ONCE upon a time, MTV was the superhighway of the music industry. Nearly every musical car passed along it, and in the absence of the internet, people tuned in and stopped everything to witness the annual car crash that was the VMAs.
That was back when MTV was central to the pop (and mainstream adjacent) world. The place where every controversy was encouraged, and every beef hosted, on MTV proper, as well as MTV Europe, MTV Asia, MTV Australia, MTV Latin America...
The powers at be at MTV, at some point, switched things up. As a cable network, the honchos felt that it was time to appeal more to lifestyle watchers. So, in order to make space for reality programming, the almost total emphasis on music and the music video was pushed aside, briefly to sister channel VH1, and then, well, into the ether.
These days we watch our music videos on Youtube and on VEVO, we get our music news from the web, and follow the majority of the beefs as they play out on Twitter. MTV, MTV Europe, MTV Asia etc. have ceased to play any role of importance in our consumption of music and video, but, once a year, an increasingly out of touch set of nominations are announced for the annual VMAs. And for a couple of hours each year, MTV hosts the petting zoo, where frenzied beefs that are usually spliced and diced across the various social and digital mediums are encouraged to play out under one, brief moment under the same roof.
In recent years the VMAs have a new series of fairy tale stars who get the lion's share of the coverage. You can count on Kanye West to play his role as the Emperor with no clothes, Miley Cyrus to play her role as the princess with no clothes, and Taylor Swift to be the night's damsel in distress, despite her unchallenged supremacy when it comes to sales and influence outside the play pen.
The lead up to this year's VMAs already set the ball rolling, but anything that was lacking in the Nicki Minaj inspired controversies (oops there's that Swift making her damsel self known again) carried over to the show itself which just aired.
You can't name any Kanye West track from the last five years but you can prove that you've still got your finger on the pulse by talking about how inappropriate his latest speech/ploy for Beyonce/announcement that he's running for the presidency is. You automatically think of Blurred Lines as being Miley Cyrus's party jam (when it's not) and of the foam finger as being her little helper, but beyond that the only thing you can remember to associate her with are skimpy outfits, that tongue and a strangely outsider's role in the bigger scheme of things, even when she's the hostess with the mostest.
And who won the year's most important Moon Man? No idea. (Swift) Who walked away with multiple statues rather than multiple personality disorder? (No clear winner) You'd never know unless you googled it, because without the context that the MTV channel once provided, and the semblance until a certain point that the awards were just as much about rewarding creativity and excellence as they were a popularity quest, none of that stuff matters anymore.
What matters is that MTV generated its week of press coverage and new beefs and, as the weeks play out, we'll get the latest rounds of apologies and escalating wars, while being taken even further away from the chance to acknowledge the very creative people who are still out there plugging away at making music videos that, paradoxically are being seen now more than ever, but more and more as vehicles for sale on a superhighway that is not in any way built around artistry.
For what you need to know about the night's biggest personalities go here.
For the night's winners, visit here.
Zaha Hadid is back in Italy. Misty mountain hopping with the design of a space dedicated to mountain climbing.
A good round up of some of the current (and upcoming) exhibitions in Rome in case you're heading that way.
Venice's mayor, Burgnaro, has been in the news for all the wrong reasons of late. First he stripped public libraries of titles that sought to normalise marginalised groups (i.e. same sex parents etc. -under the rhetoric of the Gender debate that Italy is current in the grips of). But now Pope Francis has allegedly given the author of one particular title his blessing. Then, continuing on his bandstand crusade, the mayor declared that Venice would never host a gay pride march while he was in office, as he found such events to be the epitome of tackiness and indulgence. Seems some back tracking is taking place. He's now inviting Pride organisers to take over the Grand Canal in a major about face. More here (but in Italian).
I FELT bad for that little kid last week. You know, the one that had been dragged along to an art gallery to see an exhibition full of Italian paintings in Taiwan.
I felt bad for him, not because he tripped and punched a hole into what was until then, a relatively unknown painting, but more because it was clear that by being allowed to walk around in a room with a soft drink in hand and alleged masterpieces on display, he was being let down by both his and the paintings' guardians who failed in their task to minimise any risk to a (loan) collection (and teach the kid some basic art etiquette).
Whatever. The museum decided to chalk it off to experience, and quickly set about restoring the work once it got the publicity it wanted to.
But was there more behind the expediency with which they dealt with the matter? Was it Taiwanese efficiency or something more sinister behind it? After all, any art space that enters into a loan arrangement for artworks, particularly pricey artworks, beyond its insurance obligations, would want to present itself as being compliant with the basics of care and risk management to avoid becoming a parriah or un-lendable.
