Art Trips: Visit the Art of Cities Around the World, from Los Angeles & London, to Venice and New York

When first we visit a city, even a small one, we can't hope to see all of it. Hence the need for strategies of approach and exploration: do we walk its main streets? Eat its food and drink its drinks? Visit its most beloved bookstores? Sarah Urist Green gets into cities through their art, hardly a surprising habit for the creator of the PBS Digital Studios series The Art Assignment. We first featured The Art Assignment five years ago here on Open Culture, and Green and her collaborators have kept up the good work ever since. In that time their mission of "traveling around the country, visiting artists and asking them to give you an art assignment" has expanded, taking them outside America as well. On the road they've collected not just material for regular episodes, but for special Art Trips as well.

Their first Art Trip to Los Angeles, for instance, takes Green and company to the Hammer Museum, the galleries of Culver City (one of which has a show up of Andy Warhol's shadow paintings), the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (where they walk under Michael Heizer's Levitated Mass and through Chris Burden's much-Instagrammed Urban Light), and the then-newly-opened Broad Art Museum. In between they take side trips for refreshment at the noted ice cream sandwich shop Coolhaus (named in honor of the Dutch architect) and deep into the Inland Empire city of Bakersfield. This combination of places expected and unexpected comes not without the occasional tourist cliche, such as Green's description of "the most quintessential of Los Angeles experiences: driving."




The Art Assigment's return visit to the southern Californian metropolis focuses on "the Los Angeles hiding in plain sight" with Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, a series of exhibitions all over the city on Latino and Latina artists at institutions like the Craft and Folk Art Museum, the Los Angeles Central Library, and the Geffen Contemporary. All the while Green and her team eat plenty of tacos, as any Angeleno would advise, and the final night of their stay finds them in Grand Park among the shrine-like handmade offerings set up for Día de los Muertos, all of them crafted with an eeriness matched only by their good humor.

Los Angeles has become an acknowledged art capital over the past half-century, but London, fair to say, has a bit more history behind it. The Art Assignment's time in the English capital coincides with Frieze Week, when galleries from all over the world descend on Regent's Park to show off their most striking artistic wares. Not coincidentally, the museums and galleries based in the city use the same part of the year to schedule some of their most anticipated shows, turning the few days of this Art Trip in London into a mad rush from Trafalgar Square to the National Portrait Gallery to the Royal Academy of Arts to the Courtauld Institute of Art, by which point Green admits the onset of "masterpiece overload " — but also has several galleries, not to mention the main event of Frieze itself, to go.

Frieze Week doesn't come to Detroit, the onetime capital of American auto manufacturing whose population peaked in the middle of the 20th century and whose subsequent hard times, culminating in the city's 2013 bankruptcy, have been chronicled with both fascination and despair. But The Art Assignment finds a Detroit apart from the ruined factories, theaters, and train stations, the stuff of so many internet slideshows, at the Motown Museum and the Detroit Institute of Arts (home to Diego Rivera's Detroit Industry Murals), as well as in folk-art environments like the famous Heidelberg Project and public-art environments like downtown Detroit, whose recent revival has proven as compelling as its long decline. But many ruins remain, and artists like Scott Hocking have found in them not just their subjects but their materials as well.

More striking than Detroit's urban desolation is that of another unlikely The Art Assignment destination, Marfa, Texas. In his essay "The Republic of Marfa," Sean Wilsey describes it as "a hardscrabble ranching community in the upper Chihuahuan desert, sixty miles north of the Mexican border, that inhabits some of the most beautiful and intransigent countryside imaginable." In the mid-1970s "the minimalist artist Donald Judd moved to Marfa, exiling himself from what he termed the 'glib and harsh' New York art scene, in order to live in a sort of high plains laboratory devoted to building, sculpture, furniture design, museology, conservation, and a dash of ranching," and his influence — as well as the presence of his large-scale installations — helped to make Marfa "a sort of city-state of cattlemen, artists, writers, fugitives, smugglers, free-thinkers, environmentalists, soldiers and secessionists."

In Marfa Green explores the monumental work Judd left behind as well as the monumental work other artists have since contributed, including a project in a converted military barracks by neon artist Dan Flavin and a fake Prada store. Other Art Trip destinations include the likes of Chicago and Columbus, Indiana (modern-architecture mecca and setting of the recent feature film by video essayist Kogonada) as well as Tijuana and the Venice Biennale, all of which you can find on one playlist. Green has even done an Art Trip right where she lives, the "bland-leaning, chain restaurant-loving" Midwestern city of Indianapolis — which boasts the Museum of Psychphonics, an under-freeway art installation by Vito Acconci, and a fair few bike-share book-share stations as well. We can never fully know the cities we don't live in, but nor can we ever fully know the cities we do live in either — which, if we nevertheless enjoy the attempt as much as Green does, is no bad thing at all.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, 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.

