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Category Archives: Art

Why Cyprus Is Europe’s Most Exciting

There is movement afoot in the art world, triggered by the rising scale of the art market coupled with the downturn in Western economies, from the cultural capitals to places on the margins where physical space is more affordable and mental space more expansive.

Dropping out is not the risk it used to be: While the conditions in major cities have become prohibitive to creative production and the stakes higher, art producers and dealers have become nomadic, even shedding gallery spaces, to chase increasingly interesting marginal markets around the globe.

In turn, art production is becoming less object-oriented and artists hop from residency to residency, making it easier to participate from the periphery.

Located at the southern terminus of the European Union, Cyprus is both isolated and yet highly contested for its strategic proximity to three continents as well as offshore oil and gas resources. The heart of the capital, Nicosia, is split down the middle by barbed wire—a formerly lively market street and the international airport left bereft in the UN buffer zone—the scar of a political stalemate between Turkey and Greece. The threat of conflict is escalating even now as hard-line Turkish president Recep Erdoğan ramps up nationalist rhetoric. The cancellation of Manifesta 6, planned for Nicosia in 2006, attests to the complex nature of the Cypriot reality.

So living on the edge is nothing new to Cypriot artists, and a young contingent has returned from studies abroad to collaborate in getting one another’s work out there by opening collective project spaces.

The art market has always been illusive in Cyprus, and the few influential commercial galleries that were active—like Archimede Staffolini, directed by Pavlina Paraskevaidou, and Omikron, backed by collector Nicos Pattichis—did not survive the economic crisis, the latter closing in 2012.

Staffolini showed now successful artists such as Haris Epaminonda and Polys Peslikas early on; Omikron’s 2010 group show “Notes to Self,” curated by Elena Parpa, introduced a new generation of Cypriot artists who grew up in the digital age.

A year after Omikron closed, former director Maria Stathi, previously at London’s Anthony Reynolds, opened the nonprofit space Art Seen in Nicosia, which produces limited-edition prints and multiples to support its exhibition program.

The production of affordable art supports the exhibition program and is part of an attempt to reach out to a nontraditional audience. “It is super challenging to work in Cyprus,” she says. “There are not that many people who understand what we are doing and why we are doing it.” Aside from a dearth of contemporary art spaces, there was no fine-arts degree program until very recently.

Similarly, Point Centre for Contemporary Art, established by Andre Zivanari as a not-for-profit space in 2012—following on a program supporting Cypriot artists for the Künstlerhaus Bethanien residency—commissions original work from artists for solo exhibitions. The recent show, “Completely Something Else,” curated by Jacopo Crivelli Visconti, brought together a mix of foreign and Cypriot artists, including Epaminonda, Phanos Kyriacou, and Christodoulos Panayiotou, to convey how relationships between physical objects, repeated and juxtaposed, generate new and universal meanings in different contexts, often as shadows of other places and times. Artists Victor Costales, Julia Rometti, and Maria Loboda stayed for more than a month to explore what they perceived as the island’s “charged landscape,” highlighting how space is constructed through experience, memory, and history.

Phanos Kyriacou’s upcoming exhibition there, “Exhaustion,” will comprise an installation of 36 drawings and a small sculpture in an attempt to evoke the tension between representation and reality through the repetitive depiction of an object, its planes accumulating finally to suggest its form but not its substance.

In fact, Kyriacou’s now-defunct project space Midget Factory (2003-12) anticipated the current proliferation of artist-run spaces, many of which alternate as sort of open studios: located in the red-light district of Nicosia’s old town, it was “open” 24/7 through the use of movement-detection lights and attained a cult following by the time of its demise, when the building was finally demolished. Other precedents were Stoa Aeschylou, directed by Demetris Neokleous and Panikos Tembriotis, andApotheke, run by Demetris Taliotis in a post-industrial space in the city center until 2012. A multidisciplinary node for innovative happenings, it nurtured a network for many of the young artists practicing now, including Kyriacou, Maria Toumazou, and the director’s brother, Constantinos Taliotis.

From Art to Selfies

One of the first photographs I ever took was of Pete Townshend of the Who at what is now known as the band’s seminal concert at Leeds University in 1970.

