Public Art vs Street Art: Calgary, Florence, Rome

After six weeks of recently wandering the streets of Dublin, Florence and Rome, I was puzzled by the lack of new public art (approved by a public process), appalled by the abundance of graffiti and intrigued by the street art (no public approval).

There was really only one piece of what looked like new public art that caught my eye. It was in Rome, in the tiny off-the-beaten path Vicolo dell’Oro square. The piece “Personal/NonPersonal” by Simone D’Auria was commissioned by the Gallery Hotel Art which is located next to the square. A very ambitious piece that encompasses the entire square, it has 18 ghost-like man/animal figures strategically placed from the earth to sky, including several figures climbing the side of the building. 

The artwork represents an imaginary world populated by white creatures with a human body and the head of an animal. The inspiration has its roots in the past of those great men who have made the city of Florence and its history and who repesented themselves through emblems depicting the head of an animal followed by a motto that extolled the value and virtue of action. Some examples? The turtle with a sail for Cosimo I,  symbol of prudence combined with the power of action; a rhino for Alessando de Medici to symbolize his strength and strong will; a weasel by Francis I, the symbol of cunning.

"Today, in my work, those animals and the meanings they carry with them become faces of men and women, ironic caricatures in which they can identify themselves, visible expression of their deepest inner values; portraits, in fact," says D'Auria. The circus-like animation is a welcome relief in a city dominated by somber ruins of past cultures and statues of people long passed away.  It was definitely a refreshing and welcomed surprise.

I can’t help but think that an artwork like this would be a good addition to downtown Calgary.  It would be very appropriate for a space between the many two-tower office blocks or for the alley space between the towers of the Hotel Le Germain project on 9th Avenue SW. 

fying
climbing the wall
bums
flying figures
seated figures

Florence Street Art

While Calgary invests millions of public and private dollars into public art, in Florence and Rome, temporary free street art seems to be the rage.  Very soon after arriving in Florence, I started to notice the appearance of faceless, simple cartoon-like stick figures with balloons and words like “exit, freedom and resistance”.  For me, it soon became a fun game of spotting the next piece. And they were all over the place!

Later, I found out by googling that the no-name artist was from Pisa, Italy a hot bed for street art. The title of the project is “Exit/Enter” with the purpose being to tickle the imagination of street spectators, to be a catalyst for a smile or a smirk and maybe even be a bit thought-provoking as one tries to understand the ongoing narrative.  I thought the title was very appropriate as the streets and alleys of Florence are full of doorways and corners where people are always entering or exiting. 

CLET

While walking around Florence’s San Niccolo district we discovered a t-shirt shop with some very interesting street-sign decals so we popped in.  We quickly learned that they were the work of CLET, a very well-known, European street artist who has his studio in the area at Via Dell’Olono 8r. CLET cleverly alters road signs around cities with removable stickers. Seems the local authorities tolerate the work, which again adds humour to an urban landscape polluted with street signage.  Once, we knew about CLET we started to find the altered street signs everywhere. 

  This is the entrance to CLET studio. The Fish sign is CLET's, the hear and stick figure is from the "Exit/Enter" project and the blue piece is by Blurb another street artist (see below) and butterflies by another artist. I am not sure who did the guns or the black figure with paint roller. 

This is the entrance to CLET studio. The Fish sign is CLET's, the hear and stick figure is from the "Exit/Enter" project and the blue piece is by Blurb another street artist (see below) and butterflies by another artist. I am not sure who did the guns or the black figure with paint roller. 

close up


collage
kisses
cross
t-shirt
blind corner

Exit/Enter Project

waste
Resistance
resistance 2
Exit bike
Lost
balloon
woman and child
ladder
natzi
fly away

Blurb 

A third street artist, Blurb, takes on major masterpieces of art and dresses them up in scuba gear.  The title of the project is “Art knows how to swim” and while I have no idea was the meaning is, they too added an element of fun to serious works of art like Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Michelangelo’s David.   Many of the works on paper are ripped and faded to the point where they blend right in with the urban patina of the city. 

david
Blurb
mona lisa
red hat

Rome Street Art 

In Rome, we didn’t find any new public art or graffiti street art like Florence (though we did find a few Exit/Enter pieces). However, in the graffiti-filled streets of the San Lorenzo district near the university, we found the motherlode of street art. 

