Zany, Crass fun with the Video Game The Procession to Calvary

The Procession to Calvary by Pieter Bruegel

As you may know from my bio, I am a YouTube gamer and I play along with my husband. It’s his channel and I help with the banter. Now you must be wondering what this has to do with the art blog.

Recently I came across a game titled The Procession to Calvary by the game developer Joe Richardson and Digerati. If you are an art historian or you happen to be studying up on art from the 1500s, you may know of a painting by the same title by Netherlandish Renaissance artist Pieter Bruegel.

The game is centered around a female knight named Bellona, who is the Roman goddess of war featured in Rembrandt’s work by the same title. She has a penchant for killing and goes on a quest to kill a king named Heavenly John. Bellona must solve these absurd puzzles, which gets her closer to him. The background of the game display artworks from the 1500s to the 1800s and the characters move in the foreground.

Besides the silliness of the puzzles, the people that she encounters gives the gamers laugh out loud moments, such as helping out a “street magician” who has a striking resemblance to Jesus and the girl with the amethyst earring, which we coax her to switch to a pearl one.

Perhaps this is a new way of engaging people with art. I didn’t recognize many of the art pieces in the game and had to look up some of them. Maybe gamers who play the game get curious to know if the art are actual pieces. There are plenty of bizarre ones to ponder over.

It’s a short, easy game where you play with your computer and point and click on characters and objects. If you’re interested in seeing our gameplay, check us out under Woolly Mammoth Gaming on YouTube.

Denver Art Museum Exhibit: Whistler to Cassatt: American Painters in France

One of the “Salons” at the DAM

This past weekend I paid a visit to the Denver Art Museum for its new exhibit on American Painters in France. Complete with an audio wand (usually you have to pay extra for that), one hears and sees the French influenced works; covering the period between 1855 and 1913.

From room to room, you can see the progress from sketches and first impressions as students from the École des BeauxArts to the masterpieces that graced the Paris Salon. The audio reveals what it was like to be a student at the BeauxArts and later as a painter, visiting Grez Sur Loing and Giverny for inspiration.

It was a treat observing the large canvasses, not only from Cassatt and Whistler, but from John Singer Sargent, Childe Hassam and Henry Ossawa Tanner. My favorite was La Cigale (The Cicada) by Robert Reid. It has this Art Nouveau appeal, which is one of my favorite art styles. In the background there was whimsical French inspired music playing. You can see the playlist as you walk into the gift shop.

I got a kick out of noticing the last painting displayed by Edward Hopper, Les Ponts des Arts, because it indicated the start of Modernism. It seemed out of place, yet it made since in the timeline that the exhibit was taking patrons through.

After viewing the exhibit, I puzzled over the title of it since there were more Cassatt paintings than Whistler. There was practically a whole room dedicated to her. Perhaps it could have been titled Cassatt to Sargent? I believe there were more of his.

Meow Wolf Denver: A Dizzying Trip Through Memories

Not too long ago I wrote about my experience riding the Meow Wolf ride at Elitch Gardens in Denver and the evolving climate of immersive art. Immersive art has mutated into a way to draw people who didn’t even give art a glance a chance to see what art is about.

About a month ago, Meow Wolf opened a new immersive art building in Denver and it wasn’t until now that I had a chance to experience. And boy was it a doozy.

As of now, you must have a timed entry ticket and they do check bags complete with security gates. Oh, and you can’t bring in reusable water bottles, they make you empty them out. Once you get in, you can take the elevators to the different levels and there are three.

Once the elevators open, you are dropped off into a bizarre sequence of dreams, that changes as you pass through doors, or black strip door curtains. It only gets stranger and stranger.

At first, I was confused and overwhelmed as to what I should see first. But I realized there’s no rhyme or reason, like a typical art museum where there are themed sections or a pathway. You just open a door and follow it.

Now I don’t want to give too much of it away because you have to experience it for yourself. It does feel like you are having dreams that make no sense, where there are things that are familiar (because Meow Wolf usually like to repurpose objects for art sakes) and not so familiar; such as Dr. Suess- like beasts and abstract structures.

