An Opera Singer & Cabaret Artist Record an Astonishing Version of David Bowie & Queen’s “Under Pressure”

On the sur­face of things, Antho­ny Roth Costan­zo, the inter­na­tion­al­ly-rec­og­nized coun­tertenor and Justin Vivian Bond, the sub­ver­sive per­for­mance artist best known for their cre­ation Kiki DuRane, “an alco­holic bat­tle-axe with a throat full of razor-blades,” would have lit­tle rea­son to share a mic, let alone inhab­it the same stage.

Leave sur­faces behind!

Their genre-defy­ing, just released album, Only An Octave Apart, explores the depths that lurk beneath them, find­ing com­mon cause between their cho­sen art forms and then some. The album’s title, a nod to the open­ing num­ber of a Met­ro­pol­i­tan Opera tele­vi­sion spe­cial star­ring come­di­an Car­ol Bur­nett and oper­at­ic sopra­no Bev­er­ly Sills, is just the tip of the ice­berg.

As they state in the pro­gram notes for a recent appear­ance with the New York Phil­har­mon­ic at Jazz at Lin­coln Cen­ter:

We each sound dif­fer­ent from what you would expect when you look at us. The jux­ta­po­si­tion of our voic­es, per­son­al­i­ties, and reper­toire sub­verts notions of high and low, be it in terms of pitch, cul­tur­al ech­e­lon, or degrees of camp — not to men­tion the dif­fer­ence in height.

If you thought David Bowie and Fred­die Mer­cury sent things into the stratos­phere when they joined forces on “Under Pres­sure,” lis­ten to Costan­zo and Bond’s take, above.

Their Dido’s Lament / White Flag Med­ley smash­es the musi­cal bina­ry with a del­i­ca­cy that is giv­en room to grow.

Costan­zo begins with two and a half soar­ing min­utes from Hen­ry Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas.

Intro­duc­ing the num­ber at Jazz at Lin­coln Cen­ter, he recalled how Dido & Aeneas was one of his first pro­fes­sion­al opera gigs at 19. No, he was­n’t cast as the fatal­ly dis­traught Queen of Carthage, a diva role he’s eyed for years, but rather the Sec­ond Woman and First Witch.

(“Sec­ond Woman / First Witch…sounds like the sto­ry of my life,” Bond mar­veled. “I own it! Can you imag­ine if you were First Woman and Sec­ond Witch?”)

Costan­zo got his chance at Dido in the sum­mer of 2020 when, with per­for­mance venues still closed due to the pan­dem­ic, he hatched an idea to cart Phil­har­mon­ic musi­cians and guest singers around the city’s five Bor­oughs in a rent­ed pick­up dubbed the NY Phil Band­wag­on80-some free per­for­mances lat­er, he felt ready to record.

When Bond joins in, it’s with Eng­lish singer-song­writer Dido’s 2003 chart top­per, White Flag, which also speaks to the pains of love. The sin­cer­i­ty of the per­form­ers caus­es a gor­geous alchem­i­cal reac­tion to soft­en the posi­tions of more than a few staunch opera-phobes and pop-deniers.

(“The won­der­ful thing about the opera,” Bond cracks, “is when you wake up, you’re at the opera!”)

Their Egypt­ian Sun mash up is born of an even can­nier pair­ing — The Ban­gles’ mid-80s hit, Walk Like An Egypt­ian and Philip Glass’ ancient Egypt-themed min­i­mal­ist mod­ern opera, Akhnat­en, in which Costan­za recent­ly starred, mak­ing his first entrance nude and flecked with gold.

Oth­er trea­sures from this fruit­ful col­lab­o­ra­tion include skill­ful inter­twin­ings of Tom Jobim’s Bossa nova favorite Águas de Março (Waters of March) with Gioachi­no Rossini’s Cin­derel­la-themed con­fec­tion La Cener­en­to­la,  and Gluck’s 18th-cen­tu­ry mas­ter­piece, Orfeo ed Euridice with Don’t Give Up, a “mes­sage of hope in the bleak­est of moments” and a hit for Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush when Bond was a year out of college…and  Costan­zo was four.

