Chanel Mobile Art Container by Zaha Hadid Opens in Central Park

October 20, 2008

“Mobile Art”, a slick UFO-like exhibition space designed by architect Zaha Hadid and commissioned by Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel, has arrived at Central Park’s Rumsey Playfield (off Fifth Avenue and 69th Street). The traveling container for about 20 Chanel-inspired projects (very kindly misbilled as contemporary art installations — don’t be fooled: it’s corporate branding) by a rotating list of international producers will be open to the public from October 20 to November 9.

The promotional-spectacle-disguised-as-art container is on a two-year worldwide tour. Launched in Hong Kong in February 2008, it traveled to Tokyo before arriving in New York. In November, it continues onto London, then Moscow, and finally Paris in 2010. (These stops probably represent the fashion house’s most lucrative markets, yes?)

Adrian Benepe, NY’s Parks & Recreation Commissioner, is ever-eager to further the corporate takeover of public space, aka public-private partnerships:

Our partnership with Chanel continues the great tradition of bringing world class cultural offerings to New York City’s parks… Zaha Hadid’s traveling pavilion will place a futuristic work of architecture and outstanding works of contemporary art in an historic setting in the heart of Central Park. The contrast will be fantastic, melding the vision of one of the world’s most important fashion houses with the beauty of one of the world’s most significant works of landscape design.

Bruno Pavlovsky, Chanel’s Fashion President, is ever-eager to equate the company’s products with art:

Mobile Art was conceived as a project that examines the relationship between contemporary art, fashion and architecture. The project pushes the boundaries of the Chanel aesthetic by joining these mediums and creating an innovative artistic experience. As envisioned by Karl Lagerfeld, the project explores the role fashion plays in the everyday life of women through symbolic evocations of the Chanel quilted handbag.

ACK. In the midst of today’s economy, this recalls Marie-Antoinette’s response when she was told that the French had no bread to eat: “Let Them Eat Cake!”


A Car Called Utopia

June 16, 2008

Green has been coopted as the new black. And the race is on to find “sustainable” means to travel more efficiently, quickly, and quietly along the earth’s surface. For a world increasingly hooked on speed and mobility, visions of utopia seem to be appearing in the shape of mass-producible compact cars powered by alternative — or cheaper — fuel sources.

BBC reports today that Honda of Japan is set to produce the first zero-emission, hydrogen-powered car. Branded FCX Clarity, the four-seater will run on fuel cells powered by hydrogen and electricity.

In the past six months, we’ve read about: the LIFEcar, a gorgeous, lightweight hydrogen-powered sports car being developed by UK’s Morgan Motor Co.; India’s Tata Nano aka “the people’s car”: high on fuel efficiency and low on emissions at a price tag of $2,500; and American GM’s ethanol-ready flexfuel engine. Lots more to come.

What do these have in common?

Aside from potentially smaller carbon footprints, these models of utopia have NOT changed much from Ford’s original Model T in 1908. They’re mass-produced wheeled units that can transport a family of passengers, have some type of protective and stylized exterior, and carry their own motors that run on some type of fuel.

Ford’s goal then was to get as many of these into as many consumer households. This launched the U.S. auto industry, but also led to the demise of U.S. railroads, i.e., collective forms of transportation.

No doubt, there is a need for these individual traveling units we call cars. But I hope we also start to see energy solutions for collective transportation systems.

The future, to me, lies in hybrid public-private people-movers that rethink the physics of movement, balance, and speed — perhaps a flex-form vehicle that combines and extends beyond the Getty Museum’s monorail, Dean Kamen’s segway, the batmobile, a sailboat, and a tandem bike. Not much to ask! Till then…


Fashion King Yves Saint Laurent Died Last Night

June 2, 2008

French fashion icon Yves Saint Laurent died of a brain tumor in Paris last night at the age of 71. Born in Algeria in 1936 (when it was still a French colony), Saint Laurent got his big break when he began designing for the house of Dior, then was appointed head designer when Christian Dior died of a stroke in 1957. Because Dior was responsible for almost 50% of France’s fashion exports at the time, then 21-year-old Saint Laurent’s success became crucial for the economy. He would play a pivotal role in making Paris the capital of an international fashion industry.

