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Why physics is so fantastic, not to mention sexy:

This Harvard physics apparatus uses a series of pendulums of varying lengths, swinging together, to make a mesmerizing dance:

The period of one complete cycle of the dance is 60 seconds. The length of the longest pendulum has been adjusted so that it executes 51 oscillations in this 60 second period. The length of each successive shorter pendulum is carefully adjusted so that it executes one additional oscillation in this period. Thus, the 15th pendulum (shortest) undergoes 65 oscillations.

Our apparatus was built from a design published by Richard Berg [Am J Phys 59(2), 186-187 (1991)] at the University of Maryland. The particular apparatus shown here was built by our own Nils Sorensen.

[via boingboing.net]

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Image captured from David Wojnarowicz's video "Fire in the Belly," removed from the National Portrait Gallery's exhibition

As an individual who values artistic creation and freedom of speech, I would like the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian Institution to know that I am deeply distressed and saddened over the cowardly decision to censor the exhibition “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” by removing the video by the late artist David Wojnarowicz titled “A Fire in My Belly,” thereby displaying an unnecessary capitulation to political pressure from various conservative and right-wing factions.

As Blake Gopnik notes in his excellent article on the subject,National Portrait Gallery Bows to Censors, Withdraws Wojnarowicz Video on Gay Love,” published November 30th in the Washington Post, if museums were to remove every piece of art that upset some person or group, our museums would be pretty empty.  Can you imagine this kind of censorship applied to our libraries?  Because that’s the kind of logic being used, and if we don’t speak out against this, book censorship is not far down the line.

This is not a small, isolated, unimportant incident.  Many people will remember the late Senator Jesse Helms, and how he was able to escalate conservative outrage over Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ” in order to effectively eviscerate the NEA.

Wojnarowicz, a highly regarded American artist who died of AIDS in 1992, sadly cannot add his own voice to our outcry of disgust about this act of censorship.  I’ve signed lots of petitions but never started one before now.  This seemed like a good time to start. Please take action against museum censorship today, and pass this along:

http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/no-to-museum-censorship/

For another good read on how we got to this point, check out New York Magazine’s article “U.S. Representative John Boehner Is Now a Curator”.

This is not an issue of quality. Who the heck knows why museums show half of what they do?  Like why does the winner of Bravo’s (un)reality show “Work of Art” get a solo show in the Brooklyn Museum of Art?  The public is not collectively qualified to be in charge of making curatorial decisions.  I support the National Portrait Gallery’s decision to mount this exhibition, and would like to see the curators continue to have the freedom to do their jobs, while the public reserves the freedom to decide whether to go see the show or not.

Whether or not you or I think a work like Serrano’s “Piss Christ” was any creation of startling genius or not isn’t really the point, the point being that Jesse Helms was able to use it, regardless of the quality or even the artistic intent behind it, to end NEA grants to individual visual artists – a moratorium still in effect today.  This means other deserving artists (and I’d like to think I can include myself), are no longer eligible to apply for those NEA dollars.  And that’s not Serrano’s fault.  It’s Helms’ fault and his supporters’ fault (from their standpoint, a victory), but also all the fault of all the lazy-ass artists, dems, and freedom of expression lovers who were too complacent and apathetic to stand up against Helms and his thugs.  And don’t think I didn’t take notice that there was a selective focus on giving visual artists the shaft then that’s just as vehement and selective this time too.   NEA grants for individual writers & composers still exist.  Somehow, the right-wing nut-jobs don’t realize that the pen (or typewriter or computer or musical instrument) can be equally “subversive” or “offensive” – or shall we say “powerful?”  Oh yeah…all you have to do is look at a few Tea Partier signs to know they don’t read anyhow.  Reading is for illeetists like our un-American, Kenyan President.  But maybe he’s not reading either, since it sure seems he’s not reading the writing on the wall clearly spelling out that a bunch of us are feeling pretty concerned about the whereabouts of his spine.  But I digress…

Beyond the issues of censorship and freedom of expression, it is hard to ignore the anti-gay rhetoric being brought into the argument by those who have lobbied for the removal of the Wojnarowicz video.  This, and not the 11 seconds of the video, is the kind of hate speech of which our society should be wary.

