Monday, December 29, 2008

A Modern Furniture Round-Up for 2008

I profiled that organic spiral sink earlier in the year and still think its great looking. As to its functionality, I cannot say. Weburbanist has a wonderful take on all that was new this past year and is worth a few minutes of your time. Click here.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Year To Come in Auctions

I hope you all had a Very Merry Christmas and extend wishes for 2009 which I hope will see calmer times. Homer's Odd is going to focus more sharply this coming year on the auction and art world market. I have found that it is a sound prognosticator on how the markets in all categories are weathering this financial storm and besides, I just love an auction. The season starts again anew towards the end of January and I will focus on a few local and even fewer international events. It takes much time and I still have a busy 9 to 5.

I do think this video from Sotheby's on the modern art market is important and worth viewing. From this amateur's perspective, I have always believed that much of the art, pronounced "modern," in the last fifty plus years is rubbish, with a few exceptions. It's like the great Potter Stewart of the Supreme Court saying," I know it when I see it."

There are a great many works of art from the last thirty years that have stopped me in my tracks at their brilliance, but there are equally as many that remind me that the Emperor as no clothes.

I think this video gives us all much to think about.Southeby's;Contemporary Art Market: A Candid Look from the Inside.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Letters To Santa

A Muppet Christmas. If your not clued into Hulu, here's your intro. Its GREAT!!

Nature and Art

I'm sure I am behind the curve in discovering this wildly talented artist. For many years now I've attended the annual Ducks Unlimited Dinner here in DC and have always enjoyed the company of fellow lovers of the outdoors, birds and nature, and yes we hunt and eat too.

Tonight I stumbled across the work of Peter Mathios and greatly admire his work. He has been named the 2009 Ducks Unlimited International Artist of the Year and I can easily see why. To readers who love this kind of work I will link his website here. I think a smart man would be wise to purchase his work today as I forsee great things in the future; just a thought.

Silly Bear

Oh My Gosh. Can you imagine giving this to a beloved young one, or an old ogre like me. I'll Let you know how much love this will cost.

The entire collection went for 1,262,863 GBP. If you'd like to see what individual prints and books fetched click here.

From the Economist:
That sort of bear
Dec 13th 2008

A fine collection of British storybook treasures up for sale

CHRISTMAS is the season of great gifts for little people. Last year J.K. Rowling, the creator of Harry Potter, raised £1.96m ($2.9m) for a children’s charity when she auctioned off a single copy of her hand-written, silver-bound limited edition “Tales of Beedle the Bard”. This year it is the turn of another fairytale character, Winnie-the-Pooh.

A.A. Milne and his illustrator, E.H. Shepard, were the J.K. Rowlings of their time. Between 1926 and 1928, the three small books they published about the fat little bear introduced not just a fresh cast of characters, but a whole new world still beloved by children today.

The books were inspired by stories Milne liked to tell his young son, Christopher Robin. The hero was the bear of very little brain, Winnie-the-Pooh, who liked to play with his friends—Roo, Piglet, Owl, Eeyore and others—in the Hundred Acre Wood (or the “100 Aker Wood”, as it was often written).

Winnie-the-Pooh lived in the forest all by himself under the name of Sanders. He liked to make up hums and was always ready for a “Smackeral of Something”. Being “that sort of bear”—greedy, cack-handed and a little bit dim—he became the hero of a series of small but meaningful dramas that inevitably concerned food, weather, accidents or misunderstandings, such as the donkey Eeyore’s tail being appropriated by Owl as a bellpull.

The collaboration between author and illustrator got off to a shaky start when Milne reacted badly to the publisher’s suggestion that Shepard take on the drawings. Milne had seen the artist’s cartoons in Punch magazine and thought him “hopeless”. But Shepard’s lightly caricatured style, like that of Jean de Brunhoff, creator of Babar the elephant, would prove adept at giving visual shape to Milne’s comic verses. The author was quickly converted, and in a presentation copy of the first American edition of “Winnie-the-Pooh” that was signed by both men, Milne penned a verse in tribute to his collaborator.

When I am gone,

Let Shepard decorate my tomb,

And put (if there is room)

Two pictures on the stone:

Piglet, from page a hundred and eleven,

And Pooh and Piglet walking (157)…

And Peter, thinking that they are my own,

Will welcome me to Heaven.

