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Redefining Cultural Heritage: Street Art as Cultural Testimony

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During the last decade, street art has emerged as the latest trend in the artistic world and has soon become a controversial issue of discussion for anyone involved in the cultural dialogue.

The impetus with which it has sprung, alongside with the element of illegality that it usually involves, have provoked a torrent of reactions and have given rise to numerous legal or semi-legal questions, in an effort to delimit the phenomenon.

As an art form, street art has emerged through graffiti, the stylized letter composition also known as tagging, which flourished in the 1960’s Philadelphia. The contemporary phenomenon of graffiti, whose original form can be found in pre-historic cave paintings amongst the world, goes beyond the mere action of writing one’s pseudonym on the walls of the block. Often associated with gang related practices of marking territory or linked to the raise of the hip hop culture that flourished during the same time, graffiti has a long and disputable history, far more complex and socially interesting than the one it is usually attributed.

After the graffiti boom of 1980 in N. York however, different artworks begin to appear; artworks created outside the concept of street culture and not limited to artistically elaborate lettering. The shift from text-based works to visually conceptual ones marks the appearance of a new term as well. Despite the countless discussions on the topic, the definition of the term “street art” remains a challenging venture and seems to be fashioned in dependence to the views and objectives of each commentator, thus creating additional disputes. It is usually dissociated from the terms “graffiti”, “post-graffiti” or “neo-graffiti” due to the negatively charged character that the word “graffiti” bears as explained above, as is from “public art”, which in the mind of the many relates to state initiatives or commissioned projects.

wallsoffreedomWhat becomes evident to anyone researching this artistic movement is that the respective local community develops a significant level of involvement with the street art that features its walls. The reactions may vary from rejection of street creations to appraisal and incorporation in the tradition and historic course of the place. One of the most evident examples of the said attitude is the events related to Banksy’s artwork Slave Labour that in 2013 was removed from its place and sold at an auction. In this case, the local community was largely activated; it protested and fought against the removal of the artwork thus, claiming the rights it held upon the piece “that was given to it by the artist” and beautified the neighborhood since.

In this context of admitting the importance of street art for communities and cities, there are researchers to support the view of street artworks being recognized as cultural heritage and protected as such. Cultural heritage in general entails any source and evidence of human culture and history or namely any tangible and intangible property worthy of preservation. While in any international convention on relative matters a different definition of the term is provided, what remains a common ground is the significance such property presents to comprehending and safeguarding human history.

Under this framework, street art could qualify as newer cultural heritage, according to the view of the writer. Its aesthetic value is now widely appraised with new levels of artistic interest being reached due to the new 3d street art that emerges. At the same time, its historic value cannot be denied; street art narrates the story of the city and its very existence is a sign of urban development and an action of renegotiating public space. For what is more, the majority of street artworks have a contemporary character, since they make reference to current social, economic and political developments on an international basis. Hence, street art becomes of great interest for anyone researching the history and trajectory of a city or a community and, as a carrier of multiple and multileveled messages, it seems to slowly acquire the merits of cultural heritage.

A characteristic example used to demonstrate this role that street art can acquire is the Berlin Wall, a monument of great significance for the history of the world. Along its walls, are featured numerous street artworks-homages to the events and victims of this troubled period of time. In 2013, a developer was granted permission by the State Monuments Office and the Supreme Heritage Authority to remove parts from the East Side of the Wall, for reasons of urban development. The result was a grand protest against the destruction of the wall and the exaltation off its historic and cultural value. More importantly, it led protesters to call on UNESCO to protect the site and grant it World Heritage status. It is the first time that UNESCO will consider the issue of street art qualifying as cultural heritage and its decision may very well determine the future of street art.

