Archaeologists Discover the World’s First “Art Studio” Created in an Ethiopian Cave 43,000 Years Ago

Images via PLOS

If you want to see where art began, go to a cave. Not just any cave, but not just one cave either. You'll find the best-known cave paintings at Lascaux, an area of southwestern France with a cave complex whose walls feature over 600 images of animals, humans, and symbols, all of them more than 17,000 years old, but other caves elsewhere in the world reveal other chapters of art's early history. Some of those chapters have only just come into legibility, as in the case of the cave near the Ethiopian city of Dire Dawa recently determined to be the world's oldest "art studio."

"The Porc-Epic cave was discovered by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Henry de Monfreid in 1929 and thought to date to about 43,000 to 42,000 years ago, during the Middle Stone Age," writes Sarah Cascone at Artnet.




There, archaeologists have found "a stash of 4213 pieces, or nearly 90 pounds, of ochre, the largest such collection ever discovered at a prehistoric site in East Africa." The "ancient visitors to the site processed the iron-rich ochre stones there by flaking and grinding the raw materials to produce a fine-grained and bright red powder," a substance useful for "symbolic activities, such as body painting, the production of patterns on different media, or for signalling."

In other words, those who used this ochre-rich cave over its 4,500 years of service used it to produce their tools, which functioned like proto-stamps and crayons. You can read about these findings in much more detail in the paper "Patterns of change and continuity in ochre use during the late Middle Stone Age (MSA) of the Horn of Africa: The Porc-Epic Cave record" by Daniela Eugenia Rosso of the University of Barcelona and Francesco d’Errico and Alain Queffelec of the University of Bordeaux. In it, the authors "identify patterns of continuity in ochre acquisition, treatment and use reflecting both persistent use of the same geological resources and similar uses of iron-rich rocks by late MSA Porc-Epic inhabitants."

The Ethiopian site contains so much ochre, in fact, that "this continuity can be interpreted as the expression of a cohesive cultural adaptation, largely shared by all community members and consistently transmitted through time." The more evidence sites like the Porc-Epic cave provide, the greater the level of detail in which we'll be able to piece together the story of not just art, but culture itself. Culture, as Brian Eno so neatly defined it, is everything you don't have to do, and though drawing in ochre might well have proven useful for the prehistoric inhabitants of modern-day Ethiopia, one of them had to give it a try before it had any acknowledged purpose. Little could they have imagined what that action would lead to over the next few tens of thousands of years.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Infinite Escher: A High-Tech Tribute to M.C. Escher, Featuring Sean Lennon, Nam June Paik & Ryuichi Sakamoto (1990)

When television appeared in Japan in the 1950s, most people in that still-poor country could only satisfy their curiosity about it by watching the display models in store windows. But by the 1980s, the Japanese had become not just astonishingly rich but world leaders in technology as well. It took something special to make Tokyoites stop on the streets of Akihabara, the city's go-to district for high technology, but stop they did in 1990 when, in the windows of Sony Town, appeared Infinite Escher.

Produced by Sony HDVS Soft Center as a showcase for the company's brand new high-definition video technology, this short film caused passersby, according to the video description, to "gasp in amazement at the clarity and sharp crisp focus of the picture."




Running seven and a half minutes, it tells the story of a bespectacled New York City teenager (played by a young Sean Lennon, son of John Lennon and Yoko Ono) who steps off the school bus one afternoon to find M.C. Escher-style visual motifs in the urban landscape all around him: a jigsaw puzzle piece-shaped curbside puddle, a transparent geometrically patterned basketball.

When he goes home to sketch a few artistic-mathematical ideas of his own, he looks into an awfully familiar-looking reflecting sphere and gets sucked into a completely Escherian realm. This sequence demonstrates not just the look of Sony's high-definition video, but the then-state-of-the-art techniques for dropping real-life characters into computer-generated settings and vice versa. In addition to the visions of the Dutch graphic designer who not just imagined but rendered the impossible, Sony also brought in two of the other powerful creative minds, Japanese musician Ryuichi Sakamoto to create the score and Korean video artist Nam June Paik to do the art direction.

Watching Infinite Escher today may first underscore just how far high-definition video and computer graphics have come over the past 27 years, but it ultimately shows another example of how Escher's visions, even after the artist's death in 1972, have remained so compelling that each era — with its own technological, cultural, and aesthetic trends — pays its own kind of tribute to them.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Download 200+ Belle Époque Art Posters: An Archive of Masterpieces from the “Golden Age of the Poster” (1880-1918)

Europe at the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth: what a time and place to be alive. Or rather, what a time and place to be alive for people in the right countries and, more importantly, of the right classes, those who saw a new world taking shape around them and partook of it with all possible heartiness. The period between the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 and the outbreak of World War I in 1914, best known by its French name La Belle Époque, saw not just peace in Europe and empires at their zenith, but all manner of technological, social, and cultural innovations at home as well.

We here in the 21st century have few ways of tasting the life of that time as rich as its posters, more than 200 of which you can view in high resolution and download from "Art of the Poster 1880-1918," a Flickr collection assembled by the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.