I had been a drummer in a band that practised in my mate’s garage, fortunately a small venue as we were terrible. I thought that the next best thing to being in a band was to photograph my heroes – and none were bigger than the Who. I duly took the film into the local chemist and, a week later, I went to collect my works of art.

I opened the first sleeve and nothing, the next nothing, the next nothing and so on. I got to the end and, bingo, there he was, Townshend complete with Dr Martens boots in mid flight, framing Keith Moon perfectly.

This is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life – I was in heaven. The trouble was I didn’t know how this particular frame had come out. I had moved all the dials in different directions during the gig and one combination collided to work.

Nevertheless, this fledgling experiment with the genre was enough to trigger a lifelong love of photography, something I get to explore in my three-part BBC series, Britain in Focus, where I travel across the country to tell the story of the evolution of the medium. I get to go back to see how the pioneers cracked the genre and to ask some giants of the game what they were trying to do.

The series begins in the summer of 1835, when landed gentleman and polymath Henry Fox Talbot was seen purposefully walking in and around his country house at Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire. He was carrying with him a small wooden box that his carpenter had made for him, trying to decide where to place the object. Fitted out with a lens from one of his own microscopes, Fox Talbot was trying to take Britain’s first ever photograph – something he succeeded in doing.

From here, the series moves on to, among others, Roger Fenton, a founder member of the Photographic Society of London, dedicated to raising technical standards but also to making photography into a fine art.

The most celebrated photograph that Fenton took was during the Crimean war –In the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Yet there is no fighting shown here, no dead bodies, just a landscape with cannon balls. But the power of the photograph is undeniable, you can sense the horror.

In 1860, Fenton returned to Yorkshire. Over 11 years, taking nearly 2,000 photographs, Fenton had wanted to elevate his medium of expression to the point where it could be accepted as an art form. But his life’s work was coming under threat because, by the 1860s, photography was not so much concerned with art but with commerce.

Evidence for a boom in commercial photography could be found on every high street – like in Lewes, East Sussex, where Edward Reeves opened for business in 1855. For Reeves, and others, the new wet-plate process had made photography a sound economic proposition. And as prices dropped, for the very first time in history, people of even modest incomes could afford to own a portrait of themselves. On reflection, and what impresses me most, is how far photography had travelled in the 60 years since that first experiment by Fox Talbot.

The focus on capturing oneself in photographs has taken on a fresh impetus in modern times. In episode three of the series, I meet 16-year-old Molly Boniface from Huddersfield who is one of 500 million Instagram users worldwide. With her smartphone, Molly takes snapshots and instantly shares them online.

This clearly isn’t just a hobby for Molly. She’s creating a commentary about her own life – almost in real time. Molly expresses herself through photography every day and the medium has never been more alive than in the hands of someone like her. And it’s the self-portrait that dominates her pictures. It’s become the most prevalent genre in the 21st century: now, the most important subject for the average photographer is themselves.

My own particular “moment” in my personal journey came when working as a sports photographer on the Observer in 1985. It was the European Cup Final, between Liverpool and Juventus in the Heysel stadium in Brussels. I wasn’t expecting anything like the horror that was about to unfold, and which I would capture on camera.

The Art Copyists Giving The Renaissance

The curator at the National Gallery could not contain her wonder. Calling me over to the replica of the Borgherini Chapel that has been installed as part of the gallery’s Michelangelo and Sebastiano exhibition, she pointed out a surreal detail. Not only has this reproduction of a piece of Renaissance architecture got hyperrealistic reproductions of the frescoes, marble decor and a half-domed alcove – it even has a modern plug socket sunk into the plaster.

That immaculate eye for detail is typical of the work of Factum Arte, a Madrid-based studio whose combination of digital analysis with assiduous craft is transforming the way we see art. I have been watching their work develop for nearly a decade. I am now convinced it is the most important thing happening in 21st-century art – because it can quite literally save civilisation.

The new kind of high-fidelity 3D reproduction being pioneered by Factum Arte is going to abolish the difference between past and present and make distance no obstacle to seeing any masterpiece. We are entering an age when museums can – this is no hyperbole – have their own perfect replicas of the Sistine Chapel,Titian’s Assumption in the Frari church from Venice, or Mantegna’s Camera degli Sposi from Mantua.

