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    Top 5 Watches at Watches & Wonders 2015

    Twelve of the world’s finest watchmakers have come together to display their finest creations for timepiece connoisseurs, in the third edition of Watches & Wonders, possibly Asia’s answer to Geneva’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH).

    Organized by the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie, which also puts together SIHH, Watches & Wonders touts itself more as a fair to attract end customers across Asia, rather than a trade show for retailers or press. Running now till October 3 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC), about 10,500 guests are expected to view timepieces over nearly 124,000 sq ft of exhibition space.

    Exhibiting brands include A. Lange & Sohne, Baume & Mercier, Cartier, IWC Schaffhausen, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Mont Blanc, Panerai, Piaget, Richard Mille, Roger Dubuis, Vacheron Constantin, and Van Cleef & Arpels. Eleven of those 12 brands, incidentally, are wholly owned by Swiss luxury conglomerate Richemont.

    To commemorate its 185th anniversary this year, Baume & Mercier has chosen to introduce two new timepieces at the event. One, the Jade Promesse watch, is an homage to Chinese culture, with its jade bezel, 61 0.65-carat diamonds, and quartz movement. The other is a new five minute repeater pocket watch – the Clifton 1830 – in red gold, and available in a limited edition of 30 pieces.

    Meanwhile, Cartier is unveiling three variations on a new model called the Clé de Cartier watch, which combines two of the maison’s best-known complications, the mysterious movement and the flying tourbillon. It will also showcase its expertise in the arts and crafts of watchmaking, via demonstrations of filigree work on the Panthère Filigree watch (pictured above), which was unveiled at SIHH 2015.

    A rather more unusual addition to the lot, however, is Richard Mille’s RM69 Erotic Tourbillon. As the name might suggest, the model is the brand’s contribution to erotic watch complications, via an “erotic message display,” which uses three hexagonal titanium rollers to display a random selection of 216 different erotic messages (a new one is created each time the pusher at 10 o’clock is pressed).

    Click here to view the top five watches of Watches & Wonders 2015.

    Cartier's Panthère Filigree watch

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    Joseph McGlennon Wins 2015 Bowness Photography Prize

    The Monash Gallery of Art has announced Singapore-based artist Joseph McGlennon as the winner of the 2015 William and Winifred Bowness Photography Prize, Australia’s most coveted photography prize. McGlennon was awarded the $25,000 cash prize for his work “Florilegium#1” 2014.

    “Florilegium#1” 2014 is from the artist’s “Florilegium” (latin for a gathering of botanicals) series. Photographed in Madagascar, Tahiti and Singapore, the romantic and enchanting image is a complex composition of approximately 100 layers.

    “I have captured each bird, flower, vine, and butterfly and created a florolegium landscape straight from the Age of Enlightenment,” McGlennon explains.

    “There is an enchanting clash of empirical scientific observation coupled with a deep romantically lush and diffused spotlight of compassion for something wild, observed for a brilliant moment before vanishing into the fog of time. This lush landscape dwells in a most complex, beautiful and sadly unreachable world.”

    The judging panel for the Bowness Photography Prize included renowned Australian artist Bill Henson, Bendigo Art Gallery Director Karen Quinlan, and MGA Senior Curator Stephen Zagala.

    “This picture contains worlds. It suggests the history of the relationship between the human imagination and the natural order of the world around us,” said Bill Henson. “The work has an almost anonymous perfection that reinforces the fact that culture is never outside nature.”

    “Joseph brings the macrocosmic and microcosmic together masterfully in this landscape,” said Stephen Zagala. “It fills us with a sense of wonder for what transpires beyond the contours of human hubris, making humility into something exciting and creative.”

    “Florilegium#1” 2014 (detail)

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    Marcus Callum Wins 2015 Black Swan Prize for Portraiture

    NSW artist Marcus Callum has been announced the winner of the prestigious 2015 Black Swan Prize for Portraiture with a stunning portrait of fellow Australian artist Abdul Abdullah titled “Wrecking Ball.”

    Callum, who is currently completing a Masters of Fine Art at the New York Academy of Art, beat 39 other finalists to take out the $50,000 prize, which was donated by The Lester Group and awarded during a major ceremony at the Linton and Kay Galleries Perth.

    The judging panel, which comprised National Portrait Gallery senior curator Christopher Chapman, Wesfarmers Arts curator Helen Carroll-Fairhall, and Perth artist Ben Joel, described “Wrecking Ball” as a “compelling example of the possibilities of contemporary portraiture.”

    “The painting is a compelling example of the possibilities of contemporary portraiture,” the judges said. “While the sitter is outwardly recognisable, at the same time the portrait gives a very strong sense of a resourceful inner life and the sense of flux that characterizes selfhood. The artwork has been filtered and processed in a particularly inventive way. A very deliberate sense of perfected craft.”

