Bragi’s Art and Décor Blog

By David Arv Bragi

A curated news blog that brings you interesting topics related to the visual arts, décor, and interior design.


Women’s Voices in the Art Catalogue

Nobody says Picasso, the male artist.” — Patti Smith.

From time to time, men need to be reminded that we are not the default gender. Women have never been a “niche” demographic in the history of arts, crafts and design. They have just been a niche in the minds of the historians. To ensure that women receive proper representation in the historical catalogue of great art, women’s voices must be heard during the process of its curation.

For instance, when the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston began developing their Women Take the Floor exhibit of extraordinary twentieth century women artists and artisans — many of whom received far less recognition than their male counterparts — they asked local women community leaders to inform interpretation and give feedback on the project. The exhibit runs through November 28, 2021.

"Self Portrait" by Sofonisba Anguissola, ca.1556
“Self Portrait” by Sofonisba Anguissola, ca.1556

Fortunately, educating oneself about the contributions of women creatives isn’t that difficult anymore. One of the advantages of the Internet is that nobody with a voice can truly be silenced. Hotel Designs published several short commentaries from women who (well, yes) design hotels. Bob Vila lists short bios of many women who pioneered the interior design industry.

The importance women’s voices extends even to the urban areas in which so much of the art world congregates. For women to create, display, curate and collect creative works, they need to travel safely and economically between their homes, workplaces, commercial districts and cultural centers. Yet, as ArchDaily discusses, modern cities are designed by men to serve the needs of men, which often results in dangerous and expensive environments for women, the elderly, minorities and other underrepresented groups.

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Art Shows Struggle to Reopen During Pandemic

April 13, 2021

With a light now visible — if barely — at the end of the pandemic tunnel, society finds itself torn between a healthy desire for social distancing and a not-so-healthy case of cabin fever. In response, the art world is taking a few hesitant steps toward resuming the physical art shows and fairs that play a critical role in creating relationships between artists, collectors, galleries and communities.

April has seen the reopening of Spain’s Estampa Contemporary Art Fair, originally scheduled for last November, and Art Dubai, postponed from March 2020. Art Basel Hong Kong, arguably the first major show to cancel during the early stages of the pandemic, will reappear in May. So will Frieze New York, plus its London version opens in October.

However, Frieze cancelled its summer event in Los Angeles, focusing instead on a 2022 revival. In the Unites States, the Indianapolis Art Center canceled its huge Broad Ripple Art Fair for the second year in a row, temporarily replacing it with a smaller Locally Made festival in May.

Art Basel Hong Kong in 2019.
Art Basel Hong Kong in 2019. Image © Art Basel. Image courtesy Art Basel.

A pent-up demand also exists for urban street fairs and similar events, which attract customers to retail districts and give local residents a chance to browse the latest offerings from local creatives. Medford, Oregon’s Pear Blossom Festival decided to reopen, while New Jersey’s Bordentown Street Fair is postponed until 2022.

Understandably, this year’s events report fewer exhibitors and attendees than in past years, not least because of stringent quarantine requirements for attendees traveling from other countries. Some shows are accommodating health-conscious art collectors with virtual exhibits and online screening rooms running alongside the in-person event.

While the concept of virtual galleries and exhibits look good on paper (pun intended), many art collectors and casual buyers still need the intimate, look-and-feel experience of a physical encounter with art and artist, the ability to examine the quality of the paper, touch the sheen on a ceramic bowl, or chat with the gallery director over a glass of wine, instead of a plastic computer screen.

For the sake of our collective creative spirit, not to mention our physical health, this pandemic needs to end soon. Until then, stay safe, wear a mask, and give each other some space when viewing that great work of art at the next show.

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Designing Educational Spaces

April 6, 2021

What’s the difference between learning algebra and selling accessories? Apparently it’s less than we think. The physical spaces required for both share striking similarities.

When Burlington High School in Vermont had to relocate from its old campus into a former Macy’s Department Store, educators discovered that the retail outlet’s space, fixtures and signage — originally created to bring ambiance and style to a consumer destination — matched surprisingly well with the need for a visually stimulating classroom environment.

Burlington High School meeting at an abandoned Macy's Department Store
Burlington High School meeting inside of a Macy’s Department Store (Image: Burlington School District)

The architecture, furnishings and décor of an educational environment can have a subtle yet profound effect on a student’s ability to learn and thrive. In a pair of articles, ArchDaily offers a concise rundown of school design elements and their effect on a child’s well-being, as wells interior design’s overall behavioral and psychological impact on people in general.

My takeaways from a quick dive into these concepts? First, the psychology of developing nurturing learning spaces is still as much art as science; and second, it works best as a holistic concept that ties together all of the visual elements of art, architecture and engineering.

Looking for ideas? LPA Design Studios produced a nifty little promotional video describing its award-winning Menchaca Elementary School project. Personally, I liked their “learning stairs” concept the best.

Finally and for what it’s worth, the Burlington HS project has a rather strange mirror version in The School House, a 14,000 foot mansion built out of an abandoned elementary school in Pennsylvania. And as of this writing, it’s for sale.

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Appropriation and Exclusion in the Décor world

March 31, 2021

Even an activity as seemingly innocuous as interior home design can raise some thorny issues about the effects of commercialization on indigenous or diaspora art forms.

For one thing, the line between cultural exploration and cultural appropriation can be tricky to navigate, even for those with the best of intentions. Ocula magazine discusses Australian artist Tony Albert‘s visual exploration into the unintentionally harmful consequences of early twentieth-century artist Margaret Preston’s fascination with Aboriginal motifs, along with the resulting “Aboriginalia” style, which uses indigenous motifs to create pretty but culturally out-of-context images to design home décor products.

"Ancestor Wall" African-themed interior design by Kemi Lawson.
Kemi’s “ancestor wall” melds art, decor, family and genealogy into a very personal form of interior design. Image © Kemide Lawson.

At the same time, it can be argued that the opposite side of the cultural appropriation coin is cultural invisibility. When Kemi Lawson began browsing interior design magazines for ideas to decorate her new home, she found nary a mention of Black people like herself and their unique approach to décor in Africa and the Caribbean. Eventually finding success, Kemi authored an article in Harper’s Bazaar that offers several examples of these warm, inviting home environments.

Provocative exhibitions like Albert’s bring up a thorny question for socially-conscious art collectors and interior designers; how to decorate their spaces with authentic representations of indigenous culture in ethically and responsible ways? The answer is simple, really. It is the difference between sharing and stealing.

Meet and make friends with indigenous people, especially in the art world. Offer to contribute to their community by supporting their artists and artisan via direct purchases or approved galleries. Seek out their advice on how to best honor their cultural heritage, which types of art and décor would be appropriate or inappropriate to acquire, and how to display it with sensitivity.

Likewise if, like Lawson, you find mainstream design venues so focused on the dominant culture that you start to feel invisible, ditch the commercial sources for authentic voices. Turn to your friends, family, elders and community organizations. Ask them for ideas. Form a décor discussion group. Discover your culture’s aesthetics where it has always thrived, in your culture.

You will soon find that walking the path of sharing will grow your art collection into a unique learning experience that promotes understanding, wisdom and joy.

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