The Victorian creators of the cast courts in London’s V&A would be amazed – and immediately commission all the above projects. These two vast galleries at the V&A are full of plaster casts of classical, medieval and Renaissance art and architecture. Michelangelo’s David, Hadrian’s Column and Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise are among the wonders on view. Today we find this legacy of the Victorian passion for art history fascinating, yet we have the technology to go much further. A plaster cast of a Renaissance sculpture is only a pale copy compared with the hi-tech remakes pioneered by Factum Arte and a few other visionary enterprises such as the Insitute for Digital Archaeology, which put a replica of Palmyra’s Arch of Triumph in Trafalgar Square last year.

The first time I encountered this mesmerising new age of reproduction was in Milan in 2008. Factum Arte had made a facsimile of The Last Supper for an exhibition by Peter Greenaway. It was superbly convincing. Its founder Adam Lowe told me at the time about another project, in which he was remaking Veronese’s stupendously large painting The Wedding of Cana. Since then Factum Arte’s creations have got ever more impressive, from reproducing the tomb of Tutankhamun in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings to creatingPiranesi’s fantasy furniture for an exhibition at the Soane Museum.

With the immaculate and freakily convincing simulacrum ofSebastiano del Piombo’s Borgherini Chapel for the National Gallery’s forthcoming exhibition, it is clear we are on the verge of a new age for art history: a renaissance of the Renaissance.

There is a chance to rediscover the magic of Renaissance art and architecture and popularise it as never before. TheBorgherini Chapel is not even especially famous: visitors who climb the hill to the church of San Pietro in Montorio, above Rome’s river Tiber, where it can be found, usually go there to see Bramante’s compact architectural masterpiecethe Tempietto in its courtyard. Yet by putting a loving and astonishingly real-seeming replica in the National Gallery, Factum Arte revives this work of art: our fascination with the reproductive technology inspires a fresh awe at the original it so passionately recreates. Far from creating some heartless museum of fakes for the post-truth age, this new kind of replica is a key to re-enchanting us with the art of the past.

Just as the Victorian age loved Michelangelo so much that people who could not get to Florence wanted to at least see a plaster cast of David at the V&A, or remind themselves of it between pilgrimages, so today’s feeling for art can be totally transformed by the combination of digital scanning, 3D printing and traditional craft that now makes it possible to reproduce art and architecture with such uncanny perfection, plug sockets and all.

A Sistine Chapel for every city – why not? Imagine if everyone in Britain had access to the marvels of the European Renaissance. It would change the way we see art, history and perhaps ourselves. For our loss of the passion for those achievements is a modern tragedy. A Sistine Chapel in Britain might have reminded us of what Europe really is when we voted on the EU last year.

The Visionary Architects Who Shaped Japan

In a forest clearing in West Sussex, a tall wooden chimney stands propped up on timber scaffolding, a fierce jet of fire roaring from its top. All of a sudden, the flaming flue crashes to the ground with a loud thud, splitting open in a cloud of smoke to reveal a scaly blackened surface of charred planks within. “No trained architect would use this material,” says the 70-year-old Terunobu Fujimori, as he scuttles away to douse some more newspaper in a bucket of petrol. “Which is exactly why I like to use it,” he adds with a broad grin.

The mischievous architectural historian turned builder has made a name for himself in Japan by crafting beguiling little buildings that refuse to follow any of the usual rules. His hand-made structures look like the nests or cocoons of curious creatures, woven, whittled and thatched with organic, earthy materials that could have been scavenged from the forest floor. He has built a tiny teahouse for himself in Nagano, vertiginously perched at the top of two tree trunks (“because one leg is dangerous and three legs are too stable and boring”), and another – named theFlying Mud Boat – that hangs from wires like some floating seed pod. His buildings are sculpted with the fairytale allure of a child’s drawing, topped with oversized roofs and wonky chimneys, dotted with little hatches and porthole windows, as if transported from a manga animation.

