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Ai Wei Wei’s Sunflower Seeds

There is more to Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s installation than meets the eye. Bend and pick up one of the “pebbles” and you can see that it resembles a sunflower seed encased in its striped husk. In fact, each one – and there are 100 million of them, covering an area of 1,000 square metres – is handmade from porcelain and has been individually handpainted.

Ai had the “seeds” made in the southern Chinese city of Jingdezhen.

Harnessing traditional craft skills, each seed was moulded, fired, and painted with three or four individual brush strokes, often by women taking the objects home to work on them. One thousand six hundred people were involved in the process.

Sunflower seeds, he said, had a particular significance in recent Chinese culture and history. During the cultural revolution, Mao Zedong was often likened to the sun and the people to sunflowers, gazing adoringly at his face. But sunflowers were also a humble but valued source of food in straitened times, a snack to be consumed with friends.

One Hundred Million Seeds of Porcelain Contemplation, Being Blog

People power comes to the Turbine Hall, The Guardian

Henri Cartier-Bresson

A Cartier-Bresson picture taken in Shanghai, 1948, shows people storming a bank for gold in the days before the Communist forces arrived.

A 1972 photo of a Georgian family picnicking near a medieval monastery

A Photographer Whose Beat Was the World, New York Times

Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Modern Century
April 11—June 28, 2010

Ruins of Detroit

United Artists Theater

Fort Shelby Hotel

Ballroom, Fort Wayne Hotel

Ballroom, Lee Plaza Hotel

Yves Marchand & Romain Meffre Photography

Klein’s Rome





In 1956, the photographer William Klein arrived in Rome to assist Federico Fellini on his film Nights of Cabiria (1957). When the start of filming was delayed, Klein spent his time strolling about the city with Fellini, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Alberto Moravia, and other avant-garde Italian writers and artists serving as his guides. It was from these walks that Klein’s 1959 book of photography Rome was born.

Wiltshire’s New York



Stephen Wiltshire of London is drawing a panorama of New York City from memory. Wiltshire, who has autism, took a 20-minute ride over the city in a helicopter last Friday. Wiltshire has drawn panoramas of eight cities: Tokyo, Rome, Hong Kong, Frankfurt, Madrid, Dubai, Jerusalem, and London. The New York panorama will be his ninth and last.

The public will be able to visit Wiltshire while he works on his New York panorama from 10am to 5pm, Monday, October 26 to Friday, October 30 at the Pratt Institute’s Juliana Curran Terian Design Center.

Like a Skyline Is Etched in His Head, New York Times






The 36-year-old Liu Bolin paints on himself to blend into his surroundings. Liu poses and works for up to 10 hours at a time on a single photo. Sometimes passerbys don’t even realize he is there until he moves.

Liu sees his work as a silent protest against the Government’s persecution of artists. The Chinese authorities shut down his studio in 2005.

The Americans

Funeral—St. Helena, South Carolina, 1955

Charleston, South Carolina, 1955

Trolley—New Orleans, 1955

“It is always the instantaneous reaction to oneself that produces a photograph.” —Robert Frank

Looking In: Robert Frank’s The Americans
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
September 22, 2009—January 3, 2010

Lost Lhasa

Cheeks ballooning, monks force sirenlike blasts from silver trumpets as they clear the way for their king.

Top Tibetan officials marvel at a souvenir from America. A finance secretary peers through a slide viewer, memento of a Tibetan trade delegation’s mission to the United States in 1948.

Mother and child pray on Chagpori’s crest, a pilgrim shrine.

Clouds of dust and incense veil the Dalai Lama’s flight to safety. When China’s troops entered Tibet in 1950, the Living Buddha fled to the Sikkim border. Here in a sedan chair, he rides between rows of stones designed to ward off demons.

In sublime reverence, the Dalai Lama cradles his faith’s holiest relic. When this young man was two years old, mysterious signs revealed him as the incarnation of Tibet’s patron god, Chanrezi, and the previous 13 Dalai Lamas. Here at Dungkhar Monastery he receives a gold-encased bone which Tibetans believe to be that of Gautama Buddha, who founded the religion on which Lamaism is based.

My Life in Forbidden Lhasa by Heinrich Harrer, National Geographic

Afghanistan’s Hidden Treasures

Limestone fountain spout.

Gold necklace set with turquoise, garnet, and pyrite.

Folding gold crown. Could be laid flat and packed in a saddlebag when the tribe moved from place to place.

Omara Khan Massoudi knows how to keep a secret. Massoudi is director of the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul. Like the French citizens during World War II who hid works of art in the countryside to prevent them from falling into Nazi hands, Massoudi and a few trusted tahilwidars—key holders—secretly packed away Afghanistan’s ancient treasures when they saw their country descend into an earthly hell.

First came the Soviet invasion in 1979, followed about ten years later by a furious civil war that reduced much of Kabul to ruins. As Afghan warlords battled for control of the city, fighters pillaged the national museum, selling the choicest artifacts on the black market and using museum records to kindle campfires. In 1994 the building was shelled, destroying its roof and top floor. The final assault came in 2001, when teams of hammer-wielding Taliban zealots came to smash works of art they deemed idolatrous.

