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Tag: artists

Guggenheim, citing threats, pulls controversial pit bull piece from exhibit

The Guggenheim Museum in New York has pulled from an upcoming exhibit an “artwork” that features, on video, four pairs of pit bulls on treadmills charging at each other.

Real dogs are used in the piece, titled “Dogs Cannot Touch Each Other,” but it is a video version of a performance staged live when it first appeared in Beijing in 2003.

It and two other works condemned by animal welfare activists will no longer be part of the exhibit when it opens Oct. 6.

The charging pit bull piece — a seven minute long video — is by artists Peng Yu and Sun Yuan, a husband and wife team (let’s hope they treat each other with a little more kindness) who, in the original exhibit, lined up four pairs of pit bulls, face to face, on eight treadmills.

The dogs charge towards each other, but never get more than a few inches away. Still, they keep at it, panting and drooling and becoming more and more stressed out and frustrated.

The Guggenheim initially responded to animal welfare concerns by saying it had no intention of removing the work from the exhibit.

But, just four days later, museum officials reconsidered.

guggenheim-gallery-exterior-lightAccording to a report from NPR, the Guggenheim will pull the pieces from its upcoming exhibit, “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World.”

The museum blamed “explicit and repeated threats of violence,” but provided no details.

An online petition demanding the museum remove the works garnered more than 600,000 signatures since it was posted five days ago, and protesters gathered outside the museum on Saturday, holding signs that say “suffering animals is not art.”

Even after that, the Guggenheim defended the pit bull video, calling it on Thursday “an intentionally challenging and provocative artwork that seeks to examine and critique systems of power and control. We recognize that the work may be upsetting. The curators of the exhibition hope that viewers will consider why the artists produced it and what they may be saying about the social conditions of globalization and the complex nature of the world we share.”

But on Monday the museum relented under the pressure and said it was pulling that work and two others, citing threats of violence and concern for the safety of its staff, visitors and the artists.

“Although these works have been exhibited in museums in Asia, Europe, and the United States, the Guggenheim regrets that explicit and repeated threats of violence have made our decision necessary,” the museum said in a statement. “As an arts institution committed to presenting a multiplicity of voices, we are dismayed that we must withhold works of art. Freedom of expression has always been and will remain a paramount value of the Guggenheim.”

In another of the to-be-removed pieces, artist Xu Bing tattooed meaningless characters all over the bodies of two pigs, a boar and a sow, who were put on display, mating, in a museum exhibit in Beijing in 1994. The Guggenheim was to feature the video of that “performance” as well.

Also removed was a work featuring live animals — reptiles, amphibians, insects — that are trapped in a glass enclosure and proceed to eat and kill each other for the viewing pleasure of attendees.

Beagle B&B is a sight to see

beagle3

During our year traveling across America in search of all things dog, Ace and I missed this place — a B&B in Idaho that resembles a giant beagle.

The Dog Bark Park Inn is located in the city of Cottonwood, population less than 1,000.

beagle2It serves as home base for husband and wife artists Dennis J. Sullivan and Frances Conklin, who opened the B&B in 2003.

Sullivan, a chain saw artist who specializes in dog designs, built the dog shaped unit, named Sweet Willy, and his smaller sidekick, Toby.

You can’t sleep inside Toby, but Sweet Willy contains two bedrooms and a bathroom, and rents for about $100 a night. (Pets are welcome for an extra $15 fee.)

The two-acre property also includes a sculpture garden featuring other works of art, including a 12-foot fire hydrant with a portable toilet inside, the Huffington Post reports.

It reminds me a bit of Dog Mountain, the park-like Vermont complex featuring the art of its creator, artist Stephen Huneck.

At the Dog Bark Park Inn, guests check in at the owners’ studio and gift shop, located nearby.

dennisandfrancesDennis is a self-taught chainsaw artist who has been carving for over 30 years. Frances joined him twenty years ago and also carves, according to the studio’s website.

They say their “big break” came in 1995 when their carvings were featured on QVC. With the fame came more hard work.

“We did nothing but carve wooden dogs for 18 months (our children barely remember seeing us during those days!), made what seemed like a bundle of money, invested it all in developing and building Dog Bark Park.”

bernese_mountain_dog_jpgTogether, they carve more than 60 different breeds and poses of dogs, and will take custom orders on request, carving dogs based on photos provided by owners.

