Sunday, June 25, 2023

Airport Art

Not that long ago the most insulting thing you could say about a work of art is calling it airport art. Over the years that has changed. It is not a subject I have paid much attention to though in some airports, we have stopped and looked at one work or another.

Not all airport art from the past was poor. We were recently at the airport in Long Beach, California and there was art that was not new. There were mosaics on the floor some pertaining to aviation throughout the terminal. They date from 1939-41 and were designed by Grace Richardson Clements. The then 28-year-old artist was hired through the Work Projects Administration (WPA)'s Federal Art Project that commissioned art for public places throughout the country.

What caught my attention recently, however, was an article published in New York Magazine under: “Public Art Watch” on June 14 by Max Pearl. It is titled “Go to New La Guardia for the Art. The Airport’s $22 Million Face-Lift Breaks Away from Corporate Schlock”. Should you not be aware La Guardia (named after a New York Mayor) was the poor cousin of JFK and used to handle small planes for shorter flights. Now it is catching up with JFK and Newark airports.

There is a lot of new art there but what particularly caught my eye was by Berlin artist Sabine Hornig. In a passageway from the terminal to the parking garage she created a transparent mural of latex and vinyl mounted on glass, 42 feet high and 268 feet wide. Light streams through her collage of images including 1,100 photographs she took of the boroughs of Queens and Manhattan in New York City. Calling it “La Guardia Vistas”, she has also included some of the visionary words of Mayor La Guardia.

Our son lives in Long Beach, California and taking the two-leg flight there we changed planes in Las Vegas. Aside from the large number of gambling islands of game machines and If you are lucky enough to be in the D concourse you will see above the semicircle of gates the 150 foot mural painted by the local artist Adolfo Gonzalez . He calls it “Echoes of Las Vegas”. Its images span the history of the city from the glamorous ‘50s to the present. Here is a 3-minute video that will tell you the story of the mural and how the artist conceived it:

The airport we use most often is in Albuquerque, New Mexico, known as the Sunport. It actually has its own permanent collection of art and does special exhibitions as well. It has been called one of the most culturally unique airports. Besides paintings and sculptures there are showcases with Anglo, Native American Art, and Hispanic works from this part of the world. Here is a display of one set of showcases:

Special exhibitions are done in collaboration with local artists, community organizations and museums. The 2019-20 show “Lowriders and Hot Rods”that illustrated how this has been developed locally as an art form, was hugely successful with travelers constantly stopping to admire and photograph.

Airport administrations will say they use art “to welcome and entertain travelers, as well as share the local culture”. While that is true I would also add that it helps people calm down and not feel as pressured as most of us do when we travel. It certainly does this for us.

Sunday, June 18, 2023

Museums in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

You would not think that museums need to be up to date in their technology. Aviation should be, but museums? I have recently joined a board of directors for a small museum and learned that it realy needs a technology update: One department cannnot see what another is working on. Not even the director and the assistant director can share their work.

Now, there is Artificial Intelligence, a technology which is not that new but one that suddenly everyone is talking about. We are already using it if we have an Alexa, Google Assistant or Apple Siri. Investors are pouring money into it, a sign of its future importance.

In a 2023 briefing to the European Parliament called, “Artificial Intelligence in the Context of Cultural heritage and Museums: complex challenges and new opportunities” it was pointed out the many ways AI is already used by museums. For instance, the Rijksmuseum learned that their famous Rembrandt of “The Night Watch” had its bottom and left side cut off. AI technology gave conservators the information to reconstruct the missing areas and put the full composition of this masterpiece back on view.

I was referred recently to an article on Artnet News of June 5, 2023 with the heading: Museums May Not Lead Technological Innovation, But here’s the Vital Role They Play in an A.I. Powered Age”. It credits Thomas P. Campbell, director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and cultural Advisor András Szántó, with organizing an event that stressed what A.I. means to art institutions. The “The Museums of Tomorrow Roundtable” included delegates from 13 countries around the world. Though the theme of the meeting was technology, Campbell implies that it was a surprise that AI became the main topic of conversation.

It didn’t surprise me after reading a June 2021 article in the online publication “Museum Next” titled “How Art Museums Using Artificial Intelligence and is A.I. the Future of Museums”. In it Lauren Styx writes, “Notably, the world is still in the phase of ‘training the toddler’…”.