Part science-fiction, part surrealism, you are a visitor visiting Convergence Station which is a place that was created when a cosmic event minced up and then mashed together four different worlds. Memories are the only things left connecting the citizens of Convergence Station. They are so important that they became part of the economy.

Exploration is heavily encouraged and their are ‘citizens’ lurking about to converse with you. Meow Wolf Denver is open for anyone who has a curious mind. You don’t have to necessarily appreciate art, yet if you do, it is so rewarding.

The Relevance of American Western Art

Grand Teton, in Wyoming

During my trip to Wyoming one of my stops were to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West located in Cody. It is a massive museum complex that encompasses five museums; one of which being the Whitney Western Art Museum.

It was dedicated in 1959 to artist Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. She was responsible for creating the Buffalo Bill memorial which sits outside of the Center of the West.

Inside the Whitney you can find over three hundred works of art, mostly displayed in chronological order, from Charlie Russell, Frederic Remington, Thomas Moran, Albert Bierstadt, and even some recent artists.

As I studied the pieces, I thought about the art history classes that I took and I couldn’t remember if there was a section about Western art. Upon returning back to my home, I cracked opened one of my art history textbooks to look for it.

After a bit of time, I found a small section about Western art, which only mentions Thomas Cole and Albert Bierstadt. I wondered if perhaps, the author didn’t believe it was that relevant.

I did some digging around about Western art and found that outside of the Smithsonian art museum in D.C., there are around fifteen American Western Art Museums; including the Briscoe Museum in San Antonio Texas which opened in 2013.

If there’s a Western Art museum that opened in 2013, then these types of museums must be popular. I suppose comparing American Western art to, say, the Renaissance or Modern art; wouldn’t hold much weight. Yet, it does to Americans.

As I learned more about the Whitney Western Art museum and Western Art; I realized something. Western Art shows us American history, geography and a glimpse into the lives of Indigenous Peoples.

Yes, there are plenty that are fictional pieces, yet you can’t overlook Charles Russell’s take on the cowboy life and Albert Bierstadt’s vision of the majestic mountains of the Rockies.

American Western art may not have the glamour of Impressionism or the provocation of Dadaism, but it stokes a curiosity of what life was like when the West was wild, the lands were unchanged, and the Native peoples’ history were altered.

Manifest Destiny in Art Works

I recently visited a living history park 4 miles outside of Denver, a 12 acre land with the oldest house and a small farm. It served as a resting spot on the intersecting trails during the mid 1800s, when many were crossing from the East to the West. As I gazed at one of the stage coaches in the dilapitated barn, the words manifest destiny came to mind.

Manifest destiny was the collective belief that Americans were meant to scatter across the West with the mindset of fulfilling their dreams of a better life. History will tell us that it was tainted by the fact that it took a tragic turn with the violent upending of Native Americans from their lands.

Yet, that’s not what I want to talk about, I’m addressing how it influenced artists of that time to create beautiful masterpieces of sweeping landscapes, stunning sunrises and idyllic life.

No one championed the idea of manifest destiny more so than artist Albert Bierstadt. His pieces brought attention to the Western regions, skillfully depicting serene natural settings of majestic mountain ranges, woodland animals and awe-inspiring skies; all used to beckon the viewers forth.

Yet, the best symbolic example of manifest destiny is John Gast’s American Progress, where he depicts America’s female figure, Columbia, leading people across the expanse of the West; with her book of American ideals in hand. It’s not exactly an easy painting to view since you can see she is clearing a path through Native Americans and animals for the ‘dreamers’ to continue.

English artist Thomas Cole found the American countryside appealing unlike many of his colleagues. He may not have been inspired by manifest destiny, yet he was amused with the idea of where America as a society was headed. Cole focused on revealing the unique qualities of America’s natural settings.

Having reached the Western most part of the US, the belief of manifest destiny had died out long ago, so has paintings of realistic landscapes. Not that there haven’t been any landscape artists. The more recent landscape artists incorporate abstract elements.

As dark as that part of history was, it was hard to imagine how, many Americans managed to cross over the Rocky Mountains with horses attached to this huge stage coach. All for a chance on a new life, a new adventure.

Porn and Artful Nudity

One of the most visited pornographic websites, PornHub, is facing charges from the Louvre in France and the Uffizi in Italy. Reason being that they recreated scenes from masterpieces using porn stars, on their site without permission.

