One of Europe’s most important private art holdings appears to be staying put in Poland.
The Polish government, led by the right-wing “Law and Justice” party, announced their plans to purchase the famous Czartoryski family collection two weeks ago. In order to enable the purchase by the state, the foundation had to change its statute, as the collection was otherwise “nontransferable and indivisible.” All of the foundation’s board members resigned in protest, the New York Times reports, when they were excluded from the talks regarding the purchase agreement.
Despite this roadblock, on Thursday, December 29, the government and the foundation finally reached an agreement.
Bloomberg reports that Poland only paid $105 million for the entire collection, which is valued at more than $2 billion. The Polish minister of culture Piotr Glinski described the deal as a “donation” by the family to the state.
Foundation representative Adam Karol Czartoryski reiterated the sentiment at a press conference in Warsaw on Thursday, according to Bloomberg, saying that the transaction was in accordance with the family’s intent to preserve Polish heritage. “I felt like making a donation and that’s my choice,” he said.
The main change brought about by the government’s acquisition is that the pieces cannot leave the country.
Dozens of San Francisco Bay–area artists, musicians, homeless people, at-risk youth, and members of the LGBTQ community worked, lived, or simply hung out in Oakland’s enormous, unregulated warehouse space known as the Ghost Ship, which rapidly burned to the ground on December 2, 2016, killing 36 people. And yet, those who frequented the Ghost Ship described it as a safe haven and an underground gathering space for a diverse assortment of creative people fleeing conventional housing turned unaffordable by the hyper-inflated Silicon Valley real-estate market. One of the Ghost Ship’s surviving residents summed up its sanctuary-like status, saying, “It was a known community house, a place for the creative class to support each other, gain momentum, hash out projects, and just be joyous. And this is the most tragic outcome.”
We appear to be confronted with two very different sets of criteria regarding what can be considered a “safe space.” One is rooted in alternative populations seeking respite from the omnipresent social factory and its all-pervasive marketplace; the other is based on municipal fire-code regulations intended to prevent the type of tragedies that the Ghost Ship now signifies.
Oakland’s building regulators had not been inside to inspect the warehouse in more than 30 years. Meanwhile, only one of those who died actually resided in the building; all the other victims had been attending a Friday night electronic music performance and dance party. Most of the dead were in their 20s or 30s and included musicians active in the local electronic scene, a freelance movie director, a sound engineer, a light-show producer, several painters, a poet, a philosophy student, a yoga teacher, and an up-and-coming young lawyer with degrees from MIT in physics and philosophy. Many of those who called the Ghost Ship home were similarly involved in music and the arts. Collectively, they created a virtual micro-city composed of makeshift living spaces built from repurposed plywood, shipping pallets, and fabric scrims linked together by a labyrinth of twisting pathways that meandered through accumulations of antique furniture, paintings, windup clocks, vintage radios, and musical instruments. One space was dominated by an entire recreational trailer. Like some delirious DIY museum, every part of the two-story, 10,000-square-foot building was filled with city-salvaged bric-a-brac, the whole thing powered by dozens of snaking electrical cords, which are now being considered as a possible cause of the fire. (For a description of Fort Thunder, a similarly labyrinth-like, DIY artists’ space in Rhode Island, see Brian Chippendale’s compelling piece, “The Paradox of Life-Affirming Death Traps.” )
The destruction of the Ghost Ship reminds me of another, far smaller and much less tragic incident from 2001: the burning down of Dan Peterman’s multiuse cultural space at 6100 South Blackstone Street on Chicago’s South Side. Peterman’s space — which was home to Baffler Magazine, a woodshop, a bicycle repair center, artist’s studios, and an outdoor organic garden — was rebuilt a few years after the fire as Experimental Station. Both it and the Ghost Ship, as well as many such places across the country, were located right on the point of abrasive contact between two different kinds of urban space, but also between two different and conflicting models of the so-called “creative city” regeneration paradigm. On one hand, we have a metropolis that represents itself as a place of creative industries and knowledge production. On the other, we have the actual precarious living and working circumstances of those whose coveted cultural labors are captured and celebrated by “creative city” policy promoters. On another level, both of these fire-gutted spaces were also located, as with many similar DIY communities, along the physical and legal periphery of their host municipalities. The multipurpose artists’ space that gave birth to Experimental Station was situated at the outer edge of the massive and hegemonic University of Chicago. Peterman was in constant dispute with the university’s administration, as was the surrounding African-American neighborhood, itself a community that was essentially denied access to the school’s privileged Ivy League campus. Similarly, the Ghost Ship warehouse was one of many aging industrial-era structures clustered within the primarily immigrant and Latino Fruitvale neighborhood in Oakland.