    Other winners on the night included WA artists Olivia Samec and Joshua Cocking, who were highly commended by the judges, and Jodi Daley from NSW who was awarded the $7,500 People’s Choice Award.

    Marcus Callum was a finalist in the prestigious Archibald Prize for the three years in a row (2011, 2012 and 2013). He received the Dame Joan Sutherland Award in New York in 2014 and was a finalist in the Art Renewal Center International Salon in 2015.

    The finalists are on show until 4pm Sunday October 4 at 137 St Georges Terrace, Perth.

    “Wrecking Ball” (detail)

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    Up Close With Oscar Tusquets Blanca: From Dali to Polymath

    “Architect by profession, designer by adaptation, painter by vocation and writer out of the need to make friends” is how Oscar Tusquets Blanca introduces himself. The Catalan polymath is known for all of these occupations, having created everything from sculptural subway stations to sensual chairs, such as the Cupid’s bow lips sofas that resulted from his friendship with Salvador Dalí. When you include the books he’s authored and jewelry designs, Tusquets Blanca is in the Renaissance tradition of an artist able to excel across creative fields – an increasingly unusual phenomenon when many of his contemporaries go for super-specialization.

    “The 10 years of intense friendship with Dalí were decisive in my personal and artistic training,” says Tusquets Blanca. “With him, I made books and furniture and created spaces in his TheatreMuseum in Figueres. My youth and the fact that I was an architect (his most admired profession) was the basis of our relationship. I can only say that he was the most original, creative, and amusing person I ever met.” Tusquets Blanca had already crossed artistic boundaries before meeting the Surrealist superstar. He started by studying fine arts, then graduated in architecture at Barcelona’s Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura in 1965. In the same year, with schoolmates Pep Bonet, Christián Cirici, and Lluís Clotet, he founded architecture company Studio PER, which became noted for its postmodernist buildings, such as Casa Regás, designed by Tusquets Blanca and Clotet in Girona in 1972. Tusquets Blanca also published an early translation of Robert Venturi’sLearning from Las Vegas, the early grounding text of architectural postmodernism. In 1974, Studio PER branched out into furniture design, founding the company BD Ediciones de Diseño. The move was not a surprising one for Tusquets.
    “Being a student of architecture and having close relations with the 60’s and 70’s Milanese architects, my liking and vocation for furniture and objects was understandable,” he says.

    BD Barcelona produced original design objects, as well as re editions of well-known designs, including those by Antoni Gaudí and Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Since 2004, BD has also produced the iconic Dalilips sofa, from the original item created in 1975 by Tusquets Blanca together with Dalí, for the Mae West salon at Theatre-Museum in Figueres — the very first lips sofas were made in the 1930s. Tusquets Blanca first met Dalí in 1974, while designing a wing of the Theatre-Museum. This led to a creative partnership that lasted until the great artist’s death. Today, BD Barcelona holds exclusive rights to manufacture Dalí’s furniture designs, a collection that includes the controversial Xai, a little lamp-table made from a taxidermy lamb. “It is both the breadth and diversity of Oscar’s work that impresses us,” writes celebrated designer Milton Glaser in Encyclopedia, a book on Tusquets Blanca edited by Juli Capella. “He is a gifted and adventurous architect-planner, as well as a brilliant industrial designer, whose objects convince us of their inevitability: more like things that have grown naturally out of some organic process rather than any stylistic ideology.” Tusquets Blanca has won the greatest international recognition for his design work.

    Outside of BD, he has worked with Alessi, Casas, Driade, and others, creating objects for mass production as well as limited-edition collectibles. In 1988, Tusquets Blanca was awarded the Spanish National Design Award for his body of work, and his pieces now appear in design collections at MoMA in New York, and Centre George Pompidou in Paris. His most celebrated work, the sensual Gaulino chair, was exhibited at Documenta 8 in Kassel in 1989 and awarded the ADIFAD medal. While Gaulino is an industrial product, machine-made, it maintains an artisanal quality and an individualism at odds with the neutral anonymity of a typical 20th-century object. With its violent angles, thin lines and sharp curves, it is evocative; theatrical and yet not entirely serious. Named for the combined influence of Gaudí and Carlo Mollino, today Gaulino is seen by some as one of the most iconic pieces of 20th century Spanish design. “Violence, sensuality and religion is pure George Bataille, a writer that I idolize,” says Tusquets Blanca. Many of his designs and architectural works reference Catalonian sensibility and heritage, yet he refutes the regional label: “I consider myself inside a Western tradition that flows from Pompeian paintings until Dalí.” Perhaps this is because he is not interested in the daily politics associated with the Catalonian identity: “Today, nothing looks so boring to me as the avant-garde. Dalí used to say that the politics is the miserable anecdote of history, an opinion that I completely agree with. Moreover, I have discovered that I cannot respect a profession that obliges you to lie. Design, and no other ‘Big Art,’ can be political.”

