The Codex Quetzalecatzin, an Extremely Rare Colored Mesoamerican Manuscript, Now Digitized and Put Online

To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, there are known knowns in the art world, and there are unknown knowns. The Codex Quetzalecatzin, a rare colored Mesoamerican manuscript, recently went from a unknown known (a French collector owned it, and before them William Randolph Hearst, and many others, for several centuries) to a known known (the French collector donated it to the Library of Congress).

Better still, the Library has scanned the illustrated document--essentially a map of Mexico City and Puebla, drawn up for both Spanish colonizers and indigenous people to lay claim to the land--in super hi-res for the public and scholars worldwide to pore over. It dates from between 1570 and 1595.

According to John Hessler of the Library’s Worlds Revealed blog, the map depicts the land owned by the de Leon family.

As is typical for an Aztec, or Nahuatl, codex of this early date, it relates the extent of land ownership and properties of a family line known as “de Leon,” most of the members of which are depicted on the manuscript. With Nahuatl stylized graphics and hieroglyphs, it illustrates the family’s genealogy and their descent from Lord-11 Quetzalecatzin, who in 1480, was the major political leader of the region. It is from him the Codex derives one of its many names.

The map is one of 450 surviving pictorial manuscripts of the Mesoamerican period, and contains natural pigments such as Maya blue and cochineal red (made from insects).

If it wasn’t so tied in to bloody Spanish colonialism, you could say the Codex looks like a video game map, a la Legend of Zelda. But instead it shows a region in transition, between the old order and a new world populated by Catholic churches, and is all the more fascinating.

Click here to find the digitized version of the Codex Quetzalecatzin at the Library of Congress.

via LoC

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

Ernst Haeckel’s Sublime Drawings of Flora and Fauna: The Beautiful Scientific Drawings That Influenced Europe’s Art Nouveau Movement (1889)

If you follow the ongoing beef many popular scientists have with philosophy, you’d be forgiven for thinking the two disciplines have nothing to say to each other. That’s a sadly false impression, though they have become almost entirely separate professional institutions. But during the first, say, 200 years of modern science, scientists were “natural philosophers”—often as well versed in logic, metaphysics, or theology as they were in mathematics and taxonomies. And most of them were artists too of one kind or another. Scientists had to learn to draw in order to illustrate their findings before mass-produced photography and computer imaging could do it for them. Many scientists have been fine artists indeed, rivaling the greats, and they’ve made very fine musicians as well.

And then there’s Ernst Heinrich Haeckel, a German biologist and naturalist, philosopher and physician, and proponent of Darwinism who described and named thousands of species, mapped them on a genealogical tree, and “coined several scientific terms commonly known today,” This is Colossal writes, “such as ecology, phylum, and stem cell.” That’s an impressive resume, isn’t it? Oh, and check out his art—his brilliantly colored, elegantly rendered, highly stylized depictions of “far flung flora and fauna,” of microbes and natural patterns, in designs that inspired the Art Nouveau movement. “Each organism Haeckel drew has an almost abstract form,” notes Katherine Schwab at Fast Co. Design, “as if it’s a whimsical fantasy he dreamed up rather than a real creature he examined under a microscope. His drawings of sponges reveal their intensely geometric structure—they look architectural, like feats of engineering.”

Haeckel published 100 fabulous prints beginning in 1889 in a series of ten books called Kunstformen der Natur (“Art Forms in Nature”), collected in two volumes in 1904. The astonishing work was “not just a book of illustrations but also the summation of his view of the world,” one which embraced the new science of Darwinian evolution wholeheartedly, writes scholar Olaf Breidbach in his 2006 Visions of Nature.

Haeckel’s method was a holistic one, in which art, science, and philosophy were complementary approaches to the same subject. He “sought to secure the attention of those with an interest in the beauties of nature,” writes professor of zoology Rainer Willmann in a new book from Taschen called The Art and Science of Ernst Haeckel­, “and to emphasize, through this rare instance of the interplay of science and aesthetics, the proximity of these two realms.”