In 2003 they received the Take Pride in Idaho Cultural Tourism Award for a large carved art exhibit depicting the story of Seaman, the dog who accompanied Lewis and Clark on their exploratory journey to the Pacific two hundred years ago.

(Photos: Dog Bark Park Inn)

Let a squirrel carve your pumpkin this year

You say there’s just no time to carve a pumpkin this year?

Why not let a squirrel take over the job?

We suspect some tricks were used behind the scenes to accomplish this — maybe some well-placed smears of peanut butter — but this video shows what the average squirrel is capable of, with a little direction.

And you thought their creativity was limited to getting into the bird feeder.

What trash should we cash?

seussWhen an author pens some words

Then decides to abort ’em

Is it right to dig them up

And publish them post mortem?

When an artist abandons or otherwise trashes a work in progress — be that artist a musician, painter or writer — it’s usually for good reasons

When an heir, agent or publisher digs up the discarded work of a dead or incapacitated artist it, and seeks to package it for public consumption, it’s usually for one:

Profit.

That — more than paying homage, more than fleshing out the historical record — is what’ I’d guess is behind the publication of “new” books by two of America’s most beloved authors.

Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman — essentially the trashed first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird — was released this summer, even though some say, given Ms. Lee’s mental state, she isn’t likely to have endorsed the project.

What Pet Should I Get, by Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel), hit bookstores today — 24 years after his death.

Fifty years after Seuss and Lee became part of popular culture, their respective publishing houses are saying, in effect — and like an infomercial — “But wait … There’s more.”

The new Seuss book is based materials found in the author’s San Diego home in 2013 by Geisel’s widow, Audrey.

According to Random House, when Audrey Geisel was remodeling her home after his death, she found a box filled with pages of text and sketches and set it aside with some of her husband’s other materials. Twenty-two years later, she and Seuss’s secretary revisited the box.

They found the full text and sketches for What Pet Should I Get? — a project that, seemingly, Seuss didn’t feel good enough about to pursue.

As reincarnated books go, Go Set a Watchman has proven far more contentious.

On top of questions over whether Lee wanted the work published, it’s first-version portrayal of Atticus Finch as a bigot is hard for some readers to take, especially those who read Mockingbird.

What Pet Should I Get? hasn’t entirely escaped controversy.

The story line is simple:  A brother and sister (the same ones featured in One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish) go to the pet store with permission from their parents to pick out a pet.

The can’t seem to agree. The brother wants a dog, the sister wants a cat, and some consideration is given to a “Yent that could live in a tent.”

Some reviews are saying the rhymes lack the pzazz and zaniness of Geisel’s better known works.

In addition, the book doesn’t stand up to the test of time. It was written in a day that buying a dog from a store was deemed acceptable — decades before the atrocities of puppy mills (where many such dogs came from) became known.

Among the book’s earliest critics — even before it came out — was PETA, whose president contacted Random House to point out it might send the wrong message to young readers. Apparently, Random House took the advice to heart. In an eight-page afterword, the publisher makes a point of explaining, among other things, that families should adopt rather than buying dogs and cats from stores.

What’s not addressed are the ethics of profiting off selling the unpublished works of the dead.

In the spirit of Dr. Seuss, let me conclude with a couple of modest thoughts. You can call them little point one and little point two.

Point one is a note to creative types. You might want to consider outlining in your will, in great detail, what may or may not happen to, and who should get any profits from, any unpublished works that you squirreled away in a drawer rather than burned or threw away.

Point two is that, in celebrating our beloved writers, particularly two who shaped the lives, hearts and brains of so many children and young adults, remembering their wishes should be paramount.

The publishing world is something of a zoo, and it’s not above shoveling out some stinky stuff wrapped in shiny new packages.

So be careful of that wily fox

He’s smarter than a lot of us

Watch out for tigers, snakes and bears

Beware the hippo-posthumous

 

Artist’s goal: Painting all 51 Vick dogs

lucas1

I’m not sure what I love more about this artist — her paintings, her name, her theme or her determination.

Levity Tomkinson is a Kentucky artist who has tackled a serious project — painting all 51 of the dogs seized from Michael Vick’s dogfighting operation in 2007.

She’s more than one-fifth of the way there.

levityFinding herself struck by the resiliency of those Vick dogs who were rescued and rehabilitated, Tomkinson got the idea in 2012 and started what she calls The Re51lient Project.

Tomkinson had started painting dogs — beginning with her own, a pit bull mix named Rinlee — in 2010, when, after graduating college, she found herself without any good job leads.

