Penguin out to destroy artist’s book

sticker_copyMiriam Elia, a British artist and comedian, and her brother, Ezra, recently published We Go to the Gallery, a book on art that parodies contemporary art in the style of a children’s first reader in England. The publishing giant Penguin want to destroy all copies of it.

Like the Dick and Jane books in the U.S., England has the Peter and Jane series published by Ladybird, a division of Penguin Publishing.  In Elia’s book,  Peter and Jane go to look at contemporary art in a gallery with their mother. Funds to publish the book were raised using Kickstarter and she printed 1,000 copies.

According to Penguin’s lawyers, the book violates the publisher’s copyright.  They are willing to allow Elia to sell enough books to pay off her costs as long as she burns the remaining copies herself or turns them over to them, so they can destroy them.

Elia is refusing “to bend to their depravity” in a statement that ends with:

They will never find the books they seek to pulp, and if they take me to court, I will fight them, however long the battle takes. But I am need of your help. If you like the work and wish to see it properly published, please email I will shortly be starting a petition, and may have to devise a fighting fund to help with legal costs.

The full statement can be found on Elia’s website.

Below is a gallery of some of the pages of Elia’s book.  (Click on an image to see a slide show.) Take a look while you still can.

Color ecstasy — the Holi Festival

holi.handMarch 17, 2014 was marked with two ecstatic celebrations where color plays an important role.  One, St. Patrick’s Day, has long been identified with the color green.  But in the Hindu world, the arrival of Spring is greeted with a mad riot of colors during the festival of Holi.

Celebrated in India and other nations with large Hindu populations, it welcomes the end of winter with wild ceremonies.  During this Festival of Color, men and women chase each other through the streets and throw handfuls of bright pigments or squirt colorful paint on each other.   Crowds of revelers sing and dance in town squares as priests with huge hoses spray magenta, blue, or red paint from above.  Young and old, rich and poor have fun together and no one is immune from being doused with color.  Even tourists who find themselves in the midst of the festivities will soon be drenched in wet paint by young children with spray bottles.  By mid-day, the air is filled with dense clouds of color and the smell of sweet perfumes added to the pigments.

Each year spectacular pictures of the Holi Festival are published in newspapers and magazines around the world.  Below is a gallery of some of them (click on a picture to go to slide show).

[Text from The Power of Art, Chapter 2.]

The Dove: Picasso and Matisse


Picasso, Dove of Peace, 1949

Picasso, Dove of Peace, 1949

One of Picasso’s most famous and popular images is his lithograph of a dove as a symbol of peace.  But the dove was Matisse’s.  Literally.

Matisse and Picasso first met at the salon of the American patroness and writer Gertrude Stein’s in the early 1900s.  At the time they were rivals for both her affections and those of the modern artists of Paris.  Picasso’s followers once plastered the walls of Montmartre with anti-Matisse graffiti like “Matisse drives you mad!” and “Matisse does more harm than war!”  Matisse responded by using the term “Cubism” to mock the art of Picasso and his followers, a label that would, of course, stick.

As they grew older, they grew closer.  By the end of World War II, the old rivals had truly become great friends.  Matisse was now almost eighty, nearly bed-ridden and living in apartments in Vence, a town close to Nice.  His wife, Amelie, had recently divorced him; his children were grown with children of their own. His bedroom and studio were filled with birds and plants to keep him company and inspire him.

Matisse and Doves, Vence, 1944 Henri Cartier-Bresson

Matisse and Doves, Vence, 1944
Henri Cartier-Bresson

Picasso, along with his mistress, Francoise Gilot, was a regular visitor whenever they came south. They often exchanged paintings and even exhibited together.  Matisse kept a Picasso over his bedroom’s mantelpiece and Picasso displayed his Matisses in his studio. Picasso, who was eleven years younger, would bring recent paintings to Matisse for comments.  An engraver who did work for both of them said Picasso thought of Matisse “as an elder brother.”  Matisse thought of his rival as “the kid.” Their arguments continued, but more like sibling rivalry as they sat alone at the pinnacle of the art world.

When Matisse took on his last great commission —  the chapel of Vence — he emptied his living quarters so he could cover the walls with brightly colored cut-papers and not be distracted.  He bid a sad farewell to the plants that one can see in so many of his paintings. His exotic pigeons were sent to Picasso.

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“Looking” at the Mona Lisa

Sergio Velayos/Flickr

Crowd surrounding the Mona Lisa in the Louvre.
Sergio Velayos/Flickr

I recently became upset (or cranky as my family would say) while reading about a broadcast last week on NPR’s Morning Edition.  It featured a Princeton Sociology professor who tried to determine whether it was quality or chance that made an artwork successful.  [After analyzing the data he collected, he concluded that as long as the work met “a basic standard of quality” it was chance that made art famous.]  But another pointless attempt to quantify art wasn’t what disturbed me, it was the photograph of the crowd around the Mona Lisa accompanying the article.

A scene like this can be seen just about any day at the Louvre, with visitors of different ages and races pushing to get a better view of da Vinci’s most famous work.  Yet, if you examine the photograph closely, can you find anyone actually looking directly at the painting?  One can excuse the guards, whose job is to look the other way (though their poses appear sadly indifferent to the masterpiece in their midst).  But even though some of these tourists have traveled thousands of miles at great expense to reach this room, most are looking at the Mona Lisa through the low-resolution screen of their phones or cameras. [Through a glass darkly, indeed!] Others are looking intensely at the results of a snapshot or showing it to a friend. Some are leaving the scene, satisfied that they have captured their prey and moving on to collect others.  I was excited when I noticed the young man on the right actually looking directly at the Mona Lisa, until I realized he was also listening to music with his headphones.

Of course, the large number of people, a layer of thick bullet-proof glass and two rows of barriers do not encourage quiet contemplation of a great work of art.  But the more I look at the photograph, the more I think that it is our celebrated technology enabled global culture that is the most significant barrier these visitors are facing.  Maybe what I read as the guard on the left’s indifference is actually justifiable disdain.