Why Route 66 Became America’s Most Famous Road

Most Americans know Route 66, but sometimes it seems like non-Americans know it better. I happen to be an American living outside America myself, and whenever conversations turn to the subject of road trips in my homeland, it's only a matter of time before I hear the usual question: "Have you driven Route 66?" Originally commissioned in 1926, the 2,448-mile road from Chicago to Santa Monica enjoyed about three decades of primacy before its eclipse by the Interstate Highway System. Quaint though Route 66 may now seem compared to that vast postwar infrastructural project, it somehow hasn't quite let go of its hold on the American imagination, and even less so the world's imagination about America.

"Route 66 has been in the shadows twice as long as it was in the spotlight," says Vox's Phil Edwards, "but there's still this energy around it." In the video "Why Route 66 Became America's Most Famous Road," Edwards does the iconic road trip himself, and along the way tells the story behind what John Steinbeck called "the mother road, the road of flight."




This naturally involves an abundance of both cinematically empty landscapes, flamboyantly unhealthy cuisine, and richly kitschy Americana, the kind of thing featured in Atlas Obscura's robust Route 66 category. Edwards visits colossal cowboy statues, the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame and Museum ("horses must be dead to be considered"), and a roadhouse where, if you "eat 72 ounces of steak and sides in under an hour, you get it for free" — and those are just in Texas.

Route 66 can't but appeal to American history buffs, but in recent decades it has also attracted connoisseurs of desolation. Originally shaped by a variety of lobbying interests, including an especially vigorous promoter of Tulsa, Oklahoma named Cyrus Avery, the "Main Street of America" turned many of the hamlets along its path into, if not destinations, then places worth spending the night. Fascinating artifacts remain of Route 66's vibrant midcentury "motel culture," but not even the most America-besotted visitors from foreign lands could overlook how thoroughly history seems to have passed most of these places by. I saw this first-hand myself when I drove across the United States on Interstate 40, the continent-spanning freeway that follows Route 66 in places and certainly hastened its demise. You can see it and much else on Route 66 besides in the "aerial documentary" above.

Edwards' interviewees include denizens of Route 66 making a go of reversing the decline of this 34-years-decommissioned road, such as the proprietor of the Motel Safari, a veritable 1950s time-capsule in Tucumcari, New Mexico. He also talks to the editor of Route 66 News, an elderly Texan lady with a thing for dinosaurs, a modern-day Cyrus Avery looking to promote the glories of Route 66's Oklahoma stretch, and Route 66 road-trippers of various ages and nationalities, including a guy who actually ate that 72-ounce steak within an hour. "There was dessert as far as the eye can see," says one still-marveling young European. He almost surely meant desert, but as far as the charms of America's open roads go, both interpretations are equally true.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, 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.

Cy Kuckenbaker’s Time Collapse Videos Let You See Daily Life As You’ve Never Seen It Before

There are apps to track the number of daily minutes you habitually fritter away on social media, but can your smartphone help you get a handle on the automotive color preferences of midday San Diego drivers?

Or the number of planes landing at San Diego International Airport on the day after Thanksgiving?

Or, for that matter, the traffic patterns of non-professional surfers hoping to catch a wave at at Point Loma?

No, but filmmaker Cy Kuckenbaker can.




His "time collapse” videos stemmed from a desire to get to know the city in which he lives with the same vigor he brought to bear as a Peace Corps volunteer in his 20s, exploring Iraq, Africa, and Eastern Europe.

This impulse might lead others to join a club, take a class, or check out restaurants in an unfamiliar neighborhood.

For Kuckenbaker, it means setting up his camera for a fixed shot, uncertain if his experiment will even work, then spending hours and hours in the editing room, removing the time between events without altering the speed of his subjects.

It’s a form that requires a lot of patience on the part of its creator.

