--Yet a few days, and thee
      The all-beholding sun shall see no more
      In all his course; nor yet in the cold ground,
      Where thy pale form was laid with many tears,
      Nor in the embrace of ocean, shall exist
      Thy image. Earth, that nourish'd thee, shall claim
      Thy growth, to be resolved to earth again,
      And, lost each human trace, surrendering up
      Thine individual being, shalt thou go
      To mix for ever with the elements,
      To be a brother to the insensible rock,
      And to the sluggish clod, which the rude swain
      Turns with his share, and treads upon. The oak
      Shall send his roots abroad, and pierce thy mould.
      Yet not to thine eternal resting-place
      Shalt thou retire alone, nor couldst thou wish
      Couch more magnificent. Thou shalt lie down
      With patriarchs of the infant world--with kings,
      The powerful of the earth--the wise, the good,
      Fair forms, and hoary seers of ages past,
      All in one mighty sepulchre. The hills
      Rock-ribb'd and ancient as the sun,--the vales
      Stretching in pensive quietness between;
      The venerable woods; rivers that move
      In majesty, and the complaining brooks
      That make the meadows green; and, pour'd round all,
      Old Ocean's grey and melancholy waste,--
      Are but the solemn decorations all
      Of the great tomb of man. The golden sun,
      The planets, all the infinite host of heaven,
      Are shining on the sad abodes of death,
      Through the still lapse of ages. All that tread
      The globe are but a handful to the tribes
      That slumber in its bosom.--Take the wings
      Of morning, pierce the Barcan wilderness,
      Or lose thyself in the continuous woods
      Where rolls the Oregon and hears no sound
      Save his own dashings--yet the dead are there:
      And millions in those solitudes, since first
      The flight of years began, have laid them down
      In their last sleep--the dead reign there alone.
      So shalt thou rest: and what if thou withdraw
      In silence from the living, and no friend
      Take note of thy departure? All that breathe
      Will share thy destiny. The gay will laugh
      When thou art gone, the solemn brood of care
      Plod on, and each one as before will chase
      His favourite phantom; yet all these shall leave
      Their mirth and their employments, and shall come
      And make their bed with thee. As the long train
      Of ages glides away, the sons of men,
      The youth in life's green spring, and he who goes
      In the full strength of years, matron and maid,
      The speechless babe, and the gray-headed man--
      Shall one by one be gathered to thy side
      By those who in their turn shall follow them.
      So live, that when thy summons comes to join
      The innumerable caravan which moves
      To that mysterious realm where each shall take
      His chamber in the silent halls of death,
      Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
      Scourged by his dungeon; but, sustain'd and soothed
      By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,
      Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
      About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

Art by Oscar Wilde

 “The artist is the creator of beautiful things. To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim. The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things. The highest as the lowest form of criticism is a mode of autobiography. Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault. Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only beauty. There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.” Oscar Wilde

Rediscovered Da Vinci painting may find home in Dallas

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A recently rediscovered Leonardo Da Vinci painting valued at $192 million may find a new home at the Dallas Museum of Art, a spokesperson for the museum said on Friday.
The "Salvator Mundi" ("Savior of the World") is currently at the Dallas Museum of Art and the museum has been "actively exploring the possibility of acquiring it," communications officer Jill Bernstein told Reuters

The painting, an image of Christ giving his blessing to the world with his right hand and holding a crystal orb in the left, was among the highlights of the "Leonardo Da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan" exhibition at the National Gallery in London last year.
The Dallas Museum's interest was first reported by Art in America magazine, which said the museum's new director Maxwell Anderson may be looking for "a destination painting" to attract crowds.
Da Vinci's painting, dated around the early 1500s, measures 26 by 18.5 inches. Commissioned by Louis XII of France in 1506, it was once documented as part of England's King Charles I's art collection in 1649, then auctioned off and forgotten.
The oil-on-wood panel, with the image distorted over time by overpainting and layers of dirt and varnish, was sold in 1958 for as little as 45 pounds ($70) when it was considered to be the work of one of Da Vinci's students called Giovanni Boltraffio.
In 2005, it was taken to New York art historian Robert Simon, and eventually an extensive restoration was performed. Experts then noticed some of Da Vinci's hallmarks in the work - especially the colors and the reflection of light from the orb - and the piece was declared a genuine work by the Italian Renaissance artist.