    His latest project, a series of 50 semi-erotic paintings, is going on show this month at Room One, a new creative space in London, in an exhibition titled Hot Days: Fifty Paintings and a Chair. It will be the first UK exhibition of Tusquets Blanca’s paintings and will showcase the designer’s multi-disciplinary talent, with the artworks alongside a limited-edition series of 20 hand-painted Gaulino chairs. “Room One has given me the opportunity to show a pictorial project which would have been difficult to imagine in a conventional gallery,” says Tusquets Blanca. Asked about the one thing he would do if none of the normal restrictions of ordinary existence were in place, and Tusquets returns to his creative roots, “As an architect, I would like to design a school that, I imagine, is the absolute opposite of the present rules and limitations for buildings.”     

    Hot Days: Fifty Paintings and a Chair runs from October 2-31 at Room One, London.

    Up-close with Oscar Tusquets Blanca

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    The Old Man You Can't See: Ernest Hemingway at the Morgan Library

    Ernest Hemingway famously cited the iceberg as a model for his pared-down prose. “There is seven-eighths of it underwater for every part that shows,” he told the Paris Review in 1958. “Anything you know you can eliminate and it only strengthens your iceberg. It is the part that doesn’t show.”

    The submerged seven-eighths anchoring the master’s own novels and stories are brought to the surface in the Morgan Library’s “Ernest Hemingway: Between Two Wars,” organized in collaboration with Boston’s John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. The first major exhibition devoted to the American modernist, it contains unpublished manuscripts and drafts replete with strikeouts, additions, and marginal comments that reveal the author chipping away at and polishing blocks of text.

    These manuscripts are just part of the massive trove of Hemingway-related objects —letters, notebooks, passports, ticket stubs, photos, portraits, and more — that the show musters to illuminate the events and daily details of what the Morgan’s website characterizes as “the most consistently creative phase” of the author’s career — bookended by the First and Second World Wars. During this period, Hemingway earned two Medals of Valor for surviving a mortar attack in an Austrian trench; caroused and confabulated in Paris with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, and Gertrude Stein, among other American ex-pat artists and writers; married, had a child, divorced, then did it all again; and moved to Key West. He, also, of course, wrote short stories and five books, including “The Sun Also Rises,” “A Farewell to Arms,” “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” and “The Old Man and the Sea.”

    These events and accomplishments are related through small editorial moments. Here, a young, serious-faced Hemingway is named “the class prophet.” There, a friend commiserates with Hemingway on his broken engagement with Agnes von Kurowsky, the model for Catherine Barkley in “Farewell to Arms.” In Paris, Gertrude Stein dashes off an invitation to the author for tea. Later a penciled epigraph on “The Sun Also Rises” reprises Stein’s famous quote: “You are all a lost generation.”

    This accumulation of detail is delightful, even revelatory, but it lacks narrative force. The exhibition is most interesting when it focuses on Hemingway’s aggressive editing. We see “The Sun Also Rises,” for instance, undergoing a radical reduction at the hands of the author, who cut it by 30 percent, including a section in the opening pages laying out the past misfortunes of the fiesta-goers, which disappeared from later drafts at the behest of Fitzgerald and editor Maxwell Perkins. A selection of the 47 different endings for “Farewell to Arms” lines another vitrine. We also rediscover discarded book titles, such as “In Those Days It Was No Uncommon Thing to Call a Man a Son of a Bitch,” the unsuccessful candidate for what became the short-story collection “In Our Time.”

    All in all, we learn more about the wordsmith than the man. Ironically, this is in part a result of submerging too much of the iceberg, so to speak. We encounter the thin-skinned, resentful Hemingway carrying himself like a wounded beast across the page in “Kiss my ass / EH” scrawled below Fitzgerald’s critical comments on “Farewell to Arms.” But the exhibition mostly omits his dark side: his disengagement as a father, the unmitigated abuse of friends in “The Sun Also Rises,” the depression that eventually led to his suicide. In doing so, the show avoids the sin of psychobiography. It also, however, violates Hemingway’s own artistic creed: that a writer must include “the bad and the ugly as well as what is beautiful.” In telling history, it doesn’t do to leave too much below the waterline.   

    Ernest Hemingway: Between Two Wars

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    Two Knoedler Forgery Cases Head to Trial, Art Thief Found Dead in London Canal, and More

    Federal Judge Orders Trial in Knoedler Forgery Cases: Judge Paul G. Gardephe of Federal District Court in Manhattan has denied motions for summary judgment in two cases connected to the alleged sale of forged Abstract Expressionist paintings by the now-defunct Knoedler Gallery. Plaintiffs John Howard and Sotheby’s board chair Domenico De Sole andhis wife, Eleanore, claim that the gallery and its former director, Ann Freedman, knew of the paintings’ inauthenticity when they sold them the works. That these cases are now headed to trial is but the latest turn in the Knoedler scandal, which broke in 2011 and led to a spate of legal action, including the conviction of Long Island dealer Glafira Rosales on fraud and tax evasion charges in 2013. Four of the 10 suits brought against Knoedler and Freedman have been settled thus far. [TAN]

