A shining

Via ArtsJournal: Philip Kennicott produces an excellent piece about the art, science, theater, and politics of illuminating the monuments and other public buildings of the National Mall at night.

A recent revamp of the lighting of the Washington Monument, employing focusing technology used to light sports events, reduced the amount of wattage thrown on the structure as well as light pollution (what a lighting designer would call “spill”). Nevertheless, 24 kW goes into keeping the obelisk bright at night.

The structures on the Mall have a hierarchy that is replicated in the lighting scheme:

… as lighting designers who have worked on the Mall discover, that hierarchy is an informally acknowledged rule, not a written one.

Claude Engle, a lighting designer who has lit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the [East Building] of the National Gallery, remembers a significant change over the years that he has been working in Washington. In the 1970s, when he lit the new [East Building] of the gallery, he just did it by feel, by instinct.

“We decided—and that was just us—that it should be less bright, maybe 80 percent as bright, as the Capitol dome,” he says.

And silly restrictions on information “for security reasons” extend to lighting the Capitol dome:

Eva Malecki, a spokeswoman for the architect of the Capitol, says that since 9/11, officials can’t even reveal what kind of light bulbs are used to light the structure.

“Any information regarding the current process for lighting the Dome,” she says by e-mail, “is security sensitive.”


Peter Schjeldahl recaps performance artist Chris Burden’s career for The New Yorker. I don’t know how long the link will stay alive, but check out this pithy definition:

In pragmatic terms, art is a privileged zone of gratuitous activity, with boundaries maintained by the agreement of the vested authorities. Artists of the Duchampian sort delighted in effacing the boundaries, which, with increasingly avid complicity on the authorities’ part, kept being redrawn to corral the effacements. It was a silly game, in the end. Ultimate limits were discovered, most pointedly by Burden, whose influence on conceptual and installational artists, to this day, is immeasurable.

Just the work

Conceptual artist Sol LeWitt has left us. From Michael Kimmelman’s obit:

To the sculptor Eva Hesse, he once wrote a letter while she was living in Germany and at a point when her work was at an impasse. “Stop it and just DO,” he advised her. “Try and tickle something inside you, your ‘weird humor.’ You belong in the most secret part of you. Don’t worry about cool, make your own uncool.” He added: “You are not responsible for the world—you are only responsible for your work, so do it. And don’t think that your work has to conform to any idea or flavor. It can be anything you want it to be.”

European vacation

Via kottke.org, 50 works of art to see in one’s lifetime…. as chosen by readers of the Guardian.

The special—possibly exaggerated—place that western culture has given to art and artists since Michelangelo’s day means that if you love great art, you’re going to spend a lot of time in Florence, Rome and Spain. Yet the most beautiful work of art in Spain, the Alhambra, is a north African work. “The walls and indeed the floors and ceilings are covered in tesselating abstract weaves that do one’s head in,” wrote an admirer of the exquisite Islamic masterpiece.

Wow, I have a lot of travelling to do. I am eyeballs-familiar with most the work of the 20th century artists on the list—Pollock, Rothko, Serra, Johns—if not the specific pieces named. A trip to the Great Salt Lake to see Spiral Jetty is perhaps the only reason I have to visit Gilead—sorry, Utah. I did get to see Guernica before it went to Spain: I had a poster of it in high school. I had never heard of the Grünewald altarpiece until it was discussed as a source for Jasper Johns, so I’d like to see it, but I suspect I’ll be disappointed. One of the venues on the list, the Prado, home of Las Meninas, is near the top of my to-see-sometime list.