Just Dancing with Matt on a Sunday

June 22, 2008

A post about nothing more than the joy of dancing. Brought to you by Matt Harding, a wordly kind of guy who seems to have figured out what the whole point of all this really is.

In his words, this 4-1/2 minute video took “14 months, 42 countries, and a cast of thousands.” Enjoy!

“If I can’t dance, I don’t want to part of your revolution.” –Emma Goldman (1869-1940)


UK Shuts Martha Stewart Out

June 20, 2008

Thanks to a posting in Vivre, we skipped over to the Telegraph to read this tidbit. UK immigration officials have refused to grant Martha Stewart a visa because of her record. Whoa!

no marthaThe NJ-born media tycoon has single-handedly reshaped American culture and global business (for better or worse). She intended to visit the UK in a few days to speak at the Royal Academy and to meet with individuals in the fashion and leisure industries. Apparently, none of this matters.

The UK Border Agency has denied her visa request because of her criminal conviction in 2004. In a highly-publicized jury trial 4 years ago, Stewart was found guilty of conspiracy and, well, lying to federal investigators in the infamous ImClone insider trading case. Okay, that’s not great, but still…

An agency spokesperson was quoted in the Telegraph:

We continue to oppose the entry to the UK of individuals where we believe their presence in the United Kingdom is not conducive to the public good or where they have been found guilty of serious criminal offences abroad.

Another British official disagreed, saying:

It is a bit silly given some of the other people allowed into the country.

Silly indeed! Last year, the UK ranked as the world’s largest supplier of military weapons. Rest assured Stewart poses no threat to their public good. (Perhaps they’re just worried she’ll pirate away their fish and chips.)

I’m no Martha Stewart fan. But these obtuse border stories make me wince. Sanity now!

Public Art In New York City: The Big Money Behind Waterfalls

June 3, 2008

NYT art critic Carol Vogel wrote yesterday about an ambitious public art project going up in New York waters this summer: 4 humanmade waterfalls by Berlin-based Danish artist Olafur Eliasson.

eliasson waterOrganized by the Public Art Fund and the City of New York, the waterfall constructions range from 90-120 feet in height and will be on from June 26 to October 13, from 7am to 10pm. Locations: (1) Pier 35 north of the Manhattan Bridge, (2) eastern foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, (3) between Piers 4 and 5 near Brooklyn Heights Promenade, and (4) north shore of Governors Island.

According to Vogel, the project is

…the city’s biggest public art project since “The Gates”, the $20 million effort by the artists Christo and Jean-Claude in which 7,500 gates festooned with saffron-colored fabric panels were positioned along Central Park’s pathways for 16 days in 2005.

The Christos certainly proved that public art = mass entertainment = big money. Vogel reports that “The Gates” generated an estimated $254 million in economic activity for the city. Return on investment? A whopping 1,270%.

Eliasson’s waterfalls will cost $15 million (all reportedly from private sources). Using the same rate of return, that could bring in over $190 million to New York City. Even half of that would certainly help budget officials deal with sluggish revenues in a recessionary climate. No wonder Mayor Bloomberg’s office is “eager to be involved”. Projects like these turn the city itself into a commodity that can be marketed and consumed.

Already, hotels and tourist agencies are hawking special waterfall packages. The Circle Line Downtown is selling excursions, some with audio by the artist himself. And in a brilliant stroke of pre-event marketing: MoMA and P.S. 1 are currently exhibiting surveys of Eliasson’s work thru June 30. Art is big money.

So, support New York this summer. Go chase some waterfalls! (Did anyone say environmental impact report? Maybe we’ll see that in a few years…)

Oil-Rich Abu Dhabi Hosts First Picasso Exhibition in the Arab World

May 27, 2008

emiratesMajor works by Pablo Picasso are now on view for the first time in the Arab world. The retrospective, “Picasso Abu Dhabi: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris”, will be at the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi from May 27 to September 4, 2008. It is the only Middle Eastern venue on the show’s 9-city tour.

The exhibition was originally curated by Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, where it went on display in February with 400 of the artist’s works. Abu Dhabi’s version has only 186, but includes a special exhibition of “40 drawings, prints and illuminated manuscripts reminiscent of the Arab influences Picasso absorbed during his youth in Málaga, La Cocina and Barcelona.” It was curated by Anne Baldassari of the Musée National Picasso (who I suppose knows why more than 50% of the original group is NOT on view in the emirates’ capital.)

While major U.S. news sites have done little more than run a generic AP article about the opening, this represents a significant public relations move for the UAE and the Middle East in general, and for Abu Dhabi in particular. The richest of the seven emirates, oil-rich Abu Dhabi is rapidly transforming itself into a sophisticated cross-cultural destination (unlike its flashier neighbor, Dubai). Already, it is the future site of a Guggenheim, a Louvre, a New York University campus, as well as a performing arts center, maritime museum and a national museum named after Sheikh Zayed, the main driving force behind the UAE’s formation.

Remarkable growth for a nation that paved its first road in 1961. As Americans face a summer (or more) of skyrocketing gas prices, art openings like this hint at who’s at the other end of the pump. Culture flows in the direction of capital.

Photo: Emirates Palace at dusk, by Jake Brewer on flickr

Ambassador Hello Kitty and Dreamworlds for Tourists

May 20, 2008

hellokittyJapan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism has named Hello Kitty, the famous feline character mass-produced by Sanrio Co., as its goodwill ambassador to China and Hong Kong. This move is part of the ministry’s “Visit Japan” campaign which aims to attract 10 million visitors each year. AP reports that tourists from China and Hong Kong accounted for 16.5% of visitors to Japan last year and are poised to become the second largest group of tourists after South Koreans. The billion-dollar Hello Kitty brand is wildly popular among these groups and Kitty-mania is being pushed throughout China. A multi-million dollar musical, “Hello Kitty’s Dream Light Fantasy” opened in Beijing in March and is scheduled to travel to Malaysia, Singapore, and the U.S. as part of a 3-year run. hellokitty dream

The use of a cartoon franchise to market and cross-sell is not new. Snoopy speaks for MetLife, while Yogi Bear hustles family campsites and Shrek peddles cereal. A stuffed animal or an animated cartoon does evoke warm and cuddly feelings. What IS specifically different about Hello Kitty is its employment by Japan to communicate with China, a country it invaded 70 years ago as part of an imperialist policy to take over China’s vast resources. Today, the takeover is not being accomplished with the military. It is done with merchandising, wherein consumer goods (serial, mass-produced, inexpensive and therefore attainable objects) are endowed with human qualities and ambassadorial charm. Hello Kitty’s pitch is the dream of world peace, harmony, and abundance through mass entertainment, consumption of spectacle, and tourist spending.

And this pitch IS trademarked. Artist Tom Sachs, who just installed his Hello Kitty sculptures at Lever House earlier this month (and famously substituted Hello Kitty for the Baby Jesus at Barney’s holiday windows back in 1994), never got permission to use the ambassador’s likeness and could face legal action. In New York Magazine, Sachs proclaims, “Hello Kitty is so much a part of our popular culture, I don’t think anyone really owns it. It’s something licensed by Sanrio, but I think her spirit and love and purity belong to all of us.” He could have been speaking for the Japanese Ministry. Maybe Sanrio will let this one slide: it does elevate Hello Kitty into a cultural icon, which is great for business.