One of the most beautiful and compelling books to come out of Austin in many a year is “The Collections,” an encyclopedic account of the 170 million artifacts preserved by the University of Texas.
It’s a big one. The doorstop, released in January 2016, comes in at 720 oversized pages. I’ve browsed through it incessantly and have cooked up some tasty stories from its contents, derived from more than 80 collections of art and artifacts over a wide range of subjects.
“This is the first time a publication of this kind has been produced by a public university,” said Andrée Bober, the book’s editor and director of the university’s public art program, Landmarks. “By making it available for free and online, we are putting the collection before a greater public. It’s our hope that this digital edition will increase awareness of these materials and inspire other universities to make their collections known.”
Bober conceived this survey and organized more than 350 individuals to lend their expertise. She’s an enormous asset to the university, to say the least.
News, buzz and cultural chatter that caught our eye recently…
WHY POP SONGS TODAY SOUND MORE ALIKE THAN EVER
Pop music is like junk food. Its popularity banks on familiarity. The reason many new songs become instant hits is because they sound much like other hits by using the same very limited number of notes and musical phrases. And it’s getting worse. In 2012 researchers found that the difference between one melody and another is consistently diminishing. Enter the Millennial Whoop, a term (credited to musician and product manager Patrick Metzger) that describes that swoop from the fifth note of a scale to the third and back again. And once you hear it, you’ll never be able to un-hear it. Check out this delightful and interesting short video explanation of the Millennial Whoop: http://qz.com/767812/millennial-whoop/ (via qz.com)
“WARMEST REGARDS, GENE WILDER.” Ransom Center theater curator Eric Colleary is eagle-eyed when it comes to mining charming and timely materials in the vast University of Texas archive and posting it to his Twitter feed. When the news that actor Gene Wilder had died emerged earlier this week, Colleary quickly found a letter in the archive that Wilder had written to New York Times theater critic Mel Gussow in the 1970s. In it, Wilder declines Gussow’s request for an interview during a brief visit the actor would be making to New York. Writes Colleary: “Wilder claimed to be arriving by coffin, that he’d already be dead, and only barely had time to meet his daughter and have his hair done before being shipped off to Forest Lawn in Los Angeles. Wilder promised to let Gussow know next time he’d be available. And now, having actually passed, the world is far less witty.”
BOB IS BACK! Speaking of millennials… Now that Netflix recently started streaming Bob Ross’ “The Joy of Painting,” the PBS series from the ’80s is poised to be a newly ironic hit with the hipsters. The 30-minute instructional show ran from 1983 to 1994, racking more than 400 episodes. In his melodious voice, Ross taught millions of wanna-be artists how to paint “happy clouds” and “happy trees” using their “almighty brushes.” His famous credo: “There are no mistakes, only happy accidents.” Of course in its day “The Joy of Painting” had plenty of contemporaneous fans who watched in irony as Ross, sporting his trademark ‘fro, illuminated the secrets behind creating what can only be described as sofa art. And that hair? Turns out, it was a perm after all. (via npr.org)
LET’S CALL IT PERFORMANCE ARCHITECTURE I love quixotic utopian architecture. So I let out a little “squee” when I came across “ReActor” a rotating experimental house designed and built by artists Alex Schweder and Ward Shelley. The long and narrow, minimalist, glass-walled structure rotates a complete 360 degrees atop a 15-foot concrete column. And it tilts as the occupants putter around from tiny space to tiny space. For five days earlier this summer, the architect-artist duo lived in the rotating house while it was part of an exhibit in upstate New York. Watch it perform!
News, buzz and assorted cultural chatter that caught our eye recently:
• The strange tale of Peter Doig is surely one of the most bizarre art stories of late. Imagine having to prove you did NOT paint a painting. Doig, a prominent Scottish painter whose canvases have fetched $25 million at auction, faced a lawsuit after he refused to authenticate a 40-year-old painting that a former Canadian corrections officer claimed the now-famous Doig had painted. The sorted case had Doig and his legal team faced with having to prove the painter did not paint the painting. Bizarre, fascinating and laughable if it hadn’t made it all the way to federal court. Thankfully, Doig won. (via The New York Times)
• Thomas Kiefer spent 11 years as a janitor at a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol facility. Unsettled by the personal items left behind by or taken from apprehended immigrants, Kiefer began taking pictures. His carefully sorted and photographed the items in compelling pictures of the once-private stuff: belts, shoelaces, toothbrushes, socks, underwear, watches, bibles, rosaries, cell phones, keys, jewellery, calling-cards, soap, deodorant, birth control pills. Kiefer’s series “El sueno Americano” (The American Dream) is potent, heartfelt, timely.
• Because: CATS. “‘The second half of the 19th century begat a cat-painting renaissance. ‘It was a trend that snowballed,’ says 19th-century paintings specialist Madalina Lazen. Bourgeois collectors, interested in enhancing plush domestic interiors, bought the cat canvases.” “The Cat-Painting Renaissance Of The 19th Century.” (via Vulture)
• Will a retrospective of the art of Yoko Ono help New York’s Museum of Modern Art redeem itself after the widely trounced Björk exhibit? “Yoko Ono and MoMA, Together at Last.” (via The New York Times)
• We’ve got recommendations for the West Austin Studio Tour, here, here and here.
A few stories and cultural news moments that caught our eye this week:
In 2012 the Museum of Modern Art announced that it would begin to acquire video games — yes, including Pac-man — for its esteemed collection. Paola Antonelli, the MoMA’s design and architecture curator who made that decision, is a keynote speaker at SXSW Interactive. Antonelli discusses her love Pac-man among other topics in this Q-and-A.
The Smithsonian museums in Washington are among the latest cultural institutions around the world that have banned the use of selfie sticks. Officials say it’s a preventative measure to protect museum objects. Perhaps it’s also to protect hapless visitors from the instruments of narcissism.
A few stories and cultural news moments that caught our eye this week:
This weekend, the mighty Museum of Modern Art opens its massive — and enormously hyped — exhibit on Icelandic songstress and alt culture icon Björk And the show receives a universal trouncing. Writes one critic in The Guardian: “It’s one part Rock and Roll Hall of Fame exercise, one part science lab, one part synesthesia experiment, one part Madame Tussaud’s parody.“
He’s made a reputation — and a huge social media following — for never (thankfully) keeping his irreverent mouth shut. Now art critic Jerry Saltz gets suspended from Facebook. Granted, Saltz loves to push the limits of good taste, but he also never fails to skewer art world power brokers.
Mammoth changes within one of the oldest popular performing arts genres. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circuswill phase out using elephants in its performances.
Signs that Broadway is desperate? Bruce Williswill make his Broadway debut this fall in a stage adaptation of Stephen King’s novel “Misery.”