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kottke.org posts about museums

The British Museum Is Full of Stolen Artifacts

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 13, 2020

The British Museum contains hundreds of contested items, the spoils of the British Empire’s reach (and smash n’ grab) across the globe. Some of the museum’s most popular and prized items are included: the Parthenon Marbles, the Rosetta Stone, and the Benin Bronzes. The countries from which these artifacts were taken are increasingly asking for their return.

Some of the world’s greatest cultural and historical treasures are housed in London’s British Museum, and a significant number of them were taken during Britain’s centuries-long imperial rule. In recent years, many of the countries missing their cultural heritage have been asking for some of these items back.

Benin City in Nigeria is one of those places. They’ve been calling for the return of the Benin Bronzes, hundreds of artifacts looted in 1897 when British soldiers embarked a punitive expedition to Benin. Many are now housed in the British Museum.

And it’s just the beginning. As the world reckons with the damage inflicted during Europe’s colonial global takeover, the calls for these items to be returned are getting louder and louder.

See also this piece from the NY Times: This Art Was Looted 123 Years Ago. Will It Ever Be Returned?

See Intricate Details in Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper in a New Gigapixel Image

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 30, 2020

Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper

The Royal Academy of Arts and Google teamed up on a high-resolution scan of a copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper painted by his students. Even though the top part of the original is not depicted, this copy is said to be “the most accurate record of the original” and since the actual mural by Leonardo is in poor shape, this copy is perhaps the best way to see what Leonardo intended.

This version was made around the same time as Leonardo made his original. It’s oil paint on canvas, whereas Leonardo’s was painted in tempera and oil on a dry wall — an unusual use of materials — so his has flaked and deteriorated badly. It probably didn’t help that Napoleon used the room where the original hung as a stable during his invasion of Milan.

A zoomable version is available here. The resolution on this scan is incredible. The painting is more than 26 feet wide and this is the detail you can see on Jesus’ downcast right eye:

Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper

Wow. You can compare this painting to a high-resolution image of the original on the Haltadefinizione Image Bank or Wikimedia Commons. And you can learn more about the copy and how it relates to the original on the Royal Academy website.

The genius of Leonardo’s composition is much clearer in the RA copy. The apostles are arranged into four groups of three and there are many subtle interactions between the figures. Leonardo believed that gestures were very important in telling the story. He explained that the power of his compositions were such that “your tongue will be paralysed with thirst and your body with sleep and hunger before you depict with words what the painter shows in a moment”.

There are many elements in the copy which are more distinct that the original, such as the figure of Judas clutching his money bag and knocking over the salt. The landscape beyond the windows with its valleys, lakes and paths is well preserved in the copy, but has almost disappeared in the original. Leonardo’s use of colour was was greatly admired, but in the original the colours are very faded — Saint Simon on the extreme right clearly wears a pink cloak, but this is not visible in the original.

(via open culture)

The Rijksmuseum Has Released a 44.8 Gigapixel Image of Rembrandt’s The Night Watch

posted by Jason Kottke   May 12, 2020

Night Watch

One of Rembrandt van Rijn’s most iconic paintings The Night Watch is currently undergoing restoration at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. As part of the effort, the team took hundreds of photographs of the Dutch master’s painting and stitched them together into a massive 44.8 gigapixel image, which they have released online in a zoomable interface. The level of detail available here is incredible. Here’s the max zoom level on the right eye of the gentleman in the middle, the captain of the company that paid Rembrandt to do the painting:

Night Watch

Crazy right? You can see the brushstrokes better than if you were standing in front of the actual painting in the museum.

The Rijksmuseum’s imaging team led by datascientist Robert Erdmann made this photograph of The Night Watch from a total of 528 exposures. The 24 rows of 22 pictures were stitched together digitally with the aid of neural networks. The final image is made up of 44.8 gigapixels (44,804,687,500 pixels), and the distance between each pixel is 20 micrometres (0.02 mm). This enables the scientists to study the painting in detail remotely. The image will also be used to accurately track any future ageing processes taking place in the painting.

Ok, I told you a little fib just now. Actually, this is his eye at the true maximum zoom level:

Night Watch

Each pixel is 0.02mm across — and keep in mind that this painting is almost 12 feet high and more than 14 feet across. An astounding level of detail and a gigantic image.

The British Museum Puts 1.9 Million Images Online for Public Use

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 29, 2020

British Museum Collection

British Museum Collection

British Museum Collection

British Museum Collection

British Museum Collection

As part of a website refresh, The British Museum has made over 1.9 million photos of its collections freely available to the public. Visitors to their online collections website can download images, and share & adapt them for non-commercial purposes under a Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license. Museum director Hartwig Fischer said of the refresh:

The British Museum Collection Online makes millions of objects accessible to the citizens of the world, wherever they might be. Whether you are a student, an artist, a scholar or are a lover of history and culture, this is an unparalleled resource to explore the richness, diversity and complexity of human history contained in the British Museum’s collection. It is also a platform where we can share the latest knowledge and research. We are delighted to be able to unveil this major revamp early, and hope that these important objects can provide inspiration, reflection or even just quiet moments of distraction during this difficult time.

Pictured above from the collection are the Townley discobolus, a drawing by Raphael, a Greek amphora, the Sloane astrolabe, and a drawing by Leonardo da Vinci. And pictured below are a print by George Cruikshank, a portrait of William Shakespeare, marble metope from the Parthenon, the Rosetta Stone, and Albrecht Dürer’s print of a rhinoceros.

British Museum Public

British Museum Public

British Museum Public

British Museum Public

British Museum Public

However useful the new online collection is, it must be noted that the ownership of several of the items in the British Museum’s collection — including the Parthenon Marbles & Rosetta Stone — is disputed.

For more large collections of images for public use, see also Paris Museums Put 100,000 Images Online for Unrestricted Public Use, Smithsonian Releases 2.8 Million High-Res Images Into the Public Domain, A Virtual Tour of the Van Gogh Museum, The Art Institute of Chicago Has Put 50,000 High-Res Images from Their Collection Online, and Met Puts Huge Digital Image Trove Online. (via ianvisits)

A Virtual Tour of the Van Gogh Museum

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 27, 2020

Van Gogh Self Portrait

One of my favorite museums I’ve visited in the past few years is the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Van Gogh’s art career lasted for only 10 years, and the museum provides a fascinating account (through his work, letters, and other material) of how a talented but unremarkable painter made the conceptual breakthrough for which he is now known the world over.

The museum is closed due to the pandemic, but anyone with an internet connection can experience the collection at home thanks to the museum’s dedication to accessibility. This 15-minute tour of the museum filmed in 4K resolution should get you started — here are the first two parts:

The museum has also digitized and put online hundreds of the artist’s paintings, sketches, and letters. The high resolution scans allow you to see details that you probably couldn’t in person. This is a close-up view of the 1887 self-portrait pictured above:

Van Gogh Self Hat Detail

It’s mind-blowing to see all of those brushstrokes in such detail.

The museum’s website offers a number of other ways to engage with van Gogh’s art, including coloring activities and lessons for children. And for those who exhaust the museum’s offerings, try browsing van Gogh’s works at Google Arts & Culture, MoMA, the Met, and the Rijksmuseum. (via open culture)

Smithsonian Releases 2.8 Million High-Res Images Into the Public Domain

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 26, 2020

Smithsonian Open Access Collection

Smithsonian Open Access Collection

Smithsonian Open Access Collection

The Smithsonian Institution has released a massive trove of images and 3D models from their collections into the public domain, allowing the public to use the images however they see fit. From Smithsonian Magazine:

For the first time in its 174-year history, the Smithsonian has released 2.8 million high-resolution two- and three-dimensional images from across its collections onto an open access online platform for patrons to peruse and download free of charge. Featuring data and material from all 19 Smithsonian museums, nine research centers, libraries, archives and the National Zoo, the new digital depot encourages the public to not just view its contents, but use, reuse and transform them into just about anything they choose — be it a postcard, a beer koozie or a pair of bootie shorts.