Lis­ten to Only an Octave Apart in its entire­ty on YouTube or Spo­ti­fy.

Antho­ny Ross Costan­zo will reprise his role as the rev­o­lu­tion­ary pharaoh, Akhnat­en, at the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Opera lat­er this spring.

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Tennessee School Board Bans Maus, the Pulitzer-Prize Winning Graphic Novel on the Holocaust; the Book Becomes #1 Bestseller on Amazon

Last week, a Ten­nessee school board vot­ed unan­i­mous­ly to ban Maus, the Pulitzer-win­ning graph­ic nov­el about the Holo­caust, cit­ing instances of pro­fan­i­ty and nudi­ty. Specif­i­cal­ly, the McMinn Coun­ty school board object­ed to utter­ances of the words “God damn” and a small, bare­ly-per­cep­ti­ble breast. (Look close­ly, and you may even­tu­al­ly find it.) Rather uncom­fort­ably, the ban­ning came on the eve of Inter­na­tion­al Holo­caust Remem­brance Day, and it fig­ures into a larg­er right-lean­ing effort to ban books coun­try­wide.

Hap­pi­ly, bad deci­sions can have good unin­tend­ed con­se­quences. In recent days, Art Spiegel­man’s Maus has soared to #1 on Ama­zon’s best­seller list. (Anoth­er edi­tion of the book sits at #3 on the list.) Else­where, a col­lege pro­fes­sor has cre­at­ed a free online course on Maus designed sole­ly for stu­dents from McMinn Coun­ty. And with­in Ten­nessee itself, book­stores are giv­ing away free copies of Spiegel­man’s clas­sic, while a church has decid­ed to con­vene con­ver­sa­tions on the ground­break­ing book.

Above, you can watch Spiegel­man respond to the ban and won­der whether it’s “a har­bin­ger of things to come,” a step in a larg­er effort to efface the mem­o­ry of the Holo­caust.

Relat­ed Con­tent

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

Artist is Cre­at­ing a Parthenon Made of 100,000 Banned Books: A Mon­u­ment to Democ­ra­cy & Intel­lec­tu­al Free­dom

The 850 Books a Texas Law­mak­er Wants to Ban Because They Could Make Stu­dents Feel Uncom­fort­able

America’s First Banned Book: Dis­cov­er the 1637 Book That Mocked the Puri­tans

A Brief Animated History of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses & the Reformation–Which Changed Europe and Later the World

What­ev­er our reli­gious back­ground, we all soon­er or lat­er have occa­sion to speak of nail­ing the­ses to a door. Most of us use the phrase as a metaphor, but sel­dom entire­ly with­out aware­ness of the his­tor­i­cal events that inspired it. On Octo­ber 31, 1517, a Ger­man priest and the­olo­gian named Mar­tin Luther nailed to the door of Wit­ten­berg’s All Saints’ Church his own the­ses, 95 of them, which col­lec­tive­ly made an argu­ment against the Roman Catholic Church’s prac­tice of sell­ing indul­gences, or par­dons for sins. Luther could not accept that the poor should “spend all their mon­ey buy­ing their way out of pun­ish­ment so they can go to heav­en,” nor that it should be “eas­i­er for the rich to avoid a long time in pur­ga­to­ry.”

In oth­er words, Luther believed that the Church in his time had become “way too much about mon­ey and too lit­tle about God,” accord­ing to the nar­ra­tion of the short film above. Cre­at­ed by Tum­ble­head Stu­dios and show­cased by Nation­al Geo­graph­ic for the 500th anniver­sary of the orig­i­nal the­sis-nail­ing, its five play­ful­ly ani­mat­ed min­utes tell the sto­ry of the Ref­or­ma­tion, which saw Protes­tantism split off from Catholi­cism as a result of Luther’s agi­ta­tion. It also man­ages to include such events as Luther’s own trans­la­tion of the New Tes­ta­ment, pre­vi­ous­ly avail­able only in Greek and Latin, into his native Ger­man, the pub­li­ca­tion of which cre­at­ed the basis of the mod­ern Ger­man lan­guage as spo­ken and writ­ten today.