Along the retaining wall of a playing field in an elevated park are two block-long linear art galleries with works by various artists intertwined to create a powerful statement about the area’s sense of place. 

These are not the refined, pretty, decorative street art works you see in some cities, but rather the evolution of graffiti and tagging into expressionist paintings full of social and political protests.  In some places, it was hard to tell where the graffiti ended and the street art began.

   A typical streetscape in San Lorenzo.

A typical streetscape in San Lorenzo.

  One side of the street art wall.

One side of the street art wall.

  Detail from art wall

Detail from art wall

  Detail from art wall

Detail from art wall


  The second side of street art wall is devoted to the work of one artist.

The second side of street art wall is devoted to the work of one artist.

  Street art on the security doors of a shop.

Street art on the security doors of a shop.

  PsychoLAB

PsychoLAB

  Need food not football?

Need food not football?

Calgary Street Art

Earlier this year, Calgary experimented with some street art on the retaining walls of the busy pedestrian (4th and 14th Street SW) underpasses connecting 9th and 10th Avenues.  And although in most cities street art is painted without permission on public and private walls and is permanent, most of Calgary’s street art is approved and temporary.

For example, this past May, as part of the Beakerhead, program Michael Mateyko and Hans Theiseen (also known as Komboh) created a pair of 27-foot long murals on 4th Street and 12-foot murals on 14th Street. Eco-chalk graffiti, an environmentally-friendly product that can be easily removed was used.  The murals consisted of several cartoon robot-like figures that mimicked people walking to work. 

The spontaneity, surprise and fun-ness of the artwork that appeared overnight was dampened by a large text informing everyone, “This temporary public artwork is created with eco-calk and application and removal process approved by the City of Calgary.”

As well, in East Village, Calgary Municipal Land Corporation organized two interesting temporary street art projects. The first “I am the River” by Derek Besant and the current “The Field Manual: A compendium of local influence” by Calgary’s Light & Soul Collective, both using the new RiverWalk’s bridge abutments, storage sheds and robo-bathrooms as their canvas.  

 

  4th Street Mural from the other side of the underpass.

4th Street Mural from the other side of the underpass.

  The 4th Street mural pedestrian perspective.

The 4th Street mural pedestrian perspective.

  Example of one of the fun and clever cartoon characters.  

Example of one of the fun and clever cartoon characters. 

  Love this cartoon of a woman walking with her briefcase and plugged in to the sky aka icloud.

Love this cartoon of a woman walking with her briefcase and plugged in to the sky aka icloud.

  Somehow I felt this signage took some of the fun and spontaneity out of the work.

Somehow I felt this signage took some of the fun and spontaneity out of the work.

Last Word 

One has to wonder if Calgary and other cities would be better served by encouraging more temporary street art, both approved and unapproved, than expensive permanent public art works.  Not only is street art cheaper, it doesn’t have any maintenance costs and if the public doesn’t like it, well, it will literally disappear in a few months or years.

  Found the juxtaposition of the bike and the skeleton figure quite provocative. 

Found the juxtaposition of the bike and the skeleton figure quite provocative. 

Dublin: Iconic barracks makes for great museum

The National Museum of Ireland - Decorative Arts and History is located in the massive Collins Barracks built in 1702.  Architect Tomas Burgh, who also built the world famous library at Trinity College, designed this early neo-classical building. 