And this gargantuan data dump is just the beginning. Throughout the rest of 2020, the Smithsonian will be rolling out another 200,000 or so images, with more to come as the Institution continues to digitize its collection of 155 million items and counting.

Part of the release is research data sets, 3D models of airplanes, chairs, and fossils, and developer tools like an API and GitHub repository. Here’s the Smithsonian’s official press release and a FAQ about the Open Access collection.

Smithsonian Open Access Collection

Smithsonian Open Access Collection

Smithsonian Open Access Collection

Smithsonian Open Access Collection

Smithsonian Open Access Collection

The images above are (from top to bottom): photograph of Frederick Douglass, 3D model of the Apollo 11 Command Module, inverted Curtiss Jenny stamp, 3D model & photographs of a tin of Madame C.J. Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower, 3D model of a mammoth skeleton, carte-de-visite portrait of Harriet Tubman, 3D model of the 1903 Wright Brothers Flyer, a placard carried in the 1968 Memphis march.

Paris Museums Put 100,000 Images Online for Unrestricted Public Use

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 13, 2020

Paris Museums Images

Paris Museums Images

Paris Museums Images

Paris Museums Images

Paris Museums Images

Paris Musées, a collection of 14 museums in Paris have recently made high-res digital copies of 100,000 artworks freely available to the public on their collections website. Artists with works in the archive include Rembrandt, Monet, Picasso, Cézanne, and thousands of others. From Hyperallergic:

Paris Musées is a public entity that oversees the 14 municipal museums of Paris, including the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Petit Palais, and the Catacombs. Users can download a file that contains a high definition (300 DPI) image, a document with details about the selected work, and a guide of best practices for using and citing the sources of the image.

“Making this data available guarantees that our digital files can be freely accessed and reused by anyone or everyone, without any technical, legal or financial restraints, whether for commercial use or not,” reads a press release shared by Paris Musées.

What a treasure trove this is. I was particularly happy to see a bunch of work in here from Eugène Atget, chronicler of Parisian streets, architecture, and residents and one of my favorite photographers.

Eugene Atget

Eugene Atget

Eugene Atget

(via @john_overholt)

Artworks from the Prado Museum Altered to Show Effects of Climate Change

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 17, 2019

Prado Climate Change

In collaboration with the Prado Museum in Madrid, the World Wildlife Fund altered a few paintings from the museum’s collection to highlight the future effects of climate change: extinction of species, sea level rise, desertification, and climate refugees.

Prado Climate Change

(via open culture)

Natural History Museum

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 09, 2019

Like Andy Warhol famously said,1 someday in the far future you might end up in an exhibit in someone else’s natural history museum. That what happens in this short film by Kirsten Lepore, who you may remember from the weirdo Hi Stranger video. (via waxy)

  1. Who’s to say he didn’t?

An Official High-Resolution 3D Model of the Bust of Nefertiti Is Available for Download

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 25, 2019

Nefertiti 3D

The spectacular bust of Nefertiti, some 3300 years old, is currently housed at the Neues Museum in Berlin. A few years ago, high-resolution scans of the sculpture were released without permission of the museum. Now, after three years of pressure on the museum related to their claim on the bust, an official “full-color, 6.4 million-triangle 3D scan of the Bust of Nefertiti” has been released under a Creative Commons license. Cosmo Wenman has the story of how he eventually got the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation to release the scans.

For more than a decade, museums around the world have been making high-quality 3D scans of important sculptures and ancient artifacts. Some institutions, such as the Smithsonian and the National Gallery of Denmark, have forward-thinking programs that freely share their 3D scans with the public, allowing us to view, copy, adapt, and experiment with the underlying works in ways that have never before been possible. But many institutions keep their scans out of public view.

The Louvre, for example, has 3D-scanned the Nike of Samothrace and the Venus de Milo. The Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence 3D-scanned Michelangelo’s David. The Bargello has a scan of Donatello’s David. Numerous works by Auguste Rodin, including the Gates of Hell, have been scanned by the Musée Rodin in Paris. The Baltimore Museum of Art got in on the Rodin action when it scanned The Thinker. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has scans of works by Bernini, Michelangelo, and many others. But instead of allowing them to be studied, copied, and adapted by scholars, artists, and digitally savvy art lovers, these museums have kept these scans, and countless more, under lock and key.

In Berlin, the state-funded Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection has a high-quality, full-color 3D scan of the most iconic portrait sculpture ever produced, the 3,364-year-old Bust of Nefertiti. It has held this artifact since 1920, just a few years after its discovery in Amarna, Egypt; Egypt has been demanding its repatriation ever since it first went on display. The bust is one of the most copied works of ancient Egyptian art, and has become a cultural symbol of Berlin. For reasons the museum has difficulty explaining, this scan too is off-limits to the public.

Rather, it was off-limits. I was able to obtain it after a 3-year-long freedom of information effort directed at the organization that oversees the museum.

(via open culture)

Encyclopedia Brown and the Problem with the Mona Lisa

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 12, 2019

Ok, this post doesn’t have anything to do with boy detective Encyclopedia Brown…I just needed him for the title. In the NY Times, art critic Jason Farago argues that in order to improve the visitor experience at the Louvre, the Mona Lisa and her smile have got to go.

Yet the Louvre is being held hostage by the Kim Kardashian of 16th-century Italian portraiture: the handsome but only moderately interesting Lisa Gherardini, better known (after her husband) as La Gioconda, whose renown so eclipses her importance that no one can even remember how she got famous in the first place.

Some 80 percent of visitors, according to the Louvre’s research, are here for the Mona Lisa — and most of them leave unhappy. Content in the 20th century to be merely famous, she has become, in this age of mass tourism and digital narcissism, a black hole of anti-art who has turned the museum inside out.

Enough!

I visited the Louvre back in 2017 and the Mona-driven crowds were very distracting. I wrote a short review for my media diet:

The best-known works are underwhelming and the rest of this massive museum is overwhelming. The massive crowds, constant photo-taking, and selfies make it difficult to actually look at the art. Should have skipped it.

The Louvre is actually not a good place to look at art and if moving the Mona Lisa to a dedicated gallery elsewhere can help solve that problem, they should do it. (via @fimoculous)

Mona Lisa: Beyond the Glass, the Louvre’s first Virtual Reality project

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Nov 07, 2019

Still from Mona Lisa Beyond the Glass

An incredible 80 percent of the Louvre’s 10 million yearly visitors find their way to the Salle des États to catch a glimpse of the Mona Lisa. It’s so popular that it wasn’t included in the ongoing Leonardo da Vinci exhibition, for fear that the bustle to the painting would make it “practically unvisitable.” The curators used the opportunity to put together the museum’s first-ever virtual reality project, offering visitors a seven-minute experience of a work titled Mona Lisa: Beyond the Glass.

Visitors can strap themselves into the state-of-the-art headsets and learn snippets of information about Leonardo’s famous sitter, Lisa del Giocondo, as well as his artistic method and the history of the painting. It will immerse them in what could be the surroundings beyond the frame of what is depicted in Leonardo’s masterpiece, and, at the end, invite them to climb aboard an imagined version of Leonardo’s visionary flying machine—a sketch of which is also included in the exhibition—and soar across the landscape surrounding Mona Lisa’s luxuriant loggia.

Still from Mona Lisa Beyond the Glass

An interesting detail to this initiative is that although digital experiences like this are usually meant to broaden a museum’s public and draw more visitors, the Louvre definitely doesn’t need to be better known. They put this project together because “The museum still wants to amplify whatever it does beyond those who can actually set foot in the museum.”

The initiative is part of a broader plan to make culture accessible to a wider public. Efforts have been underway in France to redistribute some of its cultural resources around the country. The French culture minister Franck Riester plans to introduce a number of small-scale digital museums around France that will showcase high-resolution digital copies of works from the country’s 12 national public collections, including the Louvre, with people in remote regions. With more than $3 million invested in the plan, the small digital museums—dubbed “micro-folies”—are expected to number 1,000 within three years.

