Art World Foofarah

Damien Hirst and Skull (For the Love of God ...)
Damien Hirst and Skull (For the Love of God ...)

An article on Damien Hirst in today’s Guardian:

Robert Hughes, the world’s best-known champion of modern painting and sculpture, is publicly to lay much of the blame for the decline of contemporary art at the door of Damien Hirst. In an uncompromising television essay about art and money that follows next week’s controversial London ‘clearance’ sale of 223 of Hirst’s works, the Australian critic will claim they are ‘absurd’ and ‘tacky’ commodities.

Hughes’s film for Channel 4 argues it is ‘a little miracle’ that Hirst’s 35ft bronze statue, Virgin Mother, could be worth £5m and yet be made by someone ‘with so little facility’. Calling Hirst’s famous shark in formaldehyde ‘the world’s most over-rated marine organism’, the critic will mount a lengthy attack on the artist for ‘functioning like a commercial brand’ and make the case that both Hirst and his shark prove that art has lost all meaning separate from its price tag.

Hughes, 70, became well known in Britain with his acclaimed BBC series The Shock of the New in 1980, which made the theories behind modernism in art accessible to a wider audience. But Hughes says he now fears he is a member of the ‘last privileged generation’ to have visited an art gallery without thinking about the market value of the exhibits.

Hirst’s 1991 suspended tiger shark, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, is, Hughes judges, a ‘tacky commodity’, even though collector Charles Saatchi sold it for £8m in 2004. ‘It is a clever piece of marketing, but as a piece of art it is absurd,’ Hughes says. The common defence is that Hirst’s work mirrors and subverts modern decadence: ‘Not so. It is decadence,’ says Hughes.

His harsh verdict on Britain’s leading artist is a key part of the new film’s argument about the change Hughes has witnessed over 50 years as a New York-based art reviewer. His film, The Mona Lisa Curse, opens with shots of Hirst’s diamond skull, For the Love of God, which sold for £50m and is now owned by a consortium. Hughes maintains that all works of art now operate in western culture much as celebrities do. He dates the trend from 1962 when Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa left the Louvre in Paris to go on display in New York. The long queues to see it turned a masterpiece into a mere spectacle, he argues.

The huge sums now regularly paid out by collectors at auctions, placing the lots out of the reach of public galleries, mean that art itself has been redefined. The works, he suggests, are now like film stars, while the galleries have been reduced to the level of the limousines used to convey them to people. ‘Art as spectacle loses its meaning,’ Hughes warns.

Grayson Perry, the Turner prize-winning potter and artist, welcomed Hughes’s intervention this weekend, although he admires some of Hirst’s work. ‘I always enjoy Robert Hughes’s erudite grumpiness,’ Perry said. ‘We get the art we deserve and Damien is the perfect artist of our times of fluff economies, New Labour and celebrity hype. His skull was brilliant for its brazenness and for the debate it provoked. His work has always been largely about money: I fear his accountant has become his most influential artistic adviser.’

Like Hughes, Perry is concerned about the way the significance of artworks is skewed by the price they attain in the market. ‘What has changed is that the market, fuelled by glitzy new wealth, is becoming more powerful than the connoisseurs, museum curators and art academics whose consensus used to decide what was good art. Hedge fund managers and Russian oligarchs are not necessarily known for their sophisticated good taste,’ said Perry.

Although Hughes has always been outspoken about BritArt, he has not attacked Hirst so explicitly before. When Hughes was invited to speak at the Royal Academy of Arts dinner four years ago he made only a glancing, disdainful reference to Hirst, saying: ‘A string of brush marks on a lace collar in a Velázquez can be as radical as a shark that an Australian caught for a couple of Englishmen some years ago and is now murkily disintegrating in its tank on the other side of the Thames. More radical, actually.’

Ironically, this summer the Royal Academy, the venerable institution in Piccadilly, London, that helped make the names of the BritArt pack with the Sensation show of 1996, is still waiting to hear whether or not Hirst will accept the honour of becoming a Royal Academician – the highest accolade for a working British artist.

Hirst’s fellow BritArt stars, Gary Hume and Tracey Emin, are already members of the academy, but the invitation to Hirst to join a club that he once called ‘a big, fat and stuffy old pompous institution’ is significant. The letter went out to Hirst in the early summer and he has until October to reply.

· ‘The Mona Lisa Curse’ is to be shown on Channel 4 on 21 September at 6.30pm

Read another view here.

