Founded by Michael Xufu Huang and Theresa Tse, the X Museum opens in the Chinese capital the last weekend after Covid-19 delay. With U.S. museums closed chief conservators faced the challenge of how to assure the well-being of their collections without the benefit of constant physical oversight. The New-York Historical Society announced this week a promised gift of 130 works depicting New York City scenes. The 2022 Bucharest Biennale edition will be curated by an artificial intelligence called J.A.R.V.I.S. Second World War Enigma machine on offer at Vienna’s Dorotheum.
The launch of Beijing’s private X Museum
China’s nationwide lockdown pushed the launch of Beijing’s private X Museum, founded by the young collectors Michael Xufu Huang and Theresa Tse. The X Museum opens in the Chinese capital the last weekend after Covid-19 delay. The museum teased its opening show with an interactive online exhibition conceived as “complementary to our physical space”.
Designed by the architect and artist Pete Jiadong Qiang, the site went live on 6 March, and attracted over 20,000 visitors by 6 May. Unlike the recent increase of online viewing rooms “which are like going through PDFs”, Huang says the exhibition is “almost like a game” in which the art “flies into your face”. Still, he admits: “it does not replace seeing physical art”.
Huang, who also sits on the board of the New Museum in New York, hopes X Museum will buck the current trend among Chinese museums to “buy content from abroad”. Imported international blockbusters are a form of “art education” for Chinese audiences, he thinks, but “after a while people get bored, and need new content that is more challenging.”
Aged 26 and 27 respectively, Huang and Tse want to represent creatives of their generation, including designers, architects, celebrities, scientists and musicians as well as artists. “X represents many things including Generation X, the start of millennials, young energy,” Huang says. He anticipates a warm reception for the museum and art in Beijing generally this summer. “People are so bored, the second we can get out, we want to do something!”
Museums shut: The challenge to assure the well-being of the art collections
When museums across the United States closed their doors in mid-March in response to the coronavirus pandemic, chief conservators faced a challenge, and this was how to assure the well-being of their collections without the benefit of constant physical oversight. With museums shut, US conservators seize on strategies to safeguard their collections Experts embrace a blend of remote monitoring and on-site tours.
Matthew Siegal, chair of conservation and collections management at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), Boston, said that conservators had draped polyethylene over dust-sensitive polychrome painted wood and stone statues and sealed dress mannequins in polyethylene bags. Because the museums’ decisions to close were made so quickly, dozens of conservation projects across the country were stopped in midstream, frustrating the conservators and technicians who had labored over them.
Unable to enter the museum to continue treatment projects, conservators have been catching up on researching and writing academic papers, processing digital images of works of art, writing and editing condition and treatment reports, supplementing conservation information in their digital management systems, enrolling in online workshops and conferences, and sharing their experiences with colleagues at other museums via online chats, social media, and phone calls.
130 works representing New York City scenes
The New-York Historical Society announced this week a promised gift of 130 works depicting New York City scenes, including vivid examples by Norman Rockwell, Marc Chagall, Robert Henri, Jacob Lawrence, Georgia O’Keeffe, Louise Nevelson and David Hockney, from the philanthropists Elie and Sarah Hirschfeld.
The art, dating from the mid-19th through the 21st century, includes works by artists from movements associated with New York City like the Ashcan School, Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art as well as international artists with a feeling for the city. With its robust representation of 20th-century artists, it is a significant defense for the New-York Historical Society’s collection.
“Our collection will be very much amplified by the gift,” Louise Mirrer, president and chief executive of the New-York Historical Society, said in an interview. “There’s a visual experience of history that we provide with our Hudson River paintings but don’t provide for the 20th century–that’s the most dramatic way that this collection will alter the picture for our visitors.”
A major exhibition of all 130 works and a publication are planned for the fall of 2021, and a dedicated space at the museum known as the Elie and Sarah Hirschfeld Gallery, Scenes of New York City will be devoted to rotating works from the couple’s gift. Mirrer said the collection was being gifted over a period of years: “They’ll arrive in waves, and we’ve plotted out the waves.” Of the 107 artists whose works make up the gift, 82 are not currently represented in the society’s collection.
Bucharest Biennale to be curated by an artificial intelligence called Jarvis
The 2022 edition will exist in virtual reality and use data harvested from universities, galleries and art centers to select artists. Curators may soon find themselves out of a job as the Bucharest Biennale announced this week that its tenth edition will be curated by an artificial intelligence (AI) programme called Jarvis, named after a fictional AI that appears in the Iron Man films and comics called J.A.R.V.I.S. (Just A Rather Very Intelligent System).
The programme is being built and developed by the Vienna-based studio Spinnwerk and will begin by generating a “short text as a concept—like a sentence or two,” says the Spinnwerk founder Razvan Ion. It will then “use deep learning in order to learn by itself from databases from universities, galleries or art centres” using the initial concept as the “key structure” for its curatorial choices, Ion says.
“At the end of the process Jarvis will select several participants/artists/creators for the biennial based on his knowledge,” he says. Ion adds that the team will have to rely on organisations that have the relevant information in a database form and that are willing to share it.
The biennial will take place virtually, in the Spinnwerk VR gallery (due to be launched in October), according to Ion, and be accessible worldwide. In addition, there will be VR booths in Bucharest and Vienna where people without VR headsets at home can view the biennial. “People will react and feel completely different after experiencing our immersive narrative,” he says.
Second World War Enigma machine on offer at Vienna’s Dorotheum
The Germans believed Enigma was uncrackable; cryptographers at Bletchley Park broke the code, contributing to the Allies’ victory. An Enigma encryption machine used by the German army in the Second World War, one of few surviving examples according to the Dorotheum, is on offer at the Viennese auction house on 4 June with a high estimate of €30,000 – €40,000.
Enigma was invented by the German electrical engineer Arthur Scherbius, who first applied for a patent in 1918. The German military began using it in 1926 and soon after, its production was restricted for use by the armed forces, the diplomatic service, and the national railway service. The Germans believed its code was absolutely unbreakable.
In fact, the Poles had broken Enigma codes as early as 1932 and with the Second World War looming, shared their knowledge with the British in 1939. At Bletchley Park, a stately home north of London, an army of cryptographers including Alan Turing intercepted and deciphered radio messages produced by Enigma and developed their own machine to crack its system.
The intelligence they gathered was critical to many Allied war successes, allowing naval forces, for instance, to track German submarines and prevent attacks on merchant ships bringing supplies from the US to Britain. The decoding of Enigma remained a secret until the 1970s; now Bletchley Park is a museum dedicated to the codebreakers.