My Recent Media Diet, Decorative Gourd Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 25, 2019

Every month or two for the past couple of years, I’ve shared the movies, books, music, TV, and podcasts I’ve enjoyed (or not) recently. Here’s everything I’ve “consumed” since last month. It’s a little light because I’ve been working and a full rewatch of The Wire took some time. Stuff in progress includes The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (the kids and I are reading it together), The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season, and the second season of Abstract.

The Wire. Over the past two months, I rewatched all 5 seasons of The Wire. It very much holds up and is still the best TV show I’ve ever watched. Season 4 in particular is fantastic and devastating. Even season 5, which seemed a bit outlandish at the time with the serial killer plot, is great. (A+)

Downtown Abbey. Not great but it’s always nice spending some quality time with the Crowley family. (B+)

Mario Kart Tour. There’s something deeply un-Nintendo about this game. The use of all of the casino-like iOS tricks to keep you playing (and hopefully spending money on in-game currency) runs counter to the DNA of the company. $70 for 135 rubies is $20 more than the Switch version of Kart is going for right now on Amazon — ridiculous. And remember that the original Wii periodically suggested taking a break if you’d been playing for awhile? Still, racing in Mario Kart is always fun. When they turn networked multiplayer on, it might be a game-changer. (B+)

Peanut Butter Falcon. Feel-good? Eh. More like heavy-handed treacle. And LeBeouf’s character treats the kid with Down syndrome like a normal person but is creepy and borderline abusive to a girl he likes? Yuck. (C)

Succession. I hate that I love this show so much. (A)

1619. Very good podcast, particularly the third episode about the birth of American music. (A-)

Transparent Musicale Finale. I was skeptical about watching a 2-hour musical to end the series, but I ended up liking it a lot. My god, that last song though… (B+)

Parasite. Downton Abbey a la Bong Joon Ho. (A-)

Bottle Rocket. Rough but many of Anderson’s trademarks are already on display here. (A-)

Diego Maradona. Another examination by Asif Kapadia (Senna, Amy) of how talent and fame can go wrong. (A-)

Kevin Alexander on the Beginning and End of America’s Culinary Revolution (House of Carbs). Listened on a rec from a friend because Alexander’s book sounded interesting, but the bro-ness of the host is almost unbearable. What if the discussion about food was more like sports radio? No thank you. (C-)

Joker. The pre-release coverage of this movie being dangerous or problematic was mostly overblown. (B)

The new MoMA. Full review here. (A-)

Silence and the Presence of Everything (On Being). Really interesting interview with an acoustic ecologist. More here. (A-)

The Testaments. A sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale could have easily gone wrong. This very much did not. (A-)

Tonic. I used this for a few days but the recs weren’t great so I stopped. (C-)

Amazon Go. A marvelous and unnerving experience for this law-abiding introvert. Shopping without interaction was cool, but walking out without paying felt like shoplifting. (B+)

Machine Hallucination. Impressive display, like being immersed in an IMAX movie. But not sure it’s worth the $25 entry fee. (B)

Liberté, Égalité and French Fries (Rough Translation). How do we define work and community in the age of global mega-corporations? This story takes an amazing turn about 20 minutes in. (B+)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

The New MoMA

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 21, 2019

After months of renovations and a week or two of previews, MoMA officially reopens for business today. I was able to attend a press preview last week and here are some observations I had about my visit.

New MoMA

One of the main goals of the museum’s expansion was to “focus new attention on works by women, Latinos, Asians, African-Americans and other overlooked artists”. I’ll leave the question of their success in more qualified hands, but even making the attempt is an admission by one of the most influential museums in the world that the art that society considers important is highly subjective. If there are good paintings that aren’t currently considered that interesting or important (because they’re not by Picasso or Degas or Cezanne), maybe that can change depending on what stories you tell about them. Look at what the Hilma af Klint show at the Guggenheim did for example.

The display of the main collection is now not just paintings and a sprinkling of sculpture but also includes photography, film, architecture, performance art, design, and drawings. The art is also placed into much more of an historical context than before…the visitor gets more of a sense of what was going on in the world when these pieces were created and what societal happenings the artist may have been reacting to in creating their work. I very much enjoyed these improvements.

New MoMA

The general feel of the place is more casual than before. In Amy Sillman’s Artist’s Choice gallery, paintings and sculptures were resting on risers around a large room, all unlabelled. Gallery titles were sometimes colloquial instead of formal or academic. In the one of the exhibitions, the gallery titles were in all lowercase — “a revolution of limits” vs “A revolution of limits” or “A Revolution of Limits”.

In some areas, the space still smelled vaguely of construction.

One of the things I love about The Whitney is how it incorporates the city into the art viewing experience. On the top floors, you can look at what’s on display and then head out to the terrace to see the city on display: the architecure, the construction, people walking on the High Line, the Hudson River traffic. It doesn’t have the best location to work with, but the new MoMA tries to do this a little more after the renovation. There are new overlooks to the sculpture garden and larger windows with street views.

Was it my imagination, but was Matisse’s Swimming Pool room actually a bit warmer and more humid than the other galleries? You know, like an actual indoor swimming pool?

New MoMA

Honestly, the best part of my experience was how few people were there. This was the last of four press previews and was sparsely attended because most people had already filed their stories. In many galleries, I was completely alone with these amazing works of art. I stood in front of Starry Night for two minutes all by myself — same with Pollock’s One: Number 31, 1950 and Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Monet’s Water Lillies gallery was empty. Empty! I sat for several blissful minutes taking it all in — it was almost meditative. This reveals a sad truth about large and popular art museums like MoMA: they are often not good places for actually viewing art. They’re just too crowded. Starry Night is basically an Instagram selfie wall at this point. During a normal visit, you can’t actually look at the thing to see what van Gogh was up to with his brushstrokes because there are 20 people waiting their turn to see it too. But you can’t spend $450 million on a renovation and just let a few hundred people a day into the place, right?

The Great Wave by Katsushika Hokusai

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 10, 2019

Great Wave

Great Wave

Great Wave

One of the world’s great art masterpieces is Katsushika Hokusai’s woodblock print Kanagawa oki nami ura, popularly known as The Great Wave. Thousands of prints were made and some of the surviving copies made their way into museums & private collections. I’ve selected three of the highest resolution prints available for free download (from top to bottom):

Metropolitan Museum of Art (10 megapixels)
Library of Congress (51 megapixels)
Rijksmuseum (22 megapixels)

You can find many other versions using the Ukiyo-e Search site.

Douglas McCarthy recently wrote about The Great Wave and the various ways that museums choose to offer digital copies on their websites.

If we consider the customer journey of acquiring a digital image of ‘The Great Wave’ from our fourteen museums, a definite trend emerges — the more open the policy of a museum is, the easier it is to obtain its pictures.

Like the other open access institutions in our sample group, The Art Institute of Chicago’s collections website makes the process incredibly simple: clicking once on the download icon triggers the download of a high-resolution image.

In contrast, undertaking the same process on the British Museum’s website entails mandatory user registration and the submission of personal data.

(via @john_overholt)

Update: A few years ago, woodblock printmaker David Bull documented the process of making prints of The Great Wave in this great series of videos. Part of his process included a fascinating investigation of previous prints and trying to determine which of the many prints might be printed by the original printer. He shares bits and pieces of that investigation in the first three videos and also the eighth & tenth videos, in which he zeroes in on two candidates for original prints (the one at the Met shown above and the British Museum print) and concludes, controversially I would think, that one (and possibly both) of these prints was made as a knock-off, a forgery. After watching Bull’s explanation, it’s not at all difficult to think that perhaps very few prints made from the original blocks by the original printer exist today. (via @gregalor)

My Recent Media Diet, Summer Solstice 2019 Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 29, 2019

I keep track of every media thing I “consume”, so here are quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past month. I just started reading In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson; I loved his The Devil in the White City. On the TV front, I’m holding off on season 3 of The Handmaid’s Tale and season 2 of Big Little Lies for some reason…don’t want to get sucked into anything right now, I guess. Ditto for catching up on the Historical Cinematic Universe…just not feeling it at the moment. As always, don’t pay too much attention to the letter grades…they’re higher in the summer than in the cold, depressing winter.

