Outsider Art Heads Indoors

Did Banksy's New York City sojourn leave behind a renewed appreciation for off-the-wall art? Maybe. Maybe not.

This past October, famed UK street artist Banksy spent a month in New York City, leaving behind 31 provocative works in public spaces scattered throughout the city’s five boroughs. Each new piece threw the press and public deeper into the kind of frenzy usually reserved for pop culture events like a new Harry Potter book or Miley Cyrus’s latest fashion curveball. Art news, by comparison, tends to be more austere.

Yet by the time Banksy left a small mural on the Lower East Side, featuring a stencil of galloping stallions in steampunk goggles who looked like the four horses of the apocalypse, the piece found itself quickly surrounded by barbed wire. Its property owners apparently realized the value of the work by the sheer traffic it drew. The Post made it headline news. The Times and CNN were not far behind.

Morally Compromised Art, on the Big Screen

A scene from the upcoming film of Ender's Game.

Look around the internet at any list of the best science fiction novels of all time, and Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game will be at or near the top (see here, here, or here). Frankly, I've always thought it was a little overrated. A good book, certainly, but better than Dune or 1984 or the Foundation trilogy? Come on. In any case, Ender's Game was published in 1985, and it's finally reaching the screen this November, in a big-budget blockbuster starring Harrison Ford, among other people. As soon as the film was announced, people started advocating a boycott of the film because of Card's views about politics in general and same-sex marriage in particular. Card is not just an opponent of marriage equality, he used to be on the board of the National Organization for Marriage, the most prominent anti-marriage-equality organization. And his writings about politics aren't just conservative, they're positively unhinged, run through with the kind of venomous hatred for liberals in general and Barack Obama in particular that we've become depressingly familiar with over the last few years.

So the question is, should that affect how we view this film, and whether we give over our ten or twelve bucks to see it, some small portion of which will presumably find its way to Card?

New Treasure in Maine

The Colby College Museum of Art reopens, ready to share its $100 million gift and quietly bold vision.  

Trent Bell Photography / The Lewitt Estate / Artists Rights Society

Colby College perches on Mayflower Hill at the western edge of Waterville, a tired post-industrial city in central Maine. Brick classrooms and dorms, mostly nostalgic, neo-Georgian architecture, are ranged around curving roads. Relatively new, the campus still feels like a work in progress. Colby is the northern-most school in the New England Small College Athletic Conference, a kind of scaled-down Ivy League. In contrast to Waterville, it is booming. It is increasingly selective but remains resolutely unpretentious, its mascot a white mule. In January the college can feel as isolated as the Arctic. It is an unlikely place to find an important museum, and few people know that Colby has one.

The Unstoppable Ascendency of Street Art

Shepard Fairey, Banksy, and FAILE are just some of the artists bridging the gap between the establishment art world and the grittier creative forces of city streets.  

AP Images/Matt Sayles

When Patrick McNeil was a high school freshman in Arizona, he regularly traded notebook sketches with his friend Patrick Miller. Their subject matter was typical teen angst: underground band logos, alternative superheroes, and other emblems of adolescent escapism. Though they went separate ways to study art in college, McNeil and Miller reunited in New York City by the end of the 1990s, working with a female poster artist from Japan, Aiko Nakagawa. During a short stint in jail for pasting Do-It-Yourself (DIY) screen prints illegally on city walls, the trio came up with a moniker for their work: FAILE.

“We really liked the idea that you could fail to succeed,” says McNeil as a way of explaining the name’s origin. (FAILE is also an anagram of “A Life.”)

A Critical Look at the Art of George W. Bush

Smoking Gun

Whatever your political leanings may be, you have to sympathize with the Bush family today as a sentient being existing in the Internet age after a hacker leaked a ream of their correspondence to The Smoking Gun. You probably share too much personal information over e-mail (can I get an amen, Davey P.?) and God knows that G-chat holds enough secrets to end half the relationships in the United States (that’s a conservative estimate).

Afghanistan Sketches

Victor Juhasz

In July 2011, equipped with his sketching tools, a camera, borrowed Kevlar, and Dragon Skin body armor, illustrator Victor Juhasz arrived in Kandahar, Afghanistan, to embed for three weeks with Major Shane Mendenhall and his medevac unit, the 1-52nd Arctic Dustoff out of Fairbanks, Alaska, as well as members of Alpha Company 7-101 from Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Juhasz had participated in the United States Air Force Art Pro- gram for several years, document- ing in drawings various Air Force operations on bases around the U.S. and overseas. This independent trip, with extended time in a war zone, would give him a chance to do more. “Rendering planes in the sky or on the ground had not been what drew me to the program,” Juhasz writes. “I was looking to draw real people who happen to be warriors; to witness and create images both on the spot and back in the studio telling their stories.” Presented here is a sampling of his work and observations from his trip.

Occupy 19th-Century Norway

Whether through sheer coincidence or masterful timing, the Manhattan Theatre Club’s Broadway revival of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People opened last Thursday in the wake of Occupy Wall Street’s first anniversary. When the play’s main character, Thomas Stockman (Boyd Gaines) declares that “the enemy is the liberal-minded majority,” it’s as though he were speaking directly to the audience of polite theatergoers who sit idle as their own government takes advantage of them.

