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This Pool-Shaped Sculpture Pays Homage to Van Gogh's Missing Ear

No one quite knows how Vincent van Gogh lost part of his left ear. Some say the Dutch Impressionist cut it off in a fit of depression after discovering his brother was engaged. Others claim that artist Paul Gauguin sliced it off after van Gogh threw a wine glass at him.

Regardless of what really happened, the story became an inextricable part of the 19th century painter’s legacy. Now, The Guardian reports that this spring a public artwork in New York City—an empty, ear-shaped swimming pool—will pay homage to the mysterious and grisly piece of history.

Berlin-based artists Elmgreen & Dragset (Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset) created the quirky sculpture, which is fittingly called "Van Gogh's Ear." It officially opens to the public on April 13 and will remain on view through June 3. 

The 30-foot high sculpture will sit on Fifth Avenue, right in front of Rockefeller Center. At first glance, it looks like your typical retro backyard swimming pool, complete with diving board and metal ladder. (Elmgreen & Dragset have created similarly inspired works in the past, including a diving board that hangs out of a window and the wax form of an art collector lying face down in a swimming pool.) Thanks to their chilly Arctic childhood, the Scandinavian artists “have an ongoing fetish with swimming pools,” Elmgreen told The Guardian. However, this particular pool is more “ear”-shaped than kidney-shaped—a silhouette that’s equally evocative of van Gogh as it is 1950s California.

Elmgreen and Dragset intended for the pool to conjure leisurely, sun-soaked afternoons, which juxtapose with both van Gogh’s grim life and New York’s stark urbanity. “The pool has the ambience of California, the plenty-of-space good life from the 1950s and 1960s,” Elmgreen told The Guardian. “And that is everything the Rockefeller is not, which is busy, east coast, dense and urban. We thought it would be interesting to put that symbol of the good, middle-class leisure life out in that environment.”

According to Artnet News, the pool sculpture was installed courtesy of the Public Art Fund, a New York-based non-profit that offers free art exhibitions to the public. (In 2009, Public Art Fund brought Jeff Koons’s Puppy statue to the same spot.) When it’s done showing in New York, the work will travel to China. In the meantime, expect to hear an earful (sorry!) about the sculpture from New York's art lovers.

[h/t The Guardian]

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Art
5 Things You Might Not Know About Ansel Adams

You probably know Ansel Adams—who was born on February 20, 1902—as the man who helped promote the National Park Service through his magnificent photographs. But there was a lot more to the shutterbug than his iconic, black-and-white vistas. Here are five lesser-known facts about the celebrated photographer.

1. AN EARTHQUAKE LED TO HIS DISTINCTIVE NOSE.

Adams was a four-year-old tot when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck his hometown. Although the boy managed to escape injury during the quake itself, an aftershock threw him face-first into a garden wall, breaking his nose. According to a 1979 interview with TIME, Adams said that doctors told his parents that it would be best to fix the nose when the boy matured. He joked, "But of course I never did mature, so I still have the nose." The nose became Adams' most striking physical feature. His buddy Cedric Wright liked to refer to Adams' honker as his "earthquake nose.

2. HE ALMOST BECAME A PIANIST.

Adams was an energetic, inattentive student, and that trait coupled with a possible case of dyslexia earned him the heave-ho from private schools. It was clear, however, that he was a sharp boy—when motivated.

When Adams was just 12 years old, he taught himself to play the piano and read music, and he quickly showed a great aptitude for it. For nearly a dozen years, Adams focused intensely on his piano training. He was still playful—he would end performances by jumping up and sitting on his piano—but he took his musical education seriously. Adams ultimately devoted over a decade to his study, but he eventually came to the realization that his hands simply weren't big enough for him to become a professional concert pianist. He decided to leave the keys for the camera after meeting photographer Paul Strand, much to his family's dismay.

3. HE HELPED CREATE A NATIONAL PARK.

If you've ever enjoyed Kings Canyon National Park in California, tip your cap to Adams. In the 1930s Adams took a series of photographs that eventually became the book Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail. When Adams sent a copy to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, the cabinet member showed it to Franklin Roosevelt. The photographs so delighted FDR that he wouldn't give the book back to Ickes. Adams sent Ickes a replacement copy, and FDR kept his with him in the White House.

After a few years, Ickes, Adams, and the Sierra Club successfully convinced Roosevelt to make Kings Canyon a national park in 1940. Roosevelt's designation specifically provided that the park be left totally undeveloped and roadless, so the only way FDR himself would ever experience it was through Adams' lenses.

4. HE WELCOMED COMMERCIAL ASSIGNMENTS.

While many of his contemporary fine art photographers shunned commercial assignments as crass or materialistic, Adams went out of his way to find paying gigs. If a company needed a camera for hire, Adams would generally show up, and as a result, he had some unlikely clients. According to The Ansel Adams Gallery, he snapped shots for everyone from IBM to AT&T to women's colleges to a dried fruit company. All of this commercial print work dismayed Adams's mentor Alfred Stieglitz and even worried Adams when he couldn't find time to work on his own projects. It did, however, keep the lights on.

5. HE AND GEORGIA O'KEEFFE WERE FRIENDS.

Adams and legendary painter O'Keeffe were pals and occasional traveling buddies who found common ground despite their very different artistic approaches. They met through their mutual friend/mentor Stieglitz—who eventually became O'Keeffe's husband—and became friends who traveled throughout the Southwest together during the 1930s. O'Keeffe would paint while Adams took photographs.

These journeys together led to some of the artists' best-known work, like Adams' portrait of O'Keeffe and a wrangler named Orville Cox, and while both artists revered nature and the American Southwest, Adams considered O'Keeffe the master when it came to capturing the area. 

“The Southwest is O’Keeffe’s land,” he wrote. “No one else has extracted from it such a style and color, or has revealed the essential forms so beautifully as she has in her paintings.”

The two remained close throughout their lives. Adams would visit O'Keeffe's ranch, and the two wrote to each other until Adams' death in 1984.

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Dan Bell
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Design
A Cartographer Is Mapping All of the UK’s National Parks, J.R.R. Tolkien-Style
Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park
Dan Bell

Cartographer Dan Bell makes national parks into fantasy lands. Bell, who lives near Lake District National Park in England, is currently on a mission to draw every national park in the UK in the style of the maps in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Kottke.org reports.

The project began in September 2017, when Bell posted his own hand-drawn version of a Middle Earth map online. He received such a positive response that he decided to apply the fantasy style to real world locations. He has completed 11 out of the UK’s 15 parks so far. Once he finishes, he hopes to tackle the U.S. National Park system, too. (He already has Yellowstone National Park down.)

Bell has done various other maps in the same style, including ones for London and Game of Thrones’s Westeros, and he commissions, in case you have your own special locale that could use the Tolkien treatment. Check out a few of his park maps below.

A close-up of a map for Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park in central England
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Cairngorms National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Cairngorms National Park in Scotland
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Lake District National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Lake District National Park in England
Dan Bell

You can buy prints of the maps here.

[h/t Kottke.org]

All images by Dan Bell

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