So I’m up on my soapbox today, and I’m staying here!  To heck with the righteous wingnuts. If they want “art,” they can have all the Thomas Kinkade they want. (And I’m NOT giving you a link for that.  You can just go google him if you must.)

p.s. Another mighty fine link for those who care about this issue: Tyler Green on artinfo.com

“Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to a divine purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: That we are here for the sake of others…for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day, I realize how much my outer and inner life is built upon the labors of people, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received.” ~ Albert Einstein

I’ve been known to have my gripes about the institutional machinery churning out MFAs, and the economic chicanery of the commercial art world that promotes the idea that this degree denotes superior artistic talent, intellect or dedication.  As Jerry Saltz writes in NY Magazine, “These days, if a young artist starts out showing at Larry Gagosian it feels silly, misguided, out of scale, and odd — like the artist is in it for the wrong reasons.”

Yes, an MFA does denote a bigger debt load (or bigger trust fund), but we all know there are plenty of artists out there who have and continue to produce incredible work by following less traditional paths.  Let us not forget that the supposed indispensability of having an MFA is a fairly recent development for visual artists.  But that aside, while I may have reservations about certain institutions, my point here, and I promise to get to it, is to speak out loudly in favor of teachers, and the importance of all of us being very vocal and visible in supporting the role of arts in the public education programs for the nation’s youth.  (If you’re in NY, here’s a good place to start advocating for the arts.)

“A teacher’s purpose is not to create students in his own image, but to develop students who can create their own image. “~ Unknown

Don’t you fondly think of those who have formally and/or informally offered insights, guidance, opinions and encouragement along the way?  I speak from experience to say that you might be surprised at how much showing your appreciation might mean to them.

Here are a few of the people I have to thank:

Incredibly perceptive, sharp and frank Regina Granne, who taught me that looking hard and drawing well are indispensable abilities, but aren’t enough if one isn’t honing one’s thinking skills all the while.

Knox Martin, at 87 and still painting away, eternally mischievous, irrepressibly lustful, playful, and passionate – an unaffected cad of sorts.  [His current solo show at Woodward Gallery runs through November 13, 2010.]

The late Richard Pousette-Dart, irascible by association, though not in manner, whom I have to thank for encouraging me to look deep within and pursue my creative vision, for caring not a whit when it diverged from his own, and for telling me to use a bigger sketchbook.

The late Robert Beauchamp, an uncompromising painter’s painter, who made it undeniably obvious how sexy paint can be.

Bruce Dorfman, who taught me the difficult lesson of mining successes from self-proclaimed so-called failures.

“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” (Albert Einstein, again.)

And I’ll leave you with some views from teachers’ perspectives:

A post by Julia Hensley on teaching and making art and a typographic video version of Taylor Mali‘s spoken poem “What Teachers Make.”

And if you want to be impressed more, check out Taylor Mali’s mission to inspire 1000 people to become teachers.  So far, he’s convinced 580, and counting!

My previous post, “Not So Fan-tastic,” describes my receipt of a “fan” letter in the mail from teenager Suzanne Lopez, requesting  my autograph on a blank, white index card she had enclosed.  Before responding to what was a decidedly unusual request, I did some research and found out that the identical letter had been sent internationally to many artists of all disciplines.  Well, the almost identical letter.  Suzanne revised her age randomly between 17, 16 and 15, and her return address changed often.

Today I received an email from Suzanne, using a different name, who was upset to find that I had publicly aired my skepticism.  I will add my rough translation of her message and the original French at the bottom of this post.  The few points I’d note before asking for your comments are as follows:

First off, I have no desire to alienate or criticize anyone who genuinely appreciates my work, or to get into a virtual pissing match with any professed admirer.  People out there have hobbies that are a whole lot weirder than collecting autographs, and I’m not passing judgment.  However, I would find it more genuine to receive a compliment from an adult who doesn’t feel the need to masquerade as a teen, more meaningful to receive one from someone who can remark even in some small way about how the work speaks to them, and maybe even someone who expresses enough interest in my work to subscribe to my email list before asking me for something, even if it is just my signature.

Secondly, if Suzanne is an admirer of mine and familiar with my work as she says, I’m  puzzled why she remains unaware of my gender and addresses me as Monsieur.  It is clear on my website’s home page, my bio/cv and reviews that I am not male.  One thing about her original letter that struck me as odd was that it was entirely impersonal – worded identically to those others had received, except for artistic discipline.  In her recent communication with me, she still says nothing personal or specific about my work, other than quoting “Dear   O  Applause!  to you.  I was impressed.  You’ve done it again!” indicating only that she’d seen the faux postcard on my contact page.

Finally, regarding personal addresses, my studio address is on my website, which is how she was able to contact me by mail in the first place.  I like the USPS and encourage people to contact me, but maybe she’s right that such info shouldn’t be generally available.  As a courtesy, I have removed Suzanne’s return address from my earlier post.