Saint Laurent opened his own couture house in 1961 after leaving Dior to complete his military service. Over the course of his 50-year career, he revolutionized women’s clothing by breaking down the distinction between masculine and feminine.

Perhaps best known for introducing the “Le Smoking”, a tuxedo for women, in 1966, Saint Laurent considered himself an advocate for women’s power. In 1968, this caused a scandal in Manhattan when New York socialite Nan Kempner wore the tuxedo to dinner at La Cote Basque restaurant. The maitre d’ told her she couldn’t dine in a pair of trousers and Kempner promptly dropped the pants and proceeded to dine in the jacket, which had instantly become a very short dress.

He would later open his pret-a-porter or ready-to-wear line which brought pantsuits and gender-neutral jackets and pants to everyday lives of women. This major shift in fashion coincided significantly with the changing socioeconomic role of women as millions began entering the workforce in the late 1960s and 70s. The change was so revolutionary that most women in Western cultures today don’t even think twice about wearing jackets and pants.

yslA full retrospective of his work opened at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts just last Thursday. It will be on view through September 28.

A farewell tip of the hat to a magical man.

Nepal: A Republic Is Born But a King’s Watermark Lingers

May 29, 2008

As we blogged about transiency in China yesterday, Nepal’s newly-elected assembly voted to end almost 240 years of monarchic rule. The new republic has given King Gyanendra and his entourage 15 days to leave the royal palace, which will be turned into a national museum. (Art and Politics merge yet again.)

The transition has been brewing for some time. Widespread protests two years ago stripped King Gyanendra of his powers (himself having just been named king in 2001 when his brother’s entire family was massacred by the crown prince), setting the stage for major political change. In April, the country’s former rebels, the Maoists, won the most seats in the assembly. Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala has been acting as head-of-state until a new President is appointed.

Regime change always has an impact on visual materials, so we thought we’d look into Nepalese currency, the rupee. It seems spectres of the past are not that easy to erase. In IHT last month:

Shortly after the king gave up power in 2006, the government ordered the printing of new money, starting with the 500 rupee note, free of the king’s portrait. In the new design, developed by the central bank, the image of King Gyanendra was replaced by that of the noncontroversial Mount Everest. But the paper on which the new bills were printed, having been ordered long ago, still bore a watermark of the king’s face.

Unable to afford new currency paper, bank officials took creative license. They slapped a dark-pink rhododendron on top of the watermark. The king and his bird-of-paradise plumed crown can be seen only if the bill is held up to the light.

rupeeIn Sri Lanka’s Sunday Times last October: a woman holds up an old 500-rupee note (top) and a new one (bottom) with Mount Everest and the concealing rhododendron, Nepal’s national flower.

The notes were ordered from an Indonesian manufacturer before April 2006, when the king was stripped of his authority.

Artist: “Louis Vuitton is trying to stop my Darfur campaign!”

May 7, 2008

plesner_starArtistic expression, social responsibility, and corporate property rights hardly ever (IF ever) mix. More often than not, the entity with the biggest money bag wins. A story has been slowly snowballing for the past couple weeks: Last October, Danish artist Nadia Plesner started an image-driven campaign called “Simple Living” to help raise public support for Darfur. Thinking strategically, Plesner looked at how much media attention Paris Hilton was getting and decided to sample and remix some of Hilton’s trademark accessories to redirect interest towards the undoubtedly more media-worthy cause of saving lives.

plesner_designThe result: Plesner designed this image (right) of a child from Darfur carrying Hilton’s signature chihuahua (privilege in pink) and an unmistakable Louis Vuitton Multicolore handbag designed by Takashi Murakami (with the “LV” monogram replaced by “SL”). Plesner is selling the image on T-shirts and posters from her website, and is donating all profits to Divest for Darfur. In February, she received a “cease and desist” order from Louis Vuitton’s lawyers. Surprised, she replied with an insistence on her freedom of expression. As blogged by Torrent Freak on April 25, she wrote:

“Sometimes recognizable objects are needed to express deeper meanings, and in their new form they become more than the objects themselves–they become art… I therefore stand by my freedom of expression–artistic and/or otherwise–and will continue my Simple Living campaign in order to raise money for the victims of Darfur.”