    — Art Thief's Body Found in London Canal: Sebastiano Magnanini, an Italian carpenter living in South London who was involved in a high-profile art heist in Venice in 1993, has been found dead in London's picturesque Regent's Canal, where his body was spotted by a passerby, tied to a shopping cart. Magnanini was one of several men arrested and sentenced with aggravated theft for an audacious attempt to steal the 1732 altarpiece painting, "The Education of the Virgin" by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo from the Santa Maria della Fava church in Venice — so audacious, in fact, that the robbers even stopped at a local bar during the heist to rest from the strain of carrying the object from the church. Police are still investigating Magnanini's death but they believe that it is not related to art heist or organized crime. [GuardianNYT]

    — Staff and Students Quit RCA, Jeopardizing School's Future: The Royal College of Art in London has cancelled its incoming first-year class of Design Interactions students and is now in a "state of jeopardy," reports the Independent. The suspension is a result of a combination of factors: government funding cuts, student unrest, and, in particular, the departure of three senior staff members who have yet to be replaced. The news about these staff departures was broken in an internal newsletter issued in July, and though the school says it has now recuperated the funds they initially expected to lose from the absence of the course's tuition fees, the institution has not revealed how. [IndependentTelegraph]

    Dia Art Foundation Names New Deputy Director and Chief Curator: National Gallery associate curator James Meyer is set to join Dia as deputy director and chief curator in January 2016. At the National Gallery since 2010, Meyer has been working on a 2017 exhibition about the career of Virginia Dwan, the dealer and major patron of minimal, conceptual, and land art — all areas with historic connections to Dia. [ARTnews]

    Getty Acquires Palmyra Photographs: The Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles has acquired 47 albumen prints taken by French naval officer Louis Vignes in 1864, a collection representing some of the earliest known photographs of the Levant — including the presently endangered Roman ruins of Palmyra. Meanwhile, an ancient near eastern gallery has opened at the Detroit Institute of Arts with a stone slab from Nimrud — a city attacked by ISIS in March — among the objects on display. [TAN, TAN]

    Basquiat Estate Orders Removal of Nude Photo: An attorney representing the Basquiat estate has demanded that Animal New York, an arts website, remove nude images of the artist appearing in an article about a 2014 exhibition of photographs taken by ex-girlfriend Paige Powell. The photos “disparage Mr. Basquiat and are prurient in nature," the attorney, James P. Cinque, claimed in an email. [Ratter, DNAinfo, Artforum]

    Luc Tuymans has reached a settlement in his copyright dispute with fellow photographer Katrijn Van Giel out of court. [TAN]

    — The Wall Street Journal has a betting market–determined shortlist, via UK brokerage Ladbrokes, of six people expected to win the Nobel Prize in Literature: Svetlana Alexievich, Haruki Murakami, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Philip Roth, Joyce Carole Oates, and Adonis. [WSJ

    — Upper West Side residents who are worried about the expansion of the American Museum of Natural History have set a townhall meeting date for October 6, to invite the public to discuss the institution's impending plans. [NYO]

    Ann Freedman Knoedler Gallery

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    “Warhol Unlimited” at MAM Paris Showcases the Serial

    “Warhol Unlimited” at the Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris (MAM) takes as its point of departure Warhol’s epic work “Shadows” (1978-79), which is being shown in its entirety for the first time in Europe as part of the exhibition.

    As well as highlighting the serial side of Warhol’s oeuvre, “Warhol Unlimited” also explores the way he reshaped modes of perception by innovatively engaging with time and space in the staging of his works – what MAM describes as “his ability to rethink the way art should be exhibited.”

    Owned by the DIA Art Foundation in New York, “Shadows” comprises 102 silkscreened canvases of 17 different colours totaling more than 130 metres in length.

    “I called them ‘Shadows’ because they are based on a photo of a shadow in my office,” Warhol explained in an article in the New York Gazette in 1979. When asked whether the “Shadows” were art, Warhol said no. “You see, the opening party had disco. I guess that makes them disco décor,” he said.

    “Warhol Unlimited” brings together more than 200 works including examples from some of Warhol’s most famous series such as the “Electric Chairs” (1964–1971), the “Jackies” (1964), the “Flowers” (1964–1965) and the “Maos” (1972–1973).

    Other highlights include examples of the artist’s “Brillo Boxes” (1964), “Self-portraits” (1966–1967, 1981), and “Screen Tests” (1964–1966), as well as the “Cows” wallpaper (1966), his experimental film “Empire” (1964), “Silver Clouds” (1966), and environments created for concerts by the Velvet Underground such as that of “Exploding Plastic Inevitable (1966).”

