An Intimate Look at Alberto Giacometti in His Studio, Making His Iconic Sculptures (1965)

A visit to an artist’s studio can shed light on his or her work.

The British Arts Council’s short film above affords an intimate glimpse into Alberto Giacometti’s studio in Montparnasse circa 1965, the year when he was the subject of major retrospectives at both the Tate Gallery and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

The artist passed most of his working life in cramped space at 46 rue Hippolyte. Early on, he entertained plans to relocate “because it was too small – just a hole."

Others visitors to the studio described the artist’s environs in more literary terms:

In a charming little forgotten garden he has a studio, submerged in plaster, and he lives next to this in a kind of hangar, vast and cold, with neither furniture nor food. He works very hard for fifteen hours at a stretch, above all at night: the cold, his frozen hands – he takes no notice, he works. Simone de Beauvoir


This ground floor studio... is going to cave in at any moment now. It is made of worm-eaten wood and grey powder.... Everything is stained and ready for the bin, everything is precarious and about to collapse, everything is about to dissolve, everything is floating.... And yet it all appears to be captured in an absolute reality. When I leave the studio, when I am outside on the street, then nothing that surrounds me is true. - Playwright Jean Genet


The whole place looking as if it had been thrown together with a few old sticks and a lot of chewing gum.... In short, a dump. Anyway he said come in when I knocked.... He turned and glanced at me, holding out his hand which was covered in clay, so I shook his wrist.... He immediately resumed work, running his fingers up and down the clay so fiercely that lumps fell onto the floor - Essayist James Lord

These impressions paint a portrait of a driven, and disciplined artist, who logged untold hours modeling his formes elongee in clay, unceremoniously crumpling and rebuilding in the pursuit of excellence.

The camera documents this intensity, though his untranslated remarks suggest a man capable of taking himself lightly, certainly more so than the accompanying narration does.

Like the narration, Roger Smalley's dissonant score lays it on thick, the sonic equivalent of heads like blades and "limbs bound as though bandaged for the grave." Perhaps we should conceive of the studio as a scary place?

In actuality, it proved a hospitable work environment and the impulse to relocate eventually waned, with the artist observing that “the longer I stayed, the bigger it became. I could fit anything I wanted into it.”

Explore the recent Tate Modern Giacometti retrospective here and take a closer look at the studio via Ernst Scheidegger’s photos.

"Giacometti" will be added to our list of Free Documentaries, a subset of our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

1,000+ Historic Japanese Illustrated Books Digitized & Put Online by the Smithsonian: From the Edo & Meji Eras (1600-1912)

Surely we've all wondered what we might do as prominent nineteenth-century industrialists, and more than a few of us (especially here in the Open Culture crowd) would no doubt invest our fortunes in the art of the world. Railcar manufacturing magnate Charles Lang Freer did just that, as we can see today in the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Together with the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (Sackler having made it as "the father of modern pharmaceutical advertising"), it constitutes the Smithsonian Institution's national museum of Asian art, gathering everything from ancient Egyptian stone sculpture to Chinese paintings to Korean pottery to Japanese books.

We like to highlight Japanese book culture here every so often (see the related content below) not just because of its striking aesthetics and consummate craftsmanship but because of its deep history. You can now experience a considerable swath of that history free online at the Freer|Sacker Library's web site, which just this past summer finished digitizing over one thousand books — now more than 1,100, which breaks down to 41,500 separate images — published during Japan's Edo and Meiji periods, a span of time reaching from 1600 to 1912. "Often filled with beautiful multi-color illustrations," writes Reiko Yoshimura at the Smithsonian Libraries' blog, "many titles are by prominent Japanese traditional and ukiyo-e ('floating world') painters such as Ogata Kōrin (1658-1716), Andō Hiroshige (1797-1858) and Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849)."

Yoshimura directs readers to such volumes as Hokusai's One Hundred Views of Mt. Fuji, Utagawa Toyokuni's Thirty-Six Popular Actors, and artist, craftsman, and designer Kōetsu's collection of one hundred librettos for noh theater performances. Even those who can't read classical Japanese will admire an aesthete like Kōetsu's way with what Yoshimura calls his "caligraphic 'font,'" all "skillfully printed on luxurious mica embellished papers using wooden movable-type."

While the online collection's scans come in a more than high enough resolution for general appreciation, to get the full effect of bookmaking techniques like mica embellishment — which only sparkles when seen in real life — you'd have to visit the physical collection. Some things, it seems, can't yet be digitized.

