Art News Headlines: September 16, 2010

The V&A announced yesterday that it is to mount the first ever major exhibition devoted to the aesthetic movement of the late 19th century. This fabulous new show points toward a specific group of artists—Oscar Wilde and William Morris among them—who placed the importance of beauty above all else and followed a mantra that said let us value art for art’s sake. The show’s arrival could not come at a more poignant time. More and more in the art world are shaking their heads at the cold and often disjointed forms seen in more modern art, calling for a return to well-crafted drawings and paintings. The wildly bohemian aesthetic movement evolved from the ashes of the austere values of the Victorian era, which offered a stiffer exploration of high-class beauty, many times making use of ugly drapery and furniture to contrast the model. The aesthetic movement, in response, unabashedly utilized bright colors and beautiful surroundings, helping to spawn a trend in furniture and home design, the first time an art movement has ever done so. The show unites 300 objects, 60 of which are paintings, and will travel to Paris and San Francisco.

In other art news, an intriguing exhibition is opening September 23 at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery in New York featuring a group of hand drawn maps, each different from the next and representing countless locations around the world. In an age where smartphones come with GPS routing systems and Google Maps has replaced printed maps stuffed in the glove box, cartographers’ jobs are being called into jeopardy. You won’t find any such apparatus in this exhibition however, which is the brainchild of Philadelphia artist Kris Harzinski, who is also due to release a book featuring even more hand-drawn maps entitled “From Here to There: A Curious Collection from the Hand Drawn Map Association.” Harzinski cites a recent surge in cartography among the visual art world, probably originating from a 1960 Jasper Johns painting of a vibrant map of the United States. As the technological world reigns supreme, hand-drawn maps are beginning to be perceived as an art form rather than a necessity—we like them either way.

To commemorate the anniversary of September 11 last week, National Geographic photographer Ira Block has released stunning photos featured on the magazine’s website of found objects gathered at ground zero during the aftermath of the tragedy. Block has also photographed unforgettable images of the crumbling towers and the mirrored blue light memorial six months later, and most recently he photographed the new National September 11 Memorial & Museum, due to open next year. The photos of the found objects offer a different perspective of the fateful day almost ten years ago. Among the items Block found were a love note, a shoe, and a necklace—personal tokens offering a grim look into the last moments of the victims’ lives. “It was hard in some ways to look at these objects,” remarked Block, who has covered archeology extensively in his photography travels. “So I’ve kind of dealt with the idea of death in a culture before. But usually it’s an ancient culture—here it was my own culture.”

Also in photography news this week, what is considered to be the first photograph is currently on display at a new exhibition in Austin at the Harry Ransom Center. Technically a heliograph, or sun drawing, the metal plate created by Joseph Nicephore Niepce in 1862 bears a vague image of a scene from the photographer’s bedroom window, mostly a view of stark buildings. The metal plate belongs to the Gernsheim Collection, which boasts 36,000 items in total—an impressive figure, as Helmut Gernhseim began collecting photography in a time when it was not popular to do so. Gernsheim was not only an early practitioner and premature collector of photography, but also one of the first photography scholars, even writing textbooks before the general public had much interest in the medium. A loyal fan of Niepce, Gernshseim was responsible for establishing the photographer as the “inventor of the medium of photography.”

By now, it isn’t news that Britain’s art scene is in peril as the government’s proposed cuts aim to slash funding to the arts—but now the artists are striking back. The country’s leading artists are joining forces to raise awareness and are urging the public to sign a petition to save the arts. Greats like David Hockney, Anthony Gormley, and Damien Hirst are only a handful of the many influential players from the British art community to back the campaign. Organizers fear that the government’s proposed 25 percent cuts will destroy the already fragile arts industry in the United Kingdom, which they argue is a net gain for the economy. Animator David Shrigley has produced an amusing short film in response to the pending cuts, one of four pieces of art that is scheduled to be released in the following few weeks.

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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