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April 12 2013

Four short links: 12 April 2013

  1. Wikileaks ProjectK Code (Github) — open-sourced map and graph modules behind the Wikileaks code serving Kissinger-era cables. (via Journalism++)
  2. Plan Your Digital Afterlife With Inactive Account Manageryou can choose to have your data deleted — after three, six, nine or 12 months of inactivity. Or you can select trusted contacts to receive data from some or all of the following services: +1s; Blogger; Contacts and Circles; Drive; Gmail; Google+ Profiles, Pages and Streams; Picasa Web Albums; Google Voice and YouTube. Before our systems take any action, we’ll first warn you by sending a text message to your cellphone and email to the secondary address you’ve provided. (via Chris Heathcote)
  3. Leo Caillard: Art GamesCaillard’s images show museum patrons interacting with priceless paintings the way someone might browse through slides in a personal iTunes library on a device like an iPhone or MacBook. Playful and thought-provoking. (via Beta Knowledge)
  4. Lanyrd Pro — helping companies keep track of which events their engineers speak at, so they can avoid duplication and have maximum opportunity to promote it. First paid product from ETecher and Foo Simon Willison’s startup.

February 15 2013

Four short links: 15 February 2013

  1. Ed Startups in a Nutshell (Dan Meyer) — I couldn’t agree with Dan more: The Internet is like a round pipe. Lecture videos and machine-scored exercises are like round pegs. They pass easily from one end of the pipe to the other. But there are square and triangular pegs: student-student and teacher-student relationships, arguments, open problems, performance tasks, projects, modeling, and rich assessments. These pegs, right now, do not flow through that round pipe well at all.
  2. 3D Printed Portraiture: Past, Present, and Future — impressive collection of 3D scans of museum collections of portraiture. Check out his downloadable design files. (via Bruce Sterling)
  3. Versu — interactive storytelling, with AI and conversation modeling.
  4. Weird Things Found on Taobao — this is what I never ow my head. (via Beta Knowledge)

September 11 2012

Four short links: 11 September 2012

  1. Liz Neely Talks 3D Digitisation, 3D Printing (Seb Chan) — On July 19th, Tom and Mike Moceri arrived at the Art Institute dock in a shiny black SUV with a BATMAN license plate and a trunk packed with a couple Makerbots. Our event was different from #Met3D in that we focused on allowing staff to experience 3D scanning and printing first hand. We began the day using iPads and 123D Catch to scan artworks. In the afternoon, the two Makerbots started printing in our Ryan Education Center and Mike demonstrated modelling techniques, including some examples using a Microsoft Kinect.
  2. Keys to a Fast Web App (Steve Souders) — I’m obsessed with caching. It’s the biggest missed opportunity and so I’m going to spend the next few months focused on caching. Analyzing caching is difficult. In the lab it’s hard (and time consuming) to test filling and clearing the cache. There’s no caching API that makes it easy to manipulate and measure.
  3. So Many Devices (Luke Wroblewski) — so many different screen sizes and pixel densities to worry about.
  4. 3D-Printed Tools in the DeRisi Lab“There’s hardly a microscope in our building that does not have some 3D-printed part on it.” —Joseph DeRisi, UCSF.

August 28 2012

Four short links: 28 August 2012

  1. Javascript Tips for Non-Specialists (OmniTI) — “hey kid, you’re going to have to write browser Javascript. Read this and you’ll avoid the obvious cowpats.”
  2. Museum Datasets (Seb Chan) — collections metadata aren’t generally in good quality (often materials are indexed at the “box level”, ie this item number is a BOX and it contains photos of these things), and aren’t all that useful. The story about the Parisian balcony grille is an excellent reminder that the institution’s collections aren’t a be-all and end-all for researchers.
  3. Hurricane Electric BGP Toolkit — open source tools for diagnosing network problems. (via Nelson Minar)
  4. Evernote Smart Notebook by Moleskine — computer vision to straighten up photographed pages of the notebook, and the app recognizes special stickers placed on the book as highlights and selections. Nifty micro-use of augmented reality.

August 18 2012

David Bowie: the mannequin who fell to earth

The V&A plans to use David Bowie's exotic costumes to chart his life and times in an exhibition next year

David Bowie is to part-curate an exhibition of his life and work told primarily through his extravagant costumes at the Victoria and Albert museum next year.

The show will chart his rise to cult rock star status from his early years in Brixton, south London, using his collection of outfits to illustrate his constantly changing identity.

Details about the clothes are being kept under wraps until next month's official announcement of the show, but the V&A's director confirmed to the Observer that Bowie is involved in selecting exhibits. Many of the flamboyant outfits worn by Bowie in his years as a pioneer of rock style will come from his own collection.

The exhibition is expected to draw large numbers of visitors. However, some critics lament what they see as a further descent of a serious museum into the cult of celebrity.

Bowie's look was inseparable from his sound. The 65-year-old singer and actor, who merged rock and theatre with his androgynous alter ego Ziggy Stardust, is synonymous with futuristic costumes and outlandish makeup, from space-samurai outfits to white satin kimonos, flame-red hair to eye-liner.

He achieved wide popularity with his psychedelic rock single Space Oddity, coinciding with the first moon landing, and became an international star with albums such as The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. His films include The Man Who Fell to Earth.

Speaking to the Observer, Bowie's biographer Paul Trynka said that Bowie was at the forefront of fashion, recreating his own image with the aid of cutting-edge designers.

Seeing the costumes close-up would be amazing, he said. "Although he's an artist who… doesn't tend to revisit his own past, there's a kind of contradiction in that he's collected his pieces for over two decades, lots of them historic and iconic, not just for Bowie fans but for popular fashion… He's always had a public presentation in mind." Costumes that Trynka expects to be included in the exhibition at the V&A include the "bunny leotard" created by Kansai Yamamoto, one of the avant-garde designers whose potential was spotted by Bowie.

"That was quite groundbreaking because Yamamoto wasn't known in the UK," Trynka said. "Although other pop stars had flirted with high fashion, [Bowie] was the first one to use it as an integral part of his look. He then went on to even more outrageous Yamamoto designs. There's a fantastic one with hugely-inflated legs … and I suspect that will be there … [It] is engagingly ludicrous. Nobody had that effrontery to wear those kinds of outfits before."

