The Essentials: Behind the Scenes at SFMOMA, Brazil’s Art Stars Go Global, and More Art News To Start Your Week

Plus peek inside a James Turrell cell, get ready for Whistler season, and more.

Berndnaut Smilde, Nimbus (2012). Courtesy the artist, SHP Contemporary Fine Art.

Looking down into the SFMOMA construction site.
Photo: ©Henrik Kam. Courtesy SFMOMA.

The Behind-the-Scenes Feature: How does a major museum in the midst of a complete renovation and expansion test out possible gallery designs, from alternative light sources to contrasting wood floors? Do like SFMOMA and build a scale replica of its galleries off-site to tinker with those features and many more. Visiting the institution’s Collections Center, the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Kenneth Baker writes: “Its beating heart is the mock-up gallery: a 1,300-square-foot room with a 16-foot ceiling, a replica of spaces to be built on the upper floors of the museum’s extension.”

The List: As the art world’s collective gaze turns toward Brazil this week on the occasion of sp-arte‘s tenth edition, art consultant Francesca Bellini Joseph takes a look at “Five Brazilian artists who are going global” in the Financial Times, including international stars like Renata Lucas and lesser-known emerging artists like André Komatsu.

The First-Hand Account: If you aren’t going to make it to LACMA’s James Turrell retrospective (which closes April 6), or aren’t prepared to wait in the long line for the one-person-at-a-time Perceptual Cell installation Light Reignfall (2011), Deborah Vankin’s account of her experience inside the trippy chamber for the Los Angeles Times is the next best thing. “There was no retreat, nowhere to focus the eyes to retreat from the light,” she writes. “I shut my eyes for a second, seeking a moment’s escape, but the aggressive light patterns bled through.”

The Curatorial Op-Ed: “I have vivid memories of the Matisse retrospective show that opened the Hayward Gallery in 1968. I had mostly seen only reproductions of the great paintings and cutouts, and it was astonishing, to discover what a brilliant colourist and draughtsman he was,” Tate director Nicholas Serota writes in the Guardian on the occasion of “Henri Matisse: The Cutouts,” which he co-curated, at Tate Modern. “A curator doesn’t often say ‘once in a lifetime,’ but I don’t think we’ll ever again be able to assemble a cutouts show with such quantity and quality.”


Darren Waterston, Uncertain Beauty (2014) installation view.
Courtesy Mass MOCA.

The Feature: The Wall Street Journal‘s Kelly Crow took a closer look at the just-opened installation Uncertain Beauty at Mass MOCA by Darren Waterston and the work that inspired it: James McNeill Whistler’s infamous Peacock Room installation at the Sackler Gallery in Washington, DC. “Whistler was a grandiose man, but his narrative is so current,” says Waterston. “We’re living in our own Gilded Age, surrounded by people obsessively amassing art at a price that excludes the masses. All this indulgence is beautiful, but it’s also grotesque.”

The Point-Counterpoint: Last week Detroit’s emergency manager Kevyn Orr made a comment during a speech at the University of Michigan about Brazilian millionaires and Russian oligarchs “calling and inquiring” about buying works from the permanent collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts, though the Detroit Free Press‘s Mark Stryker was later told that Orr “was speaking metaphorically,” and that there has been interest from financiers regarding the potential sale of the collection, but not from those particular sections of the art fair jet set. (Read artnet News’s Alexandra Peers’s take on the DIA situation here.) This didn’t deter Cornell University economics professor Robert H. Frank from using some freshman-level math and outrageously naïve logic to argue, in the Business section of the New York Times, that the DIA’s collection would be better off in the hands of benevolent billionaires.

The Review: Among artist and legendary designer Milton Glaser’s best-known logos is the Brooklyn Brewer’s curvy B, so the New York Times Magazine tapped him to serve up pint-sized critiques of other brewers’ label designs. “I just did the identity for the seventh season of ‘Mad Men,'” Glaser casually drops as he tears into the can design for Evil Twin Brewing’s Hipster Ale. “This looks as though it came out of that period. But it’s poorly done in terms of its complexity.”

The Controversy: Antony Micallef‘s painting Kill Your Idol, which portrays a bound and thorn-crowned Jesus Christ facing a panel of judges in stark black-and-white, was due to be displayed in poster form in London’s tube system as part of a series of contemporary interpretations of the passion timed to the catholic holiday of Lent, but the artist claims that Transport for London censored his work. “I am angry because it is censorship, it is someone taking a quick decision on behalf of someone else and it is silly,” the artist told the Guardian. “It is not offensive.” The painting was commissioned by the public art organization Art Below and approved by the Church of England.

The Non-Controversy: Amid recent deaccessioning debacles at the Delaware Art Museum and the Maier Museum of Art, the New York Post tries and fails to drum up outrage over the Metropolitan Museum’s sale of some 3,290 pieces from its collection in 2013, bringing in about $5.4 million. “The museum is perpetually engaged in assessing its own collections, refining them, and making room for new acquisitions that merit display,” says Harold Holzer, the Met’s senior spokesperson.


Berndnaut Smilde, Nimbus (2012).
Courtesy the artist, SHP Contemporary Fine Art.

The Eye Candy: The Dutch artist Berndnaut Smilde orchestrates and photographs clouds in otherwise empty settings, creating images that have a ghostly and otherworldly beauty. They are the subject of an upcoming exhibition at London’s Ronchini Gallery, and for the occasion the Telegraph has a beautiful slideshow of Smilde’s most surreal images.

The Tech Trend Piece: Cultural institutions are deploying increasingly creative and complex apps for mobile devices, as the Chicago Tribune‘s Steve Johnson finds in his survey of the city’s major visual and performing arts organizations, though many are wary of distracting from the immediacy of the art experience. “We would like very much to find a way to use mobile as a way of interacting with the audience,” says Susan Chun, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago‘s new chief content officer. “We want mobile to be an extension of the gallery visit.”

The WTF: As part of a new exhibition at Paris’s Museum of Hunting and Nature, performance artist Abraham Poincheval will spend 13 days (April 1-13) living inside a full-scale, hyper-realist sculpture of a brown bear, Le Figaro reports. You can and should live-stream the durational ursine performance here.

The Extra WTF: The rap supergroup the Wu-Tang Clan plans to release just one copy of its new album, The Wu – Once Upon A Time In Shaolin, which will be housed in a sculpture by British-Moroccan sculptor and designer Yahya and, as group leader RZA tells Forbes, will only be available to the public at a series of exhibitions-cum-listening sessions at museums, festivals, and galleries. And, like most objects on view in art galleries, the album and its silver-and-nickel housing will be available for a collector and hip hop-lover to acquire.

The Extra-Curricular: You may know that the site in the Tunisian desert that doubled as Luke Skywalker’s childhood planet of Tatooine in the original Star Wars trilogy is a popular destination promoted by the National Office of Tunisian Tourism (NOTT). You may even know that the site is at risk of disappearing into the dunes as the desert winds shift. But did you know that, as the Wall Street Journal reported, the local fan club Star Wars Tunisia teamed up with the NOTT to produce a viral video aimed at raising awareness of the site’s predicament in which Star Wars characters dance around the Tatooine set to the tune Pharrel Williams’s “Happy”? You’re welcome.

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