December 7, 2012
Michael Hoppen on collecting photography

Emil Otto Hoppé, Speaker’s Corner, London, 1934. © Estate of Emil Otto Hoppé

"There are no shortcuts," says London gallery owner Michael Hoppen in this interview with The Guardian’s Sean O’Hagan. Finders Keepers is an exhibition of his personal collection, put together over many years of obsessive trawling through the most unlikely places. This commitment, he says, is of paramount importance to building a worthwhile collection (though he also maintains that he collects photographs he likes, not merely those that are likely to rocket in price.)

Denise Grünstein, Tied, 2009. © Denise Grünstein. Courtesy of Charlotte Lund Gallery

I particularly loved this quote from Hoppen:

"If you think you can go to a fair once a year and find a bargain, forget it. I spend so much time going to places where I don’t find anything of worth. That’s the downside, but, like most collectors, I perversely enjoy that as well."

Unknown Photographer, Tornado, USA, 1950s. Courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery

I chose three from the 130-image show here. Let me know if you have a chance to visit the exhibition. (Another instance of my slightly wishing I still lived in London.)

November 29, 2012
I don’t have anything particularly insightful to add to the news that MoMA has acquired 14 video games for its permanent collection, apart from a hearty “hurrah!” and slight confusion about what it means for a museum to “acquire” a video game. Luckily, MoMA’s Paola Antonelli comes to the rescue on that last front, writing a detailed post on the museum’s blog:

In order to be able to preserve the games, we should always try to acquire the source code in the language in which it was written, so as to be able to translate it in the future, should the original technology become obsolete. 

Then of course there’s the issue of curating the backend of the game (the part that arguably contains the creators’ true creativity), the code. Writes Antonelli:

We request any corroborating technical documentation, and possibly an annotated report of the code by the original designer or programmer. Writing code is a creative and personal process. Interviewing the designers at the time of acquisition and asking for comments and notes on their work makes preservation and future emulation easier.

Then there are the rights issues, which can only be legion. So it’s not perhaps as simple a slamdunk as you might have imagined, and hats off to MoMA for recognizing the artistry and genius of the likes of Pac-Man, Katamari Damacy, and The Sims (with Pong, Asteroids and Donkey Kong still to come.)
[Pac-man image via Flickr/methodshop.com.]

I don’t have anything particularly insightful to add to the news that MoMA has acquired 14 video games for its permanent collection, apart from a hearty “hurrah!” and slight confusion about what it means for a museum to “acquire” a video game. Luckily, MoMA’s Paola Antonelli comes to the rescue on that last front, writing a detailed post on the museum’s blog:

In order to be able to preserve the games, we should always try to acquire the source code in the language in which it was written, so as to be able to translate it in the future, should the original technology become obsolete.

Then of course there’s the issue of curating the backend of the game (the part that arguably contains the creators’ true creativity), the code. Writes Antonelli:

We request any corroborating technical documentation, and possibly an annotated report of the code by the original designer or programmer. Writing code is a creative and personal process. Interviewing the designers at the time of acquisition and asking for comments and notes on their work makes preservation and future emulation easier.

Then there are the rights issues, which can only be legion. So it’s not perhaps as simple a slamdunk as you might have imagined, and hats off to MoMA for recognizing the artistry and genius of the likes of Pac-Man, Katamari Damacy, and The Sims (with Pong, Asteroids and Donkey Kong still to come.)

[Pac-man image via Flickr/methodshop.com.]

November 18, 2012

Exploding Bubbles Create Violent Liquid Sculptures, the New Scientist tells me. I could watch this all day. Here’s the explanation of what the scientists responsible were up to:

To create this slow-mo movie, they filled a fish tank with a viscous sugary syrup and then injected the surface with air to create bubbles measuring a few centimetres in diameter - large by bubble standards. Right after a bubble of this size takes shape, a jet can form inside it. If the air is flowing fast enough, it can act like a needle popping the bubble from within, causing violent jets of liquid to shoot out far above the surface.

[Story via Roger Highfield]

October 22, 2012
"Designers create solutions – the products and services that propel us forward. But artists create questions — the deep probing of purpose and meaning that sometimes takes us backward and sideways to reveal which way “forward” actually is."

Well, hello there, can o’ worms. Nice to see you again.

