Cosmonautics Day

On 12 April 2010, it’s the 49th anniversary of the first human space flight. Join the Yuri party. Around 4 or 5 years ago, Amsterdam was dotted with cosmonaut graffitti. Here are photos of some of them. Enjoy.

Posted: April 11, 2010 at 8:59 am.

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The ‘new’ Van Gogh: Fake vs real


It turns out that the painting of a windmill Le Blute-fin in Montmartre is a bona fide Van Gogh — one of only five ‘new’ paintings attribruted to the master since 1970. For decades, the painting has been in storage at the Museum de Fundatie in Zwolle. The reason why it took so long to verify this painting is that it once belonged to the collector Dirk Hannema (1895-1984), a man famous for buying De Emmausgangers for Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam. Hannema thought he was dealing with a true Vermeer, but actually it was a true  Van Meegeren…

In 1947, Hans van Meegeren died in Amsterdam. He had just been sentenced to a year in jail for forging Vermeer paintings. Under the original charge of collaboration, this sentence would have been death. His downfall began during World War II when the stagnant art market was being revitalised by the German special units commissioned by Goring to buy, trade and/or plunder as many of Europe’s art treasures as possible. After the war when Goring’s prized booty was unearthed in an Austrian salt mine, the Allieds found a Vermeer entitled Christ with the Adulteress. Investigation led to Meegeren, a renowned art dealer. After his arrest, he proved in court that he himself had painted it and should therefore be treated like a hero for scamming Nazi scum. Goring apparently cried the salted tears of a knee-scuffed child when he heard about it while on trial in Nuremberg. This story spread and Hollywood began planning a film version of this remarkable story.

emmausgangersVan Meegeren had actually pulled the same scam many times before the war. Ironically, one of the 200 paintings he received from Goring for Christ with Adulteress was one of his earlier Vermeer forgeries. He also sold another early ‘Vermeer’, De Emmausgangers,  to a Rotterdam museum via Dirk Hannema for millions. But it wasn’t just pure artistry that made Van Meegeren rich. When looked at today, the faces he painted look less 17th Century and more like Valentino and Garbo (since he recruited his models by ripping them out of movie mags). His success seemed to be mostly derived from an obsessive desire for revenge.

Back in the ‘20s, Meegeren’s own original efforts — of cuddly fawns and such — was dissed by many critics, one of whom happened to be the country’s Vermeer authority who had devised a whole theory around the artist’s ‘missing ten years’. So Meegeren chose themes and a style that echoed these speculations. It was bait and then checkmate as the ‘authority’ happily authenticated his ‘proofs’. With money rolling in throughout the ‘30s to feed his alcohol and morphine habit, Meegeren kept this smug secret private while exacting a more public revenge on his other detractors by publishing articles that explained their ‘lack of taste’ in terms of their racial inferiority.

Hollywood continues to struggle with the screenplay.    And now with the proof that Hannema could also recognise a non-fake painting, the story has just got that much more richer…

Posted: February 28, 2010 at 11:04 am.

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Routes Award 2009














Thanks to  the  European Cultural Foundation,  I interviewed two very  inspiring folks:  Borka Pavicevic (pictured) and Stefan Kaegi. They  were the winners of  the Routes Award for Cultural Diversity 2009  for their work in theater championing the voices of  the “other”.

Borka, in particular, has long been a hero of mine ever since I first visited ex-Yugoslavia. As the founder of  Belgrade’s Centre for Cultural Decontamination, she has fought the good fight against a steady stream of nationalists, gangsters and populist pricks.  The Centre was one of the first places I went when I felt dirty  from sitting behind  Mira Markovic, wife of Milosevic, on a flight between Amsterdam and Belgrade in 2001.

I went to  the awards ceremony in Brussels a couple of weeks ago and certainly had a couple of culturally diverse moments. It was at the Royal Flemish Theater and when we arrived early,  my friend and I went to the  next door  cafe  to kill some time. The waitress  refused to talk  Dutch with us — which we thought ironic since we were at a Dutch-language theater for an award’s ceremony dedicated to cultural diversity.  

After the ceremony I went over to introduce myself to Borka and she greeted me very warmly thanks to some  common friends (ah, I do miss the Balkans sometimes…). She asked me if I had  ever met Princess Margriet of the Netherlands. I hadn’t so I shook  the princess’s  hand. Then Borka wanted to introduce me to   some Belgrade journalist — “you actually probably  know him, he’s the one that they tried to blow up with not one but two bombs.” But just as I was about  to shake his  hand, a plate of oysters came by and the crowd — royalty, journalists, etc — swooped in.  It was a moment of true diversity. The oysters were dang tasty as well.

But really, read the interviews:
Borka Pavicevic
Stefan Kaegi

Posted: February 12, 2010 at 9:36 am.

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Best of PiPS:lab in Paradiso

Head down to Paradiso this Friday 29 January for the best of Pips:Lab. You can look upon PIPS:lab as a kind of A-Team — where the ‘A’ stands for ‘Art School Dropout’. Actually, they are more like MacGyver — but then with a sense of humour and a taste for Human Growth Hormone. But seriously, PIPS:lab tells a heart warming, and often brain melting, story of what happens when a collective of artists from a variety of disciplines seek to create everything, from software to vocal harmonies, themselves. Combining new media, theatre, music, film and photography — along with tech, chuckles and raw public interaction — PIPS:lab produce everything from theatrical performances to installations. And it’s all done live in your face, right down to the video editing.

