Your Guide To The Berlin Wall's East Side Gallery

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,


The Berlin Wall cut through the center of Berlin from August of 1961 to November of 1989, separating the Soviet Union from Western powers. More than just a wall though, it was a complex military system that rose more than 12 feet high and had 302 towers, 12,000 guards and countless kilometers of barbed wire. 

The Location of the Berlin Wall  IEG-MAPS, Institute of European History, Mainz / © A. Kunz, 2004

The Location of the Berlin Wall
IEG-MAPS, Institute of European History, Mainz / © A. Kunz, 2004

Countless numbers of people attempted to cross the wall in the 28 years that it stood, trying to escape Soviet soldiers, many of which were shot before they could even scale it's sturdy, gray, concrete facade. 

When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, 118 artists from 21 different countries came to create spontaneous works of art on a remaining, still-standing section of it. It officially opened as an open-air gallery in September of 1990. 

This section is now the longest surviving stretch of the wall and its 1.3 kilometers located on the banks of the Spree in Friedrichshain, are covered in approximately 106 paintings, making it the largest outdoor gallery in the world.

Becuase it is exposed to the elements, and vandals, there have been many efforts over the years to restore the artworks.

According to the tourist information website for the gallery, "In 1996, Kani Alavi founded East Side Gallery e. V., an artists’ initiative to preserve and restore the works. By 2000, a 300-metre stretch of the wall had already been restored and 33 pictures repainted, and in 2009 the whole East Side Gallery was restored. 87 artists took part and 100 paintings were restored."

Location

 

Admission

None! The Gallery is open-air and open to the public for FREE! 

Opening Hours

The gallery is always open, as it is just a part of the street. Visit whenever you like! 

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Berlin Wall's East Side Art Gallery
Berlin Wall's East Side Art Gallery



Creating David: The Story Of Michelangelo's Famous Statue of David

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,


In 1501, Michelangelo (yes, the same guy who painted the famous Sistine Chapel located in the Vatican in Rome) accepted a commission to carve a marble sculpture of the biblical David to be placed high atop a buttress on the Florentine Cathedral

Interestingly, the commission was originally offered to Leonardo da Vinci who rejected it on the grounds that he despised marble sculpture as an inferior art, good only for artisans —(shockingly) he and Michelangelo were NOT best friends.

He scampered up and down the ladder as lightly as a cat, working the stout neck, heroic head and mass of curls from the top of the scaffold, carving the spine with great care to indicate that it carried and directed the whole body and was the mainspring of all movement. There could be no part of the David that was not palpable, and perfect.
— From "The Agony and the Ecstasy" by Irving Stone

It took four years for Michelangelo to carve the famous sculpture out of an 18-foot-tall marble block that had been damaged by another sculptor during the 1460s. Upon its completion in 1504, it was so admired by the people of Florence that they decided to place it in the square next to the Palazzo Vecchio, the seat of the Florentine government, instead of on top the Cathedral. 

The MAIN reason behind this relocation decision, however, was because of what the statue represented to the citizens of Florence.

If you are not familiar with the David and Goliath story, it is from the Bible and tells a tale of the power of "right over might". This sculpture represents the character David who by slinging a rock at the giant Goliath, kills him and, in doing so, saves his people.

Though David had been sculpted by many other artists (Donatello and Bernini both carved the subject) he is usually represented after the fight, with David being depicted as a triumphant hero.

For the first time, Michelangelo depicted his David pre-battle.

With a slingshot over his shoulder, a rock in his hand, tense muscles, and a concentrated gaze, this David seems to be psychologically preparing for the danger ahead. 

Why was this so meaningful to Florence at the time? 

Italy was not a peaceful, united country in this era. The main cities were ruled by powerful families that were always trying to come up with new ways to conquer each other.

At the time that the David was completed, the Florentines had recently fought a war (and won) against the combined forces of Milan, Siena, and Pisa — the little guy conquered a larger foe!

It took FOUR days to move the statue (VERY CAREFULLY!!!) on tree trunks down the narrow streets of Florence, from Michelangelo’s workshop to the Palazzo Vecchio. And there it sat until 1837 when it was replaced by a copy and moved into the Galleria dell’ Accademia to protect it from the elements.

It is said that when carving David, Michelangelo wanted to ensure that the sculpture would convey beauty and emotion from every angle.

As someone who has seen this famous work, in person from ALL angles (ahem…) I can tell you that this goal was not only achieved, it was surpassed. 

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Spotlight On Swedish Artist Kent Lindfors

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,


I was transfixed by the complex, layered, collage-like work by contemporary Swedish artist Kent Lindfors when I came upon it in a light-filled gallery at the Gothenburg Museum of Art in Sweden. The collection on display was a retrospective of the artist's work from the 1970s until 2016. Kent Lindfors was born and works in the city of Gothenburg, Sweden.

