Thursday, October 31, 2013

Who Was the Man Who Stole the Mona Lisa?

“Unimaginable!” roared Parisian newspaper headlines on August 23, 2011, the day after the Louvre discovered that someone had stolen Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. Who, everyone asked, took La Joconde, as the French called her? Two years passed before the world learned the thief’s name—Vincenzo Peruggia, an obscure, Italian housepainter. Although Peruggia’s name’s been synonymous with art theft for a century, who Vincenzo was has always remained a mystery. What made him take the painting in the first place? Filmmaker Joe Medeiros tries to solve that puzzle in his charming and eye-opening documentary, The Missing Piece: Mona Lisa, Her Thief, the True Story. Shuttling back and forth between Italy and France, just like Peruggia himself, Medeiros and his crew visit not just the scene of the crime, but also the scenes of Vincenzo’s life before and after the theft in search of the man behind the mask of the thief. The result speaks as much about the power of art as about the way history and its players never truly die. Please come over to Picture This at Big Think to read more of "Who Was the Man Who Stole the Mona Lisa?"
[Many thanks to Joe and Justine Medeiros for providing me with the image above from, press materials related to, and viewing access to The Missing Piece: Mona Lisa, Her Thief, the True Story, now playing in select theaters across America.]

Can Art Teach Patience?

Have you ever noticed how long people look at a painting in a museum or gallery? Surveys have clocked view times anywhere between 10 and 17 seconds. The Louvre estimated that visitors studied the Mona Lisa, the most famous painting in the world, for an astoundingly low average of 15 seconds. Our increasingly online, instantaneous existence accounts for those numbers, obviously. Can we ever again find the patience to look at art as it was meant to be seen? A recent article by Harvard University art history professor Dr. Jennifer Roberts argues not only that art requires patience, but also that it can teach “the power of patience.” Where patience once stood for the helplessness of standing in line at the DMV, patience, in Roberts’ argument, can now stand for empowerment, a “time management” choice that can drive us to look not just at paintings, but at our whole lives. Please come over to Picture This at Big Think to read more of "Can Art Teach Patience?"

Monday, October 21, 2013

Has Reality Finally Caught up to Thomas Pynchon?

“Paranoia’s the garlic in life’s kitchen,” remarks the central character, Maxine Tarnow, of Thomas Pynchon’s latest novel, Bleeding Edge. “You can never have too much.” Pynchon seasons his latest epic voyage into the American psyche with enough paranoia to ward off even the most persistent of vampires, if not his critics. Since winning the 1974 U.S. National Book Award for Fiction for Gravity's Rainbow, Pynchon’s watched the trajectory of his stature as a novelist steadily rise, all while he remains grounded in a worldview based in a distrust of systems and a faith in the individual. Bleeding Edge begins just before September 11, 2001, in the calm after the bust of the dotcom boom and before the storm of the terrorist attacks on America and the ensuing and never-ending War on Terror. Pynchon travels back a decade to show us the beginnings of the American age of paranoia, an age that might one day be called the Age of Pynchon. With Bleeding Edge, can we accept that reality has finally caught up to Thomas Pynchon? Please come over to Picture This at Big Think to read more of "Has Reality Finally Caught up to Thomas Pynchon?"

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Were the Cave Paintings Painted by Women?

Art history (and all history, for that matter) has shortchanged women for a long time. A recent article about the authorship of the earliest cave paintings—the earliest images made by human beings—sets the discrimination clock back tens of thousands of years. Archaeologist Dean Snow studied the hand prints found in caves containing prehistoric artwork and found that 75% of the handprints were those of women. This theory, if true, shatters the idea of prehistoric men both hunting animals and exclusively documenting the hunt. With these simple handprints, such as those found in the Argentinian Cueva de las Manos (“Cave of the Hands”) (shown above), these first women artists reach into our time for recognition and question all the assumptions we’ve made (and sometimes still make) about artists based on gender. Please come over to Picture This at Big Think to read more of "Were the Cave Paintings Painted by Women?"