For example,  their Washing Powder Conspiracy show is  a groovy, funny and catchy  laundry-themed multimedia theatre concert. And while loose and wacky, the show is still tighter than two people in a washing machine. Everything — from the sing-along tunes and primal screaming right through to the light graffiti artistry and outfits — refers to washing powder. Things that did not quite make sense from earlier in the show are later power edited live to form new backdrops for yet more nonsensical acts of madness. Where else can absurdist speeches about detergents be magically transformed into radical political statements? Meanwhile all the happy chaos is rhythmically backed by a washing machine, three dryers and a sextet of irons. And remember folks, your whites can always get whiter…

Meanwhile, staying in touch with friends and loved ones just gets easier and easier these day. And now it’s even possible to stay in touch with the dead thanks to the internet community DieSpace. Step right up folks! Yes indeed, with laptops, cameras and light sensors, PIPS:lab has created a interactive musical show about post-mortem social networking. And with today’s ongoing ‘grayification’ of society, it’s not such a crazy idea — especially if you believe the onstage marketing manager/show master. Meanwhile… Your mug shot is being projected on the screen since he chosen you, above all others, for a DieSpace Premium Account!

OK, maybe you just got to be there…

Posted: January 27, 2010 at 11:15 am.

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Creative anatomy

anatomische-les-van-dr--frederick-ruysch-6876There is a new virtual museum dedicated to the Amsterdammer, Dr Frederik Ruysch (1638-1731), who is regarded as one of the greatest anatomist and preserver of body-bits of all time. But he was not just content with potting parts in brine and suspending Siamese twin foetuses in solution. Artistic compulsion led him to construct moralistic panoramas of bone and tissue. He started simple: an ornate box of fly eggs labelled as being taken from the backside of ‘a distinguished gentleman who sat too long in the privey’. Another had a mounted baby’s leg kicking the skull of a prostitute. But these were tame next to his later work which oozed with baroque extravagance: gall- and kidney-stones piled up to suggest landscape, dried arteries and veins weaved into lush shrubs, testicles crafted into pottery, and these whole scenes animated with skeletal foetuses who danced and played violins strung with strings of dried gut.

anatomA visiting Peter the Great (1672-1725), who was passing through to learn shipbuilding and how to build a city on a bog (which would inspire his pet project St Petersburg) became fascinated with this collection of preserved freaks — not surprising for a seven-foot giant of a man. After kissing the forehead of a preserved baby, Peter paid Ruysch f30 000 for the complete collection and brought it all back to St Petersburg with him.

You can still get a flavour of those heady times by visiting the Waag which once served as Death Central as the place where criminals were executed and later dissected in its Theatrum Anatomicum, a spot immortalized by Rembrandt as the setting for his goriest paintings The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp (the guy who had Ruysch’s job before him). You can also check out the painting The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Frederick Ruysch by Jan van Neck (pictured) at the Amsterdam Historical Museum. And for another impressive collection of dead bits, be sure to visit the frolicsomely named Museum Vrolik that is located in the Amsterdam’s largest hospital and features a bona fide Cyclops in brine.

Posted: January 21, 2010 at 11:29 am.

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Les Danza des los Meurtos

My pals, the Anacondas, just released this great new video that comes backed with a heart-warming story from the world of subsidies. After trying to get a relatively straight arts subsidy to make this video, they gave up and instead got one that ties in art with education — apparently that’s where the funding money is these days. For a week, the band worked with teen students building props and filming stock. The results speak for themselves as another solid bit of evidence that — yes indeed — the kids are alright…

Posted: December 18, 2009 at 5:03 pm.

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img_2119The fine artiste Aquil Copier, friend and cherished ex-Weekly collegue, has just started  a pamphlet about painting: PRESENTeert.

Track down a copy (he’ll even send you one…) and check it out.

I interviewed the artist  Pieter Paul Pothoven who has just returned from the caves of Afghanistan where he visited the mines  supplying the  Lapis Lazuli  that formed the basis for Vermeer’s blue. What a story!   And a story I will probably post here once the hard copies run out…

Posted: December 1, 2009 at 2:01 pm.

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NDSM Open Day

hotdocks-voorThe former shipyards of NDSM in Amsterdam Noord is a post-industrial wonderland which features the biggest “breeding ground” for the arts in the country with over 200 artist studios. This Saturday 14 November, they are having an open house. I love this place: it’s got the free ferry ride from behind Centraal Station, lots of apocalyptic eye candy and a great cafe/restaurant. I’ve written about this place a lot – here for instance – because I saw it as a microcosm of Amsterdam (or even the world) where the battle between arts and commerce is playing out. But since the credit crunch, the commerce part has stepped backed and the area seems to be reverting back to its more purely arty roots. Hell, they even found a new place to squat: the former pumping station…

Posted: November 12, 2009 at 10:56 am.

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Magritte & Tintin in Brussels

brusselsmagrittebrusselstintinMy piece about the new museums in Belgium dedicated to surrealist Rene  Magritte and Tintin-creator Herge has been published in today’s Globe&Mail. Read it here  before rushing out to buy a bowler hat of your own.

Posted: October 17, 2009 at 11:28 am.

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Sculpture Route


Until 26 October it’s worth heading into Zuid for ArtZuid 2009. Apollolaan and Minervalaan have been filled with some great sculptures by the inspired likes of Joep van Lieshout (BikiniBar), Paul McCarthy (Bronze Blockhead), Panamarenko (Brazil) and some guy named Rodin (Le Penseur). Pack yourself a bronzed picnic and go and hang out a while…

Posted: August 10, 2009 at 1:24 pm.

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