"In the late nineteenth century, lithographers began to use mass-produced zinc plates rather than stones in their printing process," says the accompanying text. "This innovation allowed them to prepare multiple plates, each with a different color ink, and to print these with close registration on the same sheet of paper. Posters in a range of colors and variety of sizes could now be produced quickly, at modest cost."

Like other of the most fruitful technological advancements of the era, this leap forward in poster-printing drew the attention, and soon the efforts, of artists: well-regarded illustrators and graphic designers like Alphonse Mucha, Jules Chéret, Eugène Grasset, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec took to the new method, and "The 'Golden Age of the Poster' was the spectacular result." While many of the best-remembered posters of that Golden Age come from France, it touched the streets of every major city in western Europe as well as those of England and America, all places whose well-heeled populations found themselves newly and avidly interested in art, photography, motion pictures, magazines, bicycles, automobiles, absinthe, coffee, cigarettes, and world travel.

The companies behind all those exciting things had, of course, to advertise, but unlike in earlier times, they couldn't settle for getting the word out; they had to use images, and the most vivid ones possible at that. They had to use them in such a way as to associate what they had to offer with the abundant spirit of the time, whether they called that time La Belle Époque, the Wilhelmine period, the late Victorian and Edwardian era, or the Gilded Age. All those names, of course, were applied only in retrospect, after it became clear how bad times could get in the twentieth century. But then, none of us ever realize we're living through a golden age before it comes to its inevitable end; until that time, best just to enjoy it. You can enter the poster archive here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Attempting to Set the World Record for Most Frida Kahlo Lookalikes in One Place: It Happened in Dallas

Fun fact: The Dallas Museum of Art and the Latino Center for Leadership Development celebrated Frida Kahlo's 110th birthday last week. And the festivities were capped off with an attempt to set the Guinness World Record for the largest gathering of people dressed as Frida Kahlo in one space.

According to the rules of Frida Fest, to participate in the record attempt, individuals had to provide their own costume, and make sure their costumes included the following elements:

  • A unibrow drawn onto the face joining the eyebrows. This can be done with make-up or by sticking hair.
  • Artificial flowers worn in the hair, a minimum of three artificial flowers must be worn.
  • A red or pink shawl.
  • A flower-printed dress that extends to below the knees on all sides; the dress must not have any slits up the side.

Notes NPR, there's "no official word yet on whether a record was set, but prior to Thursday, there didn't appear to be another record-holder listed in the Guinness World Records."

You can see a gallery of 44 photos on the museum's Facebook page. Enjoy.

Photo Courtesy of Ashley Gongora and Kathy Tran — at Dallas Museum of Art.

Photo Courtesy of Ashley Gongora and Kathy Tran — at Dallas Museum of Art.

via Neatorama

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Send a Text Message to SFMOMA, and They’ll Send Works of Art to Your Mobile Phone

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art--otherwise simply known as SFMOMA--has 34,678 artworks in its collections, only 5% of which it can put on display at any given time. That creates an accessibility problem. So the museum asked itself: "How can we provide a more comprehensive experience of our collection?" And they developed Send Me SFMOMA in response.

Send Me SFMOMA is "an SMS service that provides an approachable, personal, and creative method of sharing the breadth of SFMOMA’s collection with the public."  Here's how it works:

Text 572-51 with the words “send me” followed by a keyword, a color, or even an emoji and you’ll receive a related artwork image and caption via text message. For example “send me the ocean” might get you Pirkle Jones’ Breaking Wave, Golden Gate; “send me something blue” could result in Éponge (SE180) by Yves Klein; and “send me 💐” might return Yasumasa Morimura’s An Inner Dialogue with Frida Kahlo (Collar of Thorns). Each text message triggers a query to the SFMOMA collection API, which then responds with an artwork matching your request.

Give it a spin. See what piece of the SFMOMA collection you get.

For more free art, visit this metacollection in our archive: 1.8 Million Free Works of Art from World-Class Museums: A Meta List of Great Art Available Online. And don't miss the items in the Relateds below.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

via Coudal

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Behold Lewis Carroll’s Original Handwritten & Illustrated Manuscript for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1864)

Almost exactly 155 years ago, Lewis Carroll told three young sisters a story. He'd come up with it to enliven a long boat trip up the River Thames, and one of the children aboard, a certain Alice Liddell, enjoyed it so much that she insisted that Carroll commit it to paper. Thus, so the legend has it, was Alice's Adventures in Wonderland born, although Lewis Carroll, then best known as Oxford mathematics tutor Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, hadn't taken up his famous pen name yet, and when he did write down Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, it took its first form as Alice's Adventures Under Ground. You can read that handwritten manuscript, complete with illustrations, at the British Library.

Carroll presented the fictional Alice's namesake with the manuscript, according to the British Library, as an early Christmas present in 1864. When his friends encouraged him to publish it, he performed a few revisions, "removing some of the family references included for the amusement of the Liddell children," adding a couple of chapters (the beloved Cheshire Cat and the Mad Hatter’s tea party being among their new material), and enlisting John Tenniel, a Punch magazine cartoonist known for his illustrations of Aesop's Fables, to create professional art to accompany it. The result, retitled Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, came out in 1865 and has never gone out of print.

