FIRST-RATE ART IN "SECOND LIFE"
Richard Minsky, an artist and founder of the Center for Book Arts in New York City, is launching the first magazine dedicated exclusively to the art scene in the burgeoning online universe of Second Life. Dubbed Slart -- as in Second Life Art -- the publication is designed to bring "real world art issues" into the virtual sphere, and to make sense of an imaginary art scene that already involves some 100 online galleries. Among the articles on tap for the premiere issue are "Will virtual artworks appreciate in value?" and "Is all virtual art illustration?"
Second Life claims more than 2.8 million users (though independent estimates put active membership at 100,000), and has attracted major attention from both the media and corporations. Reuters has opened a bureau inside the virtual world, for instance, and stores like American Apparel are using the venue as a platform to sell their wares, both virtual and real. The development of a Second Life art market has followed close behind, with the online universe's unusual setup -- users are granted copyright to their in-world creations -- encouraging artistic investment, according to Minsky.
Examples of artworks traded in Second Life range from scanned copies of public-domain artworks to complex kinetic sculptures that could only exist in virtual space. According to Minsky, works produced in unlimited editions can be had for as little as 100 Linden dollars while unique works regularly sell for as much as 15,000 Lindens (Lindens are the currency of Second Life, and trade at a rate of 250 Lindens to $1 U.S.). Some artworks can even sell in the six-figure range -- which adds up to real money, in either world.
To judge by the advance issue of Slart, one artist to watch is Filthy Fluno, already the subject of multiple Boston Globe articles. Fluno is the avatar-name of artist Jeffrey Lipsky, executive director of the nonprofit Munroe Gallery in Lexington, Mass. His graffiti-influenced, semi-abstract pictures depict Second Life scenes and people, but they are also versions of works that he makes in the real world -- his clients may purchase artworks at Fluno's gallery in Second Life and receive the flesh-world version via snail mail. As if that weren't confusing enough, the real-life Lipsky is white, while his online incarnation is a brawny African-American, seemingly a cross between Jean-Michel Basquiat and "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan.
In contrast, the fantastic sculptures of StarAx Statosky, arguably Second Life's first art megastar, can only exist in the virtual universe, the physics of which are decidedly dreamlike. Statosky has already had a one-day retrospective at Second Life's Aho Art Museum, Oct. 15, 2006, including many works lent by private collectors in the online world. The imagery may seem a bit hokey -- it ranges from an animated butterfly floating over a fairy on a large flower to a giant devil whose mouth you can walk into -- but to Second Lifers, the works display an immense command of digital craft. (Footage of the Aho Museum opening is available on YouTube.)
Yet Statosky's story also contains a cautionary note for artists looking to do business in Second Life. His most popular creation was a "magic wand" that allowed users to translate their in-world dialogue into animations, which he sold for 15,000 Linden dollars a pop, or $60. It was a big hit; Philip Rosedale, CEO of Linden Labs, the company that produces Second Life, even described StarAx's wand as "possibly the coolest single thing you can own in SL." However, after one of the periodic updates of the game changed the world's operating principles, the device was rendered non-functional, destroying the artist's business and apparently inducing him to abandon the world completely (rumors abound that StarAx has returned under a different guise).
Still, one way or another, the art scene in Second Life seems bound to grow. IBM, already a major player in the universe, is rumored to be amassing a corporate collection of virtual works. Meanwhile, art galleries and institutions are getting onboard -- in December 2006, SoHo art dealer Jen Bekman launched an online version of her Spring Street gallery in conjunction with a show of images from Second Life by British artist James Deavin, while George Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y. spearheaded multiple exhibitions in the universe coinciding with its "Seeing Ourselves" show, Apr. 22-July 30, 2006, featuring online versions of photos by Matthew Brady, Richard Avedon, Alfred Stieglitz, Dorothea Lange, Edward Steichen, Mary Ellen Mark and Gordon Parks.
And, in case there is any doubt whether art in Second Life can address serious issues, the U.S. Holocaust Museum has taken the initiative and put up a virtual version of the photo exhibition, "Our Walls Bear Witness: Darfur -- Who Will Survive Today?"
Slart is planned as an in-world publication, readable as a magazine within Second Life. Minsky also intends to make the magazine available in paper form (check www.minsky.com for details) for all those still wedded to their first life.
TATE FIGHTS TO KEEP TURNER WATERCOLOR
British art lovers are "buying brushstrokes" in a watercolor by Joseph Mallord William Turner as part of an online campaign to keep the work -- arguably one of his greatest -- from leaving the country. Brushstrokes are £5 each, and may be selected from a close-up map of the painting, visible at www.artfund.org. The campaign hopes to raise a total of £300,000 in the online appeal, which launched Jan. 20, 2007. So far, £13,154 has been donated.
The painting in question is Turner's The Blue Rigi, an 1828 watercolor measuring 30 x 45 cm and depicting Lake Lucerne at sunrise, covered with lingering mist that veils the dramatic Rigi mountain in the distance. The price? A hefty £4.9 million. The painting sold at auction last summer for £5.8 million, but export has been delayed to give a British museum time to raise funds to keep the painting in the country -- with a deadline of Mar. 20, 2006. Tate Britain has earmarked £2 million for the purchase, while the Art Fund has contributed £500,000 to the campaign. The museum purchase price is reduced to £4.9 million by something called tax remission.
The Blue Rigi goes on view at Tate Britain, Jan. 22-Mar. 25, 2007. Accompanying it are two other watercolors of the same scene painted the same year, The Red Rigi, now in the collection of the National Gallery of Melbourne, and the Dark Rigi, which is in a private collection, as well as a selection of sketchbooks and watercolor studies.