This did NOT enlighten the venerable fashion house of Louis Vuitton. NOR did it inspire Creative Director Marc Jacobs to seek out any forward-thinking collaborations along the lines of Takashi Murakami (artist/designer of the Multicolore pattern whose current show at the Brooklyn Museum has a fully-functional Louis Vuitton retail store in an attempt to blur the boundaries between art and commerce). No, this statement earned Plesner a copyright infringement lawsuit. According to Torrent Freak, Louis Vuitton now demands:

“$7,500 (5,000 Euro) for each day she continues to sell Simple Life products, $7,500 for each day their letter is published on the website and $7,500 a day for using the name “Louis Vuitton” on her website. In addition they want her to pay their lawyer costs and $15,000 to cover other expenses they have incurred in protecting their ‘intellectual property.'”

In Counterfeit Chic, Susan Scafidi offers some balanced insight into Louis Vuitton’s motivations:

“From a trademark lawyer’s perspective… unauthorized commercial distribution is a threat, whether or not the profits go to a good cause… Trademark owners who object aren’t necessarily grumpy atheists, just concerned about their marks. LV’s initial letter to Nadia reflects this tension between sympathizing with social concerns and protecting intellectual property… while Nadia’s stated intent was to criticize media attention to celebrities instead of tragedies, her profits from the t-shirts go to Divest for Darfur, an organization that opposes financial investment that ultimately funds genocide. The presence of LV trademarks on the t-shirt could mistakenly be read to imply that Louis Vuitton had made investments that were helping to fund genocide–not a message that the company would want broadcast, even in error.”

But what about the artist’s freedom of expression? Complicated. Scafidi continues:

“Intellectual property law establishes exclusive rights in specific expressions, but also attempts to maintain a balance between freedom of expression and creators’ rights.

In other words, at the same time that the law protects trademarks, it creates defenses for those who wish to use them in discussion… Different countries have different trademark laws and thus different defenses to unauthorized use. In the U.S., the general standard is “fair use,” including parody, while other jurisdictions have specific rules about what is or is not allowed in terms of expression…”

And Darfur? In an interview with New York Magazine (whose headline unfortunately misspelled Plesner’s name), the 26-year-old’s response to whether she has considered turning this story into a documentary, is heartening:

“I’m not sure if I want to do it because if I agree, I want it to be about Darfur. If it’s going to be about me and my trial, it doesn’t help my campaign so much. It was never my intention to stand in the spotlight myself. I just wanted to start a debate, and I’m trying to give my interviews in a way to show this.”

Sounds like my kind of human being. For more on fair use, copyright, and creative freedom, listen to this enlightening AND entertaining 20-minute TED Talk given by Larry Lessig in 2007.

Visualizing Information

April 8, 2008

Digg Labs' ArcVisualization is IN. More specifically, the practice of visualizing statistical data or quantitative information through the use of computer technology is cropping up everywhere. Two articles of note: “The Best Tools for Visualization” on ReadWriteWeb (3/08), and “Data Visualization: Modern Approaches” on Smashing Magazine (8/07, less recent but worth visiting). There’s “Design and the Elastic Mind“, an exhibition currently at MOMA in NYC (through May 12), Google’s March release of a Visualization API, Digg Labs‘ exciting forays into visualization (particularly Stack, Swarm, Arc pictured above), and soon, Microsoft’s Worldwide Telescope, an application that “has taken the best images from the world’s greatest telescopes in earth and in space and has woven them seamlessly into a holistic view of the universe”. Now what to do with all these “new” ways of seeing?

Swedish doctor/researcher Hans Rosling uses data visualization software to unpack global socioeconomic trends in these two lively and fascinating (some also say controversial) TED talks, one in 2006 and another in 2007. A good example, I think, of how massive amounts of data can be turned into incredibly rich animations to present a complex theory/argument quickly, persuasively.

Words of wisdom and caution from Edward Tufte, a pioneer/master in the field of information design and data visualization:

“… statistical graphics, just like statistical calculations, are only as good as what goes into them. An ill-specified or preposterous model or a puny data set cannot be rescued by a graphic (or by calculation), no matter how clever or fancy. A silly theory means a silly graphic.”

“Graphical excellence begins with telling the truth about data.”