Though this whole thing makes me kind of sad, I mean no disrespect to Suzanne, who may indeed have an “Imaginary Museum” of artists’ autographs, enjoying a vaguely quirky hobby for over 35 years.  I hope she will continue to love art and discover artists she admires, and that she eventually finds a truly personal way to connect with people where she feels comfortable just being herself.

P.S. There is no international inquest, call for witnesses, or FBI involvement.  Just me and you, the true friends and supporters who come visit this little blog of mine.

Dear Mr. Sky Pape

I am writing you this message in French. I don’t know whether you know this language, but I think that having reliable detective talents, you know how to translate it or have it translated. I read with great surprise and some amusement the article on your blog about “Suzanne Lopez” and the letter you received in June.  Surprise and amusement because I never thought such an innocent letter could provoke an international inquest, along with a call for witnesses!  For as you will agree, you only received a letter asking you for an autograph, and you had total freedom faced with this request to respond or not respond. The request is not specifically illegal, and the intervention of the FBI may perhaps be a bit of an exaggeration [overreaction], even if we do live in an increasingly policed society: I am surprised that an artist would completely agree.

First, I will reassure you that there is no underlying bank card fraud or similar project. I believe that you would have already heard about it.  So, I will reveal the scandalous secret: it is just…a collection of autographs!  Amazing, right?  The “Imaginary Museum” is a collection of autographs.

One confession, still…Indeed, it is the only “scam”, the age is not true.  And I will tell you why.  This collection started when Suzanne Lopez was 15 years old…16, 17…and the letter has remained much the same since.  I “fixed” on that age, which was a good time in life.  And this collection started in 1973.  Do the math.  (At that time there was no Internet, and fewer amateur detectives.)

There.  This “truth” will undoubtedly disappoint you.  Whatever.  Know in any case that I don’t find it appropriate to give the world a personal address. Would you want a stranger doing the same with yours?

My collection does not include the autograph of Sky Pape.  Too bad.  I like what you make a lot.

Dear   O  Applause!  to you   .  i was impressed.  You’ve done it again!

Sincerely,
Suzanne Lopez

Cher M. Sky Pape,
Je vous écris ce message en français. J’ignore si vous connaissez cette langue, mais je pense, qu’ayant des talents sûrs de détective, vous saurez la traduire ou la faire traduire. J’ai lu avec beaucoup d’étonnement et un peu d’amusement votre article sur votre blog au sujet de “Suzanne Lopez” et de la lettre que vous avez reçue en juin. Etonnement et amusement, car je ne pensais pas qu’une innocente lettre puisse provoquer une telle enquête internationale, assortie d’un appel à témoins! Car, vous en conviendrez, vous avez seulement reçu une lettre vous demandant un autographe, et vous aviez toute la latitude face à cette requête de répondre ou de ne pas répondre. La demande n’est pas spécialement illégale, et l’intervention du FBI serait peut-être un peu exagérée, même si nous vivons dans une société de plus en plus policière: je m’étonne qu’un artiste abonde dans ce sens.
Je vais d’abord vous rassurer: il n’y a là-dessous aucun projet d’escroquerie à la carte bancaire ou autre projet similaire. Je crois que vous en auriez entendu parler. Alors, je vais vous révéler le “pot-aux-roses”: il s’agit simplement d’une…. collection d’autographes. Incroyable, non? Et seulement cela. Le “Musée imaginaire”, c’est une collection d’autographes…
Un aveu, quand même… Effectivement, et c’est la seule “escroquerie”, l’âge n’est pas le bon. Et je vais vous dire pourquoi: cette collection a commencé quand Suzanne Lopez avait 15 ans… 16,17… et la lettre est restée un peu la même depuis. J’ai “bloqué” sur cet âge, qui était une bonne époque. Et cette collection a commencé en 1973. Faites vos calculs. (A l’époque, il n’y avait pas Internet, et moins d’apprentis détectives.)
Voilà. Cette “vérité” vous déçoit sans doute. Peu importe. Sachez en tout cas que je ne trouve pas très opportun de donner en pâture au monde une adresse personnelle. Voudriez-vous qu’un inconnu fasse de même avec la vôtre?
Ma collection ne comprendra donc pas l’autographe de Sky Pape. C’est dommage, j’aime bien ce que vous faites.
Dear   O  Applause!  to you   .  i was impressed.  You’ve done it again!
Bien à vous,
Suzanne Lopez

Things handmade and handwritten have a special appeal to me — perhaps it’s something about the humanness of their imperfection and scale. Who doesn’t like to find a real letter in the mailbox amidst the stack of bills and solicitations? Postmarked from France, I turned the envelope over in my hands and opened it with curiosity.