Deadwood: The Movie. A fitting end to one of the best shows on TV. It was great to be able to spend a little more time with it. (A-)

Booksmart. I loved this movie. Great soundtrack too. (A)

Thermapen Mk4. Finally got tired of my anxiety about overcooking my meat. Been using it with the reverse sear to great effect. (B+)

Serial season 3. I couldn’t make it through more than two episodes of each of the previous two seasons, but I went the distance on this one. Is the American system of justice just? I doubt it. (A-)

Working by Robert Caro. The DVD extras for The Power Broker and the LBJ books. I don’t have time to read a 3000-page biography of Lyndon Johnson right now, but Working made me want to do it anyway. (A-)

Persuasion System. The latest album from Com Truise. Great for working to. (B+)

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. An idiosyncratic and deeply personal little museum. I felt very much at home there. (A)

Small Steps, Giant Leaps. Apollo 11 artifacts paired with historic scientific tomes from the likes of Galileo & Newton go together like chocolate and peanut butter. (A-)

Mary Queen of Scots. Nothing much here to distinguish this from your usual historical drama. (B)

Toulouse-Lautrec and the Stars of Paris. Great show at the MFA. Was not a particular fan of Toulouse-Lautrec before but perhaps I am now. (A-)

Street Food. Interesting to compare this to David Gelb’s other show, Chef’s Table. Same focus on quality ingredients and serving great food, but very different ends of the economic spectrum. (B+)

Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Caught the peak of the cherry blossoms. Beautiful. But crowded. (A-)

Salt Fat Acid Heat. This wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, but I can see what other people love about it. The final episode is the strongest and I thought Nosrat’s emphasis on shopping as a vital part of cooking was interesting. (B)

Summer in Vermont. It’s been spectacular here lately. (A)

Normal People by Sally Rooney. I burned through this in only two days. (A)

Cumulonimbus Mammatus

Cumulonimbus mammatus. They’re no asperitas clouds, but cumulonimbus mammatus is still one of the best clouds around. (A)

The Ezra Klein Show interview with Alison Gopnik. Gopnik’s ideas about gardeners vs carpenters and explore vs exploit are fascinating frameworks for thinking about human creativity. (A-)

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. It’s tough to maintain a coherent story told over several generations, but Lee manages it easily. (A-)

No Country for Old Men. Masterful. (A)

Chernobyl. Sometimes bureaucracy is no match for the truth. See also the accompanying podcast. (A-)

The Lives of Others. Got on a bit of a Cold War kick. (A-)

Always Be My Maybe. Strong ending. (B+)

Toy Story 4. Hollywood is often accused of being super liberal, but I thought the values depicted in this movie were quite conservative. (B+)

Anima. Thom Yorke’s solid third solo album. (B+)

13 Minutes to the Moon. There’s lots of Apollo stuff out there right now and some of it doesn’t bring anything new to the table. But this podcast from the BBC is substantial, with interviews from key players, including Apollo software engineer Margaret Hamilton, who doesn’t give many interviews these days. (A-)

Bad Times at the El Royale. Rhymes with Tarantino but not that well. This should have been 90 minutes long. (B-)

Long Shot. Why did this flop? It’s not exactly great but it works fine. (B)

Whitney Biennial 2019. Things that caught my eye were Christine Sun Kim’s hand-drawn graphs about “deaf rage” and Jeanette Mundt’s paintings of Olympic gymnasts based on these composite photos in the NY Times. (B)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

My Recent Media Diet, The “It’s Not Life or Death, It’s Just Tacos” Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2019

I keep track of every media thing I “consume”, so here are quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past two months. I never wrote a proper report on my trip to Mexico City, so I put some of the highlights in here. I’m in the middle of several things right now. On TV, I’m watching Our Planet, In Search of Greatness, Street Food, Chernobyl, The Clinton Affair, Reconstruction: America After the Civil War, and This Giant Beast That is the Global Economy. I don’t normally watch 19 different things at one time, but life’s felt a little scattered lately. For books, I’m listening to Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond on audiobook and I’m making good progress on Robert Caro’s Working (highly recommended).

The Silk Roads: A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan. Hard to summarize but there’s certainly something interesting on almost every page. (A-)

Fleabag. Bitingly funny and poignant, a real gem. (A+)

Skyscraper. Die Hard + the Sherlock Holmes story A Scandal in Bohemia + #sponcon for Big Duct Tape. I love a good disaster movie. (B+)

Mexico City. Great food, vegetation everywhere, beautiful architecture, culturally fascinating, super walkable/bikeable/scooterable. I am definitely visiting here again as soon as I can. (A)

Puyol Taco Omakase. Delicious & fun & a great experience, but I’m not sure the food was obviously so much better than some of the best street food I had in Mexico City. I had this same experience in Bangkok years ago…street food is tough to beat when there’s a thriving culture of markets, carts, and stalls. (B+)

The National Museum of Anthropology. One of my new favorite museums in the world. The only thing possibly more impressive than the collection is the architecture of the building. (A+)

Teotihuacan

Teotihuacán. I had high hopes for this archeological site and I was still blown away by it. (A+)

AirPods. This is my favorite gadget in years, the first real VR/AR device that feels seamless (and not like a Segway for your face). The freedom of wireless headphones feels similar to when I first used a laptop, wifi, and dockless bike share. (A+)

Homecoming. So many things to love about this, but one of my favorites is the shots of the audience watching Beyoncé and the rare moments when she watches them back: “I see you.” And also the way they put a cohesive show together while showcasing individual talents and styles. (A-)

Homecoming: The Live Album. Come on, a marching band playing Beyoncé hits? That this works so well is a small miracle. (A-)

Avengers: Endgame. I liked but didn’t love it. It was like the ST:TNG finale and the Six Feet Under finale mashed together and not done as well. It also seemed too predictable. (B)

Avengers: Age of Ultron. Now that the Thanos narrative arc is complete, this is an underrated installment. (B+)

Casa Luis Barragán. This was like being in someone’s creative mind. The layering of the garden reminded me of Disney’s use of the multiplane camera in the forest scene in Bambi. (B+)

Gelatin Sincronizada Gelitin (NSFW). I was skeptical of this art performance at first — a bunch of half-naked people painting on a moving canvas using paintbrushes coming out of their butts — but it ended up being a really cool thing to experience. (B+)

Game of Thrones. I’m not quite as critical of the final season as everyone else seems to be. Still, it seems like since the show left the cozy confines of George RR Martin’s books, it has struggled at times. (B+)

Wandering Earth. Based on the short story by Liu Cixin (author of the Three Body Problem trilogy), this disaster movie is a little uneven at the start but finishes strong. (B)

Halt and Catch Fire Vol 2. The music was one of the many great things about this show. (A-)

Running from COPS. A podcast about how media and law enforcement in America intersect to great and terrible effect. (B+)

Eating bugs. I tasted crickets, grasshoppers, and grubs at the market: mostly just salty. I had beef tartare and guacamole with grasshoppers on it. They added a nice crunch to the guac. Wouldn’t exactly go out of the way for them, but they weren’t bad. (B)

Panaderia Rosetta. Did I have one of the best pain au chocolat I’ve ever had here? Yes. Yes, I did. Also extremely delicious: everything else I tried. (A-)

Against the Rules. A podcast from Michael Lewis about what’s happening to the concept of fairness in America. The episode about Salvator Mundi, the supposed Leonardo masterpiece, is particularly interesting. (A-)

Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth. I have a new appreciation of how much Tolkien did in creating his books: writing, map making, world building, art, constructing languages. (B+)

Frida Kahlo’s Blue House. A striking house with a lush courtyard, but the highlight was seeing Kahlo’s work area much the way she left it when she died. (B+)

Street Food Essentials by Club Tengo Hambre. Mexico City is a huge place with so much to do that I wanted to hit the ground running right away, so I booked this street food tour. Definitely a good idea. We sampled so many different kinds of tacos & gorditas & quesadillas that I lost count. Highlights: huitlacoche quesadillas, al pastor tacos, fresh Oaxaca cheese at the Mercado de San Juan, and the blue corn masa used to make tlacoyos at one of our last stops — probably the best tortilla I’ve ever eaten. (A-)

The Matrix. This came out 20 years ago. I watched it with my 11-yo son the other day and he thought the special effects “held up pretty well”. (A)

Electric scooters. I used the Lime dockless electric scooters for the first time when I was in Mexico City and I loved experience. Easier than a bike and a fun & fast way to get around the city. Cons: the combo of the speed & small wheels can be dangerous and cities generally don’t have the infrastructure to accommodate them yet. (B+)

Paprika. Inventive and visually dazzling. Purportedly an influence on Christopher Nolan’s Inception. (B+)

Oh and just because, here’s a photo I took recently in my backyard that makes it seem like I live in Narnia or The Shire:

Ollie Shed

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

Hollywood Dream Machines: an Exhibition of Vehicles from Sci-Fi Movies

posted by Jason Kottke   May 17, 2019

Hollywood Dream Machines

Hollywood Dream Machines

Hollywood Dream Machines

Hollywood Dream Machines

An exhibition called Hollywood Dream Machines: Vehicles of Science Fiction and Fantasy just opened at the Petersen Automotive Museum in LA. It features more than 50 vehicles from sci-fi and fantasy films like Blade Runner, Iron Man, Mad Max: Fury Road, Black Panther, Minority Report, Star Wars, Speed Racer, Back to the Future, and Tron: Legacy. The exhibition runs through March 2020.

Rembrandtness and the Art of Art Authentication

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 28, 2019

Russell Shorto has a piece in this weekend’s NY Times Magazine about two previously undiscovered Rembrandt paintings, the man who found them both, and the art-world controversy that followed. Here’s one of the newly claimed Rembrandts, bought for $173,000 at auction:

Portrait Gentleman Rembrandt

The article is interesting throughout — it’s a neat little bow of a story by the author of the fantastic Island at the Center of the World — but I wanted to highlight this bit on “Rembrandtness” (what a term!) and the fuzziness of authenticating a painting like this:

Six next lined up prominent scholars to support his attribution of the painting to Rembrandt. It’s worth noting that some were unwilling to do so — not because they definitively believed otherwise, but as part of a shift toward acknowledging the gray areas in art history. For such a painting, which seemingly came out of nowhere, there is no way to achieve absolute certainty about its provenance. “When Jan came to me with his painting, I had to admit I couldn’t contest his arguments,” said Gary Schwartz, an American Rembrandt biographer and an authority on 17th-century Dutch art. “And I told him I wouldn’t express doubts about Rembrandt’s authorship. But it doesn’t make me happy” to be so definitive. He went on to elaborate the particular difficulties that Rembrandt poses for authenticators: the variety of styles he painted in, his many pupils, the likelihood that in his studio more than one person worked on a given painting. A painting that is determined to be, say, by “the studio of Rembrandt,” rather than by Rembrandt himself, would be of lesser value. Schwartz is one of a number of art historians who, when it comes to questions of the authenticity of works by famous painters, would like people to focus less on the artist and the monetary worth of the painting than on the work itself. He uses the term “Rembrandtness” and argues for assigning shades of likelihood that a painting is by the artist himself. Regarding the Rembrandtness of this particular portrait, he said, “The attribution to Rembrandt is the hypothesis to beat, but it may not be unbeatable.”

Museums try to respect “Rembrandtness.” The National Gallery of Art in London, for instance, labels “An Old Man in an Armchair” as “probably by Rembrandt,” and the Mauritshuis museum recently announced that it is mounting an exhaustive study of two of its supposed Rembrandts to try to determine the likelihood of their being by the master. “I think ‘Rembrandtness’ is a smart idea,” said Ronni Baer, senior curator of European paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. “But people aren’t going to be content with it because there’s so much money involved in attribution.”

I wonder what the true Rembrandtness is of all the paintings in museums or expensive collections that are currently attributed to only his hand? Or the da Vinciness of Salvator Mundi?

Speaking of Rembrandt, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is currently displaying all of their extensive collection of works by the artist in an exhibition called All the Rembrandts.1

In addition, the most important painting in the collection, Night Watch, will be restored in place over the next several years so that museum visitors can observe the process.

  1. To paraphrase the classic Onion article about razors: “Fuck everything, we’re doing all the Rembrandts!”

“Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth” Exhibition in NYC

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 28, 2019

The “Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth” exhibition at NYC’s Morgan Library & Museum is “the most extensive public display of original Tolkien material for several generations”. Running from January 25 through May 12, the exhibition includes drafts, drawings, maps, and memorabilia related to J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, including hand-drawn maps done by Tolkien of Middle-earth.

Tolkien Exhibit

Tolkien Exhibit

Tolkien Exhibit

I’m totally going to this the next time I’m in NYC.

Update: Note to those who are heading to exhibition: cosplaying your favorite LoTR character at the Morgan Library is totally permissible.

Tolkien Exhibit

But all Gimlis, Legolases, and Gandalfs, leave your weaponry at home. (via @arbesman)

The Best of My Media Diet for 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 01, 2019

2018 Bestnine

Just like last year, I kept track of almost everything I read, watched, listened to, and experienced in my media diet posts. In this post, I’m gonna share some of the very best of that content, stuff that stuck with me in one way or another. I marked my absolute favorites with a (*). (Above, my #bestnine Instagram images of 2018.)

Books. I made an effort to read more books this year, particularly those written by women. Hope to continue both of those trends in 2019.

After years of reading the entire Harry Potter series with my kids, we spent several months reading Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey. I was unsure whether they would be into it, but they’d routinely ask for some extra reading time before bed.*

Charles Mann is one of the best nonfiction authors out there, a master of combining culture, history, and science into compelling stories. The Wizard and the Prophet is his latest book and I recommend you read it.*

Normally I shy away from terms like “must-read” or “important” when talking about books, but I’m making an exception for this one. The Wizard and the Prophet is an important book, and I urge you to read it. (The chapter on climate change, including its fascinating history, is alone worth the effort.)

(The theme of the book also popped up in Avengers: Infinity War.)

A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts by Andrew Chaikin. I will always be a total space nerd and this is a great history of the Apollo program.

Arbitrary Stupid Goal by Tamara Shopsin. Lots for me to chew on in this one, not least of which is the value of a non-traditional childhood.

I listened to the audiobook version of Kitchen Confidential read by Anthony Bourdain. This book is 18 years old but aside from some details, it felt as immediate and vital as when it came out. What a unique spirit we lost this year.

Circe by Madeline Miller. A fun and engrossing “sequel” to The Odyssey.

In response to this post about They Shall Not Grow Old by Tim Carmody, Stephan Pimpare wrote: “Howard Zinn is derided for a sometimes simplistic and sloppy history, but his singular contribution was a kind of historical Rashomon — the urgent lesson that the shape of all histories can and should be inverted.” Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs is an inversion of sorts of the traditional history of Silicon Valley.

Movies. Geography has hindered my movie choices since moving to Vermont, and I haven’t seen many of the movies on everyone else’s best of lists. But my movie-viewing has also been less adventurous this year; I’ve preferred less challenging fare after long work days.