The gorgeous Taschen book includes 450 of Haeckel’s drawings, watercolors, and sketches, spread across 704 pages, and it’s expensive. But you can see all 100 of Haeckel’s originally published prints in zoomable high-resolution scans here. Or purchase a one-volume reprint of the original Art Forms in Nature, with its 100 glorious prints, through this Dover publication, which describes Haeckel’s art as “having caused the acceptance of Darwinism in Europe…. Today, although no one is greatly interested in Haeckel the biologist-philosopher, his work is increasingly prized for something he himself would probably have considered secondary.” It’s a shame his scientific legacy lies neglected, if that's so, but it surely lives on through his art, which may be just as needed now to illustrate the wonders of evolutionary biology and the natural world as it was in Haeckel’s time.

via This is Colossal

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

How Art Spiegelman Designs Comic Books: A Breakdown of His Masterpiece, Maus

Maus, cartoonist Art Spiegelman’s groundbreaking, Pulitzer Prize-winning account of his complicated relationship with his Holocaust survivor father, is a story that lingers.

Spiegelman famously chose to depict the Jews as mice and the Nazis as cats. Non-Jewish civilians of his father’s native Poland were rendered as pigs. He flirted with the idea of depicting his French-born wife, the New Yorker’s art editor, Françoise Mouly, as a frog or a poodle, until she convinced him that her conversion to Judaism merited mousehood, too.

The characters’ anthropomorphism is not the only visual innovation, as the Nerdwriter, Evan Puschak, points out above.

Drawing on interviews in MetaMaus: A Look Inside a Modern Classic, taped conversations with Neil Gaiman, and the University of Washington’s Marcia Alvar, and other sources, the Nerdwriter pans an eight-panel page from the first chapter for maximum meaning.

On first glance, nothing much appears to be happening on that page—hoping to convince his elderly father to submit to interviews for the book that would eventually become Maus, Spiegelman trails him to his childhood bedroom, which the older man has equipped with an exercise bike that he pedals in dress shoes and black socks.

But, as Spiegelman himself once pointed out:

Those panels are each units of time. You see them simultaneously, so you have various moments in time simultaneously made present. 

Readers must force themselves to proceed slowly in order to fully appreciate the coexistence of all those moments.

Left to our own devices, we might pick up on the senior Spiegelman’s concentration camp tattoo, or the introduction of Art’s late mother via the framed photo he shows himself picking up.

But Puschak takes us on an even deeper dive, noting the significance of Art’s placement in the long mid-page panel. Watch out for the 4:30 mark, another visual stunner is teased out in a manner reminiscent of the revelation of a message written in invisible ink.

So Maus conferred commercial success upon its creator, while hanging onto some of the bold visual experiments from earlier in his career, when he and Mouly helped drive the underground comix scene—the past and present entwined yet again.

And this is just one page. Should you venture forth in search of further visual cues later in the text, please use the comments section to share your discoveries.

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

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) Presents a Free Online Class on Fashion: Enroll in Fashion as Design Today

Fashion as Design, a free online course by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), beginning this coming week (11/27), may not equip you with the skills to bring a fabulous garment to fruition, but it will help you understand the context behind clothes both workaday and wild.

Led by Department of Architecture and Design Senior Curator Paola Antonelli, Curatorial Assistant Michelle Millar Fisher, and Research Assistant Stephanie Kramer—whose respective fashion heroes are actor Cate Blanchett, designer Claire McArdle, and activist Gloria Steinem—the course will consider the history and impact of 70+ individual garments.

The pieces can be examined in person through the end of January as part of MoMA’s Items: Is Fashion Modern? exhibition.

Some of the duds on the syllabus benefited from a celebrity boost, such as Bruce Lee’s iconic red track suit, recreated with its proper early 70’s cut, below.

Others, just as iconic, can be bought without fanfare in a drugstore or supermarket—witness the plain white t-shirt, introduced to MoMA’s collection when Antonelli was curating 2004’s Humble Masterpieces: Everyday Marvels of Design.

Students with no particular interest in fashion may be intrigued to consider the threads on their backs through such lenses as marketing, distribution, politics, identity, and economics.

Students will also delve into the lifecycle of clothing, fashion-related labor practices, and sustainability. The more consumers understand this side of the biz, the likelier it is that the fashion industry will be pushed toward adopting more ethical practices.