Some of the paintings that inspired their suggestive scenes, were Spring (also known as Primavera) by Botticelli and Bacchus by Caravaggio. To top it, PornHub also wrote explicit descriptions of the recreations.

This is all quite scandalous… or is it? Is it offensive or comical? It depends on who you ask. Nudity in art has been around for years and it is always described as a form of beauty in an art setting. Yet, there would be people who would say otherwise. Not to say that it’s all pornographic, that’s on a different level.

Is PornHub being disrespectful by tainting these works of art? Perhaps they were bringing attention the classical arts or trying to bring forward these artworks into the present? Like I had mentioned before, this site is visited often.

Either way, it makes one think about the ideas and issues over nudity and art and what is acceptable and what is not. It’s a thin line that artists tight-rope on a lot of times.

Ultimately, it’s part of a form of expression and that’s what art is all about. Whether PornHub was doing it for art sakes (which I would be surprised if it was) or not; who knows.

I found it funny, that the representative of the Uffizi was stating that PornHub needed to have asked for permission and even if they did they would have declined.

Sound Art: The Next New Art Movement

At the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Texas; a new project is under way. Funded by art philanthropists Ernest and Sara Butler (a cool 5 millions was dropped) the art installation is set to open to the public in 2022.

Being built by Norwegian based architecture firm, Snøhetta, a sound garden is what is expected to become part of a revitalization mission. It will be set as an open space park, where listeners will stroll through.

What does this sound garden entail? For it’s first commission, a sound artist by the name of Bill Fontana (who started his passion in sound art back in the 50s and 60s) is tasked with traveling across the Bay Area region to record sounds. In his previous project, he had created the SoundScape park in Miami Beach, Florida.

One of Fontana’s goal is to capture the echolocation sounds of bats. Since the sound is not perceptible to the human ear, Fontana will be controlling the sound quality.

The Butler Sound Gallery will be the first of its kind, only specializing in the art form of sounds. Fontana’s installation is expected to be displayed for two years and with the large endowment from the Butlers, there will be future sound commissions to come.

Sound art, also known as sound installation is nothing new. It goes back as far as 1913, where futurist Luigi Russolo invented sound machines to recreate the bang and clang of the industrial revolution.

Not long after that the Dadaists and Surrealists picked up on the medium, spawning such works as Marcel Duchamp’s Erratum Musical and John Cage’s 4’33.” With the advent of digital technology, sound art took a vast transformation; since the technology is there to make it more inventive and creative.

In my area of Denver, artist Jim Green installed grates into the sidewalk of the 16th street mall (a touristy hotspot) and placed recorded sounds underneath. What one hears is not exactly what you would think, since he collected a variety of sounds that range from a lion’s roar to ocean waves. It’s titled Soundwalk like sidewalk; get it?

Recently, Denver musician Divya Maus invented a geolocation software that allows people to listen to different sounds depending on where they are standing in a park. You could be listening to cows mooing under a tree or the music of grasshoppers while sitting on a bench.

Mesopotamia and Persia: The Cradle of Civilization and Big Baby Steps – Part 1

The Sumerians of Mesopotamia were responsible for many inventions, including writing, the wheel, and the plow and irrigation canals. They also influenced for the next 2,000 years after that the pictorial narrative. The pictorial narrative is scenes depicting a story. We saw a little bit of that with the decorated rooms of Catal Hoyuk.

This change from hunter/gatherer to farmer/herder is called Neolithic Revolution. It first developed in Mesopotamia (“The land between the rivers.” The rivers being the Tigris and Euphrates), which spawned the three great religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Historians and archaeologists have been digging around there since about the 19th century and have excavated exciting goodies.

Museums across Europe and North America began stocking up on Mesopotamian art, starting with hunting and warfare reliefs and statues of winged bulls with a man’s head. The most significant find was a treasure trove of gold items, jewelry, artworks, and musical instruments. The excavation was led by archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley in the 1920s at the Royal Cemetery at Ur in southern Iraq. This discovery rivaled that of King Tutankhamen in 1922.

