A War in the Shadows

With the current heated and bitter conflict in the Middle East between Israel and its unfriendly and hostile neighbors, many people rely on the media to receive news of the goings-on in the region. However, these people don’t get the real truth behind the conflict due to the bias behind the media. Israeli director Dror Moreh seeks to solve the problem with his new documentary, The Gatekeepers, which uses real life experiences from six retirees of secret Israeli safety agency Shin Bet. Shin Bet, also known as Shabak, was initially established in 1949 to address internal issues in the very new country of Israel, which was unfortunately divided due to ideological differences. But after the Six Day War of 1967, the organization was reoriented to gather intelligence in the West Bank and Gaza in order to counteract terrorism. This agency is independent from the Israel military and political structures, as its operatives answer directly to the prime minister and sometimes act as scapegoats for political failures. As the interviews of the six men show, Israel has not always been successful in its attempts to prevent conflict and has in fact resorted to fighting fire with fire in order to win out in the conflict. Some of these actions include a “targeted assassination” of Hamas militants (Hamas is a prominent Palestinian militaristic movement whose actions prevent peace between Arabs and Israelis), “moderate physical pressure” that could even be fatal to Palestinian prisoners of war, and other tactics used under the threat of occupation. These six men also address some controversial problems that have threatened to undermine Israeli politics, such as the deaths of 2 suspects in a bus hijacking in 1984 that led to the subsequent resignation of Shin Bet director Avraham Shalom and threatened the downfall of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s regime. The agency also failed to act in time to predict the outbreak of the first Intifada and wasn’t able to stop the assassination of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a right wing Jewish extremist in 1995. Yaakov Peri, who served as the director of Shin Bet during the first Intifada, states that the job makes one lean towards a left wing outlook. Although these left wing politicians favor a two state solution, they all share a professional philosophy of ruthless and sentimental pragmatism which only increases their worry about the current state of Israel politics. Overall, this documentary has a very dark mood due to the stories traded from the memories of eyewitnesses who were and are still privy to doubts and ambivalent emotions. It is through these emotion driven stories that the audience will learn of a collective history of past and present Israeli politics with unbelievable clarity from a fair minded perspective. This documentary is sure to shake the foundation of people’s beliefs, however extreme or moderate they are. The gears in the minds of the people will start to move and more strategic means will be taken to fix the mistakes of the past to ensure a safer and more profitable future for not only Israel, but the entire Middle East.

What do you think of the approach of this documentary? Do you think that exposing the truths of Israeli politics could compensate for the mistakes of the past? Will this help bring awareness and intrigue towards the situation in the Middle East? What are the possible implications of this documentary in Israel and the Middle East?

Here Be Dragons – And Map Lovers

I used to love collecting things like snow globes, comic books, miniature figurines. However, it never crossed my mind to collect maps. In the article, Here Be Dragons – And Map Lovers, people actually pay over hundreds of thousands of dollars on early century maps of North American territories. The highest price paid ever for a map was $10 million, paid by the Library of Congress to Price Waldburg-Wolfegg of Germany in 2003, for the 1507 Waldseemüller map. (See here.)

December will be a busy month for map collectors. There is an auction, set on December 5by Arader Galleries in New York, dedicated to incorrectly plotted maps, globes, atlases and other related objects. They will be offering 50 maps with prices ranging from $450,000 to $600,000. On December 6, the very next day, Swann Galleries will be hosting an auction with over 250 pieces to sell. On December 7, Christie’s will host an auction with a Revolutionary War-era map of the New York region for an estimated $700,000 to $1 million.

Many of the maps were interesting to look at; especially the lion shaped one by Hessel Gerritsz. It is interesting to see how people depict places they have never seen. There are so many different shapes the land masses transform into. The maps really demonstrate the process of geographic discovery and progression over the centuries. Personally, I do not think it is worth the money everyone shells out for them. What is the point in investing in a map that will not get you to your destination and will most definitely get you lost? Is that not what a map is conventionally used for?

