20×200: Japan Earthquake Relief Edition

I’ve been a long time fan of Jen Bekman’s 20×200.  Just check out my hallway if you want proof!  All those are prints I’ve bought over the years from Jen’s 200 limited edition prints for $20 scheme.  As her motto says, “Buy art. It’s good for you.”

Imperial Palace Gardens with Wall, Tokyo - by Emily Shur

Today I was particularly pleased to get an email from 20×200 featuring a photographic print by LA artist Emily Shur with all proceeds going towards Japan Society’s Earthquake Relief Fund.  It’s great how quickly artists always respond in times of crisis.     And never underestimate the power of a graphic image to galvanize support — a poster can be more effective than a statistic in inspiring compassion.

20x200 prints in my apartment hallway

Help Japan print by Rob Dobi

Cute Bacteria

My manga-illustrator friend June told me very casually today over dinner, as though it was the most normal thing in the world, about a manga-turned-animated series involving agriculture students, one of whom has the special ability to see microbes with the naked eye.  I swear I am not making this stuff up.  Many a grad student has pondered the peculiar Japanese drive to make everything kawaii and their love of anthropomorphizing just about everything, but this Moyashimon series that turns everything from the bacteria strains used to make natto (fermented soybeans) and yogurt to staph and salmonella into cute little talking creatures really blows my mind!  I guess they’ve started airing a new live-action version of the series now on late night Fuji Television, which looks way worse than the manga or the anime.  Floating computer-generated talking bacteria combined with laughably bad acting just doesn’t do the cute little illustrations justice!  Anyway, I’ll certainly never look at E. Coli the same way ever again.

Banksy’s Pop-Up Premier

Photo by FRANTZESCO KANGARIS for the Independent

British street artist-turned-global-brand Banksy struck publicity gold again this week with the limited pre-release screening of his super-hyped film, ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop‘, in a cold, dank pop-up cinema hidden in a tunnel underneath Waterloo train station.  Called The Lambeth Palace, the temporary 150-seat theater is screening the film for 10 days prior to its nationwide release on March 5.  Needless to say, tickets sold out instantly and are now being scalped online for upwards of £200.

It’s truly brilliant (and ironic) how marketing-savvy Banksy is.  Despite never having abandoned his anti-corporate, f*ck-the-man message in his art, and never having actually sold out to the powers that be, the man simply cannot avoid having everything he touches turn into solid unobtanium.  Just when you think, “Oh my god, that fratboy has a Banksy poster on his wall,” the artist does something absolutely genius like quietly open an animatronic petstore in the village as he did in late 2008, making you smack your forehead and repent for ever having considered thinking he was passé.  The Lambeth Palace is yet another one of these surprising moments of Banksy brilliance that make him nothing short of an inspiration.

New Banksy work @ The Lambeth Palace

Tower Records Revisited

The digital age quickly turned Tower Records into a Towering Inferno, and last year saw even the Virgin Megastore in Union Square permanently shutting its doors.  So it’s quite a remarkable opportunity that starting tomorrow we’re invited to enter the old Tower Records store on Broadway and 4th for one last farewell to that convivial era of buying music with others in bricks-and-mortar megastores.  The good people of No Longer Empty, a non-profit arts organization that revitalizes unused public space, has curated a month-long multimedia exhibition called Never Can Say Goodbye involving more than twenty artists to recreate a fantasy Tower Records, complete with record bins and a live performance stage.

As someone who once stood outside that exact same Tower Records for hours in the winter of 1997 to get an album signed by Blur, I am sure the experience will be a nostalgic one.  However, don’t let all the funeral dirges make you forget that there are still some awesome independent record stores still cranking out high-fidelity tunes and experiences.  After bidding adieu to Tower Records, hit up Other Music just down the block where you can buy a limited edition copy of the latest Vampire Weekend album.  Ya, it’s worth it.

Books for Looking

Andy Spade of Partners & Spade

I stopped into Partners & Spade yesterday and had a little chuckle over Andy Spade‘s wall installation of framed clothbound books, which if I recall correctly, was titled something along the lines of “An Argument for Looking at Books Not Reading Them.”  Cheeky and so wonderfully in touch with the current book-fetishizing zeitgeist!  I noticed the other day while browsing an Anthropologie store that those gorgeous clothbound Penguins designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith which I’ve been coveting for ages had made their way across the pond and were now available outside of the UK.  It’s admittedly a tad depressing to see editions of Dickens and Hardy scattered between cashmere twin-sets and shabby chic hand towels at an Anthro store, as it pretty much confirms the crossover of the book from vessel for content to object for display.  The vast majority of these books will presumably live out their lives on a whimsically curated antique shelf, their glued spines never to be cracked.  However, given the current state of the book industry, I have to applaud any and all attempts to revive interest in literature even if the tactics used are entirely aesthetic.

Clothbound Penguin Classics designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith

As further evidence of the fetishizing of books, take a look at these amazing Book Lights by Design Studio MS in the UK.  Sadly they are currently only available with UK voltage plugs but I suppose I can always buy a converter.  I want, I want!