Sumerians created independent city-states (if you’re wondering what this is, it’s a city with surrounding territories), each protected by Mesopotamian gods. The rulers of each city-state were the mortal representatives of the gods, and they also were keepers of the goods, the rich kind. They also dealt in city management, such as the building of canals and food distribution.

As you can see, besides the invention of writing and farming, the Sumerians created the first type of government. Which as I remember it, Disney World’s Spaceship Earth fail to mention. I only remember them mentioning writing, which only stuck because I’ve ridden the ride thousands of times.

Now to get to the art part, and there’s no art without some history. In each city-state were temples that played a central role in the lives of the Sumerians. They were a city inside a city, similar to the Vatican City. One of the ones found was the White Temple at Uruk; it is well-preserved and is 5,000 years old. It is remarkable because it has not eroded along with the other buildings since it is made with the same materials – mud.

Archaeologists believe that the White Temple was the worshipping site for Anu, the sky god. The rooms where the priests and high-ranking individuals would hang out were considered “waiting rooms.” They were waiting for God to descend upon them; there might have been no roof to the White Temple.

 A marble head of a female was found in Uruk, leading archaeologists to believe that it is the head of Inanna, a goddess that the Sumerians worshipped. The back of the head is flat, and there are drill marks and a grove on the crown of the head, where a wig would have been fitted. It was attached to a body, yet the stone body was never found. 

The city-states weren’t neighborly and were constantly at war, documented on the Stele of the Vultures, found in Girsu. A Stele is a slab of carved stone that depicts historical events. It is covered in cuneiform (no, it’s not a foot bone, but an ancient language), and it’s not the first of its kind. The Egyptians had made their own three centuries earlier, and I will get into that later in a different blog post.

The reason behind the name comes from the relief showing vultures carrying off the heads of defeated enemies at the end of the war of Eannatum, the ruler of Lagash. The relief is similar to the Neolithic deer hunters in that it is composed of frontal and profile views. One can see an infantry with shields and spears. You can also see Eannatum on one size larger than the other soldiers, showing his power and fearlessness.

Finding the Stele of the Vultures gave archaeologists a glimpse into the life of the Sumerians, particularly the social issues between the city-states and their warfare. It is among many reliefs and artifacts to come, where ancient people recorded their history. The historians believe that the images on the Stele were the start of conceptual representation, where the figures are done in realistic poses. In other words, if an artist were to paint a figure in profile, they had to hide the limbs from the other side because then it would like an octopus person.

Ur, the wealthy city and home of biblical Abraham, had a massive burial ground that the archaeologist named the Royal Cemetery of Ur. It was an exquisite find since what was found were treasures made of gold and lapis lazuli, such as helmets, bowls, and musical instruments. During the third millennium, the leading families of Ur were buried with their luxurious items.

Among the items found in the Royal Cemetery were the Standard Of Ur, a wooden box covered in shell, lapis lazuli, and red limestone. Because of its shape, it was believed that it was a military standard. If you ask me, it looks more like a rectangle. On the two long sides of the box, there are narratives carved. On one side, it has a war procession complete with foot soldiers and chariots; the other side is of a lavish banquet and a musician using a bull-headed harp.

The harp seen on the Standard was a fragmentary harp found on the same site in the tomb of Lady Pu-abi. Besides the wooden frame, gold leaf and lapis lazuli are inlaid on the bullhead and wood. It is an extraordinary musical piece seen at the British Museum; I remember standing before it and imagining it being played.

Lady Pu-abi’s remains were found with a headdress and jewelry made of gold, silver, lapis lazuli, carnelian, and agate. Next to her body were three cylinder seals. A cylinder seal is a cylindrical piece of stone engraved with a cuneiform script. It is made by rolling an engraved stone over clay which would leave behind an impression. One of them had Lady Pu-abi’s name on it. The others have shown scenes from her life.

In 2332 BCE, Sumer went under new management and fell under the arrogant reign of Sargon of Akkad (if the word Sargon, meaning true king, doesn’t describe his arrogance well; then I don’t know what does). He brought with him their language, Akkadian, yet used the Sumerian cuneiform for writing. All the power went to Sargon the Akkad, instead of the city-states, as it was before he took over. His grandson, Naram-Sin, was no different; he decided to call himself the King of Four Quarters – ruler of the earth. This man had a god complex.