Enter the collection of Japanese Illustrated Books here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Leonardo da Vinci’s Bizarre Caricatures & Monster Drawings

The caricature was once a highly-regarded art form, before it was cornered on the upper end by the New York Review of Books and on the more pedestrian side by boardwalk and street fair artists. During the European Renaissance and the ensuing centuries of artistic development, nearly every artist had a caricature side project—if only in the margins of their sketchbooks—and some, like Leonardo da Vinci, were widely known and appreciated for their skill in the art.

Generally renowned these days for the high seriousness of his Mona Lisa, Last Supper, and Vitruvian Man, Leonardo does not tend to be associated with grotesque humor. Yet the caricatures “were some of his most popular and influential works," writes Jonathan Jones at The Guardian, “from the 16th century up to the time of [William] Hogarth,” the hugely popular 18th century English visual satirist.

These caricatures connect Leonardo not only to graphic art of the future but to an earlier, Medieval world—the “hellish visions of Bosch and Bruegel.” They are “Gargoyles,” wrote critic Kenneth Clark, “the complement to saints; Leonardo's caricatures were complementary to his untiring search for ideal beauty.

And gargoyles were the expression of all the passions, the animal forces, the Caliban gruntings and groanings which are left in human nature when the divine has been poured away.” Clark tempers this characterization by noting that these drawings “in their expression of passionate energy, merge imperceptibly into the heroic.”

Indeed, Leonardo loved unusual faces and heads—he found odd-looking people of all kinds fascinating, and turned them into tragicomic figures fit for the stage. Giorgio Vasari, the 16th century biographer of Renaissance artists, wrote that Leonardo was “so delighted when he saw curious heads, whether bearded or hairy, that he would follow anyone who had thus attracted his attention for a whole day, acquiring such a clear idea of him that when he went home he would draw the head as well as if the man had been present.”

We can’t say that stalking exhibits much respect for the kinds of boundaries most people would prefer to maintain, but Leonardo's behavior does display a reverence for interesting human physiognomy, both a source and a foil for his idealizations of the human form. Leonardo’s caricatures resonate into the late 20th century in the work of Ralph Steadman, the gonzo illustrator and political cartoonist.

In his satirical illustrated biography of Leonardo, Steadman remarked that the Renaissance artist who ennobled the human form also found “that man was not what he appeared to be, despite the prevailing atmosphere of fine thoughts and high aspirations.” Steadman quotes a passage from Leonardo’s notebooks that sounds much more Swiftian or Rabelaisian than high-minded Renaissance humanist:

His Holiness the Pope surrounded himself with none but craven guzzlers, gross pretenders and a host of fawning dignitaries who grimaced through their days at court with no more grace than beggars I had entertained in days gone by — though they had neither choice nor wit to rise above themselves and in that they had a reason.

Oh that I had ways to surely serve their putrid masquerades and twittery to make a dragon from the very menagerie within the Vatican itself.

If I could take for its head that of a mastiff or setter, for its eyes those of a cat, for its ears those of a greyhound, with the eyebrows of a lion, the temples of an old cock and the neck of a water tortoise. 

O vile monster! How much better it for men that thou shouldst go back to hell! For this the vast forests shall be stripped of their trees; for this an infinite number of creatures shall lose their lives.

Though the caricatures may not go as far as the horrifying hodgepodge in this description, they do portray human beings with rather less classical equanimity than the serene Mona Lisa or the very composed Christ. But due to the Leonardo's skill and seemingly irrepressible love for the human form—even if he had a jaundiced view of human nature—the caricatures continue to be inspiring pieces of work.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

How to Cook Like Frida Kahlo & Georgia O’Keefe

It’s a myth that starving artists don’t eat.

They do, just not often or well. Their meals rarely rate recipes, let alone cookbooks.

Those cookbooks do exist though....

The mostly conceptual Starving Artist Cookbook put together by EIDIA (aka artists Paul Lamarre and Melissa Wolf) comes close to the spirit of sustaining life through meager ingredients… like spaghetti or 4 pages of shredded Pravda.

Not so this other title, which approaches cute overload with an abundance of Instagram-worthy illustrated fare—mojitos, an unstructured berry tart, a “manly” burger....

Do "starving" artists no longer fear being outed as posers?

Successful artists may not worry about that, as they eat whatever and however they want.

Andy Warhol had the taste of an eccentric child.

Marina Abramović takes the ascetic route.