“In 2016, Paris’ Musée du Quai Branly made a home for Berenson” This robotic art critic, created by an anthropologist, Denis Vidal and robotics engineer Philippe Gaussier, was used to learn people’s reactions to works of art to see if it could “develop its own taste”. It was named after Bernard Berenson (1865 – 1959) the American Art Historian who was considered THE expert on Renaissance art. The actual process I will let you read for yourself:,for%20both%20visitors%20and%20staff.

The question that presented itself to Berenson’s inventors was, would the robot be able to build aesthetic preferences as it interacted with museum visitors? It did. The public is able to interact with robots and learn about a work of art. Previously you had to go on a live or audio tour or, more recently, consult your smart phone. Fed enough information from published material the museum robots will be able to tell stories about the art and artists. Here is a Museum docent in Dubai.

The Metropolitan Museum is also into A.I. to improve the visitor experience. Mitra Azizirad, corporate vice president of AI Marketing at Microsoft:“The close partnership between The Met, MIT, and Microsoft is a great example of how AI is empowering curators and technologists to make art and human history accessible and relevant to everyone on the planet.”

Several museums in Washington, including the Hirschhorn, already use a robot named Pepper which speaks 15 languages. Museum visitors reportedly enjoy interacting with the robot and learning what it has to say. It was, developed in 2015 by the French company Aldebaran Robotics. The public interacts using a touch screen and the robot responds verbally and with gestures. You no longer have to listen to a pre-recorded text about a work of art but rather interact with a humanoid who can answer what you actually want to know.

An idea I found on Linked In, I really like. It was expressed under the byline “Bluecadet” and called “Artificial Intelligence and the Modern Museum”. (April 4, 2023). Large museums have extensive collections. AI can analyze these collections, identifying patterns and themes. By drawing connections between disparate departments, e.g. Old Master paintings, European decorative arts, Asian art, visitors will gain a better understanding of these cultures and how they may relate to each other. They can also learn the overarching mission of the institution.

Like it or not we have to learn to not only cope with new technology, but, for peace of mind, embrace it as well. Almost daily now I read some article about the dangers of A.I. But I choose to think positively, seeing how it can improve the experiences of museum visitors.

Sunday, June 11, 2023

A Night at the Opera

The other night, here in Santa Fe, New Mexico we went to “The Met Live in HD”. It was a simulcast from the Metropolitan Opera at the Lensic Performing Arts Center. We saw and heard Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (Magic Flute) in its new production.

In 1931 the Met started having broadcasts of their operas on the radio and I remember my father listening to them on Saturday afternoons. In 1977 the Met started to broadcast on television and on December 30, 2006, they began the HD broadcasts for theaters.

Let me say from the start that there is no substitute for seeing the performing arts in person because there is a lot missing when it is on screen. When one is at a live, in person, performance the crowd has an electricity that cannot be conveyed electronically and as good as speakers might be they add or take something away from the original. Also, you have an overall view of the stage and see what the other actors are doing while an actor is singing. Maybe, you want to watch the conductor for longer. In our case, I did because I thought the French conductor, Nathalie Stutzmann, was fantastic.

Happily, at the Lensic the speakers are state of the art. Still, it is not the same. Then, I think, when one goes to an outdoor concert, and one can’t get near the stage, why do crowds want to stand or sit outside to hear that artist and watch her on a screen with a speaker system. Is that live?

If, however, in a simulcast in a theater setting, and it is a superb performance, sometimes one cannot help but applaud. That, of course, is a reflex. But it is surely a phenomenal performer that can convey such excitement long distance. For us it was what happened when the Queen of the Night, Kathryn Lewek, sang her aria in the second act for her 50thperformance in that role, a record at the Met.

There are advantages to viewing on screen. You do see close ups of the performers and if the opera is in a language you do not understand it is easier to see the translation as captions on a screen rather than missing the action while you try to read on a tiny screen attached to the seat in front of you. If the translation is above the stage, it is truly disturbing.

At the Met there are a number of cameras in use to shoot the action from multiple points of of view. This is surely outlined in rehearsal, but the video director must still be able to decide instantly which she/he will use as the opera continues. He may choose a closeup of a singer or show some stage business. One feature of Die Zauberflöte which we saw was the participation of the sound effects artist shown at one side of the stage in a bar-like setting. Less successful was the animation artist on the opposite side of the stage who was shown creating his projections. An amusing touch was that when Papageno, played by Thomas Oliemans, was supposed to play his flute on stage and he passed it to the flautist in the orchestra who later participated in Papageno’s bells as did the sound effects artist in a scene of comic schtick.

Papageno with Sound Affects Person

We see a lot of performances in Santa Fe and the fact that I found this one worth writing about speaks for itself.