He estimates that he spent 2 hours editing for every second of Midday Traffic Time Collapsed and Reorganized by Color: San Diego Study #3, above, providing him ample time to listen to the following audiobooks (get your free Audible trial here):

Revolution 1989 by Victor Sebestyen

How Music Works by David Byrne

Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart

1493 by Charles Mann

1491 by Charles Mann

With the Old Breed by E. Sledge

The Emperor of Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

Each car was keyed out of the original shot, then ranked and reinserted based on color. 28 of the raw footage’s 462 didn’t make the cut due to erratic shape or movement. See if you can spot them in the extremely ordinary-looking original footage, below. Extra credit for spotting the empty Gatorade bottle that made it into every frame of the compression:

His studies may not reveal much about his home city to the average tourist, but Kuckenbaker himself is able to interpret the numbers in ways that go beyond mere quantity and averages, such as San Diegans’ apparent vehicular color preference:

Nationally, red is a more popular color than blue. But not San Diego. San Diego, there’s more blue than red, so it’s like, you know, an outlier. And I thought about that for a while and it’s like, personally, the way I understand the city, that makes sense to me. The sort of tone of the city, the attitude of the city—it’s an ocean city. I can see why people would think, “Well, I live in San Diego. Why would I have a red… I want a blue car!”

His Point Loma compression boiled an hour's surfing down to 2 minutes and 15 seconds that KPBS’ David Wagner heralded as “a surfer's wildest dream come true, a fantasy break where perfect waves roll in one after another like clockwork, no lulls in between.”

The raw footage and Kuckenbaker’s documentation of the After Effects technique used to composite the waves speaks to a slightly more tedious reality. No word on what audio books got him through this one, though he goes into the technical specs and quotes Joseph Conrad on his blog.

The compression of the nearly 70 arriving Black Friday flights that kicked off Kuckenbaker’s San Diego-based time collapses in 2012 feels a bit martial, especially if Ride of the Valkyries just happens to be playing in the background. It makes me worry for San Diego, and also wish for a Kuckenbaker to come collapse time in my town.

See more of Cy Kuckenbaker’s Time Collapse videos here.

via Twisted Sifter

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, September 9 for another season of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Enjoy Dazzling & Dizzying 360° Virtual Tours of Los Angeles Landmarks

Remember when armchair travel meant a book, a magazine, a handful of postcards, or the occasional after-dinner slideshow of the neighbors’ vacation photos?

Those were the days.

The throngs of travel “influencers”—both professional and aspirant—have taken much of the fun out of living through others’ visits to far-flung locales. The focus seems to have shifted from imagining ourselves in their shoes to feeling oppressed by their highly-staged, heavily-filtered Instagram-perfect existence.




Photographer Jim Newberry's dazzling, dizzying 360° photos of Los Angeles, like the views of Echo Park, Chinatown, East L.A., and Downtown, above, offer armchair travelers transportation back to those giddy pre-influencer days.

(Angelinos and other LA-versed visitors will enjoy swooping through City of Angels landmarks as if rotating on the no-parallax point, too.)

The Chicago transplant admits that it took a while for him to find his Los Angeles groove:

After being disabused of my Midwestern, anti-L.A. views, I've found that the city has much more to offer than I had imagined, but the gems of Los Angeles often don't reveal themselves readily; it takes a bit of legwork to seek out the best spots, and well worth it. Mountains, beaches, vibrant urban life, tons of museums, gorgeous nature.

While easy-to-use "one-shot" 360 cameras exist, Newberry prefers the quality afforded by using a high-resolution non-360 camera with a wide angle lens, mounted on a panoramic tripod head that rotates it in such a way as to prevent perspective errors.

With the equipment set up in the center of the room, he shoots four photos, spaced 90° apart. Another shot is aimed directly downward toward the floor.

Panoramic software helps to stitch the images together for a "spherical panorama,” giving viewers an experience that’s the digital equivalent of swiveling their heads in awe.

Newberry’s roving lens turns Lee Lawrie’s Zodiac ChandelierDean Cornwell’s California history murals, and the decorative ceiling stencils of the Central Public Library’s Grand Rotunda into a gorgeous kaleidoscope.

The Taoist Thien Hau Temple in Chinatown is a more recent attraction, founded in the 1980s in a former Christian church. Community members raised funds to build the larger temple, above, dedicating it in 2006 as a shrine to Mazu, the goddess of the sea, protector of fisherman and sailors.

The Museum of Jurassic Technology, a self-described “educational institution dedicated to the advancement of knowledge and the public appreciation of the Lower Jurassic,” served as Newberry’s point of entry, when management okayed his request to shoot 360° photos there:

It's a very special place—my panoramic photos are no match for an in-person visit. Unlike many other museums these days, the Museum of Jurassic Technology doesn't normally allow photography, and there's not many photos of the place to be found. 