Among other likely highlights, he said, are homemade catsuits created by the late Freddi Buretti, a designer who described himself as a "seamstress".

Martin Roth, the V&A's director, said: "Bowie is incomparable. No one has inspired the whole world not only in terms of music but also arts, fashion and style. He created a vision of individualism for an entire generation."

Others are less impressed, particularly following the V&A's 2007 exhibition dedicated to Kylie Minogue, which included her dungarees from the Australian soap Neighbours. Critics felt that it was unworthy of a museum dedicated to showcasing the finest arts and crafts.

The Bowie show has been condemned by Michael Daley, director of ArtWatch UK, the museums watchdog: "The museum world is losing the plot. They're just crazed about numbers at any cost… Obviously you could fill the V&A every day of the week if you had a pop concert or a bunch of celebs."

Noting that the V&A also covers fashion, he added: "Fashion is a bigger thing… than the cult of one man. If Bowie, why not Liberace? It's about the cult of celebrity, particularly youth." Bowie, he added, did not fit the museum's remit for recording significant fashion.

The V&A is of course tapping into a demand, but whether a cultural museum should be meeting it is another matter. The Kylie Minogue exhibition attracted 271,000 visitors and was one of the museum's most popular shows.

Trynka, who wrote the Bowie biography Starman, said: "Bowie epitomises Britain's influence on fashion and textiles. He represents the best of it. Kylie is a wonderful pop icon, but she hasn't had a lasting effect on popular culture outside of her fanbase."

Today Bowie himself remains elusive. He has not toured since 2006, and turns down requests to appear in public – most recently, the Olympic Games closing ceremony, although his song Fashion was used.

There have been reports of ill-health. Roth said: "[People] try to build a story around him. There's a lot of gossip."

Bowie's spokesman declined to comment.


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August 17 2012

Lost Matisse inspires topless protest in Caracas

More than a dozen women wearing nothing but red genie pants demand return of art work to Venezuela

The guards in front of Caracas's Museum of Contemporary Art did not appear to feel too threatened by the protest taking place on their doorstep.

Early one recent morning more than a dozen women wearing nothing but red genie pants gathered at the doors of the institution from where Henri Matisse's Odalisque in Red Trousers went missing, to ask for the prompt return of the painting they were emulating.

The women were photographed by the Venezuelan artist Violette Bule in poses reminiscent of the 1925 post-impressionist work that was replaced with a fake over a decade ago.

"My main goal is to have the original returned but I also want to call attention to the irony behind the way the art market works," said Bule, who masterminded the ensemble. "After this scandal, the Odalisque will surely be worth much more," she added.

Though the painting is said to have been recovered by FBI agents in Miami, details of the operation or the exact whereabouts of the Odalisque – valued at well over $3m (£2m) – have yet to be revealed. Two weeks ago, the Venezuelan attorney general, Luisa Ortega, declared to the press that her two attempts to contact US officials regarding the painting had gone unanswered. No other announcements have been made since.

In the meantime, the mystery behind the theft of the semi-naked woman is leading some to doubt whether the oil painting allegedly offered to the undercover agents is not in fact another copy.

"I am fascinated about how art works are reproduced. At the end of the day, it turns out, that it doesn't really matter if you are looking at the original or at the fake," Bule said.

But for Wanda de Guébriant, who directs the Archive Matisse in France, telling the original from the fake is central to her role. "The FBI called me shortly after the operation happened. They said they'd call again but they haven't. Who knows?" said Guébriant. "Depending on who is involved, sometimes we never find out what happens," she added.

For Guillermo Barrios, an expert in museum studies, the irony is twofold. He said: "After all the attention this has garnered the fake too will worth a lot of money. It's become a cult figure".


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Reposted bygroupbuys groupbuys

Return of lost Matisse revives questioning of Caracas museum

Auditor found 14 works unaccounted for in checks following discovery that Odalisque in Red Trousers had been stolen

For the curators of Venezuela's most prestigious modern art museum, the recent reappearance of a Matisse that was stolen from their collection more than a decade ago ought to have been cause for joy and relief.

But the FBI sting operation that recovered the French painter's 1925 work Odalisque in Red Trousers in Miami last month has also resurrected awkward questions about more than a dozen other valuable pieces said to be "unaccounted for" at the Caracas Museum of Contemporary Art (MACCSI), including works by Jasper Johns, Henry Moore, Lucian Freud and Jesús Soto.

A former director and an investigative journalist have raised concerns about the works that may be missing, some of which are estimated to be worth as much as $3m (£2m). They claim these are signs of deeper problems, including a lack of transparency, inadequate supervision and personal animosities at an institution that was once deemed among the leading contemporary art centres in Latin America, but has struggled since its founder, Sofía Imber, was sacked by the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez, live on public television.

The theft of the Odalisque was the biggest indication of problems at the museum, which was founded in 1973 and became a symbol of the country's oil wealth. Matisse's depiction of a semi-nude, dark-haired woman, which hung in a place of honour, was stolen at some point and replaced by a fake that was discovered in 2002.

It remained missing until last month, when the FBI arrested two suspects – Cuban Pedro Antonio Marcuello Guzman and Mexican María Martha Elisa Ornelas Lazo– who had allegedly been trying to sell the picture to undercover FBI agents for $740,000.

For the former director of the museum, Rita Salvestrini, the investigation in Miami has brought back doubts she raised in 2002 about the running of the museum that she took over after Imber was fired.

After discovering the Matisse hanging on the walls was a fake, Salvestrini ordered a series of full inventory checks. When she realised several pieces were missing, she called in an external auditor, who reported that 14 works – including Jasper Johns's Brooms and a piece by Soto that once hung behind her predecessor's desk – were unaccounted for. In addition, close to 200 other works were uncatalogued. "Both instances were equally alarming because they reflect that none of the controls were being followed," Salvestrini said.

"To me the findings [of the auditor] should have been used to correct a situation but the museum became a place where people's answers were designed to confuse and not to clarify," she said.

