Dutch Paintings Held For Ransom In The Ukraine

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

The black market art world is a secretive and fascinating place.

Famous paintings, works that have been stolen, and pieces that the world has forgotten even existed change hands constantly in a series of underhanded deals and shady interactions. Interactions that usually go unnoticed by the public, unless the culprits are caught in the act, or a stolen item suddenly appears back in a museum or in an auction house. (Learn more about this world and the crazy characters that are a part of it in the books Loot and Hot Art). 

That's why I was surprised to see a major black market art transaction revealed in the news this week. A group of Dutch Golden Age paintings that were stolen from the Westfries Museum in Hoorn, Netherlands more than a decade ago are apparently being held for ransom by a far-right militia group in the Ukraine. According to sources, the museum revealed this information when the group (allegedly linked to the Ukrainian secret service and high-ranking political officials) approached them asking for 50 million euros in exchange for the 24 works that are worth about 10 million euros. 

When diplomatic negations and offers of a more reasonable ransom were rejected, the museum went public with the transaction, hoping that it would prevent other buyers from purchasing the paintings on the black market.

The paintings are an integral part of the Dutch artistic heritage and document an important part of the country's history. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Stay tuned for updates. 

What Is A Zine?

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

For the final project in my non-fiction writing class in university we had to create a zine. I found the process of taking a subject I was passionate about and pairing it down to meaningful, concise thoughts incredibly difficult, but also a really cool process. I also found it surprising how many people don't actually know what a zine is. 

A zine is a small, self-published work of text, images and/or art that is reproduced either by hand, by photocopier, or online (though print is still the most popular form). They usually make no profit and deal with topics that are too niche, personal or controversial for mainstream media. The design is usually rough, unique and unpolished, further supporting the unconventional topics they cover. Anyone can create a zine, and there are usually no more than 100 of them distributed. 

Ultimately, zines can be made of anything, be about anything, and be distributed just about anywhere. As long as the are communicating an idea, and someone out there is reading them, then they are doing what they were meant to. 

Mao, A Tea Cosy & Laughing Heads: Artist Chris Cran's Modern History

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

House Head, 2009; Red Man/Black Cartoon, 1990; Awake, 2009

Award-winning Canadian artist Chris Cran has his work displayed in private and public collections all over the world, and it's easy to see why. His painted work — which he has been creating prolifically for the last 40 years — takes traditional art genres and turns them on their head. Still-life, portraiture and landscape works suddenly become oversized, avant-garde works of brilliance.

Large Orange Laughing Woman, 1991; Large Green Laughing Man, 1990; Large Pink Laughing Man, 1991; Large Green Woman, 1991

Self-Portrait Just Two Maos Down from some Guy With a Goddamned Tea Cosy On His Head, 1985; Self-Portrait Watching a Man about to Shoot Himself In The Foot, 1985

The artist is clearly drawn to the Pop and Modernest movements which he uses to portray history in a pop-culture context that can be both hilarious and unsettling at the same time.  

The Mind-Blowing Work Of Ben Johnson

by Lindsay Shapka in ,

British artist Ben Johnson is in no rush to get his paintings done. In fact, he has spent the equivalent of 17 years on one painting alone! 

He is best known for his works that show intricate architectural spaces, and large-scale city skylines from places like Hong Kong, London (you can see this one at the National Gallery in London), Jerusalem and Liverpool. 

These layers of paint create incredible works, but Johnson has said that these creations are not something that he does for fun, but something he feels compelled to do. 

The BBC recently interviewed him for an upcoming exhibit. Click the link below to learn more about him and see him at work.

The Nuit Blanche Experience

by Lindsay Shapka in ,

Last night I got to explore Edmonton, Alberta's very first Nuit Blanche! This all-night (from 7 pm until 4 am) contemporary art event took place in the city's downtown core and was made up of more than 30 artworks, performances, and interactive exhibits. This festival began in Paris in 2002 and since then has spread to cities all over the world! 

Exhibits included an artist building a high-rise out of bouncy castles, steam-rolling various items in a makeshift hockey rink, playing soccer on uneven surfaces, and more! Here are just a few of the incredible exhibits that I experienced last night. 