This woodland charring factory is part of Fujimori’s preparations for an exhibition at the Barbican on the Japanese house since 1945. He is building a teahouse in the gallery, using his trademark burnt wooden cladding. Entering the space through a low doorway, visitors will follow a winding path through grassy mounds to reach his black cabin, characteristically raised up on legs and accessed through a small opening at the top of a ladder. “The teahouse should always be slightly awkward to enter,” he explains. “The architecture should make you crouch, or crawl, so you show some respect for the tea ceremony.”

The Barbican’s gnarled concrete walls will provide a pleasing contrast with the crackled black crocodile skin of Fujimori’s charred boards. The ancient Japanese practice of yakisugi was used for hundreds of years to seal wood against rot and rain, before weatherproof paint was invented. And it is just the kind of primitive technique that captures Fujimori’s imagination, coming from outside the traditional architectural canon.

“The history of architecture is much older than the history of architects,” he says, explaining how his training as a historian led him to try to shed any influence of what had gone before. “I made a rule that my work shouldn’t reference anything else in the history of architecture.”

Delighting in his role as a professional amateur, Fujimori builds his structures with the help of an enthusiastic band of friends known as the Jomon Company, taking their name from the Neolithic period of Japanese history. A motley group of volunteers that includes a novelist, painter, sake brewer, publisher and priest, they use basic tools to give buildings a warm, roughly hewn feel, their sideways approach leading to such eccentric details as leeks planted on rooftops and knobbly lumps of charcoal pressed into plaster ceilings.

Fujimori, who got his first commission at the age of 44, is just one of more than 40 architects whose works will feature in this ambitious exhibition. Featuring more than 200 works, it reveals the Japanese house to be a site of unparalleled architectural invention over the past seven decades. It will show the products of postwar optimism and the promise of mass production in a country rebuilding itself from the ground up; the reaction against this brave new world and the longing for craft and tradition; the eco-experiments of the 1970s, followed by the lavish dreams of the 80s bubble economy; and, more recently, the ethereal urge to float away in whiter-than-white houses.

The private house in Japan has been a fertile laboratory for new ideas because there has always been such high demand for new dwellings. Never mind the fact that much of the urban fabric was obliterated by bombing in the second world war, or that the country suffers from frequent earthquakes – the house itself is seen as a temporary asset, lasting 30 years on average before a new one takes its place. It keeps the country in a perpetual building boom, and a continual churn of innovation.

“It might seem a strange idea in the west, but in Japan the house is a disposable thing,” says Barbican curator Florence Ostende. “Because of inheritance tax, people are much more likely to demolish their parents’ home and rebuild their own, and there isn’t the same attitude to preservation and heritage. Many of the houses in the exhibition are no longer standing.”

With virtually no market for “pre-owned” homes – one of the reasons that Japan has the most architects per capita in the world – the house is a vehicle for personal expression. The exhibition is full of crepuscular concrete bunkers and diaphanous light-filled lanterns, homes that turn their back on the city and others that try to bring the city into the house, opening up the theatre of domestic life for all to see.

In the 1970s, cosmological enthusiast Kiko Mozuna conceived his home as a “nested universe”, composing a series of different sized cubes with triangular openings to form what he called the “Anti-Dwelling Box”. When creating a dwelling for a graphic designer, meanwhile, po-mo prankster Kazumasa Yamashita played on the idea of a facade by arranging its windows and light shaft into a Face House.

An Artist Who Tore Down The Old to Build The New

For years, I would encounter Gustav Metzger in public talks and at galleries, often away from the beaten track. He was always there, always watching and listening. At first I found him a bit intimidating. More recently, I would see him, looking slightly frail and small and in a certain disarray, struggling with bags of documents and other papers, as he went to and from where he lived in London’s East End.

His activities included the accumulation of thousands of newspapers and other ephemera, and he could appear a little eccentric and vulnerable. But impressions can be deceptive. Everything Metzger did had purpose, even his inveterate walks in the city he had known since the second world war.

From the 90s onward, appearances in large exhibitions – where Metzger showed, on one occasion, the congealed liquid slides he had once used for light shows with Cream and the Who in the 60s – located him among younger artists who regarded him as a sort of errant father figure.

For Metzger, who arrived in England on the Kindertransport in 1939, it was David Bomberg (whose background was also Polish-Jewish) who was a kind of father figure. Metzger studied with the painter for years at Borough Polytechnic – working in his influential life class alongside Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff – before choosing a different path.