It was unclear whether the 14 pieces were temporarily misplaced or stolen, but efforts to track them down came to little.

One work, an etching by Freud, was purchased from the Timothy Taylor gallery in London, but appears not to have arrived at the museum. The London gallery said it had sold 55 Freud etchings to the Caracas museum between 1998 and 2001, "all of which were invoiced to the museum and shipped directly as per instruction".

Marinela Balbi, author of The Kidnap of the Odalisque, said there were 365 discrepancies in the number of works catalogued and accounted for at the museum. "These were institutions that were managed as if they were private, even though they are public. There was no accountability, or controls," said Balbi, who added that the tumult caused by the sacking of the founder also created a period of confusion that thieves may have exploited. After the sacking of Imber "there was a lot of institutional uncertainty coupled with a certain carelessness in inventory practices and a permissiveness in moving works to and from the museum", she said.

The museum denies any of its works are missing.

"Works of art get stolen all the time … Until the FBI reports its findings it would be irresponsible to speculate," said Adriana Meneses Imber, former director of the Jacobo Borges Museum and the daughter of the MACCSI founder. She said: "With the change in administration from my mother to the other person, an inventory was conducted and they said several pieces were missing. That is completely untrue."

The museum did not respond to repeated requests by the Guardian to be shown the works said to be "unaccounted for". On a recent visit there were very few pieces from its permanent collection on display – although Picasso's Suite Vollard etchings were among them.


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August 16 2012

Unilever ends £4.4m sponsorship of Tate Modern's turbine hall

Search on for new sponsor while hall closes during construction of £250m extension at Bankside gallery

Unilever has ended its sponsorship of Tate Modern's Turbine Hall annual commission that has produced some of the London gallery's most memorable exhibitions.

Tino Sehgal's These Associations, the first live performance piece in the former Bankside power station, will be the final work in the Unilever-sponsored series, which has attracted almost 30 million visitors over the past dozen years.

The £4.4m sponsorship deal with Unilever, has led to 13 commissions, including Bruce Nauman's soundscapes, Olafur Eliasson's huge, yellow, artificial indoor sun The Weather Project in 2003-04, which saw visitors stretch out on the floor of the vast space to bask in its glow, and Doris Salcedo's Shibboleth in 2007, which featured a crack running the length of the hall. Some commissions have been aquired for the gallery's permanent collection, including the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei's Sunflower Seeds, although it bought only a tenth of the 100m porcelain seeds, all individually sculpted and painted by Chinese craft workers, shown in the 2010 exhibition.

The current show, in which participants stop and engage visitors with intimate, personal stories, closes on 28 October.

The Turbine Hall is due to temporarily close next year to enable construction of the gallery's Herzog & de Meuron-designed extension. The project, which is planned to cost £215m in total, is due for completion by 2016 – delayed from its previously projected opening of this year.

The first phase of the extension, the £90m performance art and video installation space called the Tanks, opened in July.

A spokeswoman for Tate said: "Due to the building works at Tate Modern, there will not be a Turbine Hall commission in 2013. We will start discussions with other companies about the sponsorship of the Turbine Hall commission from 2014 onwards.

Unilever, whose brands include Pot Noodle and PG Tips, will continue as a corporate member of Tate. But the company said it is planning a change of direction in its sponsorship programme, which is more focused on sustainability and the environment.

Other prominent Tate sponsors include Bloomberg, the business and financial news organisation, and, more controversially, the oil company BP. The Tate received £45.1m in public funding last year, and raised an additional £67.9m. Its 100,000 members contribute arbout £3m per year.


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August 08 2012

Ashmolean buys Manet's Mademoiselle Claus after raising £7.8m

Oxford museum succeeds in campaign to keep in Britain painting regarded as a key impressionist work

The Ashmolean museum in Oxford has succeeded in buying Edouard Manet's portrait of Mademoiselle Claus, regarded as a key impressionist work, after raising £7.83m in just eight months, including hundreds of donations from the public ranging from £1.50 to £10,000.

If the appeal had failed, the painting would have left Britain, after being sold at auction last year for a record £28.5m – the difference in price represents the tax breaks for works of art going to British museum collections.

On Wednesday, two pale serious young women came face to face in Oxford: Fanny Claus, the subject of the arresting 1868 painting, and Mara Talbot, the 11-year-old who, with her mother, gave the final £30 donation to the public appeal.

"Maybe if she was smiling I might like her more," Mara eventually concluded, after studying her intently, and dealing coolly with the media – the photographers were bewitched by her own choice of outfit for the day, complete with flowery hair band, which chimed uncannily well with the painting – "but I do like her very much".

Mara's mother, Vicky Hirsch, a freelance art teacher, had only seen photographs of the painting – a study for Manet's Le Balcon – when she gave £30 to the appeal last week. "We live quite near and we come here often. It's so important for people to be able to see real things in museums for free. And it seems appropriate in this week when we're celebrating the achievements of individuals in the Olympics, that the little somebody like me can afford to give can make such a big difference."

Christopher Brown, director of the Ashmolean – one of the oldest public museums in the world and the most visited outside London, with a million visitors a year – only saw the painting himself for the first time in February, in the gallery of a London art dealer. It had just been sold to an overseas buyer for £28.5m, but the government had put a temporary export bar on it to allow a British museum the chance of matching the price. Brown was enchanted, and did some rapid sums in his head.

"I realised that both the National Gallery, and the National Gallery of Scotland, who would both have liked it very much, were tied up in fundraising for the Titians, and that because it carried an 80% tax bill for the owners, which would be waived if it came to a national collection, we could get it for a quarter of its value – and that we really might be in with a chance."

The Heritage Lottery Fund gave £5.9m, the Art Fund charity another £850,000, and the rest came from trusts, patrons, and more than 1,000 donations from individual members of the public. In gratitude, it will be sent on a national tour to regional museums next year.

The painter John Singer Sargent fell in love with the picture in 1884, bought it at the studio sale after Manet's death, and brought it to England. By then the pale young woman was dead, too: Claus, a brilliant musician, had married the artist Pierre Prins, but died of tuberculosis in 1877, aged just 31. The painting had remained with Sargent's descendants until the sale.

