Barbie The Museum Collection

Ok, so it’s not fine art, and it’s mass produced, and at $34.95 it’s pretty affordable.  So why not?  

 So some things just shouldn’t be for sale.

If toys speak to a society’s values and beliefs, what do these dolls say about American society?  That we minimize the world’s greatest artistic creations?  Or mass produce them to share with all?  That almost anyone can afford a bit of beauty in their lives?  Or that collectors will lock away these beauties, mint & never opened in the original box, in anticipation of future returns?  Or should I just relax and enjoy the little beauties?     

Mattel pays homage to artists Klimt, Van Gogh and da Vinci in these recent additions to the Barbie World Culture Collection

Of course, if I could just find Barbie in her Starry Night dress I might just pay the $80 one vendor is charging for the discontinued doll.
That Van Gogh inspired dress!  And those shoes!  Yowza!

And what about paying homage to that badly abused & iconic image, Grant Wood’s American Gothic? Oh so it’s already been done.

So read more:

Barbie, the Klimt Edition

The Barbieriffic® Barbies® of the Museum Collection Barbie® Collection


Giant Godzilla Christmas Tree

Via Steve Levenstein of Japanorama at we have a Giant Godzilla Christmas Tree sprucing up a Tokyo mall:

Credit: Steve Levenstein, Japanorama

Oh Christmas trees, mushrooms and more

Oh these are just gorgeous!  Check out this collection of Christmas tree alternatives in steel, paper, even vinyl decals, from where else but the West Coast!

I especially like the PossibiliTree® (cool name), a simple and non-messy alternative to real Christmas trees made of…wood!

These sculptures are aesthetically pleasing and functional year round.  Made from natural wood, they have an environmentally friendly feel to them while maintaining a traditional Yuletide theme.

Photo credit: PossibiliTree

Chiasso’s wire and metal trees in luscious colors are something else again.  These trees made of  powder-coated metal create a definite pop culture, 60s – 70s sort of feel.  Their conical shape made of flat planes pierced with holes representing ornaments remind me of those table-top wooden trees we would assemble every Christmas.  Only these have a sleek, stream-lined effect I find very appealing.

Photo credit: Chiasso.

Returning to a more organic, arboreal-centered theme, Anthropologie’s trees are created from printed pages cut with pinking shears and stacked into a Christmas tree shape just over a foot tall.  And what more appropriate book to use as branches than Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol?
While you’re at it, check out their Holiday Decor including the Shaggy Felt Tree, Looped Wood tree and cool ornaments.
I love the Glittering Whoo Ornament shaped like an owl!  A great gift for an avid birder (hint…hint).

Photo credit: Anthropologie

And speaking of Christmas ornaments, I couldn’t resist purchasing a few new ones this year for the tree.  These tiny glass ornaments, less than an inch tall, are made in Mexico and include a Christmas tree, horn, bell and mushroom.

Now mushroom ornaments have always puzzled me; what do they have to do with Christmas?  We’ve traditionally included mushrooms in our Christmas decorating, with glass mushroom ornaments on the tree and wooden mushrooms in the nativity scene, all made in Poland.  Apparently there is a tradition associated with the Christmas mushroom:

Tradition of the Mushroom. Mushrooms are considered to be a good luck symbol. Associated with nature and the beauty of the forest, finding a mushroom is considered to be very lucky and to mean good fortune is at hand. Mushroom ornaments are displayed on Christmas trees in Germany in honor of the people’s reverence for nature and in hope of good luck in the New Year.