The Ghost Ship represented a type of outlaw urbanism that has been at work for decades in those parts of cities that have been abandoned by capitalism. This negligence is found in both the postwar reformism of social democracy and in the now stagnating and chaotic neoliberalism that replaced it. In other words, we first encountered urban failure in the welfare-state model that led to inhuman urban renewal projects, mass segregation, and a deteriorating infrastructure. This massive policy defeat was followed by that of the neoliberal “society of risk,” which has for three and a half decades promoted a profound lack of security and accessibility, especially for precarious populations, including “creatives.” Now this, too, is in crisis, as indicated by the nationalist, xenophobic, and outright authoritarian populism that has been revealed by the recent US elections, Brexit, and similar outcomes across the developed and developing world.
And yet, within these same ostracized metropolitan zones where the urban outlaws of the Ghost Ship sailed, there also gathered those populations that the revanchist city — as the late Neil Smith called post-gentrified, gated municipalities such as the Bay Area and New York City — preferred to keep out of sight: the poor, the homeless, the addicted, and the socially spurned. Therefore, while local governments might apathetically ignore building and fire code violations, or only provide police forces who, rather than attending to the protection of the community, are focused on the management and containment of semi-employed surplus populations, these host cities continue to benefit in direct and indirect ways from these informal “creative” zones.
Once gathered within these overlooked urban spaces, the converging young and marginalized artists, musicians, queers, dissidents, and even startup entrepreneurs find themselves forced to invent (or reinvent) alternative micro-social living environments founded on an ambivalent or outright contentious relationship with city policymakers and the capitalist marketplace as a whole. But in a twist, it is through these very same DIY regenerative processes that the paradigm of the “creative city” incubates its underlying entrepreneurial value. (Art historian Malcolm Miles offers an excellent critique of the “creative city” paradigm.) By looking askance at such mixed-use cultural spaces, the municipality gains an inexpensive engine for the production of innovative cultural commodities and services that are central to the “creative city” economic model. In addition, city governments gain the added reward of concealing homeless and other unwanted populations by partitioning them out of sight from more stable and wealthier neighborhoods.
And of course, they are out of sight, but only until the moment when this volatile amalgam of government neglect, poverty, police suppression, and underground cultural experimentation is forced into the light — often through a catastrophe such as the one that befell the Ghost Ship.
As of this writing, a few weeks after the Oakland warehouse blaze, we find news reports vacillating between assigning responsibility for the fire to the building’s artist homesteaders or blaming it on the rampant urban gentrification that led them to choose such precarious living conditions in the first place. This is certainly an advancement of sorts, when the mainstream media finds it impossible to ignore the role of income inequality and residential displacement as they report on such avoidable public disasters. Artists in the Bay Area and beyond are also anticipating pressure to abandon or be evicted from these remaining affordable spaces at the outer margins of the metropolis. One can only speculate about what impact this creative-class expulsion will have on the so-called “creative cities” paradigm going forward.
Which bring us to a larger framing question involving the paradoxical pressures artists are being subjected to within a hyper-deregulated neoliberal economy where the circumstances of risk and reward are becoming all the more delirious thanks to capital’s current political crisis. The tragedy of the Ghost Ship may come to be viewed as a turning point in the decades of struggle against gentrification — or perhaps not. But we can see that this disaster signifies the extreme and dire conditions confronting marginalized populations, including many artists, as all aspects of life and work are subsumed by the allegedly normalizing chaos of the marketplace.
In other words, we can read into this tragedy the disastrous head-on collision of two conflicting obligations that the creative city imposes on itself and its residents: on one hand there is the demand for a steady supply of creative products and services, but these are generated by precarious workers who, on the other hand, will increasingly collide with the dictates of capital for ever-compounding rates of profit, as theorist David Harvey has pointed out. These profit rates are most easily realizable — in fact, they might only be ultimately possible — by way of such mechanisms as real-estate schemes, credit bubbles, and other desperate financial methods that in turn leave even less informal space for those who attempt to survive on the outer margins of the global 1% city. There is no doubt that informal cultural enclaves such as the Ghost Ship will be replaced by regulated “creative” zones that are too costly for most artists and musicians to live and work in, leading to still more luxury residential sectors like Soho, Tribeca, or Chelsea. And those artists most likely to survive in the aftermath of such total gentrification, aside from the few who profit directly from the art market, will be capable of scaling up their practice to establish a “normal” relationship with society until they become almost indistinguishable from the creative city itself, even if the urban regenerative model once rooted in what was no doubt a set of sincere reformist impulses can now live on in name only. After the creative city comes the “creative city.”