The Book Light (2009) by Design Studio MS

Continuing on this train of thought, the lovely photographs of book spines by Mickey Smith also come to mind, as well as the series of bookshelf illustrations by Jane Mount — both available on Jen Bekman’s 20×200.  Don’t have a bookshelf in your apartment?  Just put up some pictures of books and presto!  Nah, I’m just kidding.  Like Andy Spade’s collection of framed books, presumably this kind of book-inspired art appeals most to people who actually do read quite a bit.

Word Study by Mickey Smith
Bookshelf 20 by Jane Mount

To blather on even further, I was at a charity benefit the other day where limited edition art books were being auctioned off for thousands of dollars.  At those kind of prices they’re obviously more investment vehicle than actual thing to be enjoyed (imagine spilling coffee on your $4000 book!), but it really spelled out for me the reality that in the world of books, content has largely become divorced from the object.  Kraken Opus, which recently released a Michael Jackson Opus for a relatively cheap $250, quite literally describes their limited edition books as an alternative investment that helps to “diversify your wealth.”  I’m sure that while among these buyers of $4000+ limited edition books on everything from Arsenal to Prince will be die-hard fans who just want to own it no matter what, I suspect the majority of Opus’ customers never even break open the wooden crate it comes in and send it straight to their vaults to appreciate in value alongside their Château Margaux.  The only time I ever saw an Opus book was under a glass case at Heathrow and that particular edition (Super Bowl XL) weighed a whopping 80 lbs.  It takes “coffee table book” to a whole new level.  You probably need to be in the NFL yourself to actually turn the page so it certainly is not a book meant for reading.  So then what of the mundane task of reading?  We have the Kindle and Nook for that!

Kraken Opus' limited edition books

Robin Hood’s L!braries

I’ve had libraries on the brain recently–both the invisible kind and the visually enhanced kind, like this one Maira Kalman designed for PS 47 in the Bronx for Robin Hood’s L!brary Initiative.  The L!brary Initiative transforms elementary school libraries in high poverty areas into bright, beautiful temples of learning that inspire creativity and academic achievement.  Artists like Kalman are brought in to reimagine the space, while publishers Scholastic and HarperCollins have donated over a million books in an unprecedented effort to improve the state of education in NYC’s neediest neighborhoods.  What a marvelous program!  Art & literature make wonderful bedfellows.  Also check out the awesome PS 96 library that illustrator Yuko Shimizu and designer Stefan Sagmeister collaborated on here.

PS 96 Library Mural by Yuko Shimizu


Cover Up!

Swoon!  These paper bag book jackets by Book City Jackets in Williamsburg are so beautiful and nostalgia-inducing!  Love at first sight!  Emma Gaines-Ross and Jeremy Schwartz founded Book City Jackets in 2008 and they have so far released two “artist-editions” featuring the illustrations of Eveline Tarunadjaja, Matthew Caputo, and Morgan Blair in the first edition, and Nishat Akhtar, Cheeming Boey and Michael C. Hsiung in the second.  It’s great cus I’ve often wondered out loud why the Japanese ritual of wrapping books never really made it over here outside of public school requirements.  Hope to start seeing beautifully covered up books on the subway now, just like in Tokyo!

Book City Jackets will be at the Brooklyn Flea’s Gifted holiday market which opens November 27 at their very first Manhattan location on E. 4th and Lafayette.  Should be chock-full of lovely stuff as usual!

Mamachas in NYC!

Yes, it finally happened. Mamachas del Ring, the documentary by Betty M Park which has been traveling the world from festival to festival, finally screened in NYC!  It screened as part of the Margaret Mead Festival at the American Museum of Natural History this Friday to a sold-out crowd.  The Mead is the longest-running international documentary festival in the United States.  The director was joined by animator Christophe Lopez-Huici for the post-screening Q&A.  Composer M.G. Espar was also in attendance, along with about a hundred of Betty’s closest friends.  Shout out to Momoya on Amsterdam for hosting a great afterparty!

Mamachas Q&A
Q&A with Betty & Christophe
Signing Mamachas Posters
Signing Mamachas posters for fans!

AI/AP Party

Great party last Thursday to celebrate the publication of American Illustration 28 & American Photography 25 at the Angel Oresanz Foundation in the Lower East Side. Fabulous art, people and venue.  The annually published AI and AP are the go-to directories for illustration and photography talent across all creative industries.  A mammoth tome, it also makes a classy doorstop or murder weapon.  Perfect gift for the holidays!

American Illustration 28

American Illustration 28
From the pages of AI28
Angel Oresanz Foundation
Angel Oresanz Foundation

Awesome work by Yuko Shimizu, Adam Kidder, Melinda Beck and a hundred other talented people. Briefly met Felix Sockwell, who by random coincidence is the guy who illustrated my friend Hua Hsu’s cover story for the Atantic a few months back.  New York is full of surprises.  Thanks to June Kim for the gatecrashing tip!