A few years ago, he showed the sad wreckage of his early life drawings and paintings, the tattered remnants of his early paintings. They had the status of evidence. However, he continued to believe in the power and importance of art to a degree that might seem idealistic. Persuaded by the curators to take part in an exhibition Art Into Society, Society Into Art at London’s ICA in 1974, he produced a manifesto calling on artists to stop producing art between 1977 and 1980, in the first art strike.

Metzger was a paradox. He could, he thought, have been successful had he not been so political – he once gave a lecture on Damien Hirst’s diamond encrusted skull, a work he found beautiful, while at the same time complaining about the lack of ethics in the art world.

A small, intense and somewhat prickly man with twinkling eyes, his cantankerousness was at once political and personal. He had numerous arguments and fallings-out, not only with Bomberg but also with Lord Goodman(who supported him for a number of years), with Joseph Beuys and with John Latham. The disputes were ideological and artistic. Essentially a warm, kindly man, he could be recalcitrant, and would follow ideas to what seemed extreme conclusions.

His art made connections – in one work, between Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin, Paul Klee’s watercolour The Angel of History, and Nazi criminal Adolf Eichmann. He made works using archive newspaper articles on mad cow disease (prefiguring Roger Hiorns’ work on the BSE crisis) and, like Eric Hobsbawm andWG Sebald, worked against forgetting what had led to, and happened, in the Holocaust.

Art for Metzger could be painting or a drop of water sizzling on a hot plate; a piece of metal floating on the Thames, a display of 10,000 newspapers, a stack of refrigerators or 120 cars, or a group of inverted dead trees, their roots aloft. His lectures, manifestos and films all attested to his beliefs. It turned out he was right on many points. I shall miss his constant, agitating, difficult presence.

His auto-destructive art was an anti-capitalist gesture against global corporate power and domination, rather than simply a formal gambit. Metzger didn’t want to destroy art. Artists, he believed, had a responsibility to help society and to prevent future wars. “Can art do it instead of just politics?” he asked. “Art can do it. Art must do it. And I must be one of the artists who do it.”

Painter Howard Hodgkin dies aged 84

Sir Howard Hodgkin, one of Britain’s greatest contemporary artists, known for his explosively coloured paintings of what he once described as “emotional situations”, has died aged 84.

The artist, a central figure in contemporary art for more than 50 years, died peacefully in hospital in London, only a few weeks after returning to the UK from India.

He was known for paintings, always on wood rather than canvas, full of vividly coloured, emotion-packed splodges, swirls, loops and smears. It may not have been obvious to the viewer but the works always had a subject and they were not abstract – he said that he had never painted an abstract picture in his life, that he was a “a figurative painter of emotional situations”.

The director of the Tate galleries, Sir Nicholas Serota, who curated Hodgkin’s first museum exhibition in 1976, led the tributes, calling Hodgkin “one of the great artists and colourists of his generation”.

He added: “His sensuous, intense paintings were infused with his love and understanding of late 19th-century French painting, especially Degas, Vuillard and Bonnard, and by his feeling for the heat and colours of India, which he visited on many occasions.

“Over the past 30 years Howard’s international standing has continued to grow with major exhibitions in Europe and America. His characteristic subject, the memory of a meeting or a conversation with a friend, resulted in paintings that radiate the emotions of life: love, anger, vanity, beauty and companionship.”

Hodgkin, although he had been increasingly frail, had been busy working up until his death with two important exhibitions due to open in 2017.

One is later this month at the National Portrait Gallery (NPG), where the curator Paul Moorhouse was told the news of his death 3o minutes before they began hanging the works on Thursday. “You can’t imagine how that was.” he said. “It is a personal loss and it is a great loss to the art world.”

Moorhouse recalled Hodgkin’s enthusiasm for what is the first exhibition devoted to his portraits – his first reaction was “at last!”.

“He is one of those truly distinctive artists who redefined the way you look at the world. He also changed how artists represent their experiences … He understood that we don’t just interact with the world visually, we interact in terms of emotions and memory and he brought those into the language of painting.”