Naram-Sin had a Stele made to commemorate his defeat of the Lullubi people of the East Iranian mountains. It had two inscriptions, one honoring Naram-Sin and the other naming the Elamite king who took over Sippar in 1157 BCE. The Elamite king had taken the Stele to Susa in southwestern Iran as a prize.

A copper head of one of the Akkadian kings was found in Nineveh, which is now Kuyunjik, Iraq. It was part of a statue, and it was knocked over sometime when the Medes peopled stormed the area in 612 BCE; the eyes were gouged out to make a political statement. It has these patterns reflecting the person’s beard and hat. It is one of the oldest life-size hollow-cast heads found.

The Third Dynasty of Ur rolled in around 2150 BCE, pushing out the Akkadians, done by the mountain people, the Gutians, and then pushing the Gutians out by the Sumerians. The Sumerians still had some fights in them. During this period, the ensi (ruler) of Lagash, Gudea, had commissioned a statue of himself with inscriptions. To show how prestigious he was, he had it made diorite. Diorite is one of the hardest stones to carve on. He also made sure that the viewer knew it was diorite by adding an inscription that said so.

Unfortunately, the rise of the Sumerians was a short period where the Elamites took over the governing city-states came back into play. One of these city-states was Babylon, run by the famous king Hammurabi. Hammurabi is known for his laws that influenced societies to come. There were punishments for all sorts of crimes, from murder to cutting a neighbor’s tree. He sure thought of everything.

Hammurabi had a Stele made with his laws carved and the image of the sun god Shamash and himself standing before the God. The unique thing about the Stele is that it was the first hint at foreshortening. Foreshortening is when there is depth in an art piece by making the figure or object pose at an angle instead of in profile or frontal.

Another one bit the dust when it came to the Babylonian Empire. Overrun by the Hittites, Anatolian people, Babylon was left for the Kassites. East of Babylon was Elam, a city mentioned in the Bible; its capital was Susa (present-day Iran). Here, archaeologists found painted pottery dating back to the Neolithic age. These Elamites were cheeky enough to steal the stelae of Naram-Sin and Hammurabi as war prizes.

In Susa, the life-sized bronze and copper statue of Queen Napir-Asu was found. Queen Napir-Asu was the wife of King Untash-Napirisha, a great Elamite king. Its core is bronze, and the outside is covered in a copper shell. The statue was found in a temple where it was meant to stay immovable. An inscription on the sculpture read that whoever mutilated it would be cursed by the gods. Pretty serious.

Next up on the society list are the Assyrians, who pushed over the Elamites in 641 BCE. Assyrian is derived from the name of Assur, named after the God Ashur, located in Zagros (northern Iraq). The Assyrians became a massive empire.

They built fortified citadels instead of palaces since they had a ‘join us or die’ mentality. One of them was the Palace of Sargon II. It was ‘guarded’ by guardian figures and decorated with murals and relief sculptures. The guardians are man-headed, winged bulls (a Lamassu).

Not much is left of the Assyrian dynasty, except for a panel from the Palace of Ashurnasirpal II. It depicted King Ashurnasirpal II and his customary homage to the gods. The panel was made with glazed brick, which is probably why it survived. There were also reliefs found within the walls of Ashurnasirpal’s palace, many of which depicted Assyrian life, specifically hunting. Many were found in another palace of King Ashurbanipal, not to be confused with the other guy with a similar name.

The Assyrian empire ended with Ashurbanipal, where they were constantly being attacked by the Medes and the remaining people of Babylon. This takes us to Neo-Babylonia and Persia.  

The Advent of Immersive Art

The other day I stood in line with my husband for a ride in Elitch Gardens, situated in downtown Denver. The idea of the ride is like no other, yet the actual ride mechanics was like a typical haunted house ride with a boxcar to sit in.

Its concept and creation came from Meow Wolf, an art collective stationed out of Santa Fe, New Mexico. They have permanent art installations in Santa Fe, Las Vegas, and now in Denver. Besides the ride, they are planning on another permanent residence.

On the ride’s official website, which is called Kaleidoscape, they bill it as being a thrill ride. It’s not a roller coaster; heck, it doesn’t even go fast. The ride is similar to Buzz Lightyear’s boxcar ride in Disney World. There is a light gun that you use to shoot at triangular lit bullseyes.

