Converse Rubber Shoe Company All Star, 1917

Getting Your Sneak On

A new show at the Brooklyn Museum, The Rise of Sneaker Culture, has been getting raves, mostly for its focus on the eighties, a particularly obsessive era for sneakerheads. The most notable of these seminal sneakers, among 150 pieces in all, are the Nike Air Jordan I (1985) and Reebok Pumps (1989). A marvel, too, are the Reebok x Chanel Insta Pump Fury, the 1997 collaboration between Chanel and Reebok that ranked among the first so-called high-low joint efforts, but which was never produced beyond the runway — thus extremely rare.

History buffs, however, will gravitate toward the odd-looking vintage variety of sneaker — so odd that they hardly look like sneakers at all. For instance, the world’s oldest-known running shoes look like black lace-ups you'd see at any formal event today, except they have long metal spikes on the sole and a leather band across the top for added traction. They are, shockingly, over 150 years old. Then there's the earliest Converse All Star. At 98, it looks remarkably modern, owing to the fact that it has the kind of rubber sole still used today in almost all sneakers.

Over on the other side of the gender divide (back when few thought there could be more than two), a pair of high-heeled ladies sneakers from 1925 were apparently an attempt to allow women to engage in sporting activities, as was their wont at the time, while not losing their femininity. Thus the compromise was born, but in the context of today, they look more comical than anything else.

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Jul 27, 2015 17:53:00
Marco Battaglini

Art History Through a Modern Lens

Marco Battaglini pastiches together bits of Renaissance art with graffiti and other elements of modern pop — not unlike the divine versus the vulgar — in his digital paintings. By mashing together opposing visual traditions, the Italian artist (living in Costa Rica) challenges the viewer to contemplate a variety of topics: cultural democratization, the evolution of knowledge and information, and what he calls our 'patchwork culture.'

But just because he applies tattoos and brand logos to famously porcelain skin, don't go thinking these are schlocky items of throwaway kitsch. A single piece from the artist, among the elite stable at Saatchi, costs upwards of $20k.

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Jul 20, 2015 19:23:00
Sandro Giordano

Falling Down for Art's Sake

Breaking Instagram one satirical image at a time, Italian photographer Sandro Giordano builds elaborate setups involving people falling down and their stuff flying everywhere. For his 'In Extremis (Bodies With No Regret)' series, he recruits live models to pose for hours on end while he arranges the fallout of their falldown all around. That's it. That's his thing. And why not? Epic faceplants are funny, they just are.

The idea for the ongoing series came from two recent incidents. The first happened when a friend broke his leg while trying to prevent his phone from falling in the sea, while the second was a spill of his own, a bike mishap during which he instinctively held onto the things he was carrying rather than protect himself from bodily harm.

But he's quick to point out that his staged tumbled, entertaining though they are, come with cautionary tales. "My photographs are short stories about a falling-down world," he says, not denying the schadenfreude appeal. "Each shot tells of worn-out characters who, as if a sudden black-out of mind and body took over, let themselves crash with no attempt to save themselves because of fatigue. They reach their limit beyond which their false self cannot go."

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Jul 18, 2015 17:27:00

Shallow Not Stupid

I'm more into bracelets at Tiffany's than breakfasts. Holly Golightly can keep that croissant. Of course, in real life the Audrey Hepburn diet was a boiled egg, two bits of toast, and a martini a day to keep the fat police away. And don't go spoiling it by adding a 29-calorie olive when a citrus twist is easier on the eye as well as the waistline.

Hepburn, the face that launched a million haircuts, is immortalized in dead-glamorous stills by Angus McBean, Richard Avedon, and Irving Penn, among other iconic photographers, which can currently be seen in Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon at the National Portrait Gallery in London (through October 18, 2015).

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Jul 13, 2015 13:34:00
Caravaggio's Bacchus

Think You Know Old Masterworks? Look Again

Suddenly fat cats are everywhere. They're hissing at the have-nots, kneading dubious trade deals, and clawing democratic governments to their will.

A much cuter fat cat, however, is causing pandemonium of another kind. His name is Zarathustra and he features prominently — or rather, he steals the show! — in the 'fat cat' art of Russian artist Svetlana Petrova, who lovingly integrates the orange furball into old masterworks through extensive digital manipulation.

Just look at the results. Zarathustra gets a big wet one in Klimt's The Kiss; leads the people in Delacroix's 1830 depiction of the French Revolution; melts alongside clocks in Dalís The Persistence of Memory; and, oh look, Caravaggio's Bacchus has a fellow reveler.

If there is a better application of the Digital Age, we can't think of it.

Visit Fat Cat Art

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Jul 11, 2015 10:11:00
Jessica Harrison

Haute Carnage by Jessica Harrison

In the wake of another round of couture shows, in all its glory and gore, we take a look at the macabre art of Jessica Harrison. The English-born, Scottish-schooled artist takes found porcelain dolls and alters them in ghastly ways, painting on blood splatters and adding internal organs to the exterior. One figurine looks as if she's plunged her hand into her chest and pulled out her own heart as a kind of sacrifice. Also lots of severed heads.

Harrison views the skin as the place where self and world mingle; we're just calling it haute carnage...