The Ashmolean is most famous for its archaeology collections, but has a marvellous art collection including outstanding works by Pissarro and other contemporaries of Manet, and early Van Goghs. However, of Manet himself, in common with most British collections, they have very little: a small landscape and two unfinished oils, and a watercolour version of his Le Déjeuner Sur L'Herbe, a work considered scandalous in its day.

Colin Harrison, senior curator of European art, has already been on to the Quai D'Orsay museum in Paris to discuss exhibiting his new treasure side-by-side with Manet's very different final version, in which Fanny has retreated into the background, her face a blur, losing the expression of a woman deep in some private contemplation that makes the earlier version so haunting.

"Another obvious exhibition would be Manet in England – asking why in fact there are so few Manets in England, a real puzzle," Harrison said.

Although the picture will go on a national tour next year, Brown cannot wait to have it home permanently.

"Our pictures are really very good, but I think when you see this work on the gallery walls it will sing in a way that few of the others can manage."


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August 06 2012

John Travolta's white suit to star in V&A exhibition

Saturday Night Fever's 'shining light' in 1970s polyester tracked down for museum's Hollywood Costume show

The most famous white suit in the world, a classic example of the finest 1970s polyester tailoring, has been tracked down by the Victoria and Albert Museum after an international search.

The three-piece suit was as much a star of the 1977 film Saturday Night Fever as John Travolta who played Tony Manero, or the Bee Gees, who provided the soundtrack for the story of a young man who disco-dances his way out of the ghetto.

Bought off the peg in a cheap men's clothes store in Brooklyn, the suit was last seen in public 17 years ago, when it was sold at a Christie's auction to an anonymous bidder for $145,000 (£93,000), three times the top estimate. The curators of this autumn/winter's exhibition on Hollywood costume were determined to find it and put out an international appeal – and to their surprise it has turned up in London, in immaculate condition, and the owner has agreed to lend it to the museum.

The owner, who wishes to remain anonymous but has let slip his age, is not a collector.

He said: "I was nine years old when Saturday Night Fever came out and before seeing the film I had already fallen in love with the legendary soundtrack.

"The ritual of [Travolta's character] choosing his clothes to go out at night, in a world of his own and disconnected from the reality of his life, particularly resonated with me. It was the first film I really loved,

and in essence it was part of my own rite of passage … When I saw the suit on sale, I wanted to buy it because of what it represented to me personally."

Professor Deborah Nadoolman Landis, a designer and historian of film costume – her own credits include Michael Jackson's Thriller video and Raiders of the Lost Ark – is senior curator of the exhibition. She said: "Saturday Night Fever was actually a very dark little movie, and this suit, made of completely gross polyester, was the shining light, the symbol of aspiration and hope that shone in the film in that heart-stopping moment when it all comes together, the music, the lights, the suit, and Travolta dances in it.

"It took me totally by surprise. I fell completely in love with him, as everyone who sees the movie does."

The broad lapels, tight waistcoat and high-waisted flared trousers – a 71cm (28in) waist which Travolta could never get into these days – have been endlessly imitated. But there is no doubt that this is the genuine article. The curators have already been to inspect it, and found conclusive proof in the actor's handwriting.

It was first auctioned in 1978 for charity, when the American critic Gene Siskel, who listed Saturday Night Fever as one of his favourite films of all time, paid $2,000. The actor signed it and the inscription is still faintly visible in the lining: "So here's to a classic, your friend, John Travolta."

Originally the character of Tony Manero was to strut in a black suit, but white was the inspired choice of the film's costume designer, Patrizia Von Brandenstein. "Heroes from Sir Lancelot to Tom Mix wore white in the great contests to express purity and single-minded devotion to the task at hand. So for me, white was the only choice for the suit."

She went shopping in Brooklyn where the character lived, with the director John Badham, and Travolta – who was then starring in a hit television series, Welcome Back, Kotter. As word spread that he was in the neighbourhood, screaming mobs descended on the small clothes shop where he was trying on the suit, beating on the windows and pleading with him to come out.

Nadoolman Landis said buying it off the peg was a piece of genius: "Even in a low-budget movie like Saturday Night Fever, they could have found the money to make Tony a suit – but the fact that it was bought from an ordinary shop that anyone could go into gave it a great truth, exactly the sort of garment somebody from his background would see and long to own."

Brandenstein actually bought several suits, two to dance in, and two that had to be turned up at the hem for Travolta's much shorter stunt double. The other suit worn by Travolta was stolen from an exhibition in the US, so Nadoolman Landis had almost abandoned hope of including the item in the V&A show, which includes costumes worn by characters including Pirates of the Caribbean's Jack Sparrow, Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany's and Darth Vader.

"The costumes in this exhibition are so powerful that each has its own soundtrack which the visitor will hear in their heads – but even in this company the white suit is special," she said. "It is the Turin shroud, the closest an ordinary mortal can come to the body of the actor."

• Hollywood Costume, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, October 2012 to January 2013


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August 04 2012

Why the Southbank Centre redevelopment plan is sheer folly

Cramming London's South Bank with restaurants and retail will rob the capital of precious open space

This summer saw an exhibition called Invisible, about the value of things you can't see, and about spaces left open for the imagination to inhabit. It shows how important it is to have some places where no one is filling your head with messages or sales pitches or commands to take part in some scripted and planned activity.

The message of Invisible, at the Hayward Gallery, appears to have been lost on the administration of the Southbank Centre, where the Hayward stands. For they are currently pushing forward a plan for redeveloping the Hayward and the neighbouring Queen Elizabeth Hall that will mean thrusting commercial space into almost every spare void in and around these buildings. They want to put restaurants on the roof and shopping in the undercroft and to the sides. They want to stuff the place, in the words of John Donne, before, behind, between, above, below.