(In return for permission to shoot the museum’s Fauna of Mirrors murals, rooftop courtyard, and Tula Tea Room, Newberry agreed to maintain its mysterious aura by limiting the publication of those photos to his Panoramic Eye site. Feast your eyes here.)

The photographer is looking forward to working with more museums, creating 3-dimensional documentation of exhibits.

His interest in the ephemeral has also spurred him to create virtual tours of local landmarks on the verge of being torn down. Entries in the ongoing Lost Landmarks series include Los Feliz’s Good Luck Bar (RIP), Tom Bergin's Pub (above, spared at the last minute when the Los Angeles Conservancy declared it an Historic-Cultural Monument), and the Alpine Village, currently for sale in neighboring Torrance.

Begin your explorations of Jim Newberry’s Panoramic Eye 360° virtual tours of Los Angeles, including the Griffith Park Observatorythe St. Sophia Cathedral, and the Everything Is Terrible! store here.

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Ayun Halliday is the author of seven books, including No Touch Monkey! And Other Travel Lessons Learned Too Lateand the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, September 9 for another season of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Mont Saint-Michel Beautifully Viewed from a Drone

This short film was an award winner at the 2015 Drone Film festival held in Cabourg, France. Enjoy the ride.

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Watch an Animated Documentary About the Pioneering Journalist & Feminist Icon Nellie Bly

While no longer a household name, the trailblazing journalist Nellie Bly (1864-1922) is definitely an enduring American icon.

Her likeness has graced a postage stamp and a finger puppet.

Her life has been the subject of numerous books and a made-for-TV movie.

Some hundred years after its completion, her record-breaking, 72-day round-the-world trip inspired an episode of The American Experience, a puzzle-cum-boardgame, and a rollicking song by history fans the Deedle Deedle Dees.




And now? Meet Nellie Bly, cartoon action hero. (Heroine? Hard to say which honorific the opinionated and forward-thinking Bly, born in 1864, would prefer...)

Filmmaker Penny Lane's "Nellie Bly Makes the News," above, is not the first to recognize this sort of potential in the pioneering journalist, whose 151st birthday was celebrated with an animated Google Doodle and accompanying song by Karen O, but Lane (no relation to Lois, the fictional reporter modeled on you-know-who) wisely lets Bly speak for herself.

Not only that, she brings her into the studio for a 21st-century interview, in which an eye-rolling Bly describes the resistance she encountered from the male elite, who felt it was not just unseemly but impossible that a young woman should pursue the sort of journalistic career she envisioned for herself.

She also touches on some of her most famous journalistic stunts, such as the undercover stints in a New York City “insane asylum”and box-making factory that led to exposés and eventually, social reform.

Biographer Brooke Kroeger and brief glimpses of archival materials touch on some of the other highlights in Bly’s audacious, self-directed career.

The cartoon Bly’s hairdo and attire are period appropriate, but her vocal inflections, courtesy of broadcast reporter and voiceover artist Sammi Jo Francis, are closer in spirit to that of Broad City’s Ilana Glazer.

(Interesting to note, given Bly’s complaints about how prominently the one dress she took on her round the world trip featured in outside stories about that adventure, that dress is a preoccupation of The Appreciation of Booted Newswomen blog. Respectful as that site is, the focus there is definitely not on journalistic achievement.)

via Aeon

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, September 9 for another season of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin & Michael Collins Go Through Customs and Sign Immigration Form After the First Moon Landing (1969)

Above, find a document signed 50 years ago by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins after they returned from the first manned trip to the moon. The three astronauts came down in the Pacific Ocean and were taken to Honolulu on July 24, 1969, where they supposedly signed this immigration form, declaring a cargo of moon rocks and dust. President Nixon was good enough to let them back into the country.

The form, NASA spokesperson John Yembrick told Space.com, is authentic. And, he says, it was a joke. He does not, however, say exactly when the form was signed, either on the day the crew splashed down or sometime afterward. They did not actually arrive in Honolulu until the 26th. After their return,

The astronauts were trapped inside a NASA trailer as part of a quarantine effort just in case they brought back any germs or disease from the moon. They even wore special biological containment suits when they walked out on the deck of the USS Hornet after being retrieved. 

NASA transported them to Houston, quarantine trailer and all, and they emerged from isolation three weeks later.

Astronauts these days mostly just need a shower when they touch down, although internet savvy International Space Station astronaut Chris Hadfield did tell some customs related stories on a Reddit AMA—maybe nothing so weird as the current space snorkeling up there, but still a pretty great read.

Note: An earlier version of this post originally appeared on our site in December 2013.

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

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