The Museum of Failure: A New Swedish Museum Showcases Harley-Davidson Perfume, Colgate Beef Lasagne, Google Glass & Other Failed Products

Here, in Silicon Valley, failure isn't always failure. At least according to the local mythology, it's something to be embraced, accepted, even celebrated. "Fail fast, fail often," they say. And eventually you'll learn enough to achieve real success.

On June 7th, the Museum of Failure will open in Helsingborg, Sweden. There you'll find the remains of failed innovation. Google Glass, the Sony Betamax, the Apple Newton, Nokia's N-gage--they're all there. Ditto a bottle of Harley-Davidson Perfume, Coca-Cola BlāK (aka coffee-flavored coke), and a Colgate Beef Lasagne TV Dinner. And, don't forget the Trump monopoly-style board game--part of a long line of failed Trump products and businesses.

Above, curator Samuel West highlights items in the collection. Bringing together over 60 failed products and services from around the world, the collection provides "unique insight into the risky business of innovation." You can get another glimpse of the new institution below. Fittingly, the museum is free.

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Watch Priceless 17-Century Stradivarius and Amati Violins Get Taken for a Test Drive by Professional Violinists

Materials like carbon fiber and Lucite have been making their way into classical stringed instrument design for many years, and we’ve recently seen the 3-D printed electric violin come into being. It’s an impressive-sounding instrument, one must admit. But trained classical violinists, luthiers, music historians, and collectors all agree: the violin has never really been improved upon since around the turn of the 18th century, when two its finest makers—the Amati and Stradivari families—were at their peak. A few studies have tried to poke holes in the argument that such violins are superior in sound to modern makes. There are many reasons to view these claims with skepticism.

By the time the most expert Italian luthiers began making violins, the instrument had already more or less assumed its final shape, after the long evolution of its f-holes into the perfect sonic conduit. However, Amati and Stradivari not only refined the violin’s curves, edges, and neck design, they also introduced new chemical processes meant to protect the wood from worms and insects.


One biochemistry professor discovered that these chemicals “had the unintended result of producing the unique sounds that have been almost impossible to duplicate in the past 400 years.”

Knowing they had hit upon a winning formula, the top makers passed their techniques down for several generations, making hundreds of violins and other instruments. A great many of these instruments survive, though a market for fakes thrives alongside them. The instruments you see in the videos here are the real thing, four of the world’s oldest and most priceless violins, all of them residing at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. These date from the late 1600s to early 1700s, and were all made in Cremona, the Northern Italian home of the great masters. At the top of the post, you can see Sean Avram Carpenter play Bach’s Sonata No. 1 in G minor on a 1669 violin made by Nicolò Amati.

The next three videos are of violins made by Antonio Stradivari, perhaps once an apprentice of Amati. Each instrument has its own nickname: “The Gould” dates from 1693 and is, writes the Met, “the only [Stradivari] in existence that has been restored to its original Baroque form.” We can see Carpenter play Bach’s Sonata in C major on this instrument further up. Both “The Gould” and the Amati violin were made before modifications to the angle of the neck created “a louder, more brilliant tone.” Above you can hear “The Francesca,” from 1694. Carpenter plays from "Liebesleid" by Fritz Kreisler with the pianist Gabriela Martinez. See if you can tell the difference in tone between this instrument and the first two, less modern designs.

The last violin featured here, “The Antonius,” made by Stradivari in 1717, gets a demonstration in front of a live audience by Eric Grossman, who plays the chaconne from Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D minor. This instrument comes from what is called Stradivari’s “Golden Period,” the years between 1700 and 1720. Some of the most highly valued of Stradivarii in private hands date from around this time. And some of these instruments have histories that may justify their staggering price tags. The Molitor Stradivarius, for example, was supposedly owned by Napoleon. But no matter the previous owner or number of millions paid, every violin created by one of these makers carries with it tremendous prestige. Is it deserved? Hearing them might make you a believer. Joseph Nagyvary, the Texas A&M professor emeritus who is discovering their secrets, tells us, “the great violin masters were making violins with more humanlike voices than any others of the time." Or any since, most experts would agree.

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

How to Make a Replica of 1900-Year-Old Glass Fish: A Brilliant Video from the British Museum

All due respect to the British Museum, but the title of its “How to Make a Glass Fish Replica” video, above is a tad misleading.

I’m sure no malice was intended, but "making" a DIY fish-shaped vessel reminiscent of some 22 found in the ancient Kushan storerooms at Begram, Afghanistan is no one's definition of an easy craft project. (Unless you're willing to fudge with some Elmer's, some blue felt, and an empty peanut butter jar...)