Moorhouse said Hodgkin was the opposite of an abstract artist. “He never painted a picture which did not have a subject, he couldn’t paint a picture if it wasn’t about something. It was the language he used, this complex language of visual experience, emotion and memory which, yes, was unfamiliar … People have to get on his wavelength and when you do you realise how rich it is.

“We want the exhibition to be a celebration of his achievements. If any artist was about life, Howard was. His paintings are a celebration of life.”

The NPG’s director, Nicholas Cullinan, said Hodgkin was one of our greatest artists. “Howard’s painting has always resisted classification and easy explanation. His work often appears entirely abstract, yet over the course of 65 years a principle concern of his art has been to evoke a human presence, making a significant contribution to our understanding of what a portrait can be.”

The other Hodgkin show opens at the Hepworth Wakefield in June, exploring the influence of India on Hodgkin’s work.

The gallery’s director, Simon Wallis, said they were devastated because the gallery was looking forward to Hodgkin being there and seeing the show.

“He had been incredibly generous and the last six works in the show are the last six paintings he had made in India.”

Wallis said Hodgkin was “one of the most important artists of our time … His love of colour and gesture and the relationship to the spirit of place and the spirit of people that he was associated with just seemed to radiate from the paintings.”

Hodgkin was born in London in 1932 and evacuated during the second world war to the US where, fortunately for a precocious child who had decided he was to be an artist, he was repeatedly taken to the Museum of Modern Art. Back in the UK he studied at Camberwell School of Art, followed by the Bath Academy of Art in Corsham, Wiltshire.

He was part of a generation of artists who came to prominence in the late 1950s and early 60s, including David Hockney, Peter Blake and Patrick Caulfield, but success came far later to Hodgkin.

When he appeared on Desert Island Discs in 1994 he said the road to recognition in the UK had been hard as it was “enemy territory” for painters.

An important breakthrough was the Serota-curated retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford in 1976. Wider fame arrived after he represented Britain at the 1984 Venice Biennale and in 1985 he became the second artist to win the Turner prize.

The beauty of art can counter Islamophobia

What kind of Islamic art has the power to open American hearts and minds, at a time when Donald Trump has relaunched his attempt to ban entry from several Muslim-majority nations?

In May, a new Institute of Arab and Islamic Art, set up by Qatar’s Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Al-Thani, will open in downtown Manhattan. The timing is not accidental. Al-Thani is trying to humanise Islam and broaden perceptions of it in the US. He hopes the institute will “not only showcase the breadth of art and culture from the Arab and Islamic worlds, but also challenge certain stereotypes and misconceptions that hinder cross-cultural understanding”, he told the Art Newspaper.

Some hope, you may say. The depth of prejudice flaunted by Trump (and apparently shared by many of his voters) is so aggressive in its refusal to engage with a complex world that it seems unlikely to be healed by a bit of Islamic art in New York. Surely that’s the wrong location, anyway – the hearts and minds that need opening are hardly those of Manhattanites who voted Hillary.

Yet that’s too pessimistic. If there is one thing that can communicate across every border and cultural gap it is art. Where words define and definitions divide us, visual art is open, ambiguous and allows imaginations to wander in time and space. Looking at Islamic art allows non-Muslims to feel the inner beauty of beliefs and traditions we do not share, to look with “another heart / And other pulses”.

Islamic art beckons me with its beauty. The Alhambra in Granada is the most enrapturing place in the world, a palace of dreams where ethereal intricacy of design, and craftsmanship of quiet genius, turn brightly lit rooms into caverns of delight. Crystalline ceilings and harmonious tiles glitter everywhere you look, illuminated by windows filled with the Andalusian sky. It is truly like being on a cloud halfway between heaven and Earth.

Of course, it is not possible to put this medieval building in an art gallery. It is very difficult to capture the wonder of any Islamic art in a gallery. The rich, subtle weave of decorative patterns and textures that makes the Alhambra so seductive is, in fact, typical of many of the greatest Islamic artistic achievements. All-embracing abstract design, rather than the iconic “masterpiece” tradition of western art, is what gives Islamic marvels from Isfahan to Cordoba their magic. The best advice is to go to these places. A couple of days in Marrakech would do wonders for any Islamophobe – visit the gorgeous Ben Youssef madrasa and feel the warmth and gentleness of the city that surrounds it.