They are currently running a "competitive interview process with a selection panel" to choose architects for the development. According to the brief issued to shortlisted practices, the plan is to insert more than 5,000 sq metres of food, drink and retail. That's about one-and-a-half times the space currently available to the public for enjoying art and music, which is going to be only slightly increased. A glass atrium is suggested between the gallery and the concert hall. At the nearby Royal Festival Hall a familiar blend of chain restaurants has already been installed – Yo! Sushi, Eat, Giraffe, Strada, Wagamama – and there seems every reason to believe that this pattern will continue.

The plan seems to be, in other words, to make the Southbank Centre resemble Terminal 5 or Canary Wharf or any moderately upmarket shopping mall you can think of, where steel and glass frame a predictable retail offer. It will also further the transformation of the southern side of the Thames into a long strip of importuning and pitching that starts at the tawdry fringe of the old County Hall and continues past the London Eye. Here, anything left open for wandering or reflection is seen as a missed opportunity for exploitation.

Yet the Southbank Centre should not be like everywhere else. It should be a place apart, where you can breathe a different kind of air and see the city in a different way. Its raised walkways give you a new perspective on the river, and its rugged 1960s architecture, like a craggy rock formation, creates a different sense of time to central London's frenetic streets. These concrete structures have been much criticised but even though they have been minimally cared-for over several decades they still have nobility and – something increasingly precious because it is getting rarer – the provision of space and surface that is open, free, unprogrammed, unconsumed by branding and marketing.

Its obduracy could be an obstacle to the mall-ification of the South Bank, but the Southbank Centre has taken care to obtain from the government immunity from listing for five years – that is, it will be impossible for the Hayward and Queen Elizabeth Hall to be listed as buildings of architectural or historical importance, which considerably weakens their protection against inappropriate changes. This decision is plain outrageous: whether you like these buildings or not, they are by any measure significant buildings of their time and deserving of listing. The centre says it is working on "a conservation management plan" for its buildings but it's hard to see how their essential qualities will withstand smothering in retail.

Nor can we be confident that the centre is going about choosing its architect in the best possible way. This is an important commission and also a challenging one, requiring particular skills and sensitivities, and in most European countries there would be two independent architects on the selection jury. Here there is only one architect, Rick Mather, who is the author of a long-standing masterplan for the South Bank as a whole. Rather, the key decision-makers seem to be figures such as the centre's property director Mark Rushworth. Rushworth was formerly at the developers Brookfield, whose Strata tower was awarded the Carbuncle Cup for the ugliest building of the year, and whatever his skills as a developer, the South Bank would benefit from a level of architectural advice that it does not appear to be getting.

A shortlist for the competition was recently announced, which includes some good architects but whose rationale is not obvious. It looks like a bet-hedging list, with several who might be regarded as safe pairs of hands but who don't have a special affinity for the location. Grimshaw is there, famous for its Eden Project, but which doesn't seem particularly well suited to the nimble footwork this project would require. One international superstar, Rem Koolhaas's practice OMA, is there, which raises the question why it was chosen and no others like it. Somewhat bizarrely, another practice, Allies and Morrison, was added after an initial list of seven was announced. It was said that its first emailed application was wrongly rejected as spam.

Of course the Southbank Centre is not making these plans out of a desire to vandalise the place. It wants to improve the backstage areas of its concert halls and art galleries, and it needs to fix the Hayward's roof. It wants larger foyers. It needs money to do these things, and although the Arts Council has put up £20m (subject to plans being developed by an absurd deadline), it is not enough. It also likes the idea of "activity", of having people buzzing over every available surface, and so if it can install money-making business that also attract  people it looks like a win-win.

These ideas are not new. Over the past quarter-century successive administrators of the Southbank have put forward similar ideas. They got the architect Terry Farrell to design one such project in the late 1980s, which was roundly criticised for its excessive commercialism. Later, Richard Rogers proposed a giant glass roof that proved too ambitious for its own good. More recently they succeeded in making over the Royal Festival Hall and inserting that Giraffe and Yo! Sushi, the profitability of which has emboldened them to take the idea further. But the restaurants and shops are a relatively small part of the Festival Hall; they do not engulf it.

It's not that the Hayward and Queen Elizabeth Hall are beyond improvement, or that it's a bad thing to have a bite to eat from time to time. But these things require care, an awareness of what is special about the place they already have, and an idea of what it could be. None of these things are evident in the brief, in the selection process of the architects, and in the decision not to list the buildings.

The Southbank Centre says that we are at an early stage, and that it will "refine the brief, which will include an appropriate mix and usage of space". The trouble is that the brief doesn't need refining so much as tearing up and starting again.


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August 02 2012

Thieves steal Derby Museum artefacts worth £53,000

Police say hoard of items, including 18th- and 19th-century watches, were taken from depot between 2 May and 19 June

A collection of coins, medals and watches worth £53,000 has been stolen from a museum's storage facility. The 1,000 artefacts from the Derby Museum and Art Gallery's city-based storage site were stolen some time between 2 May and 19 June, Derbyshire police said. None of the items have been found.

Among the hoard is a collection of about 20 18th- and 19th-century gold and silver watches worth up to £3,000 each. These includes examples made by clockmaker and scientist John Whitehurst, who was a member of the Midlands' based Lunar Society, and a contemporary of famous Derby artist Joseph Wright.

Coins dating back more than 800 years have also been stolen, as well as more modern coins from the early 20th century. The items were locked away and only used for exhibitions and special viewings.

A spokeswoman for Derbyshire police said museum staff had worked on the collection recently, but the thefts came to light only when another museum made a request to borrow some of the items.

The theft was recorded with the Metropolitan police arts crime unit as well as the Arts Council England security advisory service in the hope that the thief would try to sell them.

Meanwhile, additional security measures and procedures have been put in place at the storage facility.

Investigating officer Detective Constable Dee Hornblower said: "There has been no sign of a break-in at the premises, so the possibility that this was carried out with inside knowledge has at this stage not been ruled out. We have circulated details of the stolen items to every police force in the country in the hope that they can be traced."

Derby city council cabinet member for leisure and culture Martin Repton said: "Our ultimate fear is that some of these items which are of a relative low monetary value could potentially be discarded by the culprit or culprits, meaning that they would be lost for ever with little chance of recovery.

"We are therefore also appealing to members of the public who may have any information to contact Derbyshire police."

