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Posts Tagged ‘sculpture

“As long as art lives never shall I accept that men are truly dead”*…

From a self-portrait by Giorgio Vasari [source]

An appreciation of Giorgio Vasari’s seminal The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, the beginning of art history as we know it

I found Giorgio Vasari through Burckhardt and Barzun. The latter writes: “Vasari, impelled by the unexampled artistic outburst of his time, divided his energies between his profession of painter and builder in Florence and biographer of the modern masters in the three great arts of design. His huge collection of Lives, which is a delight to read as well as a unique source of cultural history, was an amazing performance in an age that lacked organized means of research. […] Throughout, Vasari makes sure that his reader will appreciate the enhanced human powers shown in the works that he calls ‘good painting’ in parallel with ‘good letters’.”

Vasari was mainly a painter, but also worked as an architect. He was not the greatest artist in the world, but he had a knack for ingratiating himself with the rich and powerful, so his career was quite successful. Besides painting, he also cared a lot about conservation: both the physical preservation of works and the conceptual preservation of the fame and biographies of artists. He gave a kind of immortality to many lost paintings and sculptures by describing them to us in his book.

His Lives are a collection of more than 180 biographies of Italian artists, starting with Cimabue (1240-1302) and reaching a climax with Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564). They’re an invaluable resource, as there is very little information available about these people other than his book; his biography of Botticelli is 8 pages long, yet on Botticelli’s wikipedia page, Vasari is mentioned 36 times…

Giorgio Vasari was one of the earliest philosophers of progress. Petrarch (1304-1374) invented the idea of the dark ages in order to explain the deficiencies of his own time relative to the ancients, and dreamt of a better future:

My fate is to live among varied and confusing storms. But for you perhaps, if as I hope and wish you will live long after me, there will follow a better age. This sleep of forgetfulness will not last forever. When the darkness has been dispersed, our descendants can come again in the former pure radiance.

To this scheme of ancient glory and medieval darkness, Vasari added a third—modern—age and gave it a name: rinascita. And within his rinascita, Vasari described an upward trajectory starting with Cimabue, and ending in a golden age beginning with eccentric Leonardo and crazed sex maniac Raphael, only to give way to the perfect Michelangelo in the end. It is a trajectory driven by the modern conception of the artist as an individual auteur, rather than a faceless craftsman.

The most benign Ruler of Heaven in His clemency turned His eyes to the earth, and, having perceived the infinite vanity of all those labours, the ardent studies without any fruit, and the presumptuous self-sufficiency of men, which is even further removed from truth than is darkness from light, and desiring to deliver us from such great errors, became minded to send down to earth a spirit with universal ability in every art and every profession.

This golden age was certainly no utopia, as 16th century Italy was ravaged by political turbulence, frequent plague, and incessant war. Many of the artists mentioned were at some point taken hostage by invading armies; Vasari himself had to rescue a part of Michelangelo’s David when it was broken off in the battle to expel the Medici from Florence.

And yet Vasari saw greatness in his time, and the entire book is structured around a narrative of artistic progress. He documented the spread of new technologies and techniques (such as the spread of oil painting, imported from the Low Countries), which—as an artist—he had an intimate understanding of.

This story of progress is paralleled with the rediscovery (and, ultimately, surpassing) of the ancients. It would take until the 17th century for the querelle des Anciens et des Modernes to really take off in France, but in Florence Vasari had already seen enough to decide the question in favor of his contemporaries—the essence of the Enlightenment is already present in 1550…

Art history, cultural history, tech history, the history of ideas– a review of Vasari’s The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects by @AlvaroDeMenard.

* Giorgio Vasari

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As we frame it up, we might recall that it was on this date in 1946 that the first Cannes Film Festival opened.  It had originally been scheduled for September, 1939 as an “answer” to the Venice Film Fest, which had become a propaganda vehicle for Mussolini and Hitler; but the outbreak of World War II occasioned a delay.

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“No great artist ever sees things as they really are”*…

Tom Miller in front of his 2016 artwork, Nothing

Indeed, sometimes they see nothing at all…

Earlier this month, an Italian artist named Salvatore Garau went viral when his “immaterial sculpture”—that is, a work of art made of literally nothing—sold for €15,000 ($18,300) at auction.

