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Ai Weiwei Is Selling Artful Face Masks to Raise Funds for Covid-19 Relief Efforts

May 28, 2020 11:51am

Masks designed by Ai Weiwei
Masks designed by Ai Weiwei. COURTESY AI WEIWEI STUDIO

Ai Weiwei, never one to shy away from getting involved in an activist cause, has turned his efforts toward supporting pandemic-related relief. In a new initiative launched as a collaboration with eBay, the artist and activist is selling limited-edition protective masks created in his studio in Berlin. All proceeds from the sales will go to Human Rights Watch, Refugees International, and Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders.

The mask artworks became available on Thursday and sales will continue through June 27. Single masks cost $50, a series of four is valued at $300, and a collection of 20 is priced at $1,500. The project was curated by Alexandra Munroe, senior curator of Asian art and senior adviser of global arts at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. 

The cloth masks in the sale feature silk-screened images designed by Ai, including a middle finger, sunflower seeds, and feishu, a creature in Chinese mythology. The complete set of 20 also comes with a selection of images from the artist’s “Study of Perspective” series focused on the enduring power of individuals to enact social change.

The artist said in a statement, “The Covid-19 pandemic is a humanitarian crisis. It challenges our understanding of the 21st century and warns of dangers ahead. It requires each individual to act, both alone and collectively.”

“Ai Weiwei MASK are artworks symbolic of life in the time of Covid-19,” Munroe added in a release. “To have one is an ethical and creative act to overcome our tired isolation and participate in a collective enterprise of real compassion.”

The project is not the first one Ai has undertaken since the coronavirus pandemic has begun. While in lockdown, he has been sharing screenshots of his FaceTime calls on social media.

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Singer Grimes Will Sell Part of Her Soul in New Online Art Exhibition, and More: Morning Links from May 28, 2020


Museum directors in France, Germany, Italy, Austria, and Poland talk about their strategies to reopen their museums after they were shuttered temporarily by the pandemic. [The Art Newspaper]

Kelly Crow has a deep dive into how the world’s top auction houses have shifted their tactics to keep selling millions worth of art during a pandemic. [The Wall Street Journal]

The musician Grimes will have her first art exhibitions, online beginning today, through Gallery Platform Los Angeles and Maccarone. One work involves a buyer purchases a percentage of her soul. [Bloomberg]

Feminist Pioneer Judy Chicago’s Seminal Fireworks Art Heads to Nevada

Galleries across the country are struggling to pay their rent because of the pandemic. Though some have tried to negotiate with their landlords, they may still be forced to close their doors permanently.  [ARTnews]


As part of the paper’s ongoing series “The Big Ideas: Why Does Art Matter?,” Judy Chicago ponders what art has to do with the coronavirus. She writes, “Obviously, there is a great deal of art that doesn’t matter.” [The New York Times]

Ai Weiwei has printed 10,000 face masks, which will be sold on eBay to benefit various humanitarian charities, including the Human Rights Watch and Refugees International. [The Guardian]

The Light and Space artist Peter Alexander, who is best known for his winsome sculptures that enlisted industrial materials toward transcendent means, has died at 81. [ARTnews]

Nancy Stark Smith, who was one of the founders of the artful and athletic dance movement called contact improvisation, has died at 68. [The New York Times]


Nina Siegal spoke with Octave Durham, who stole two van Gogh paintings in 2002, about what one does with a stolen painting. He called the recent Singer Laren Museum theft of a van Gogh “the easiest art heist I’ve ever seen.” [The New York Times]

The Japanese press has reportedly accused the top art collector Yusaku Maezawa of tax evasion. He responded on Twitter, ““I will not run or hide, and I will spare no effort in paying my taxes if you explain how they should be handled.” [Artnet News]

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Why Do We Cling to Art in Apocalyptic Times?

May 28, 2020 10:07am

Max Ernst Triumph of Surrealism
Max Ernst: The Triumph of Surrealism, 1937, oil on canvas, 44 7/8 by 57 1/2 inches. PRIVATE COLLECTION. © PROLITTERIS, ZURICH/ARTISTS RIGHTS SOCIETY (ARS), NEW YORK.