Anyone with information about the incident, or the whereabouts of the stolen items, should call police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800-555 111.


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July 27 2012

Roman fine dining: Mildenhall Great Dish

In his ongoing tour of Britain's art treasures, Jonathan Jones is dazzled by a sumptuous serving dish from the 4th century AD


June 27 2012

Arab Spring photographs added to British Museum and V&A collection

Art Fund says it is giving £150,000 to establish joint collection that has been in development over the last three years

Photographs created in reaction to the Arab Spring of 2011 will form an important part of a major collection of Middle Eastern photography being established jointly by the British Museum and the V&A.

The Art Fund said it was giving £150,000 to establish a collection that has been in development by the two institutions over the last three years.

The fund's director, Stephen Deuchar, said it would help remedy an under-representation. "It is a response to the surge in interest in visual arts in that part of the world, a surge that has not been matched by its representation in museums generally."

Both institutions have hugely important photographic collections for slightly different reasons. Roughly speaking the British Museum collects to tell the stories of societies while the V&A explores the possibilities of particular mediums.

"Putting the two together allows so many different narratives and no narrative, I think, is more important at the moment than that of the contemporary Middle East," said the British Museum's director, Neil MacGregor. "That is a world that we need to understand and photography is a particularly powerful way of allowing us to do so."

More than 80 works by 22 artists form the collection to date including more recent photographs taken as a response to the Arab Spring. Most of the works will be on show at an exhibition called Light from the Middle East: New Photography at the V&A that will run from 13 November until 7 April 2013.

That show's curator, Marta Weiss, said contemporary Middle East photography was some of the "most exciting, innovative and varied art anywhere in the world."

The artists include Youssef Nabil who took portraits of the last surviving Yemeni seamen who settled in South Shields to the UK's oldest Muslim and Arab community; and the Iranian photographer Shadi Ghadirian who took portraits of women dressed in traditional late 19th century clothing but with modern anomalies added – such as sun glasses or a Pepsi can.

The donation came as the Art Fund gave an annual update on its activities and revealed a 20% rise in membership in 2011/12. That increase was down to the launch in April 2011 of its National Art Pass which gives free or discounted entry to museums and galleries across the UK.

The Fund gave a total of £6m to arts organisations to help them purchase works of art including its biggest ever grant of £2m which it gave to the National Gallery and National Galleries of Scotland for Titian's Diana and Callisto.


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New Middle Eastern photography comes to UK

An exhibition at the V&A in London this November offers a long-overdue opportunity to admire the sophistication of contemporary Middle Eastern photographic artists

In pictures: Light from the Middle East

The announcement that the V&A and the British Museum in London have acquired a major collection of Middle Eastern photography just ahead of the V&A's big November show of contemporary work, Light from the Middle East, is further evidence of how vibrant photography is in the region, and how relatively late we have been in catching up to that fact. As Marta Weiss, curator of the exhibition, notes: "contemporary photographic practice from and about the Middle East has been some of the most exciting, innovative and varied anywhere in the world".

That, in part, is to do with the ways photographers and artists have responded, both formally and in terms of subject matter, to the political upheavals in the region, including the Arab spring. The exhibition, which spans the past 20 years and includes the work of 30 artists from 13 different countries, is divided into three themes: Recording, Reframing and Resisting.

Alongside established photojournalists such as the Iranian-born Abbas, the V&A will be showing the work of Youssef Nabil, who once worked for David LaChapelle and was championed by Tracey Emin when she discovered his hand-coloured photographic prints made in homage to old Egyptian film stills.

More provocative is the work of Shadi Ghadirian, which was snapped up by the Saatchi Gallery in London and questions the traditional role of women in her native Iran. In her staged series, Like Everyday, Ghadirian mischievously places kitchen utensils over the faces of veiled women, playing with both language – "doormat", "hatchet-face" – and representation. Newsha Takavolian, a female photojournalist from Tehran, also addresses women's roles in Iranian society in her potent series of portraits, Mothers of Martyrs.

The V&A will also be showing the work of the Atlas Group, a fictional collective formed by Walid Raad, perhaps the best known contemporary artist from the Middle East. Lebanese-born Raad, who lives in New York, won the Deutsche Börse prize in 2007 and the prestigious Hasselblad prize last year. His practice uses still photography, video and text to address the history and politics of Lebanon in an often oblique way.

Politics, society, identity and belonging are recurring themes here, as well as the psychic fallout of war and revolution. But it is the ambitious and challenging ways artists and photographers have responded to those subjects that have made contemporary Middle Eastern photography so exciting, complex and multi-layered. It should be quite a show.


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June 26 2012

Britain Creates: when fashion and art collide

Getting fashion designers and artists to work together on a concept project might seem too abstract to succeed. But Britain Creates actually works

Let's be honest: art-fashion concept projects can be a little hard to get a handle on. I'm used to talking about beautiful dresses, new hot colours. Bikinis such as those Kate Moss wears; shoes that will give you Rosie Huntington-Whiteley's legs. Stuff that, frankly, we can all get the point of. The collaborative-artistic project stuff can seem, to someone as shallow and impatient as me, a little abstract and dry by comparison.

But you know what? It's fascinating what happens when you matchmake some of Britain's best fashion designers with artists. Britain Creates, conceived by the British Fashion Council as an opportunity to commemorate the London Olympics and to celebrate the breadth of British creative talent, does just that. It pairs fashion designers with visual artists to produce one-off collaborative works of art. The first thing that strikes me, looking at the nine artworks that have emerged, is that although this is fashion's pet project – backed by the BFC, in partnership with Harpers Bazaar magazine and with Selfridges, which is hosting a charity auction of two of the pieces – only one is a piece of clothing. Giles Deacon and Jeremy Deller have created a cloak that looks like a coat of arms come to life, which they have dubbed "an Arts and Crafts suit of armour for an athlete".

Seven of the pieces come within the category of visual artworks. Hussein Chalayan, who collaborated with Gavin Turk, felt that people expected "a dress with one of Gavin's images on it". Both keen to move beyond their comfort zones, they made The Four Minute Mile, a four-minute recording of Turk talking about art and Chalayan humming in accompaniment, set to a rhythmical soundtrack of running feet.

