Gagosian on iPad

There’s good news for publishers of iPad magazine apps, which in the past I’ve criticized for being needlessly complicated, difficult to use and poorly realized. The good news is they’re no longer the worst offenders when it comes to presenting wonderful, valuable content within burdensome and user-unfriendly interfaces. The new champion is the Gagosian app for iPad, from the storied Gagosian Gallery. That gallery represents some of the most important contemporary artists of the past several decades, and the Gagosian brand is responsible for some wonderful contributions to modern culture. Sadly this app should not be counted among them.

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What’s Old Is New Again on iPad

There’s a brief article over at The Atlantic about “Fresh Flowers,” a current show of David Hockney’s recent iPad and iPhone paintings. Using the popular painting app Brushes, Hockney is creating a new painting every few days, then electronically transmitting them to the exhibition space in Paris where they’re displayed on screens. I find the paintings themselves very unremarkable (some are quite bad, even) but I do think they’re interesting for a few reasons.

First, they imply an endorsement of the touch devices like the iPad as a tool for making art by a big (huge) name artist whose fame was forged in the pre-digital world. That credential matters to some people, because it demonstrates, however weakly, that this new and unfamiliar device is not just a passing fad. Hockney’s motivation for creating these paintings was presumably that he found the iPad interesting and worthwhile; he certainly doesn’t need it as a gimmick to burnish his already sterling reputation. When a leading light of the art world shows interest in a medium so young, it speaks volumes. To some people.

More telling I think is the kind of work that the artist decided to create. You can argue over their artistic merits all you want, but what strikes me about Hockney’s iPad paintings is that they’re surprisingly unimaginative emulations of another medium. The iPad is a full-fledged computing device capable of doing many, many different things. But reproducing the quality, texture and aesthetics of analog paper, canvas and paint seems to be one of the least interesting of them all, at least to me. Someone like David Hockney, you’d expect, would be able to show us entirely new worlds through drawing on a device like the iPad. Instead the works in “Fresh Flowers” are faint echoes of a world we already know very well. They’re pretty, but they’re boring.

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The Sagmeister Phenomenon

The graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister is now a kind of phenomenon. In recent months, he’s released a second book, mounted a solo exhibition at the renowned gallery Deitch Projects, and made a splash at Art Basel. And these are just the latest achievements in a career brimming with landmark design solutions and attendant accolades.

All of which has been well-earned. His work is often breathtakingly ambitious in its understanding of what design can be. It takes a certain kind of ingenuity and clarity of vision to intuit that this profession can mean typography carved into human flesh, or charts and graphics rendered huge and inflatable, or hanging out the side of the Empire State Building.

What’s more, his work also possesses a unique sense of whimsy that’s typically scarce in graphic design. Whether it’s a wall bricked with hundreds of bananas or a two actual school buses stacked one on top of the other, there’s a healthy amount of pure mirth present in most of his solutions — you rarely get the idea that he’s weary of his assignments, or that he’s doing anything less than having the time of his life. Indeed, one of the things that makes it so genuinely engaging is that Sagmeister seems to possesses an indefatigable willingness to act upon his playful ideas, to go to whatever lengths necessary to turn them into reality. Contrast that alacrity with the resignation of those of us who, if we can’t conjure up a solution in software or within ten feet of our desks, rule out anything more ambitious entirely. (Guilty as charged.)

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Manhattan in Black and White

Woody AllenIn order to recover a bit from a recent feeling of exhaustion, I spent a significant amount of this past weekend diligently sitting on my ass, in front of the television. On Saturday night, I popped in my copy of Woody Allen’s “Manhattan,” which, among other things, is as stunningly designed a movie as I’ve ever seen. This is largely thanks to the work of Gordon Willis, a master cinematographer who, apart from his incredible work on this film, was also responsible for photographing an alarmingly high share of my favorite movies of all time: “The Godfather,” “The Godfather Part II,” “All the President’s Men,” and “The Parallax View,” among others.