A well-known collector is Ned Davis who claimed, “It’s just kind of cool to think about what it would be like if California really was an island.” What value do you think collectors find in collecting maps with mistakes? Is it just for those who want to satisfy their imagination? Would any of you consider collecting maps? Do you think this can become a popularized form of art?

Fresh Paint: Photographers Amid Chaos

Mike Hale’s New York Times article, “Photographers Amid Chaos,” is a laudatory review of a series called “Witness,” a set of four documentaries about violent conflicts, by HBO, titled “Juarez,” “Rio,” “Libya,” and “South Sudan,” which were filmed in the heart of the conflict. Though Hale shows appreciation of the bravery of the reporters who went deep into these war-ravaged and crime-riddled areas, most of the article is showcasing the mentality of the reporters, who try to remove emotion from their work and focus instead on documenting the terrors of these parts of the world. However, I find that Hale overlooks something much more important than the “how” of these documentaries: he misses the “why”.

He does mention that in “Witness: Libya,” Brown, the reporter, revisits his own experience of being wounded by a mortar round in Libya, but the “why” that I mean is more aimed towards the reason for the “Witness” series. The people of America have become overly complacent, comfortable in their homes and apartments, experiencing some crimes that appall them, but nothing on the scale of places such as Sudan and Libya. However, we feel like we know enough to be opinionated on these subjects, giving criticism of the government’s involvement in Libya or the war on drugs with cartels such as those in Juarez from our couches and armchairs. Sure, some of the more educated of these experts might google some numbers to back up their claims or maybe watch Fox news and get Bill O’reilly’s take on these issues. However, we know nothing until we see it for ourselves. It’s easy to say that Libya is not our problem or blame our crime problems on Mexico, until we see the chaos in the streets and the impact of this violence on innocent people. We live, in many cases, in a cocoon, believing that we know enough from statistics and pundits. These documentaries are the first step of tearing open that cocoon and showing us who these issues affect and how severely they do so. Of course, seeing the chaos and violence for ourselves may not change many viewpoints, but we should not hold these viewpoints based on our limited knowledge. These conflicts ruin and end so many lives that it’s cruel to make opinions on them without actually seeing their effects. There is a very large difference to human empathy between seeing some numbers on a computer and seeing the destroyed buildings and crime scenes caused by these conflicts.

Although it may be Hale’s job to focus on discussing the aesthetic qualities of these documentaries, but the potential social impact of these documentaries should overshadow any discussion of strategies that the reporters employ. Regardless of how the reporters try to present the effect of violence in these areas, if people watch this series, confronting people with images of this destruction will have a very powerful effect on them. People need to see these places for the way they are and that is the goal that these documentaries set out to achieve.

Barclays Center, the New Rusty Gem of Brooklyn

Michael Kimmelman’s “An Arena as Tough as Brooklyn. But Street Smart?” discusses the arrival of the glorious Barclay’s Center and its impact on Brooklyn. He says, “At first blush it’s a shocker, which is one of its virtues.” He goes on to describe the stadium as a piece of art and explains how things can get a bit “tricky” because of the venue’s location in Brooklyn.

In the heart of Brooklyn, in Fort Greene, about a mile from the Brooklyn Bridge, there stands a magnificent fortress of an arena. Its exterior is reddish brown, consisting of 12,000 grainy weathered steel panels. Each panel is a little different using computer modeling. This gives a hardcore industrial look to it. The building has openings here and there for slivers of windows that people can look through to the inside. In the front of the building, there is a huge open roof canopy with a loop of 85 feet. On the inside of the loop, there is an electric billboard that displays the inside of the arena and the scoreboard. The fact that the arena is street level, gives a good vibe to neighbors, who are glad to not see a skyscraper in the middle of Brooklyn.