Somehow, Black Panther came out this year? It seems like it’s always been with us. BP is the 2018 movie I’d most like to erase from my memory so I could watch it again for the first time. (Honorable mention to Avengers: Infinity War.)

Isle of Dogs. The cinematography and production design of this were just so good. I left the theater wanting to make great things.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? I waited to see this one at home because I didn’t want to be caught sobbing in public.

Even in the age of Netflix, going to the theater can still be a lot of fun. I saw Bohemian Rhapsody on opening night with a bunch of Queen fans and they made the theater shake with their singing, clapping, and stomping.

Three Identical Strangers. A fascinating documentary about nature vs nurture.

TV. I watched a lot of TV this year, perhaps too much. But not a whole lot of it ended up being that substantial…I saw nothing this year as good as Planet Earth II, Blue Planet II, or The Vietnam War. Maybe I should watch a little less next year?

The Americans. An excellent final season and a very strong and heartbreaking last episode.*

My Brilliant Friend. I spent the first 3-4 episodes disappointed that it wasn’t the books, but by the end, I was ready for a second season. The two lead actresses were excellent, particularly Margherita Mazzucco as Elena Greco.

The Handmaid’s Tale. Many people felt this stumbled this season, but I was not one of them.

Music. Not a musical year for me. The only thing I would single out is Kendrick Lamar’s album for Black Panther.

Podcasts. I like listening to podcasts with discrete seasons or topics these days…so not a lot of Reply All or Radiolab but more like the following…

Seeing White. Recommended by a reader, this 14-part series on race and whiteness is essential listening.*

Slow Burn. Two seasons, one on Watergate and the other on the Clinton/Lewinsky affair. Both excellent.*

Caliphate. Upsetting and important. This is a look at ISIS you don’t get on cable.*

Experiences & misc. Most of my favorite stuff falls into this category this year.

An Incomplete History of Protest. This exhibition at the Whitney was up for a long while, so I got to see it a few times.

Alto’s Odyssey. Perhaps one of my all-time favorite games. Several months ago, I made it up to #2 on the global high score list. I deleted it from my phone last week because I was playing it too much.*

Kennedy Space Center. Hoping to go back for a launch sometime soon!*

Lots of things about Istanbul, including the Hagia Sophia, my breakfast at Van Kahvalti Evi, and having dinner on a tiny street of tiny businesses, loosely joined.*

While I waited for my food, I noticed an order of köfte going out of the kitchen…to a diner at the restaurant across the street. When he was finished, the staff at that place bussed the dishes back across the way. Meanwhile, my meal arrived and the köfte were flavorful and tender and juicy, exactly what I wanted…no wonder the place across the street had outsourced their meatballs to this place. I’d noticed the owner, the waiter, and the cook drinking tea, so after I finished, I asked if I could get a tea. The owner nodded and started yelling to a guy at the tea place two door down. A few minutes later, a man bearing a tray with four glasses of tea arrived, dropping one at my table and the other three for the staff.

Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future. What Chrysanthe said.

Electricity. Ok, let me explain. I live in a rural area and work from home so when it’s really windy or there’s an ice storm, the power goes out. Sometimes it’s out for an hour or two, sometimes longer. It would be quaint if I didn’t have stuff to do. When electricity isn’t the default, you come to appreciate it a lot more.

The Deutsches Technikmuseum. Science and technology museum in Berlin. Along with the Topographie Des Terrors, this was my favorite thing from my stay in Berlin.

Foggy hikes. I’d never hiked in the fog before and now I think I might prefer it to sunny days?*

My new electric toothbrush. I’ve had it for months now and I still look forward to brushing with it. My mouth and teeth feel so much cleaner.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Florida. After spending so much time in the Wizarding World on the pages of books and on movie screens, it was a complete trip to wander around Diagon Alley, Hogwarts, and the rest.*

Solo roadtrips across the United States. Probably my favorite thing of the year. Can’t wait to do this again, perhaps in the American Southwest.*

SpaceX launch of Falcon Heavy. Watching those two boosters land back on the surface at almost the same time was mind-blowing.

Sleep. Getting at least 7 (and often 8+) hours of sleep every night has transformed my life. This is even lower-hanging self-help fruit than yoga or meditation.

Goodthreads t-shirt. I’m heading into uniform territory and having plain white t-shirts that fit me perfectly is essential.

My Recent Media Diet for Late 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 26, 2018

I’ve been keeping track of every media thing I “consume”, so here are quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the last month or so. Look for 2018 media recap sometime later this week.

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs. Under-read and under-remarked upon by the tech press…but if you read this just for the Steve Jobs bits, you’re really missing out. (A)

The Good Place. Not quite as charmed by this as everyone else, but I’d definitely listen to a weekly hour-long podcast that goes deeper into the philosophy featured in each episode. (B+)

Outlaw King. Not so bad if you’re in the mood for medieval battles. (B)

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. A letdown after the first film, which has gotten better every time I’ve rewatched it. Way too much exposition and not enough fun. By the end, I was bored. My kids said they liked it but without much conviction in their voices. (C+)

Bodyguard. Some shows, even my all-time favorites, took a few episodes to get into. Bodyguard hooked me after 5 minutes. (A-)

Function. A podcast on “how technology is shaping culture and communications” hosted by my pal Anil Dash. (I listened to the Should Twitter Have an Edit Button? episode.) The podcast reproduces to a remarkable degree the experience & content of dinner conversation with Anil. (B+)

Andy Warhol - From A to B and Back Again. I was personally underwhelmed by this, possibly because I’ve seen so much Warhol and read so much about him and his work? (B)

Hilma Af Klint Gugg

Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future. Absolutely thrilling, like discovering a secret room in your house. Many thanks to Chrysanthe for the nudge. (A)

The Odyssey translated by Emily Wilson. Finally finished reading this with the kids. Everyone loved it. (A)

Yotam Ottolenghi’s green gazpacho. It was hardly the season for it, but I was jonesing for the green gazpacho dish that my favorite restaurant used to serve. I took a guess that they used Ottolenghi’s recipe…naaaaaailed it. Delicious with some shrimp and croutons. Will use less garlic next time though. (A-)

Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay. There’s probably a better movie to be made of Jay’s life, but this was sufficient for my purposes. (B)

Fawlty Towers. Passing on the family tradition of watching old British comedies to my children. Some of the best television ever made, yessiree. (A)

Ralph Breaks the Internet. Perhaps this is small-minded, but I really wanted to see a little kottke.org shop in the background when Ralph and Vanellope are bopping around Internet City, like a tiny boutique next to BuzzzTube or something. (B+)

The Favourite. Delightful and fun. Loved it. (A-)

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. The Coen brothers, perfectly tuned to the streaming TV format. The stories reminded me a bit of Roald Dahl’s The Tales of the Unexpected. (A-)

Can You Ever Forgive Me? Great acting, particularly from Melissa McCarthy. She reminded me of a young Kathy Bates in this. (B+)

The Day After Tomorrow. I’ve seen this movie probably 10 times and it seems more and more plausible with each viewing. (A)

Circe by Madeline Miller. I am enjoying this trend of old stories told from new vantage points. (A-)

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. I was charmed by the first three episodes but the rest wasn’t as entertaining. People kept changing their entire personalities from episode to episode and we’re supposed to just go along with that? I don’t agree with all of it, but I loved reading Emily Nussbaum’s pan of the show for the New Yorker. (B-)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Visually dazzling and by far my favorite Spider-Man movie, but I preferred Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War. This movie is much more “comics-y” than the live-action Marvel movies and despite much effort, I am just not a comics guy. (B)

Dr Mario

Dr. Mario. Used to play this a lot when I was a kid. Still fun. Would love a networked version to play against friends. (B+)

My Brilliant Friend. About halfway through and enjoying it, but it’s just not the book (which I loved). (B+)

My Brilliant Friend soundtrack. Max Richter, enough said. (A-)

Summer Games. This track off of Drake’s Scorpion has grabbed my attention lately. I love the Chariots of Fire + NES Track and Field vibe of the music. (B+)

On Being with Anand Giridharadas. An interview about his book, Winners Take All. (B+)

The Ezra Klein Show with Anand Giridharadas. This episode was referenced in the On Being interview above and is slightly better because Klein pushes back on Giridharadas’s argument and makes him work a little harder. (B+)

Why Is This Happening? with Ta-Nehisi Coates. They talk politics & racism but also how to focus on what’s important to you, even if it means quitting Twitter. (B+)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

The Destroyed Collection of the National Museum of Brazil Resurrected Online

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 19, 2018

In 2016, the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro started working with Google Arts & Culture to make their collection available online. In September 2018, a devastating fire at the museum destroyed an estimated 20 million pieces, from one-of-a-kind artworks to archeological artifacts. Now Google is hosting an online exhibition of the museum’s collection where you can virtually explore the pre-fire museum in a Street View interface.