Luther’s trans­la­tion gave ordi­nary peo­ple “the oppor­tu­ni­ty to read the Bible in their own lan­guage,” free from the inter­pre­ta­tions of the priests and the Church. It also gave them, per­haps less inten­tion­al­ly, the abil­i­ty to “use the words of the Bible as an argu­ment for all sorts of things.” Luther’s thoughts were soon mar­shaled “in the pow­er strug­gles of princes, in revolts, and in the strug­gle between kings, princes, and the Pope about who actu­al­ly decides what.” Squab­bles, bat­tles, and full-scale wars ensued. The con­se­quent insti­tu­tion­al schisms changed the world in ways vis­i­ble half a mil­len­ni­um lat­er — but they first changed Europe, where traces of that trans­for­ma­tion still reveal them­selves most strik­ing­ly. Few trav­el­ers can be trust­ed to find and explain those traces more ably than pub­lic-tele­vi­sion host Rick Steves.

In Luther and the Ref­or­ma­tion, his 2017 spe­cial above, Steves vis­its all the impor­tant sites involved in the cen­tral fig­ure’s life jour­ney, a rep­re­sen­ta­tion in micro­cosm of Europe’s grand shift from medieval­ism into moder­ni­ty.  In more than 40 years of pro­fes­sion­al trav­el, Steves has paid count­less vis­its to the mon­u­ments of Catholic Europe. Appre­ci­at­ing them, he admit­ted in a recent New York Times Mag­a­zine pro­file, required him to “park my Protes­tant sword at the door.” His sto­ry-of-the-Ref­or­ma­tion tour, how­ev­er, lets him draw on his own Luther­an tra­di­tion with his char­ac­ter­is­tic enthu­si­asm. That enthu­si­asm, in part, that has made him a such a suc­cess­ful trav­el entre­pre­neur, though he pre­sum­ably knows when to stop amass­ing wealth: after all, it’s eas­i­er for a camel to go through the eye of a nee­dle than for a rich man to enter the king­dom of God. Or so the New Tes­ta­ment has it.

Relat­ed con­tent:

An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to the World’s Five Major Reli­gions: Hin­duism, Judaism, Bud­dhism, Chris­tian­i­ty & Islam

60-Sec­ond Adven­tures in Reli­gion: Watch New Ani­ma­tions by The Open Uni­ver­si­ty

Ani­mat­ed Map Shows How the Five Major Reli­gions Spread Across the World (3000 BC – 2000 AD)

The Reli­gious Affil­i­a­tion of Com­ic Book Heroes

Chris­tian­i­ty Through Its Scrip­tures: A Free Course from Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty

Rick Steves’ Europe: Binge Watch 11 Sea­sons of America’s Favorite Trav­el­er Free Online

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.

Watch a Human White Blood Cell Chase Bacteria Through a Field of Red Blood Cells

Watch above a clas­sic movie made by David Rogers at Van­der­bilt Uni­ver­si­ty in the 1950s. It shows “a neu­trophil (a type of white blood cell) chas­ing a bac­teri­um through a field of red blood cells in a blood smear. After pur­su­ing the bac­teri­um around sev­er­al red blood cells, the neu­trophil final­ly catch­es up to and engulfs its prey. In the human body, these cells are an impor­tant first line of defense against bac­te­r­i­al infec­tion. The speed of rapid move­ments such as cell crawl­ing can be most eas­i­ly mea­sured by the method of direct obser­va­tion.” This com­fort­ing video comes cour­tesy of the estate of David Rogers, Van­der­bilt Uni­ver­si­ty.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Bac­te­ria Become Resis­tant to Antibi­otics in a Mat­ter of Days: A Quick, Stop-Motion Film

An Artis­tic Por­trait of Stephen Fry Made From His Own Bac­te­ria

How a Virus Invades Your Body: An Eye-Pop­ping, Ani­mat­ed Look

The Marcel Duchamp Research Portal Opens, Making Available 18,000 Documents and 50,000 Images Related to the Revolutionary Artist