The area of the massive structure is about 675,000 square feet. It can seat a whopping number of around 19,000 people. The rows of seats are steeply stacked, so everyone gets a great view. The crowd circulation is very good and everyone that responded said that the staff is very friendly. You even get free WIFI while you’re there! The restaurants inside the stadium are all Brooklyn established, such as Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs and Brooklyn Cupcakes. The people of Brooklyn were very happy about this because it gave a nice Brooklyn feel to it.

There is a plethora of events that go on inside this gigantic stadium. From rock concerts and rap concerts to basketball games and hockey games. They are also hoping to host tennis games in the near future. One of the main reasons that this stadium was built was to house the Brooklyn Nets. Perhaps this is a means to increase revenue for the team, because it is proven that New York City affiliated teams make the most revenue.

The location of this operation was a total work of genius. It is easily accessible by public transportation including eleven bus lines and eleven subway lines. Barclay’s Center promotes everyone to take advantage of its accessibility and go to the events.

People, especially architects say that the Barclay’s center is an “anti-Manhattan monument”. By this they mean that this structure is different of Manhattan and its glass or titanium buildings. It is “tougher and stronger” just like the borough it is in. Also the unevenly colored panels are similar to Brooklyn’s brownstone buildings.

Now there are some questions that must be asked. Will the Brooklyn Nets have a better season now that they’re in New York City? How will this newfound gem be beneficial to the people of Brooklyn? Do you think introducing Brooklyn to more urban buildings such as the Barclay’s Center will make it more like Manhattan? Is this a way of “cleaning up” some of the bad parts of Brooklyn?

Fresh Paint – “This Little Rothko Went to Market”

Even in times of economic crisis, the value of art never truly drops. According to Carol Vogel in his article “This Little Rothko Went to Market”, art collectors tend to spend millions of dollars on paintings, drawings, and sculptures in times of economic crisis. Some collectors feel safer by turning their cash into artworks in the time of the euro crisis and American recession, while others feel safer selling their art in times of crisis. While the stock market fell 3% in September, auction and private sales “remained robust,” as Marc Porter stated, and had an increase in new buyers. Thus the market for art is ever expanding and growing.

Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Phillips de Pury & Company are hosting auctions in New York this month in order to capitalize on the collectors’ plights. Many collectors will be attending the auctions that will be hosting artworks ranging from millions to hundreds of millions of dollars. With the future of the American politics uncertain, many American sellers have been selling their art in case the 28% tax on fine art increases. Artworks from Monet, to Rothko, to Picasso are being auctioned, but mostly to appeal to the new collectors whose preferences are still unclear. The savviest art collectors, Steven A. Cohen, Peter M. Brant, Stephen A. Wynn, and Douglas S. Cramer, will be attending the two week long auction season along with the crowd of new collectors in hopes of purchasing famed blue chip artworks.

Mark Rothko’s “No. 1 (Royal Red and Blue).”

As Brett Gorvy said, in the article, “its an icon market.” Art collectors buy the best, they buy the most expensive, and for what purpose? For bragging rights? For making profits? Is the value of a work of art the price it is given? From reading this article, it seems as though art collectors aren’t buying art, but rather a safety net for investment and a status in the art world. Collectors aren’t appreciating the beauty and magnificence of these works of art, but are appreciating the price tags given in the auction houses instead. Personally, I believe that art should be shared and appreciated by everyone, not kept hidden in someone’s house or storage facility waiting to be auctioned off in the light of economic gain.

Fresh Paint-Helen

Ink over Paint

Edward Bulwer-Lytton once said, “The pen is mightier than the sword,” but is it as mighty as the brush? When people visit an art museum or gallery, it might be a large painting or dainty sculpture that gives a lasting impression, but most likely not a drawing. In fact, most museums and galleries do not even display a lot of drawings, if any. Are drawings less valuable and “artistic” compared to paintings?