Designers and artists seem to love to immerse themselves in the “but what is it?” question of their very identity. And in a piece for Wired, RISD president John Maeda leaps right into the fray, arguing that now that everyone has come around to the idea that design matters, design, well, no longer matters quite so much.

If Design’s No Longer the Killer Differentiator, What Is? is an interesting piece with some smart ideas. But it also concerns me in that I think its central thesis is, well, wrong. Yes, of course artists play a pivotal role in our society, provoking us, delighting us, making us think, making us laugh, helping us to re-imagine our world and current reality. But Maeda’s separation of the two disciplines (above) seems unconvincing — mainly because I’d argue that the very best designers are also extremely adept at asking the questions that really matter. Only then they marry that skill with the ability to translate insights into solutions for the real world.

Frankly we need those kinds of people more now than ever, along with executives who can both understand the field’s potential, and support and sustain those trying to do it. Design needs visionaries, but it also needs professionals who understand the realities of business. It certainly doesn’t need to take a giant step backwards to the days of old in which practitioners were mainly known for bitching about why their pesky clients were getting in the way of their vision with tedious practical-minded issues such as how the hell something might actually be brought to market.

As for the idea that everyone now understands that design is a clear differentiator? Please. Look around you. The power of good design might be a hot buzz-phrase, but it sure isn’t a reality in most areas of our lives. Would it be at all possible to stick with the tough work of showing how and why design matters before trying to start a new bandwagon rolling?

Chris Riley wrote a good response on his blog: “Design may no longer be the killer differentiator but we still need to solve the problem that design was designed to solve: human connection.” For now, I’d argue it might be a little premature to stick the nail in the coffin of design, and it’s a bit sad that the discipline’s own senior figureheads seem to want to do just that.

October 9, 2012
"Artists are the interface between revolutions and life. Artists bring in the human factor to revolutions that get their start in technology and science. We’re used to thinking that progress comes from the technology, science, and financial sectors. Culture brings, in truth, a slower, more sustainable, more holistic and trustworthy kind of progress."

Newly minted director of R&D (and former senior curator of architecture and design) at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Paola Antonelli muses in an interview with Architect magazine about what she’ll be getting up to in her new role. I love this insight above… As my colleague Larry Keeley likes to say, actively trying to change culture is like trying to stick a pin in a cloud, but it certainly happens, and being conscious about how such changes are being driven is a noble endeavor.

[Story via Allison Arieff.]

October 7, 2012

Um. This is AMAZING and, as MOMA design guru Paola Antonelli put it, “I want to go to there.” The Guardian’s Oliver Wainwright visits a new installation at the Barbican in London, where visitors get to walk through a torrential downpour without getting in the slightest bit wet. Love the comment from one of the creators, Stuart Wood of the collective Random International, as he grapples with the perennial art vs design conundrum. “No would-be designer would create something that’s completely pointless,” he says, justifying his self-description as artist. That’s as maybe, but I for one find this type of installation far from pointless. Magical, in fact.

August 24, 2012
Beauty is Embarrassing: documentary on Wayne White (and Mimi Pond)

I was predestined to love the documentary Beauty is Embarrassing. After all, I heard Wayne White speak at F5, a performance heavily featured in the film. (Banjo-playing was involved, so ‘performance’ feels like the right word to use; it certainly wasn’t your average spin through an artist’s portfolio.) And I already have a well-developed soft spot for White, a healthy respect for his incredible artistry and admiration for his irreverent take on the art world.

Safe to say, this film was going to be for me. And it’s charming; White is delightful; his work is amazing. It’s everything it should be. A couple of sample quotes:

I can do anything I want to do. Fuck, man. Let’s get on it. Time’s running out.

My mission is to bring humor into fine art. Not art world funny but real world funny.

What I wasn’t expecting was to become equally smitten with White’s wife, Mimi Pond, an incredible artist in her own right (she wrote the first episode of The Simpsons), who quietly emerges from the film as its true hero. She’s the one who stepped back from her promising career to look after the family and bring up the pair’s two children. She clearly provides the spring in White’s step, buoying him up when the anxiety gets too much, but it wasn’t like a supporting role was always her dream. Hearing her quiet admission, “There was a point when I felt absolutely invisible” made it clear that while she didn’t regret her decision, it hadn’t come lightly. And seeing her prepare to get back into the art world towards the end of the film was moving and exciting. Go, Mimi Pond. Go!

