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Dead Bugs, Manure, Acid, and the Unlikely Origins of Art’s Most Brilliant Colors

By | January 5, 2017

When I was 8 and on holiday in France with my parents, we went to Chartres Cathedral, just south of Paris. My father took me by the hand as we both stared at the blue glass casting reflections all over the limestone in the great medieval church.
“That blue was made 800 years ago,” he said. “And we can’t make it like that any more.”
From that …

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Why Walls Between Nations Don’t Work

By | January 4, 2017

The end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989—25 years ago this week—led to the long-awaited development of a “global village” characterized by the free movement of goods, people, and information. But the last few decades have also seen global fragmentation, the symbol of which has been the silent multiplication of dividing walls throughout the world.
The erection of …

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How a Mesoamerican Insect Created the Globe’s Most Coveted Color

By | January 4, 2017

Once there was a color so valuable that emperors and conquistadors coveted it, and so did kings and cardinals. Artists went wild over it. Pirates ransacked ships for it. Poets from Donne to Dickinson sang its praises. Scientists vied with each other to probe its mysteries. Desperate men even risked their lives to obtain it. This highly prized commodity was the secret to …

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What Richard Diebenkorn and Henri Matisse Taught Me About the Hard Work of Making Art

By | December 6, 2016

In 1966-67 I was an undergraduate at UCLA wanting to be in the fine art program. Since I had scored high in the sciences and had a mimetic drawing ability, I was placed into the medical illustration program—located in the same art building. Like the scene of the crossing train cars in Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories, I’d look across the halls to the painting and …

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Union Station’s Ten Coolest Architectural Gems

By | November 23, 2016

As a native Angeleno with a father who is a public-transit enthusiast, I’ve been through 800 North Alameda Street many times, wearing many different hats. As a fan of new L.A. things, I rode the first Gold Line from South Pasadena to downtown in 2003. As a photography student, I used the station for education and inspiration. As a commuter, I’ve spent my fair share …

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How the Skull is an Ally in Art

By | November 1, 2016

You walk through the darkness of the crypt, with choral music playing from hidden speakers. All around you, human bones are arranged in patterns, tiling the walls, divided by femurs, skulls, hip bones. Skeletal arms are crossed and nailed into the wall, making the symbol of the Franciscans, normally painted, out of the real thing. Even a child’s skeleton has been strapped to the ceiling, …

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Artist Harry Fonseca’s Trickster Coyote Sneaks Native Heritage Into Contemporary Culture

By | August 19, 2016

In 2006, during the last few months of his life, the artist Harry Fonseca often spent Sundays in his Santa Fe studio with the curator Patsy Phillips. His ability to work curtailed by cancer, Fonseca liked to talk about making art, which he once called his “heartbeat,” and the ways in which it functioned as a conduit between his Native heritage and the world at …

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How Fort Worth Transformed a Concrete Ditch Into an Urban River Playground [PHOTOS]

By | July 6, 2016

The Trinity River winds its way through the North Central and Coastal plains of Texas, threads through Fort Worth and Dallas, and skirts the Houston area before meeting the Gulf of Mexico.
Over the last 200 years, it’s served as everything from steamboat thoroughfare to pesticide dumping ground. More recently, it’s become a recreational haven. An exhibition at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in …

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Why I Refuse to Shame Cincinnati for Putting Mapplethorpe’s Work on Trial

By | June 10, 2016

I grew up in a suburb of Cincinnati where even the rebellions were quaint. We drank wine coolers, drove before we got our licenses because an unusually cool senior was lax with his Pinto, painted graffiti on the water tower.
I grew up in a suburb of Cincinnati where even the rebellions were quaint. We drank wine coolers, drove before we got our licenses because an …

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How a Museum Cancelling a Controversial Exhibition Changed My Life

By | June 9, 2016

Twenty-seven years ago, controversy erupted over Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs. It changed my life.
In June 1989, I was 22, a newly declared art history major at Northwestern University, about to start an internship at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The child of an art teacher and a psychiatrist who grew up in the small, accepting town of Lincoln, Massachusetts, I’d been going to …