Of course they are not, but it does seem that drawings are not as popular as paintings because they are not “perfected” and “complete.”  This subject was brought up and discussed by Holland Cotter in his article, “The Pen, Mightier than the Brush.” The article mentions the Morgan Library Exhibit, “Dürer to de Kooning: 100 Master Drawings from Munich,” which displays drawings from Michelangelo, Picasso, and other artists. The small drawings are mostly shriveled and torn apart which degrades the artworks’ values. However, people tend to overlook the idea that drawings are the foundation of other types of art. Many drawings are the simple black and white first drafts of beautified and intensely hued paintings. A drawing with no supplementary embellishments resembles an innocent child whereas a painting that is ornamented with colors and texture resembles adults. These drawings reveal the thought process of artists and the changes made from one piece to another. As stated in the article, Peter Paul Ruben’s drawing, a draft of his painting of Duke of Lerma, is a good example of this. The face in the drawing was not the duke’s, but that of Emperor Charles V of Spain. Historians later assumed that Ruben replaced the face of Emperor Charles in his painting and used him as a model.

As mentioned in the article, drawings are also significant documentaries that provide information about art that does not exist anymore. A drawing by German artist Egid Quirin Asam presents a sophisticated architectural design of a chapel with extreme details and complex interior structure. Although it was said that the chapel has never been built, this drawing still allows people to visualize how the chapel would look like in reality.

Some people may argue that these drawings are not as valuable as paintings because they are not perfected and lacks the texture and finishing of paintings. Although some drawings do lack colors and texture, there is even more meaning behind these simple and original pieces.  These drawings can serve as blueprints for imagination where the artists convey ideas that the observer can expand on and develop. For those who say drawings are produced with cheaper materials such as pen and paper compared to canvases and  paint, is it the supplies the determines the value? If that is the case, then the purpose of viewing art is destroyed. Others say that ink and paper are easily damaged and does not last as long as paintings, but does that not make it more precious?

Drawings itself are masterpieces. They are the products of the art of originality and conceptualizing.

Fresh Paint – Aaron Fung


It is interesting to think about the other things artists are known for besides their art. Ai Weiwei, a Chinese artist, is also an architect and activist. He has been famous for speaking out against China’s repressive regime. Ai Weiwei started a critical blog in 2006 that was shut down in 2009 by Chinese authorities. He was in conflict with the Chinese government many times, including being beaten by the police in 2009 and being imprisoned for 81 days in 2011. He has characterized his meddling with the Chinese government as a kind of performance art.

Ai Weiwei was in Beijing before he went to New York in 1981 and lived in East Village. There were protests of housing rights, which added to his political awareness. He attended the Parsons School of design, where he took thousands of photographs. The pictures show him to be an ambitious person who was aiming for something. He returned to China in 1993 and also took a lot of pictures of the neighborhood in Beijing that called itself the East Village. At that time, he mainly used his camera as his artistic tool.

Ai Weiwei’s activism can be seen through his art, which are in a gallery that was recently opened. The exhibition is in Hirshhorn Museum, located in Washington, and it is called “Ai Weiwei: According to What?” The Hirshhorn show classifies Mr. Ai as “one of China’s most prolific and provocative contemporary artists”. He makes great art and makes great use of it as a public intellectual and social conscience. Of the many pictures he took in New York, about 100 of them are in the exhibition, which show his friends, demonstrations, and random incidents on the street.

The exhibit in Hirshhorn museum shows how irrational life is under totalitarianism through sculptures and pieces from the last decade. They follow the tradition of the Duchamp ready-made, where objects are modified that then become art.
Many works have a background that need to be read or known beforehand in order to understand the origin behind the work. For example, “Kippe” is a large block made of scraps of lustrous wood that are actually from dismantled Qing dynasty temples. Another piece is a large snake coiled on the ceiling made up of backpacks that represent the thousands of children that died during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Ai Weiwei wanted an investigation about that because it caused poorly built schools to collapse while surrounding buildings survived.