[Image: Cueva de las Manos (“Cave of the Hands”), ca. 7,000 BC. Located in the province of Santa Cruz, Argentina. Image source.]  
[Follow me on Twitter (@BobDPictureThis) and Facebook (Art Blog By Bob).]

Can Contemporary Art Become Too Popular?

Contemporary art, believe it or not, is hot. When comedian Stephen Colbert “begs” British graffiti artist Banksy not to make the walls of his studio’s building the next target in his Better Out Than In series (aka, “Banksy Takes Manhattan”) and instantly send property values skyrocketing, you know that contemporary art’s hit the mainstream. But is this popularity a good thing? In a preview of the London Frieze Art Fair, The Financial Times’ Peter Aspden weighs the pluses and minuses of contemporary art’s current status. Admittedly, the popularity of and financial investment in contemporary art beats the alternative, but, as Aspden points out, “it’s hard to deny that in its quest for instant accessibility, contemporary art has lost something of the sense of purpose that it enjoyed when it was genuinely pushing at the boundaries of moral and social consensus.” Aspen believes that the public more willingly swallows contemporary art because “it is so easily consumed and digested.” Should the contemporary art world be choking on its own success? Can contemporary art become too popular? Please come over to Picture This at Big Think to read more of "Can Contemporary Art Become Too Popular?"

[Image: Banksy. This Is My New York Accent ... Normally I Write Like This, 2013. Part of the Better Out Than In series. Located at 508 West 25th Street, Westside, New York City, NY.]
[Follow me on Twitter (@BobDPictureThis) and Facebook (Art Blog By Bob).]

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Is David Bowie the Picasso of Our Time?

 When David Bowie played Andy Warhol in the 1996 film Basquiat, he wore Warhol’s actual wig and glasses. Bowie met Warhol in his travels through the art world and even played the song he wrote about him to Warhol, which Andy, of course, didn’t like. In an interview leading up to the exhibition David Bowie is (at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Ontario, Canada, through November 27, 2013), artist Jeremy Deller compares Warhol’s influence on the 1960s to Bowie influence on the 1970s. They both ruled the decade,” Deller claims. “They defined it and they changed it.” However, the artist that Bowie mirrors the most may be another of his favorites, Pablo Picasso. Like Picasso, the single constant in Bowie’s career has been being on the cutting edge of change. Over the years, Bowie’s been Ziggy Stardust, Tao Jones, Halloween Jack, Aladdin Sane, the Thin White Duke, and John Merrick, the “Elephant Man.” But Bowie’s always been Bowie through all those incarnations. David Bowie is shows you how he’s been all those things and more, but also what he “is” today—an influential force beyond any single art form, the Picasso of our time. Please come over to Picture This at Big Think to read more of "Is David Bowie the Picasso of Our Time?"

The Darker Side of Magritte, the Kinder, Gentler Surrealist

Is any artist linked inseparably with an article of clothing as René Magritte and the bowler hat? Whether raining down from the sky or with faces obscured by apples, Magritte’s bowler-hatted men have found a home in mainstream visual culture even if Magritte’s own name always hasn’t. Over the years, Magritte’s become the kinder, gentler Surrealist—the anti-Dali who doesn’t roam nightmare landscapes of the psyche full of sex and madness. We know and almost want to know a Magritte as gentle as the Paul Simon song about him, but the reality (like the reality of the song, if you listen closely) is much stranger and darker. The Museum of Modern Art’s new exhibition, Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938, goes back to the beginning of Magritte’s career, before widespread acceptance and Magritte’s own public image making smoothed the rough edges of his Surrealism, which was just as sharp and disturbing as that of Dali, but less obvious for looking so ordinary. Please come over to Picture This at Big Think to read more of "The Darker Side of Magritte, the Kinder, Gentler Surrealist."