junk culture

dollNext up, Junk Culture, who we discovered via twitter. Seems they’ve just started a simple tumblr image blog, which links mostly to Etsy postings (all their stuff on Etsy). This is an out and out shop, with no claim at museumdome, but we like their taste in vintage objects and somehow view them through a collector’s lens.

Recent stuff we like: A Pyrex Casserolle Dish, A Lamp made of Galvanized Iron, and a teal dinnerware set.

plan 59 from cyberspace

oj boyPlan 59, THE MUSEUM (AND GIFT SHOP) OF MID-CENTURY ILLUSTRATION. Really it’s just a shop, but again, a wonderful collection of images. Our favorites are the scary kids, demonic little angels, aren’t they?

Like project b, they sell to advertisers, libraries, and individuals alike. They also sell prints of Shorpy’s photo finds. We love these high-res images that he(she?) digs up from (mostly) public archives, but do remain dubious at his(her?) monetization of the project.

retail me not

dexterity gameWe’re going to look at a bunch of museum-cum-retail outlets today, as the G20 assembles and capitalism faces the inevitability of a reality which does not align with models of constant expansion. We’ve touched on this a bit in the past, with “projects” (stores) such as the Etsy revolving paperback book “museum.” And to be fair, we kind of like these projects. They involve curation, they are genuinely filled with interesting items. We guess everything is for sale, in the end.

Read more about our first entry, Barbara Levine’s Project B

First up, Project B, by Barbara Levine, an online museum-shop featuring vintage photos, curiosities, dexterity games, and the like. Ms. Levine is a museum professional, and objects are catalogued with subject tags and condition reports. The dexterity games, our favorites, were exhibited in the San Francisco library in a show curated by Levine.

Project B, we like thee, we just hope you collections don’t get scattered and disassembled too badly as you sell them off.

Pretty Art Robots

In recognition of International Kinetic Art day,* we bring you this wonderful project by Dutch artist Theo Jansen. Jansen has created the Strandbeests, a series of mobile sculptures that wander along the Dutch coast, apparently under their own volition (wind power, stored in recycled lemonade bottles, actually propels them; a “binary step counter,” functions as a ”simple brain”). They’re beautiful.


Jansen explains his project thoroughly in a TED Talk, but it still seems magic. For our money that’s a mark of a good invention—you understand it but you’re still wowed by it (We’re looking at you, flying buttresses).

We’re impressed by the simplicity of Jansen’s work—there is no CPU controlling these things. They don’t even use electricity. Our inner geek loves the new Japanese model robot HRP-4C as much as the next guy, but we prefer lo-fi abstraction to a tour of the Uncanny Valley.

Jansen, who comes off as a mad scientist with a hint of a god complex, has been developing (“evolving”) these things for almost twenty years, and his labor is evident in the creatures’ graceful movement. Most are made from PVC, but one particularly striking Strandbeest is made from 3.2 tons of what looks to be Corten steel. It’s so perfectly engineered that a single person can push it around, its many lumbering metal legs attached to an axis that somehow lets a person move forty times his body weight (check it in the TED video, the second link).


It’s like . . . Calatrava plus Skynet. This is very, very hard to describe and this post is nowhere near as entertaining as watching these things putter around the beach. Please go watch some of this footage and delight in the beauty and craft until the Strandbeests achieve full cognition and enslave us all.

(Thanks to another mad scientist artist, Julia Vallera, who brought this to our attention).

*Since writing this post we have been informed that it’s not technically “International Kinetic Art Day” just because Andy and I both wrote posts about sculptures that move. Please note that banks and the Post Office will be open, and you should have gone to work today. Suggesteddonation regrets the error.

The End of Capitalism; Damien Hirst is some Bullshit

The L Magazine, aka The Village Voice for people with small hands, has just released an arts-themed issue. A pull quote from the feature article reads, “Art as an exciting stock risk for a venture capitalist who cares little about the work itself will go away. This is a good thing.” We tend to agree.


We are students of history; we’re aware that Pope Julius II della Rovere was the great patron of Michelangelo and Raphael, and that the ecclesiast was single-handedly responsible for the commission of some of the great, enduring works of art of all time— work that even we can’t be cynical of. And we know that our beloved Met was, and is, financed by mega-capitalists. Don’t think we haven’t noticed just how many pieces in the permanent collection are gifts of John Pierpont Morgan.

sybilBut you know what? Fuck it, is what. We draw a distinction between crazy rich people funding the visual arts and I-banking speculators who see art as another commodity to make a killing on. We are made sick by the creeping influence of capital in art. In “art.” Frankly, the phrase “The Art Market” makes our little socialist stomachs churn.