My husband and I didn’t understand the point of the guns, even though we used them because there was no scoring system. It wasn’t until I read about it that there is a backstory to the art installation amusement park ride. The guns have “semi-quantum technology” where they are used to guide a light source in becoming a “hyper being.”

Lately, I’ve been reading art news about interactive or immersive art installations, either permanent or traveling, particularly in my city. Interactive art is nothing new; back in the 60s, Yoko Ono gave guests a chance to cut pieces of her clothing in her art performance, Cut Piece. There was also Yard by Allan Kaprow, where guests had to walk overused tires.

Immersive art is on a new level or, that is, the next level.  Instead of using items for engagement, you are in the art. In this case, with Kaleidoscape, we were in the art installation and interacting with high-tech guns.

In each megacity in the US, local artists are experimenting with their installation of immersive art. In 2019, there was Natura Obscura by Denver artists Jennifer Mosquera and Eric Jaenike, a dream-like maze for guests. There was also Camp Christmas by Lonnie Hanzon, a landscape of Christmas wonders.

In a couple of months, Denver will be hosting the ever-popular Immersive Van Gogh, where guests will be invited to step into the art of Vincent Van Gogh. The use of projectors and wide screens give the illusion that you’re inside his paintings. Tickets are a bit pricey, but I’ve been told it’s worth it.

The next trending immersive art installation is by New York City artist Alois Kronschlaeger titled Kind of Blue, where guests enter a blue tent-like structure held up by wood, which changes as the blue fabric moves. It is temporarily being viewed in Manhattan, New York.

My Trip to the Art Institute of Chicago and the Search for Water

Mike Burgquist

Recently I took a five-day trip to Chicago, Illinois with my husband and one of our stops was to the Art Institute of Chicago. It was a highlight for me during the trip, for my husband – not so much. It balanced out because the week before I had to commit two hours straight of gameplay for his gaming channel.

I had goosebumps as I entered the museum since it’s one of the premiere art museums in the world. Founded in 1879, it served as a museum and a school of fine arts and sits on the homelands of the Council of the Three Fires.

The Council of the Three Fires are the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi peoples. Chicago was and still is home to Native Americans because of the federal urban relocation policies. Much of the land that it sits on was turned into a landfill containing remnants from the Chicago Fire.

Just in time for the World’s Columbian Fair in 1893, the Art Institute found it’s place where it is now on Michigan Avenue and Adam Street, not too far from the shoreline of Lake Michigan. You are greeted by two bronze lions as you walk in through the same entrance that many guests before had gone.

The building is done in the Beaux Arts style, combining French neoclassicism with Gothic and Renaissance elements. A style that originated from Paris, France. Recently, it had added a Modern Wing by Renzo Piano. The museum houses masterpieces from such artists as Monet, Diego Rivera and de Kooning.

I found it a bit overwhelming halfway through the tour, there is so much to see and read. Catching the suggested highlights from the map is a great way to pace yourself if you only have a couple of hours. My awe-inspiring moments were viewing George Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte and the Medieval department with its armor and weaponry.

The Seurat was bigger than I expected. You get the dimensions of these art pieces in an art history book, yet it’s not the same when you actually see it.  I tried imagining how he did his style of pointillism on this piece of work and it boggled me. The displayed armor renewed my romantic, fantastical imagination I would have when I read about King Arthur and Camelot.

We also viewed the Monet and Chicago exhibit, a temporary exhibit on Claude Monet and how his works had an impact on Chicago. If you’re a fan of Monet, this is an exhibit to see. You’ll be able to see many of his famous works, such as his Stack of Wheat series and Water Lily Pond and his lesser known works such as, Branch of the Seine and Apples and Grapes.

Now you must be wondering why I mentioned about searching for water, not too long into the tour of the Art Institute I started getting thirsty. They didn’t have the water fountains on, their café was closed and I had left my water bottle behind. At one point I found myself drinking out of the restroom sink. If it wasn’t for this problem, I would have stayed longer in the museum. TIP: if you’re traveling here or any museum for that matter during this time, bring a water bottle and wear comfortable shoes.