Scientific consensus on the accelerating twin cataclysms of climate change and ecological collapse offers two pathways for global capitalist civilization. One is characterized by a rapid, unprecedented, and almost certainly undemocratic revolution in energy infrastructure, economic policy, social life, political institutions, and the daily consumption patterns of billions of human beings, with the goal of substantially decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and reorienting industrialized society’s relation to the nonhuman world from a posture of unending predation to one of symbiotic cohabitation. The other path is characterized by abrupt and catastrophic ecological transformation that could, in at least one model, see the planet warm by more than 20°F within a hundred years.1

Climate Change Has Already Transformed Everything About Contemporary Art

Neither future offers any clear possibility for the perpetuation of contemporary values, systems of meaning, or cultural formations. The absoluteness of this temporal-existential disjunction is difficult to comprehend. One way to think of it is as if we were intergalactic explorers, marooned on the surface of an utterly strange and unknown planet. Another way to think of it is through the concepts of mortality and natality: contemporary civilization must die so that a new world might be born.

Yet another way to look at this disjunction is through moments of cultural collapse that are comparable in some ways, examining transformation available in the historical record, such as the repeated Jewish expulsions from Israel, the European conquest and genocide in the Americas, the “Little Ice Age” of the seventeenth century, and the devastation of the twentieth century’s two world wars. While none of these events brought about “the end of the world” in the totalizing sense of destroying all life on Earth, we can see in each catastrophe the end of a way of life, the end of a specific cultural form, the end of a human “world.”

However we might choose to represent our situation to ourselves, the preeminent challenge we face is sustaining faith in a doubtful human future whose form is both wholly unknowable and wholly alien. Thus the role of art in the Anthropocene, or at least any art that struggles to be worthy of the attention it presupposes, must be founded on a hopeless hope: the end of global human agro-extractive capitalist civilization concomitant with the end of the mild climate of the Holocene, and the reemergence of human collective life in a new and terrifying world.

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Paul Klee: Angelus Novus, 1920, oil transfer and watercolor on paper, 12 1/2 by 9 1/2 inches. ISRAEL MUSEUM, JERUSALEM

IN SUCH DIRE STRAITS, it is comforting to imagine the Angel of History as he is described in Walter Benjamin’s essay “Theses on the Philosophy of History” (1942), weeping as he is blown backward into the future and watching the catastrophe of the past pile at his feet; for even though it is the haphazard wreckage of our own endless and unassuageable suffering that is the object of his grief, and even though he floats above us transcendent in an unreachable beyond, our transient and ultimately meaningless human desires are nonetheless dignified by being reflected in his tears. The figure of the Angel of History conveys a promise that someone is watching and remembering, even if they are impotent in the face of that wind called progress.

Yet we must entertain the unnerving possibility that this world, the one in which humanity is doomed to wander the desert of its own profligacy, is overseen not by Benjamin’s Angel of History, but rather by Max Ernst’s Angel of Hearth and Home (1937). In this painting, a gargantuan polymorphous horror thunders across an empty landscape, screaming in fury and pain. The creature’s hands flail in agonized spasms; its grotesque birdlike mouth gapes with what must be a howl of grief; its clothes, even its body, are nothing but motley tatters; some parasitic needle-toothed being clings to its side, merges with it, is stuck to it, feeds on it. The angel’s eyes are closed in mindless rage, as if it sees nothing, knows nothing. We imagine that over its own piercing screams it can hear nothing, not even the cries of those it is about to crush: the painting’s viewers, unnoticed at its feet.

In 1938, Max Ernst retitled this painting The Triumph of Surrealism, thus making ironically explicit the connection between fascism—which was the painting’s allegorical subject, as it was painted both in response to the Republicans’ defeat in the Spanish Civil War and in prophetic angst over what was to come from Hitler’s Germany—and Surrealism, the most celebrated art movement to emerge in 1930s Europe. The inarticulate terrors and murderous drives ostensibly repressed in the civilized subconscious, so cleverly transformed into art on the canvases of Surrealists, were bodying forth as monstrosities rampaging across the killing fields of Europe and Asia.

Ernst was a German Catholic and a veteran of the first World War. He helped found the Cologne Dada group, then left Germany for France in 1922. He became one of the key Surrealist painters; his work was featured both in the groundbreaking 1936 “Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism” exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and in the infamous Nazi exhibition of “degenerate art” in Munich the following year. Much like today, the 1930s were a grim and tumultuous period, in which most thoughtful observers could see disaster looming on the horizon. And also like today, though many were aware, few were conscious; many Americans and Europeans sleepwalked into war as if they’d been enchanted.