Palin under fire after grudging U-turn on global warming

Here’s an editorial on Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin from todays’ Guardian newspaper:

“Sarah Palin, who presents herself as half of a Republican team of maverick reformers, yesterday edged away from her outmoded views on climate change, conceding for the first time that the problem might be man-made.

The admission from Palin, during an interview with ABC television, brings the Republican running mate into line with the views of the party’s presidential nominee, John McCain. “I’m attributing some of man’s activities to potentially causing some of the changes in the climate right now,” she told ABC’s Charlie Gibson.

The statement contradicted Palin’s assertions within the past year that she did not believe global warming is a result of human activity. The Alaska governor strenuously denied expressing such doubts in her ABC interview, but she told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner newspaper last December: “I’m not an Al Gore, doom-and-gloom environmentalist blaming the changes in our climate on human activity.”

Even so, yesterday’s acknowledgment of a human component in climate change was grudging – and Palin still supports drilling in the Arctic wilderness preserve, which McCain opposes.

She also suggested that agreeing on the causes of climate change bore no relation to finding a solution, and left open the possibility that the phenomenon was merely cyclical. “Regardless of the reason for climate change, whether it’s entirely, wholly caused by man’s activities or is part of the cyclical nature of our planet … John McCain and I agree that we gotta do something about it.”

The exchange came during a series of three interviews Palin granted to ABC, her only exposure to the national media since McCain chose her as his running mate a fortnight ago.

Most of Palin’s responses during those interviews seemed carefully scripted, almost a recitation of Republican talking points absorbed during intense cramming sessions with McCain campaign aides.

Critics saw her performance as evidence that she was not conversant with many of the issues that would occupy a vice-president, especially matters of foreign policy. She was on shaky ground on several occasions. At a military ceremony on Thursday, Palin again clung to an outmoded world view, linking the Iraq war to al-Qaida and the 9/11 attacks. The Washington Post reported that Palin told a contingent of troops deploying to Iraq, including her son, Track, that they would “defend the innocent from the enemies who planned and carried out and rejoiced in the death of thousands of Americans”.

Palin exposed other gaps on national security issues. She told ABC that Washington should not intervene if Israel decided to attack Iranian nuclear facilities, and she adopted a far more hawkish posture towards Russia than Bush, going so far as to commit US troops to the defence of Georgia and Ukraine if attacked.

Yesterday, Barack Obama’s camp was scouring the transcripts of the Palin interviews as part of what it called a bold new strategy to counter a string of Republican attacks. The change of tack comes after mounting Democratic concerns that Obama is not hitting back hard enough.

The Republicans have made a number of false assertions against Obama, accusing him of personally insulting Palin by using the phrase “lipstick on a pig” to describe McCain’s economic policies and of supporting explicit sex education for five-year-olds.”

Better pray the Republicans are not elected –

Turkey 2008 V: Koprulu Canyon and Altinkaya

Not too far from the Mediterranean coast, inland past Manavgat, you will find the Koprulu Canyon. Lots of local tour companies bring people here to go rafting; the river itself is not that difficult to navigate but it’s good for beginners.

Both times that I visited the canyon, it was screaming hot. As you can see, the land here is really dry – this past August a forest fire near this area was the largest on record.

Here’s the canyon itself – fantastic turquoise water and fantastically cold. The contrast between the 50 degree heat of the sunny day and the glacial water is extreme. Many local people come here to sit in the shade and to BBQ.

Here some local boys come down to the river to play. Turkey has thousands of kilometers of coastline but, as a rule, most Turks cannot swim – unfortunately, many drown during the summer.

Here the young boys are jumping into the river from a tree and, hopefully, remerging.

The villagers in this area live as they have done for hundreds of years. Here a shepherd, watching his flock at the riverside, peeks through the trees.

Not too far from this riverside site, a drive up a very twisty and narrow mountain road brings you to Altinkaya (Golden Stone), from where you have a wonderful view over the valley.

To see more, click here.

Green Commute I

Pushed by the exorbitant BC Ferries rate raises – 14 % in 2 months – and the fact that my commuting costs were becoming punishing, I have decided to go green this Fall. Going green means that, every second week, I will be riding my bicycle from Vancouver to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, rather than driving my car. This is a light green commute as opposed to the full-on GREEN, since I need my car every other week to drive up to the North Island to teach. Janice and I are carpooling and taking turns driving.