Stanley Seeger, the heir to an American lumber fortune who has lived in London for most of his adult life, and his partner, Christopher Cone, have spent nearly three decades buying Pooh-fernalia. Their collection, probably the finest in private hands, includes numerous first editions, preparatory sketches and other works illustrated by Shepard, including his other great children’s work, “The Wind in the Willows”. But it is the iconic Pooh drawings that are likely to create the most interest when they come up for sale later this month.

Among them is the first depiction of Pooh bear (Lot 6), his cosy idleness and dim-wittedness instantly apparent. He is sitting on a log before a fire; behind him hangs a doorbell with a sign under it—RNIG ALSO. Two illustrations from the chapter in which Pooh goes visiting (Lot 8, pictured at left) are all that are needed to understand his greedy nature. He pushes his way through a hole into the lair where his friend Rabbit lives. But having feasted on honey and condensed milk, Winnie-the-Pooh gets stuck on his way out. “Oh, help!” said Pooh. “I’d better go back”. “Oh, bother!” said Pooh. “I shall have to go on.” “I can’t do either!” said Pooh. “Oh help and bother.”

The chapter where Piglet is surrounded by water, “The Floating Bear”, Winnie-the-Pooh is back at the honey. In a remarkable series of six small drawings, he rolls over and over trying to get on top of the honey jar: “If a bottle can float, then a jar can float, and if a jar floats, I can sit on top of it, if it’s a very big jar.” The complete sequence of six drawings (Lot 17) is one of the rarest items in the sale, as is the last drawing in the book (Lot 19). Christopher Robin has given his Pooh party. The little boy carries off his toy bear by the foot, “bump, bump, bump…up the stairs behind him” (pictured at top). It is time to say goodnight.

E.H. Shepard’s Winnie-the-Pooh from the collections of Stanley J. Seeger and Christopher Cone will be sold at Sotheby’s in London on December 17th

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Big Man Bigger Spider

Another good reason to stop by the Hirshhorn Museum should you be coming to town for the festivities. From Art Daily:An eight-legged sentinel now greets visitors on their way into the Hirshhorn Museum. Standing at nearly 25 feet tall, Louise Bourgeois' large bronze and steel sculpture "Crouching Spider" inspires an eerie fascination in passersby. There is no need to be afraid, since the artist describes her spiders as iconic "guardians," a "defense against evil." Since its installation earlier this week, the work of art has become an instant attraction to visitors eager to be photographed with the Jurassic-sized arachnid.

"Crouching Spider" is now on view at the Independence Avenue entrance to the Hirshhorn in anticipation of the Feb. 26 opening of "Louise Bourgeois,"a major retrospective that includes more than 120 sculptures, paintings and drawings. The Hirshhorn presentation of "Louise Bourgeois"is the last chance for the public to see the exhibition that began its tour in London and ends here in Washington, D.C. The Hirshhorn presentation will include a number of works from the museum's own collection, not seen in other presentations on the tour. The exhibition will run through May 17, 2009.

Monday, December 15, 2008

I Sometimes Fret This Time Of Year Too

Noel Coward on this day in 1955. Via the Best of Life. What a Gent. Only ten days left to find that right gift.

My Kind Of Blue and White

Bonham's Press Release:"The Warren Family Korean Jar brings nearly $4.2-million at Bonhams & Butterfields

A rare Joseon Dynasty Korean blue and white porcelain jar set a world record at auction today (9 December 2008) in the San Francisco salesroom of Bonhams & Butterfields. Sold over the telephone to an undisclosed Asian buyer, the crowd burst into applause after a hotly contested bidding war among more than 12 clients – bidding from the salesroom floor and via telephones.

The mid-Joseon Dynasty (circa 1800) jar was discovered by Asian Art Department Director Dessa Goddard in a monthly appraisal event held at the company’s Sunset Blvd. gallery in Los Angeles. The jar was formerly within the collection of Mrs. Fiske Warren of Boston, MA, part of the Mount Vernon Street Warren family, living there at the turn of the 19th century. The vase became a family heirloom and has been in a family member’s Southern California home for decades.