How about an early Christmas gift for all us Leo the lions?  This glass ornament, also made in Poland, brings to mind the Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz and Aslan from Narnia:

Finally, here’s a paper and plastic crèche purchased at the Polish deli with a packet of oplatek to share on Christmas eve:

For even more Unusual Christmas Trees

~MS to&w

Victorian fancy

On a recent visit to the Met I discovered this delightful exhibition of Victorian handicraft.  I’ve expressed my admiration of assemblage and its components, including collage and photomontage, in a previous post.  What’s most engaging about Playing with Pictures is how the exhibition captures the spirit of a pivotal time in art history, resonating with Victorian cultural trends.  Late 19th century Victorian visual culture was influenced  by a number of factors: the Industrial Revolution; advent of cheap chromolithography; rise of the middle class; evolution of photography; growing demand for artistic skills in the workplace; and the growing popularity of collecting and scrap booking.  Add to the mix wealthy Victorian women with the leisure time for creative expression and you have these whimsical photo-collages.

Interestingly, these were private constructions, not made for public distribution.  Moreover, how did these products of the decorative arts find their way into a fine arts museum?  Being a great fan of Victorian culture I’m glad they did.

The exhibition is funded by The Hite Foundation which makes “grants intended to promote the understanding and appreciation of 19th century British photography” and organized by The Art Institute of Chicago.

According to The Metropolitan Museum of Art:

Sixty years before the embrace of collage techniques by avant-garde artists of the early twentieth century, aristocratic Victorian women were already experimenting with photocollage. The compositions they made with photographs and watercolors are whimsical and fantastical, combining human heads and animal bodies, placing people into imaginary landscapes, and morphing faces into common household objects. Such images, often made for albums, reveal the educated minds as well as the accomplished hands of their makers. With sharp wit and dramatic shifts of scale akin to those Alice experienced in Wonderland, these images stand the rather serious conventions of early photography on their heads. The exhibition features forty-eight works from the 1860s and 1870s, from public and private collections.

Here are two of my favorite collages.  I love the sly humour evident in ‘Mixed Pickles.’  And [butterfly] captures the Victorian obsession with natural science.

'Mixed Pickles'


The exhibition, Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage, will be on display at the Met from February 2nd through May 9th.  View images from the exhibition hereShould you visit the exhibition be sure to view the album of Victorian trade cards displayed in the hallway outside the exhibition room.

Related links:
Project b: Victorian photocollages
Project b is a world of vintage photos for collectors, found artifacts, art and ideas -the obsession of Barbara Levine, curator, collector, and artist.
’Playing With Pictures’ Multimedia from The New York Times
The Weird World Of Photo Collage
The Other Victorians

Image credits:
Victoria Alexandrina Anderson-Pelham, Countess of Yarborough (English, 1840–?), and Eva Macdonald (English, 1846/50–?).
Detail from “Mixed Pickles,” from the Westmorland Album, 1864/70. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

Image [butterfly]:  Marie-Blanche-Hennelle Fournier (French, 1831–1906). Untitled page from the Madame B Album, 1870s. The Art Institute of Chicago, Mary and Leigh Block Endowment, 2005.297.

Rules to create by

Honestly, I’m not a fan of reality TV, although my family convinced me to watch American Idol a few times (What season is this?  202?).

What caught my eyes were reports of a new art-themed reality show.  As reported in The New York Times:

Now top contemporary artists will get a chance to create their own reality. The cable channel Bravo said on Tuesday that it would conduct open casting calls in July for contestants on an art-related reality competition show to be produced by Sarah Jessica Parker and Magical Elves, the company behind “Top Chef,” and “Project Runway.” The contestants will compete for a gallery show, a cash prize and a sponsored national museum tour. The series, which has yet to be named, will feature 13 aspiring artists who will compete in sculpture, painting, photography, industrial design and other disciplines to create “unique pieces highlighting art’s role in everyday life.” The pieces will be judged “by a panel of top art world figures, including fellow artists, gallerists, collectors, curators and critics,” according to Bravo, which plans to broadcast the series sometime next year.

According to the application instructions for potential contestants, the show’s producers are looking for “emerging or mid-career” artists who work in any number of the following fields: painting, sculpture, installation, video, photography and mixed-media:

We want contemporary artists. We want voices that believe in their art and want the world to know.

Better say that the producers want to make money and lots of it.  Although the show may prove to be a perfect vehicle for the contemporary art world with its market orientation.