Brazil Museum 01

Brazil Museum 02

Brazil Museum 03

The artifacts pictured here are, from top to bottom: a 3000-year-old vase from the Marajoara culture, a skull from the oldest human skeleton discovered in the Americas, and indigenous masks from the Awetí, Waurá and Mehináku people.

The Art Institute of Chicago Has Put 50,000 High-Res Images from Their Collection Online

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 09, 2018

Art Institute Chicago

Art Institute Chicago

Art Institute Chicago

Art Institute Chicago

Art Institute Chicago

Art Institute Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago recently unveiled a new website design. As part of their first design upgrade in 6 years, they have placed more than 52,000 high-resolution images from their collection online, available to all comers without restriction.

Students, educators, and just regular art lovers might be interested to learn that we’ve released thousands of images in the public domain on the new website in an open-access format (52,438 to be exact, and growing regularly). Made available under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license, these images can be downloaded for free on the artwork pages.

We’ve also enhanced the image viewing capabilities on object pages, which means that you can see much greater detail on objects than before. Check out the paint strokes in Van Gogh’s The Bedroom, the charcoal details on Charles White’s Harvest Talk, or the synaesthetic richness of Georgia O’Keeffe’s Blue and Green Music.

I’ve included a few notable works from their collection above: The Great Wave by Katsushika Hokusai, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat (which you can zoom and pretend you’re Cameron in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), Self-Portrait by Vincent van Gogh, Nighthawks by Edward Hopper, Mao by Andy Warhol, and Two Sisters (On the Terrace) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. The resolution on the images is high enough to check out the brushstrokes on the paintings. Here’s some detail on the van Gogh:

Art Institute Chicago

I love seeing more museums doing this.

Some Reflections from My Trip to Berlin

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 01, 2018

Berlin Trip 2018

Even for a city almost 800 years old, Berlin has seen more than its fair share of history, especially in the 20th century. Watching the fall of the Berlin Wall on television 29 years ago this month was one of my most memorable experiences as a teen. In 2001, my girlfriend and I visited Berlin, loved it, and wanted to return soon. But you know how that goes sometimes, and I didn’t make it back there for a visit until mid last month, when I spent the better part of a week exploring Germany’s largest city. Here are of my impressions from the trip.

Museum-going is one of my favorite things to do when travelling and Berlin has a bunch of great ones. And they’re not generally these behemoths like the Met or Louvre…they’re reasonably sized places you can knock out in a couple of hours. The recreation of the Ishtar Gate at the Pergamon is one of my favorite things at any museum I’ve been to.

The public transportation in Berlin is great. One ticketing scheme covers buses, trams (in the old East Berlin), surface trains (S-Bahn), and subways (U-Bahn). I bought a weekly pass and used it to travel all over the city. One afternoon with no fixed agenda, I explored by randomly hopping on trams and trains and getting off when things started looking interesting…navigation by an arbitrary stupid goal.

Berlin Trip 2018

Yes, I had the currywurst. And a kartoffelpuffer (served with a massive dollop of delicious sour cream w/ herbs in it). I preferred the knackwurst I got from Konnopke’s Imbiß and the schnitzel from Scheers, which reminded me a bit of Crif Dogs (but for schnitzel). The guy at Konnopke’s made an “ick” face when I asked for ketchup with my knackwurst instead of mustard. *shrug*

According to Pedometer++, I walked 65 miles over a 7 day period in Berlin.

At the Neues Museum, I read a bit of Homer’s Iliad on a papyrus scroll from more than 2000 years ago. The kids and I have been reading Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey so that was a nice moment of connection across the centuries. (I also saw the bust of Nefertiti there.)

Berlin Trip 2018

My favorite thing about public transport in Berlin is that instead of having entry turnstiles and swiping your ticket when you get on the bus, you simply buy a ticket and get it stamped on the platform to validate it. That’s it. With my weekly pass, I had to stamp it once to “activate” it, but after that, I could just get on the tram or subway without worrying about it. I love this system…it eliminates so much infrastructure, makes it easier to use public transport, and doesn’t track you around the system like smartcards do. It also makes it easier to ride for free, although there are teams of ticket inspectors moving throughout the system checking for valid tickets. Fines of €60 on up are assessed & paid on the spot.

A team of three undercover ticket inspectors got onto a tram I was riding…they were young, dressed a bit like hooligans, and looked way more like they were gonna steal wallets than officially check tickets. After nonchalantly boarding, they announced themselves to the passengers, pulled out their badges, and worked very quickly, impatiently looking at tickets before the tram pulled into the next stop and scofflaws could escape.

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is an open-air memorial of more than 2700 concrete slabs arranged in a grid pattern. While I was there, I saw it being used as a bench, a picnic area, a playground, a hide-n-go-seek maze, a selfie background, a parkour apparatus, and as the backdrop for Instagram influencers…pretty much everything but thoughtful reflection about the murder of 6 million people. See also Yolocaust.

Everyone kept telling me that the city had changed so much since I’d been there, but one of the only differences I could detect was that in 2001, it was pretty easy to tell which parts of the city had been in East Berlin and which had been in West Berlin, just by looking at the buildings and streets. Now, aside from the presence of random Soviet monuments and the tram in the former East Berlin, I couldn’t really tell. After almost 30 years, Berlin finally seems like a single city again (at least to this outsider).

The Deutsches Technikmuseum (German Museum of Technology) is actually huge and completely amazing, especially the collection of trains and train cars housed in the massive buildings of a former railway company. The smell of grease and oil that hit me walking into the exhibition took me right back to when I was a kid, helping my dad fix cars in the garage. As I mentioned in this post, the exhibition included a freight car that was used for transporting Jews to concentration camps that you could walk inside of “and try to imagine, in some small way, you and your children cheek to jowl with 80 other people, on the way to be murdered”. An intense experience.

Berlin Trip 2018

The massive seven-story KaDeWe department store has an entire floor dedicated to food (in addition to the eatery on the top floor) and the butcher cases must have featured over 120 different kinds of sausage & wurst…it was unbelievable. I spent more than an hour wandering through and ended up having dinner, some scrambled eggs with a side of potatoes and onions — the menu had a disclaimer on the bottom of each page: “Of course our potatoes and onions are made with bacon!” Duh, this is Germany.

The permanent exhibition at the Topographie Des Terrors is a must-see presentation of how the Nazis persecuted, imprisoned, and murdered millions in the 30s and 40s. While sobering and completely gutting in parts, this was one of my favorite things I did in Berlin.

While not quite public transport, Berlin has a thriving bike share scene. I signed up for Mobike because they seemed to have the most inventory. As a bike-friendly city to begin with, there are lots of places on the streets to park these dockless bikes, although locals have complained about bike littering. This was my first time using a dockless bike, and like with WiFi on a laptop or pairing a Bluetooth speaker, the first time feels a little magical.

