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June 21, 2018

Napoleon's Hat

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Wrote Aurélien Breeden in the New York Times:

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A hat attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte (above) and said to have been dropped on the battlefield at Waterloo 203 years ago was bought on Monday for over $400,000. It was another sign, if one were needed, that the French emperor continues to fascinate collectors and curators across the globe.

The hat — one of Napoleon's iconic black felt bicorns — was sold at an auction in the central French city of Lyon for 350,000 euros, or about $407,000, including fees, far beyond the presale estimate of 30,000 to 40,000 euros. The buyer was a private collector from Europe whose identity was not made public.

The hat is one of about 120 two-cornered military dress hats that Napoleon was said to have worn during his rule between 1799 and 1815, as first consul and then emperor, minus a period of exile on the Mediterranean island of Elba.

Historians have identified only 19 remaining hats, most of them now in museums. At an auction in 2014, the South Korean founder and chairman of the Harim food conglomerate bought one for more than $2 million — about five times the asking price.

That hat, which came from a collection belonging to Monaco's royal family, was in much better shape than the one sold on Monday, which is faded, torn, and cracked in some places, said Étienne de Baecque, an auctioneer at De Baecque and Associates, which organized the Lyon sale.

But even damaged goods attract deep-pocketed buyers when associated with Napoleon.

"There is a lot of interest," Mr. de Baecque said in a telephone interview, adding that Napoleon's meteoric rise to power and military conquests still captivate people. "He is one of those rare figures who are known in the whole world and who fascinate almost everybody on the planet."

In November, a single gold leaf taken from the laurel crown Napoleon wore at his coronation fetched over $725,000 at an auction in Paris.

Nicolas Dugoujon, an expert in military and historical memorabilia who presented the hat at the auction, said in a telephone interview that it was difficult to predict the pricing of rare historical objects but that anything tied to Napoleon and his First French Empire was highly popular.

"I've sold imperial guard sabers to people in Puerto Rico, in New York," he said. "At the sale there were young people in their 20s who came to ask me if they could touch the hat, who were moved."

Although it is difficult to establish the provenance of such historical artifacts with absolute certainty, Mr. de Baecque said that the history of the hat sold Monday had been well-documented and that there were strong guarantees it had once belonged to Napoleon.

The hat is said to have been picked up as a war trophy by a Dutch dragoon captain after the Battle of Waterloo, where a coalition of European armies defeated the French on June 18, 1815. Records show it then switched hands multiple times, and it was even showcased at a 1897 world's fair in Brussels.

The hat itself also bears clues. It is Napoleon's size and has several modifications that the emperor was known to request, such as the removal of a band of sheepskin lining and reinforcements that make it easier to grab.

"It's a very simple hat, not at all a ceremonial one, it was meant to be worn in everyday life," Mr. de Baecque said.

He pointed out that the auction house had scheduled the sale on the 203rd anniversary of the battle of Waterloo and joked that a high selling price was a form of revenge for France.

"Selling it at a very expensive price to an Englishman would be perfect," he quipped.

June 21, 2018 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Zero Movement

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[Above: Pigment bleu sec (Dry blue pigment) by Yves Klein, 1957; recreated in 2018]

From The Guardian:

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Zero, the artistic tendency that developed as a consequence — named for the point of beginning, the origin — was not simply about desiring a new kind of art, but a new kind of world.

The Zero movement has slipped under the radar for many years but the past decade has seen a growing interest in the vision and works of those artists. In 2014 the Guggenheim staged a large retrospective, with the Stedelijk museum in Amsterdam following in 2015. A new Zero exhibition is now showing at the Museum of Old and New Art (Mona) in Tasmania.

Mona's exhibition feels remarkably contemporary for pieces created in the 1950s and 60s — the metallics, mirrors, careful use of light, and stark simplicity of many of the works suit Mona's black walls and its underground aesthetic.

Sometimes works were not transported for exhibition but rather recreated onsite by assistants or friends who would follow an artist's instructions using materials that were on hand. In one display at Mona, hundreds of identical plastic bags — the kind you might take a goldfish home in — are filled with water and pinned to the wall, illuminated by a spotlight in one corner. The installation was created with new materials by following instructions left by Hank Peeters.