Though not as endangered as German-Jewish dissidents, Ernst was still regarded by the Nazis as a political enemy and would have likely been sent to a concentration camp in Germany had the Gestapo gotten hold of him. But he waited, lingering as if insensible to the danger, dallying in France until it was too late. After the 1939 German invasion of Poland, the French government rounded up Communists, foreign nationals, and anyone else they deemed vaguely dangerous, then imprisoned them. Anti-fascists who had risked their lives in the struggle against Hitler were not exempt: the bureaucracy saw them only as “enemy aliens” and potential fifth columnists, so activists such as Lisa Fittko were imprisoned alongside thinkers such as Hannah Arendt and Walter Benjamin.

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Max Ernst with several of his sculptures at his exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1961. RUBEN GOLDBERG/AP/SHUTTERSTOCK

As were artists. Max Ernst, the world-famous Surrealist, was arrested at his farmhouse in Saint-Martin d’Ardèche, in the south of France, where he lived with painter Leonora Carrington. He was imprisoned in Largentière, then transferred to Camp des Milles, a former brick factory, where he slept on a straw pallet covered in brick dust in a dim room with three hundred other men. “Brick dust filled our lungs and got into our eyes,” writes German novelist Lion Feuchtwanger, who was also imprisoned there.There were no chairs or tables; meals comprised bread and watery lentil soup; the latrine pits were open to the elements; the camp was plagued by dysentery. In December 1939, after three months of miserable confinement, Ernst was freed thanks to the intervention of Surrealist poet Paul Éluard. Others were not so lucky.

Over the winter, the German army began shifting from Poland to the borders of Belgium, France, and the Netherlands. In early spring, a crisis in the French government led to the resignation of the prime minister, Édouard Daladier, and the Nazis conquered Norway and Denmark. Morale in the French military was low, and the French military leadership fatuously insisted—despite the precedent set in World War I, when the German army invaded through the Low Countries—that the Germans would not and indeed could not invade through the Low Countries, and thus would be held off by the massive defenses of the Maginot Line. The writing was on the wall: war was coming, and there was little reason to hope France would be victorious.

Some of those who’d been imprisoned in the fall of 1939 and then released began making plans to leave. Ernst was among those who stayed, having convinced himself that somehow it would all work out. As Leonora Carrington later testified, Ernst “couldn’t imagine giving up Paris. . . . He was sure there would be somebody he could talk to, somebody who could make special arrangements if anything went wrong.”3 We face climate change today with the same uneasy ambivalence that Ernst showed toward the imminent Nazi invasion of France: we bargain with fate, wish for our lives to go on like normal for just a little longer, and convince ourselves that someone will find a solution—that somehow we will be able to make arrangements.

On May 10, 1940, the German army crossed the French frontier. Before the month ended, Ernst was once again arrested and taken to Camp des Milles. As the Germans overran France and the French government collapsed, the fate of those German nationals imprisoned in French concentration camps hung by a thread. Those prisoners at Camp des Milles deemed most at risk of being deported to Germany were put on a train, ostensibly to be sent to forced labor camps in North Africa, an act of mercy meant to keep them out of German hands. But the train went nowhere, pointlessly crossing back and forth across the south of France. Somewhere near Nîmes, Ernst managed to escape.

When he finally got back to Saint-Martin d’Ardèche, he discovered that his farmhouse had been seized and Leonora was nowhere to be found. Shocked by Ernst’s sudden imprisonment and having no idea when he might come back, Carrington had suffered a nervous breakdown, and, in a drunken emotional spiral, signed over the farmhouse to a local bar owner who promised to protect it from the Nazis. She then fled to Madrid, where she was hospitalized for a time, and eventually settled in Mexico.

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Peggy Guggenheim at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1942.AP/Shutterstock

Ernst lived in hiding, humiliated and distraught, on the charity of friends, until March 1941, when he made his way to Marseille. There, he found refuge in the Villa Air-Bel, an ad hoc artists’ colony set up as part of the Emergency Rescue Committee’s effort to help save European intellectuals and artists from the Nazis. Ernst’s old friend Peggy Guggenheim, who had been lingering in France scooping up modern art on the cheap from desperate artists, met him there. She offered to pay for his passage to New York and bought all the artwork he’d managed to save (for two thousand dollars, minus the cost of his passage), then the two began an affair. Some weeks later, Ernst left Villa Air-Bel, crossed illegally into Spain and rejoined Peggy in Lisbon, Portugal. The two escaped to New York, where they married.