    “Warhol Unlimited” is at the Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris until February 7, 2016

    Click the slideshow to see highlights from the exhibition

    Andy Warhol (1928-1987) in front of the Cow Wallpaper, 1965

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    Maison Francis Kurkdjian Creates Olfactory Installation for Vigée Le Brun Retrospective

    Visitors to the first retrospective devoted to the works of Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, which opened at the Grand Palais in Paris on September 23, are in for an olfactory surprise.

    A grand entrance, comprising a 49-ft high mirror that seems to dispense a rose-scented fragrance, arrests you both by sight and smell. As you walk toward the mirror, you see reflections of the sky and yourself. As you walk through the door on the Champs-Elysées side of the building, which is framed by two marble-like columns, you feel like you might be walking through the Hall of Mirrors in the Château de Versailles, where Queen Marie-Antoinette lived.

    All the visceral elements connect in the ether. Vigée Le Brun was the official portraitist of the Queen, who loved all things floral and rosy. Also, “roses were the favorite floral pattern of the end of 18th century. It is a symbol of femininity and celebrated through poetry, music, paintings and sculpture,” said Parisian perfumer Francis Kurkdjian, who created the installation in collaboration with French scenographer Séverine Baehrel.

    Titled Voir et être vu (See and being seen), it was constructed with metallic roses running down the mirror, like a vine, that act as high-tech outdoor scent diffusers spreading a rose-scented fragrance that riffs on A la Rose, the fragrance that Kurkdjian created and released in 2014.

    Kurkdjian told Blouin Lifestyle he was inspired by two paintings, both also named A la rose, by Vigée Le Brun. He adds: "Queen Marie Antoinette was in love with floral patterns. She is almost an icon of pre-romanticism with her love of nature and natural things. Don’t forget she is known for building a little farm outside of the official castle of Versailles. Also, she has been painted many times surrounded by roses... [while] her perfumes were blended with roses as she liked them so much."

    Kurkdjian has a nose for large-scale scent-based installations. He has created the “scent of money” for French conceptual artist Sophie Calle; orange blossom-scented fountains for the gardens of the Palais de Versaille; and blood-scented wax for Syrian artist Hatch Arbach, to name a few.

    The installation and exhibition will run at the Grand Palais until January 11, 2016.

    Maison Francis Kurkdjian's olfactory installation at the Grand Palais

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    Art on the Catwalk: Women Strapped to Women and Chamberlain-esque Fabric Sculptures at Rick Owens

    Rick Owens’ reliably theatrical runway antics did not disappoint this Spring-Summer 2016 season.

    Models made their way down the Paris-based designer’s catwalk strapped to one another — some looking like giant backpacks, others resembling infants in baby carriers.

    The designer said the collection, titled Cyclops, was about exploring the power of women in their relation to other women: as mothers, sisters, or a peer support network.

    "It's a world of women I know little about and can only attempt to amuse in my own small way," he said, adding that the parachute-like straps represented support and cradling.

    Not-so-literal explorations on the illusion of control — which is to say, the clothes — included a range of surprisingly light-as-air fabrics, which ranged from silk gazar to waxed leather and metallic aluminium foil-like material.

    On one dress, a fistful of silk organza was twisted and draped into a giant abstract rose on the hip, or what Owens called “as close to florals as I'll probably ever get. A sculptural top-and-skirt ensemble mimicked the crumpled steel sculptures of John Chamberlain. Other ensembles mostly explored asymmetrical lines, geometric motifs and cut-off sleeves, resulting in fabric sculptures inspired by a Futurist-meets-Brutalist utopia.

    To see looks from the collection, click on the slideshow.

    Rick Owens Spring-Summer 2016

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    Intercultural Clash: Theo Eshetu's Video Poetic at Tiwani Contemporary

    “It’s a kind of creative spirit it has, no?” Theo Eshetu offers genially, indicating the impressively close quarters of his Berlin apartment turned makeshift studio, as he slides into the kitchen to brew some coffee. It’s little more than a hallway—a wide-screen desktop computer for editing videos at its center, an assistant camped out on the floor. But he’s right—the space hums with energy, a sort of scrappy vibrancy one might not expect from an artist more than 30 years into his career. Plus, at the moment, he’s between workplaces, having recently shucked a sizable space in Rome—beautiful, central, but ultimately just “an excuse not to move.”

    Of course, change of place is nothing new for Eshetu: Born in London to an Ethiopian father and a Dutch mother, he spent his childhood bopping from country to country, Senegal to Serbia, incurring a particular sense of estrangement (and a particularly mellifluous accent). In 1982 he settled in Rome and began his career as a video artist, using the then untested medium to explore issues of intersectional identity across cultures. His work has since been featured at the Smithsonian’s Museum of African art and the 2011 Venice Biennale, and as part of a Tate Britain film series in 2014.

    Today, far from slowing, Eshetu has joined up with London’s Tiwani Contemporary, a space that specializes in African artists. This month, the gallery is presenting Eshetu’s first solo show 
in the United Kingdom.