The 23-page application asks for information concerning the artist’s background, career history, education & training, sale & exhibition history.  Some of the questions are intriguing. It would be interesting to learn how the artists respond to such queries as:

–Does your family support your choice to be an artist?
–Describe your medium/media of choice and why you chose it.
–What inspires you?
–Discuss how you generate a piece of work: process, inspiration, etc.
–Do you have any rules you live by? Do you have any rules you create by?
–How do you define success as an artist?
–What are your aspirations as an artist?
–What is cliche in the art world right now?
–How do you feel about being judged competitively?

A Casting Call for The Untitled Art Project will be held in New York City on July 18th.



Babushka bail out plan

A designer paints matryoshka dolls in a Sergiyev Posad workshop.  Via

A designer paints matryoshka dolls in a Sergiyev Posad workshop. Via

In a  previous post (Brighton Beach Babushka) we discussed the delights of the matryoshka, Babushka or nested doll.  According to, the sale of these and other Russian handicrafts has declined to the point where the Russian government is buying  “$28.4 million worth of nesting dolls (called matryoshka in Russian), lacquered dishes, crocheted shawls, felt caps and other quintessentially Russian knickknacks to bolster the industry and try to protect the livelihoods of some 30,000 workers at around 240 companies.”

Under the white walls and blue-and-gold cupolas of the Sergiyev Posad monastery, the row of vendors selling nesting dolls and other traditional Russian handicrafts is noticeably shorter this summer. Usually the cheap folding tables, set up in a double row outside the spiritual center of the Russian Orthodox Church, are surrounded by tourists snapping up the iconic egg-shaped souvenirs, made of smaller and smaller wooden dolls hidden one within the other. But on a recent Thursday afternoon, there were only about a dozen people looking to buy. At one table, Olga Isakova waited on her first customers of the day, a man and his son who examined a bright blue-and-white nesting doll with curly blond hair and a heart-shaped mouth before putting it down and walking away. “My sales have fallen 10% to 20% since the fall,” says Isakova. “I’m only selling the cheap stuff these days.”

As the financial crisis continues to take its toll and travelers decide to stay closer to home this summer, Russia’s small local industries suddenly find themselves struggling. Now the government is stepping in to try to keep Russia’s artisanal traditions alive. Earlier this year the Russian government announced that it would buy $28.4 million worth of nesting dolls (called matryoshka in Russian), lacquered dishes, crocheted shawls, felt caps and other quintessentially Russian knickknacks to bolster the industry and try to protect the livelihoods of some 30,000 workers at around 240 companies.

Source:  Trying Times for Russia’s Nesting Dolls via

Undoubtedly the international fine & decorative arts market is suffering during this global recession, effecting even the demand for wooden nesting dolls.  Thankfully U.S. President Barack Obama is using his influence to support the Russian craft industry:



Even ABC has recognized the significance of this trend in their article:  Traditional Russian Dolls Seek Bailout.  Check it out, especially their Dollars for Russian Dolls? video.

Go here to learn more of the History of Russian Dolls.


But what if they fell in love? (Friday video fun)

A strange video by the surreal video artist Jan Svankmajer.  The Czech artist has been making videos since the 1960′s.  His videos are heavily influenced by puppets and puppet theater, which he studied for several years at the Prague Academy of Performing Arts.  That part at the end of the videos (with the steaks splashing flour at each other) reminds me a lot of skit by Eddie Izzard, an extremly intelligent British transvestite comedian.  If you like British humour, you should absolutely watch one of his DVDs (start with
Glorious“).  Check out the next video and listen for the “splashy splashy” part.

more about “Eddie Izzard – Dress To Kill (Part 15…“, posted with vodpod

Which reminds me a lot of this little Robin Williams skit about Viagra (absolutely nsfw! but gut-busting hysterical!):

~MS the comedy-addicted (this post inspired by GoodEats)

PS:  Interested in more food stop-action?  Try this:

Searching for Lisa Y

MadFriend and artist Erika Takacs touched upon an interesting topic in a recent post,  Weird search engine terms.  It’s fascinating to consider what visitors are looking for that leads them to our blogs, and to contemplate just how those linkages are made.  Even more so, it’s intriguing to learn which topics are of significance to those who search.