Director Doug Hughes reinforces the connection by aiming Stockman’s climactic speech at the audience, where an ensemble playing townspeople sits in the first row. It’s a rare bit of bravura from a director known for his understated, yet emotionally powerful productions like 2005’s Doubt, for which he won a Tony Award. British playwright Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s snappy adaptation, first produced in London’s Arcola Theatre in 2008, drives the point home with a few loose translations alluding to modern times. The result is that an 1882 play about a Norwegian resort town whose doctor discovers toxins in its medicinal baths, and the mayor who connives to turn everyone against him despite being the doctor’s brother, feels like a parable about the ways an apathetic majority can be duped into working against the principles of justice.

CSI: David Byrne

An investigation of music’s power by one of its great polymaths


If you listen to music too soon after reading David Byrne’s new book, How Music Works, especially Chapter 5 (how recording studios shape what we hear), Chapter 6 (how collaborations shape what we hear), and Chapter 7 (how recording budgets shape what we hear)—you might be in for a disorienting experience, like watching a magic show after you’ve been taught all the tricks.
I happened to put on Fiona Apple’s The Idler Wheel, an album I’ve enjoyed repeatedly over the past few months. Suddenly, instead of the songs I’d come to know by heart, with their minimalist but emotionally brutal stabs at self-analysis that it took Apple seven years to complete, I heard an assembly of parts. I became obsessed with microphone placement and where each song was recorded, debated whether I was hearing an upright piano or an electronic keyboard, tried to picture the number of musicians, imagined Apple’s writing process (words first? music first? spread out over seven years or in spurts?), and wondered what it cost to make something sound so expensive yet so lean.

If the Tibetan Can't Go to the Homeland...

As some of you know, there is far more to the Tibetan diaspora than the Dalai Lama. More than 200,000 refugees are living, sometimes stateless, in other countries. Tenzin Dorjee, whom I've mentioned here before, is the director of Students for a Free Tibet and one of the next generation of Tibetan leaders in exile. Last week, he wrote at The Huffington Post about an incredibly moving art project, conceived after activist and artist Tenzing Rigdol's father died in exile longing to see his homeland one more time: 

"Hillz" Clinton Was Always Cool

What's behind the former First Lady and current Secretary of State's image rehabilitation?

(Texts from Hillary/Adam Smith)

Texts From Hillary Clinton, a Tumblr that imagined the Secretary of State smacking down fools by way of smartphone, may have set a new speed record for the lifecycle an internet meme. The Tumblr went up, went viral, went big media, and then ended within a week after Clinton herself entered a submission, making it literally impossible for the blog to top itself any longer. Unless the internet changes its ways in the near future, this record will likely be topped by the end of the year, but at least one legacy of the whole experiment will live on. The whole thing neatly demonstrated how much Clinton’s reputation has morphed in the past four years, turning her from the frumpy mom figure to an icon of D.C. cool. 

The Fashion Week Bill of Rights

Two veteran runway models work to bring safe labor practices to the glamour industry.

(AP Photo/Charles Sykes)

At the height of the 1990s supermodel boom, Linda Evangelista famously said of herself and her catwalk colleagues, “We don’t get out of bed for less than $10,000.” While Evangelista and her cohort, which now includes household names like Gisele Bundchen and Heidi Klum, commanded six-figures for their photo shoots, the reality for most working models then and now is that they earn close to the minimum wage and face long hours in unregulated working conditions. Models, many of whom are teenage girls, are also vulnerable to sexual harassment and pressure to pose nude.

Woody Allen's Excellent Adventure

Midnight in Paris is nothing more than a dilettante's guide to the City of Lights.

AP Images

Up for four Academy Awards on February 26 and Woody Allen's biggest box-office hit ever, Midnight in Paris seems likely to overtake even 1977's Annie Hall as the man's most beloved movie. And I wish I could belove it myself, honest I do. In this case, it's no fun to disparage the core audience's genuine pleasure.

A Quick-Step Forward

Dancing with the Stars challenges ballroom dancing's rigid gender roles.

You’d be forgiven if, like me, you spent several years avoiding ABC’s ballroom dancing contest show, Dancing With the Stars. It belongs to that saccharine genre of reality show geared toward “families,” which usually means it’s sterilized and scrubbed until there’s nothing left to either like or be offended by. It’s a cousin of the ready-to-be-euthanized American Idol. Its pen pal is the British show Britain’s Got Talent, which gave us Susan Boyle. This genre has a lot to make up for.

Rosie the Riveter and the Ironies of Bentonville

When the doors swung open this morning on Alice Walton’s Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas—funded to the tune of $1.4 billion by the Walton Family Foundation—one of its prize possessions was Norman Rockwell’s iconic World War II-era painting of Rosie the Riveter. The painting features a confident, insouciant Rosie on her lunch break, eating a sandwich, with a riveting gun on her lap, a copy of Mein Kampf that she uses as a footstool, and an American flag fluttering in the background.

What's in a Name?

Urban Outfitters removes the word "Navajo" from its product line, but the cultural poaching is the same.

Urban Outfitters' formerly "Navajo" hipster panty. AP Photo/Matt York

Urban Outfitters, the retail mecca for once and future hipsters, recently scrubbed its website of all references to “Navajo.” What was once the “Navajo Print Fabric Wrapped Flask” is now the “Printed Fabric Wrapped Flask”; the “Navajo Hipster Panty” is now the “Printed Hipster Panty”; and so on. The items are still available for purchase, but they’ve all been renamed.