    You’re in Berlin now, but have Rome and London also been major ports for you?
    Yes, but I’m also very much associated with Ethiopia, because I’m of Ethiopian origin. And you know, I have the reputation of being a traveler. The truth is, I’m not. I like staying home and just not moving—maybe because I grew up moving all the time. But every time I travel, I make a video, so that whenever
I show videos, it’s like “a travel to the Himalayas,” “a travel to Africa”—“oh, he’s the one who travels.” I guess other people have stayed more settled than me.

    I think three hubs is more than a lot of people have.
    My father worked at the U.N., so every couple of years, I was in a new country, and I spoke, like, four languages before I was 3 or 4. I think that gives you a mindset, a way of perceiving. And maybe a problem as well, like where do I belong? I think I make videos to address that.

    When I made Questa é vita in ’86, it was kind of a shocker because it had African rituals, fragments of pornography, and animals—an image-scape that was not what people thought video was about. People thought video was about technology, modern man, “we are the robots”—you know, Kraftwerk was very “video.” And so, to make that thing, which was more “say it loud, I’m black, I’m proud”—it was hard-hitting. actually, I was even embarrassed when I made it. I made it because I needed to make it, but when I showed it, it got a good reaction, but it was out of place.

    Because there was also this whole thing when I studied Marshall McLuhan saying that video was a cold medium
 and everything about video was cold.
 So I thought, well, why does video have to be cold? Why don’t I make a hot
 video? That’s what Questa é vita is: In
 a celebratory or anthem-like way, it shows some of the anxieties of being half-black and half-white. It has that mixed intercultural union and clash.

    Which ties back into that idea of not having a fixed nationality or home.
    Wanting that home and not knowing where it is—literally. And people say, “Oh, you’re so lucky,” but as a kid, you don’t want to lose friends every couple of years by moving. And you say, “Is this a glass, is this a verre, is it a bicchiere?—what the hell is this object?” I grew up without my own language. For example, I don’t speak my parents’ first languages. I don’t speak Amharic or Dutch very well, so we always spoke in a foreign language to each other—in English, French, or Italian. So of course I always gravitated to those outsider artists. That’s how I got interested in video—because it was outside the art world, at least in the beginning. and it was also outside the photography and film world. When I started, people would say, “Ugh, it’s so ugly, videos are so ugly.”

    For lacking image clarity?
    Video was invented to show porno at home, and then it became an art medium. That’s why there are porn fragments
in Questa é vita, because it’s also about, not just life—“that is life,” which is a translation of the title. It’s also “What
 is video”—questa é video, questa é vita. It’s about defining what I could have
 as a video poetic, if such a thing exists.

    Do you draw a distinction between video and film?
    Film is about what happens in front of
the camera, and then video is how you put images together, is how I see it. With film, you pay the actor, you pay the directors, you paint the scenery, you get everything that’s happening in front of the camera worked out—and that’s why there’s a cult of the actor, because he’s in front of the camera. Whereas video is about using images as images, and it gives you infinite possibilities of how to put those images together. I think video really has its soul still in that, in using images as a kind
 of experiment for expressing something. To add complication to that, now film has become video. So now, a lot of feature films are made using video technology. I always thought that was going to happen. Technology’s just gotten better and
 better and better—and it’s cheaper, video.

    And digital images are easier to manipulate.

    Because that’s what video does well; it manipulates images.

    In any photographic medium, there’s a tension between representing
 and manipulating. Do you see yourself tending more toward one?
    I always imagined video as a work of the imagination, of the soul, of the subconscious. It’s like dream imagery. But is that fantasy? I’m not sure it’s fantasy. For me it’s something that is very real, but it’s about inner images, not the outward appearance of things.

    At a certain point, though, I started using very realistic images while still addressing the subconscious. What
I was showing was always alluding to what’s behind the image. and then I started doing video installations where I would still use real images, but then these kaleidoscopic collages again sort of transcend the reality—so you could see both the reality and the symbol or the metaphor it might represent. Fundamentally, I don’t believe that video or film can show any kind of reality. Because reality is one thing, 
and its representation is another. So 
no matter how real you think it is, it’s always a representation—and, therefore, you might as well enter that world of representations. I mean, the kind of reality you’re trying to bring out is how you really think, maybe, or how you feel, or how you would like the world to be, not necessarily about how the world is.

    Cinematographically, I’m a great fan of Fellini, who uses cinema to represent his subconscious or something like the spirit of a nation. He’s great, because it looks like it’s real people doing real things, but really they are all sort of symbols—the symbol of the woman, the symbol of the director, the symbols of the country, the madman, the memory of childhood.