We see now the adversarial city that we have helped create. It is a precise replica of itself: a repetitive loop as conceptually redundant as it is historically empty. Oh, the mysteries of the creative class! We have seen the enemy, and they is us.
“One finds light best in the darkness” —Meister Eckhart
A great deal has been made of Rothko’s paintings over the years, less in terms of discourse than through the efforts of art enthusiasts whose self-appointed mission is to convince viewers that a rarified state of emotional content is latent within these paintings. I have heard comments to this effect on numerous occasions, especially in reference to the Rothko Chapel in Houston and to the extraordinary paintings that hang on perpetual view at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. This kind of museum-style rhetoric implies that the viewer should find some kind of “spiritual” meaning beyond words, as if the paintings were meant to exist without critical thinking or had emerged without any conscious or discriminating intention on the part of the artist. An alternative approach would be to suggest that there is no easy access to Rothko — that to perceive these paintings in a meaningful way requires a sensory form of intelligence, a quality of perception (strangely overlooked in American art education) where the act of seeing evokes thinking in a way that differs from the way we look at things in everyday life.
My first occasion to see a significant exhibition by Rothko occurred during a trip to New York City in December 1970. I had met with a noteworthy painter who suggested I visit the memorial exhibition of last paintings at the Marlborough Gallery on 57th Street. Upon entering this formidable space, my first observation was that the paint on many of the unfinished surfaces was thinner than I expected, much different than the impasto surfaces on the Rothko paintings I had seen elsewhere. The ineluctable mixture of gray, brown, and black tones was impressive. Accompanying the exhibition was a selection of late sculpture by Giacometti, primarily the large-scale standing and walking figures. As a younger artist, I was taken by the poetic elusiveness between Rothko and Giacometti. The existential context of the installation seemed to encapsulate the dolorous, unexpected circumstances of Rothko’s death earlier that year, yet it concomitantly augmented the delicate force behind these intensely restrained final paintings.
While viewing Mark Rothko: Dark Palette on three occasions at the Pace gallery in West Chelsea, I kept thinking of the word “sublimation” as it might apply to artists who work internally in reference to matching feelings with abstract imagery on surfaces. Sublimation is a Freudian concept that might apply to the kinds of inner conflicts felt by artists before they arrive at a meaningful resolution in a work of art. In Rothko’s case, the significantly dark-hued paintings, such as “Untitled (Dark Gray on Maroon)” from 1963, “Untitled (Plum and Brown)” from 1964, and “Untitled” from 1969, all of which are currently on view at Pace, appear to give evidence of Freud’s conjecture. Despite the differences in scale and time periods, the artist’s all-over balance of thinly transparent “light” on a variety of surfaces, including paper mounted on board and canvas or painted directed onto the canvas, and the deftly concentrated layering of the paint suggests a sense of completeness and confidence. In some paintings, like “Untitled (Plum and Brown),” the demarcation of the shape(s) on the surface is nearly indiscernible. One has to search for the beckoning structure that lies within the surface. The confidence, for Rothko, is revealed through his insistence on the presence of the light, even though it may appear absent at the outset. It is, in fact, if not ultimately, present.
Even so, the density apparent in Rothko’s work, confusing to some viewers, may also relate to the “dialogical encounter” between the self and the other, once cited by the existential theologian Martin Buber. Here, as shown in “Untitled (Rust, Blacks on Plum)” from 1962, which confronts the viewer upon entering the exhibition, the initial opposition between the viewer and the work reveals three suspended, soft-edge, densely layered horizontal rectangles. As the color literally begins to take shape, the forms suddenly come together. To feel the manner in which color and obscurant light (within the confines of darkness) resonate in this painting would seem to require an extraordinary focus and commitment, an unheeded open-mindedness whereby some form of solitary transcendence might occur. But there is no formula by which to make an experience happen with a Rothko. Even so, one may hope that it is still within the reach of those of us conditioned by the speed (and, perhaps, the emptiness) of our constantly beckoning virtual reality.