There is always a history to an art, which adds value to it and can enhance the meaning. Is art more meaningful or ‘better’ if it contains a historical or controversial event? Do you prefer if an art piece didn’t have a specific origin or history to link the meaning to? Do you prefer paintings or sculptures? I have no preference between the two. I find Ai Weiwei’s art to be very significant to current events in China, which adds to its value. An artist’s history should never be ignored when analyzing art, since it influences his or her art, with respect to the type, content, and meaning.

The Hirshhorn show will travel to the Brooklyn Museum in April 2014, which I would be willing to check out, after I looked at some of the pictures. Maybe other people will find it interesting too.

“This Machine Kills Secrets”

This Machine Kills Secrets,” a novel by Andy Greenberg, gives an account of historical events that led to the creation of WikiLeaks. The novel discusses concepts, such as privacy and civil liberties, which were the reason the site was started in the first place. The novel also goes into the advanced technology, which makes WikiLeaks possible.

One of these technologies is a program called Tor, which allows leakers to the site to remain anonymous. Tor, and other similar encryption technologies, is only in use today thanks to people battling the government for the right to use them. The fight made in order to use these technologies took place in the 1990’s in what were called the crypto wars. The crypto wars weren’t really wars in the usual sense of the word, and were really more debates and discussions than anything else. These debates happened on online forums where Julian Assange was both a reader as well as a contributor.

Although encryption technologies have made it possible for leakers to remain anonymous, sites like WikiLeaks still face many problems. In order for people to be willing to leak, the site must appear trustworthy to would be leakers. If potential leakers don’t know who is behind the site, they won’t leak information in case the government runs it. This creates a problem because once the site is no longer anonymous it faces issues like spies joining the staff and threats to its online presence.

The ability for leakers to remain anonymous is also being threatened in ways that encryption can’t prevent. Companies who face leaks are, in some cases, able to learn the identity of the leaker by seeing who accesses the information on their network. There is also a new mandate that all employees in federal intelligence agencies who take lie detector tests are to be questioned about leaking.

Personally, I can’t decide whether or not WikiLeaks is a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, it creates a lot of danger by allowing the whole world access to sensitive information. Some of the information on the site could very well cause a rise in tensions between countries, which, at the best may cause problems with international relations and at worst, the outbreak of wars. The site also has the potential to cause problems with military activity and may place soldiers in even more danger than they originally faced. On the other hand, WikiLeaks really does do a lot of good. Governments will, hopefully, respond to the knowledge that secrets are no longer all that safe by increasing their transparency. The threat of sensitive information becoming public also encourages governments to stop activities and such that their people would disapprove. The site also helps expose corruption, and therefore limit corruption.

What is your opinion on the site, WikiLeaks? Do you think that it is harmful? Do you think that WikiLeaks is more beneficial than anything else? Do you think that people have a right to know their government’s secrets?

Fresh Paint – “The Art of Soccer: Sculpture in Paris Captures Notorious Incident”

Six years ago, I was left speechless after seeing one of the most prominent soccer players at that time ungraciously head-butt another player at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Zinédine Zidane, who was captain of the French national soccer team, was ejected out of what he would later reveal to be the last game of his soccer career. But before this incident, Zidane was France’s pride and joy— he was the son of Algerian immigrants who chose to play for France and would later lead a multicultural French squad to their only World Cup win in 1998. However, just one moment later, all of Zidane’s achievements seemed to be all forgotten, and instead replaced by the memory of a disgraceful act.

It almost seemed that Zidane’s head-butt was the dawn of France’s downfall. After he was ejected, France would go on to lose the game and the title to Italy in extra time. In 2010 World Cup in South Africa, France’s national team was plagued by racial tensions and conflicts between players and coaches that culminated into a player walkout. A usual World Cup favorite, France did not even make it out of the group stage at South Africa. And now, to make matters worse, a French artist has created an 18-foot sculpture of Zidane’s famous moment, displayed in the Pompidou Center in Paris.