[All images c/o Wayne White/Beauty is Embarrassing.]

July 6, 2012
"While traditional leaders want to be right, creative leaders *hope* to be right."

John Maeda's talk at TEDGlobal was a treat, as he showed some of the early digital artwork for which he first made his name. (I so remember seeing it back then and, truthfully, being perfectly mystified by it even as I knew it was somehow really quite important.) But the self-effacing president of RISD also had some really insightful comments to share about the impact of creative thinking in management and leadership. Read the full post here.

July 5, 2012

Neil Harbisson is totally color blind; that means he sees a totally grey world. But at TEDGlobal, he explained how he’s turned this apparent defect into an artistic opportunity, learning how to “hear color” as a self-proclaimed “cyborgist and colourist.” It’s completely crazy-sounding at first, but then remarkably compelling. This video shows some of the sound portraits he’s made of characters including Woody Allen, Prince Charles and Nicole Kidman, the last two of whom are apparently more similar than you might anticipate. Totally fascinating.

July 3, 2012
There were no two ways about it. My crush of TEDGlobal was only ever going to end up focused on one person, and that person is Antony Gormley. The incredible artist gave a gentle but powerful talk and showed some of his astonishing sculptural works. My favorite quote: “To me, art is not about objects of high monetary exchange, it’s about reasserting our firsthand experience in present time… As John Cage said, we are not moving toward some kind of goal. We are at the goal and it is changing with us. If art has any purpose, it is to open our eyes to that fact.” How can you not love that?? Read the rest of my review and see photos of his work here.
Photo c/o TED/James Duncan Davidson

There were no two ways about it. My crush of TEDGlobal was only ever going to end up focused on one person, and that person is Antony Gormley. The incredible artist gave a gentle but powerful talk and showed some of his astonishing sculptural works. My favorite quote: “To me, art is not about objects of high monetary exchange, it’s about reasserting our firsthand experience in present time… As John Cage said, we are not moving toward some kind of goal. We are at the goal and it is changing with us. If art has any purpose, it is to open our eyes to that fact.” How can you not love that?? Read the rest of my review and see photos of his work here.

Photo c/o TED/James Duncan Davidson

June 19, 2012

With great anticipation, I went to see Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present at the weekend; the documentary didn’t let me down. The film itself is arguably more hagiography than critical analysis, but I loved to see how playful and charming Abramovic is in her own life. You wouldn’t necessarily imagine that the woman who literally yelled herself hoarse or who ran into walls, repeatedly, would be all that much fun to be around. This film shows how all appearances can be deceptive, and helps the audience to understand the true bravery and courage she exhibited as she put herself on show at her wonderful 2010 MOMA retrospective, The Artist is Present. I remember spending much time at this show and worrying about her increasingly waxy, unhealthy appearance as the months went by. As this film shows, she really was pushing herself to the limits of human endurance, and for that we should all be both humbled and grateful.

June 15, 2012

Not your average bottles of tequila… This is a collaboration between 1800 Tequila and Spin magazine to create a series of rather unlikely packaging. The limited edition bottles are punky, funky and graphic, featuring the works of six different artists from the U.K and the U.S. 1,800 (obviously) bottles by each designer were produced, while each one will set you back $29.99 at retail. Pretty cool.

Top row, left-right, bottle designs by: Stephen Bliss (New York); Nathan Fox (New York); Ilovedust (London).

Bottom row, left-right, bottle designs by: Kai & Sunny (London), Tara McPherson (New York); Sandro Tchikovani (San Francisco).

[Story via Louisa St Pierre]

June 6, 2012
"Another big ad agency wants an inspirational talk to their Creatives, won’t find the tiny fee. This is how artists survive. Shame on them."

— Agencies and companies often hold “salons” to inspire their assembled troops. Some companies make a fairly tidy reputation for doing so (I’m thinking of things like the authors@Google events, which started back in 2005.) But there’s a difference between an author touting his or her own published work in the name of marketing and selling books, and agencies calling in artists to get them to show off amazing work… and then not paying a dime for the privilege. The above tart tweet came courtesy of British public artists, Greyworld (see my previous post on their most magical work), whose leaders just experienced this very situation. They followed up with a longer rant on Facebook. It’s good to see the growing confidence and independence of artists and designers who used to believe they had to rely on the largesse of the bigger agencies that so often commissioned their work. The worm, as they say, is in the process of turning. And frankly there’s no quid pro quo if one party doesn’t get no quid.