However, as it has been evident worldwide, including the USA, states tend to focus their cultural heritage related interest towards the past, developing a relation of totem and worship with ancient artifactsand a more relaxed and indifferent one concerning modern creations. What is more, there are practical difficulties in attributing the merits of cultural heritage to street artworks, difficulties that vary from the issue of who would apply for the said recognition to what criteria would be invoked to decide relevantly. These matters are perplexed enough without inserting the complex status of ownership in the equation, the obstacles of illegality and the conflicting relative opinions that street art arises.

One should bear in mind though that, in contrast to current governmental policy, cultural heritage is a fluid concept that evolves and changes according to the growth and advancement of civilization. It is a mistake to confine it and obstruct its conformation to the needs of contemporary culture. With a more open-minded approach towards cultural heritage and a socially based interpretation of the need to preserve it, street art would have found an umbrella of protection and a friendlier regime of confrontation. I feel though, that societies have miles to go before adopting such views.

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Crystal Award Winners 2019

MD Staff

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Haifaa Al-Mansour

Conductor Marin Alsop, film director Haifaa Al-Mansour, and broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough, are the recipients of the 25th Annual Crystal Award, the World Economic Forum announced today. The award celebrates the achievements of leading artists and cultural figures whose leadership inspires inclusive and sustainable change. The winners will be honoured in the opening session of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2019 in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, at 18.00 CET on Monday 21 January. The ceremony will be webcast live at www.weforum.org.

“Any new architecture for ‘Globalization 4.0’ will need to be both inclusive and sustainable. The remarkable achievements of the recipients of the 25th Annual Crystal Award inspire us to see beyond the limits of convention to find solutions for the current issues the world faces,” said Hilde Schwab, Chairwoman and Co-Founder of the World Economic Forum’s World Arts Forum, which hosts the awards.

Awardees

Marin Alsop, for her leadership in championing diversity in music
Marin Alsop, Music Director of the Baltimore Symphony since 2007, is one of the greatest conductors of our time. Earlier this year she was the first woman to be appointed Chief Conductor of the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra and, in 2013, was the first woman in 118 years to conduct the BBC’s “Last Night of the Proms”. She has tirelessly endeavored to provide opportunities for all people to access music for a world where diversity in classical music is the norm rather than the exception. In Baltimore she launched the “OrchKids” programme to serve the city’s less privileged children, and the BSO Academy and Rusty Musicians for adult amateur musicians. She is also Music Director of the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra. A graduate of Yale University and a MacArthur Fellow (2005), at the Annual Meeting, she will lead the Opening Performance with the Taki Concordia Orchestra.

Haifaa Al-Mansour, for her leadership in cultural transformation in the Arab world
Haifaa Al-Mansour is the first female filmmaker in Saudi Arabia. “Wadjda”, Al Mansour’s feature debut, was the first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia and the first by a female director. The success of her 2005 documentary “Women Without Shadows” was a breakthrough that was followed by a new wave of Saudi filmmakers and front-page headlines of Saudi Arabia finally opening cinemas in the kingdom. She was recently appointed to the Board of the General Authority for Culture to advise on the development of the cultural and arts sectors in Saudi Arabia. She recently released “Mary Shelly” starring Elle Fanning, and “Nappily Ever After” starring Sanaa Lathan. Al Mansour is the first artist from the Arabian Gulf region to be invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Sir David Attenborough, for his leadership in environmental stewardship
Sir David Attenborough’s broadcasting career spans more than six decades during which he has played an extraordinary role both reinventing and developing the medium of television and connecting people to the wonders of the natural world, bringing distant peoples, animals and habitats into living rooms across the planet. As a BBC producer and executive, he has played a crucial role in creating new forms of programming and scheduling that, to this day, influence global broadcasting. His work includes many iconic productions, from the ground-breaking “Zoo Quest” series to landmarks including “Life on Earth”, “The Living Planet”, “The Trials of Life”, “The Private Life of Plants”, “Life of Mammals” and “Planet Earth”. At the Annual Meeting, Sir David will present key sequences from “Our Planet”, a new series by WWF, Netflix and Silverback Films, focusing on the preservation of life on Earth.