But talk is shifting from the damage scenario, to one in which the providence and authenticity of the work has been brought into question. Awkward!
Just in case there is substance to the fake allegations, I have provided you with an alternative still life with flowers. You'll note that it's as real as it gets.
Let's see where the snooping leads...
IT'S been pretty hard to pull me away from the beach this last week, as I'm doing my best to enjoy the late summer, but there was one particular story this week that just brought a smile to my face.
Nothing makes me happier than when #artattacks.
Kurt Perschke of course has already made a name for himself with his Red Ball project. You know, the 4.5m high, 113kg red ball that has been traveling the world, being unceremoniously inserted into all kinds of nooks and crannies. The result of these interventions often has residents questioning and reassessing their spatial environments. Usually the ball, which has traveled to a few dozen cities around the world over the years, is crammed into unusual spaces, such as was the case in Sydney when it was lodged into the Sydney Harbour Bridge. But it's the ball's latest outing in Toledo that caught everybody's interest. Unintentionally.
Usually, the ball is lodged firmly into its environs, and occasionally also invites people to play with it. I know that sounds like a horrible metaphor for some of you, but you've got your minds back in the gutter again. Get it out for a second. The fun thing is that in Toledo in recent days, the ball escaped its captivity and took off on a rampage, sending pedestrians fleeing! LOVE IT! I'm sorry Kurt that I'm loving this unexpected performance piece slash flash mob turn of events, but if it's any consolation your giant red ball on a rampage made me smile in what was otherwise a dismal week of bad news on top of more bad news.
The truth has it that there was a storm in Toledo, and that the combination of thunder and rain loosened the ball from its location at the Toledo Museum of Art, and set it off on its rampage where it killed... oh wait, it didn't hurt anybody. It just rolled around and made people reconsider more than one urban space. But it would've been so cool to see it. Totally like a Rimbaldi energy source come to life (that's an ALIAS reference for you geeks out there).
More at Gawker. Meanwhile, I'm going to go and work out where Toledo is.
OK, so it's not all grit and garbage on the streets of Italy, despite what some in the media will have you believe. Italy is famous for its historical centres and its natural beauty, but its streets and its street artists really know how to make the most of the surfaces on offer to them in the urban environs.
If you've ever driven in this country, or even walked its streets, you'll know that they're full of signs. An aggressive number of them. The kind of amount that gives you a headache. So many laws that are not enforced, but so many signs that tell you what to do, not to think. Enter Italy's street artists who do that for you.
ITALIAN museums have problems. Big problems. Systematic problems that render many of them under performers. Few countries have the kind of patrimony that Italy can proudly claim. When it comes to culture, Italians have an embarrassment of wealth at their disposal; many of its cities and churches are adorned with artwork that would make other nations cry, yet their museums are like the poor country cousins that are buckling under a lack of funding and patronage.
In most, leading developed nations, cultural institutions have to fight for themselves. They have inbuilt teams who specialise in attracting donators and benefactors. They raise funds by leveraging their collections and their prestige and, in some countries, understand that by waiving an entrance fee, they have a better chance of earning more money through on site retail operations. Why force someone to spend $5 to enter when they will more than likely spend $10 at the Giftshop and be happy to return more often when they know there's free entry.
There's currently a lot of fuss being generated in the Italian press about the appointment of 20 new directors to selected public museums. Some of these public museums are real cultural jewels in the crown. Others are of lesser importance. But it's not so much the appointment of these 10 men and 10 women that has everybody up in the arms. After all, these 20 museums have been selected as spaces that will operate under a higher level of autonomy and be expected to earn their keep. What has people up in arms is that 7 of the new appointees are, gasp, foreigners.
As is the case in many countries right now, it's not a good time to be a foreigner. Being a foreigner implies that you are a queue jumper, a job stealer, a clandestine traveler. Being a foreigner appointed to a high level position makes you an anti Christ. And in a country that is home to the Vatican, that's a big deal.
The reality is that the 20 museums on this list are just a sample of how Italian cultural institutions on the whole are failing in many ways. They're failing to attract visitors, failing to securely manage their collections, and failing to play their part in the wider community.
If we were to use visitor numbers as the metric for successes we already encounter problems. The Vatican Museums, owned by the Vatican, and therefore not a public institution, is routinely the only museum in Italy that makes it onto artnewspaper's most visited museums. Italian museums attract much lower visitor numbers than their counterparts in London, Paris and Madrid, and the numbers can't simply be accounted for by lower population centres or tourist numbers.
