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Artnet News
July 15, 2011 

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As viewers of Transformers: Dark of the Moon have already found out, the third installment of Hollywood director Michael Bay's Transformers franchise opens up entire new dimensions of stupidity. Still, the movie is not without its amusements. Downtown Chicago is reduced to smoldering ruins, giant auto-robot aliens are given dialogue suitable to five-year-old boys, and the glamorous model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley endures earth-shattering calamities without getting her face even the littlest bit dirty.

And, of course, there's the role given to the Milwaukee Art Museum and its striking Quadracci Pavilion. Designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and boasting an iconic, winglike, moveable, 271-foot-wide brise soleil, the facility -- celebrating its 10th anniversary this fall -- was condemned by critics as an example of "starchitectural" hubris and, according to some stories, almost bankrupted the museum.

But MAM is getting the last laugh. Not only is the Calatrava building paid for, but it has become a source of pride to Milwaukeeans and the emblem of the city. In Transformers -- all shot in two days in the summer of 2010 -- the sun-lit cathedral-like interior of the Calatrava pavilion plays the part of corporate headquarters for the movie's billionaire bad-guy (Patrick Dempsey), who, when he's not plotting to turn the world over to the Decepticons, does something or the other with very expensive, high-performance motorcars.

"This kind of exposure really puts the museum on the map internationally," noted Milwaukee Art Museum chief curator Brady Roberts. Bay and his crew "could not have been more respectful" to the museum and its mission, added Vicki Scharfberg, the museum's communications officer. "By the next morning, you couldn't even tell they had been there,"

What's more, a few months later Bay was back, using the building as a set for the Victoria's Secret commercial he directed for Christmas 2010. The Calatrava building was also used for the Milwaukee tryouts for American Idol, placing judges Steve Tyler and Jennifer Lopez with their backs to Lake Michigan, visible through the windows. And last but not least, in a list of the "ten sexiest buildings," Reuters named the Calatrava structure as number one.

The museum gets all this attention with next to no marketing, Scharfberg said, though she declined to say what fee the museum charged these clearly big-ticket licensees. "Our primary mission is to present art."

-- Walter Robinson

Coming up next week, for New York tourists and home-bound art lovers alike, the Metropolitan Museum of Art presents 13 paintings by the Dutch Golden Age champion of the drunk and happy, Frans Hals (ca. 1580-1666). "Frans Hals in the Metropolitan Museum," July 26-Oct. 10, 2011, includes the artist’s famous feast scene for fools, Merrymakers at Shrovetide (ca. 1616) and Jonker Ramp and His Sweetheart (1623), both bequeathed to the museum in 1913 by Benjamin Altman.

All the Hals works are from the Met collection save two, which are private loans. They are accompanied by works by Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck and Jan Steen in order to “help clarify how exceptional [Hals’] animated poses and virtuoso brushwork were at the time,” according to the museum.

The new art book that seems sure to set the chattering classes chattering is Maggie Nelson’s The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning, which has already garnered thumb-sucking reviews in Slate and in next Sunday’s New York Times. Cultural critics routinely bemoan the violence of pop culture -- in videogames, TV, action movies. But why not take the high-art world to task for what, according to media studies professor Laura Kipnis in her forthcoming New York Times review, has been a century of savage visual art?

Nelson’s new book takes a whole host of artists to task for being “reckless and scattershot, provoked by the desire to make others feel as bad,” Kipnis said. The art-world murders row ranges from Viennese Actionist Hermann Nitsch and Brit bad-boy expressionist Francis Bacon to contemporary body artists Marina Abramovic, Chris Burden and Ana Mendieta, all of whom could be classified as what Kipnis calls “a century of art-world Nurse Ratcheds.”

According to Kipnis, Nelson has mixed feelings about esthetic sadomasochism, noting its allure as well as its more repellent characteristics. In the end, though, she seems to reject the notion of a so-called “orthopedic esthetic,” as critic Grant Kester once put it, which aims to adjust the way we see the world. Rather, she makes the case for finding a “post-avant-garde esthetics” that is less about shock and more sensitive and thoughtful.

There’s a new mega-rich Russian collector on the global art-world circuit. Natural gas billionaire Leonid Mikhelson has made his first private philanthropic contribution in the U.S. by sponsoring the New Museum’s exhibition, “Ostalgia,” July 14-Sept. 25, 2011, bringing together 56 artists whose work expresses nostalgia -- loosely interpreted -- for life before the Soviet Union collapsed 20 years ago.

Bloomberg’s Katya Kazakina profiles Mikhelson, whose company OAO Novatek has previously funded the Russian Pavilion at the 2009 Venice Biennale as well as an exhibition of painter Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin in the Russian city Samara. The move to support Russian artists in the U.S. through the New Museum exhibition was an initiative of his two-year-old foundation Victoria the Art of Being Contemporary, which funds and promotes Russian artists abroad.

Mikhelson, who is worth an estimated $9.1 billion, typically collects 19th- and early 20th-century Russian art, but the influence of his 18-year-old daughter Victoria (for whom the foundation is named), is said to have persuaded him toward contemporary art recently. He now owns works by Gerhard Richter, Christopher Wool, Olafur Eliasson and Rudolf Stingel.

The owner of a new Muslim cultural center in Banksy’s hometown of Bristol painted over the artist’s 10-year-old stencil painting of a gorilla wearing a pink mask. The regretful Saeed Ahmed told the BBC that he’d never heard of Banksy and thought the work was just run-of-the-mill graffiti. Now he’s called upon the International Fine Art Conservation Studios to see if there’s any way to remove the whitewashing.

In the meantime, Banksy’s reportedly been busy creating a new work -- in Kate Moss’ bathroom. Moss, the subject of a series of Banksy prints styled after Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe, was on her Mediterranean honeymoon with new husband Jamie Hince when the artist was said to have snuck into her house to surprise her with a mural on her bathroom walls.

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