WHAT LESSONS CAN history offer about how humans behave when the end is nigh? What lessons might we glean about the value of art in desperate times? Some still say art is necessary “now more than ever,” insisting that this peculiar social practice of commodified craftwork identified as “aesthetic production” offers a bright flame which can light our way through a dark and tortuous night. Yet the hope that modern art’s complex ideological matrix of individualism, novelty, critique, and consumption might be in any way adequate to the unimaginable global cataclysm that will define the twenty-first century seems to be as much a delusion as Ernst’s hope that somehow the imminent Nazi invasion, the collapse of France, and the broader catastrophe of World War II wouldn’t really affect him, that he’d be able to stay in his cozy farmhouse in Saint-Martin d’Ardèche making art with Leonora, that somehow the tempest would pass him by. The most striking lesson offered by that particular historical moment, of which the capture and flight of the famous artist Max Ernst is an illustration exemplary only by virtue of the exceptional fact that he survived, is that we lie to ourselves all the way to the bitter end, refusing to accept that the fateful knock on our door is really for us, refusing to see where these strange men are taking us, refusing to accept that hard natural laws of probability and entropy have anything to do with the carefully circumscribed fables we make of our lives.

Walter Benjamin’s Angel of History is a figure of hope, a being with the power to redeem our suffering through transcendental grief. This salvific figure was created by a man who climbed the Pyrenees lugging a suitcase containing a manuscript he could not leave behind, who, when told by police at the Spanish border that he’d be sent back to France the next day, took a lethal dose of morphine. Ernst’s Angel of Hearth and Home is an ironic figure of nihilistic doom, an all-devouring leviathan whose inescapable agony makes a mockery of our all-too-human pretenses. Its creator was a man who would find himself forced to give up his home, his lover, and every piece of art he’d made for the chance to start over again in a strange new country.

We face a choice, amid the slow collapse of a derelict civilization. It is not a choice of whether to stop global warming, whether to head off its inevitable consequences, or whether to save the world. The choice we face, like the choice Ernst faced on his escape from Camp des Milles, is simply whether to accept the reality we find ourselves in. Such an acceptance demands letting go of the burdens we have dragged so far, letting go of any hope for salvation, letting go of every piece of hoarded flotsam we think we might yet need, and facing the fact that the new world we are doomed to inhabit is as alien to our lives today as are the moons of Jupiter, the ziggurats of the Aztecs, or the blood cults of the ancient Greeks. There is only a narrow passage to this new world, the eye of the fiery needle, and to linger on the threshold is to die. On the doorway’s lintel are inscribed these words: “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.”

One recent study suggests that as atmospheric carbon dioxide levels around 1,200 parts per million, which we are on track to hit sometime in the next century, changes in atmospheric turbulence dynamics may dissipate subtropical stratocumulus cloud decks, radically decreasing overall planetary albedo and adding as much as 14°F warming on top of the more than 7°F warming already expected by that point. Tapio Schneider, Colleen M. Kaul, Kyle G. Pressel, “Possible climate transitions from breakup of stratocumulus decks under greenhouse warming,” Nature Geoscience, 2019, 12 (3), p. 164.

Lion Feuchtwanger, The Devil in France: My Encounter with Him in the Summer of 1940, Los Angeles, Figueroa Press, USC Libraries, 2009, p. 18.

3 Carrington quoted in Rosemary Sullivan, Villa Air-Bel: World War II, Escape, and a House in Marseille, New York, Harper Perennial, 2006, p. 168.

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Banksy Donates New Artwork Celebrating Health Care Workers to British Hospital

Banksy, 'Game Changer', 2020
Banksy, ‘Game Changer’, 2020 BANKSY/INSTAGRAM @BANKSY

A new Banksy artwork paying tribute to National Health Service workers has turned up at Southampton General Hospital in England. The painting, titled Game Changer (2020), was delivered to the hospital along with a note that read: “Thanks for all you’re doing. I hope this brightens the place up a bit, even if its only black and white.” The hospital houses a significant testing facility that is currently running trials on potential Covid-19 vaccines.

The painting, a departure for the street artist who is better-known for his prints and wall tags, depicts a young boy playing with a toy nurse bedecked in a face mask, fluttering cape, and Red Cross emblem (the only color in the artwork). In the background, Batman and Spider-Man figurines have been discarded in a wastebasket.