There are fundamental changes that need to be made to stem the damage being made to the international reputation of Italy's collections. Unfortunately, many among the current ranks have been unable to reverse the trends. Many of the twenty sites on the list of new appointees are plagued with problems. Problems with under staffing, looting, spaces that are in disrepair, ever dwindling visitor numbers and inefficient management are widespread and have made Italian cultural sites undesirable at an international level, not withstanding the wonders of the collections themselves.
Italians should not be up in arms about foreign appointments. Italians should be up in arms about how their sizeable patrimony has been so systematically mismanaged for years. They should be up in arms about museums having wings closed to the public because there aren't enough funds to pay people to monitor them. They should be up in arms that so many of the spaces on the list don't attract visitors. And they should be up in arms that the media here is propagating the same old double standard about foreigners coming into this country. Why is it okay for an Italian to go abroad and work for another organisation and climb the ranks there when the reverse is seen as an affront to national pride.
Hopefully these hand picked appointees will be able to get the ball running again at many of these jewels in the crown because it's quite clear that the current, traditional approach to the management of these sites is doing nobody any favours.
I love Nicki Minaj. Her irreverent and over the top raps do my head in. I guess I'm more a fan of her Pink Print work than her earlier stuff but then there's those features she's done over the years like on Kanye's Monster that are amazing WTF moments too.
Latest chapter in her book is the newish Madame Tussaud's wax statue that they've had made.
Now, I know that we as human beings are not always standing. Sometimes we sit. Sometimes we lie down too. But there seems to be a bit of a belief at Madame Tussaud's that female pop acts do a lot of crawling too. I'm sure that's the case but I guess I wouldn't expect to see someone like Bruce Springsteen or Mick Jagger on all fours, at least not in a MT venue.
Now, don't get me wrong. I've got nothing against wax figurines. Rather, there's something about them that I find morbidly fascinating. In the eighties one of my favourite movies was Mannequin. God I loved that movie. Rosco!!! And the whole department store visual merchandising thing was cool: those tennis rackets, those windswept sunny scenes in the window just were the height of creativity for me as a ten year old.
Madame Tussauds is not that different from a lot of other culture houses. Like the Louvre of the V&A they have their niche and they don't really try and go beyond it, even if they have expanded at Hard Rock Cafe speed. They've topped the Louvre and V&A who are opening new campuses elsewhere: these guys have nineteen locations worldwide and the number and demand for lifeless figures just seems to be growing.
Which is all good I guess if you figured sometime during your education that there was going to be a future for you if you worked in wax. Another WTF moment that reminds you that the world is an amazing place.
When I was growing up, a star on the Hollywood boulevard or a wax statue at London's Madame Tussaud's was the cementing of your stardom. You'd made it by then. But they were exclusive clubs that they didn't hand out to every Debbie Gibson or New Kid on The Block. You had to earn your stripes and pay your dues before you could be immortalised forever. Before people could pound you on the pavements and stick chewing gum to your waxen ass.
But these days, with the worldwide wax Renaissance there's a need to reflect the world we live in. It's not about earning your place in that world through years of hits and misses and comebacks. These days a hot debut record gets you into the franchise. See Sam Smith.
I just find it strange that there is definitely a vocabulary that defines how and when people are immortalised. Crawling on all fours? Dressed to the nines? These wax avatars are three dimensional in one way and completely one dimensional in another.
There's countless posts that already exist about bad statues and poorly planned stars on the walk of fame (see J. Lo and Mimi) so I won't go into that haunted house of horrors, but food for thought would be working out the whys and hows of how wax work places and their ilk settle on their final designs.
In the meantime, I've got a Starship induced headache with nothing's gonna stop us now playing on loop in my head. I'm going to crush that with some gin.
They might strip me of my citizenship, but I'm going to let you in on a few secrets about Australian life.
There are certain things that apparently get Australians really excited. If you work in the Australian press, one of the first things you think all Australians want to know about is how many times Australia has been mentioned in the foreign press. An American Tv show/newspaper did an article on Australia? Amazing!
Aussies also get excited about any title that includes the words 'biggest', 'in' and 'southern hemisphere' in it. It makes the isolation somehow more manageable if you know that you've got the world's biggest blahblahah if you can divide the world in two and conveniently ignore the fact that the majority of the world's most populated countries are in the northern hemisphere...