So the task of an Islamic art gallery is not so much to display masterpieces as to find a way to connect them in a living flow of colour and pattern that gets across the multidisciplinary ecstasy of these places. One place that does this very well is the V&A in London, which uses low lighting and aesthetically harmonious arrangements to unify ceramics, rugs, architectural fragments and calligraphy in a serene, entrancing installation. Islamic art is emotional; it changes your relationship with space and time. To open American minds, the Institute of Arab and Islamic Art needs to replicate that sublime psychological effect. It should be like wandering into the old part of an Arab city: less a museum than a medina.

Some Islamic art is more effective than others. If I was creating a dream collection, I would concentrate on the medieval caliphate of north Africa and Spain, where art reached the sumptuous yet reserved heights of delicate beauty that can still be savoured in Morocco and Andalusia. For instance, the minaret of the Koutoubia mosque in Marrakech is identical to the former minaret that is Seville’s cathedral bell tower. They were both built by the 12th-century Almohads. The abstract glory of north African and Andalusian art can still be savoured in portable works, though. A wooden minbar – or pulpit – carved in the medieval Moorish style would be the most enchanting object this new gallery could show.

Art being made today shares the liberating effects of medieval Islamic creations. It has been rumoured – although the IAIA says it has not yet announced its future collaborations – work may be shown by Mona Hatoum that dramatises global tensions. But is her work likely to change how Americans see Islam? I would recommend it display the much more utopian, visionary art of Waqas Khan. His huge and intricate abstract drawings share the ethereal freedom of the greatest Islamic art. Here is an artist to change your mind, your soul.

Then again, America has never lacked cultural curiosity. In the 19th century, Washington Irving wrote Tales of the Alhambra and Edgar Allan Poe raved about the intoxication of “arabesques”. Khan’s work not only evokes medieval Islam but American minimalism, too – for there are close affinities between the American feel for abstract art, from Jackson Pollock to Donald Judd, and the Islamic world, where art always has been largely abstract.

So we come back to the basic problem. The US already has great museums full of liberal good intentions. The problem is that Trump has appealed to the worse angels of our nature, and they have howled acclaim. How can beauty help when voters have shown they prefer the beast?

Damien Hirst’s Planned Venice Exhibition Targeted by Animal Rights Group

 Damien Hirst’s hotly anticipated exhibition in Venice—slated to open to the public on April 9—has been hyped by many as the YBA’s triumphant return to the limelight following several years of market and critical decline. Indeed, three weeks ahead of the opening, the artist is making headlines once again but for all the wrong reasons.

On the night of March 6, some 40 kilograms of animal dung were dumped at the doors of one of the exhibition’s venues, the Palazzo Grassi, along with a banner that read “Damien Hirst Go Home! Check Out This Work of Art! 100% Animalisti.”

Dung and banner outside the Palazzo Grassi in Venice, in protest of Damien Hirst’s upcoming exhition. Courtesy 100% Animalisti.

On its website, 100% Animalisti, the animal rights group behind the action, explained that Hirst “is one of those fake artists (like Hermann Nitsch andMaurizio Cattelan, whom we have already taken care of) who build their ephemeral fortunes on the use of animals—stuffed, quartered, often killed for the occasion—as the ‘material’ of their performances.”

Hirst’s exhibition, titled “Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable,” will be staged between the Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana, the two Venice venues of the François Pinault Foundation.

It’s Hirst’s first major solo show in Italy since his 2004 retrospective at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples.

The ambitious project—10 years in the making according to press materials—doesn’t feature any dead sharks or other animals floating in formaldehyde, although it does entail a return to oceanic themes.

In a few images and video teasers for the show, a group of sunken sculptures covered in algae and surrounded by shoals of fish can be seen, dramatically illuminated, at the bottom of the sea.

According to iNews, a spokesman for Palazzo Grassi said that no animals would be involved in the exhibition.