    Speaking of Fellini—and of childhood— was there a particular piece of film or video work that you saw early on that made you key into that idea of the video world versus the actual world?
    No. When I was a kid, I was an extra in movies. You think, oh, I’m going to be in a movie, but you spend the whole day just sitting around doing nothing, and then they say, “Okay, it’s your turn now,” and you clap for about 10 minutes, and then that’s it. And I thought, that’s just so boring. I kept doing it because they paid me—or they paid my parents, who then gave me pocket money. But that made me aware that the reality of being on the set and the fantasy that you see in the film at the end, there is just no relationship between the two. So I had that in my subconscious before I started studying art.

    Have you ever seen your kid self
 on film?
    I have, yeah. I was in the Spaghetti Westerns—they didn’t have many Mexican kids, so I was always the Mexican kid. There was one called My Name Is Sacramento, and I was in this Isaac Hayes blaxploitation film, Three Tough Guys, which was shot in Italy. I was a church boy holding a candle or something. That was a film pretending
 to be shot in new York, but they shot
 in Italy because it was cheap, so they had to get as many dark kids as possible, and they didn’t have very many in Italy in those days. A friend of my father’s was a casting agent, so he would always use me.

    I got kudos among the school kids. They’re saying, “Oh, wow, he’s going to be in a movie.” For some strange reason, it also somehow put me off. I just got more interested in being on the making side of the camera. People kept saying, “Oh, you should be an actor, you can do it.” But I’ve always felt uncomfortable being observed by a camera, because I’m aware that it manipulates.

    Have you been in your own work?
    Sometimes, yeah—just a little cameo, a Hitchcock quote maybe. But apart from that, not seriously. I’ve really shied away from cameras. Again, very early on, I got this idea that I didn’t want pictures
 of myself, I didn’t want other people or even me to take them. Somehow conscious of mortality, you know—I didn’t want records of what I looked like. I want to go forward and live. It’s almost as if my mind was on my deathbed or something. It’s strange, I’m saying it for the first time actually, but I was very conscious of not wanting to leave an image for posterity.

    Early film theorists, too, were concerned with that uncanny immortalizing of bodies in motion.
    Oh, yes, the great dancers—I’ve also made a video about dance—refused to be filmed, because dancing made them look ridiculous. The Charleston in the ’20s
 was born because it was, like, “You know how silly we look on film? Let’s be really silly”—because this is for the camera, this kind of movement. It wouldn’t be the kind of movement to invent on the dance floor. I’m interested in how the presence of the camera changes people’s behavior. I film a lot of people looking into the camera or just waving at the camera, which filmmakers are not supposed to do—but it acknowledges this relationship that’s created when you film someone, and you want the viewer to be a participant in this relationship you’ve established.

    For me, what the images represent are my eyes, as it were. My eye, my way of looking—whether it’s what the eye sees, or whether it’s a more cosmic eye—so the viewer is taken into a thing that has been seen. For example, you go on a journey, and you film a lot of stuff, and then you re-create the sensations you had on that trip—and you do that because you want the viewer to have that same experience and the same emotions. So that’s why they can be travelogues, but they’re really something else as well.

    I’m very conscious that it’s the point of view of someone who is of mixed culture. Each culture has its own thought patterns that go with it, so it doesn’t really operate in the thought patterns of a given culture, but it tries to define how to see the world when you break down nationalisms. And how does that resonate with whoever’s watching? Then, of course, I try to be seductive to get people into the video, as a kind of charm to invite people into this world.

    Images seem useful in conveying experience across languages and cultures.
    That’s important as well, I think—again, maybe a facile distinction between film and video is that, at least when I began, video was all sound and music and didn’t have much language, whereas of course cinema is very language based. And the idea that you could put video on TV or send it by satellite—it needs to communicate to a universal audience. That is its natural path, as it were.

    What about The Return of the Axum Obelisk? That was a very specific cultural moment for Ethiopia, but it also carries some broader themes.
    One idea that I often explore is, how can paintings become video? How do you transform something that is a pictorial art into an art that’s about movement and time and light? So Axum Obelisk is based on a traditional Ethiopian painting that has these tableaux that narrate a story, and I transformed that into a video installation. The element of narrative—which is told in still images—is transformed into time-based art. There is also another element of time within that narrative, which is: Are we talking about legendary time? Are we talking about historic time? Are we talking about now? You see them dismantling, transporting, and re-erecting the obelisk, so that’s now-time, but it represents historic time, because it was an object taken during the colonial era, and the reason that’s important is because of an Ethiopian legend of the Queen of Sheba, so that’s legendary time. Also, I joke about it, but
if something is supposed to stay still, like an obelisk, and it moves, then you’ve got to make a movie about it. Because 
it’s moving, right? Something’s happening.

    Like now, I’m doing a video about a museum that’s moving. Museums are
not supposed to move, are they? They’re supposed to stay in their own space. There’s this ethnographic museum outside of Berlin in Dahlem [the Ethnologisches Museum Dahlem], and it’s moving to
the center of town. It’s one of the biggest ethnographic museums in the world, and it’s going to Museum Island. So I thought, “We have to make a film about that.” And you discover there’s a lot of stories that get told. An ethnographic museum also contains objects that have moved from their place of origin, and they’re moving to another space—and what does that movement imply for the identity of Germany, or the identity of those objects themselves?