MoMA Slashes Budget, Reduces Staff Ahead of Reopening: Report

Paula Head, the chief executive of University Hospital Southampton NHS foundation trust, told the BBC, “The fact that Banksy has chosen us to recognize the outstanding contribution everyone in and with the NHS is making, in unprecedented times, is a huge honor,” adding, “It will be really valued by everyone in the hospital, as people get a moment in their busy lives to pause, reflect and appreciate this piece of art. It will no doubt also be a massive boost to morale for everyone who works and is cared for at our hospital.”

According to a spokesperson for Banksy, the work will be on view in a hallway near the hospital’s emergency department until this fall, when it will head to auction to raise funds for the NHS. Banksy originals have fetched millions of dollars at past auctions. In March, a Sotheby’s online auction of Banksy prints netted $1.4 million.

This is the second new Banksy piece to appear during lockdown. The first, featuring graffitied rats running amok in his bathroom, was revealed on Instagram by the artist, along with the caption “My wife hates it when I work from home.”

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New Banksy artwork appears at hospital

By Will GompertzArts editor

New Banksy artwork, paying tribute to the NHS
Image copyright BANKSY

A new Banksy artwork has appeared at Southampton General Hospital.

The largely monochrome painting, which is one square metre, was hung in collaboration with the hospital’s managers in a foyer near the emergency department.

It shows a young boy kneeling by a wastepaper basket dressed in dungarees and a T-shirt.

He has discarded his Spiderman and Batman model figures in favour of a new favourite action hero – an NHS nurse.

The nurse’s arm is outstretched and pointing forward in the fashion of Superman on a mission.

She is wearing a facemask, a nurse’s cape, and an apron with the Red Cross emblem (the only element of colour in the picture).

The artist left a note for hospital workers, which read: “Thanks for all you’re doing. I hope this brightens the place up a bit, even if its only black and white.”

The painting will remain at Southampton General Hospital until the autumn when it will be auctioned to raise money for the NHS.

Paula Head, CEO of the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust said: “Our hospital family has been directly impacted with the tragic loss of much loved and respected members of staff and friends.

Media caption Staff react to the Banksy artwork on display at Southampton General Hospital

“The fact that Banksy has chosen us to recognise the outstanding contribution everyone in and with the NHS is making, in unprecedented times, is a huge honour.”

She added: “It will be really valued by everyone in the hospital, as people get a moment in their busy lives to pause, reflect and appreciate this piece of art. It will no doubt also be a massive boost to morale for everyone who works and is cared for at our hospital.”

The artwork is now on view to staff and patients on Level C of the Southampton General.

Media caption Artist brightens up town with NHS tribute murals
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Art Workers Band Together to Fight Coronavirus-Related Spike in Racism Against Asian Americans

StopDiscriminAsian's logo.

The question of how art can be used to help the world heal during a time of crisis has, for some, been replaced with another quandary: Can members of the art world combat a coronavirus-related spike in racism against Asian and Asian Americans? Even though the majority of the United States is still in quarantine, a number of artists and art workers have risen to the challenge, launching digital initiatives intended to highlight and confront instances of racism.

In March, artist Kenneth Tam created a Google spreadsheet that catalogues user-submitted narratives of anti-Asian racism. Titled “WE ARE NOT COVID,” the spreadsheet has begun circulating in the art world, and it includes stories from across the nation—one Queens woman describes being asked if she had been “home” recently; a person in Los Angeles’s Koreatown neighborhood describes locals being chased by a man wielding a shovel.

Now, Tam’s spreadsheet has inspired art workers to come together to launch StopDiscriminAsian, an online project that helps compile stories of racism and echoes the narratives submitted to “WE ARE NOT COVID.” For its members, who began meeting regularly via Zoom in April, the initiative will raise awareness for the challenges facing Asians and Asian Americans right now. (For this article, the members of StopDiscriminAsian asked to remain anonymous and to be quoted collectively; they declined to give an exact number of its membership.)

“The stories accrete and powerfully illustrate how Covid has been racialized and how that racialization has spurred anti-Asian sentiment and attacks,” StopDiscriminAsian told ARTnews in an email. “The spreadsheet also revealed complex intersectional dynamics—disproportionate harassment of women and cases of intra-POC tension—that we aim to address in our future activities.”