Collectors, dealers and aficionados of Asian art came to San Francisco from across the globe to vie for Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Southeast Asian works offered by the fine arts auctioneers during the company’s bi-annual auction of Fine Asian Works of Art. Competitive bidding was seen throughout the daylong sale. The jar, the auction’s top lot, was offered this afternoon and its sale breaks the existing auction record for a Korean blue and white porcelain jar -- the new owner paid $4,184,000 on Tuesday for the rare, elegantly painted masterpiece."

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Few New Friends in DC

It was a raw very wet evening last Thursday night and while I generally am not much for walking into a crowd of strangers, I had a wonderful time meeting some fellow DC bloggers. Mitchell Gold and Bob William"s Furniture Store held a book signing party for Domino Magazine's new Interior Decorating Book. The store was filled with beautiful people, not the normal DC crowd (sorry) and the atmosphere was very welcoming. While I'm a big fan of the magazine, my primary goal was to finally meet in person the great talent behind the blog, "My Notting Hill." To say that I was hiding my envy at her stature in the shelter, art, design, blogosphere world would be putting it mildly.

To say that she's simply lovely is the truth, and Mr. Notting Hill, I say this with the utmost respect. We stick to first names here for privacy reasons,but Michelle, your a great talent and I had a great time meeting you. We chatted away about the rigors and work required publishing our blogs and exchanged a few tricks of the trade. We both got to meet tons of design-like minded folk and were thrilled, at least I was, by how many people knew us by our blogs. There are so many interesting talented people right here in our nation's capital.

Right towards the end of the evening I spotted the new talent Stefan, from Architect Design and brought us all together for what turned into a mutual fanfest and this picture,
property of Michelle's.

It was a wet but wonderful evening.

Big Man Returns

I took notice last week that the Hirshhorn Museum (a big favorite and almost always a quiet museum here in DC) is bringing back Ron Mueck's, "Untitled (Big Man)" as part of their "Strange Bodies," exhibition, starting December 11, 2008. I remember seeing Big Man the first time around a few years ago. I was on my lunch break from my then job just off the mall and made my few times a year tour of the museum. I wasn't expecting "Big Man," when I turned a corner, which is hard to do at the Hirshorn as it is circular, and jumped back at the sight of him.

I had never seen anything like this piece in my life and stood stunned and eventually thrilled. I have since become a huge fan of the artist Ron Mueck and was lucky enough to see an expansive exhibition of his talent in Edinburgh a couple of years ago. For those of you unaware of this untrained artist's work,here is a great video of some of his most famous pieces.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Hmmm Wool. New Seat Covers For Us Metro Lovers

I don't know if they consulted the esteemed talents down at the Design Center but Metro is showing off some new seats for the VIP derriers of DC. That would be us. The full story and a video from DCist here.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

For The Most Part I Never Liked It. But I Love Tulips

A second tulip mania
by Ben Lewis
The prices of contemporary art works have risen to astonishing levels in recent years. Insiders say it’s because we have been living through a golden age of art. Nonsense, argue Ben Lewis and Jonathan Ford, it is a classic investment bubble
Ben Lewis is making a documentary about the art boom for the BBC and Arté, Brave New Art World, to be released in 2009. Jonathan Ford is deputy editor of Prospect

The bubble in contemporary art is about to pop. It has exhibited all the classic features of the South Sea bubble of 1720 or the tulip madness of the 1630s. It has been the bubble of bubbles—balancing precariously on top of other now-burst bubbles in credit, housing and commodities—and inflating more dramatically than all of them. While British house prices took six years to double at the start of this century, contemporary art managed it in just one, 2006-07. (Over the same period, old masters went up by just 7.6 per cent and British 17th to 19th century watercolours actually lost value.) Contemporary art in the emerging economies did even better. The value of its sales in China increased by 983 per cent in one year (2005-06). In Russia they rose 2,365 per cent in five years (2000-05), while its stock market increased by "only" about 300 per cent.