April 27, 2012

RIP, David Weiss, who Art in America reports has died, aged 66. Weiss and his longtime artist partner, Peter Fischli were way ahead of the current penchant for Rube Goldberg-inspired filmmaking. Above is an extract from their film, The Way Things Go (Der Lauf der Dinge), the 30-minute extravaganza they created in 1987. As Flo Heiss, executive creative director of ad agency Dare commented on Twitter, the film is the “most copied, magical artwork of all time.” Thoughts to friends and family.

[via Matt Jones]

February 10, 2012
It’s a nosecone, silly. This one was customized by the ridiculously talented artist (and friend), Eric White, and featured in an *amazing* sounding show currently on at the PIMA Air and Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona. (I am already trying to figure out how I can get there.) The Boneyard Project involved artists such as Nunca, Retna and Faile using retired World War II airplanes as their canvas, while it also includes another collection of customized plane nosecones from the likes of Shepard Fairey, Futura 2000 and Ron English. Eric also gave a (perhaps unwittingly) brilliant insight into the highs and lows of the creative process with this emailed description of his contribution:

I picked this cone out of the six I was shown months ago because it was the strangest one. The entire thing was covered in that white, shimmery fabric; the outer layer was peeling off. For some reason I kept picturing it pink, and I decided to go for a flat, opaque pink surface being revealed by the torn away fabric. I was tempted to leave it there, but one of my best friends said he thought it needed something else, so I developed the idea of one little window, maybe another level existing beneath the pink. Time was running out, the pickup had been scheduled, so I was frantically trying to come up with something. The night before it was due I settled on something that I thought was great: I found a picture of a little kid with an asthma inhaler that was hilarious to me, and seemed like the perfect meaningless and absurd image that would put it over the edge. I finished about 5am on the day it was due and realized it was terrible. So I then scrambled through 10 different ideas and landed on the “Love Crazy” thing, taken from a title card from an old film. I worked on that for the next three hours and finished. I couldn’t believe I pulled it off. The other thing would have been lame. The text works with the obvious phallic shape and sexual connotations of the pink etc, and I thought the black and white fit well aesthetically… I hope it doesn’t sell. I want it back!”

I hope it doesn’t sell too, so that I can arm wrestle Eric for it. Gorgeous.

It’s a nosecone, silly. This one was customized by the ridiculously talented artist (and friend), Eric White, and featured in an *amazing* sounding show currently on at the PIMA Air and Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona. (I am already trying to figure out how I can get there.) The Boneyard Project involved artists such as Nunca, Retna and Faile using retired World War II airplanes as their canvas, while it also includes another collection of customized plane nosecones from the likes of Shepard Fairey, Futura 2000 and Ron English. Eric also gave a (perhaps unwittingly) brilliant insight into the highs and lows of the creative process with this emailed description of his contribution:

I picked this cone out of the six I was shown months ago because it was the strangest one. The entire thing was covered in that white, shimmery fabric; the outer layer was peeling off. For some reason I kept picturing it pink, and I decided to go for a flat, opaque pink surface being revealed by the torn away fabric. I was tempted to leave it there, but one of my best friends said he thought it needed something else, so I developed the idea of one little window, maybe another level existing beneath the pink. Time was running out, the pickup had been scheduled, so I was frantically trying to come up with something. The night before it was due I settled on something that I thought was great: I found a picture of a little kid with an asthma inhaler that was hilarious to me, and seemed like the perfect meaningless and absurd image that would put it over the edge. I finished about 5am on the day it was due and realized it was terrible. So I then scrambled through 10 different ideas and landed on the “Love Crazy” thing, taken from a title card from an old film. I worked on that for the next three hours and finished. I couldn’t believe I pulled it off. The other thing would have been lame. The text works with the obvious phallic shape and sexual connotations of the pink etc, and I thought the black and white fit well aesthetically… I hope it doesn’t sell. I want it back!”

I hope it doesn’t sell too, so that I can arm wrestle Eric for it. Gorgeous.