Afghanistan’s Hidden Treasures, National Geographic

Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
June 23—September 20, 2009

Waste Not



Purely to survive, Song Dong’s parents adhered to the Cultural Revolutionary dictum of frugality in daily life, with his mother carrying conservation to extravagant lengths.

The Collected Ingredients of a Beijing Life, New York Times

Waste Not
June 24—September 7, 2009

65 Years Ago, Paris







French photographer André Zucca was hired by the Nazi propaganda magazine Signal to capture scenes of Paris flourishing under German occupation. Joseph Goebbels decreed that the French capital should be “animated and gay” to show off the “new Europe.” Zucca was provided with rare Agfacolor film. His are the only known color photographs of occupied Paris.

After the liberation, Zucca was arrested but never prosecuted. He worked under an assumed name as a wedding photographer until his death in 1976.

Andre Zucca’s photographs of gay Paris at war paint an uneasy portrait of city collaboration, The Times (London)

LiveJournal: bekar


Flag, 1954-1955

White Flag, 1955

Three Flags, 1958

“I make what it pleases me to make… I have no ideas about what the paintings imply about the world. I don’t think that’s a painter’s business. He just paints paintings without a conscious reason. I intuitively paint flags.” —Jasper Johns


30 Years Ago, Tehran





Magnum Photos: Pre-Khomeini Iran

East German Design





East German By Design: The ABCs of Communist Consumer Culture, Spiegel Online

1 Year Ago, Coney Island






Photos by Piotr Redlinski

Wenceslas Square or Tiananmen?

There can be no question that the June 12, 2009, Iranian presidential election was stolen. Dissident employees of the Interior Ministry, which is under the control of President Ahmadinejad and is responsible for the mechanics of the polling and counting of votes, have reportedly issued an open letter saying as much. Government polls (one conducted by the Revolutionary Guards, the other by the state broadcasting company) that were leaked to the campaigns allegedly showed ten- to twenty-point leads for Mousavi a week before the election; earlier polls had them neck and neck, with Mousavi leading by one per cent, and Karroubi just behind.

What is most shocking is not the fraud itself, but that it was brazen and entirely without pretext. The final figures put Mousavi’s vote below thirty-five per cent, and not because of a split among reformists; they have Karroubi pulling less than one per cent of the vote. To announce a result this improbable, and to do it while locking down the Interior Ministry, sending squads of Revolutionary Guards into the streets, blacking out Internet and cell-phone communication, and shuttering the headquarters of the rival candidates, sends a chilling message to the people of Iran—not only that the Islamic Republic does not care about their votes, but that it does not fear their wrath. Iranians, including many of the original founders and staunch supporters of the revolution, are angry, and they will demonstrate. But they will be met with organized and merciless violence. Already, YouTube clips are streaming out of Iran, many of them showing riot police savagely beating protestors.

In the days before the vote, my Iranian contacts breathlessly compared the atmosphere in Iran to that of 1979, the year of the Islamic Revolution. In the last twenty-four hours, the unavoidable analogy has become 1989. The big question is where we are: Wenceslas Square or Tiananmen.

Iran’s Stolen Election by Laura Secor, The New Yorker

Harlem, 1970





The neighborhood was like a rundown version of Paris in which life was lived outside, on the streets, amid the fading glory of its grand boulevards.

The Harlem That Was by Camilo José Vergara, Slate

Harlem, 1970-2009: Photographs by Camilo José Vergara
New York Historical Society
April 30—July 12, 2009

20 Years Ago, Beijing




Scelere velandum est scelus.
One crime must be concealed by another. —Seneca

On June 4, 1989, seven weeks of peaceful protest were ended with tanks and guns. The world watched as soldiers fired on students, workers, and ordinary citizens demonstrating for democracy and human rights. Many were shot in the back as they fled. The Chinese red cross reported 2,600 deaths, while the official government record is 241.

The protests and massacre have become known among dissidents as the “June 4th Movement” or simply “6/4” but many younger Chinese are unaware of the date’s significance.

The Chinese search engine Baidu now blocks at least 19 derivations of “six four,” including homophones, the abbreviation “SF,” and “63+1.” Some internet users have begun to evade censors by referring to the date as May 35th.

Days ahead of the 20th anniversary, the Chinese government has forbidden foreign television crews and photographers from filming Tiananmen square, detained dissidents, blacked out BBC news broadcasts, blocked web sites including Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube, and halted delivery of international newspapers.

Today in China some wore white, the color of mourning, as a form of silent protest and 100,000 people took part in a candlelight vigil at Victoria Park in Hong Kong.

Magnum Photos: Remembering Tiananmen

Frontline: The Tank Man

Opinel Knife


The Opinel knife was invented by Joseph Opinel in about 1895.

In 1565 King Charles IX of France had ordered every master knife-maker to place an emblem on his products to guarantee their origin and quality. Respecting this tradition, Joseph Opinel chose as his emblem “The Crowned Hand”.

In 1985 Opinel was recognised as one of the hundred best designed objects in the world by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. An Opinel knife is also exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York as a masterpiece of design.