It makes for a perfect museum.  The four floors wrapping around a huge central parade square (the number of paces associated with the marching soldiers still exist on the walls above the colonnade arches) are easily divided up into over 30-flexible gallery spaces that accommodate exhibitions of silver, ceramics, glassware, weaponry, furniture, folklife, clothing, jewelry, coins and medals.  There is also a museum shop and quaint café with some very tempting pastries.

 One of the many fascinating fashion exhibits. 

One of the many fascinating fashion exhibits. 

   This hurdy-gurdy instrument is just one of the many exhibits of historical decorative arts and crafts in the museum.

This hurdy-gurdy instrument is just one of the many exhibits of historical decorative arts and crafts in the museum.

hurdy gurdy panel

Eileen Gray

For us, the highlight of the museum's numerous exhibitions was the Eileen Gray retrospective. It encompassed everything we love about mid-century modern design – its furniture, architecture and art.

Born in Enniscorthy, Ireland in 1878, Gray moved to Paris in 1906 where she spent most of her working life. In Paris, inspired to explore new ideas by the likes of Picasso and Modigliani, she was one of the first artists and furniture designers to employ lacquer techniques as part of her work.  She was interested in all aspects of design from furniture to architecture to interior design.

Gray loved to combine the opulence of Art Deco with the minimalism and clean lines of modernism as well as integrate the use of pure line and colour of the De Stijl artists.

  Gray's iconic end table named E1027.

Gray's iconic end table named E1027.

An example of Gray's use of lacquer in her furniture.

Model of contemporary architectural designed by Gray.

Pebbledash

I was also fascinated by the “Beyond Pebbledash” installation, a celebration of domestic architecture and design.  The installation consisted of a single pebbledash house (a common small Dublin home with exterior walls made of pebbles mixed with stucco).  In the mid 20th century, this façade covered up poor construction and kept costs down for affordable homes in both Europe and North America. Back story: The early 1950s home I grew up in had pebbledash walls.  We just called it by it less glamorous term "stucco."

This life-size house sitting in the middle of the huge parade square has a real façade but only a steel skeleton frame of the walls, interior doors, chimney and roof.  The curatorial notes say the installation is intended to provoke questions like:

  • What have we built?
  • Why have we built it here?
  • What is the nature of house vs. home?
  • What makes a great liveable city?

More information at: http://www.dublincity.ie/you-are-invited-launch-beyond-pebbledash

My personal fascination was mostly around how the pebbledash house was rendered almost insignificant in the massive parade square  (the size of about two football fields) and the equally massive barracks building.  To me, the “pebbledash home” installation spoke of the insignificance and temporary nature of most houses versus the timelessness of iconic structures. I also don’t get the link to the liveable city movement as the home is situated in what I would consider the most desolate and inhospitable urban environment one could imagine.

While in the past, a house became a home as most people lived in them all their lives. Often too multiple generations would live in the same house. Today, for most people a house is just a commodity to be bought and sold as part of their evolving lifestyle – they never really become a home.

The pebbledash house located at the far corner from the entrance to the museum is dwarfed in the stark parade square.

While wandering the museum, you get several different perspectives of the house. 

A view of the back of the house and the cafe spilling out onto the plaza gives some life to the parade square.

Close up view of the house. I found the ropes around the installation very distracting. 

  Side-view of the pebbledash house.

Side-view of the pebbledash house.

Last Word

Of all the National Museums we visited in Dublin, the Decorative Arts and History Museum was our favourite.  You could easily spend a few hours here.

The National Gallery unfortunately was under restoration and so the building and art did not meet expectations. The National Museum of Modern Art was also a bit of a disappointment as half of the gallery was closed for the installation of new exhibitions. 

On the good side, all of the Ireland’s national museums are FREE!  

 

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Dublin's Chester Beatty Library - Look but don't touch!

Can you imagine a library where you can’t touch the  books? The Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, Ireland might just be the only library in the world where you can’t touch any of the books.  But don’t let that stop you from visiting. It is home to an amazing collection of books and book-related artifacts that will have your head exploding with information overload.