Even these numbers understate the incredible tulip-like increases in the value of the hottest artists. The Chinese painter Zhang Xiaogang saw his work appreciate 6,000 times, from $1,000 to $6m (1999-2008); work by the American artist Richard Prince went up 60 to 80 times (2003-2008). The German painter Anselm Reyle was unknown in 2003; you could have picked up one of his stripe paintings for €14,000. Now he has a studio with 60 assistants turning them out for about €200,000 each. Any figures for the whole contemporary art market are guesswork, though Christie's chief executive, Ed Dolman, recently estimated that it had grown in value from $4bn a year to somewhere between $20-30bn in the past eight years.

But this bubble is now deflating. Sotheby's share price has lost three quarters of its value over the past year, sinking from its peak of $57 in October 2007 to $9 in early November—close to its 1980s low of $8. The latest round of contemporary art auctions in London has gone badly. In October, the Phillips de Pury sale made only £5m—a quarter of the minimum estimate; at Christie's almost half the lots didn't sell; and an air of denial hung over the Frieze art fair like a fog. Upmarket dealers Matthew Marks and Iwan Wirth claimed to have clinched many big deals, but the reality was surely different. A leading New York gallerist was said to have sold very little and a well-known German dealer not a single work.

Some dealers have blamed the poor quality of the works in the London sales. "Just wait for New York in mid-November," one said, "and you'll see the art market is still doing well." But New York has been no better. This should have come as no real surprise. If you consider the market as a purely financial enterprise, rather than one in which aesthetic quality has any bearing, then the boom in contemporary art has the hallmarks of a classic investment bubble.


In his book, Manias, Panics, and Crashes, Charles Kindleberger observed that manias typically start with a "displacement" that excites speculative interest. It may come from a new object of investment or from the increased profitability of existing investments. It is followed by positive feedback as rising prices encourage less experienced investors to enter the market. Then, as the mania gets a grip, speculation becomes more diffuse and spreads to other types of asset. Fresh assets are created at an ever faster rate to take advantage of the euphoria and investors try to increase their gains by borrowing to buy assets or using derivatives. Credit ultimately becomes overextended, swindling and fraud proliferate, and the mania ends in panic as investors seek to liquidate their positions.

The art market has adhered spookily to Kindleberger's model. By 2004 it was clear that a boom in contemporary art was well underway ("The price of art," Ben Lewis, Prospect, October 2004.) At the Armory show, New York's trendsetting contemporary art fair, dealers sold $43m worth of art in four days, nearly twice as much as the previous year. There were huge price rises at auction, too. A 1996 sculpture of a stuffed horse hanging from a ceiling, Ballad of Trotsky, by the fashionable and witty Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, sold for $2m at auction in May 2002. It had increased in value tenfold in two years. Gerhard Richter's paintings quadrupled in value between 2000 and 2004. Even then, buyers were paying $1m to $3m for a work by Hirst, Warhol, Basquiat or Koons. Those sums now seem quaint—last year a Koons went for $23m, a Hirst for $20m and a Basquiat for $15m.

The moment of "displacement" was driven by the emergence of a global class of the new rich. These billionaires, who had probably never drawn more than stick figures with a biro, were drawn to artistic creation. They wanted to collect contemporary art, partly because they liked it, partly because it was a status symbol, partly because most of the good old master works were in museums, and partly because it seemed to be a solid investment.

The way was led by people like Charles Saatchi and the Miami property magnates, the Rubells. Saatchi laid down a blueprint in the late 1990s that others have tried to copy—he bought the work of young artists, established a museum in which to display it or lent it to public museums, and used the media interest that such shows attracted (by virtue of the outlandish works involved and the association of celebrities) to sell on part of the collection at auction at greatly inflated prices. Some of the proceeds would then be reinvested in the work of other new discoveries. Saatchi's famous 1997 show, "Sensation," demonstrated that this "specullecting" was a great way to make a splash as an arbiter of taste. Others took an earthier view of the collectors' instinct. Amy Capellazzo, the co-head of Christie's contemporary art department, observed in 2007: "After you have a fourth home and a G5 jet, what else is there?"

According to Forbes, the number of billionaires in the world has been growing by 20 per cent a year since 2000. There were 476 in 2003, now there are 1,125. As they began to collect contemporary art, prices started to rise. New fairs, such as Art Basel Miami Beach and Frieze in London, were a success. Newspapers ran stories that promoted the boom. Advertising from rich galleries and art businesses and the untouchable sanctity of "art" deterred criticism. The public flocked to art galleries. The Tate Modern had 5.2m visitors in 2007, making it the most popular museum of modern art in the world.

