Bits: 06.26.11

José Castrellón, from his series "Priti Baiks"

• Street Use points out a series of photos of highly modified Panamanian "priti baiks" by photographer José Castrellón. Notes Kevin Kelly, "[T]hese guys are too poor to own a car so they soup up their bikes. Note the air horns, normally found on trucks."

• Photographer Brian Ulrich's new monograph is now on press in China and set for a Sept. 30 release. It takes its name from a hand-painted sign Ulrich photographed in the back room of a K-Mart store, one he told me during a 2008 interview is part of the indoctrination that's ubiquitous in corporate retail: Is this place great or what! "It's hilarious to me, because the place looks like a meat locker," he said. "It's definitely a hard sell." It's the first monograph for this Chicago-based winner of a 2009 Guggenheim fellowship (although he's moving to Richmond for a job at Virginia Commonwealth University). Preorder the book at Amazon, or buy it directly later from the Aperture Foundation.

• The lease for the land on which Robert Smithson's earthwork Spiral Jetty sits has expired, or so says the Utah Department of Natural Resources. The work's owner, the Dia Foundation, says it has "promptly paid every annual Spiral Jetty lease invoice, up to and including one sent out by the Department of Natural Resources in February 2011. Although the Department of Natural Resources deposited Dia’s check for this latest invoice, it subsequently took the position that the invoice had been sent in error." A decision on the lease was expected this past week.

• Minneapolis designers ro/lu bring their project A Simple Chair to Mass MOCA's Night Market (now through Sept. 30), fresh off its showings in town at the Soap Factory and Northern Spark. Via Greg.

Gothamist: "French graffiti artist JR and the Bronx's Hunts Point Alliance for Children have teamed up to present 'Through A Mother's Eyes,' a community art project that involves members of the neighborhood, through images taken by and of Hunts Point residents themselves."

• After a two-month investigation, Mannhattan resident Joseph Waldo was apprehended by police and charged with felony criminal mischief, among other counts. The crime spree requiring such police attention? He wrote the word "moustache" on the upper lips of people featured on NYC subway ads.

• For Minneapolis Pride weekend, a series of same-sex Craigslist personals for sculptures seeking hookups, including the "full figured hard body," the Father of Waters, Larkin Goldsmith Mead's marble sculpture in City Hall.


Amnesty Int'l: China deflecting criticism through Ai release

Ai Weiwei, released after 80 days. Photo: Ng Han Guan/AP

"Ai Weiwei’s release on bail by the Chinese government must not diminish the international outcry about other activists detained during this year’s ‘Jasmine’ crackdown," Amnesty International writes, noting that the artist is out on bail just as Chinese premier Wen Jiabao is heading to the UK and Germany, countries where Ai is popular and has shown work (think: his sunflower seed installation at Tate and his show at neugerriemschneider in Berlin, to name two).

“His release on bail can be seen as a tokenistic move by the government to deflect mounting criticism," Catherine Baber, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Asia Pacific, says. “It is vital that the international outcry over Ai Weiwei be extended to those activists still languishing in secret detention or charged with inciting subversion.”

More than 130 activists, journalists, bloggers and lawyers are still held by Chinese authorities. Among them are Ai's associates, Wen Tao, Hu Mingfen, Liu Zhenggang and Zhang Jinsong.

“While Ai Weiwei’s release is an important step, he must now be granted his full liberty, and not be held in illegal house arrest as has been the pattern with so many others recently released from arbitrary detention," Baber said. “The reality is that his long detention without charge violated China’s own legal process."

Roderic Wye, a China analyst at a London think tank, offers a different perspective on the timing with The Guardian:
"I think the timing is one of coincidence rather than a deliberate signal. In the post-Tiananmen days, there was the occasional high-profile person released, but usually before a US presidential visit rather than a trip to Europe, with all due respect to our leaders. The whole point for China is: we don't give in to pressure these days, China is big enough to make its own decisions without taking foreign pressure into account."

