Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Observations on Art 7.10

I'll be on the road again because the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts starts tomorrow and runs through Sunday in State College. That makes it a good time to post some of the art notes I have.

You may not realize it but color has a history almost as intriguing as the art that was created with it. For various reasons there are colors that were once wildly popular but are no longer used or outright extinct. Some are poisonous, white lead is the obvious one but green has had its share of problems. Both Scheele's Green and Paris Green were produced using arsenite compounds (arsenite is an oxidized version of arsenic). Scheele's Green may have caused the death of Napoleon as his apartment in exile was painted with the color while Paris Green was used in early insecticides.

Other colors are just lost to the ages. Mayan Blue is a sky blue color used by the Mayans which doesn't fade, ever. It was made from clay and the indigo plant but the exact preparation is lost. Tyrian Purple was made from the shell of a certain shellfish which was only found off the shore of ancient Phoenicia’s Tyre. Actually a reddish purple it was the color of royalty for centuries but was extremely expensive and disappeared along with the shellfish.

Than there are colors that are simply illegal. Indian Yellow was supposedly made from the urine of cows fed only mango leaves and water but there is no documented proof of that. Whether true or not the government of India outlawed the color in 1908 though a synthetic version is available today. Another illegal color is Mummy Brown the story of which I'll let to your imagination.

Finally there is a blue in a category all its own, Ultramarine or Sacred Blue. It was first produced in the 6th century and is made by grinding the Lapis Lazuli semi-precious stone of Afghanistan. The paint is literally worth its weight in gold. Unlike some of the other colors I mentioned true Lapis Lazuli blue does still exists and you can purchase it yourself, for $38/gram, at the Kremer Pigmente store in New York.

A few other random thoughts ....

The rich just keep getting richer and in this case I'm not talking about dealers or collectors. Glenn Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art, was paid $1.8 million in 2011 while his rival the Metropolitan Museum of Art's President Emily Rafferty was paid $1.1 million. Nine New York City museum or performing arts organization chiefs made over $1 million that year.

For over forty years the Met has been closed on Mondays but as of July 1st that changed and the museum is now open seven days a week. I only bring that up because there was always a joke that Monday was the Met's busiest day of the week. More tourists lined up at the Met's door on a Monday morning than on any other.

Speaking again of the Met, did you know that you can 'pay what you wish' whenever you visit? The recommended fee is $25 but as little as 1¢ will do just fine. You didn't hear that from me.

7/11 update - The greens seem to be cursed, Ash had another I hadn't thought of myself. Verdigris, actually vert-de-Grèce or the Green of Greece. It's another green that is highly toxic but was the most popular green of the Renaissance when it was made by soaking copper plates in wine. You've seen it hundreds of times without realizing it because it's made by oxidizing copper. It's the color of the Statue of Liberty.

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