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Piero della Francesca. Monarch of Painting

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Piero della Francesca, Madonna col bambino, 1432-39, tempera su tavola. The Alana Collection

On 7 December 2018, Russian Orthodox St Catherine’s Day, the monographic exhibition Piero della Francesca opens in the State Hermitage, bringing together works by one of the most celebrated 14th-century masters from art collections in Italy, Spain, Portugal and Britain.

The exhibition provides a rare opportunity for people to acquaint themselves with this artist’s oeuvre, as there are no works by Piero della Francesca in Russian museum collections. The majority of the master’s important paintings are in Italy, in places less often visited by tourists: Urbino, Arezzo and Sansepolcro. The exhibition has been organized with the support of the public joint-stock petroleum refining company Rosneft.

The “discovery” of Piero della Francesca took place only in the middle of the 19th century. Prior to that, his works were often attributed to other artists or, scattered as they were in provincial towns of Italy, failed to attract especial attention. Nowadays there is great interest in Piero della Francesca and the artist himself is seen as a key figure in the Italian Quattrocento.

Piero della Francesca (1412(?)–1492) was born in the small settlement of Borgo Santo Sepolcro (now the town of Sansepolcro). He worked in various Italian artistic centres – Florence, Ferrara, Rimini, Rome, Urbina and Perugia – but always preferred to return to his native Borgo Santo Sepolcro or Arezzo, the chief town of the province. Piero played a prominent role in the life of Borgo, being repeatedly elected to various public positions. In the building of the local administration he painted a fresco of the Resurrection that became a symbol of the town.

Piero della Francesca worked at the courts of many Italian rulers, including the papal curia. Around the year 1450 Piero was in Ferrara, where he would have been able to acquaint himself with Netherlandish painting and in particular the works of Rogier van der Weyden, who had been invited to the city by the Marquis, Lionello d’Este. He may also have met with artists from the Low Countries at the court of the Duke of Urbino, Federico da Montefeltro. From the northerners Piero adopted precision in the depiction of nature and the technique of painting in oils that was new to Italy.

The pinnacle of Piero’s work as a monumental artist, and indeed of the entire Quattrocento in general, is the cycle of frescoes on the Legend of the True Cross that he painted in the basilica of San Francesco in Arezzo between 1458 and 1466. Never before had such a cycle appeared in Renaissance art, marked by such clarity and correlation of all the forms to one another, an unusual colour scheme and precise perspective. The exhibition includes a film by Italian documentary-makers devoted to the Legend of the True Cross.

Piero della Francesca was also a portraitist. The names of the master’s clients are not always known, but the most important of them was undoubtedly Federico da Montefeltro. Piero produced a superb double portrait of the Duke and his wife with allegorical scenes of the couple’s triumphs on the other side of the panel (Uffizi Gallery, Florence). Federico was not only the ruler of Urbino but also one of Italy’s most successful condottieri. Such mercenary military commanders were a typical phenomenon of the Renaissance era.

We can also get an idea of such people from the Portrait of Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta (Louvre, Paris). When Piero painted his likeness in the early 1450s, Sigismondo was at the height of his fame. The strict profile view of his models was suggested to Piero by medals. When they were mastering the new genre of the era, the portrait, the medallists’ art and works of Classical Antiquity became important for Renaissance artists. In the portrait in the Louvre, the ruler of Rimini is presented from just that angel of view, which made it possible to bring out the subject’s most typical characteristics: an attractive face with coarse features testifying to strength and an indomitable will. Sigismondo is wearing sumptuous clothing, but without adornments, because he is an embodiment of simplicity and restraint.

Piero employed the same compositional scheme when recording the appearance of Federico da Montefeltro’s son, Guidobaldo. His portrait is kept in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid. It is hard to imagine this charming youngster with fine features and blonde hair streaked with gold where the light catches it growing up to become a tyrannical duke, a condottiere, and at the same time someone who commissioned art from Raphael.