Ai Weiwei released on bail

Xinhuanet, China's state-run news service, reports:
The Beijing police department said Wednesday that Ai Weiwei has been released on bail because of his good attitude in confessing his crimes as well as a chronic disease he suffers from.
No word yet on his whereabouts, however, and his family says they haven't yet heard from him.


• According to Hyperallergic, Ai texted his lawyer, Liu Xiaoyuan, confirming that he's been released.

Ai tells the German tabloid Bild, "I am fine, I am back home and I am free. But I cannot speak. Please understand." Around 11:30 Central Time, Alison Klayman notes at her film's Facebook page: "We just spoke with Weiwei. He is with his mom and is happy he is out."

• The New York Times shares photos of Ai after his release.

• ABC News ponders the timing: "Ai's release might also have been a face-saving move, coming just days before Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was due to travel to Hungary, Britain and Germany, countries where supporters of the artist have been vocal in their condemnation of his detention."

• In an email, filmmaker Klayman writes: "The conditions of Weiwei's release have yet to be confirmed, but Weiwei's legal counsel, Liu Xiaoyuan, did suggest over Twitter that the artist would not be allowed to exit Beijing city limits. Weiwei himself has stated that he will not be allowed to conduct interviews or use social media for at least "one year."


Buren backs out of Beijing show in solidarity with Ai Weiwei

A week after sculptor Anish Kapoor announced he was backing out of a show of his work in Beijing over Ai Weiwei's continuing detention, French sculptor Daniel Buren is doing the same: He said Friday that he's canceling his exhibition at the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art in Beijing in "solidarity" with Ai.

"I don't think it is possible to do nothing," he told AFP. "First I signed petitions to free Ai Weiwei. But as he is still being held, virtually in secret, after two months I think the best solution is for me to pull out ... If I carried on without doing anything, it would be a mistake that I would regret for the rest of my life."

"When freedom of expression is flouted in a country, what value can be given to the works of artists who are still allowed to express themselves? That compromises our own work," he said.

The show was scheduled to open in mid-July.

Photo: Wikipedia


Bits: 06.16.11

• Minneapolis yarn-art crew HOT TEA forgo spelling out their name on a fence near the farmer's market, instead opting to draw a pair of geese.

• The Atlantic offers a truly amazing photo gallery: "DIY Weapons of the Libyan Rebels."

• The New York Times runs an interactive feature by Roberta Smith that asks readers to comment on artworks in the Venice Biennale using only six words. LA Times arts writer Christopher Knight tweets in response: "Odd: Why would an art critic ask readers to comment on art they hadn't seen?"

• Starving artists often have to hustle to make ends meet. Student Joshua Dickson did just that, signing on for more than 100 medical research tests -- and documenting the entire process in video and photography for an art project.

• In video at the gossip site TMZ, Shepard Fairey publicly dresses down his wife after she revealed that it's been a long time since the street artist, instead of his crew, has been out on the streets installing his work.

• Congrats to Minneapolis-based Highpoint Center for Printmaking on winning an AIA Minnesota Merit Award for its new facility, designed by architect James Dayton.

Ai Weiwei Update: 06.16.11

• Video: AFP on how Ai Weiwei's detention -- now 74 days and counting -- has sparked creative protest in Hong Kong (including the artwork pictured above).

• Sculptor Anish Kapoor -- who's been outspoken about China's detention of Ai Weiwei and dedicated his new work, Leviathan, to the Chinese artist -- says he's backing out of plans to present his work at the National Museum of China in Beijing in protest.

• Of the British Council–organized "UK Now" project to take place in 12 Chinese cities, in which Kapoor's work was to be shown, The Telegraph's Peter Foster writes, "How comfortable will it be for senior figures in the British arts and political establishment to be hobnobbing with the Communist Party’s cultural tsars when Ai, China’s most internationally famous artist, still languishes in jail – as its reasonable to presume he will be?"