About Chester 

Sir Alfred Chester Beatty was an Irish-American mining magnate and millionaire. Born in New York City in 1875, he graduated from Columbia University as a mining engineer. He made his fortune mining in Cripple CreekColorado, and other mining operations around the world. Chester was  called the "King of Copper"

A collector from an early age beginning with stamps, he had, by the 1940s, built up a remarkable and impressive collection of Oriental art and books. He also owned 19 ancient Egyptian papyri that he gave to the British Museum. He moved his collections to Dublin, Ireland in 1950. 

Knighted  by Queen Elizabeth II in 1954, Beatty lived his later years in Dublin and was made honorary citizen of Ireland in 1957.  On his death in 1968, he was accorded a state funeral by the Irish government – one of the few private citizens in Irish history to receive such an honour. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.

Beatty saw collecting as “a great adventure." He obviously had a great eye for quality and loved books where the text and images formed a pleasing composition.  Fun back story: he could be considered an  early adopter of twitter acronyms using DCI for “don’t care for it” and NFE for “not fine enough” in correspondence and his own records.

  Sir Alfred Chester Beatty (photo credit: deartesethistoric.wordpress.com)

Sir Alfred Chester Beatty (photo credit: deartesethistoric.wordpress.com)

No Touch Library

The Chester Beatty Library is really an art gallery where all the books are in well-lit display cases with  interesting didactic information and stories.  The depth and breath of the collection truly is mind-boggling. It doesn’t take long before your brain is saying “no more, no more!”

Perhaps the first hint that we were in for a brain freeze were the Chinese jade books at the beginning of the Art of Books exhibition; neither of us had seen anything like them. From there, we were presented the Great Encyclopedia commissioned by the Ming Dynasty emperor Yongle in 1403 and completed in 1408 – all 11,095 bound volumes.  Incredible!

Later we encountered Joan Blaeu’s Great Atlas of 1162, which consists of 600 beautifully bound, hand-coloured maps. Each of the bound volumes is about  20” high x 11” wide x 3” in depth; these are serious books.

There was even a small display of contemporary Chinese Ceramics that was definitely rooted in the 8,000 years of ceramic history in China.  Not sure how this fit in with the books but it was interesting nonetheless.

  Jade books (photo credit:: www.commons.wikiimedia.org)

Jade books (photo credit:: www.commons.wikiimedia.org)

  Yongle Great Encyclopedia (photo credit: www.lifo.gr)

Yongle Great Encyclopedia (photo credit: www.lifo.gr)

  Joan Blaeu's Atlas (photo credit: www.swaen.com)

Joan Blaeu's Atlas (photo credit: www.swaen.com)

Suffering

The collection included a series of Goya etchings from the 1892 edition of Los Desastier de la Guerra and the 1855 and 1876 editions of La Tauromaquia and Los Proverbois.  The pain and suffering portrayed in these works still haunts me hours later as I write this. It made me realize I have never really suffered in my life. 

Back story: when you visit a place like Ireland, you realize what human suffering is all about given  the millions who died in the famine between 1845 and 1852, or those who died in the numerous independence rebellions and senseless religious bombings.  This is a country whose people know suffering.

Later in another exhibition “Sacred Traditions” (the history of religions around the world), I found a didactic panel about Siddhartha Gautama (563 – 483 BC) with the text “be aware of the human inability to escape suffering.” We are then told Gautama decided to leave his wealthy home to seek the causes of unhappiness and the way to relieve suffering.  Unfortunately, we didn’t find out if he was successful.

Another panel about Buddha states, “the world is a place of suffering…joys are fleeting…life ends in decay.”  

Goya, Los Desastier de la Guerra  (photo credit: www.wga.hu)

Goya, Los Desastier de la Guerra  (photo credit: www.wga.hu)

Last Word

The Chester Beatty Library is a “must-see” for anyone visiting Dublin.  I would suggest you give yourself at least two hours and probably three to explore the art and text.  There is a great cafe on site so you could take a break and have lunch or a coffee and then go back for more.