Articles about the sale was shared widely, often accompanied by captions of the “I could have done that” variety. Users posted pictures of blank spaces—their own invisible sculptures which could surely be had for a fraction of Garau’s price. Many bemoaned the fact that they didn’t think of it first. 

Then there was Tom Miller, a performance artist from Gainesville, Florida, who says he actually did do it first—and now he’s filing a lawsuit against Garau to prove it.

The Florida artist says that, in 2016, he installed his own invisible sculpture in Gainesville’s Bo Diddley Community Plaza, an outdoor event space. He titled it Nothing and erected it over the course of five days with a team of workers who moved blocks of air like mimes building the Great Pyramid of Giza. Tens of people were on hand to see the opus unveiled that June. 

Miller even made a short film about the work, a mockumentary that features fake artists and curators as talking heads. He compares his respective take on nothingness to John Cage’s “4′33″ and Seinfeld

“All I can say personally is that Nothing is very important to me,” Miller told Artnet News in an email. “I should be credited with Nothing (specifically the idea of Nothing fashioned into sculpture form), and Gainesville, Florida—not Italy—is where Nothing happened first.”

It’s worth pointing out, of course, that immaterial art has a long history stretching back to the 20th century. Yves Klein exhibited an empty gallery space in 1958 and envisioned an “architecture of air” a couple of years later. Tom Friedman installed an invisible object atop a plinth in 1992—and it sold for £22,325 nine years later.

Miller may have even more competition than he realizes. Since Artnet News first published an article about Garau’s work, numerous other artists have written to me about their own invisible sculpture practices. It turns out it’s hard to get noticed when you’re an artist who makes… nothing.

Tom Miller, who says he made an invisible sculpture in 2016, is demanding visibility: “A Florida Man Is Threatening to Sue an Artist Whose Invisible Sculpture Sold for $18,000, Saying He Came Up With the Idea First”; from Taylor Dafoe (@tddafoe) in @artnet

* Oscar Wilde

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As we muse on the missing, we might might recall that it was on this date in 1989 that Northrop Grumman did its best to make something all-too-tangible disappear: it first flew what became the B-2 Spirit— better known as the Stealth Bomber.

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“Inanimate objects sometimes appear endowed with a strange power of sight. A statue notices”*…

Scan the World is an ambitious initiative that gives you the possibility to enjoy 3D printable representations of cultural artifacts in a remarkably tangible way. The community led project enables everyone with access to the internet to experience material culture in an emotionally impactful manner, one which digital images cannot otherwise offer. The collaborative, living network removes the barriers of geographic location and socioeconomic backgrounds by empowering you to engage, behold, scan or own a copy of 3d printable artifacts that hold significance for you. The collective effort is as much about renowned historical artifacts as it is about household antiques with deep culturally significant roots.

Your contributions work to bridge the gap between technology and the arts. The web of diverse sharers range from educators, scanners, storytellers, artists, makers, historians, art lovers, globe trotters and all passionate individuals, eager to share a piece of their unique culture. Scan the world is about adding dimension to your cultural identity by sharing your views, roots, artifacts and narratives with the world. Providing you with space to deepen your understanding of your personal heritage while giving you the freedom to enrich the otherwise untold story of your ancestors. This initiative was born to put culture back on the map; to connect you to your roots and sense of belonging, and give you a chance to share and strengthen your understanding of yourself. You are the result of the generations that came before you. This network in its truest form is a shared, open access, museum of the future, built by and for you…

Cultural heritage is important for historical research and education as well as establishing a sense of identity amongst communities. Through documenting the past, cultural heritage comes in both physical and intangible forms which include objects, monuments, beliefs, rituals and traditions. 

Scan the World collects stories from people and museums alike, to share various views on the importance and impact of culture, helping diversify our personal approach to art. As different individuals will have very different experiences and values within their own culture, this network provides a safe space for culture to be shared and discovered, no matter where in the world it comes from… 

Access to heritage: Scan the World collects and shares 3-D printable files of cultural artifacts (since it’s inception in 2014, over 17,000, by over 1800 artists/artisans, from over 800 places around the world).