Aussies are also obsessed with property markets. There was a brief phase where we thought the stock market was where it was at, but that was the nineties. Nowadays if you're an Australian living in a capital city, it's considered uncouth to speak about stocks but strangely okay to talk about housing. People talking about investment properties, preloan approvals, what their house has been overvalued at and how real estate is so expensive but damn, didn't I make a killing...that's the kind of thing that people want to obsess about and that killed the dinner party in the process.
But the one thing that gets Australians really excited is the idea that a major brand is arriving on its shores. Krispy Kreme brought doughnuts back into fashion before it went bust. Recently high street stores like Top Shop, Uniqlo, Zara and H&M have opened up in Melbourne and beyond. When I was last there a few months ago there were lines to get into H&M. Five months after it had opened.
Well, phew, Australians, despite having one of the worst governments in the world, can find reason to smile. The first Legoland is coming to Melbourne. To Chaddie in fact. Chadstone, some will have you believe, is more than just a shopping centre. It's Australia's fashion capital. And soon it will be also home to a sprawling Legoland that will be able to hold children's attention for three whole hours. Amazing!
I mean I'm pretty sure if you leave a kid in Ikea (another exciting, nation building exercise) they'll be able to amuse themselves for three hours but who am I to say such a thing. I love Lego. I totally loved that stuff, and I'm proud that my hometown will be...oh whatever. I just don't think it's really newsworthy, but what would I know. I guess I should celebrate the fact that Lego is after all a great medium for creative and educative purposes. And have you noticed that in Lego worlds there's no such thing as body shaming because pretty much everyone is pear shaped.
So, Legoland is on its way to what will be the southern hemisphere's biggest shopping centre once the property redevelopment is completed. That effectively ticks three boxes, meaning that Australians are going to be very excited about this development.
Doctors take an oath for their patients. Archaeologists don't take an oath. But for the most part, they paradoxically spend a great deal of their lives protecting the sites that they excavate. They diligently research and document what they find (and what they think is missing) to help sustain a hypothesis that requires more fact than imagination. These interpretations eventually enrichen our collective understanding of the past as we make our way into the future.
When I was at university there were certain types of archaeologists that had the Archaeology faculty seeing red. Archaeologists that were frowned upon and who were only begrudgingly acknowledged with a raised eyebrow. Zahi Hawaas, the boss man of Egyptian archaeology was one of these guys. I remember one of my old lecturers used to refer to him as being a bit of a circus ringleader- all showmanship, not big on the research, and above all someone who didn't seem to want to do anything off camera.
Khaled Al Asaad was not one of those kinds of people, even if he had a media profile. He spent a lifetime researching Palmyra, the ancient Roman site in modern day Syria, which alongside other sites such as Leptis Magna (Libya) and Petra (Jordan) ranks as one of the most picturesque of the classical antiquity sites that still stand today.
Al Asaad was 82, and after a lifetime of service to Palmyra and the department of antiquities, spent the last month of his life in IS captivity. Reports suggest that IS militants were attempting to force him to reveal the location of safeguarded Palmyra artifacts. In addition to their well documented destruction of antiquities, IS are known to be heavily invved in the looting and black market selling of artifacts.
Al Asaad was killed in a square in recent days, not far from the Palmyra site which he oversaw until his retirement from the site in 2002. The same site where his decapitated body was then taken and hanged, his head strewn beneath it. An IS fashioned sign implicating him as being an apostate who cohorted with the Syrian regime and who traded in idols and dealt with idolators was placed beneath his body. Documented, not for the enrichment of our collective knowledge, but as a menacing threat which would attract the attention of the world's press. Another IS scalp: another leading light that has been spent.
This is another fleeting instance in which the sword seems mightier than the pen. But Al Asaad's lifelong work has burned Palmyra into the global consciousness. It could've been a dusty site in an area that few would've headed to- but instead, his deliberate and lifelong research has elevated its standing, returning it to the majesty it once had within a zone of incredible historical importance to us all.
And despite the gave danger that he, as an 82 year old man faced, Al Asaad protected Palmyra until his final days. May he and the others who have senselessly died before him at the hands of these real apostates, these real idolators, rest in peace, and may his loved ones eventually find some solace in the fact that though his death was senseless and at the hands of the ignorant, that it is he, who through his lifelong determination to preserve rather than destroy, that will be remembered, and not those who killed him when this chapter of our history is eventually written.
Dave Di Vito is a writer, teacher and former curator.He's also the author of the Vinyl Tiger series and Replace The Sky.
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