Sunday, June 4, 2023


We have completed our 3-week trip to visit our son on the West Coast and daughter on the East Coast with a week in between in New York.

A little longer than usual here is a wrap up of our travels beyond the West Coast and the Frick and the Cooper Hewitt in New York that I have already written about.

The New York Public Library had an exhibition called “Treasures” of which my wife said “No one could not find something to relate to”. In addition to historical documents there were objects like the original stuffed Winnie the Poo and Eeyore. What I found was not what the vast majority of Americans would relate to. It was a copy of “Der Struwwelpeter” a German children's book (this version was translated) written by Heinrich Hoffmann in 1845, along the lines of the Brothers Grimm. I have seen it translated as Slovenly Peter but it was the German term that my mother used when she thought my hair got too long. 

Of course, we had to go the Metropolitan Museum. In parts of the Museum the cacophony was deafening, this from the crowds coming to see the Karl Lagerfeld exhibition. But in the Lehman wing, beyond the hubbub, there was a wonderful exhibition of Juan de Pareja (ca.1608-1670). The Afro-Hispanic painter became known in this country when the Metropolitan Museum acquired his portrait by the Spanish master, Diego Velázquez (1599-1660). The Met bought it in 1971 for the extraordinary price, at the time, of 5.5 million dollars. It is believed that that Velázquez painted the portrait on his trip to Rome with his enslaved assistant of 20 years. In that Jubilee year of 1650, a Church celebration of reconciliation, Velázquez granted Pareja his freedom.

Of the many paintings by Pareja shown in comparison with other Spanish painters of the period, only one in this illustration resembles the style of his mentor.

Photo Credit: Lila Barth for The New York Times

What I found most interesting was that Pareja was “discovered” in this country as an important artist by Arturo Schomburg, (1874-1938) a writer and activist of Afro-American, Puerto Rican and German descent. A small room in the exhibition was devoted to Schomburg’s raising awareness of Black and Hispanic contributions to society.

On the lower level of the Lehman wing was a selection of the greatest hits of Dutch and Flemish painting from the Met’s collection. Otherwise, the Old Master paintings were off view as their galleries were closed.

The Museum of Modern Art has an incredible collection with many of my favorite pictures. Unfortunately, hung on stark white walls with flat lighting you might as well have seen them on your computer screen. The sculpture, however, did show off quite well. Even arriving at the opening hour, we did not avoid the crowds and din.

Even when I lived in NYC, I rarely went to the Museum of the City of New York. One of my wife’s interests, however, is in the stained-glass art of Louis Comfort Tiffany and on this visit, we discovered that the Museum’s important collection of Tiffany lamps has been newly and incredibly well installed.

Of course, we visited a number of galleries and the New York version of TEFAF (The European Fine Arts Fair). As opposed to its original site in Maastricht, The Netherlands, where the concentration is on the Old Masters, in New York the slant is toward the modern and contemporary with only a smattering of older material and classical antiquities. In these fairs there is always the possibility of a discovery.

Our last stop was Philadelphia to stay with my daughter, Cathy. She owns a bookshop, Main Point Books, in the suburb of Wayne, and has just opened an additional floor devoted to children’s books. Cathy’s emporium is a dangerous place to visit. We found so many interesting titles that some had to be shipped home!

The National Constitution Center in Philadelphia is a must if you want to learn more about our history. Though at times a bit too chauvinistic, there is much information to be gleaned. I particularly enjoyed listening to quotes by influential Americans from different eras and highlights of a few pivotal Supreme Court cases. Of immediate interest was the section on the Electoral College. There was no opinion presented, just the statistics, leaving viewers to make up their own minds about the system. In the “Signers’ Hall” we found 42 statues of the Founding Fathers. (Image from Constitution Center)

Our final visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art jogged memories of treasures I had not seen in many years. It is impossible to cover such a museum all at once, so we concentrated on Northern European art. I was delighted to see again the “Saint Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata” by Jan van Eyck (ca. 1395-1441). I find it so moving even though it is only 5 x 5 ¾ inches.

The sure-fire showstopper in the Old Master galleries is the pair of panels by Rogier van der Weyden (ca. 1400-1464), The Crucifixion, with the Virgin and Saint John the Evangelist Mourning, c. 1460. In contrast to the nearby van Eyck, one panel measures 70 x 35 3/8 inches and the other an inch larger. The Museum recognizes the power of the work, installing it as the focal point of a sequence of galleries with stools set up for visitors to sit and contemplate these masterpieces.

There is my wrap-up. What more can you ask for than three weeks of family and art.