Half The Air In A Given Space
by Martin Creed
This work had no weight, shape or dedicated outcome. One of the city's pedways was filled with 12-inch, yellow balloons that took up half of the volume of the space. Visitors were then let inside to explore and play in the space. There were only a few people allowed in at a time. 

Gary James Joynes aka Clinker
In the heart of City Hall, this exhibit created visual representations of sound. While music, or various tones played, intricate patterns were projected on a bubble-like structure on the floor. The shapes created were meant to be "reminiscent of sacred geometric and decorative imagery from a variety of faiths and cultures." (source

Wish Tree: Imagine Peace
by Yoko Ono (yes, the Yoko Ono)
In this beautiful exhibit, 121 trees were placed in Churchill Square (the main square in front of City Hall), and participants were asked to write a wish on a tag and tie it to one of the branches of the tree. At the end of the event, the wishes were collected and sent to the Imagine Peace Tower in Iceland. The trees will be planted throughout the city. 

by Sally Raab
Made with paper and LED lighting, these beautiful sculptures represented both the dimensions of human bodies, and migratory clouds of monarch butterflies that spilled through a local gallery. 

Where did you go? 
by The Orange Girls
This performance piece was moving, and unsettling. It was meant to be a study of identity and to ask the questions: Who are you? Why are you here? What gifts do we have to offer? We were invited to paint strips of paper to attach to the frame that surrounded the people that were staring at each other, not speaking, while sitting at a table. 

Really Cool Art Installations: Houses Up Trees

by Lindsay Shapka in ,

This isn't your typical tire swing, slightly treacherous treehouse. No, the treehouses that have been installed in Edmonton, Alberta's Churchill Square (there are three total) are miniatures of actual houses that can be found in the city — high end materials, modern design and all! 

Created and installed by a group called The Threshold Collective (made up of University of Alberta students), this fun public art is meant to reflect "heritage architecture found in historic neighbourhoods... as well as newly built infills." (source)

According to the Edmonton Art's Council who funded the project, it "superimposes private and intimate suburban spaces upon the urban environment and shared public space" (aka there are really cool looking mini houses in trees in the middle of downtown that are perfect for Instagram-ing!).

Throughout the day, domestic sounds come from the small buildings and, at night, there are lights that emit from the windows. 

Overall, a pretty darn cool piece of public art! 

Artist Douglas Coupland Creates A Portrait of Canadians

by Lindsay Shapka in ,

Artist Douglas Coupland

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet author and artist Douglas Coupland and participate in a huge art project that he is undertaking. Coupland is often attributed with popularizing the term "Generation X", which was also the title of his first novel. He is a prolific writer, and on top of writing books, contributes to Vice regularly. His visual art is bright, in-your-face, and is popular in Canada, America and Europe. Vancouver, Canada is the home of a few of his sculptures, including the lego-like orca near the convention centre. 

The project that I had an opportunity to take part in is called 3DCanada: APortrait of Canadians in the 21st Century and, uses 3D printers to create pieces that will be used in a giant installation. 

Sitting for a 3D scan involves not moving for just over a minute while the rendering is created on screen.

Teaming up with the Canadian, Quebec City based brand, Simons, Coupland is travelling to Simons locations (and soon to be locations) with 3D printers, and the technology required to scan Canadians and create 3D replicas of their portraits. 

According to the artist, he is hoping to get 2,000 3D printed busts that he will print out in large sizes, paint and then use in a massive art installation to be completed in the year 2019. He plans  on having the piece travel until it comes to rest in the Toronto-Bloor Street Simons store. 

When I spoke to Coupland, he told me that he is excited about how this piece will both preserve a moment in the subjects' lives, and give them the opportunity to look at themselves differently. He enjoys the idea of using cutting edge technology to explore the idea of what a group portrait is in the 21st century. 

The best part of the whole experience? All participants will receive a small version of their 3D image to take home! 

If you would like to participate, the artist will be at the following locations. He also wanted me to pass on that crazy hair (mohawks, dreads, etc.) and crazy facial expressions (if you can hold them for a full minute) are more then welcome! 

  • Park Royal, Vancouver, BC — Fall 2015
  • Square One, Mississauga, Ontario — Spring 2016
  • Rideau Centre, Ottawa, Ontario — Fall 2016
  • The Core, Calgary, Alberta — Spring 2017