Art News Headlines: July 16, 2011

New York’s Asia Society Museum presents a new exhibition of photographs taken by Ai Weiwei, capturing the history, culture, and overall vibe of New York in the 1980s, as seen from his unique perspective. This show, on view through August 14, 2011, marks the first time Ai Weiwei’s New York Photographs series is being exhibited outside of China. Before he became internationally recognized as an artist and activist, Ai Weiwei lived in a tiny apartment in New York’s East Village, and was a prominent member of a community of refugee Chinese artists and intellectuals in the neighborhood’s then burgeoning avant-garde scene. During that time, from 1983 to 1993, the artist used his camera to document his life and work, his surroundings, and the atmosphere of the time. The photographs illustrate a distinct era in New York through the artist’s perspective, tracing the beginnings of his conceptual art practice. The New York Photographs series comprises a selection of 227 photographs from Ai’s archive of 10,000, selected by the artist. It is conceived as a single unified installation that reveals the artist’s personal journey at the time they were snapped.

Apple has done it once again with the just-released iPad app LetterMpress, which gives users the hands-on experience of working with traditional letterpress wood type, art cuts, and printing press techniques. Don’t believe it? It’s true: every step of the letterpress printing process is replicated on the iPad for the authentic feel and experience of traditional printing techniques, making technology come alive in a truly stunning fashion. App users are able to select and assemble vintage wood type and art images, mix colors and ink the type, select paper, and hand-crank the virtual letterpress to produce graphic designs for prints, posters, books, invitations, and many other kinds of projects. LetterMpress enables these finished designs to then be printed, shared via email, posted to various social media sites such as Tumblr, or output to graphics applications for incorporation into larger design projects. The beauty of the app is that the quality is such that professional graphic designers can make good use of it, as well as the novice who just wants to play around.

 Lyonel Feininger, A Group of Houses and Figures, painted wood, (c. 1949)

Lyonel Feininger has long been recognized as a major figure of the Bauhaus, renowned for his romantic, crystalline depictions of architecture and the Baltic Sea. The range and diversity of his achievements are less well known. “Lyonel Feininger: At the Edge of the World”, the artist’s first retrospective in the United States in 45 years, is the first ever to incorporate the full breadth of his art by integrating his well-known oils with his political caricatures and pioneering Chicago Sunday Tribune comic strips, as well as his figurative German Expressionist compositions, his architectural photographs of Bauhaus and New York subjects, his miniature hand-carved painted wooden figures and buildings, and his ethereal late paintings of New York City. The show illustrates the artist’s roots as one of the most successful caricaturists in Germany and his evolution into a painter in his late 30’s, patterned with his escape into New York from Nazi Germany to protect his Jewish wife. Curated by Barbara Haskell with the assistance of Sasha Nicholas, the exhibition debuted at the Whitney Museum of American Art last month, and will be shown through October 16, 2011, where it will then travel to The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts on January 16, 2012 and be seen through May 13, 2012.

Holbein the Younger, Darmstadt Madonna

The most important German old master painting to come on the market since World War II was sold privately last Tuesday by Donatus Prince of Hesse to the industrialist Reinhold Würth for a sum around €50m to €60m. The panel painting, the Darmstadt Madonna by Holbein the Younger, which has often been described as the northern equivalent of Raphael’s Sistine Madonna, could have been worth €120m on the international market, but it is on the list compiled by the State of Hesse of unexportable treasures—the buyer, while he need not necessarily be a German, must keep the work within Germany. The painting will now spend some time on loan to the Städel, where it has been since 2003, or hang in Würth’s private museum in a converted 12th-century church in Schwäbisch Hall, along with the medieval panel paintings he bought from another historic German collection, the Fürstenberg. Würth is an avid art lover: he also keeps a substantial collection of contemporary art and is known for having largely financed the restoration of the Cappella Palatina in Palermo.

In other art news, American artist Cy Twombly died last week in Rome after a long battle with cancer. He was 83. Mr. Twombly is best remembered for his diverse artwork that refused to cave to one genre entirely: his childlike scribbles and poetic engagement with antiquity left him stubbornly out of step with the movements of postwar American art, even as he became one of the era’s most important painters. His work dipped into Abstract Expressionism, Conceptualism, and even a little Pop. In 2010, he painted a ceiling of the Louvre museum in Paris, the first artist given the honor since Georges Braque over 50 years prior. Mr. Twombly’s tendency to stray from the norm was especially exemplified in his decision to permanently settle in Italy in 1957, right as the art world’s shift was moving from Europe to New York. The artist fell in love with Italy, which reminded him of the faded grandeur of his beloved Lexington, Virginia. Known for having practiced drawing in the dark to make his lines look less deliberate, Mr. Twombly once remarked, “I had my freedom and that was nice,” in reference to his aversion to popularity.

Laura Lawson paints when writer’s block strikes and writes when painter’s block strikes. She has studied fine art at LCAD and is pursuing a degree in journalism. Recently diagnosed with the degenerative eye disease retinitis pigmentosa, she strives to bring hope to those without vision through her blog. She is currently working on her first book about coping with vision loss.

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