This boom was different from the one in the 1980s. Then, it had depended on Japanese property speculators buying with credit secured against inflated real estate values. This time the buyers were more widely spread and paid with cash, not promissory notes. Art had become a new asset class—akin to shares or oil. In 2007, Tobias Meyer, Sotheby's head of contemporary art, effused: "The best art is the most expensive because the market is so smart."


Contemporary art turned out to be an ideal vehicle for speculative euphoria. The market is almost entirely free from state interference. Governments have had little interest in regulating the trinkets and playthings of the super-rich. Art works are a uniquely portable and confidential form of wealth. Whereas all property purchases have to be publicly registered, buying art is a private activity. And unlike old masters, which are often linked by history to specific places, contemporary art knows no frontiers.

By 2006, the bubble was well into Kindleberger's second phase: diffusion. Rising prices were sucking in new investors. In the first half of 2006, 454 works exceeded $1m at auction, up from 130 in the same period of 2003 as Asian billionaires joined European buyers. In Britain, there was the Banksy market, a kind of contemporary art lite, for people with thousands rather than millions to spend. Images that would once have never made it past a T-shirt, mug or wall, were now bought and sold as limited edition prints and stencils on canvas. In 2003, one of the 50 spoofy Kate Moss prints by Banksy in the style of Warhol's Marilyn could have been yours for £1,500. In February this year one sold for £96,000 at Bonhams. (Now the price is half that.)

Established collectors dropped out or were nudged sideways towards lesser known artists by the activities of the new rich. The titans of the showrooms included hedge fund bosses such as Steve Cohen, whose SAC fund was responsible for about 3 per cent of daily trading on the New York stock exchange. Other big buyers were Asian billionaires, like Joseph Lau from Hong Kong, oil tycoons and the oligarchs with their huge stakes in metal extraction and banks. The Georgian Boris Ivanishvili spent $95m on Picasso's Dora Maar au Chat—a work of art that he still hasn't unpacked. When it was flown back to Tbilisi, the airport was closed down and the army turned out to ensure the work's transfer to a secure warehouse. These financial investors didn't simply shove their wealth into contemporary art, they imported the strategies of financial investment into art collecting. Alien phrases, such as "price discovery," were heard in galleries and auction houses.

Investors became beady-eyed about tracking which artists leading museums considered important and followed the prices of their works on Artnet's database like stock market indices.

Indeed, the new art market bore about as much resemblance to traditional collecting as the modern financial system of credit default swaps and mortgage-backed securities did to traditional banking. The correlation between value and rarity in art went out of the window. Paintings by old masters such as Vermeer and Rembrandt hold their value because there are a finite number in the world. This is both a guarantor of value and limits the extent of any speculative activity. But, as Kindleberger has shown, it is a condition of a speculative mania that new "assets" be manufactured to meet raging demand—so the recent bubble has focused on the works of living artists such as Hirst, Koons, Prince and Murakami. They, and other stars, have produced scores of very similar works in series, like the slashed canvases of the Italian conceptual artist Lucio Fontana, Warhol's screenprints or Hirst's spins and spots.

More and more of such work has been churned out by cookie-cutter artists without regard to originality or aesthetic merit. Economist and historian of financial crashes, Edward Chancellor, observed recently: "Most contemporary art is inherently worthless. It is not like Titian and other old masters of which there are few and whose value will not fall away. It's like subprime CDOs."

At the peak of the South Sea bubble in 1720, a series of stock promoters emerged touting the shares of "bubble companies" that aimed to take advantage of high share prices. We laugh now at the prospectuses of these tawdry ventures—not least the one proposing to carry out "an undertaking of great advantage, but nobody to know what it is." As the art bubble has neared its peak, the great art-entrepreneurs such as Hirst, Banksy, Prince or the Chinese artists, Xiaogang and Yue Minjun, seem increasingly like these 18th-century promoters. Not only have they pumped out identical works, but they have also sought to capture more of the value for themselves, bypassing the gallerists with whom they are obliged to share 50 per cent of sales and selling direct out of the studio or placing new works straight into auction. Five years ago it was unknown for a work of art that was only one or two years old to be sold at auction. Now this is common—the best example being the Hirst sale of over 200 new works at Sotheby's in September.