In Borgo Santo Sepolcro, Piero della Francesca produced a large altarpiece for the Augustinian Convent. The central panel has not survived, while the four side panels became dispersed to different collections. The Hermitage has managed to reunite three of them at the exhibition: Saint Augustine (Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon), The Archangel Michael (National Gallery, London) and Saint Nicholas of Tolentino (Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan). All the figures are shown on the same scale. Each of them loons up unshakeable as a rock, irrespective of who they are – bishop, warrior or monk. In his depiction of Augustine, Piero displayed his talent as a miniaturist: the saints mitre and dalmatic, decorated with embroidered Gospel stories, are reproduced with such a sense of authenticity that Piero can rival the Netherlandish artist in their ability to convey the materiality of things. Nicholas of Tolentino has such an individual look that the artist may well have had a monk pose for him who caught his attention with an exceptionally stout figure and an expressive face. The Archangel Michael is not so much a warrior, the “Prince of the Heavenly Host, standard-bearer of the most Holy Trinity”, as a bejewelled courtly knight who embodies the artist’s own conception of perfect youthful good looks.

Piero’s art is devoid of heightened emotionality and dynamism. It exemplifies the main principle of the Renaissance: the human being, full of beauty and dignity, is the centre of the universe and the surrounding world is harmonious. Piero’s indisputable masterpiece – the Madonna di Senigallia (Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, Urbino) – dates from the late period in the artist’s career. The name of the picture comes from the location of the church for which it was painted. The Madonna di Senigallia can be viewed as the quintessence of Piero’s oeuvre. The main principles of his art are reflected in it particularly distinctly: the mathematical perception of shapes, carefully judged proportionality in the relationship of the figures, objects and space, a high degree of generalization and a consistent treatment of questions of lighting. The refined colour scheme is also beautiful, with the master giving preference to light, joyful hues.

In his final years, blindness prevented Piero della Francesca from working as a painter and he engaged in theoretical researches: his treatises on mathematics and geometry should be ranked alongside the contributions made in that field by Leon Battista Alberti, Luca Pacioli and Leonardo da Vinci.

Piero della Francesca was one of the first to discover the laws of perspective. His works include a unique manuscript On Perspective in Painting that is in the collection of the Fondazione Palazzo Magnani and provides a basis for an understanding of the whole of perspective and the essence of the visual illusions of the Renaissance.

It is important to note that the bulk of the expenses for the preparation of the exhibition have been covered by the general sponsor – the petroleum refining company Rosneft. Rosneft’s activities are an example of socially responsible business. The company actively supports significant events in Russia’s cultural life. It provides funding for projects that determine the cultural look of the country, influence national identity and form an understanding of high culture in society. The State Hermitage expresses its gratitude to Rosneft for its collaboration, invaluable support for the museum and the opportunity to show visitors works by one of the most celebrated artists of the 15th century.

The exhibition curator is Tatiana Kirillovna Kustodieva, Candidate of Art Studies, leading researcher in the State Hermitage’s Department of Western European Fine Art.

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The Sea Ranch: Architecture, Environment, and Idealism

MD Staff

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Rush House interior and ocean view, 2018; photo: © Leslie Williamson

One hundred miles north of San Francisco, perched on the edge of 10 miles of rugged, wind-swept California coast, is a touchstone of 20th-century architectural history — The Sea Ranch. Conceived in 1964 by developer Al Boeke and a group of Bay Area architects, landscape architects and graphic designers including Charles Moore, Joseph Esherick, William Turnbull, Lawrence Halprin and Barbara Stauffacher Solomon, this development was founded as the antithesis of suburban sprawl. With the open-minded optimism of 1960s California as a jumping-off point, The Sea Ranch was designed as a modern model community combining affordable living with exemplary architecture and a shared commitment to “live lightly on the land.”

On December 22, 2018, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) will open The Sea Ranch: Architecture, Environment, and Idealism, an exhibition devoted to exploring the early concepts and plans of this seminal Northern California Modern development. The exhibition will feature archival and contemporary photographs, original drawings and sketches from the project’s designers and a full-scale architectural replica.