Putting designers and artists to work together poses the question of whether fashion is art. These pieces will be displayed first in the Victoria & Albert Museum; in August, they will move to Selfridges where they will be centrepieces of the Olympic window displays.

The first time Jonathan Saunders met up with artist Jess Flood-Paddock, they talked a lot about the differences between their worlds. "Fashion is a business," says Saunders. "I am in the service industry. My job is about meeting consumers' needs, which is totally different from fine art, which is about personal expression. We talked about consumerism, and Andy Warhol, and screen printing and the mass production of art." They found the similarities in what they do – "we are both process-driven" – and came up with an installation of 200 screen-printed plastic sheets hung on a rail. The effect is a little like walking into a high-end boutique where fine art swings from the hangers.

I spoke to Susanna Greeves, the curator of the exhibition, as she was overseeing the installation, and asked if she saw visual themes emerging. "If you look at it as an exhibition, there is a lot of radiance and luminosity and jewel-like colours," she say. "And you can also see an emphasis on craft, on the presence of a human hand in the making of these works. It makes me wonder if the artists are subliminally responding to the idea of the V&A as a setting."

The explicit theme is the Olympian spirit, in its broad sense. "The original Olympic values of strength, power, honesty – the inspiring stuff – were very much part of the brief," says Caroline Rush, CEO of the British Fashion Council, "but we also wanted it to be completely open-ended." Paul Smith and Charming Baker's installation of a tiny mouse holding up a bicycle, and Mary Katrantzou and Mark Titchner's digital video installation with the words "Courage, Ambition, Passion, Strength" show Olympic spirit, but both add a wink in the title. The mouse-and-bicycle is dubbed Triumph in the Face of Absurdity ("It's about the British way of rooting for the underdog," says Baker) while the Katrantzou/Titchner piece borrows a line from Emily Dickinson: "Tint the Pallid Landscape (Off to the wars in Lace)".

Matthew Williamson partnered Mat Colishaw, whose images of butterflies he had long admired, "but I hadn't realised that they were actually real, burned butterflies, in those pictures. And me being a kind of happy, upbeat person, when Mat told me that, I thought it was quite sad, even though I am drawn to his aesthetic, that distortion of nature. I wanted to take his butterflies and bring them back to life. So Mat gave me the canvas and I embellished it with tiny beads strung on the end of miniature drinking straws. Now you can still see the decay and the macabre element if you look closely, but you see the beauty first."

In an Olympic year, you can't keep positivity out of fashion. "If I could buy one piece, I'd buy the Celestial Bonnet, the five rings light installation by Stephen Jones and Cerith Wyn Evans," says Caroline Rush. "It's such a happy piece: a halo moment, a crowning glory. And it's just so, so beautiful."

Britain Creates 2012: Fashion + Art Collusion, a collaboration between the British Fashion Council and the V&A, 6-29 July (free).


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June 22 2012

Mark Wallinger interview

Turner prize-winner Mark Wallinger gives a tour of SITE, his largest UK show in more than a decade. He talks about his sea of 65,536 stones and playing noughts and crosses with scaffolders. Then he takes Adrian Searle out to graffiti Gateshead.



June 20 2012

Alan Turing: the short, brilliant life and tragic death of an enigma

Codebreaker and mathematician Alan Turing's legacy comes to life in a Science Museum exhibition

A German Enigma coding machine on loan from Mick Jagger and a 1950 computer with less calculating power than a smartphone but which was once the fastest in the world, are among the star objects in a new exhibition at the Science Museum devoted to the short, brilliant life and tragic death of the scientist Alan Turing.

"We are in geek heaven," his nephew Sir John Turing said, surrounded by pieces of computing history which are sacred relics to Turing's admirers, including a computer-controlled tortoise that had enchanted the scientist when he saw it at the museum in the 1951 Festival of Britain. "This exhibition is a great tribute to a very remarkable man," Turing said.

"My father was in awe of him, the word genius was often used in speaking of him in the family," he said, "but he also spoke of his eccentricity, of how he cycled to work at Bletchley wearing a gas mask to control his hayfever so the local people he passed dreaded that a gas attack was imminent."

The exhibition, marking the centenary of Turing's birth, tackles both the traumatic personal life and the brilliant science of the man who was a key member of the codebreaking team at Bletchley Park, and devised the Turing Test which is still the measure of artificial intelligence.

Turing was gay, and in 1952 while working at Manchester University, where he had a relationship with a technician called Arnold Murray, he was arrested and charged with gross indecency. He escaped prison only by agreeing to chemical castration through a year's doses of oestrogen – which curator David Rooney said had a devastating effect on him, mentally and physically. In 1954 he was found dead in his bed, a half eaten apple on the table beside him, according to legend laced with the cyanide which killed him.

His mother insisted that his death was accidental, part of an experiment to silver plate a spoon – he had previously gold plated another piece of cutlery by stripping the gold from a pocket watch – with the chemicals found in a pot on the stove. However the coroner's report, also on display, is unequivocal: Turing had consumed the equivalent of a wine glass of poison and the form records bleakly "the brain smelled of bitter almonds".

The death is wreathed with conspiracy theories, but Rooney's explanation for the apple is pragmatic: not an obsession with the poisoned apple in the Disney film of Snow White, as some have claimed, but a very intelligent man who had it ready to bite into to counteract the appalling taste of the cyanide.

His nephew said both the prosecution and death were devastating for the family, but they were delighted by the formal public apology offered in 2009 by then prime minister Gordon Brown.

The campaign for a posthumous pardon is more problematic he said, speaking as a senior partner at the law firm Clifford Chance.

"So many people were condemned properly under the then law for offences which we now see entirely differently. One would not wish to think that Turing won a pardon merely because he is famous, that might be just a step too far. But the suggestion that there might be some reparation by having him appear on the back of a bank note – that might indeed be good."