The final phase of any bubble is characterised by overextended credit as investors use leverage to magnify their gains. It is also the peak of what JK Galbraith referred to as "the bezzle"—the amount of money siphoned from the system through outright corruption and fraud. The opacity of the art market makes it hard to know how exposed it is to the credit crunch. But the auction houses are weighed down by debt from guarantees—the prices that they have guaranteed to pay the sellers of works of art in their auctions (which they extend to persuade sellers to sell works through them). Auction house Phillips de Pury was rescued by a takeover by the Russian luxury goods company Mercury. In November, Sotheby's announced it had around $250m of debt in the form of guarantees to the end of the year. It had already lost $47m on work that hadn't sold and has since stopped giving further guarantees. Sotheby's has borrowed $250m to "ensure additional liquidity." Christie's has also taken out a loan and in October suspended offering any further credit terms to its customers, according to an auction house executive.

The mania for collecting contemporary art has become ever more intense in the past 12 months—in the first half of this year, new auction records were set for almost 1,000 artists. But the suspicion is that dealers and collectors with interests in particular artists may have been "bidding up" prices at auction and acquiring works. If so, they may be holding large inventories of overvalued work, financed by increasingly expensive debt. At the Damien Hirst auction at Sotheby's, his London dealer, Jay Jopling, bid on an astonishing 44 per cent of the lots in the evening sale, and both he and Hirst's US dealer, Larry Gagosian, bid on two lots after long pauses in the bidding. One cannot know if Jopling was maintaining Hirst's prices at his own expense or bidding for clients.

The lack of transparency often makes it hard to know who is doing what to whom. On 30th August last year, Hirst's business manager Frank Dunphy and Jopling declared publicly that they had sold his diamond-encrusted skull For the Love of God for "the full asking price of £50m"—the highest price ever paid for a work by a living artist. But just over a year later, Dunphy told Time magazine that he, Jopling and Hirst owned "a controlling stake" in the skull. A controlling stake is one that exceeds 50 per cent (and could be anything up to 100 per cent). In the stock market, a transaction of this kind would require disclosure to avoid the creation of a "false market." But as we have seen the art market is unregulated.

As the credit crunch struck, it became evident that American and Europeans would be buying less art. But that, we were told, did not matter because a wave of new buyers from Russia and the middle east would take their place, their wealth buoyed by high commodity prices. Sotheby's press releases said that every year 20 per cent of their clients were new and, for the Hirst auction, 22 per cent of the buyers were new clients. New records were set by these art virgins—Roman Abramovich paid $86m for a Francis Bacon in July 2008 and the Qatari royal family, previously known for collecting Islamic art, bought the Rockefeller Rothko for $73m.

The propaganda of the art entrepreneurs has also reached a final level of absurdity. We were told that the decline of paper assets would lead to "a flight of capital into art." The art market, Tobias Meyer of Sotheby's said in June, is a one-way street: "For the first time since 1914 we are in a non-cyclical market."

Over the winter of 1636, the tulip mania reached its peak. One kind of bulb sold for 900 guilders (three times the price of a small town house), up from 95 a year before. The peak prices of Dutch tulips were achieved when the bulbs were snug in the ground, and were based on futures contracts—a form of leverage that allowed investors to place an enormous price on a bulb without actually laying down the cash. On 3rd February 1637, the tulip market crashed. There was no particular reason for the panic—except that spring was nearing and, on its arrival, the bulbs would be dug up, cash settlement sought for futures and the game would be up.

We have surely reached the same point in the world of contemporary art. One of the emotions that has driven its boom is the narcissistic belief of the rich in the greatness of the age in which they are living. They thought they were buying masterpieces. But like the Dutch merchants and their tulips, the obsession of the new rich with contemporary art is likely to be remembered as the epitome of the vanity and folly of the age. The bulbs are still in the ground but the spades are poised

Monday, December 8, 2008

Make Your Own Xmas: Tate Britain Christmas Tree 2008 by Bob and Roberta Smith

LONDON.- Tate Britain is inviting the public to come and take part in its first ever fully interactive Christmas tree, created by Bob and Roberta Smith in collaboration with Electric Pedals. Entitled Make Your Own Xmas, the tree is made from timber, bicycles and lamps, and will be on display at Tate Britain from 5 December 2008 until 4 January 2009. Tate is asking gallery visitors to help bring the work to life, by providing the pedal-power to illuminate the tree.