Tam’s spreadsheet is a direct response to what the FBI has described as a surge in anti-Asian sentiment. Some have ascribed the increase in racist incidents to language used by officials to talk about the coronavirus—Donald Trump has repeatedly called it the “Chinese virus,” in reference to the country from where the first mass outbreak occurred. (After the remark was widely decried in the media, Trump tweeted, “We have to protect our Asian Americans,” adding that the U.S. outbreak was “NOT their fault in any way, shape, or form.”)

StopDiscriminAsian has also begun working with the Los Angeles–based nonprofit GYOPO, a group of artists and arts professionals of the Korean diaspora who look to use contemporary art to call attention to social justice issues as a way to build community and stronger networks. This partnership aims to further a cause that was taken up during the late 1960s by the Asian American Movement—with a greater emphasis on the identity’s newer and more complex meanings. “In 2020, this term encompasses so many rich histories, including those from across East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands,” StopDiscriminAsian (or SDA, for short) said. “Future SDA activities will elucidate both the connections and differences that uniquely characterize our diasporic histories.”

Among SDA’s first projects has been working with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to stage talk about anti-Asian racism that will convene major talents, including Saturday Night Live cast member Bowen Yang, poet Cathy Park Hong, and artist Anicka Yi. The hope is to influence people in the art world—and beyond—to take notice of and call out prejudice and discrimination. “As art workers,” SDA said, “we realized that we could best impact our own professional community, and decided to dedicate our efforts towards that end.”

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Cincinnati Art Museum to unveil first phase of Art Climb today

This is a rendering of Art Climb in Eden Park, which includes multiple flights of steps and landings with creative elements.
Enlarge This is a rendering of Art Climb in Eden Park, which includes multiple flights of steps and landings with creative elements. HUMAN NATURE

By Nikki Kingery  – Projects Editor, Cincinnati Business Courier6 hours ago

The Cincinnati Art Museum will unveil today the first phase of Art Climb, a new outdoor civic and art space on the museum’s grounds.

The opening was originally scheduled for Friday, but the timing was moved up to 5 p.m. today because of the threat of rain.

Although the museum isn’t holding a public opening celebration because of pandemic concerns, visitors can explore on their own while practicing social distancing.

Art Climb engages with the museum’s surrounding neighborhoods, including Walnut Hills. Starting at the sidewalk near the intersection of Eden Park Drive and Gilbert Avenue and leading up to the front museum entrance, the space will soon feature outdoor artworks. 

In a May 1 story, the Business Courier outlined the project in more detail, as well as a broader plan to connect the art museum, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park and the Cincinnati Ballet’s upcoming home in Walnut Hills. The Playhouse is undergoing a major renovation of its main stage theater complex that will include a new outdoor plaza and entryway, while Cincinnati Ballet is planning a $30 million center for dance on what is now vacant land on a Gilbert Avenue hillside that leads up into Mount Adams.

The project is being coordinated by a team at Human Nature, the Mount Adams landscape design company that has had a hand in several signature Cincinnati projects, including the makeover of Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine. Read about it here.

Art Climb is intended to better connect the Cincinnati Art Museum to the community.
Enlarge Art Climb is intended to better connect the Cincinnati Art Museum to the community. HUMAN NATURE
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Who are these doomed lovers? Take the great British art quiz

Star-crossed – guess the picture dating from 1900-03 by George Frederic Watts.
Star-crossed – guess the picture dating from 1900-03 by George Frederic Watts. Photograph: Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village

This quiz is brought to you in collaboration with Art UK, the online home for the UK’s public art collections, showing art from over 3,000 venues and by 45,000 artists. Each day, a different collection on Art UK will set the questions.

Today, our questions are set by Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village permanent collection. The collection at Watts Gallery, in Compton, Surrey, features more than 100 works by renowned Victorian painter and sculptor George Frederic Watts (1817-1904), who was associated with the symbolist movement. It also features work by his wife and artistic partner , the Scottish designer and potter Mary Watts (1849-1938), who founded the Watts Gallery and created the Watts Chapel with the local community.

You can see art from the Watts Gallery on Art UK here. Find out more on the Watts Gallery website here.