Contrary to the claims in Adam Bonislaski’s article in The L, we don’t fetishize the mythical starving, suffering artist—we know that artists need to be compensated for their craft, and that when the economy booms, more artists are able to ply their trade. Great.murakami

But Damien Hirst and Murakami need an ass kicking. Conflating consumerism with high art was funny when Warhol did it, guys. But 50 years have passed, and Warhol’s been inducted into the canon. So that just makes you greedy, derivative profiteers. Hirst, for example, sold his diamond encrusted one-liner for $100 million, then sued a 16-year-old who was making bootleg collages of his work. Because, you know, it’s a self-conscious meta-criticism. damien-hirst-skull-1

“But at least we’re talking about art,” apologists will cry. “Isn’t that the point?” No, no it’s not. We’re also talking about AIG’s request for $165 million of government funds to give bonuses to the assholes that wrecked the economy. That doesn’t make it an art project. Shock does not confer value.

Pick up the latest edition of the L Magazine in those orange boxes before the college kids take em all. BTW this issue also has a handy Spring Arts Preview. We’re psyched about the upcoming Frank Lloyd Wright show at the Guggenheim.

Are we full of it? Almost certainly. Drop some knowledge in the comments below. Let us know just how cynical or naive we are about the state of The Art Market (pukes in mouth). Tell us what  idiots we are. Talk dirty to us.

New Type of Museum Tactic: Cater to the Visitors

PublicTransitPartySubway + PATH + Newark Light Rail = A Long, Strange, Trip to the Newark Museum in Newark, NJ.

Wait, that sounds terrible. But the museum – New Jersey’s largest – was great.

An older friend of mine who likes to wear green wigs and roller skates to parties invited me to visit him at the Newark Museum, where he works. I’m never one to turn down a free, behind-the-scenes tour of a museum, so off I went on three modes of interstate public transit.

I admit I had no expectations about the museum. Newark is close enough to New York City that it can’t compete with the Big Boys – the American Museum of Natural History, the Met, MOMA, etc. How could it attract an audience that could easily take a 30 minute train ride into Manhattan? The delightful answer: it attracts visitors through a combination of local, community-targeted programming and a focus on education through its galleries. Too much jargon? In short, the museum focuses on the visitor, not the art historian or snooty donor, through classes and instruction through its collections.

The museum has really neat workshops for adults and kids in an ample and tricked-out education wing. Glass blowing? Metalworking? Enameling? Six three-hour sessions for around $200 in a room with big windows and the right equipment? Yes, please. Oh, the benefits of available land outside of New York City.

The Newark Museum also takes a creative approach with its exhibit halls. Sure, it doesn’t have 80-some-odd Jackson Pollock paintings. It’s got one and it lives in a room with 8 other abstract expressionist works from the same time period, giving the visitor a sense of the moment of which Pollock’s work was a part in art history. And there are even labels with guiding questions to help the viewers interpret the paintings for themselves. Context! History! Meaning! Wowee.

The museum also incorporates, as a historic house museum, the Ballantine Mansion – home of the Ballantine Brewery family. If the idea of waxing nostalgic about the days when beer in cool retro cans was brewed in the New York area doesn’t attract the sophisticated museum-goer, then I don’t know what will.

As for the natural sciences, the museum features a planetarium and a mini-zoo. Cool beans.

The Newark Museum serves its community of school children and adults who are looking for a more supportive museum experience than the one provided by some of the Manhattan Giants. It does what they can’t because it doesn’t have to serve the tourists or nearly as many annual visitors. My roller-skating friend claimed that it ranks second in the nation among museum spending on educational programming. I was extremely impressed by the museum and happy that I made the trip out there, light rail and all.

New Jersey, I salute you.

Yesterday was a Stumble in the Rain

On Sunday, our gang came across Black & White Project Space, a new non-profit gallery on Driggs Avenue in Brooklyn (n.b. we are an actual gang with matching leather jackets). The space opened on March 7, and its inaugural exhibition, a collection of photos, videos, and objects taken from Brighton Beach, will evolve over a 3-month run.

Out back, a monumental Astroturf portrait of a woman demands your attention–you can see her from the street (camerafone pic by Ryan Muir).

We went down to the brand-new pier jutting out towards Manhattan from the Northside Piers development, apparently designed by the same morons who thought Battery Park City was a good idea (this is not necessarily “factually true,” but Northside has the same soulless, cookie-cutter mediocrity as BPC). I wanted to hate the pier for what it stood for, and I did, kind of. But at the same time it was fun being that far out from shore. It was overcast and New York looked as sexy as she ever does. On the boardwalk itself, some wrought-metal armature forms neat benches and an overhang. It looked like a catwalk gone wrong, sprouting from the wood planks.


A conversation with an NYC Parks officer on the site revealed the Pier is allegedly public—part of a concession that Northside’s developers undoubtedly made to the City to repay for the outsize monstrosities lurking where once rusty but inoffensive warehouses sat. But he was skeptical of how easy the boardwalk will be to access for people who don’t live in one of the new condos that straddle its entrance. Stay tuned.

It’s been a little while since I’ve walked around in Williamsburg, but wow. Residential buildings are popping up there like mushrooms after a rain. Or, they were, before capitalism broke and the Architecture Billings Index (ABI) dropped to its lowest level since they began measuring it.  My uneducated guess it that we’ll see a lot of projects stall and want for tenants in the next few years.

Half-completed glass and steel luxury condos or extant dilapidated brick warehouses? The choice is yours, Williamsburg. Just kidding! There’s no fucking way BK’s industrial heritage will be allowed to remain intact. We hope you like brushed aluminum!