The selection of paintings at Pace reveals the fundamental relationship between darkness and the artist’s oblique sense of light that appears barely visible. Yet one of the featured paintings in this grouping appears not to follow suit, namely “Section 6 (Untitled)” from 1959, otherwise known as the Seagram mural. “Section 6” was one of a precise aggregate of horizontal panels focusing on the color red with little residue of darkness. It was originally commissioned for the dining room of the Four Seasons Restaurant in the Seagram building and was completed the same year as the Rothko commission by architect Mies van der Rohe. Other sections of the Seagram mural are on permanent view in the superb collection at the Kawamura Museum near Sakura, Japan.
As the story goes, Rothko and his wife were invited to this enviable high-class restaurant to have a look at the location where his paintings were to be hung. Rothko, a stalwart democratic socialist, discovered that his mural would be located in an area outside of where most of the restaurant staff could see it. He insisted that the panels instead be mounted in an intermediate location accessible not only to the wealthy patrons but to the kitchen personnel as well. He was rebuffed and, as a result, he refused to grant the restaurant permission to hang the mural. To reinforce his adamant decision, he returned a major portion of the lucrative commission he had already received.
In the context of the ethos behind the Seagram mural, the opportunity to view Rothko: Dark Palette could not have come at a more appropriate time. In the past month, Americans suddenly became aware of the dire political situation presently confronting our nation and the world as a result of the 2016 electoral process. Are we, in fact, living through a time of the dark palette? Perhaps to know that the even the faintest light is still present within the current darkness may offer another point of reference: how we might retrieve a sense of the spiritual within a material world gone amok.
One of the most celebrated artists of the 20th century, Paul Klee was also a prolific teacher, serving as a faculty member of the Bauhaus school between 1921 and 1931. Promoting a theoretical approach to artmaking, the painter taught a variety of courses across disciplines, from bookbinding to basic design, and left behind over 3,900 pages in lecture notes. These documents, partly compiled in Klee’s Pedagogical Sketchbook (1925), reveal the artist’s innovative and unusual lesson plans, which often provided students with a step-by-step approach to artistic expression. We’ve pulled some of his key lessons about art and design. Let’s start with the basics.
Lesson #1: Take a Line for a Walk
“An active line on a walk, moving freely, without goal.” So begins Klee’s Pedagogical Sketchbook, which served as something of a textbook for many Bauhaus students. Five pages follow this famous description of the most basic of human marks, outlining the various types of lines, from those that circumscribe themselves to others that contain fixed points. Each example is accompanied by a diagram, which Klee likely drew on the blackboard during his lectures.
Many of Klee’s lessons center around this type of categorization, demonstrating the multiple ways in which a point can become a line, a line can become a plane, and so on.Beginning with the fundamentals, Klee modeled his teaching methods after the way children learn to read. “First letters, then symbols, then, finally, how to read and write,” he explained. Just as you can rearrange a series of letters to make different words, Klee would ask his students to repeat the same form in as many positions as possible. Such painstaking tasks would lay the groundwork for future works of art and design, and needed to be mastered before tone and color entered the picture.
Lesson #2: Observe a Fishtank
When Klee hosted classes in his home, he often required that students spend time observing the tropical fish in his large aquarium. The artist would turn the lights on and off, coaxing the fish to swim and hide, while encouraging students to carefully take note of their activity.
For those who know Klee as the “father of abstract art,” this lesson may seem surprising. However, Klee was deeply concerned with creating movement in his compositions. And he asserted that allartworks—even the most abstract—should be inspired by nature. “Follow the ways of natural creation, the becoming, the functioning of forms,” he taught his students. “Then perhaps starting from nature you will achieve formations of your own, and one day you may even become like nature yourself and start creating.”
Lesson #3: Draw the Circulatory System
Klee studied nature obsessively, and took a particular interest in the branching forms of plants, organ systems, and waterways. In his lectures, he described these patterns with scientific specificity, mapping mathematical equations and arrow-filled diagrams on the board. He explored how seeds sprout, how leaves develop ribs, and how lakes break off into streams, almost always ending with an awe-inspiring assertion about the magic contained in nature’s growth and development.
In one of these lessons, Klee explored the circulatory system, sketching on the chalkboard the movement of blood through the body. He claimed that this bodily process reflected the manner in which art is created. Afterwards, Klee asked his students to draw the circulatory system themselves. Their renderings, he insisted, should portray the transition of blood from stage to stage, shifting from red to blue, using line and density to represent shifts in weight, nutrients, and force. Go ahead, give it a try.