According to the gallery, "his paintings resemble parts of an ongoing life-project, a never-ending journey in which the outflow of the river Göta Älv in the western sea blends together with Santiago de Compostela, and the sheds in Gothenburg harbour cross over into Catholic mysticism."

From afar, each works looks like it contains a singular image — from something as mundane as a rail car to a more complex religious motif — but the image is actually made up of words, smaller images, and layer upon layer of paint and collage. He spends years on each piece, reworking it, adding to it. His works are never really complete, but always a work-in-progress. 

The result is stunning. I could have stood in front of each piece for hours and still have not absorbed every detail, every nuance. 

Image Above: La Fuente, 2001-2013; The Well, 2000-2016; La Fuente II 2000-2016
Image Below: A massive wall collage showing a breakdown of the artist's process

The paintings were accompanied by snippets of the artist's writing. The excerpt above was my favourite. It's amazing how just a few lines of poetry can set a mode or evoke a vibrant image in your mind.

While no photograph can show the all of the intense detail that is in these works, you can see some elements in the image above titled The Wagon V, 1978-1979. 

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Why You Need To Visit The Gothenburg Museum of Art In Sweden

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,


I recently paid a visit to The Gothenburg Museum of Art (aka Göteborgs Konstmuseum) in Sweden and was blown away by the incredible collection housed in this Swedish art gallery. The space contains an eclectic mix of historic works, Scandinavian art, contemporary sculptures, paintings by famous western artists, new work, and more.

The gallery spaces themselves are as unique as the work that they contain, making you feel like you are moving between buildings rather than just between floors.

The transition spaces between the galleries are also utilized in unique ways. Hallways are filled with collages of portraits (above), stairwells contain unique installations (first image below), and alcoves are the home of both historic and contemporary sculptures (second image below). 

Archive, 2014 by Michael Johansson

Double Blind, 2009/2014 by Charlotte Gyllenhammar

I was lucky enough to visit the museum during a weekday which meant that I was alone in most of the galleries. The sculpture gallery (below) was an especially impressive sight to behold. Turning the corner from the stairwell, you are faced with a vast room with a checkerboard floor that is filled with unique, large-scale pieces.

I was also surprised to see some incredible pieces by famous artists like Picasso, Munch, and Degas, as well as works that I had never seen before painted with a stunning use of light in the Scandinavian tradition. 

Youth from Gosol, 1906 by Pablo Picasso
Picasso's early work is my favourite. Most of these pieces are largely unknown, but the unfinished quality gives insight into the artist's process that I find fascinating and beautiful. 

Nordic Summer Evening, 1899-1900 by Richard Bergh

One of the best parts about the museum?

It's free to visit!

If you want to see the special, seasonal exhibition, there is a small charge, but you can see the majority of the collection without spending a single krona. 




Stolen Art: The Illegal Antiquities Trade Is Still Going Strong

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,


National Geographic Magazine recently ran an article highlighting how rampant tomb raiding and trade in stolen antiquities still is. I know what you're thinking. Tomb raiding is nothing new — the looting of ancient art has been going on for hundreds of years. So, why is it being written about and highlighted now? What's changed? 

The answer: war and politics.

The political unrest in Egypt has meant that police, who were patrolling and protecting ancient historic sites, have been pulled away to other parts of the country, leaving the sites open to looters. And the looters have taken full advantage. New holes have been dug all over ancient tombs in the country — so many in fact that they are visible in satellite imagery! 

And, many believe that artifacts that have recently been salvaged by terrorist organizations are being used to fund their activities. 

Which leads to an even more complex issue: Who is buying these stolen antiquities?

You may be surprised to learn that many of them are being bought up by reputable museums and art galleries both from black market and legitimate sales. Museum curators often make the argument that if they don't purchase the antiquities, they will disappear into private collections or risk being mishandled and destroyed by looters. But, this also means that these museums could inadvertently be funding terrorist organizations — I told you it was complex. 

Creating false documents for stolen items is also becoming more common, meaning that looted items are appearing in legit auction houses without the buyers even knowing that the objects were stolen. 

It's the wild west out there for those seeking to stop the flow of stolen archeological items. 

If you want to learn more about this world, check out one of the books below. These are all fantastic reads and give you some insight into the history behind looting and what's being done about it now. 