Written on stationery imprinted with two pretty leaves in the upper left and a return address from Suzanne Lopez in France, it was dated June 28, 2010, and read as follows:

Dear Ms. Sky Pape,

I am 16 years old and Art is my passion. I’m writing to you to express my admiration and my enthusiasm for your artistic way and for your works, your creations – I find them wonderful.

I would be very happy to have your autograph on the small card I’m sending you, for my ‘imaginary Museum’…

Thank you very much.

Sincerely,
Suzanne

Suzanne Lopez letter

Sweet, right? For about a second, I was flattered.  It was just that part about putting my “autograph” on the small card, a blank, white index card, that had all my alarms going off in a deafening cacophonous din.  I am not saying I don’t have fans — it is a source of  great pleasure that I happen to know personally or virtually almost every kind soul who has collected or ever admired my work.  Clearly, this was a case for some detective work (i.e., Google), if there ever was one.

In a matter of seconds, I found my answer in an article by Sarah Hall from the Salisbury Post, dated June 27, 2008.  Ms. Hall, a composer, had received the same letter, essentially verbatim, from Suzanne Lopez – with the notable exception that back in 2008, Suzy was claiming to be 17, and “music is my passion.”  According to Ms. Hall, she heard from people from across the US and Europe who had received the same letter.

Having been a victim of identity theft in the past (a nightmare to be sure!), I had no intention of sending my easily scannable signature to anyone.  Still, though this reeked of being a scam, it seemed like a very expensive one, having someone write letters by hand and pay for postage? For what ends? What does a signature even mean anymore? Maybe this “imaginary museum” was just the pet project of some oddball who thought they needed to pass themselves off as a teenage girl in order to get the desired response.

It’s hard for me to imagine what this person would want with my signature.  It’s not as if my work is anything that could be easily forged and then have my signature appended to it for authenticity. (Though BEWARE, some work is indeed much easier to rip off — case in point: Lori McNee and the copycat artist.)

I’m no a stranger to fan mail, having been on the sending end more than once.  As a kid, I sent George Harrison  a flawlessly rendered pencil portrait of him, capturing the soulful gaze of the ‘spiritual’ Beatle.  I requested no reply and even though I never heard back from him, surely he treasured it — as sensitive as he was.  As a tween, already interested in pursuing art and busy working on honing the skills required for realistic representation of the world, I wrote to one of Canada’s eminent artists at the time, Ken Danby, asking for any advice he might share.  He wrote back, offering some encouragement and aphorisms about being an artist.  In recent years, I’ve even written to a favorite teacher from junior high school, telling him how his teaching  made a lasting impression on my life, only to hear back that when he received my note, he happened to have been carrying a photo of me and a fellow student in his briefcase for weeks, intending to show his current students how kids dressed “back in the day” when he started teaching.  There have been other letters sent from time to time.  It feels good to let people know that they have meant something to me — that they and their work, ideas, and experience have value and meaning.

In their efforts to shepherd their work into the world, artists tend to be particularly vulnerable to people trying to take financial and personal advantage of them. Many people know I like to do my bit to keep the USPS alive, but like everyone else, my bullshit-detector must always be on.  If Suzanne Lopez is a real person, I don’t mean to poke fun at you or be cruel.  However, I think I’ll save the postage, and just post my reply online:

Dear Suzanne Lopez,

I’m writing to you to express my appreciation for your ‘admiration and enthusiasm of my artistic way.’  A sincere letter of thanks or admiration can be a wonderful thing, and it’s always meaningful to know when someone has felt a connection with the work.  I am sorry, but in this age of crime and identity theft, it seems unwise and against my better judgment to provide you with a copy of my signature.

If you really exist and don’t want people to think you are a con artist or criminal, I’d suggest writing something individualized and sincere to every artist and composer to whom you reach out, refraining from lying about your age or falsifying any other information about yourself, and not asking for anything in return.  I hope you develop a passion for truth that exceeds your passion for art and music.

Sincerely,

Sky

If anyone else has received similar “fan” letters, please feel free to comment below!

p.s. There is a follow-up to this post you may wish to read here: https://skypape.wordpress.com/2010/10/09/not-so-fan-tastic-part-ii/

Here’s the plan for tomorrow’s gallery crawl 3/27:  Meet at 11:15 am at The Drawing Center (35 Wooster St).  From there, we’ll go see Bruce Pearson’s work at  Ronald Feldman Gallery (31 Mercer St), then on to Location One (26 Greene St) for Laurie Anderson installations, The Painting Center (52 Greene St), and lastly Margarete Roeder Gallery (545 Broadway) to see works by John Cage and Tom Marioni.  Maybe something else thrown in between for kicks…it depends.