Nana by Lisa Yuskavage (2005)

Nana by Lisa Yuskavage (2005)

Recently, the fourth most popular search phrase used on various search engines to find MadSilence has been “Lisa Yuskavage.” I find this surprising since Yuskavage is only mentioned in one MadSilence post,  Still Searching for That Special Gift?,  which featured a plastic shower curtain decorated with a Yuskavage image.

What is the appeal of Lisa Yuskavage?  I decided to find out.

Yuskavage, like her colleague John Currin, is a contemporary figural painter.  She graduated from Temple University and earned an M.F.A. from Yale University.  Yuskavage paints the naked female form, “color-infused paintings of naked sloe-eyed girls with melon-like breasts, erect nipples and contorted bodies.

Lisa Yuskavage from PostMedia

Lisa Yuskavage from PostMedia

Her distinctive figures are grotesque young sexpots with bloated stomachs, described as “disturbing, repulsive, enticing, beautiful.”  Her painterly skills have been compared to Vermeer, Raphael and Bellini.  It is said that she has responded to her success by being “mildly naughty” and “using her exceptional facility to produce knowingly dreadful paintings.”  Could this explain her popularity as a search term?

When you look at a Yuskavage painting, you aren’t sure if you’re supposed to feel titillated or offended, or if the proper response is to rush to your desk and write an essay on the eroticizing tendencies of ”the male gaze.”  Unable to decide, you shrug your shoulders and conclude that the paintings are gorgeous to look at.  And that is always enough.  –Deborah Solomon in The New York Times, Art Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

“Gorgeous to look at?”  Perhaps.  And if beautiful to behold, would “that always [be] enough?”  I’m not so sure.  I find Yuskavage’s paintings offensive and pornographic, her exaggerated images of the female form disturbing and off-putting.  Her images are pornographic in that their purpose appears to be the titillation of the male viewer, offensive and disturbing in that they exaggerate and distort the female human form.

But does my reaction reveal more about the viewer than the artwork?  Is there some puritanical guilt in my voyeurism?  Does Yuksavage have some hidden message or meaning that eludes me?  Or am I, by nature of my gender, inflicted with ”the male gaze” that blocks the discernment of an ironic feminist message?

I’ve always enjoyed the female form in art, obtaining a great deal of aesthetic pleasure from such images, whether classical or modern, Vermeer or Picasso.  Is their a proper way to represent the female form?  An appropriate use of sexual imagery in art?  Does Yuksavage address this puzzle in her artwork, or is she indeed “using her exceptional facility to produce knowingly dreadful paintings,” having stumbled upon a formula that appealed to the market?

Ken Johnson, writing in The New York Times, claims that “pornographic imagery is ubiquitous in art today.”

In the early ’90s Lisa Yuskavage’s erotic fantasy pictures of nubile half-naked young women made their debut, and not long after that John Currin moved from painting yearbookish images of anonymous girls to painting outrageously goofy pictures of women with ridiculously oversize breasts.

So-called pornographic imagery is ubiquitous in art today. Hilary Harkness’s lesbian S&M narratives, drawn and painted with old-masterly refinement; the photographer Thomas Ruff’s pixelated pornographic imagery, downloaded from the Internet; Mr. Currin’s own recent X-rated paintings.  A recent exhibition of montages by Richard Prince featured much-enlarged images of naked women from trashy vintage pornography and fragments of de Kooning paintings and drawings of women.

The fault line running through all this involves the question of the “proper” use of sexual imagery in art. Do we ever allow it as an end in itself, or must it always be redeemed by some aesthetic, social, moral or ironic purpose? Can pornography be high art? Indian and Japanese artists raised it to that level in pre-modern times; literature is loaded with great erotica, from the Marquis de Sade to “The Story of O.”