Glass Specialist Bill Gudenrath of the Corning Museum of Glass is an historian of glassworking techniques from ancient Egypt through the Renaissance and clearly expert at his craft, but he doesn’t appear to be too keen on supplying explanatory blow-by-blows. Nor would I be, bustling around a red hot glass oven, without so much as a Johnny Tremain-style leather apron to protect me. I'm not even sure I'd want the distraction of a video camera in my face.

But if, as the title implies, the goal is to produce a duplicate of this whimsical 1900-year-old guppy, the process must be broken down.

From what this casual viewer was able to piece together, the steps would go something like:

1. Twirl a red hot metal pipe in the forge until you have a healthy glob of molten glass. Apparently it's not so different from making cotton candy.

2. Roll the glass blob back and forth on a metal tray.

3. Blow into the pipe's non-glowing end to form a bubble.

4. Repeat steps 1-3

5. Roll the pipe back and forth on a metal sawhorse while seated, applying pinchers to taper the blob into a recognizably fishy-shape.

(Don’t worry about its proximity to your bare forearms and khaki-covered thighs! What could possibly go wrong?)

6. Twirl it like a baton.

(Depending on the length of your arms, your nascent glass fish may come dangerously close to the cement floor. Try not to sweat it.)

7. Use scissors and pinchers to tease out a nipple-shaped appendage that will become the fish’s lips.

8. Use another poker to apply various bloops of molten glass. (Novices may want to practice with a hot glue gun to get the hang of this - it’s trickier than it looks!)  Pinch, prod and drape these bloops into eye and fin shapes. A non-electric crimping iron will prove handy here.

9. Use blue glass, tweezers and crimping iron to personalize your fish-shaped vessel’s distinctive dorsal and anal fins.

10. Tap on the pipe to crack the fish loose. (Careful!)

11. Score the distal end with a glass cutting tool.

 (This step should prove a cinch for anyone who ever used a craft kit to turn empty beer and soda bottles into drinking glasses!)

12. Smooth rough edges with another loop of molten glass and some sort of electric underwater grinding wheel.

Optional 13th step: Read this description of a furnace session, to better acquaint yourself with both best glassblowing practices and the proper names for the equipment. Or get the jump on Christmas 2017 with this true how-to guide to producing hand blown glass ornaments.

Not planning on blowing any glass, fish-shaped or otherwise, any time soon?

Explore the somewhat mysterious history of the 1900-year-old fish-shaped original here, compliments of the British Museum’s St John Simpson, senior curator for its pre-Islamic collections from Iran and Arabia.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her play Zamboni Godot is opening in New York City in March 2017. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Explore 5,300 Rare Manuscripts Digitized by the Vatican: From The Iliad & Aeneid, to Japanese & Aztec Illustrations

vatican-iliad

Hundreds of years before vast public/private partnerships like Google Arts & Culture, the Vatican served as one of the foremost conservators of cultural artifacts from around the world. In the era of the Holy Roman Empire, few of those works were available to the masses (excepting, of course, the city’s considerable public architecture and sculpture). But with over 500 years of history, Vatican Museums and Libraries have amassed a trove of artifacts that rival the greatest world collections in their breadth and scope, and these have slowly become public over time. In 1839, for example, Pope Gregory XVI founded the Egyptian Museum, an extensive collection of Egyptian and Mesopotamian artifacts including the famous Book of the Dead. We also have The Collection of Modern Religious Art, which holds 19th and 20th century impressionists, surrealists, cubists, expressionists, etc. In-between are large public collections from antiquity to the Renaissance.

codex-borgianus

When it comes to manuscripts, the Vatican Library is no less an embarrassment of riches. But unlike the art collections, most of these have been completely inaccessible to the public due to their rarity and fragility. That’s all going to change, now that ancient and modern conservation has come together in partnerships like the one the Library now has with Japanese company NTT DATA.