Recently in the New York Times, Scott Sayare covered the controversy regarding the new sculpture. Standing in the middle of the Pompidou Center’s courtyard, the sculpture enlarges the two players involved, Zidane and Marco Materazzi into two massive bronze figures. Adel Abdessemed, the creator of the sculpture, named it “Coup de Tête,” a double-entendre meaning head-butt or an impulsive decision. The sculpture is almost real life—the same pained and anguish face is chiseled onto Materazzi’s face and the same stern and angry Zidane as was what happened six years ago.

The sculpture has ignited heated controversy in French politics and society. Critics have said that the sculpture has added onto the ongoing racial tensions and class structure in France. In 1998, when Zidane led the team to their first World Cup victory, the squad composed of black, white, and Arab Frenchmen. It was their success that inspired racial unity in France. However, just a year prior to the incident, racial riots in the poorer neighborhoods of France had begun. The sculptures, critics say, adds on to the racial aggravation.  Some have also claimed that the sculpture idolizes bad sportsmanship and “an ode to violence.”

In retaliation to the criticism of his art piece, Abdessemed, who holds both Algerian and French citizenship, said that his art pieces should not be looked at politically and is not a response to racial tensions. Abdessemed said that “[Zidane] expressed himself as a man,” and that is what his sculpture tries to embody.

In my opinion, I think that the sculpture should not be celebrating Zidane’s action. Although Zidane had good reason to head-butt Materazzi (Materazzi made some snide comments on Zidane’s sister), I think the sculpture embodies bad sportsmanship and should not be cherished. Adding on the racial and social problems that come along with the piece, I think it devalues the admirability of the sculpture and Zidane himself. Zidane was an exceptional player and arguably one of soccer’s greatest, and this sculpture does him not justice. However, I do think that it would be interesting to hear Zidane’s opinion on this sculpture and his reaction to it. Do you think we should be celebrating this moment in history as this piece of art? Do you think that this sends the wrong message? How do you think Zidane will react?

Article: http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/12/the-art-of-soccer-sculpture-in-paris-captures-notorious-incident/?gwh=5A4849E01203128DC499F70514906A32#more-290624

Fresh Paint – Rhinoceros


Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros,” an absurdist play about the dangers of fascism and conformity that premiered in Paris in 1960, is told through the perspective of Bérenger. An unconfident, shy man, Bérenger ends up as the last human in his own skin as a plague of “rhinoceritis” slowly transforms the people of his small French village into rhinoceroses. (No, I’m not kidding.)

Fascism is about control, and “Rhinoceros” portrays this quite colorfully- and at times, “colorlessly.” The opening scene includes an array of carefully arranged gray chairs amid a dark background, symbolizing a society that is conformist from the very start. The sounds of a rhinoceros crashing through the town square cause a panic, and all the actors onstage leap into motion- an allegory for the alarm and mindlessness of a crowd. No leader steps in to subdue the panic, and the scene ends with this flurry of activity.

The second scene shows Bérenger at work in the government printing department- an homage to Orwell’s “1984.” The office workers discuss the rhino rumors, arguing about trivialities such as “whether it is an Asian or an African one, sporting a single or a double tusk.” These minutiae distract from the larger issue- exactly what fascist propaganda aims to do.

As this conversation is going on, the floor starts to slip from under their feet as the tiered set rises and tilts the actors towards the stage. This literal disorientation is a metaphor for the mental distress and anxiety caused by uncertainty, rumors, and the absurd.

The end of “Rhinoceros,” a pledge by Bérenger to retain his humanity and not join the “flock of sheep” (or, in this case, rhinoceroses) raises the question: is conformity about refusing to leave the baseline status quo that you know, or about acquiescence to the pull of the masses? The question is open-ended; it is up to you to see the play for yourself and answer it.