What year was the Watts Gallery built? 1897 1899 1902 1904 This picture shows two biblical brothers meeting. Who are they? Cain and Abel Isaac and Ishmael Jacob and Esau Nathan and Solomon This painting was inspired by a poem by which Romantic poet? Percy Bysshe Shelley Lord Byron William Wordsworth William Blake When Lillie Langtry arrived at Watts’s studio to have her portrait painted in 1879, what did Watts reportedly remove from her before he began painting? A locket from her around her neck which revealed a miniature of her rumoured lover Edward Albert, Prince of Wales. An ostrich feather from her bonnet. A brooch of a Guernsey lily from her coat. Her ruby drop earrings. Mary Watts was the artistic force behind the creation of Watts Chapel. In this Grade I-listed building, landscape, art and remembrance are beautifully blended together. Which of these materials were used to build up the fresco designs inside? Cement and mud Feathers and newspaper Hatting felt and sewing tape Sellotape and plasticine Who is this dashing young man? John Keats George Frederic Watts Lord Byron Dante Gabriel Rossetti Who are these star-crossed lovers? Paolo and Francesca Orpheus and Eurydice Apollo and Hyacinth GF and Mary Watts Watts was 86 when he painted Green Summer, the view from a window in his home, Limnerslease, in Compton village, Surrey. What type of tree is the main (dead) tree in the picture? A larch An oak A Scots pine A cedar
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Police seize 19,000 stolen artefacts in international art trafficking crackdown

101 suspects arrested and rare cultural treasures recovered in huge global investigation

Thu 7 May 2020 11.09 BST

Last modified on Thu 7 May 2020 19.35 BST

Spanish police recovered a unique Tumaco gold mask.
Spanish police recovered a unique Tumaco gold mask. Photograph: Interpol

Two huge international police operations targeting the trade in stolen artworks and archaeological artefacts have led to the arrest of 101 people and the recovery of more than 19,000 items, including a pre-Columbian gold mask, a carved Roman lion and thousands of ancient coins.

A Menaion from 1760 was seized in Romania as well as coins.
A Menaion from 1760 was seized in Romania as well as coins. Photograph: Interpol

The joint initiatives – which involved officers from Interpol, Europol, the World Customs Organization and many national police forces – focused on the criminal networks that steal from museums, plunder archaeological sites and take advantage of the chaos in war-afflicted countries to loot their cultural treasures.

Details of the two concurrent investigations carried out last autumn are emerging only now for operational reasons.

Police officers in Spain recovered several rare pre-Columbian objects at Madrid’s Barajas airport, including a unique Tumaco gold mask, gold figurines and pieces of ancient jewellery. All had been illegally acquired by looting in Colombia.

Three traffickers were arrested in Spain, while Colombian police carried out a series of searches in Bogotá, resulting in the confiscation of a further 242 pre-Columbian objects – the largest such seizure in the country’s history.

Colombian authorities retrieved 242 objects.
Colombian authorities retrieved 242 objects. Photograph: Interpol

Spain’s Guardia Civil police force said nine people were arrested in the country during the crackdown, and a Roman lion carved in limestone was recovered, as well as a frieze and three Roman columns.

Argentinian federal police seized 2,500 ancient coins, Latvian state police a further 1,375 coins, and Afghan customs officials at Kabul confiscated 971 cultural objects bound for Istanbul.

Other items recovered during the operations included fossils, paintings, ceramics and historical weapons.

Cultural objects seized in Italy.
Cultural objects seized in Italy. Photograph: Interpol

Interpol said particular attention had been paid to monitoring online marketplaces. In the course of a “cyber patrol week”, officers led by the Italian carabinieri gathered information and identified targets that led to the seizure of 8,670 cultural objects offered for sale online.

“The number of arrests and objects show the scale and global reach of the illicit trade in cultural artefacts, where every country with a rich heritage is a potential target,” said Interpol’s secretary general, Jürgen Stock.

“If you then take the significant amounts of money involved and the secrecy of the transactions, this also presents opportunities for money laundering and fraud as well as financing organised crime networks.”

Afghan customs recovered 971 cultural objects at Kabul airport.
Afghan customs recovered 971 cultural objects at Kabul airport. Photograph: Interpol

Europol said law enforcement agencies across the world needed to combat what it termed a “global phenomenon” that went well beyond the trade in looted artefacts, and that was closely related to other kinds of widespread criminal activity.

“Organised crime has many faces,” said its executive director, Catherine de Bolle. “The trafficking of cultural goods is one of them: it is not a glamorous business run by flamboyant gentlemen forgers, but by international criminal networks. You cannot look at it separately from combating trafficking in drugs and weapons: we know that the same groups are engaged, because it generates big money.”