Their combined project, the Digital Vatican Library, promises to digitize 15,000 manuscripts within the next four years and the full collection of over 80,000 manuscripts in the next decade or so, consisting of codices mostly from the “Middle Age and Humanistic Period.” They’ve made some excellent progress. Currently, you can view high-resolution scans of over 5,300 manuscripts, from all over the world. We previously brought you news of the Library's digitization of Virgil’s Aeneid. They’ve also shared a finely illustrated, bilingual (Greek and Latin) edition of its predecessor, The Iliad (top).

japanese-dance-painting

Further up, from a similar time but very different place, we see a Pre-Columbian Aztec manuscript, equally finely-wrought in its hand-rendered intricacies. You’ll also find illustrations like the circa 17th-century Japanese watercolor painting above, and the rendering of Dante’s hell, below, from a wonderful, if incomplete, series by Renaissance great Sandro Botticelli (which you can see more of here). Begun in 2010, the huge-scale digitization project has decided on some fairly rigorous criteria for establishing priority, including “importance and preciousness,” “danger of loss,” and “scholar’s requests.” The design of the site itself clearly has scholars in mind, and requires some deftness to navigate. But with simple and advanced search functions and galleries of Selected and Latest Digitized Manuscripts on its homepage, the Digital Vatican Library has several entry points through which you can discover many a textual treasure. As the site remarks, “the world’s culture, thanks to the web, can truly become a common heritage, freely accessible to all.” You can enter the collection here.

vatican-botticelli

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

How to Look at Art: A Short Visual Guide by Cartoonist Lynda Barry

looking at art 1
Despite the small, narrative doodle posted to her Tumblr a couple of weeks back, inspirational teacher and cartoonist Lynda Barry clearly has no shortage of strategies for viewing art in a meaningful way.

She takes a Socratic approach with students and readers eager to forge a deeper personal connection to images.

how to look at art 2

She traces this tendency back forty years, to when she studied with Marilyn Frasca at Evergreen State College. Could Frasca have anticipated what she wrought when she asked the young Barry, “What is an image?”

For Barry, who claims to have spent over forty years trying to answer the above question, there will almost always be an emotional component. In a 2010 interview with The Paris Review, she addressed the ways in which art, visual and otherwise, can fill certain crucial holes:

In the course of human life we have a million phantom-limb pains—losing a parent when you’re little, being in a war, even something as dumb as having a mean teacher—and seeing it somehow reflected, whether it’s in our own work or listening to a song, is a way to deal with it.

The Greeks knew about it. They called it catharsis, right? And without it we’re fucked. I think this is the thing that keeps our mental health or emotional health in balance, and we’re born with an impulse toward it.

No wonder the snaggle-toothed dog woman on Barry’s Tumblr looks so anxious. She craves that elusive something that never much troubled Helen Hockinson’s museum-going comic matrons.

(Had revelation been on the menu, those ladies would have dutifully paged through the most highly recommended guidebook of the day, confident they'd find it within those pages.)

These days, the internet abounds with pointers on how to get the most from art.

how to look at art 3

Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts lobbies for a four-point method, well suited to classroom discussion.

The Washington Post’s Pulitzer Prize-winning art and architecture critic Philip Kennicott prescribes time and silence.

Another critic, New York magazine’s firebrand, Jerry Saltz, recommends an aggressively tactile approach for those who would look at art like an artist. Get up close. Cop a feel. Try to see how any given piece is made. (He himself is given to contemplating art with his hips thrust forward and head tilted back as far as it will go, in duplication of Jasper Johns' stance.)

Looking for something more graphic? Abstract Expressionist Ad Reinhardt helped the post-War public get a handle on modern art in his iconic How to Look series.

Former museum educator, Cindy Ingram, the Art Curator for Kids, echoes the spirit of Barry’s sentiment when she states that a child’s interpretation of a work’s meaning is no less valid than Wikipedia’s, the museum’s, or even the artist’s. Adults, don’t squelch a child viewer’s joy of art by telling him or her what to think!

Of course, some of us don’t mind a hint or two to help us feel we’re on the right track. Those in that camp might enjoy the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 82nd and 5th series, in which expert curators wax rhapsodic about their love of particular works in the collection.

You understand that this is just the tip of the proverbial ‘berg...

how to look at art 4

Readers, if you have any tips for achieving revelation through art, please share them by leaving a comment below.

And don’t forget to lift your shorter companion up so he can see better.

Barry's short series of images originally appeared on her Tumblr.

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

Discover Harvard’s Collection of 2,500 Pigments: Preserving the World’s Rare, Wonderful Colors

If modern paint companies’ pretentiously-named color palettes gall you to the point of an exclusively black-and-white existence, the Harvard Art Museums’ Forbes pigment collection will prove a welcome balm.