Many have glady traded the candle in the chianti bottle for the most rarified restaurants in town.

Georgia O’Keefe and Frida Kahlo, PBS Digital Studios’ series the Art Assignment informs us, took cooking—and eating—seriously.

So seriously, their culinary efforts led to cookbooks, which the Art Assignment’s host, curator Sarah Urist Green, tries out on camera.

O’Keefe, who grew up in Wisconsin on homemade yogurt, homemade cheese, and plentiful homegrown produce, ground her own flour in order to bake daily loaves of whole wheat bread.

Green treats viewers to a brief overview of O’Keefe’s life and work as she struggles with the grinder. (You might get the same, or better, results if you take a $5 bill to a good bakery right at opening.)

She also tackles the wheat germ Tiger's Milk smoothie advocated by Adele Davis, a nutritionist whom O’Keefe  admired, and Green Chiles with Garlic and Oil and Fried Eggs, using recipes from the cookbooks A Painter’s Kitchen and Dinner with Georgia O’Keefe.

Before attempting the same, you might want to watch the Kahlo-centric episode, above, in which Green discovers a much better method for roasting the poblano peppers she haplessly substituted for New Mexico chiles in O’Keefe's egg dish.

Here, they’re used for Chiles Rellenos, a dish whose pronunciation the self-effacing Green butchers, along with a multitude of other Spanish phrases, a fact not lost on the video’s Youtube commenters. They also take issue with the presence of plantains, her preparation of the Nopales Salad, and her cooking skills in general. No wonder Green—a self-proclaimed wussy where serranos are concerned—seems so eager to reach for a shot of tequila as dinner is finally served.

Green chose the dishes for this episode from Frida's Fiestas: Recipes and Reminiscences of Life with Frida Kahlo by Marie-Pierre Colle and Kahlo’s stepdaughter, Guadalupe Rivera.

Kahlo herself learned to cook from her mother’s copy of El Nuevo Cocinero Mejicano, and from husband Diego Rivera’s first wife, Guadalupe (leading one to wonder if some of that cookbook's recipes aren’t misattributed to the more famous cook).

As with the O’Keefe video and the cookbooks cited herein, there’s a wealth of vintage photos and reproduced artwork on display.

Even though Green alludes to Kahlo's dark side, sensitive stomachs might have trouble with the inclusion of the graphically violent Unos Quantos Piquetitos. Another painting, My Nurse and I is at least related to eating, if not cooking and recipes.

Those with stomachs of steel on the other hand can continue on to another Art Assignment—the supremely gross Meat Sculpture from the Futurist Cookbook.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Discuss Emily Dickinson with her informally at Pete's Mini Zinefest in Brooklyn this Saturday. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Émile-Antoine Bayard’s Vivid Illustrations of Jules Verne’s Around the Moon: The First Serious Works of Space Art (1870)

What does space travel look like? Even now, in the 21st century, very, very few of us know first-hand. But we've all seen countless images from countless eras purporting to show us what it might look like. As with anything imagined by man, someone had to render a convincing vision of space travel first, and that distinction may well go to 19th-century French illustrator Émile-Antoine Bayard who, perhaps not surprisingly, worked with Jules Verne. Verne's pioneering and prolific work in science fiction literature has kept him a household name, but Bayard's may sound more obscure; still, we've all seen his artwork, or at least we've all seen the drawing of Cosette the orphan he did for Les Misérables.

"Readers of Jules Verne’s early science-fiction classic From the Earth to the Moon (De la terre à la lune) — which left the Baltimore Gun Club’s bullet-shaped projectile, along with its three passengers and dog, hurtling through space — had to wait a whole five years before learning the fate of its heroes," says The Public Domain Review.

When it appeared, 1870's Around the Moon (Autour de la Lune) offered not just "a fine continuation of the space adventure" but "a superb series of wood engravings to illustrate the tale" created by Bayard. "There had been imaginary views of other worlds, and even of space flight before this," writes Ron Miller in Space Art, "but until Verne's book appeared, these views all had been heavily colored by mysticism rather than science."

Composed strictly according to the scientific facts known at the time — with a departure here and there in the name of imagination and visual metaphor — the illustrations for A Trip Around the Moon, later published in a single volume with its predecessor as A Trip to the Moon and Around It, stand as the earliest known example of scientific space art. Verne went as far as to commission a lunar map by famed selenographers (literally, scholars of the moom's surface) Beer and Maedlerm, and just last year the Linda Hall Library named Bayard a "scientist of the day." As with the uncannily accurate predictions in Verne's earlier novel Paris in the Twentieth Century, a fair few of the ideas here, especially to do with the mechanics of the rocket's launch and return to Earth, remain scientifically plausible.

