Watch At the Museum, MoMA’s 8-Part Documentary on What it Takes to Run a World-Class Museum

If you've ever visited the Museum of Modern Art — and probably even if you haven't — you'll have a sense that the place doesn't exactly run itself. As much or even more so than other museums, MoMA keeps the behind-the-scenes operations behind the scenes, presenting visitors with coherent art experiences that seem to have materialized whole. But that very purity of presentation itself stokes our curiosity: No, really, how do they do it? Now, MoMA has offered us a chance to see for ourselves through a new series of short documentaries called At the Museum, a look at and a listen to the nuts and bolts of one of America's mostly highly regarded art institutions.

The series, which will run to eight episodes total, has released four thus far. In "Shipping & Receiving," some of the museum's staff prepare 200 works of art in its collection to ship to Paris for a special exhibition at the Louis Vuitton Foundation while others get new shows installed at MoMA itself.

In "The Making of Max Ernst," a couple of curators design a show of work by that surrealist painter-sculptor-poet. In "Pressing Matters," the opening of both the Ernst exhibition, "Beyond Painting," and "Louise Bourgeois: An Unfolding Portrait" fast approach, but several important decisions remain to be made as well as works to be installed. In "Art Speaks," MoMA staff and visitors take a step back and contemplate the purpose of modern art itself.

At the Museum could have assumed a highly traditional form, stopping methodically to witness the daily labors of everyone from MoMA's directors to curators to installers to security guards as narration earnestly explains to us their place in the art ecosystem. From the very first episode, however, the series takes a different and much more compelling tack, providing an uncommented-upon series of fly-on-the-wall views of MoMA people at work, eavesdropping on their conversations, and occasionally weaving in their reflections spoken directly to the filmmakers. But just as the experience of MoMA changes with each new exhibition, so does the form of At the Museum with each new episode, one of which will continue appearing every Friday until December 15th. Watch them all (here), and you'll never look at MoMA, or indeed any other museum, in quite the same way.

At the Museum will be added to our collection of Free Documentaries, a subset of our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The First Known Photograph of People Sharing a Beer (1843)

It should go without saying that one should drink responsibly, for reasons pertaining to life and limb as well as reputation. The ubiquity of still and video cameras means potentially embarrassing moments can end up on millions of screens in an instant, copied, downloaded, and saved for posterity. Not so during the infancy of photography, when it was a painstaking process with minutes-long exposure times and arcane chemical development methods. Photographing people generally meant keeping them as still as possible for several minutes, a requirement that rendered candid shots next to impossible.

We know the results of these early photographic portraiture from many a famous Daguerreotype, named for its French inventor, Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre. At the same time, during the 1830s and 40s, another process gained popularity in England, called the Calotype—or “Talbotype,” for its inventor William Henry Fox Talbot. “Upon hearing of the advent of the Daguerreotype in 1839,” writes Linz Welch at the United Photographic Artists Gallery site, Talbot “felt moved to action to fully refine the process that he had begun work on. He was able to shorten his exposure times greatly and started using a similar form of camera for exposure on to his prepared paper negatives.”

This last feature made the Calotype more versatile and mechanically reproducible. And the shortened exposure times seemed to enable some greater flexibility in the kinds of photographs one could take. In the 1843 photo above, we have what appears to be an entirely unplanned grouping of revelers, caught in a moment of cheer at the pub. Created by Scottish painter-photographers Robert Adamson and David Octavius Hill—who grins, half-standing, on the right—the image looks like almost no other portrait from the time. Rather than sitting rigidly, the figures slouch casually; rather than looking grim and mournful, they smile and smirk, apparently sharing a joke. The photograph is believed to be the first image of alcoholic consumption, and it does its subject justice.

Though Talbot patented his Calotype process in England in 1941, the restrictions did not apply in Scotland. “In fact,” the Metropolitan Museum of Art writes, “Talbot encouraged its use there.” He maintained a correspondence with interested scientists, including Adamson’s older brother John, a professor of chemistry. But the Calotype was more of an artists’ medium. Where Daguerreotypes produced, Welch writes, “a startling resemblance of reality,” with clean lines and even tones, the Calotype, with its salt print, “tended to have high contrast between lights and darks…. Additionally, because of the paper fibers, the image would present with a grain that would diffuse the details.” We see this especially in the capturing of Octavius Hill, who appears both lifelike in motion and rendered artistically with charcoal or brush.