Lesson #4: Weigh the Colors
Only after students grasped the intricacies of lines and planes—and could find these forms in nature—did Klee introduce color. Like much of his teachings, Klee’s lessons about color combined scientific precision with a deep sense of mysticism. His theories primarily drew upon Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s color wheel, put forth a century earlier, in 1809, which proposed the idea that red opposed green, orange opposed blue, and yellow opposed violet.
Klee added a new dimension to this diagram, turning it into a sphere, with white at the top and black at the base. This framework, he taught, should encompass all aspects of color, including hue, saturation, and value. Klee required his students to create color diagrams of their own, including one assignment in which they visually weighed one color against another—the color red, as it turns out, is heavier than the color blue.
While grounded in science, Klee was also a romantic when it came to color. He often made connections between color and music, explaining that combinations of colors (much like musical notes) can be harmonious or dissonant depending on the pairing. He would sometimes even play the violin for his students. Klee’s most existential statement about color, however, came from beyond the classroom. “Color and I are one,” he declared in his diary in 1914. “I am a painter.”
When discussing the work of other artists, Klee used the following metaphor. If a new product like a toothpaste or a laundry detergent was popular with customers, its competitors should research the item’s chemical elements so that they could replicate the success. Or if a food induced illness, scientists should strive to determine which specific ingredients were poisonous and which were benign.
As such, artists should break down the artworks of their peers and predecessors into the most elementary components—line, form, and color—to determine what makes an image successful or problematic. “We do not analyze works of art because we want to imitate them or because we distrust them,” he once said. Instead, we do so “as to begin to walk ourselves.”
In his later years at the Bauhaus, Klee provided students with feedback on their works in his home. Students would bring in their fresh paintings and place them on empty easels, as Klee’s unfinished works hung in the background. Klee would sit, gliding back and forth in his rocking chair, and inspect the images in silence. Only then would he provide an analysis of the works, albeit in his famously lofty fashion, speaking to a larger problem in the field of painting or identifying a subconscious idea that manifested itself in the work. Afterward, the class would sit around a large, glazed clay pot, smoke cigarettes, and discuss artmaking. Of all the Bauhaus masters, Klee was the only one who did not give grades.
David Hockney's home city of Bradford is to honour the artist by opening a permanent gallery dedicated to his work to mark his 80th birthday.
The David Hockney Gallery will be housed in the city's Cartwright Hall.
"I used to love going to Cartwright Hall as a kid," Hockney said in a statement. "It was the only place in Bradford I could see real paintings."
The new gallery will show works ranging from early sketches to well-known paintings and his iPad drawings.
It will open on 7 July - two days before his 80th birthday.
Cartwright Hall claims to own the largest public collection of Hockney's earliest work and is converting one of its existing rooms into the dedicated Hockney gallery.
Its exhibits will include drawings and sketches from his days studying in the city, many of which, Cartwright Hall says, have rarely been seen in public and never all at once.
The council-run gallery also owns later works including Le Plongeur, his 1978 pool scene.
Cartwright Hall curator Jill Iredale said: "It was important to us that we mark this birthday of one of the world's most significant, influential and engaging artists who just happens to be from Bradford.
"This new gallery will be a place where people will be able to see what inspired Hockney while he was here in the city and engage directly with some of his work from then through to now."
A permanent exhibition showcasing the artist's work already exists in Bradford's Salts Mill building.
Its 1853 Gallery displays a large number of his paintings and a further 49 pictures from his The Arrival of Spring collection are housed in a separate room.
Hockney was born in Bradford in 1937 and studied at Bradford Art School between the ages of 16 and 20.
He moved to London to study at the Royal College of Art in 1959 and went on to become one of the leading figures in British art.
He has not always had smooth relationship with his hometown - in 2013 he said he had "almost given up on Bradford" and that a suggestion that the council could sell some of its art collection to raise funds would make him give up entirely.
On Friday, a spokesman for Bradford Council said that proposal was never seriously considered.
In a statement, Sarah Ferriby, Bradford Council's executive member for environment, sport and culture, said: "Cartwright Hall is the natural home for a gallery celebrating David Hockney, a son of Bradford and much loved as an artist all over the world.
"It will be so exciting to view his early work gathered together so we can see what initially inspired him and how his work developed over the years.
"This permanent gallery will boost Cartwright Hall's status as 'must-go-to' destination for visitors to the district and for all Hockney lovers everywhere."