Whatever the innovation of the project's considerable scientific basis, its artistic impression fired up more than a few other imaginations: both Verne's words and Bayard's art, all 44 pieces of which you can view here, served as major inspirations for early filmmaker and "father of special effects" Georges Méliès, for instance, when he made A Trip to the Moon. Disappointed complaints about our persistent lack of moon colonies or even commercial space flight may have long since grown tiresome, but the next time you hear one of us denizens of the 21st century air them, remember the work of Verne and Bayard and think of how deep into history that desire really runs.

Via The Public Domain Review.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Ralph Steadman’s Wildly Illustrated Biography of Leonardo da Vinci (1983)

It is for good reason that we forever associate illustrator Ralph Steadman with the delirious work of Hunter S. Thompson. It took the two of them together to invent the gonzo style of journalism, which we may almost call incomplete now if published without the requisite cartoon grotesques. Steadman conjures visions of devils and demons as deftly as any medieval church painter, but his hells remain above ground and are mostly man-made. Whether illustrating Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary, George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the cast of Breaking Bad, or the visages of American presidents, he excels at showing us the freakish fever dreams of the modern world. He may, wrote The New York Times’ Sherwin Smith in 1983, “be the most savage political cartoonist of the late 20th century.”

Steadman’s illustrative legacy places him in the company of history’s greatest visual satirists, but also makes him an odd choice for a biography of Leonardo da Vinci. Though Leonardo frequently drew caricatures in his notebooks, the bulk of the Renaissance genius’s work concerns itself with order and precision—the purposefulness of his line a stark contrast to the crazed ink splatters of Steadman’s work.

Nonetheless, Steadman’s I, Leonardo, which he undertook not on commission but on his own initiative, exhibits a profound insight into the Italian painter-sculptor-philosopher-inventor’s restless creative mind. Leonardo presented a very cool exterior, but his inner life may well have resembled a Steadman drawing.

The project came to life in 1983 as what Steadman called “a quasi-historical mishmash,” a “tongue-in-cheek” supposed long-lost autobiography of Leonardo in pictures. “It is more than a collection of illustrations on Leonardo’s life, based upon three years of work and research,” remarked a Washington Post review. “Steadman does not merely theorize about the man, but attempts to go inside the artist’s bones.” Steadman, writes Maria Popova, “even travelled to Italy to stand where Leonardo stood, seeking to envision what it was like to inhabit that endlessly imaginative mind.” The illustrations are a surprisingly effective combination of da Vinci-esque discipline and Steadmanesque sick humor.

In his introduction to the book, Steadman comments on Leonardo’s split persona. His “experience showed him that man was not what he appeared to be, despite the prevailing atmosphere of fine thoughts and high aspirations…. The purity of his painting set the divine standard of Renaissance art—and of any art for that matter. I believe he preserved intact a part of his private self which found outlet in his more personal notes and drawings.” Many of those drawings include the aforementioned caricatures of monstrous, grimacing beings who would fit right in with Steadman’s nightmarish drawings.

The gonzo illustrator found a kindred satirical Leonardo inside the famed master draughtsman and engineer. His interest in the Renaissance artist’s anarchic psyche mirrors that of another keen observer, Sigmund Freud, who described Leonardo as “a man who awoke too early in the darkness, while the others were all still asleep.” (Steadman’s first “historical mishmash” project was a 1979 illustrated Freud biography.) The artist behind I, Leonardo has a slightly different take on the subject. Steadman, writes Smith, saw Leonardo “in 1980’s terms—as ‘a man taken up by a corporation that couldn’t use him.’”

See many more of Steadman’s Leonardo illustrations at Brain Pickings and purchase a copy of the book here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

When John Cage & Marcel Duchamp Played Chess on a Chessboard That Turned Chess Moves Into Electronic Music (1968)

Photograph by Lynn Rosenthal

When is a chess game not a chess game?

When it’s played between Marcel Duchamp and John Cage.

Both the man who turned a urinal into a piece of modern art and the man who reduced musical composition all the way down to silence were fans of taking things to absurd conclusions. And they were both fans of chess; Duchamp the grand master and Cage the dutiful student. Asked in 1974 whether Duchamp was a good teacher, Cage replied, “I was using chess as a pretext to be with him. I didn’t learn, unfortunately, while he was alive to play well.”