• Ai's imprisonment got "virtually no official acknowledgment" at one of the art world's biggest soirees, the Venice Biennale. Writes Jon Wiener:
Perhaps the most striking thing about all this is the absence of any recognition of Ai Weiwei’s imprisonment on the part of the officials of the Biennale, especially curator Brice Curiger. Ai Weiwei was mentioned only once at an official event: at the first day opening of the preview, Paolo Baratta, president of the Biennale, told reporters, “We are great friends with the Chinese.” Then came a pause that implied “but,” followed by “I have written a letter to the ambassador of China in Italy saying how wonderful it would be if we could have happy news about Ai Weiwei.” And that was it for Ai WeiWei at the 2011 Venice Biennale.
• Architizer looks at the sanctuary Ai designed for pilgrims on Mexico's Ruta del Pelegrino. (Via Curbed.)

Activists hold a sing-in at the Milwaukee Art Museum, a museum slammed for long remaining neutral about Ai's detention while showing an exhibition of work presented collaboratively with Chinese authorities. (Via MJS.)

• The State Department's Dan Baer has discussed the denial of service attack by Chinese hackers on Change.org's Ai Weiwei petition (an attack first confirmed by Eyeteeth). Baer "raised the case of Change.org directly" with China's foreign ministry in April, and the "Department will continue to press China on the importance of an open and unrestricted Internet," according to letter from Change.org to Rep. Rosa DeLauro.


Finished: Broken Crow mural at Peace Coffee

I finally got back over to the Peace Coffeeshop in South Minneapolis to get some photos of the finished Broken Crow mural and was pleased to find that, fitting the stencil-art duo's depiction of cheetahs devouring a zebra, savannah grass had been planted to complete the scene. More shots here.

Ai Weiwei Update: 06.09.11

Free Ai Weiwei Glasses, F.A.T.

• Philip Bishop, publisher of Artists Speak Out, writes in the Guardian that museums should be publicizing the plight of Ai Weiwei in their spaces, and gives props to those -- including the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and Walker Art Center -- who are.

• Roundly criticized for doing the exact opposite is the Milwaukee Art Museum, which is about to open a major exhibition of Chinese art in collaboration with China, and its director Dan Keegan. Keegan has refused to comment, and the museum hasn't said much about Ai, but Milwaukee Journal Sentinel arts writer Mary Louise Schumacher finally did get him on record. His response is both feeble and contradictory. "From the get-go we said we have to have the contemporary voice in this," he told Schumacher, yet that contemporaneousness is apparently utterly passive: "We don’t do protests," he said, echoing his PR flak, who recently said, "We don't do any politics."

Keegan's official statement doesn't mention Ai: "The Museum, as a cultural institution, does not support censorship, including self-censorship, of art exhibitions or artists based on unpopular or controversial subjects. We invite the public to experience the exhibitions and to attend the programs."

• Tyler Green on Keegan's statement: "I believe that art museum directors should be leaders in their communities, especially when it comes to issues that affect art, artists and our shared cultural heritage. I posit a 'fair question': Does Keegan have the ethical fortitude to be an art museum director?"

• The deCordova Museum and Sculpture Park in Lincoln, Mass., goes where Keegan won't.

• China's fear of words: The mere presence of Ai's name -- presented on an empty wall -- was enough for authorities to shut down the Incidental Art Festival at Beijing's CCD 300 gallery last week. The empty wall represents the absence of Ai, who has been in police custody for nearly 68 days.

• F.A.T. (Free Art Technology), which has given us a way to flip the bird at websites, like the Milwaukee Art Museum's -- in homage to Ai's "Study in Perspective" series -- now offers a low-tech version of the same: Glasses (above) that show Ai's outstretched middle finger, great for your next visit to Milwaukee. (Via Huh.)


New Broken Crow: Carnivores in South Minneapolis

BC @ Peace Coffee, day 1
Fresh off their mural with Over Under in Northeast Minneapolis, Broken Crow (John Grider, Mike Fitzsimmons) is just about done with another one, this time on the back wall of the building that houses XYandZ Gallery, the Trylon and Peace Coffee in South Minneapolis. I stopped by twice over the past few days to capture the process -- from the initial black stencil layer to the hand-painted color overlays to the final black stencil coat -- but I'll have to grab a shot of the final piece tomorrow. As BC's Mike said this morning, there's some irony in the fact that their giant image of cheetahs feasting on a downed zebra now advertises the parking lot of a place called Peace Coffee.