I parked my car in a parking lot in West Van, unhooked my bike from the bikerack, attached my nifty waterproof saddlebags (a must here on the Wet Coast – the deluge will begin soon, no doubt) and headed off to the ferry. The first week back at school I had arranged to stay at Bev and Sandy’s B&B in Nanaimo. So … after an hour and three-quarters on the ferry, I rode my bicycle along the cycle path on the old island highway, up hill and over dale, to Bev and Sandy’s to pick up the key to my room. Luckily, unbeknownst to me earlier, the B&B is very close to the Island Parkway multi-use trail and I was able to access the trail very quickly. The ride into the University along the trail, on a beautiful sun-lit day, was fabulous.

I arrived at my office on the hill sweaty and a bit tired an hour and a half after exiting the ferry. The biggest problem with the commute so far was getting the bike and bags and backpack up to my office – all that luggage was a bit heavy. Anyway, I carried it all up the stairs and into the elevator and parked the whole lot in my office, in which there was not a whole lot of room left, after all that gear was installed. I just hope that it did not smell too much like a gym locker room … thankfully, there is a changing room with showers just next door.

The light green commute is also the inexpensive commute – I searched out the most economical, yet decent, accommodations that I could find in Nanaimo. I have to say that Bev and Sandy’s place is a gem.

Here is the garden room bed, my gear, and me, documenting the moment with my cellphone camera.

The room was great, especially the private washroom with heated tile floors! The place also has a small common room for each of the 2 bedrooms, with 2 small fridges and a selection of breakfast goodies. Outside there’s a garden and places to relax; unfortunately, I didn’t have time to enjoy that this time. Here is the link to Bev and Sandy’s place; I can highly recommend it!

I also spent a night on Janice’s pull out day bed – here’s Tia checking things out:

The first week of the green commute was a success – I rode about 15 miles in pleasant weather without screwing up my knees too much.

Turkey 2008 IV: Cycling to the Manavgat waterfalls

Myself and a friend decide to cycle from Side to the Manavgat waterfalls on very hot, sunny day. It must have been 45 degrees and we were riding in the heat of the day, our destination the two waterfalls near Manavgat. The first one we intended to visit was the smaller of the two; we stopped at a deserted restaurant bar on the Manavgat River on our way.

As you can see by the picture below, the small waterfall is more or less as advertised – small. The water here is a beautiful colour and glacial cold – thank God in this screaming heat!

From here, we cycled to the large waterfall. Because it was bombed by terrorists a couple of years ago, visitors to this site now have to go through a metal detector and inspection before being allowed in.

This is the larger of the two Manavgat waterfalls; it has a large restaurant/ shop/ terrace complex right next to the river. The river itself is a fantastic turquoise-emerald colour.

Downstream from the Manavgat waterfall, young kids jump from the rocks and trees into the water here (and sometimes don’t come out again …).

Lisa looking hot and tired at the Manavgat waterfall. Cycling here is not too bad; the roads are decent and the topography is mostly flat. However, the one hazard is the heat and potential sunstroke …

Cemeteries in Turkey

For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?
Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance. (Kahlil Gibran)

These pictures were taken at sunset in the cemetery of Side-Kemer.

The pictures below are of a cemetery in the trees near the village of Gundogmus (Sunrise) in the Taurus Mountains about one hundred kilometers from Side.

To see more, click here and here.

Turkey 2008 III: Cappadoccia cont’d

Wilfried convinced me to accompany him on a balloon ride over the Cappadoccian landscape. Being scared of heights and terrified of fire is not a good combination for balloon-riding; here, waiting at the Goreme U.F.O. museum while the balloon people decided whether the weather was good enough to fly, I look as though I’m not quite sure it’s a good idea.

However, after waiting for two hours, they decided it was a go and several trucks came roaring in, all pulling trailers with huge balloons in them.

Balloons come in a few different sizes; ours was a 12-seater (although they had no seats – standing room only). It was quite fascinating watching the balloons being inflated; I couldn’t help thinking about the possibilities of flaming balloon death, though. Each time the propane was turned on to inflate the balloon, it exited the tank with a great big whoosh.

I also found it somewhat disconcerting that absolutely everyone associated with the balloon business smoked … I wasn’t sure the extent to which that was dangerous, given the circumstances.

However, I did get into the balloon basket and we did ascend over the Cappadoccian landscape, along with about 13 other balloons at various heights in the sky.

We sailed quietly over the Red Canyon with only the occasional whoosh of flame as the balloon’s pilot sent us higher and higher.

Below is a picture of the view from the balloon, with Uchisar castle in the background.