The hand and typewritten labels identifying the collection’s 2500+ pigments boast none of the flashy “creativity” that J. Crew employs to peddle its cashmere Boyfriend Cardigans.
Pigment Collection

Images by Harvard News

The benign, and wholly unexciting-sounding “emerald green” is ---unsurprisingly---the exact shade legions of Oz fans have come to expect. The thrills here are chemical, not conferred. A mix of crystalline powder copper acetoarsenite, this emerald’s fumes sickened penniless artists as adroitly as they repelled insects.

Look how nicely it goes with Van Gogh’s ruddy hair…

Van Gogh Harvard

“Mummy” is perhaps the closest the Forbes collection comes to 21st- century pigment naming. As Harvard’s Director of the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, Narayan Khandekar, notes in the video above, its mushroom shade is no great shakes. The source---the resin used to seal mummies’ bandages---is what distinguishes it.

Index_mummy_02

The collection’s crown jewel is a rich ball of mustard-y Indian Yellow. This pigment comes not from maize, nor earth, but from the dehydrated urine of a cow subsisting exclusively on mango leaves. I'm drawn to it like a moth to the living room walls. I'm sure Benjamin Moore had his reasons for dubbing its urine-free facsimile "Sunny Days."

pigment_vault India Yellow

The images above, save the Van Gogh painting, comes courtesy of by Harvard News. The video above was created by Great Big Story.

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

330 Years of Female Printmakers (1570–1900) : Download Free Prints, Visit the Exhibit

Female Artists 1

Henrietta Louisa Koenen was born a century before the Guerrilla Girls, but her collecting habits are a strong argument for honorary, posthumous membership in the activist group.

The wife of the Rijksmuseum’s Print Room’s first director, Koenen spent over three decades acquiring prints by female artists, though discouragingly few of the 827 women in her collection achieved much in the way of recognition for their work.

Renaissance aristocratic painter, Sofonisba Anguissola, and portraitist (and founding member of London’s Royal Academy of ArtsAngelica Kauffman, have the distinction of being namechecked in the Guerrilla Girl’s 1989 provocation, below.

Female Artists 2

Neither can be said to enjoy the museum tote bag celebrity of a Kahlo or O’Keeffe.

Female Artists 3

Self portait, Angelica Kauffman

Their work can be expected to attract some new fans, now that 80 some pieces from Koenen’s collection are on display as part of the New York Public Library’s exhibit, Printing Women: Three Centuries of Female Printmakers, 1570–1900.

(And it would be unseemly not to credit American art dealer Samuel Putnam Avery, for donating Koenen's collection to the library at the turn of the last century, twenty years after her death.)

Female Artists 4

Printmaking is a frequently collaborative art. The droll Young Girl Laughing at the Old Woman, above, was drawn by Anguissola and engraved by Jacob Bos.

And Maria Cosway’s Music Has Charms, at the top of this post, was a family affair, with Cosway printing husband Richard’s celestial rendering of daughter Louisa Paolina Angelica. (Mrs. Cosway was also an accomplished composer and painter of miniatures and mythological scenes, though history has decreed her most enduring claim to fame should be her hold over a besotted Thomas Jefferson.)

The library highlights the continuum with an online gallery showcasing the work of contemporary female printmakers, some of whom are contributing guest posts to curator Madeleine Viljoen’s Printing Women blog.

Female Artists 5

Sara Sanders, whose 2010 Lithograph, Untitled Chair #5, above, is part of a larger series, writes:

I believe that the domestic objects with which we spend our lives retain traces of our histories and tell stories about our pasts. These prints are part of an ongoing series of portraits of chairs drawn in the way we imagine them to be. Two of the chairs in this series were drawn from existing objects with a rich history, while the rest are imagined character studies.

Her thoughts seem particularly germane, when the “lesser genres” of ornament, still-life, and landscape were by default frequent subjects for the female artists in Koenen’s collection. Propriety deemed the fairer sex should not be party to the nude figure studies that significant religious and historical scenes so often demanded.

(Channel your inner Guerrilla Girl by performing an image search on Rape of the Sabine Women, and imagining the models as aspirant artists themselves, confined to such subject matter as violets and laundry day.)

That's not to say domestic subjects can't prove divine.

Female Artists 6

Witness 1751’s A Child Seated, Blowing Bubbles by Madame de Pompadour, an amateur artist and frequently painted beauty, who, the National Gallery’s website informs us, was “groomed from childhood to become a plaything for the King.”

View the online brochure for New York Public Library’s Printing Women: Three Centuries of Female Printmakers, 1570–1900 exhibition here. The exhibition at The New York Public Library ends May 27th, 2016.

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

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