After reading an article about Vick dogs who had been rehabilitated and adopted, the project began.

“I thought of the idea during a time in my life that was really unpleasant, where I was trying to find meaning and happiness and purpose again, and these dogs were absolutely a part of my healing process. They inspired me to be positive, to smile and look at the world and appreciate all different kinds of beauty …. I am forever indebted and grateful to these dogs for changing my life.”

Like many dog lovers, Tomkinson was moved how many of the dogs taken from the NFL quarterback’s Bad News Kennels managed to overcome the horrors inflicted on them there.

As she explains it on her blog, “I cannot begin to fathom the daily lives of the 51 dogs who were rescued, and those before who weren’t. I paint for the 51 …

“I paint for the dogs … that didn’t win in a fight they never wanted anyway, dying from injuries with punctured skin and a mauled lip and face that became raw meat. I paint for the dogs … with that were forced into a rape stall to unwillingly bring more dogs into the world of dog fighting. I paint for any dog who has been, is, or will be a part of this heinous world. The resiliency of the 51 is my courage, my push, my determination, and my love for this project.”

rayTomkinson, according to the Huffington Post, hopes to turn the project into a book, with portraits of all 51 dogs — those who were adopted and those who spent the rest of their lives in sanctuaries.

“Every single dog has importance and a story to tell, something to teach us, and either their passing or not being adopted doesn’t lessen their message or them,” she said.

“If Re51lient can empower one person to choose positivity over negativity, triumph over fear, allow them to let go of past hurt or add one more pit bull lover to this world, then my heart is happy. ”

(Photos: Lucas, a former Vick dog who died last year at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary; Tomkinson, from her Facebook page; and Ray, a Vick dog adopted this year)

Dog Mountain lives on

Stephen Huneck is gone — he took his own life earlier this year — but his love for dogs remains firmly and artfully stamped on a mountainside in Vermont.

His studio, in a giant red barn, is silent. Stacks of wood sit uncarved and untouched. But the gallery he built, the dog park he created and, perhaps his greatest inspiration, the Dog Chapel, remain open on Dog Mountain — an ongoing testament of one man’s love for dogs, and to what dogs add to our lives.

His widow wants to keep it that way, and with the renewed demand for his work after his death, a morbid fact of life when it comes to art, it’s looking like Dog Mountain, once facing foreclosure, will, happily, survive.

In what was one of the saddest stories in the art world, and the dog world, this year, Huneck, whose joyful odes to dogs — carved, sculpted and stamped on woodblock prints — shot himself amid a depression triggered by a recession.

The sagging economy had, starting in 2008, slowed sales of his art, forced him to close down his multiple studios and eventually — in what was hardest for him — lay off almost all of his 15 employees.

“Our employees were sort of like family,” his widow, Gwen, explained to me when Ace and I visited this past weekend. “Stephen blamed himself.”

With the economic downturn, she said, “People were unsure of the future, and when people are unsure of the future, they don’t buy art.”

Two days later after letting his employees go, Huneck, who was being treated for depression, shot himself in his car, parked outside his psychiatrist’s office in Littleton, New Hampshire. He was 60.

In a press release after his death, Gwen wrote, “Stephen feared losing Dog Mountain and our home. On Tuesday, he had to lay off most of our employees. This hurt Stephen deeply. He cared about them and felt responsible for their welfare.”

Despite its founder’s demise, Dog Mountain, somehow, remains a joyous place. Dogs romp and splash about in the lake at the well-manicured dog park; hikers trek its trails; customers delight in Huneck’s whimsical woodcut prints, hung about the gallery; his sculptures rise from the landscape; and a steady stream of dogs and humans flow in and out of Dog Chapel, Hunecks hand-built replica of 19th Century New England church — designed, like almost all else he did, despite some major personal obstacles, to honor dog.

In 1994, Huneck fell down a flight of stairs and was in a coma for two months. When he came out of it, he had Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome, and doctors were not optimistic.

Huneck had to relearn how to walk, how to sign his name. But he went back to work, finishing a series of woodcut prints based on his dog Sally. The first woodcut he carved was “Life Is A Ball” celebrating his new found life.

His near-death experience also inspired him to build the Dog Chapel — a place where people can celebrate the spiritual bond they have with their dogs, past and present.

He started it in 1997, finished it in 2000, and then opened it to the public. Admission was, and is, free. Leashes were not, and are not, required.