  1. Loot: The Battle Over The Stolen Treasures Of The Ancient World
    For centuries, the Western world has plundered priceless treasures from the ancient world in order to fill their museums and galleries. Now, for the first time, the countries where many of these ancient civilizations originated are fighting back. Countries like Greece, Egypt, Turkey and Italy are taking on powerhouses like the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The British Museum and the J. Paul Getty Museum causing everyone to ask the question; Who does history belong to?
  2. Hot Art: Secret World of Stolen Art
    Author Joshua Knelman is an award-winning journalist and editor who immerses himself in the shadowy world of art theft that takes him all over the world and through a web of corruption, secrecy, and violence. He delves into the lives of both professional thieves and the people that chase them, revealing that (though it may not make it to the front page of the newspaper) art theft is no fringe activity.
  3. The Medici Conspiracy
    A real-life conspiracy, this book looks at the illicit, secret journey of looted antiquities that have been raided from tombs in Italy and made their way into some of the world's biggest and most prestigious museums. 
  4. Master Thieves: The Mystery of The Gardner Museum Art Heist
    Investigative journalist Stephen Kurkjian has written the definitive, revealing history of the famed Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist that took place 25 years ago. The book takes a look at the investigations, theories, blunders, and complex web of the Boston mafia that all contributed to the paintings being stolen and remaining hidden for all this time.

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A Quick Guide To Contemporary Aboriginal Art

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,


I recently wrote an article on contemporary Aboriginal art and artists for Canadian Cowboy Country Magazine, and the depth and variety of work that is available in this genre of art is incredible. 

I have been aware of, and wildly impressed by, the incredible talent of both historic and contemporary Aboriginal artists (see my piece on Alex Janvier here) for as long as I can remember, but what surprised me was some of the traditional techniques that are still employed to create art that even I had never heard of.

For example, did you know that incredibly intricate designs are made on birch bark by folding up this fragile material and then biting it? Or that traditional embroidery on clothing and moccasins was done with moose hair (not glass beads) using a technique called tufting

The tradition, work, and talent that went into creating historic pieces — and goes into new contemporary creations — are coveted, both by private collectors and museums all over the world. 

Living in Canada, I have had the privilege of having fairly easy access to this work all over the country. Work by the "Indian Group Of Seven" is showcased in art galleries regularly, there are totem poles in public spaces, and even fashion designers are using traditional colours and language in their clothing. 

My personal favourites are the stunning carvings, masks, and sculptures that are created by Haida artists from the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America. According to the Canadian Museum of History, "The decorations on the objects they created were statements of social identity, or reminders of rights and prerogatives bestowed on their ancestors by supernatural beings, or of lessons taught to them through mythic encounters with the animals, birds, fish or other beings whose likenesses were embodied in the crests passed down through generations."

Whether you prefer paintings, sculpture, prints, masks, clothing, or something completely different, you are sure to find an Aboriginal artist somewhere in North America that is creating a masterpiece guaranteed to take your breath away. 

Images from the top, left to right: Detail of "Sun Shines, Grass Grows, River Flows" by Alex Janvier ; "Spirit Being" by Jackson Beardy, 1978; contemporary Haida sculpture and masks from a gallery in Vancouver, BC; a historic Haida costume in The MET, New York City

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Reads For The Road: "Master Thieves—The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off The World's Greatest Art Heist" by Stephen Kurkjian

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,


Investigative journalist Stephen Kurkjian has written the definitive, revealing history of the famed Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist that took place 25 years ago. Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World’s Greatest Art Heist takes a look at the investigations, theories, blunders, and complex web of the Boston mafia that all contributed to the paintings being stolen and remaining hidden for all this time.

After twenty-five years, the biggest art theft in world history is still an open case… no one has been arrested and nothing has been recovered. In fact, there hasn’t even been a single confirmed sighting of the thirteen stolen pieces.
— page 217 of "Master Thieves"

On the night of the theft, two men disguised as police officers gained entry to the museum through the back entrance. They tied up the two security guards, and, wearing masks, ran through the museum smashing glass and cutting priceless works of art from their frames. They then disappeared into the night without a trace and despite the local police, the FBI, investigative journalists, and even members of the mob making inquiries; there has been no trace of these paintings.

The heist is second on the FBI’s list of the longest unsolved art thefts in the world.

Amongst the stolen works was a priceless Rembrandt that is thought to be the most valuable work of art currently missing from any museum in the world.

Well almost all investigative techniques have been exhausted in the search for the missing paintings; the last one that both the FBI and the museum are relying on is the public. The hope is that by getting the word out in the press and social media, there will be a tip that will lead to the recovery of the paintings.

Oh, and did I mention that there is a $5 million reward for any tip that leads to the recovery of the works and a promise that the tipster will never be prosecuted!?

Here’s hoping that the reward money and Kurkjian’s book will help generate even more interest that will lead to the recovery of this missing piece of art history.