See more shots at my Flickr page.

Bits: 06.02.11

Banksy's Balloon Girl image -- which has appeared on the Israel-Palestine partition wall, in Lego ads and in umpteen tattoos -- has been appearing around New York, rendered in yarn by the artist Olek. Photo by Pace Ebbesen.

• Minneapolis' Art of This may not exist as a gallery anymore, sadly, but it's still running as an online platform for artists. To that end, David Peterson et al have launched a new website which has a nice new Open Studio feature that lets artists create their own pages to showcase audio, video or image-based work. It's kind of our own version of PS1's Studio Visit artists' hub.

• The City of Toronto pays artist $2,000 to create a mural then paints over it. The work -- ironically, a “commentary on the mathematics of modern finance" -- was whitewashed after a citizen complained that it was too political and city officials concluded that it might've referenced PM Stephen Harper (the artist, Joel Richardson, says it doesn't). The erasure, which one city councillor calls "$2,000 wasted," brings into focus the city's new graffiti abatement program, which will be up for public debate at a June 29 meeting of the licensing and standards committee.

• This weekend in Minneapolis: Northern Spark, a festival "modeled on a nuit blanche or 'white night' festival—a dusk to dawn participatory art event along the Mississippi and surrounding areas." Created by former Walker Art Center and 01SJ Biennial curator Steve Dietz, it'lll include "multi-story projections, audio environments with vistas, floating works on barges, houseboats and paddleboats, headphone concerts, and the use of everything from bioluminescent algae and sewer pipes for organs to more traditional media such as banjos and puppets."

• In her Artnews review of LAMOCA's Art in the Streets, Carolina (C-Monster) Miranda writes that while the show has some gems, it includes "puzzling juxtapositions" of works, with little in the way of wall didactics explaining the relationships between them, and gives short shrift to certain significant styles and artists. She notes, for instance, that while Banksy gets beaucoup coverage, his French stencil art precursor, Blek Le Rat, gets no mention at all.

What 71-year-old conceptual artist Hans-Peter Feldman did with his $100,000 Hugo Boss Prize winnings: Wallpapered the Guggenheim with 100,000 one-dollar bills.


Going "Outside the Planter Boxes"

Highlighting neglected curbside planters, the project Outside the Planter Boxes features creative interventions throughout Toronto. Participating artists include Sean Martindale, who made grass spill from a fractured box (below is the before view), and Groundswell Collective's James David Morgan, who made his own cast planters. According to project organizer Martindale, the aim is to "encourage more direct participation and interest in our shared public spaces – to demonstrate that the public can play a more consciously active role in how our city is shaped." He received funding for the project through FEAST Toronto.

Update: Oops, I got part of that wrong. James David Morgan emails to explain his project:
The planter I was working with is actually a sculpture at the start of Toronto's fashion district that the city transit commission and a local business organization commissioned Stephen Cruise to install, I think back in 1997 when the light rail system was put back on Spadina Avenue. So, unfortunately, it's not my own cast - I wish we'd had those resources to pull off something like that!

If you're interested, full history from a walking tour I did during Mayworks. The sculpture is a 9' high pile of buttons with a thimble on top, with a couple other buttons flanking the thimble tower where they've installed trees in the button holes. The sculpture is dedicated to the garment workers who created so much of Toronto's wealth in the days when that was a huge industry here, and there were mills all along that street with tiny apartments for the workers (with few or no windows) on the top floor. Now there's a Starbucks right next to the sculpture, and the patrons trash it with cigarette butts and coffee lids, which is probably a stronger statement than I was trying to make by cleaning out the button holes and planting yarrow. I figured a medicinal herb that doubled as a stimulant and a circulatory/digestive aid was appropriate to match the focus of the piece that would house the plants, and I thought a planting something productive in public would be a tiny act of commoning, both in further tribute to the workers (because they likely had to do that kind of thing all the time to get by) and as a protest of the prefigurative variety.
Thanks for the explanation, and apologies for the error!