Enroll in the Museum of Modern Art’s free Fashion as Design course here or stick a toe in with the companion exhibition's Youtube playlist or the teachers’ delightfully candid first-person commentary in Surface Magazine’s behind-the-scenes coverage:

The Hoodie

The hoodie is one of those items that has had a long and multifaceted life, and one that’s become so politically charged. But this sweater, with the hood and the string, with or without the zipper, is from the 1930s, from a company that was called Knickerbocker Knitting Company, before it became Champion. Initially the hoodie was made for athletes, to keep them warm before or after training. It was immediately co-opted by construction and cold-storage workers. Then in the 1970s and ’80s it became city-dwelling kids’ garment of choice when skateboarding illegally or writing graffiti or breakdancing. There’s an aspect of the hoodie that’s become a kind of quiet defiance of the system—of wanting to be in the middle of it but somehow away from it. The hoodie gives you a false impression of being invisible. All these different histories bring us to today. The Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman incident a few years ago transformed the hoodie into this symbol of injustice. We’re going to have this red Champion hoodie from the 1980s—when it’s at the moment of transition. But it’s going to be there by itself and we’re hoping it’s going to be really resonant. It shows the power that certain garments have to become symbols for political struggle. —Paola Antonelli

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

Watch At the Museum, MoMA’s 8-Part Documentary on What it Takes to Run a World-Class Museum

If you've ever visited the Museum of Modern Art — and probably even if you haven't — you'll have a sense that the place doesn't exactly run itself. As much or even more so than other museums, MoMA keeps the behind-the-scenes operations behind the scenes, presenting visitors with coherent art experiences that seem to have materialized whole. But that very purity of presentation itself stokes our curiosity: No, really, how do they do it? Now, MoMA has offered us a chance to see for ourselves through a new series of short documentaries called At the Museum, a look at and a listen to the nuts and bolts of one of America's mostly highly regarded art institutions.

The series, which will run to eight episodes total, has released four thus far. In "Shipping & Receiving," some of the museum's staff prepare 200 works of art in its collection to ship to Paris for a special exhibition at the Louis Vuitton Foundation while others get new shows installed at MoMA itself.

In "The Making of Max Ernst," a couple of curators design a show of work by that surrealist painter-sculptor-poet. In "Pressing Matters," the opening of both the Ernst exhibition, "Beyond Painting," and "Louise Bourgeois: An Unfolding Portrait" fast approach, but several important decisions remain to be made as well as works to be installed. In "Art Speaks," MoMA staff and visitors take a step back and contemplate the purpose of modern art itself.

At the Museum could have assumed a highly traditional form, stopping methodically to witness the daily labors of everyone from MoMA's directors to curators to installers to security guards as narration earnestly explains to us their place in the art ecosystem. From the very first episode, however, the series takes a different and much more compelling tack, providing an uncommented-upon series of fly-on-the-wall views of MoMA people at work, eavesdropping on their conversations, and occasionally weaving in their reflections spoken directly to the filmmakers. But just as the experience of MoMA changes with each new exhibition, so does the form of At the Museum with each new episode, one of which will continue appearing every Friday until December 15th. Watch them all (here), and you'll never look at MoMA, or indeed any other museum, in quite the same way.

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

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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.

The 1991 Tokyo Museum Exhibition That Was Only Accessible by Telephone, Fax & Modem: Features Works by Laurie Anderson, John Cage, William S. Burroughs, J.G. Ballard & Merce Cunningham

The deeper we get into the 21st century, the more energy and resources museums put into digitizing their offerings and making them available, free and worldwide, as virtual experiences on the internet. But what form would a virtual museum have taken before the internet as we know it today? Japanese telecommunications giant NTT (best known today in the form of the cellphone service provider NTT DoCoMo) developed one answer to that question in 1991: The Museum Inside the Telephone Network, an elaborate art exhibit accessible nowhere in the physical world but everywhere in Japan by telephone, fax, and even — in a highly limited, pre-World-Wide-Web fashion — computer modem.

"The works and messages from almost 100 artists, writers, and cultural figures were available through five channels," says Monoskop, where you can download The Museum Inside the Telephone Network's catalog (also available in high resolution). "The works in 'Voice & sound channel' such as talks and readings on the theme of communication could be listened to by telephone. The 'Interactive channel' offered participants to create musical tunes by pushing buttons on a telephone. Works of art, novels, comics and essays could be received at home through 'Fax channel.' The 'Live channel' offered artists’ live performances and telephone dialogues between invited intellectuals to be heard by telephone. Additionally, computer graphics works could be accessed by modem and downloaded to one’s personal computer screen for viewing."