“In mid-20th century California, Modern architecture represented social progress. It signaled a shirking of tradition and bold new models for living. The Sea Ranch was envisioned as a place to embrace the land, a particularly moody and memorable land, that could expand California’s existing indoor-outdoor lifestyle beyond cloudless skies and manicured golf courses,” said Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher, Helen Hilton Raiser Curator of Architecture and Design. “The exhibition at SFMOMA revisits the earliest designs and concepts for The Sea Ranch, which embodied the progressive ideals of the initial team who designed for higher environmental standards and architectural excellence.”

The Vision + Design Team

In the years after World War II, when real estate expansion created vast, identical suburbs for the burgeoning middle class, several California developers had a different idea. They sought to break this mold through financially viable projects that linked progressive values with modern architecture. One developer, Alfred “Al” Boeke, acquired a 10-mile by one-mile parcel of coastal California property bisected by a two-lane highway. Situated on a craggy shoreline above the Pacific Ocean, the site consisted of a series of meadows bordered by rows of Monterey cypress trees and, across the highway, a dense forest backed by the Gualala River. Formerly home to the indigenous Pomo Indians, loggers and a sheep ranch, it was now the site for a radical experiment in modern architecture.

Boeke’s vision was to create a two-phase development plan, first offering affordable homes for weekenders to establish the project’s financial stability and then, in phase two, creating a small town with amenities for full-time residents. Boeke enlisted the landscape architect Lawrence Halprin and land, wind and water experts to study the rugged terrain before creating a masterplan. Where Boeke saw financial opportunity, Halprin saw something else — social and environmental possibilities. Halprin, who had experienced the shared purpose of communal living while on a kibbutz in Israel, incorporated those values into the project, as well as his learnings from camping on The Sea Ranch site. His master plan prioritized large swaths of shared meadow and specified that 50 percent of The Sea Ranch land be set aside as common “open space.” Ideas included capturing water from the Gualala River in wells to support the community, mitigating the gale-level oceanic wind through thoughtful tree planting and thinning the looming forest to bring in sunlight. “I realized that it was this character that I hoped we might achieve at The Sea Ranch, a feeling of overall place, a feeling of a community, in which the whole was more important and more dominant than its parts. If we could achieve that — if the whole could link buildings and nature into an organized whole rather than just a group of pretty houses — then we could feel we had created something worthwhile which did not destroy, but rather enhanced the natural beauty we had been given,” explained Halprin.

Boeke assembled a group of Bay Area architects tasked with designing different parts of the community. Established San Francisco architect Joseph Esherick would create the iconic marker building, a general store and restaurant, and a series of single-family homes within the hedgerows. The young, Berkeley-based upstart team of Charles Moore, Donlyn Lyndon, William Turnbull and Richard Whitaker (MLTW) was engaged to design condominiums and a recreation center. Understanding that marketing the community would be key to the project’s success, Halprin enlisted graphic designer Barbara Stauffacher Solomon to create the project’s distinctive branding and graphic identity as well as interior supergraphics in the common buildings.

“The Sea Ranch signaled a new era in building that attempted to hold countercultural impulses and developer-driven financial imperatives in a sympathetic balance. The initial phase of The Sea Ranch development was so transformative that it set off a wave of inspiration in form and typology, radiating well beyond Northern California. It set in place a system for the sensitive occupation of a precious landscape that acknowledged the past while operating from a distinctly modern perspective,” said Joseph Becker, associate curator of architecture and design.