Mar­cel Duchamp made films, com­posed music, paint­ed Nude Descend­ing a Stair­case, No. 2, designed an art deco chess set, and of course — the first thing most of us learn about him, as well as the last thing many of us learn about him — he put a uri­nal in an art gal­ley. But as you might expect of an artist who spent the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry at the heart of the avant-garde, there’s more to him than that. This notion is backed up by the more than 18,000 doc­u­ments and 50,000 images made avail­able at the Duchamp Research Por­tal, a new­ly opened archive ded­i­cat­ed to the life and work of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary con­cep­tu­al artist.

The fruit of a sev­en-year col­lab­o­ra­tion between the Philadel­phia Muse­um of Art, the Asso­ci­a­tion Mar­cel Duchamp, and the Cen­tre Pom­pi­dou, this for­mi­da­ble dig­i­tal col­lec­tion includes many arti­facts relat­ed to the artist’s best-known work: the “large glass” of The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bach­e­lors, Even; the mus­ta­chioed Mona Lisa; the shock­ing attempts to com­mit phys­i­cal motion to can­vas; and that uri­nal, Foun­tain.

But its “most inter­est­ing items,” writes The Art News­pa­per’s Daniel Cas­sady, “are often the most inti­mate and involve oth­er major play­ers in the evo­lu­tion of 20th-cen­tu­ry art. A 1950 let­ter — with enig­mat­ic mar­gin­a­lia — from Bre­ton. A 1933 post­card to Con­stan­tin Brân­cuși. Many can­did pho­tographs by Duchamp’s friend and fel­low giant of the era, Man Ray.”

These names will be famil­iar to read­ers of Open Cul­ture, where we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured Brân­cuși on film and por­traits of 1920s cul­tur­al icons by Man Ray — who, as we can see from the above snap­shot of Duchamp at his Span­ish home, did­n’t always work so for­mal­ly. But then, no artist can ful­ly be under­stood through what makes it into the art-his­to­ry text­books alone. Browse the Duchamp Research Por­tal (or click “show me more” to change up the images on its front page) and you’ll see pieces of an artis­tic life ful­ly lived: the floor plan of his West 67th Street stu­dio; a 1940 telegram to Amer­i­can patron Wal­ter Con­rad Arens­berg (“HOLDING SHIPMENT OF MASK AWAITING CONFIRMATION OF INSURANCE AND ADDRESS”); a 1954 French news­pa­per pro­file; and a series of images jux­ta­pos­ing Duchamp with an unclothed Eve Bab­itz, the late Los Ange­les “it-girl” — not just the famous one of them play­ing chess.

via Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear Mar­cel Duchamp Read “The Cre­ative Act,” A Short Lec­ture on What Makes Great Art, Great

Mar­cel Duchamp, Chess Enthu­si­ast, Cre­at­ed an Art Deco Chess Set That’s Now Avail­able via 3D Print­er

Anémic Ciné­ma: Mar­cel Duchamp’s Whirling Avant-Garde Film (1926)

Hear the Rad­i­cal Musi­cal Com­po­si­tions of Mar­cel Duchamp (1912–1915)

What Made Mar­cel Duchamp’s Famous Uri­nal Art — and an Inven­tive Prank

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.

Great Art Cities: Visit the Fascinating, Lesser-Known Museums of London & Paris

Gal­lerists James Payne and Joanne Shurvell under­stand that insti­tu­tion­al big goril­las like the Lou­vrethe Musee d’Or­sayTate Britain, and London’s Nation­al Gallery require no intro­duc­tion. Their new art and trav­el series, Great Art Cities Explained, con­cen­trates instead on the won­der­ful, small­er muse­ums the big­gies often over­shad­ow.

First time vis­i­tors to Lon­don and Paris may be left scram­bling to rearrange their itin­er­aries.