    Which pieces will you be showing at Tiwani this fall?
    There will be two installations. One is called Meditation Light and the other is Anima Mundi (The World Soul). They’re both videos that I really like because they show something that’s impossible to say in words. It works when you experience it. Therefore, what can you say about it? You could say it’s a relationship between body and soul, and it tries to represent the soul. But soul is an old-fashioned word, so what does it actually mean? Does it work, and does it say something to you?

    It seems unfair of me to ask you to translate those images into words.
    It’s easy to argue that all artworks should work at that level. But this one does so well—it’s really about the act of seeing, it’s about the immaterial, it’s about surprise, it’s about communication. It sounds like I’m trying to find a justification for it, but it is about all of those things: trying to understand what the world’s like.

     

    A version of this article appears in the October 2015 issue of Modern Painters.

    Theo Eshetu

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    Swimming at Berlin's Museum Island, DNA-Based Art Authentication Developed, and More

    — Swimming at Berlin’s Museum Island: Under a longstanding proposal titled “The Flussbad,” a section of the water surrounding Berlin’s Museum Island would become a public swimming area — and now, thanks to environmentalists and Green Party members interested in cleaning the polluted canal, that proposal is seeing some serious support. (This summer, certain brave souls even swam through the toxic water as a show of solidarity.) “Urban development and politics here should be like music in the city, where you have both the Philharmonic and nightclubs like Berghain,” said Gottfried Ludewig, a Berlin City Parliament member from the center-right Christian Democratic Union. “We should have Museum Island and also the Flussbad to show we’re still a city where crazy ideas can become reality.” [NYT]

    — DNA-Based Art Authentication Developed: A new authentication system has been developed that allows artists to infuse their work with bits of lab-created DNA. The Global Center for Innovation at the State University of New York at Albany initiated the project after receiving $2 million in funding from ARIS Title Corporation, an insurance company specializing in art. “We wanted a marker that was very hard to locate and not prone to environmental issues or tampering,” Robert J. Jones, president of SUNY Albany, said, referring to the synthetic DNA. Some artists are embracing the technology that would thwart plagiarists. Eric Fischl, for one, whose work was copied and auctioned in a London sale 20 years ago for six-figures, calls the method “a no-brainer.” With three-dozen artists, foundations, and archives already signed on, the DNA tags could be implemented as soon as next year. [NYT]

    — Study of Black and Latino Arts Orgs Offers “Wake-Up Call”: A new study from the University of Maryland’s DeVos Institute of Arts Management reports that black and Latino arts organizations are drastically underfunded — and moreover, proposes a harsh solution which suggests that funders back “a limited number of organizations,” giving “larger grants to a smaller cohort that can manage themselves effectively, make the best art, and have the biggest impact on their communities.” As supporting evidence, the report highlights a statistic that 5 percent of funding for the black and Latino groups profiled came from individual donors, while mainstream arts organizations report around 60 percent. “It’s a wake-up call,” said Michael Kaiser, former Kennedy Center president and current DeVos head. “It’s not politically easy or palatable, but it’s a potential solution that does need to be considered. I am concerned that so many organizations are just holding on, with so little resources that they can’t create the size and quality of work that draws more donors and audiences. They get sicker and sicker. If there can’t be more funding, some funders will have to make choices.” [LAT]

    — Three European Galleries Merge for Manhattan Pop-Up: Through the end of October, Paris’s Galerie Brimo de Laroussilhe and Galerie Kugel, and Rome’s Galleria Alessandra Di Castro have joined forces in the Academy Mansion on the Upper East Side. “The whole idea is that we’re three dealer friends and we all have different visions and different specialties and we decided to merge them,” said Alexis Kugel. [WSJ]

    — MoMA’s Monthly Wikipedia Edit-a-thons: MoMA is now hosting monthly Wikipedia edit-a-thons, seven-hour events in which volunteers gather, eat a free lunch, and improve the quality of pages on underrepresented art topics. [WSJ]

    — Mexico’s Missing 43 Remembered: People across Mexico commemorated the one-year anniversary of the day that saw 43 students from the teachers college in Ayotzinapa go missing. Many responded to the disappearances with installations, murals, banners, and costumes. [LAT]

    — Robin Pogrebin is the new art and auction reporter for the New York Times, following Carol Vogel’s resignation last December. [Artnet]

    — The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden has been gifted $2 million from a trustee, the largest donation from an individual it has ever received. [WP]

    — Paul Reed, a painter of the Washington Color School, has died at 96; John Berg, art director for Columbia Records who designed iconic album covers for Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, has died at 83. [NYTWP]

    Swimming at Berlin's Museum Island, DNA-Based Art Authentication Developed

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