Sometimes it meant collaborative works. Visser gives the example of Lucio Fontana, who painted a canvas which he then sent to the Belgian artist Jef Verheyen, who painted over it before sending it to Hermann Goepfert in Frankfurt. Goepfert created a metal structure for the canvas before Verheyen came to Frankfurt to poke some holes in it. When works were sold, the funds were shared.

"They didn't care who made it, who signed it, who produced it," said Mattijs Visser, founder of the Zero Foundation. "If somebody could sell it, wonderful. He would put it in the pot and they would live from that."

Many of the works at Mona require activation or movement from the viewer, such as Christian Megert's Spiegelenvironment (mirror environment), below,

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a curved wall of mirrors illuminated by spotlight. Depending on where you stand, you see yourself in every mirror — or in none. "There's a moment where you're completely blinded, so you open your eyes, and you start again, you start seeing again," Visser says. (This work would inspire Yayoi Kusama to create her own mirror rooms.)

The artists used what was available to them — everyday objects such as wood, nails, matches and fabric. At the same time they were fascinated by newness and new materials — aluminum, plexiglass, plastic — and they wanted to throw off the shackles of artistic tradition. By using new materials, by pushing into performance, by getting away from the idea of art as an object you hang on the wall, Zero was paving the way for what we now call installation art.

Mack and Piene would host themed exhibitions that would last for a single evening. They also published magazines that explored their ideas in more detail. They crossed borders — geographic and linguistic — creating connections with artists all around the world. And there were plenty of likeminded people: in Japan, a group that also called themselves Zero had started, completely independently, in 1953. There was also a Zero group in the Netherlands, founded also without any idea there were others doing so, in 1958 — the same year Mack and Piene were publishing their first Zero magazine. They had more than just a name in common: they also had a point of view.

Mack wrote about the concept of "resting restlessness" — "this idea of art being something that wasn't static, something that broke boundaries," says the curator, Jane Clark. In Günther Uecker's Lichtregen (light rain), below,

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slender aluminum poles hang from the ceiling, inserted with fluorescent globes. Lichtregen was intended to invoke the natural world but through a feeling rather than a direct representation.

In Adolf Luther's bottle smashing room (in German, Flaschenzerschlagungsraum), below,

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participants hurl identical glass bottles at a metal plate set against a wall. When the bottle smashes, a flash of light bursts across the room, while the broken glass creates a mound against the wall. While the effect of the remnants has its own beauty, says Clark, the artwork is in the act of smashing.

There weren't many galleries with an interest in Zero so the artists' ability to show their work depended on very practical things like a fast car and money for fuel, as well as works being either small enough to transport in the back seat, or simple enough to recreate anywhere. They also relied on likeminded people who would understand the spirit of what they were doing.

"Otto Piene was asked how many people were in the group or the movement," says Visser. "He said, it's not a group. It's not a movement. There's no precedent; there is no manifest; there is no dogma. There is a vision." The vision dissolved in 1966. The artists threw a party to farewell it.

"I think some of the reason they split up in the end was because actually their ideals, and their ideas, really diverged," Clark says. "I think they were quite conscious that you can't push a good thing too long, it loses its energy."

Visser founded the Zero Foundation in 2011, with those Zero artists who were still alive, to preserve and revitalise their work — and continue to experiment in their spirit.

"If the artists would come here to the exhibition, they would say, 'Yeah, we would have done it in the same way.'"

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Zero is at Mona in Hobart, Tasmania, through April 22, 2019.

June 21, 2018 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Pavlok Superhero Wristband

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Fitbit missed the boat when it opted for the conventional approach. 

Bizarro World FunFact: Fitbit's stock price is circling the drain, currently around $7 after its June 2015 IPO price at $32.50. 

Plenty of room left at the bottom...

I'm thinking if Richard Feynman were reincarnated today as a stock broker he'd be calling you right now advising you to dump whatever you still have in your portfolio.

But I digress.

From the Wall Street Journal:

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If you have an overcrowded night stand, consider this wearable wristband.

Programmed via its smartphone app, it beeps or vibrates to wake you — then ruthlessly zaps you with an electric shock if you don't rise in time.

An advanced version can be set to shock you for other vices, like biting your nails, smoking, or wasting time online.

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From $145.

June 21, 2018 at 08:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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