The first two episodes have us per­suad­ed that Sir John Soane’s Muse­umKen­wood Housethe Wal­lace Col­lec­tion, Le Musée Nation­al Eugène DelacroixLe Musée de Mont­martre à Paris, and Ate­lier Bran­cusi are the true “don’t miss” attrac­tions if time is tight.

Cred­it Payne, whose flair for dishy, far rang­ing, high­ly acces­si­ble nar­ra­tion made his oth­er web series, Great Art Explained in Fif­teen Min­utes, an instant hit.

The three British insti­tu­tions fea­tured above were once grand pri­vate homes, whose own­ers decid­ed to donate them and the mag­nif­i­cent art col­lec­tions they con­tained to the pub­lic good.

What­ev­er moti­vat­ed these wealthy men’s gen­eros­i­ty — van­i­ty, the quest for immor­tal­i­ty, or, in one case, the desire to cut off a churl­ish and moral­ly lax son whom Payne com­pares to the cen­tral fig­ure in William Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress, a Sir John Soane’s Muse­um favorite — Payne holds them in high­er regard than today’s invest­ment-obsessed art col­lec­tors:

The world needs more men like (William) Mur­ray(Sir John) Soane, and (Sir Richard) Wal­lace, men who saw that art can tran­scend social class. They under­stood that art should enrich the soul, not the bank bal­ance.

His peeks into their cir­cum­stances are every bit as fas­ci­nat­ing as the tid­bits he drops about the artists whose work he includes.

Rather than giv­ing a sweep­ing overview of each col­lec­tion, he focus­es on a few key works, shar­ing his cura­to­r­i­al per­spec­tive on their his­to­ry, acqui­si­tion, sub­ject mat­ter, cre­ation, and recep­tion:

Rembrandt’s Self Por­trait with Two Cir­cles (1669)

Vermeer’s The Gui­tar Play­er (1672)

Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress (1732)

Canalet­to’s Venice: the Baci­no di San Mar­co from San Gior­gio Mag­giore and Venice: the Baci­no di San Mar­co from the Canale del­la Giudec­ca (c. 1735 — 1744)

Fragonard’s The Swing (1767)

Frans Hal’s Laugh­ing Cav­a­lier (1624)

Payne’s rol­lick­ing approach means each episode is crammed with plen­ty of art­work resid­ing out­side of the fea­tured muse­ums, too, as he com­pares, con­trasts, and con­tex­tu­al­izes.

One of his most inter­est­ing tales in the Lon­don episode con­cerns an 18th-cen­tu­ry por­trait of William Murray’s great-nieces, Dido Belle and Eliz­a­beth Mur­ray, raised by their abo­li­tion­ist great-uncle at Ken­wood House:

Dido Belle was the ille­git­i­mate daugh­ter of a Black slave and William Murray’s nephew and was raised by Mur­ray as part of the aris­toc­ra­cy. By all accounts, Dido and her cousin were raised as equals and this por­trait of the two was seen as an image of sis­ter­hood, reflect­ing their equal sta­tus. But look­ing at it with mod­ern eyes, we can see it more in the vein of tra­di­tion­al ser­vant and mas­ter por­traits of the time. Belle’s exot­ic cloth­ing is designed to dif­fer­en­ti­ate her from her cousin and the paint­ing reflects the con­ser­v­a­tive views of the time.

Artist David Mar­tin places the cousins on a bench out­side the Hamp­stead Heath man­sion, with St. Paul’s Cathe­dral in the back­ground. For years, it was the only known por­trait of Belle.

It hangs, not in Ken­wood House, but in Scone Palace’s Ambas­sador’s Room.

Mean­while, one of Ken­wood House­’s lat­est acqui­si­tions is a 2021 por­trait of Belle by young Jamaican artist Mikéla Hen­ry-Lowe, on dis­play in the library.