I did keep a death grip on the balloon the entire time we were aloft; apparently we rose to about 1,600 meters (can that be right?!) at one point.

Once safely back on solid ground, the balloon crew gave us both champagne and a certificate of flight.

Thanks to Wilfried for the great photos of the balloon flight! On our way back to Side, we stopped at the Mevlana Museum in Konya, home of the Sufi mystic and poet Rumi and his followers, the Whirling Dervishes, whose dances, the Sema, Rumi developed, and the site of Rumi’s sarcophagus.

The garden surrounding the Museum has beautiful flowers and grave markers with elaborately carved calligraphy.

To see more pictures, click here and here.

In 2007-8 I created a book work dedicated to Rumi; to see it, and others from the Book of Hours series, click here and here.

Turkey 2008 2: Cappadoccia

While in Turkey, I took a three day tour around Cappadoccia. Once again in a small minibus, 14 of us, plus the guide Mahmut, the driver “our Captain”, and his un-named uncle, hit the road early in the morning heading out over the Taurus mountains from Side to Konya.

While driving through the mountains, we could see several nomadic families at work in the hills.

Somewhere out on the road between Side and Konya the minibus broke down – flat tire. No safety gear was in evidence so the driver’s uncle brought out his briefcase and put it in the middle of the road to warn other drivers that we had broken down. This action caused on-coming drivers to pause briefly before roaring past us –

Our first stop, after repairing the bus and arriving in Cappadoccia, was an underground city – here’s our fearless leader Mahmut Akman.

This place was fascinating, all tufa stone, darkness and yellow lights.

Local women descended on the minibus, hundreds of hand-made dolls in hand, selling for absurdly small amounts of money.

Our next stop was Uchisar, with its gigantic rock “castle”, and Pigeon Valley.

Below is a close-up of the Uchisar castle top.

Below is a Nazar Boncuk tree in Uchisar – the evil eye protector.

The Cappadoccian landscape is beautiful; on this trip, it was also cold. I had packed expecting 35 degree sunny weather; however, it turned out to be about 20 degrees and drizzly rain, occasionally clearing to a slate grey sky. As part of my outerware for this tour, I wore a large black garbage bag under my shawl – this turns out to be a very effective jacket against the cold and wet. Below is a picture of part of our intrepid little group.

Here we’re climbing a ladder to see the Rock Church frescoes.

Inside the Rock Church are Byzantine era frescoes, from the historical period in which Christians and Muslims side-by-side in this area.

The Cappadoccian landscape is full of so-called “fairy chimneys” whose phallic connotations should be obvious –

It is rather disconcerting to travel through a landscape of erect penises.

The women in this area make amazing handcrafts: here a woman is selling her handmade embroidery.

This woman spoke almost every conceivable language at least enough to sell her products. As part of our tour, Mahmut took us to several factories producing and selling local goods. The ceramic factory in Avanos had some spectacular items; here workers display how their wares are made.

These wine flasks are replicas of Hittite era flasks.

The glaze work and painting on these is amazing.

Our group appears mesmerised as they watch the craftsman work.

Alexandra seems happy with her small fairy chimney replica …

Here’s the showroom full of an enormous number of vessels of all descriptions.

After the ceramic factory demo, it was off to an abandoned Greek village. As Karballa, or Gelveri, Güzelyurt was a prosperous Ottoman-Greek town specializing in farming and goldsmithing.The League of Nations population exchange following World War I took its hundreds of Greek-speaking families to Greece, where they founded the town of Nea Karvali. The exchange brought Muslim families from the Greek towns of Kastoria and Kozan to re-populate Karballa, now renamed Güzelyurt (“Beautiful Home”).

Our Captain and Mahmut fed this very hungry Cappadoccian puppy kidney meat which he wolfed down without a pause.

Some people here are still living the troglodyte (cave-dwelling) life. This cave house is still being used today – apparently it stays 22 degrees inside all year round, whatever the weather outside.

I bought a beautiful handmade shawl from this woman, the one she has over her right shoulder.

I found the plethora of items for sale at the Onyx factory we visited absolutely amazing. Once again, though, there were just way too many objects to even contemplate selecting any one object. Here’s a sample:

After the onyx factory and its objects-in-excess, our group made its way to the Yusuf Rock Church, with its ceiling frescoes of the risen Christ and saints.

After that, in a bit of a whirl, we visited a carpet factory …

its dying room …

And then, off to Turkish Night at a large converted cave house in Avanos, with its Whirling Dervishes

and dance troups.