"We need to recognize honestly that there were numerous problems with The Museum Inside the Telephone Network," writes curator and critic Asada Akira in the catalog's introduction. "Neither the preparation time nor the means for carrying it out was sufficient. Thus there were not a few creative artists whose participation would have been a great asset to the project, but whom we were forced to do without." Yet its list of contributors, which still reads like a Who's-Who of the avant-garde and otherwise adventurous creators of the day, includes architects like Isozaki Arata and Renzo Piano, musicians like Laurie Anderson and Sakamoto Ryuichi, directors like Kurosawa Kiyoshi and Derek Jarman, writers like William S. Burroughs and J.G. Ballard, composers like John Cage and Philip Glass, choreographers like William Forsythe, Merce Cunningham, and visual artists like Yokoo Tadanori and Jeff Koons.

The Museum Inside the Telephone Network launched as the first venture of NTT's InterCommunication Center (ICC), a "21st-century museum that will provide interface between science and technology and art and culture in the coming electronic age," as Asada described it in 1991. Having recently celebrated its 20th year open in Tokyo's Opera City Tower, the ICC continues to put on a variety of non-virtual exhibitions very much in the spirit of the original, and involving some of the very same artists as well (as of this writing, they're readying a music installation co-created by Sakamoto). But offline or on, any union of art and technology is only as interesting as the spirit motivating it, and the creators of such projects would do well to keep in mind the words of The Museum Inside the Telephone Network contributor Kondou Kouji: "I hope that people will think of this as the experience of accidentally drifting into a telephone network, wherein awaits a vast world of pleasure and fun."

via @monoskop

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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.

60-Second Introductions to 12 Groundbreaking Artists: Matisse, Dalí, Duchamp, Hopper, Pollock, Rothko & More

Some art historians dedicate their entire careers, and indeed lives, to the work of a single artist. But what about those of us who only have a minute to spare? Addressing the demand for the briefest possible primers on the creators of important art, paintings and otherwise, of the past century or so, the Royal Academy of Arts' Painters in 60 Seconds series has published twelve episodes so far. Of those informationally dense videos, you see here the introductions to Salvador Dalí, Marcel Duchamp, Edward Hopper, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko.

Though short, these crash courses do find their way beyond the very basics. "There's more to Dalí," says the Royal Academy of the Arts' Artistic Director Tim Marlow, than "skillfully rendered fever dreams of sex and decay.

He painted one of the twentieth century's great crucifixions, but it's more about physics than religion, and he was as influenced by philosophy as he was by Sigmund Freud." Duchamp's unorthodox and influential ideas "came together in one of the most ambitious works of the 20th century, The Large Glass, an endlessly analyzed work of machine-age erotic symbolism, science, alchemy, and then some."

In the seemingly more staid Depression-era work of Edward Hopper, Marlow points to "a profound contemplation of the world around us. Hopper slows down time and captures a moment of stillness in a frantic world," painted in a time of "deep national self-examination about the very idea of Americanness." Hopper painted the famous Nighthawks in 1942; the next year, and surely on the very other end of some kind of artistic spectrum, Hopper's countryman and near-contemporary Jackson Pollock painted Mural, which shows "the young Pollock working through Picasso, continuing to fracture the architecture of cubism" while "at the same time taking on the lessons of the Mexican muralists like Siqueiros and Orozco."

Yet Mural also "starts to proclaim an originality that is all Pollock's," opening the gateway into his heroic (and well-known) "drip period." Rothko, practicing an equally distinctive but entirely different kind of abstraction, ended up producing "some of the most moving paintings in all of the 20th century: saturated stains of color." Making reference to classical architecture — going back, even, to Stonehenge — his work becomes "a kind of threshold into which you, the viewer, project yourself," but its soft edges also give it a sense of "breathing, pulsating, and sometimes, of dying."

If you happen to have more than a minute available, how could you resist digging a bit deeper into the life and work of an artist like that? Or perhaps you'd prefer to get introduced to another: Henri Matisse or Grant Wood, say, or Kazimir Malevich or Joan Mitchell. You may just find one about whom you want to spend the rest of your years learning.

See all videos, including new ones down the road, at the Painters in 60 Seconds series playlist.

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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.

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