Next up on Great Art Cities Explained: New York. Look for it on this playlist on Great Art Explained’s YouTube chan­nel.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Great Art Explained: Watch 15 Minute Intro­duc­tions to Great Works by Warhol, Rothko, Kahlo, Picas­so & More

What Makes Basquiat’s Unti­tled Great Art: One Paint­ing Says Every­thing Basquiat Want­ed to Say About Amer­i­ca, Art & Being Black in Both Worlds

Mark Rothko’s Sea­gram Murals: What Makes Them Great Art

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Watch the Renaissance Painting, The Battle of San Romano, Get Brought Beautifully to Life in a Hand-Painted Animation

Before the advent of the motion pic­ture, human­i­ty had the the­ater — but we also had paint­ings. Though phys­i­cal­ly still by def­i­n­i­tion, paint on can­vas could, in the hands of a suf­fi­cient­ly imag­i­na­tive mas­ter, seem actu­al­ly to move. Arguably this could even be pulled off with ochre and char­coal on the wall of a cave, if you cred­it the the­o­ry that pale­olith­ic paint­ings con­sti­tute the ear­li­est form of cin­e­ma. More famous­ly, and much more recent­ly, Rem­brandt imbued his mas­ter­piece The Night Watch with the illu­sion of move­ment. But over in Italy anoth­er painter, also work­ing on a large scale, pulled it off dif­fer­ent­ly two cen­turies ear­li­er. The artist was Pao­lo Uccel­lo, and the paint­ing is The Bat­tle of San Romano.

“The set of three paint­ings depicts the har­row­ing details of an epic con­fronta­tion between Flo­ren­tine and Sienese armies in 1432,” writes Meghan Oret­sky at Vimeo, which select­ed Swiss film­mak­er Georges Schwiz­ge­bel’s short ani­mat­ed adap­ta­tion of the trip­tych as a Staff Pick Pre­miere. Com­plet­ed in 2017, the film’s begin­nings go back to 1962, when Schwiz­gebel was a gallery-tour­ing art stu­dent in Italy.

“Even though I wasn’t nor­mal­ly moved by old paint­ings, this one made a strong impres­sion on me and still does today,” he tells Vimeo. “I was also inspired by the use of cycles, or loops, which suit­ed a mov­ing ver­sion of this image per­fect­ly.” Schwiz­gebel exe­cut­ed the ani­ma­tion itself over the course of six months, fore­go­ing com­put­er tech­nol­o­gy and paint­ing each frame with acrylic on glass.

Scored by com­pos­er Judith Gru­ber-Stitzer, Schwiz­ge­bel’s “The Bat­tle of San Romano” con­sti­tutes a kind of shape-shift­ing tour of the paint­ing that first cap­ti­vat­ed him half a cen­tu­ry ago. But what he would have seen at the Uffizi Gallery is only one third of Uccel­lo’s com­po­si­tion, albeit the third that art his­to­ri­ans con­sid­er cen­tral. The oth­er two reside at the Lou­vre and the Nation­al Gallery, and you can see the lat­ter’s piece dis­cussed by Direc­tor of Col­lec­tions and Research Car­o­line Camp­bell in the video above. Schwiz­gebel is hard­ly the first to react bold­ly to The Bat­tle of San Romano; in the 15th cen­tu­ry, Loren­zo de’ Medici was suf­fi­cient­ly moved to buy one part, then have the oth­er two stolen and brought to his palace. If that’s the kind of act it has the pow­er to inspire, per­haps it’s for the best that the trip­ty­ch’s union did­n’t last.

via Aeon

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Edvard Munch’s Famous Paint­ing “The Scream” Ani­mat­ed to Pink Floyd’s Pri­mal Music

13 Van Gogh’s Paint­ings Painstak­ing­ly Brought to Life with 3D Ani­ma­tion & Visu­al Map­ping

William Blake’s Paint­ings Come to Life in Two Ani­ma­tions

Late Rem­brandts Come to Life: Watch Ani­ma­tions of Paint­ings Now on Dis­play at the Rijksmu­se­um

10 Paint­ings by Edward Hop­per, the Most Cin­e­mat­ic Amer­i­can Painter of All, Turned into Ani­mat­ed GIFs

Dripped: An Ani­mat­ed Trib­ute to Jack­son Pollock’s Sig­na­ture Paint­ing Tech­nique