My favorite meal was at the restaurant in my hotel. That’s a bit of an odd thing to hear because we’re used to hotel restaurants being kind of a default mediocre. But the food at the Michelberger’s restaurant was delicious, surprising, and inventive. I had the burrata w/ pear & dukkah and the arctic char w/ smoked mashed potatoes & buttermilk. Just thinking about that meal is making me hungry!

Berlin Trip 2018

Berlin reclaimed Tempelhofer Field as a public park after the Tempelhof airport closed in 2008. I’d never walked on a large runway like that before…they’re huge! I was supposed to meet up with Felipe of Fotostrasse to take a more extensive tour of the area, but it was rainy and I was sick, so I only managed a quick solo visit. Next time!

I only posted a couple of pics from Berlin on Instagram, but I did post a bunch of Instagram Stories (collected here). And thanks to everyone on Twitter and Instagram who offered suggestions for my trip! I had a great time and I will definitely be back, hopefully before 17 more years have passed.

German Remembrance of the Holocaust and Growing US Anti-Semitism

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 29, 2018

I spent a few days in Berlin last week.1 One of things you notice as a visitor to Berlin is the remembrance of the Holocaust and the horrors of the Nazi regime. There’s the Jewish Museum, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and the Topographie Des Terrors, which is an excellent (and free) exhibition detailing how the Nazi terror machine worked.

At the massive train yard at the Deutsches Technikmuseum, they have a dedicated exhibition on how the German rail system was used to transport Jews to concentration camps, including a freight car used in the transports that you could walk into and try to imagine, in some small way, you and your children cheek to jowl with 80 other people, on the way to be murdered. A powerful experience.

Berlin Holocaust Boxcar

Outside a train station, there was a sign listing concentration camps: “places of horror which we must never forget”.

Berlin Holocaust Sign

Just as important, the language they used on the displays in these places was clear and direct, at least in the English translations. It was almost never mealy-mouthed language like “this person died at Treblinka”…like they’d succumbed to natural causes or something. Instead it was “this person was murdered at Treblinka”, which is much stronger and explicitly places blame on the Nazis for these deaths.

As the exhibition at the Topographie Des Terrors made clear, the German response to the Holocaust and Nazi regime wasn’t perfect, but in general, it’s very clear that a) this happened here, and b) it was terrible and must never happen again.

On Saturday morning in Pittsburgh, a man radicalized by the President of the United States and right-wing media walked into a synagogue and killed 11 people.

With overt anti-Semitism growing in the US (as well as other things like the current administration’s policies on immigration and jailing of children in concentration camps), it’s instructive to compare the German remembrance of the Holocaust to America’s relative lack of public introspection & remembrance about its dark history.

In particular, as a nation the US has never properly come to terms with the horrors it inflicted on African Americans and Native Americans. We build monuments to Confederate soldiers but very few to the millions enslaved and murdered. Our country committed genocide against native peoples, herded them onto reservations like cattle, and we’re still denying them the right to vote.

These things happened in our history in part because powerful people needed an enemy to rally everyone against. It’s an old but effective tactic: blacks, Indians, Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, Irish, Arabs, Muslims, Mexicans, Chinese, Japanese — they are here to take your jobs, steal your money, rape your women! It’s what slaveowners did to make their forced labor camps socially acceptable to polite Southern society, it’s what the Nazis did to make murdering Jews acceptable to the German people, it’s what the US government and settlers did to commit genocide against Native Americans, and it’s what Donald Trump is doing now. The monuments, exhibitions, and museums I saw in Berlin last week formed a powerful rejoinder to this type of fascism. I think the US really needs to grapple with its history in this regard…or it’ll just keep happening again.

Update: An earlier version of this post stated that one of the victims of the Pittsburgh shooting was a Holocaust survivor. She was not. (thx, vanessa)

  1. I’ll be posting more about the trip later in the week, I hope.

The Woman Who Invented Abstractionism

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Oct 24, 2018

The Hilma af Klint retrospective at the Guggenheim is by far the trippiest thing I’ve seen within the confines of an esteemed art institution. The show is expansive and stunning and truly transcends time (images in her paintings look like things discovered decades later, from a double helix to the 80s electronic memory game Simon). As if to prove she’s a futurist, she envisioned that her major body of work would be displayed in a spiral temple.

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Words cannot fully describe the power or style of her pieces, which are botanical, psychedelic, scientific, occult, and truly mystical. Her abstract paintings, which she started producing five years before Kandinsky or any other of the more famous men of her time created something of the sort, were channeled through her spiritualism. She was influenced by Rosicrucianism, Theosophy, and later in life, anthroposophy.

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It’s all a bit mind-bending. af Klint knew that the world was not ready for her work, so she specified it not be shown until 20 years after her death. This was likely because, at a visit to her Stockholm studio in 1908, Rudolf Steiner was “unable to decipher the paintings and claims that no one during the coming 50 years will be able to.” She died in 1944, the same year as Kandinsky and Mondrian, and it was over four decades until there was a show that included her paintings.

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From The New Yorker:

The art is fearfully esoteric. But something about it resonates with a restlessly searching mood in present culture, hostile to old ideas. Af Klint has a lot of people’s rapt attention. From what I hear, young artists of many stripes are mad for her.

Yes, people are ready for it. Never before have I witnessed so many museum-goers studying paintings so up close (see my top photo, above) and really being with the art. And I’d argue our current #MeToo era is fertile ground for retelling origin stories with more representation of women and those who were otherwise overlooked.

The endlessly inspiring Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future is up at the Guggenheim in New York until April 23, 2019.

n.b. You may recall that Acne Studios did a capsule collection using Hilma af Klint prints in 2014. (thx Eviana)

Update: Here’s a good video introduction to af Klint’s work:

Barbara Kruger asks

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Oct 23, 2018

Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Questions)
(1990/2018)
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Nine big questions by Barbara Kruger are now on display at MOCA in Los Angeles until November 2020. The museum will also host voter registration events in conjunction with the installation, made possible by an anonymous donor.

It’s worth noting that MOCA is just blocks away from LA’s Skid Row, where about 2,500 people live on the street. It’ll be interesting to see who shows up for their events and how they’ll do outreach.

Harvard’s Pigment Collection

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Oct 22, 2018

As the daughter of a trained art conservationist, I find this endlessly fascinating.

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Edward Forbes, the former director of Harvard’s Fogg Art Museums, amassed a collection that is essentially a library of color.

With the help of these rainbow-bright samples, scientists are able to ward off color loss. They can restore faded pieces through identifying what chemical response caused the fading in the first place. They can also reconstruct stories of paintings and people through an examination of the minerals they used to create their colors and the binding materials they sourced from nature. The color library is a working laboratory, one that traces the history of color from ancient stones to twenty-first-century nanotubes.

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The library helped with the restoration of Harvard’s faded Rothko mural, the subject of one of my favorite New Yorker essays. Here’s a list of the ten rarest pigments in the Forbes collection.

Why The Night Watch Is Rembrandt’s Masterpiece

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 02, 2018

Ok folks, it’s time for some game theor- I mean, art history. In this video, Evan Puschak explains what makes Rembrandt’s The Night Watch so compelling from both a historical and artistic perspective.

Rembrandt Night Watch

When I was in Amsterdam last year, I saw The Night Watch at the Rijksmuseum. As Puschak notes, it’s an impressive painting — for one thing, it’s more than 12 feet tall and weighs more than 740 pounds. However, I was even more keen on a nearby early self-portrait though.

Rembrandt Self Portrait 1628

Rembrandt painted this when he was 22 and while it lacks the subtle mastery of his later work, I couldn’t stop staring at it and kept looping back for one more view. If you look at a larger view of the painting, you can see where Rembrandt used the butt of his brush to scratch the wet paint to accentuate his curly hair. Something about seeing those tiny canyons on the canvas…I could almost see the young artist standing right where I was, flipping his brush around to scrape those marks before the paint dried, making his dent in the universe.

P.S. My absolute favorite piece at the Rijksmuseum was Vermeer’s The Milkmaid. Holy moly, what a painting.