Though Tenniel's vivid renderings of Alice and the eccentric characters she encounters have remained definitive, plenty of other artists, including Salvador Dalí and Ralph Steadman, have attempted the surely almost irresistible challenge of illustrating Carroll's highly imaginative story. But today, says Skidmore College professor Catherine J. Golden at The Victorian Web, "critics have reevaluated Carroll’s caricature-style illustration. Carroll expertly intertwines his handwritten text with his pictures to advance the growth motif. His conception of the mouse’s 'tale' shaped like an actual mouse’s 'tail' is an excellent example of emblematic verse."

Tenniel, Golden argues, "essentially refashioned with realism and improved upon many of Carroll’s sketchy or anatomically incorrect illustrations, adding domestic interiors and landscapes that appealed to middle-class consumers of the 1860s." Even "late twentieth-century graphic novel adaptations of Alice in Wonderland recall many of Carroll’s inventive designs as well as those of Tenniel," which gives Carroll's original manuscript more claim to having provided the visual basis, not just the textual one, for the following century and a half of sequels official and unofficial, as well as adaptations, reenvisionings, and reimaginings of this "Christmas gift to a dear child in memory of a summer day."

You can view Carroll’s original manuscript, complete with illustrations, here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Female Pioneers of the Bauhaus Art Movement: Discover Gertrud Arndt, Marianne Brandt, Anni Albers & Other Forgotten Innovators

You'd be forgiven for assuming that the Bauhaus, the modern art and design movement that emerged from the eponymous German art school in the 1920s and 30s, didn't involve many women. Perhaps the famous near-industrial austerity of its aesthetic, especially at large scales, has stereotypical associations with maleness, but also, Bauhaus' most oft-referenced leading lights — Paul Klee, Walter Gropius, Wassily Kandinsky, László Moholy-Nagy, Oskar Schlemmer — all happened to be men. But if we seek out the women of the Bauhaus, what can we learn?

"When it opened, the Bauhaus school declared itself progressive and modern and advocated equality for the sexes, which was rare at the time," says Evelyn Adams in her short video on the Women of the Bauhaus above. "Value was placed on skill rather than gender. Classes weren't segregated, and women were free to select whichever subjects they wanted."




This had an understandable appeal, and in the school's first year more women applied than men. But alas, "in reality, despite having radical aspirations, the men in charge of the school represented the societal attitudes of the time. If everyone was welcomed as equals, then why did none of the women reach the same level of recognition as Paul Klee or Wassily Kandinsky?"

The story of Gertrud Arndt, one of whose self-portraits appears above and one of whose textiles appears below that, sheds some light on the answer. "She must have felt so optimistic," writes the New York Times' Alice Rawsthorn, when she arrived at the Bauhaus school of art and design in 1923 as "a gifted, spirited 20-year-old who had won a scholarship to pay for her studies. Having spent several years working as an apprentice to a firm of architects, she had set her heart on studying architecture." But because of a "long-running battle between its founding director, the architect Walter Gropius, and one of its most charismatic teachers, Johannes Itten, who wanted to use the school as a vehicle for his quasi-spiritual approach to art and design," the Bauhaus' house, as it were, had fallen out of order.

Alas, "Arndt was told that there was no architecture course for her to join and was dispatched to the weaving workshop." In recent years, the Bauhaus Archive in Berlin has put on shows to honor female Bauhausers like Ardnt, textile designer Benita Koch-Otte, and theater designer, illustrator, and color theorist Lou Scheper-Berkenkamp. "The situation improved after Gropius succeeded in ousting Itten in 1923," writes Rawsthorn, hiring Moholy-Nagy in Itten's place. "Having ensured that female students were given greater freedom, Moholy encouraged one of them, Marianne Brandt, to join the metal workshop. She was to become one of Germany’s foremost industrial designers during the 1930s," and her 1924 tea infuser and strainer appears just above.

Artsy's Alexxa Gotthardt has the stories of more women of the Bauhaus, including Anni Albers, whose 1947 Knot 2 appears just above. Her other work includes "a cotton and cellophane curtain that simultaneously absorbed sound and reflected light" and tapestries that "would go on to have a considerable impact on the development of geometric abstraction in the visual arts." Alma Siedhoff-Buscher, writes Gotthardt, dared "to switch from the weaving workshop to the male-dominated wood-sculpture department," where she invented a "small ship-building game," pictured below and still in production today, that "manifested Bauhaus’s central tenets: its 22 blocks, forged in primary colors, could be constructed into the shape of a boat, but could also be rearranged to allow for creative experimentation."

Bauhaus art and design took criticism in its heyday, as it still takes criticism now, for a certain coldness and sterility — or at least the work of the men of the Bauhaus does. But the more we discover about the lesser-known women of the Bauhaus, the more we see how they managed to bring no small degree of humanity to its artistic fruits, even to those of its most rigorous branches. "There is no difference between the beautiful sex and the strong sex," Gropius once insisted in a somewhat self-defeating pronouncement, but the differences between the male and female Bauhausers — in their personalities as well as in their work — make the movement look all the richer in retrospect.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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