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 Incredible Story of the Hoover Dam

On Sep­tem­ber 30, 1935, a crowd of thou­sands watched as Pres­i­dent Franklin Roo­sevelt offi­cial­ly opened the Hoover Dam, the largest pub­lic works project of its time. “Approx­i­mate­ly 5 mil­lion bar­rels of cement and 45 pounds of rein­force­ment steel” went into it, History.com notes, enough to pave a four-foot-wide side­walk around the Earth at the equa­tor. The mas­sive hydro­elec­tric dam pro­vid­ed water to 7 sur­round­ing states, trans­form­ing the arid Amer­i­can West into an agri­cul­tur­al cen­ter. Cur­rent­ly, it gen­er­ates over four bil­lion kilo­watt-hours of elec­tric­i­ty per year, “enough to serve 1.3 mil­lion peo­ple,” notes PBS.

That a project this size could be com­plet­ed in just five years seems awe-inspir­ing enough. That it could be done dur­ing the worst years of the Great Depres­sion, even more so. When the dam was first pro­posed in 1922 to deal with flood­ing on the Col­orado Riv­er, the cri­sis still lay over the hori­zon.

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A glo­ri­ous post-war future seemed assured, mas­ter­mind­ed by Hoover, the for­mer engi­neer. (He did not design the dam, but bro­kered the deal that pushed it through Con­gress.) Dur­ing the dam’s con­struc­tion, on the oth­er hand — a feat com­pared to build­ing the pyra­mids in Egypt — the U.S. econ­o­my had ful­ly hit rock bot­tom. Although it had been ded­i­cat­ed to Hoover by Pres­i­dent Coolidge in 1928, the Hoover Dam would­n’t come to bear his name until 1947.

In its ear­ly years, the mas­sive, smooth white con­crete curve — stretch­ing 1,244 feet across the Black Canyon on the Ari­zona-Neva­da Bor­der — was sim­ply called the Boul­der Canyon Dam. It drew some 21,000 work­ers to divert the riv­er through tun­nels, exca­vate the riverbed down to bedrock, and build the enor­mous struc­ture and its machin­ery. “Due to the strict time­frame, work­ers suf­fered from hor­ri­ble work con­di­tions in the tun­nels as the heat and car­bon monox­ide-filled air became unbear­able, lead­ing to a strike in August of 1931,” writes Alex­ia Wulff at the Cul­ture Trip.

Once they began clear­ing the blast­ed walls of the canyon, work­ers “hung from sus­pend­ed heights of 800 feet above ground — some fell to their death or were injured by the falling rock and dan­ger­ous equip­ment.” Over 100 men died in this way and such deaths, and near-miss­es, seemed com­mon­place after a while. In the TED-Ed video by Alex Gendler at the top of the post, we see one jaw-drop­ping near-miss dra­ma­tized in ani­ma­tion. “Busi­ness as usu­al,” says the nar­ra­tor. “Just anoth­er day in the con­struc­tion of the Hoover Dam.”

Learn much more about the engi­neer­ing mar­vels, and the “blood, con­crete, and dyna­mite,” as Gendler puts it, in the short B1M video fur­ther up and the full Nation­al Geo­graph­ic doc­u­men­tary just above. While it has been sur­passed in size, the Hoover Dam remains one of the largest pow­er plants in the coun­try, and may even be ide­al for use as a giant bat­tery that can store excess pow­er cre­at­ed by wind and solar. Even if that idea fails to pan out in com­ing years, the sto­ry of the dam’s con­struc­tion will keep inspir­ing engi­neers and sci­en­tists to reach for big solu­tions, even — and per­haps espe­cial­ly — in the mid­dle of a cri­sis.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Watch the Build­ing of the Empire State Build­ing in Col­or: The Cre­ation of the Icon­ic 1930s Sky­scraper From Start to Fin­ish

Watch Venice’s New $7 Bil­lion Flood Defense Sys­tem in Action

Why Europe Has So Few Sky­scrap­ers

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

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