If you’ve watched these films, then you know what I mean: they strike an uncanny balance between the naturalism that dominated film discourse during the 1970s and a kind of visual abstraction, an artful sense of framing that treated actors and scenery alike as stark compositional images. On the other hand, if you haven’t seen these films, take a look at these captures to see what I mean…

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SXSW Sxetches

DoodlesWhat kind of photographer am I if I don’t bring my camera around with me wherever I go? Not much of one, apparently. Lately, I’ve been frustrated with the total bulk that my Nikon D70 requires when I travel — lenses, flash, batteries, etc.

In fact, I didn’t bring it with me to this year’s South by Southwest Interactive festival, choosing to leave it at home so that I could move more quickly through the airport (bringing it along would have required me to check one bag). This is why I have no photographs from the show, but if you’re looking for visual documentation, there’s some wonderful shots from Lisa Whiteman at her Flickr account, and similarly beautiful work from Naz Hamid on his Flickr account, too.

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Comics for People Who Hate Comics

Masters of American ComicsThis past weekend I went to The Jewish Museum on Manhattan’s Upper East Side to see two companion art exhibits: “Masters of American Comics,” and “Superheroes: Good and Evil in American Comics.”

The latter is a survey of the early development of the super-hero as popular mythological figure, and focuses on no single comics creator. It’s a pleasant enough show, but in essence it’s a ghetto to its neighbor in the next gallery. “Masters” follows the ‘godheads’ theory of group retrospectives, rounding up a dozen or so indispensible comics creators from the past seventy years or so and going on at great length about how totally awesome they are.

It’s as serious and significant an art show as any the medium has ever seen. In fact, what’s showing at The Jewish Museum is just one half of two parts, with the second half showing concurrently at The Museum of Newark in New Jersey. If you don’t know the geography of New York City, suffice it to say that some people make it to Los Angeles more often than they make it across the Hudson River to our closest neighboring state, so I’m unlikely to see that second exhibit any time soon.

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Super-Heroes Are People Too

Comic-Con Attendee Dressed as SupermanWhat I did on my summer vacation: I indulged my inner nerd at the annual Comic-Con International festival in San Diego, California. With a friend, I flew into town late on Thursday evening and spent two days among a teeming population of comic book, fantasy and science fiction devotees, wandering the crazy and enormous exhibit hall and attending some of the dozens and dozens of panel discussions and film events.

Though I have a special place in my heart for comics, I don’t buy or read them regularly, not since I was a teenager. My continued fascination lies mostly in the idea of them as outsized vehicles for adolescent imagination, as an imperfect, parallel reality to which my adult self might retreat in order to recover the comforts of childhood.

It’s an abstract notion, and not one I regularly take action on. To be sure, New York and the East Coast see their share of comic book conventions, but none of them have ever interested me much. What I wanted to do was to see the world’s biggest comic book convention, the apotheosis of adolescent fantasy. So, in planning a trip to see family in Southern California, I scheduled a slight detour to San Diego for a few days and caught the mother of all nerd festivals.

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Museum-quality Design Talkin’

Last night I went to a lecture by Paola Antonelli, the Museum of Modern Art᾿s Curator in their Department of Architecture and Design. The event was part of the AIGA New York’s long-running series of “Small Talks,” which features various luminaries of design speaking in relatively intimate venues — a really great program, by the way.

Antonelli is responsible for a series of acclaimed design exhibitions at MoMA over the past decade or so: “Humble Masterpieces,” which examined objects modest in size and price that also happen to be indispensable design accomplishments; “Workspheres,” which examined the evolving ideas behind the spaces in which we work; and a comprehensive retrospective of the legendary designer Achille Castiligioni, among others. They’re all original and impressive curatorial visions, but they also all focus on design in three-dimensions; architecture and industrial design have benefitted the most from the museum’s surveys of the design arts, while graphic design has suffered the most by neglect. In fact, the museum’s own permanent graphic design collection is somewhat narrow, devoted almost exclusively to twentieth century posters, which doesn’t exactly make for comprehensiveness.

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