There is also a tranquil rooftop garden if you wish to take some time to contemplate and absorb the centuries of history.  Outside the Library is a larger green space with a fun narrow brick pathway, as well as a sculpture garden.  

The biggest negative is that you can’t take photos (you can view photos on the Library's website); on the other hand, admission is free. 

maze

Dublin: FAB fun in The Liberties

On some of the Dublin tourist maps you will see a large pink area titled "The Liberties / Antique Shop Quarter," but there is no information on where the shops are within the quarter.  The Dublin shopping map doesn't have any information about shopping in the area either.  But with a little digging, we found out that there are a dozen or so antique and vintage shops along Frances Street and just a block away on Meath, is the Liberty Market (Thursday to Saturday). 

The name ( Liberties) is derived from jurisdictions dating from the arrival of the Anglo-Normans in the 12th century. They were town lands that were part of the City of Dublin, but still preserving their own jurisdiction.  Hence, "liberties." The most important of these liberties were the Liberty of St. Sepulchre, under the Archbishop of Dublin, and the Liberty of Thomas Court and Donore belonging to the Abbey of St. Thomas (later called the Earl of Meath's Liberty) - hence Meath and Thomas streets. The current Liberties quarter's  boundaries are between the river Liffey to the north, St. Patrick's Cathedral to the east, Warrenmount to the south and St. James's Hospital to the west.

We decided to check out The Liberties district on a sunny Saturday afternoon in October and had a FAB time.  Starting at the north end of Francis Street, we were surprised to find a large surface parking lot tucked away behind a building that was full of graffiti art reminding us of Boise, Idaho's popular tourist attraction - Freak Alley. 

  Just one of a dozen or more graffiti murals at the north entrance to Dublin's Antique Row.

Just one of a dozen or more graffiti murals at the north entrance to Dublin's Antique Row.

Dublin's Antique Row

Walking just a bit further, we arrived at Dublin's  Antique Row beginning with O'Sullivan's Antiques - look for the building with the piano hanging off the side of the building.  This is the spot for serious antique collectors and the staff are very friendly and knowledgeable.  We  were surprised and impressed with the collection of 1950s whale bone vertebrae. 

A few doors down is Michael Mortell's impressive store of unique mid-century modern furniture and accessories. As you proceed down the block, proceed down  the block to discover more antique stores, second hand stores, a gallery and even a larger Oxfam Charity shop (what we call thrift stores).  We definitely enjoyed our stroll. 

At the end of Francis Street,  turn left and you are at St. Patrick's Cathedral. The afternoon sun provided us with a wonderful sun-drenched perspective.  We stopped for lunch at the tiny Cathedral Cafe with its six tables.  It was a busy place, the owner cooking and serving up the tasty meals - we were exhausted just watching her.

  O'Sullivan's Antiques with funky delivery men climbing the wall with the dangling piano. 

O'Sullivan's Antiques with funky delivery men climbing the wall with the dangling piano. 

Inside Michael Mortell's exquisite mid-century modern boutique.

  The antiques spill out onto the street. 

The antiques spill out onto the street. 

Cat Meow was full of shoppers searching for vintage fashion finds. 

Anonymous vintage / retro store is a must see.

Indeed we had a FAB time on Francis Street.

Meath Street Madness

Watered and fed, we were ready to tackle Meath Street, which we were told by one local is a bit gritty or in his terms "Dublin unpolished."  We turned the corner and were immediately hit by a wave of people and cars -  the street was like Costco at Christmas.  I think this is what Jane Jacobs (urban living '60s guru) was talking about when she coined the phrase sidewalk ballet. However, in this case it was a "street ballet" with cars, teens, seniors, couples, families and the odd horse sharing both the street and sidewalk space. 