But Cage seemed to have little interest in competition. “Duchamp once watched me playing and became indignant when I didn’t win,” he said. “He accused me of not wanting to win.” Instead, he approached chess as he approached the piano—as a decoy, a feint, that leads into another kind of game entirely. In a 1944 tribute to Duchamp, he painted a chessboard that was actually a musical score, and, in 1968, he arranged a public game as a pretext for a musical performance called Reunion, performed in Toronto with Duchamp and his wife Teeny (we have no film of the game-slash-concert; you can see Cage play Teeny in the video above).

Cage was an admirer of the elder artist for over 20 years, playing chess with him frequently. But he “didn’t want to bother Duchamp with his friendship,” writes Sylvere Lotringer, “until he realized that Duchamp’s health was failing. Then he decided to actively seek his company.” Playing on an electronic chess board designed by Lowell Cross, known as the inventor of the laser light show, the two created an extemporaneous composition that lasted as long as the audience, and Duchamp, could tolerate. “The concert,” Cross remembered on the fortieth anniversary of the piece, “began shortly after 8:30 on the evening of March 5, 1968, and concluded at approximately 1:00 a.m. the next morning.”

Debunking a number of misconceptions about the chessboard, Cross explains that its operation "depended upon the covering or uncovering of its 64 photoresistors." It also contained contact microphones so that "the audience could hear the physical moves of the pieces of the board." When either player made a move, it triggered one of several electronic "sound-generating systems" created by composers David Behrman, Gordan Mumma, David Tudor, and Cross himself. Additionally, "oscilloscopic images emanated from... modified monochrome and color television screens, which provided visual monitoring of some of the sound events passing through the chessboard."

As Lotringer describes the scene, the two modernist giants "played until the room emptied. Without a word said, Cage had managed to turn the chess game (Duchamp’s ostensive refusal to work) into a working performance…. Playing chess that night extended life into art—or vice versa. All it took was plugging in their brains to a set of instruments, converting nerve signals into sounds. Eyes became ears, moves music.” Duchamp had given the impression he was done making art. “Cage found a way to lure him into one final public appearance as an artist,” notes the Toronto Dreams Project blog.

Indeed, Cage may have been formulating the idea for over twenty years, each time he sat down to play a game with Duchamp, and lost. When Duchamp arrived in Canada for the performance at what was called the Sightsoundsystems Festival, he had no idea that he would be participating in the headlining event.

What he found when he arrived was a surreal scene. Two of the greatest artists of the twentieth century took their seats in the middle of the stage at the Ryerson Theatre, bathed in bright light and the gaze of the audience. Photographers circled around them, shutters snapping; a movie camera whirred. The stage was a mess of gadgets. There were wires everywhere; a tangle of them plugged right into side of the chessboard. A pair of TV screens was set up on either side of the stage. The Toronto Star called it "a cross between an electronic factory and a movie set."

Cage lost, as usual, though he was more evenly matched when he played Duchamp’s wife. The three of them, wrote the Globe, were “like figures in a Beckett play, locked in some meaningless game. The audience, staring silently and sullenly at what was placed before it, was itself a character; and its role was as meaningless as the others. It was total non-communication, all around.” The wires running from the chessboard connected to “tuners, amplifiers and all manner of electronic gadgetry,” the Star wrote, filling the room with “screeches, buzzes, twitters and rasps.”

The Star pronounced the event “infinitely boring,” a widely shared critical assessment of the night. (Cage explains the Zen of boredom in his voice-over at the top.) But we can hardly expect most reviewers of either artist’s most experimental work to respond with less than bewilderment, if not outright hostility. It was to be Duchamp’s last public appearance. He passed away a few months later. For Cage, the evening had been a success. As Cross put it, Reunion was “a public celebration of Cage’s delight in living everyday life as an art form.”

Everyday life with Duchamp meant playing chess, and there were few greater influences than Duchamp on Cage’s conceptual approach to what music could be—and what could be music. “Like Duchamp,” writes PBS, “Cage found music around him and did not necessarily rely on expressing something from within.” Further up, see Cage’s 1944, Duchamp-inspired “Chess Pieces” performed on harp and accordion, and above hear a piece he wrote for Duchamp for a sequence in Hans Richter’s 1947 surrealist film Dreams that Money Can Buy.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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