But for the animal rights group, when it comes to Hirst, the damage is already done. In their statement, translated by artnet News, they said:

Hirst is famous for exhibiting slain animals […] and for the use of thousands of butterflies whose wings are torn and glued on various objects. Death and the taste of the macabre serve to attract attention. Then wealthy collectors such as Saatchi and even the prestigious Sotheby’s artificially inflate the prices of Hirst’s junk. It’s a squalid commercial operation based on death and contempt for living and sentient beings.

[Hirst’s exhibition in Venice] is a further insult to a city of Art, of REAL Art. 100% Animalisti is against the commercial use of the life of our animal siblings.

artnet News has reached out to Hirst’s studio with a request for comment, and the article will be updated accordingly

Herzog & de Meuron to Overhaul Abandoned Brooklyn ‘Bat Cave’ Into Art Center

 The Gowanus Batcave, a graffiti landmark and one of the last remaining holdouts of Brooklyn’s cycle of gentrification, will be transformed into a manufacturing center for the arts by Pritzker Prize-winning Swiss architectsHerzog & de Meuron.

Commissioned by the non-profit Powerhouse Environmental Arts Foundation, the renovation will overhaul the 113-year-old building. Originally built as a power station, the property has fallen into disrepair since its abandonment in the 1950s. In the subsequent decades, the building has gone through several iterations as a punk hangout, rave venue, a squat for drifters and the homeless, and a graffiti temple.

Acquiring the building in a $7 million deal in 2012, the foundation has long considered what to do with it. According to the New York Times, initial designs for turning the building into artist studios were discarded in favor of creating workshops for Brooklyn’s expanding creative economy. Under the current plans, the space will house facilities for metal and woodwork, ceramics, textiles, and printing, in addition to spaces for exhibitions and events.

According to DeZeen, Herzog & de Meuron will refurbish the large turbine hall, and reconstruct the boiler house that was demolished following the building’s decommissioning.

“By preserving, restoring and reconstructing essential elements of the original Power Station, some still intact and some long-ago demolished, this design strengthens its relationship to the immediate urban context,” Ascan Mergenthaler, senior partner at the firm said in a statement. “The aim is to demonstrate sensitivity to the program by integrating existing layers seamlessly into a functional, modern manufacturing facility.”

The foundation and the architects plan to break ground on the ambitious project before the end of the year. The work is expected to take three years, with doors opening in 2020.

Katie Dixon, the foundation’s executive director said in a statement that “Herzog & de Meuron’s design approach celebrates the existing iconic Turbine Hall and maximizes the potential of the property to ensure its long-term industrial viability.”

Of course, this is the same firm that transformed London’s Bankside power station into the world renowned Tate Modern museum in 2000, and later designed the switch house expansion, which opened last year.

Scientists Decode the Mysterious ‘Mona Lisa’ Smile

 The world has long been captivated by Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and the subject’s enigmatic expression. Part of the famous painting’s widespread appeal is said to be its ambiguity, but participants in a new scientific study almost universally agreed that the portrait’s subject is unequivocally happy.

The study, conducted by neuroscientists at the University of Freiburg, paired a black-and-white version of the Mona Lisa with eight manipulated versions of the image in which the angle of the mouth had been adjusted so that four looked sadder and the others happier. The nine copies were shown to participants in random order 30 times, and the original painting was judged to be happy no less than 97 percent of the time.

“We really were astonished,” study co-author Juergen Kornmeier toldAgence France Presse. “There may be some ambiguity in another aspect … but not ambiguity in the sense of happy versus sad.”

Of course, this isn’t the first time that scientists have claimed to crack the da Vinci code, so to speak, when it comes to the painting’s subtle expression. In 2015, scientists from the UK’s Sheffield Hallam University claimed that Leonardo had developed a technique for an “uncatchable smile” that is visible only from certain angles, and almost seems to disappear when one looks too closely.

While the general consensus is that the Mona Lisa depicts Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a Florentine merchant, her true identity is still subject to debate. One possibility is that the portrait is based on Salai, a young man who was Leonardo’s apprentice—and maybe even his lover. Even more out there is the notion that the artist was depicting his own mother, and that she was a Chinese slave.

There are other theories swirling around the Renaissance masterpiece as well. Just last month, for instance, Jonathan Jones of the Guardian posited that the model might have has syphilis, and that the greenish tint to her skin reflects her sickness.