* Victor Hugo

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As we peruse our past, we might spare a thought for someone whose work is in STW– the painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, physicist, chemist, anatomist, botanist, geologist, cartographer, and writer– the archetypical Renaissance Man– Leonardo da Vinci.  Quite possibly the greatest genius of the last Millennium, he died on this date in 1519.

 Self-portrait in red chalk, circa 1512-15 [source]

“Immigrants, we get the job done”*…

When the Piccirilli Brothers arrived in New York from Italy in 1888, they brought with them skill, artistry, and passion for stone-carving unrivaled in the United States. At their studio at 467 East 142nd Street, in the Mott Haven Section of the Bronx, the brothers turned monumental slabs of marble into some of the nation’s recognizable icons, including the senate pediment of the US Capitol Building and the statue of Abraham Lincoln that sits resolutely in the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall.

The Piccirillis not only helped set our national narrative in stone but they also left an indelible mark on New York City. They carved hundreds of commissions around the five boroughs, including the 11 figures in the pediment of the New York Stock exchange, the “four continents” adorning the Customs House at Bowling Green, the two stately lions that guard the New York Public Library, both statues of George Washington for the Arch at Washington Square, and upwards of 500 individual carvings at Riverside Church…

The remarkable story of a remarkable family: “How six Italian immigrants from the South Bronx carved some of the nation’s most iconic sculptures.” 

* Lin-Manuel Miranda (as Hamilton, to Lafayette in Hamilton)

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As we celebrate sculpture, we might wish a grateful Happy Birthday to another son of Italy, Galileo Galilei, the physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher who, with Francis Bacon, pioneered the Scientific Method; he was born on this date in 1564.  It was Galileo’s observations that gave conclusive support to Copernicus’ heliocentric theory of the solar system.

Tintoretto’s portrait of Galileo

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“Luxury lives in the finer details. It’s a cloth napkin at a dinner table.”*…

“There should always be a pretty centerpiece”, instructs Sarah Field Splint in The Art of Cooking and Serving, a Depression-era etiquette guide that greased the rails for Crisco shortening’s steady slide into the American home. During Margaret Atwood’s 2006 short story named after Splint’s book, her preteen protagonist weighs decoration against utility. “The charm of my centrepiece would not however cancel out the shabbiness of our paper napkins”. Mattia Giegher’s 1629 Trattato delle piegature (Treatise on folding) offers an elegant solution to the young girl’s quandary: nix the centerpiece and fold your napkins into finery worthy of display.

Giegher’s Trattato appeared as part of Li tre tratatti (1629), joining his earlier works on meat carving (Il trinciante) and stewardship (Lo scalco). While we crease modern napkins as an entrée to the main task — a lap dam for gravy, say, or neck-tucked against crustacean spray — Giegher’s creations were never meant for dabbing. These were starched objets d’art.

During the fifteenth century in northern Italy and southern Germany, technical knowledge of the mechanical arts (think: crafts, machinery, and culinary recipes) began to appear in vernacular writing. “Why around 1400 did artisans take up pen and paper with such gusto?” asks Pamela H. Smith about these early modern how-to guides. Her answer involves war technologies, state power, and urban, cultural exchange. Come the seventeenth century, with literacy on the rise in pockets of Europe, the proliferation of manuals on carving, table service, and, in Giegher’s case, napkin folding suggests a widening interest in knowledge once exclusive to the princely domain…

The history and cultural significance of a lost art (plus lots of nifty pictorial examples): “Serviette Sculptures: Mattia Giegher’s Treatise on Napkin Folding.”

* Iggy Azalea

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As we practice pleating, we might send amusing birthday greetings to John Garnet Carter; he was born on this date in 1883.  A hotelier who ran a lodge at Lookout Mountain, Tennessee/Rock City, Georgia, he built the first “Tom Thumb Golf” course to keep the children of his guests occupied– only to find that the attraction was a hit with adults.

Miniature golf dates back to the 19th century in the UK and the earlier 20th century in the U.S., when putting greens became attractions in their own right.  But Carter’s patented “Tom Thumb” approach– which incorporated tile, sewer pipe, hollow logs, and other obstacles, along with fairyland statuary– earned him the honorific “Father of Miniature Golf.”

garnett Carter
Carter, putting

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