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Jul 10, 2015 09:19:00
Jacqueline de Ribes, 1986

Jacqueline de Ribes Gets Her Own Show at the Costume Institute

She's regarded by many as the most stylish woman on earth. She was photographed by Richard Avedon and Irving Penn, and was rhapsodized about by Truman Capote. Yves Saint Laurent, a friend, hailed her as a fashion icon, and Jean Paul Gaultier dedicated a couture collection to her. Yet Countess Jacqueline de Ribes, 85, is relatively unknown by younger generations. The Costume Institute is attempting to change that with its fall 2015 exhibition, a revived autumn program snugly sandwiched between its monolithic spring exhibitions.

What sets the countess apart from other 20th-century style icons is the zeal with which she'd take shears to her precious couture, altering priceless garments to fit with her individual taste — the unthinkable, basically. “A close study of de Ribes’s life of creative expression yields illuminating insights into her strategies of style,” says Harold Koda, curator-in-charge of the Costume Institute who spearheaded the show. “Her approach to dress as a statement of individuality can be seen as a kind of performance art."

Along with 60 couture and ready-to-wear items — Pierre Balmain, Madame Grès (Alix Barton), Yves Saint Laurent, Emanuel Ungaro — from de Ribes’s personal collection, the exhibit will also showcase photographs and ephemera that tell the story of her privileged upbringing in France, yet also her voracious work ethic. At a time when women were not expected to hold a job, de Ribes set an entrepreneurial course for herself, one that included fashion and interior designer, as well as screen and theatrical producer.

Jacqueline de Ribes: the Art of Style, Nov 19, 2015 - Feb 21, 2016, Metropolitan Museum

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Jul 09, 2015 11:52:00

When in Romania

In many ways, Romania is a land whose stereotypes precede it. But don't let vampires and gypsies fool you. While steeped in tradition, the 'island of Latinity' in a sea of Slavic countries is hurtling toward modernity. In fact Bucharest has just been named a contender for the title of European Cultural Capital in 2021, a distinction that could transform the city. Romanians are already campaigning hard — and you thought the American presidential election was a big deal.

This was the optimistic atmosphere in which I made my way to Bucharest for Romanian Design Week. Now in its third edition, RDW presents not only fashion, but also architecture, graphic design, and product design, totaling more than 130 artists. Craft, which is big in Romania, particularly craft from the Transylvania region, was also given its due. Organizers like to say the festival is a "love letter to Bucharest" and you get the sense that that's really true.

As an indicator of just how outward-looking Romania now is, the 2015 program embraced an international dimension for the first time, inviting the Netherlands to present at the festival. With the support of the Dutch embassy in Bucharest, the Netherlands showcased Dutch design through exhibitions, workshops, and happenings throughout Bucharest. This culminated with the Dutch Design Awards, spotlighting a live-weaving installation by Freyke Hartemink & Aura Luz Melis, the Neverending Story exhibition by Sorin Bechira, and finalists Liselore Frowijn (fashion design), Niels Hoebers, and Dave Hakkens.

The Architecture of Textile

Dutch Design Awards

On the conceptual front came a revelatory little exhibition called Braun & Brauner, juxtaposing famously minimalist Braun products — designed by the legendary Dieter Rams — with the surrealist oeuvre of Romanian artist Victor Brauner. Aside from the nominal similarity, both men had a prolific period in the two decades following WWII, encapsulated in a profound little exhibition.

Braun & Brauner

No modern city would be complete without a street-minded art collective, which, in Bucharest, is Artskul. For Romanian Design Week, they invited a range of artists to create new works through a range of media — everything from sound design and turntablism to serigraphy and bas-relief, with a little astrophysics mixed in. Meanwhile, another collective, Kolektivul TotNoi, created an ironic, playful homage to the region's assorted dictators, notably Romania's own Nicolae Ceaușescu, the notorious Communist tyrant of the 1980s from which the country is still struggling to emerge.


Kolektivul Tot Noi

Aural Eye is another collective looking to shed new light on a broken-down Romanian system, this time its old fountains. Many of them were erected in the interwar years, yet none of them are still in operation and haven't been in a very long while. Using projectors, the Aural Eye crew mapped the fountains and created original art to cover them with, combining century-old monument construction and contemporary light design. 

Aural Eye

The Nod Makerspace project, which launched during Romanian Design Week, brings together designers from various fields, allowing them to share common resources while working out of studios of their own. Traditional practices like wood carving go hand in hand with higher-tech practitioners working with room-sized equipment. Elsewhere, Made in RO is the biggest design fair in Romania, with a focus on the home, e.g. furniture, interior design, lighting, toys, and ceramics with a humorous bent. 

Nod Makerspace

Nod Makerspace

Made in RO

Made in RO

Jul 05, 2015 20:41:00

Out of Art Museums and Into the Streets

If museums seem like dreary places, too dreary for art to be hanging out in perpetuity, fear not. The brainchild of French artist and filmmaker Julien de Casabianca, Outings Project brings great works of art into the light, into the street, into public awareness. It's as if the people in these portraits are out stretching their legs and taking in the sights of Paris, Riga, New York, Rio de Janeiro, Hamburg, Los Angeles, Asunción, or wherever de Casabianca happens to be. The public, too, is invited to photograph artworks in their local museum and set them free.

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Jun 30, 2015 10:40:00

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