The tree itself is a wooden structure made of recycled materials, including sandwich boards and an oil drum. Eight bicycles of various sizes have been fixed to stands around the trunk, each holding a generator that is connected to a set of light bulbs that decorate the tree. At 11 metres in height, it is the tallest Christmas tree to be installed in Tate Britain.

Make Your Own Xmas is a spirited, thought-provoking response to the season of contemplation, celebration and consumerism. Its overt humour and ramshackle aesthetic promote a variety of interpretations, evoking memories of hand-made Christmas decorations, as well as highlighting global concerns over energy production and waste. The artist aims to introduce an energetic, hands-on approach to art by getting the public actively involved in his work.

Bob and Roberta Smith was born in London in 1963. Smith works in a variety of media, including installations, painting and sculpture. A subversive sense of humour can often be found in his work, which frequently uses everyday and reclaimed materials to challenge society’s assumptions and values. Smith will be among the artists taking part in Altermodern: Tate Triennial 2009, at Tate Britain from 3 February to 26 April 2009.

The artist worked on this commission with Electric Pedals, an organisation set-up by Tim Siddall in May 2007. It provides lighting, music and other interactions powered by bicycles and recycled generators.

I Don't Know Why But I Love This Photo

Could she be smart and sexy and the girl next door all at once?

Light On A Grey Day

It was an unusually cold December day this Monday in DC, and I had it off. To be truthful, three days off in a row makes me crazy. The home was clean, the bills I could pay were done, guilt from sloth was setting in. It was time for some CULTURE.

I'd heard from more than a few that the Pompeii and the Roman Villa: Art and Culture around the Bay of Naples exhibit at the National Gallery of Art was worth seeing. It was nice. I guess if you've been to Naples, Rome, Ephesus, Capri've already seen it. What I took away from the exhibit was that the ancients had great lamps. The lighting must have been magnificent; granted you had dozens in staff to fill and blow them all out. As for the rooms, I got the feeling that a lot of these people must have gone to Ireland because the rooms were so brightly colored. No beige or neutral palettes to be found.

Lastly, who had all the taste, the Greeks! I'm so sad to see what's been happening in Greece these last three days and hope them quieter days. There is just to much, to much going on to have rioting in the streets where civilization and culture was born.

Finally, the highlight of the visit wasn't ancient Rome, but modern day (light emitting diodes) LEDs. I have always loved the moving walkway between the East and West buildings of the National Gallery. Since it was so cold outside I entered the Gallery on the far west wing and worked my way across the galleries to the I.M Pei, East Wing. The moving walkway between the two has been installed with a new art light installation by Leo Villareal. The exhibit, made of 40,000 LEDs is a must see.

I immediately knew that something was different as I approached it. I always walk quickly through it not wanting to look like a tourist, but this stopped me in my tracks and I stood and watched the whole show. Its a must see if your coming to town and will be up for the next year.

Friday, December 5, 2008

A Vampire Weekend Sounds Fun

A great video to start the weekend. Vampire Weekend.

They Were Chic On This Day

December 5, 1966, by Bill Ray, Michael Caine and Natalie Wood.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Today in History

1961 - Museum of Modern Art hangs Matisse's Le Bateau upside down for 47 days

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Treasures of The New York Public Library

After the failure of the opening of online Library this re-instills my faith in Can-do USA. What an incredible resource. How can I get any work done now? Let's take a peek. A wonderful video on Art Deco.

Travel, History and An Auction All In One

I thought this was going to be a big seller. I was right! Result below. Interesting provenance too.