Join us for all or part of the crawl.  Call me at 917-992-4001 if you’re trying to find where we are mid-way.

Traversing the vast expanse of Audubon Terrace always brings on a sense of exhilaration.  There just aren’t that many  wide open public spaces surrounded by imposing Beaux Arts architecture to be found these days.  So, last Tuesday night, passing the statue of El Cid on a rearing stallion, I took a deep breath of brisk air and soaked up the scene as I made my way to the American Academy of Arts and Letters for the opening of their annual invitational exhibition.

The Academy’s premises have just undergone an enormous expansion, and the new exhibition space is impressive.  There’s a lot of work in this show (116 paintings, photographs, multi-media works, sculptures, installations, and works on paper by 30 artists), up until April 5th, so I’m just going to point out a few highlights:

A trio of neon pieces by Stephen Antonakos infused the east gallery of the new space with their jewel-like glow.  This mature artist not only knows how confident, modern,  & minimal can still be engaging, warm & welcoming in terms of art, he lives it!

In the south gallery, three portraits (one of herself) by Ann Gale assert a subtle, yet undeniably strong presence.  The canvases coalesce animism of paint and the energy of the living human.  These paintings evince a kindred connection to Lucien Freud, but perhaps more importantly to both Cezanne and even Giacometti in the attention paid to locating a mark or bit of paint in a very particular physical space, with the paint simultaneously describing and deconstructing.  When much portraiture relies on photography and digital resources, becoming flat and lifeless, these portraits hum and buzz and bristle with the intensity of living and looking — the experience of the eyes, interpreted by the mind behind them, without any intervention.  The portraits’ subjects are rendered alive and real, and the recognition of  these daubs of paint coming together to convey an individual with such psychological power is to wonder at how our own cells happen to hang together to create the assumed reality of self.

Artists ultimately selected to participate in this exhibition have first been invited by one of Academy’s members to submit work, so it’s a generally high bar of peer recognition.  In this year’s show, there are a number of big-name artists such as April Gornik, Gregory Crewdson, Roxy Paine, and Beverly McIver.  To these eyes, the biggest surprise and stand-out of the exhibition came by way of paintings bearing titles like “To Crack a Smile,” and “Vaudeville Hook” by David Nelson, an artist with whom I was not familiar.  Nelson’s non-objective canvases are both technically and aesthetically seductive in a manner as modest, genuine and self-effacing artist as the artist himself.  I’ve rarely met anyone who seemed so truly touched and surprised to receive well-earned compliments and congratulations.  Unfortunately, my camera was out of juice, and I couldn’t find any other images of his work on-line to show you, so you’ll have to take my word for it or go see for yourself!

[images above: Audubon Terrace looking east, c. 1950, courtesy American Academy of Arts & Letters; Installation view of work by Stephen Antonakos, “Departure” 1993-2007,  61 x 51 x 5″; “Arrival” 2008, 88 x 46 x 5″, and “Respite” 2000-2001, all pieces white paint on versacel, neon, copyright and courtesy of Stephen Antonakos; Ann Gale, “Self Portrait with Blue Stripes”, 14 x 11″, oil on masonite, courtesy of Hckett-Freedman Gallery, San Francisco, copyright Ann Gale.]

Things you can do with crayons and pencils if just drawing with them seems just far too ordinary:

Christian Faur makes pixelated images from hand-cast encaustic crayons.

Here’s one for those who think you might be able to erase a few pounds from the backside whilst sitting on it, doing nothing!  Pencil bench by the twin Boex brothers.

[Both sites via Monster-Munch, a site which may just have the most adorable favicon ever, plus tons of other wondrous stuff.]

Do you use public transit to go see art or do anything in NYC? If you live here or come here often, find out how proposed service cuts and fare hikes are going to affect you and respond.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,

Ring, happy bells, across the snow:

The year is going, let him go;

Ring out the false, ring in the true.

~Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Happy New Year to you!  I hope 2009 is a spectacular year for you, full of joy, adventure, love, creativity, good challenges, and many rewards.  May you enjoy excellent health and well-being, and please do come visit me again.  I’ll keep the virtual fire going, ready to welcome you back.

Warmest wishes,

Sky

[Above image, (detail) Untitled (Image DSC4325), ink + paper ©Sky Pape]