In addition to the eclectic shops, bakeries, groceries and butchers was the Liberty Market with its cheesy flea market stalls selling everything from lamp shades to purses. It was urban chaos at its best. We loved mingling with the locals. 

There is also the historic St. Catherine's Church mid-block with the secret Our Lady of Immaculate Conception grotto at the back which we discovered by accident.  It is a wonderful place for a little solitude and reflection.  Here met Debbie, who comes often to light a candle and say a pray for her recently deceased husband. 

  Just a block away, locals of all ages were shopping up a storm on Meath Street.

Just a block away, locals of all ages were shopping up a storm on Meath Street.

Liberty Market purse vendor's wares.

  Somebody found some good deals.

Somebody found some good deals.

Our Lady of Immaculate conception grotto.

Horse History 

Once we got to the top of Meath Street at Thomas Street, we headed east (left) to find a pub. Just by chance, I looked up an alley (I like to do that) and saw a horse.  Curious, we wandered up the alley and got chatting with an older gent who, with his young sidekick, who were cleaning up. Happy to share the alley's history, he told us it has been home to stables for over 300 years. At present, the stables house 30 horses for the City Centre's horse-drawn buggies.  You won't find this on any tourist map.

Horse alley where horses and people have shared the space for over 300 years.

  Little did we know this same two-year old male horse was a bit of a media celebrity for his unexpected visit to a local horse race betting establishment. 

Little did we know this same two-year old male horse was a bit of a media celebrity for his unexpected visit to a local horse race betting establishment. 

Last Word

We had a FAB Saturday afternoon hanging with the locals,  just a few blocks away from the hoards of tourists that invade Dublin's City Centre everyday. 

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Dublin: Newman University Church a hidden gem!

Found this church totally by accident when wandering back to my hotel from St. Stephen's Green. I was walking on the other side of the street when I spotted some strange architectural elements in the narrow space between the buildings and then noticed the ornate street entrance. Next thing you know I was running across the street to check it out.  As luck would have it the door was open and I had found another hidden gem.  

  This is the block with the Newman University Church. Do you see a church on this street? If you guessed where the pillars are that would be wrong. 

This is the block with the Newman University Church. Do you see a church on this street? If you guessed where the pillars are that would be wrong. 

  It is easy to miss the Church's narrow street entrance

It is easy to miss the Church's narrow street entrance

Wonderful light floods the church as you enter.

The grand altar

altar text

History

cuc
site
porch info

Ornamentation

Every pillar has a different message 

  Ornamentation is everywhere

Ornamentation is everywhere

Found this gem in a dark corner

Ceiling of hallway entrance to the church

  The actual church ceiling is very unique with is wall paper like decoration.

The actual church ceiling is very unique with is wall paper like decoration.

 T he walls of the church are like huge paintings

The walls of the church are like huge paintings

  Close up of paintings

Close up of paintings

Newman Who?

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman was born in London on February 21, 1801 and died in Birmingham on August 11, 1890. He was a major figure in the Oxford Movement which exploited the possibility of bringing the Church of England back to its Catholic roots.

Ultimately his study of ecclesiastical history influenced him to become a Catholic in 1945. He later brought the Oratory of St. Philip Neri to England. He became the first Rector of the Catholic University in Dublin and was named a Cardinal by Pope Leo XIII in 1879. 

Through his extensive published writings and private correspondence, he created a greater understanding of the Catholic Church and its teachings, helping many with their religious difficulties. At his death, he was praised for his unworldliness, humility and prayer. He was declared Venerable on January 21, 1991 and on September 20, 2010 Pope Benedict XVI beatified John Henry Cardinal Newman.

Last Word

Dublin is well know for its churches, there seems to be on on every other block.  It even has a Cathedral District where St. Patrick's Cathedral is located and the Christ Church Cathedral in the Viking/Medieval area. But for my money (free) the Newman University Church, which isn't on any of my maps, is every bit as interesting and perhaps more unique then Dublin's famous duo.

By Richard White, October 8th 2014.

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