Previously unknown manuscript of Marco Polo’s account. Estimate: £200,000-300,000. Photo: Courtesy of Sotheby's.
From Art Daily, "LONDON.- Sotheby's London announced that it will offer in its sale of Western Manuscripts and Miniatures on Wednesday, 3 December, 2008, a previously unknown manuscript of Marco Polo’s account. Marco Polo, the most famous and popular of all mediaeval western travellers to the East, travelled from Europe through the Middle East into Central Asia and China – along the Silk Road – in the 13th century to meet Kublai Khan, a grandson of Genghis Khan and the founder of the Yuan Dynasty, in his pleasure palace in Xanadu. Dating to the 14th century, the account is one of the last remaining copies in private hands and is estimated at £200,000-300,000.

Only six manuscripts of Marco Polo’s account have appeared on the market in the last century, and none since that sold by Sotheby’s in 1930. It is most likely that the present manuscript was copied from a selection of manuscripts in the library of Glastonbury Abbey which are now almost completely lost or destroyed, and contains three sections covering British history, Near and Far Eastern History and prophecies, including the epic travel account of Marco Polo which contains all three books of his wide travels.

Provenance: Love this stuff.

The manuscript is clearly of monastic origin, and was probably produced by a member of the Augustinian canons of the priory of Breamore in Hampshire from manuscripts in the library of Glastonbury Abbey. Breamore had been founded in the twelfth century by Baldwin de Redvers, 1st Earl of Devon (d. 1155), and his uncle Hugh de Redvers, who were among the first to rebel against King Stephen, and were the only high ranking magnates to never accept him as king. The house had become dilapidated by 1501, and had incurred substantial debts. In the gathering tension of the 1530s the last prior, named Finch, wrote to Thomas Cromwell twice asking if there was anything in the holdings of the priory which Cromwell desired and offering such items as a gift as well as a guarantee of faithful service in exchange for Cromwell's support. However, the priory was not large (and had an annual income of only £200 5s. 1½d., together with two pounds of pepper), and so was closed on 10 July 1536 during the first wave of dissolutions. In November of the same year the priory and its possessions were leased to Henry Courtenay, Earl of Devon and Marquess of Exeter for an annual rent of £16, 15s., 1½d. The earl abstracted many land grants from the treasury of the monastery before demolishing the building, and most probably took the present manuscript from the library at the same time; perhaps its Near- and Far-Eastern history appealed to him as his family had a rich crusading history, and an ancestor, Pierre I de Courtenay (1126-83), had held office as emperor of Constantinople, Edessa and Jerusalem, and as ruler of the Turkish Empire during the Crusades. The manuscript remained in the family home of Powderham Castle for centuries, and has passed by descent to its present owner, the 18th Earl of Devon.

Thus, the manuscript almost certainly has an unbroken line of provenance since the fourteenth century, and has never been sold since the day it was written.

It went for three times the estimate at 937, 250.00 GBP. Did I hear any gates clang shut?

D.C.'s Best Wine Bars

From Gridskipper, thoughts on where to have a nice glass to toast ourselves during the Inauguration. The good spots here.

If Santa Gave Me My Wish

Result at the bottom of the post.

Next week Bonhams is having an American paintings sale with a prize piece. I am a great fan of John Singer Sargent's work and to own an original would be a Santa miracle, but we can all dream. Estimated at $200/300 thousand, lets see (in these gray days,) what it goes for.

From Bonhams', "Sargent’s study Head of a Spanish Musician is perhaps the most talked about lot of the sale. The oil on canvas sketch is signed and dates from the period when Sargent was in Spain at work on his masterpiece El Jaleo, now within the collection of Boston’s Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum. It is one of the few preparatory studies for the famed final work to remain in private hands. A number of other studies are with the Gardner Museum and more still at Harvard University’s Fogg Art Museum.

Boasting a rather fantastic history, Sargent apparently gave the oil on canvas to the wife of painter William Higginbottom when she admired the sketch, referring to it as ‘the Matador.’ He supposedly cut the work from its stretcher and presented it to her on the spot -- which may explain the unstretched nature of the work today. The canvas subsequently passed through that family and is said to have survived the bombings of World War II, miraculously hanging on the only wall left standing in their destroyed home. This storied piece carries an estimate of $200/300,000.

The sale day is December 3. There are a number of beautiful works for sale as can be seen here.

The painting went for $264,000.00 which includes the auction house's take, so it went for the bottom estimate. Someone got a deal and I don't think Santa got it for me.