On the other hand, whether because of aesthetic convictions, prudery or politics, the modern art worlds of Europe and America have not appreciated the idea of art made for sexual arousal. But why should that be any less worthy an aim than, say, trying to inspire religious feelings?

The “search for Lisa Y” leads me to confront an uncomfortable question, for which I have no easy answer.  Readers, can you explain the appeal of Lisa Y?


Postcard as Muse

walker_evans_postcard_big1I’ve always been a fan of the picture postcard.  When visiting a museum I purchase cards to mail to family & friends in an attempt to maintain the genre and share images of art.  Over the past few years I’ve amassed a collection of over one hundred postcards issued by museums and galleries, announcing the next exhibition or show. Interestingly, the volume of paper ephemera issued by museums and galleries has declined as the price of production and postage increases.

At work I display a dozen postcards at a time, my personal exhibition, using a device with a dozen arms of varied length sharing a common base; a simple loop of wire at each end holds a card.  At home I use a mobile suspended from the ceiling, its several arms each terminating in a small plastic alligator clip, for my personal display.

At a recent exhibition sponsored by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I learned that 20th century American photographer Walker Evans shared my affection for postcards and collecting.

Th[e] exhibition focuses on a collection of 9,000 picture postcards amassed and classified by the American photographer Walker Evans (1903–1975), now part of the Metropolitan’s Walker Evans Archive. The picture postcard represented a powerful strain of indigenous American realism that directly influenced Evans’s artistic development. The dynamic installation of hundreds of American postcards drawn from Evans’s collection will reveal the symbiotic relationship between Evans’s own art and his interest in the style of the postcard. This is also demonstrated with a selection of about a dozen of his own photographs printed in 1936 on postcard format photographic paper.

Unknown artist Woolworth and Municipal Buildings from Brooklyn Bridge, New York, 1910s Postcard, Photomechanical reproduction; 3 9/16 x 5 1/2 in. (9 x 14 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Walker Evans Archive, 1994 (1994.264.38.3)

Unknown artist. Woolworth and Municipal Buildings from Brooklyn Bridge, New York, 1910s Postcard, Photomechanical reproduction; 3 9/16 x 5 1/2 in. (9 x 14 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Walker Evans Archive, 1994 (1994.264.38.3)

Unknown artist Future New York, The City of Skyscrapers, 1910s Postcard, Photomechanical reproduction; 3 9/16 x 5 1/2 in. (9 x 14 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Walker Evans Archive, 1994 (1994.264.20.2)

Unknown artist. Future New York, The City of Skyscrapers, 1910s Postcard, Photomechanical reproduction; 3 9/16 x 5 1/2 in. (9 x 14 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Walker Evans Archive, 1994 (1994.264.20.2)

For examples of Walker Evans’ photography, see his catalog on ArtNet.

Related links:
Main Street Postcards as Muse by Roberta Smith, February 5, 2009, The New York Times
Photographer Walker Evans: answers on a postcard by Liz Jobey, February 5, 2009, The


Padfoot the Painting Ocelot

Padfoot the painting ocelot at the Phoenix Zoo
Padfoot the painting ocelot at the Phoenix Zoo

Padfoot is a 7-year-old ocelot born at the Phoenix Zoo.  His painting career began in 2004 when keepers thought it would be fun to engage him in some behavioral enrichment – providing him with mental and physical stimulation to increase natural and healthy behavior.  They brought out a blank canvass and began painting blotches for Padfoot’s inspiration. He was quickly intrigued and began using his head, neck and the larger part of his body to achieve his desired masterpiece – a rare notion considering most cats who paint use their paws. The most unique element Padfoot adds to complete each piece is to sign his famous autograph with a signature spray of urine.

His latest work “Safari Night” will be auctioned off via Internet for the Art by Animals auction Sat. March 28, 2009 from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m..  All proceeds will benefit the Conservation Endowment Fund.  For more information or to bid on Padfoot’s painting, visit the by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums at

View the ABC News video Ocelot’s Art here.

Related MadSilence “animal art” posts:


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