Architecture

The Sea Ranch’s proposition foregrounded stewardship of the land, a shared system of values and design rules and the use of forms and materials inspired by Northern California’s vernacular. Using the visual language of the region’s barns, sheds and other agricultural buildings as inspiration, Joseph Esherick’s six “Hedgerow Houses” demonstrated how designing with minimal impact on the environment could also be contemporary, spacious and beautiful. His designs reduced visual clutter to avoid catching the ever-present wind and their sloping roofs mimicked nearby Cypress trees. “We deliberately took the windiest place. If we could provide a comfortable environment for people in this hostile environment, then I thought we were home free,” explained Esherick. Key to the design decisions for all of The Sea Ranch was the mandate to keep structures unpainted and sided with wood native to the project to enable them to blend into the environment. A Design Review Committee codified a design language and created processes to ensure conformity among the built projects and restrain visual distractions such as flowerbeds, parked cars and reflective surfaces.

MLTW was engaged to design a new type of housing structure consisting of 10 units around a central courtyard within a single footprint. This project, Condominium One, encouraged communal living, limited environmental impact and provided low cost units for buyers from a variety of income levels. “We wanted the units to be organized together, compact and big and in the landscape, like barns and farm clusters, rather than simply sprinkled across it, to open up more lands for commons but also to bring attention to the larger landscape. The kinds of materials we used were also to be of the place, allowing the landscape to be the dominant influences,” said Donlyn Lyndon. In Condominium One, MLTW took a “saddlebags” approach, where a simple core structure holds the central mass of the building and additional volumes are “hung” off this space to serve multiple purposes. “The idea is you draw a relatively simply shaped building and then add forms to it to make special places. For example, a corner window bay that captures the view, a bed nook, or a projecting stair. The ‘saddlebag’ forms are not pure but respond to the particularity of their site,” described Mary Griffin, wife of the late Bill Turnbull. Condominium One’s design memo included rough-hewn timber, exposed posts and beams, unfinished siding and a signature, raised loft known as an aedicule that functioned as a bedroom.

“With the strict adhesion to unfinished redwood and cypress siding, a massing of simple volumes, and shed roofs that mimicked the agricultural barn while acting responsively to mitigate the prevailing winds, The Sea Ranch was an evolution of the Bay Area regional styles into something new,” added Joseph Becker.

Graphics

As impactful as the architecture and landscape design of The Sea Ranch were, so too were its graphics. Halprin hired Barbara “Bobbie” Stauffacher Solomon to create a logo, marketing materials and the signature interior murals in the development’s communal spaces. Using the now classically modern Helvetica font, a clear departure from the swirly ’60s typefaces being used in the Bay Area at the time, and incorporating motifs riffing off the site’s history as a sheep ranch, Stauffacher created a graphic system that was immediately identifiable with this project. At The Sea Ranch’s Moonraker Athletic Center, Stauffacher had free rein to add color to the whitewashed plywood interior. Her now-iconic supergraphics exploded with colorful visual impact in the restrained spaces, and launched a movement within graphic design that was recognized with the cover of Global Architecture magazine in 1966.

Postscript

The Sea Ranch opened in 1964 with a completed nine-unit condominium, a set of small demonstration homes, a restaurant and general store, and a small pool and tennis recreation center. In its first decade, it seemed that the owners who believed in the original concept both realized and supported The Sea Ranch vision. Yet in the early 1970s, controversy arose when inland residents, fearing that coastal development would limit public access, filed a lawsuit resulting in a 10-year construction moratorium at The Sea Ranch. This suspension shifted the priorities of the developers, who needed to recoup the financial losses incurred over a decade of inaction. Phase two of The Sea Ranch — the town for year-round residents — was never constructed and development was instead recalibrated to continue to focus on weekenders. Yet the spirit of the founders lives on — current owners at The Sea Ranch are actively discussing its future as a collective. The environmentally attentive design philosophies along with the now-iconic graphics resonated globally and still influence architecture and design today. Over 50 years later, The Sea Ranch continues to be a model for 21st-century progressive living.

Organization

The Sea Ranch: Architecture, Environment, and Idealism is organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher, Helen Hilton Raiser Curator of Architecture and Design, and Joseph Becker, associate curator of architecture and design, are co-curators.

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