The exhibition includes the only surviving parts of one of the 200 bombe machines which ran day and night decoding German messages at sites around the country, each weighing a ton and all broken up for scrap after the war. The components were borrowed from the government intelligence centre at GCHQ after tortuous negotiations. Although visitors will not realise it, a short interview filmed at GCHQ is even more exceptional, the only film for public viewing ever permitted inside the Cheltenham complex.

By 1950 when the Pilot Ace computer, on which Turing did key development work, was finally running at the National Physical Laboratory, he had moved to Manchester, impatient at the slow pace of work in the postwar public sector. It is displayed beside a panel of tattered metal, part of a Comet, the first civilian passenger jet, which exploded over the Mediterranean killing all on board: the computer ran the millions of calculations to work out why.

Rooney says the exhibition is also intended to destroy the impression of Turing as a solitary boffin: it includes many of the people he worked with, who regarded him with awe and affection. When he came to see the computer tortoises in 1951 – they responded to light and scuttled back home when the bulb was switched on in their hutches – he also managed to break a game playing computer by recognising the work of a protege and cracking the algorithm on the spot: the computer flashed both "you've won" and "you've lost" messages at him, and then shut itself down in a sulk.

In an interview filmed for the exhibition his last researcher, Professor Bernard Richards of Manchester University, the man he was due to meet on the day of his death, says: "Turing struck me as a genius. He was on a higher plane."

Codebreaker – Alan Turing's life and legacy, free at the Science Museum, London, until June 2013.


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June 19 2012

Stella Vine and Chapman Family get together at mima

Alan Sykes gets ready for a double-act which is certain to fill Middlesbrough's thriving arts centre

Mima's monthly live art events are becoming a popular part of the Middlesbrough calendar. June's will see artist Stella Vine create a huge new painting that will serve as the backdrop for a concert by the rising local band Chapman Family.

Stella Vine, born Melissa Robson in Alnwick, Northumberland, previously earned her living as actor with Durham Theatre Company and then as a stripper in Soho before taking up painting in the 1990s. Her 2003 painting Hi Paul, can you come over, I'm really frightened shows a bug-eyed Princess Diana with blood dripping from her mouth. The work was bought for £600 by ad-man and collector Charles Saatchi, generated predictable media outrage in predictable places, and gained its creator a degree of fame or, at least, notoriety.

As well as Princess Diana she has also done portraits of Fabio Capello, the former England football manager, Lily Cole, Kate Moss and miscellaneous other celebrities. She also designed a successful series of t-shirts for Top Shop. Germaine Greer, in the catalogue to Vine's solo exhibition at Modern Art Oxford, wrote:

Stella Vine paints her big-eyed subjects with as much intensity as any dazzled fan could muster and as much tenderness as if they were kittens on a chocolate box, but the painted gesture is driven by something darker, something bitter, something that makes the surface bulge and slither.

Vine has now made her base in London but still takes regular trips back north. Earlier this year she created a portrait of Anne, Charlotte & Emily Bronte and generously gave of 100 prints of the work to be sold for £150 each in aid of the repair of the roof of the Brontes' local church in Haworth, St Michael's and All Angels, where Charlotte and Emily Bronte are buried, and where their father, the Rev Patrick Bronte, served as perpetual curate for over 40 years, if not perpetuity.


The Chapman Family hale from across the Tees at Stockton, and launched their second EP, Cruel Britannia yesterday. Kingsley Chapman, the band's lead singer, is also a gallery assistant at mima. They have performed with Stella, who is a fan of their music, before, when she made the backdrop to a performance they gave at the How the Light Gets In festival at Hay-on-Wye last week.

Tickets for the event will almost certainly have sold out by now, but the event is being streamed live here. Mima live events for this year conclude on August 16th with a garden party and performance by Vin Garbutt.

You can see Stella's progress on her work here


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June 12 2012

Stephen Fry steals show, and Greek hearts, in Parthenon marbles debate

A talk in London about whether the British Museum should return the sculptures was screened live to an audience in Athens

They came in their Athenian finery, filing patiently into the low-lit auditorium and waiting to hear a message of hope. Its deliverer: a man who until recently was unknown to them but who is now regarded as something of a hero; a saviour of the Greek people in the face of foreign meddling and arrogance; a man who has come to their rescue in troubled times to fight for Hellenic pride.

No, restrain yourselves; it wasn't Syriza's Alexis Tsipras. The man they had come to see was one Stephen Fry, and the issue at stake was the future of the Parthenon marbles, some of which are held by the British Museum.

Monday night's debate at Cadogan Hall in London, organised by Intelligence Squared and entitled Send Them Back: the Parthenon marbles should be returned to Athens, was also screened live at the Acropolis Museum in Greece before a rapt audience who vigorously applauded Fry's declaration that the it would be "an act of the supremest class" for Britain to return the sculptures which have resided in London for nearly 200 years.

Conversely, there was much huffing at Labour MP Tristram Hunt's argument from the other side that "the people of Greece should have intense pride that their Parthenon marbles sit in the British Museum today." Similarly, an assertion by the historian Felipe Fernández-Armesto that "modern Greece is not a continuation of ancient Greece" did not go down well.

The Liberal Democrat MP Andrew George sounded the right notes in his appeal to Britain's "better instincts", arguing that a return of the marbles "pillaged from an occupied country" by Lord Elgin would simply be "the right thing to do".

But it was a Socrates-invoking, Byron-quoting Fry who stole the show, and with it Hellenic hearts. He wanted, he said, to see the Parthenon structures "in the blue light of Greece". For those around me, it was a winning strategy. When, at the end of the night, it was announced that the Athens audience voted 93% in favour of restitution, the only surprise was that 7% had not.

"It's an emotional issue not only a logical issue," explained one young man called Dimitris.

But are there not more important things for us to be worrying about right now? The debt crisis, political extremism, the return of the drachma, to name but a few?

Cambridge graduate Stefania Xydia, 25, put me right, explaining that, with the economic crisis having dealt a heavy blow to Greece's cultural and political pride, the debate about the marbles had become "more pertinent than ever".

"It's a matter of pride," she said. "And we have been so ridiculed and degraded that this would really help."

* This article was amended on 13 June to reflect the fact that the British Museum holds only some of the Parthenon marbles


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