Huneck called the chapel “the largest artwork of my life and my most personal.” A sign outside the chapel states: “All Creeds, All Breeds, No Dogmas Allowed.”

A miniature version of a 19th century New England village church, the chapel has four hand-carved pews, with carvings of dogs at the end of each, stained glass windows that feature winged dogs (a recurring image in his work).

The interior walls are covered with post-it notes, left by visitors. Originally there was one “Remembrance Wall,” where pet owners could memorialize their pets. Now all the walls are covered with them.

People who couldn’t make the trip could email their remembrances and Huneck would post them for them.

After his recovery, Huneck continued producing dog-inspired works of art, and, by 2000, Dog Mountain was a multi-million dollar business. He published a series of children’s books, and opened galleries across the country.

All that came after a difficult childhood. Huneck, who was dyslexic, grew up in the Boston area in what he described as a turbulent home. He left home at 17 “with 33 cents in his pocket,” his wife said. After attending Massacusetts College of Art in Boston, where he met Gwen, Huneck became an antiques dealer. Through repairing furniture, he taught himself how to carve.

In 1984, one of his original carvings caught the eye of a New York dealer, and he was soon making art full time, according to his obituary in the New York Times.

Gwen and Stephen settled in Vermont, and bought a 200-year-old house. Huneck built a studio alongside the house and worked there until 1995 when they bought a nearby farm, converted its dairy barn into his new studio, and later built the chapel and gallery.

When the economy turned sour, he faced losing all he had built up.

“We’d used our life savings to keep the business going, but we ran out of money,” Gwen said.

Even in his depressed state, Huneck knew there is higher demand for a dead artist’s work — and some say, to the extent there was any, that was the logic behind his act, that he killed himself to save Dog Mountain.

Gwen — though she had doubts about whether it would be possible — was intent on saving Dog Mountain after his death. She kept the gallery and chapel open, and business improved.

“There was a real outpouring from people who realized how much Stephen and Dog Mountain meant to them,” she said.

Today, Dog Mountain has eight employees — most of them the ones who had been laid off. Business is brisk, both on the mountain and on the Huneck’s website, www.dogmt.com.

At the gallery, dogs are welcome, and Gwen encourages those coming in to take their dogs off their leashes.

Ace accepted the invitation, greeted Gwen’s three dogs — two Labrador retrievers, Daisy and Salvador Doggie, and a golden retriever named Molly — then settled down on the floor amid a collection of Huneck’s work.

Many have described that work as whimsical — carved Dachshund lamps, prints of dogs with wings, dalmatian benches and the like — but delightful as each individual piece is, Stephen Huneck’s body of work, and his life, went far deeper than whimsy, striking a chord with many. Ten months after his death, it still resonates.

“I’ve learned so much more about love from my dogs than I ever did from my parents or the church,”  Huneck told The Chicago Tribune in 1997. “They’re really great teachers. They love you with their whole heart.”

Maybe writer Edie Clark said it best in the piece she wrote for Yankee magazine after Huneck’s death:

“Stephen was to dogs what dogs are to us.”

(Story and photos by John Woestendiek)

Giving dogs a brake in Madrid

Madrid — the one in New Mexico, pronounced MAD-rid — wants you to slow down.

It’s not just to make you less likely to run over a valued tourist; and it’s not just to make you, if you are a tourist, more likely to stop at one of the galleries in the funky artists’ colony and make a purchase.

No, the advice — to many, at least — is aimed at protecting dogs. Because, as the sign says, Madrid loves its dogs.

In addition to the official 25 mph speed limit signs posted throughout town, I spotted a couple of these — hand-painted pleas (it is an artists’ community, after all) reminding motorists to be on the lookout for dogs.

Madrid, which turned into a ghost town when the mines closed in the 1950s, has been enjoying a revival since the early 1970s, when artists began moving here and opening galleries and shops. It’s home to what’s purported to be the longest bar in New Mexico, at the Mine Shaft Tavern, and dozens of galleries featuring paintings, photography, sculpture, crafts, pottery, textiles and more. A haven for motorcyclists, it also served as the setting for the movie “Road Hogs.”

It’s also home to some road dogs — pooches who, though owned and loved, are of the free-range variety. I saw a couple of them walking alone along the road, and generally doing a better job of avoiding traffic than the tourists did.

I’m proud to report that I made it through Madrid — at 25 mph — without running over either.