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Leading writers take up ‘darkness residencies’ for art project

Bernardine Evaristo, Max Porter and Raymond Antrobus rise to artist Sam Winston’s challenge in A Delicate Sight to submit to time in blackout

Wed 6 May 2020 14.51 BST

Last modified on Wed 6 May 2020 16.04 BST26

‘Once you settle down into it you realise you’re a lot more perceptive than you thought you were’ … Nothing Happens by Sam Winston.
‘Once you settle down into it you realise you’re a lot more perceptive than you thought you were’ … Nothing Happens by Sam Winston.

Some of the UK’s most acclaimed authors, from the Folio prize-winning poet Raymond Antrobus to the Booker-winning novelist Bernardine Evaristo, have been searching for the light of inspiration in an unusual way: shutting themselves away for hours in complete darkness.

These “darkness residencies” are the brainchild of the artist and writer Sam Winston, part of his immersive project, A Delicate Sight. Winston asked Evaristo and Antrobus, as well as Don Paterson and Max Porter, to spend hours in blackout before writing something inspired by heightened senses, identity, imagination, sensory reduction and rest. The project launched online on Wednesday, with workshops, interviews and a film by the Bafta-winning documentary maker Anna Price. An exhibition at the National Writing Centre and the Barbican, as well as a book, are due to follow later this year.

Winston first started drawing without sight in 2015 after becoming interested in “how the mind makes images from what it can’t see”. Over the following years he spent long periods in the dark, culminating last year with a month spent living and making art works in darkness.

“I started looking at different ways of making work away from the screen and I guess the most extreme way of doing that was shutting my eyes,” Winston said. “Apart from feeling a bit goofy, once you settle down into it you realise you’re a lot more perceptive than you thought you were, so what happens is there’s a lot more subtlety to your experience.”

During his 672 hours in darkness, Winston created three large drawings, recording notes while he was working. After emerging into the light, he attempted to recreate the images he had imagined in the dark. Both versions of these drawings will be displayed as part of this year’s exhibition.

It was a privilege to offer an experience he found “deeply restorative” as well as creative to other writers, he said. “I really enjoyed saying to the authors, can I commission you to do nothing, to literally stop, give yourselves the space and time to wind down, don’t give yourself an agenda, and just see what happens. I know from my own experience that that’s exactly the time a new idea wants to pop its head out.”

Porter, author of the bestselling Grief Is the Thing With Feathers, said he began by “humming and chatting to the room as if I might offend it” but quickly found “you let go of any preconceived idea of achieving anything”.

“I have a busy, noisy home life so it was radically quiet,” he said. “Probably the only time in my whole adult life I have been on my own doing nothing. Not travelling, not parenting, not working, not even thinking on a subject. Just being in the room.”

Antrobus, who won the Ted Hughes and Folio prizes for The Perseverance, a collection of poems exploring his experience of deafness, said he went through a range of emotions during the five hours he spent in the dark. “It was very visceral at first,” he said, “lots of childhood memories came to me, including a memory of the first night as a child I slept in my bedroom without my sister (we used to share a bedroom as kids but then she got her own room when she was 10 and I was 6) and I remember thinking how much I felt her absence even in the dark.”

The poet also found his sense of taste was so heightened in the dark that when he drank a protein shake, “it brought on a strong craving for something real and hearty … like hummus and bread.”

Porter said the piece he has written explores the “disconnect between the person in the dark and the person emerged”, adding that the “weird, discombobulated feeling” of being in the dark has echoed strangely during the coronavirus lockdown.

The outbreak shares the “sense of seeing things incredibly clearly”, he explained, offering “a degree of weird clarity regarding systemic things, scale, sound, selfhood in relation to the world, family, time etc … combined with a very trapped, spectacularly blank, nothingness”.

For Winston, the darkness project offers parallels to our current situation. “Hopefully it is a good opportunity to listen,” he said, “to take stock of some of the habits we’re not having to do at the moment. Similar to this exercise, it is a good opportunity to drop down and see what priorities are interesting to you.”

A Delicate Sight – which takes its name from the eye’s increased sensitivity to light after spending time in darkness – is now inviting the general public to give the experience a try. “We often go looking for imagination within books or literature or music … why don’t we go looking for imagination inward-facing?” said Winston.

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