So. While gentrification: Stage Two is coming, it may take a bit longer than initially planned.


Hope Springs Eternal: Nope

diamonds boooooWe took a gander at the Hope Diamond at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History last weekend. To be honest, it pales in comparison to the entire backroom of incredible, naturally formed crystals, not to mention several of the large, many-faceted gems (that’s a cut crystal, we learned) elsewhere in the room. Oh and the crystal ball that was polished into a perfect sphere in China in 1923. Wowzors.

At any rate talk of diamonds always reminds us of this article from the Atlantic Monthly, Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond? It is one of the greatest articles EVAR, in our humble. It’s all about the shady-as-fuck diamond industry, monopolies, the invention of a luxury through advertising and product placement, and other romantic and eternal qualities of the diamond industry.

Dress v. Success

I hate dress codes. It’s a pathetic beef, but they just feel like such an archaic corporate-control mindfuck, as if college graduates couldn’t themselves determine what constitutes “appropriate” in a given professional context. Spending so much time weighing the relative nonsense of such things, I’m hoping this post will jump-start a semi-semi-regular analysis of dress codes in various NYC museum-like institutions vs. the amount of clout they actually seem to have over our “collective” culture at large. (Hypothesis: more conservative = more lame.) I should say that I think what the people who work with the actual public (ticket takers, shop workers, and the like) are required to wear is the most interesting, since museum behind-the-scenesters are generally sitting in ivory office towers or relegated to the basement and therefore wearing winter coats in July.

Corporate Adam & Eve

All that said: Examine, please, Exhibit A. This particular museum-like institution lives in midtown, and shall remain anonymous because, well, I work there. Bonus points if you can guess where it is, even more if you’ve actually been inside.

In said institution:
Men are required to wear full suits at all times. Dark/khaki pants or NEATLY pressed chinos. Dark socks, dark shoes. No boots.
Women are required to wear tailored skirts or dresses that may NOT be 3” or less above the knee, or dress slacks. No boots, no open-toed shoes. Pantyhose or tights at ALL times. Jackets required at all times.

Basically, the Key Words here are “Conservative Work Environment” and “Third Piece.” While this is a welcome platform for me to bitch about outmoded dress requirements, I think it might also be instructive in terms of determining higher-up attitudes toward the cultural landscape in which they hope, at least in theory, to play a part. Is the sight of my unpolished toe really going to offend a patron? Why would I wear pantyhose in July when no one else has worn them since 1989? I mean, even the President’s not wearing a jacket to work anymore.

In the coming weeks expect covert inquiries with other Visitor Services staff around the 5 boroughs combined with personal opinion on particular museum-spaces. Comments? Tips? Snarky opines on this lame idea? Hit me.

Image: Corporate Adam & Eve, Adelle Lutz.

you got review’d: die roboter kommen!

Suggested Donation’s less-employed half spent the month of August in Berlin, where every German earnestly implored, “oh but you must visit the Jewish Museum.” Somehow, I couldn’t bring myself to spend an afternoon looking at family pictures of ghosts of holocausts past.

Instead, my precious Cultural Hours were spent at the Museum of Communication (Museumsstiftung Post und Telekommunikation), a public museum bearing artifacts and interactive displays of the modern history of communications technology. The Museum is run by Deutsch Post, that is, the Post Office–and it’s housed in an anachronistically Wilhelmine building just a few blocks west of Checkpoint Charlie. Visitors entering the Museum’s palatial lobby are greeted by three whirring Jetsons-esque robots. They beep and click and wheel around, following a large exercise ball–and delighted children–around the marble floor. These robots are permanent fixtures in the space, but the real goods were upstairs–in a temporary exhibition called ‘Die Roboter Kommen!’ (The Robots are Coming!)

The exhibition gives way to a series of eerily lit rooms with a fascinating–I dare say awesome–collection of larger than life robots, supplemented with robot videos, graphic art, and other cultural kitsch. There are robots both real and imagined–medical surgery bots and giants robotic spiders (seemingly military) lead to the Metropolis deity and the cylon from Bjork’s All is Full of Love video. I can’t speak much to the label copy (although the font could have been a little bigger), but most impressive (other than the artifacts themselves) was the dynamic transformation of the space by a cool blue black-light which swathed the entire exhibit in a futuristic glow. [slideshow]

robot crotch shots: VHS or BETA?

lapsed exhibition review: a review

We never claimed that we were timely. Via the excellent Old is the New New, we caught Stefan Schmitt’s thoughtful review of the “Game On” exhibition on the history of video games, which closed last February at the Science Museum of London. In our own defense, we weren’t a blog back then.

The exhibition, sponsored by Nintendo (natch), apparently deserves a bit of credit for at least attempting to address the social implications of video gaming via several installations called “debate walls”, allowing for a slightly more critical look at gaming than Gibby’s Game Room.

Next on Nintendo’s museum marketing radar: pursuing the naming rights to two mummies the British Museum, soon to be known as Mario and Luigi.


full disclosure: some of this isht is pretty cool