AL PACINO SIGNS ON FOR DALÍ BIOPIC
Al Pacino has been cast as Salvador Dalí in director Andrew Niccol's Dalí & I: The Surreal Story, a movie that is scheduled to start shooting in June in New York and Spain, according to Daily Variety. The script is based on Dalí and I by the Belgian author Stan Lauryssens, a journalist who has written five books on the Third Reich, as well as the prize-winning thriller Black Snow. Dalí and I relates Lauryssens' experiences as Dali's neighbor during his final years in the village of Cadaqués in Spain.
DOCKS ART FAIR FOR LYON
A new "biennial fair of contemporary art" has been announced for Lyon, designed to take place at the same time as the French city's 9th Lyon Biennial of Contemporary Art, Sept. 17-Dec. 31, 2007. The Docks Art Fair, Sept. 17-23, 2007, promises to feature only solo shows from 40 exhibitors located in a custom-made tent at the Lyon docks, only 100 meters away from the main biennial's exhibition space in "La Sucrière." The members of the Docks Art Fair selection committee are Lorand Hegyi (director of the Museum of Modern Art in Saint-Etienne), art critic and curator Philippe Piguet, Paris dealer Laurent Godin, Lyon dealer Olivier Houg, Gwenola Menou of the Semaine review, and Jean-Marc Salomon (founder of the Claudine and Jean-Marc Salomon
Foundation for Contemporary Art). For more info, see www.docksartfair.com
DETROIT AWARDS FOR MEHRETU, GUYTON
The Detroit Institute of Arts has received a $50,000 grant from the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation to support a forthcoming exhibition of works by New York City painter Julie Mehretu. "Julie Mehretu: City Sitings," slated to open at the museum in fall 2007, is to be installed in three galleries adjacent to the museum court housing Diego Rivera's 1932 Detroit Industry murals, and is to address themes suggested by Rivera's murals. A second grant is funding a sculpture commission by Tyree Guyton at Wayne State University in Detroit. The Joyce Foundation awards program, now in its fourth year, funds new works by artists of color.
MARY RYAN GALLERY TO CHELSEA
The Mary Ryan Gallery, a stalwart of midtown Manhattan for some time, is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a move to Chelsea. The gallery inaugurates its new ground level space at 527 West 26th Street on Feb. 17, 2007, with "Colors, Smoke and War," an exhibition of new works by Donald Sultan. The 3,000-square-foot space is designed by Murdock Young Architects of New York. Future exhibitions feature works by May Stevens (Apr. 4-May 5, 2007), Christopher Cook (May 10-June 16, 2007) and Gerald Laing (June 20-Aug. 3, 2007).
PHILLIP BRUNO RETIRES AT MARLBOROUGH GALLERY
After an art-world career stretching almost 60 years, Phillip Bruno is retiring as director of Marlborough Gallery in Manhattan. Bruno began working in the art gallery business as associate director of Grace Borgenicht Gallery, which he helped found in 1950. Later he became director of World House Galleries, which was designed by Frederick Kiesler and which hosted the first exhibition of work by Giorgio Morandi in the U.S. He subsequently joined Staempfli Gallery, and moved to Marlborough in 1989. Bruno remembers visiting Henri Matisse in Paris as a young man, wearing his finest suit in hopes of inspiring a portrait. Alas, it was not to be. "A woman's silhouette," Matisse explained, "is always more appealing than a man's!"
NEW HIRES AT BROOKLYN MUSEUM
The Brooklyn Museum has made three new curatorial appointments. Joan Cummins, a scholar in the art of India and former assistant curator at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, has been named curator of Asian art. Patrick Amsellem, formerly a curator at the Rooseum Center for Contemporary Art in Malmo, Sweden, has been appointed associate curator of photography. And Ladan Akbarnia, an Iran-born scholar of Iranian and Central Asian art, has been named associate curator of Islamic art at the museum.
NEW CURATOR AT VMFA
Sylvia Yount has been named curator of American art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Va. Since 2001, Yount had been curator of American art at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, and served as chief curator of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts before that. She organized the traveling retrospective of Cecilia Beaux that opens at the High in May 2007, and also organized "To Be Modern: American Encounters with Cézanne and Company" (1996) and "Maxfield Parrish, 1870-1966" (1999), both at the Pennsylvania Academy.
CURATOR WANTED AT TATE
Tate Modern in London is seeking a curator of "international art." Candidates for the job need broad knowledge of the field, at least one specialty, a network of contacts, and writing, speaking and research skills. The pay is ca. £30,000 plus benefits. For more info, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
JONATHAN NAPACK, 1967-2007
Jonathan Napack, 39, Hong Kong-based art writer who had recently been working for Art Basel in Asia, died on Jan. 20 in Hong Kong after suffering a collapsed lung. As an eight grade student at Trinity School in New York, Napack taught himself Chinese and moved into a life that his friends compared to that of the great 19th-century Orientalist Lafcadio Hearn. A man of wit, learning and acerbity, Jonathan was the rarest of intellectuals, a cynic who loved life. As the art columnist for the New York Observer in the 1990s, he sliced and diced the powers of the art world, but the critical stiletto was not enough for him.
Moving to Hong Kong, he championed the rising stars of the Chinese scene before any other Westerner knew about them. I particularly cherish a photo Napack sent to me showing him "doing maneuvers" with the Red Army in Tiananmen Square. Professionally, he was validated by the trust of Art Basel director Sam Keller and the faith of his editors in his detail-drenched reportage. His eye for the eccentric never wavered. Once, he discovered a monastery in Tibet that allegedly revered Bill Clinton under the phonetic name "K-Lintone." From then on, Jonathan followed the travails of Clinton, forwarding the details to his correspondents, always referring to Clinton as the mysterious, self-destructive "K." No one would be more shocked at his own death than Jonathan, or less sentimental about it.