The other two figures—James Ballantine, writer, stained-glass artist, and son of an Edinburgh brewer, and Dr. George Bell, in the center—have the rakish air of characters in a William Hogarth scene. The National Galleries of Scotland attributes the naturalness of these poses to “Hill’s sociability, humour and his capacity to gauge the sitters’ characters.” Surely the booze did its part in loosening everyone up. The three men are said to be drinking Edinburgh Ale, “according to a contemporary account… ‘a potent fluid, which almost glued the lips of the drinker together.'" Such a side effect would, at least, make it extremely difficult to over-imbibe.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch the Illustrated Version of “Alice’s Restaurant,” Arlo Guthrie’s Thanksgiving Counterculture Classic

Alice’s Restaurant. It’s now a Thanksgiving classic, and something of a tradition around here. Recorded in 1967, the 18+ minute counterculture song recounts Arlo Guthrie’s real encounter with the law, starting on Thanksgiving Day 1965. As the long song unfolds, we hear all about how a hippie-bating police officer, by the name of William "Obie" Obanhein, arrested Arlo for littering. (Cultural footnote: Obie previously posed for several Norman Rockwell paintings, including the well-known painting, "The Runaway," that graced a 1958 cover of The Saturday Evening Post.) In fairly short order, Arlo pleads guilty to a misdemeanor charge, pays a $25 fine, and cleans up the thrash. But the story isn't over. Not by a long shot. Later, when Arlo (son of Woody Guthrie) gets called up for the draft, the petty crime ironically becomes a basis for disqualifying him from military service in the Vietnam War. Guthrie recounts this with some bitterness as the song builds into a satirical protest against the war: "I'm sittin' here on the Group W bench 'cause you want to know if I'm moral enough to join the Army, burn women, kids, houses and villages after bein' a litterbug." And then we're back to the cheery chorus again: "You can get anything you want, at Alice's Restaurant."

We have featured Guthrie’s classic during past years. But, for this Thanksgiving, we give you the illustrated version. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone who plans to celebrate the holiday today.

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Watch Classical Music Get Perfectly Visualized as an Emotional Roller Coaster Ride

When the Zurich Chamber Orchestra aka the Zürcher Kammerorchester wanted to promote its new season in 2012 it commissioned studio Virtual Republic to think about listening to a symphony as a ride, or more exactly an emotional rollercoaster. And it returned with this brief interpretation of the first violin score for the fourth movement of Ferdinand Ries’ Second Symphony.

It might not be as easy to follow as the Music Animation Machine we posted about last week, but the building crescendo of the violin’s line makes for a lovely ascent, but once over the peak, the furious drop is all vertiginous runs until its sudden stop.

Or as Virtual Republic described their own work:

The notes and bars were exactly synchronized with the progression in the animation so that the typical movements of a rollercoaster ride match the dramatic composition of the music.

The production company’s Vimeo page shows a lot of domestic product commercial CGI work, from dishwashers to paint, so the chance to jump on something a bit more artistic must have been a relief.

Watch a Making-of video below...

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Net Neutrality Explained and Defended in a Doodle-Filled Video by Vi Hart: The Time to Save the Open Web is Now

By the end of December, net neutrality may be a thing of the past. We'll pay the price. You'll pay the price. Comcast, Verizon and AT&T will make out like bandits.

If you need a quick reminder of what net neutrality is, what benefits it brings and what you stand to lose, watch Vi Hart's 11-minute explainer above. It lays things out quite well. Then, once you have a handle on things, write or call Congress now and make a last stand for the open web.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

The 1991 Tokyo Museum Exhibition That Was Only Accessible by Telephone, Fax & Modem: Features Works by Laurie Anderson, John Cage, William S. Burroughs, J.G. Ballard & Merce Cunningham

The deeper we get into the 21st century, the more energy and resources museums put into digitizing their offerings and making them available, free and worldwide, as virtual experiences on the internet. But what form would a virtual museum have taken before the internet as we know it today? Japanese telecommunications giant NTT (best known today in the form of the cellphone service provider NTT DoCoMo) developed one answer to that question in 1991: The Museum Inside the Telephone Network, an elaborate art exhibit accessible nowhere in the physical world but everywhere in Japan by telephone, fax, and even — in a highly limited, pre-World-Wide-Web fashion — computer modem.

"The works and messages from almost 100 artists, writers, and cultural figures were available through five channels," says Monoskop, where you can download The Museum Inside the Telephone Network's catalog (also available in high resolution). "The works in 'Voice & sound channel' such as talks and readings on the theme of communication could be listened to by telephone. The 'Interactive channel' offered participants to create musical tunes by pushing buttons on a telephone. Works of art, novels, comics and essays could be received at home through 'Fax channel.' The 'Live channel' offered artists’ live performances and telephone dialogues between invited intellectuals to be heard by telephone. Additionally, computer graphics works could be accessed by modem and downloaded to one’s personal computer screen for viewing."

"We need to recognize honestly that there were numerous problems with The Museum Inside the Telephone Network," writes curator and critic Asada Akira in the catalog's introduction. "Neither the preparation time nor the means for carrying it out was sufficient. Thus there were not a few creative artists whose participation would have been a great asset to the project, but whom we were forced to do without." Yet its list of contributors, which still reads like a Who's-Who of the avant-garde and otherwise adventurous creators of the day, includes architects like Isozaki Arata and Renzo Piano, musicians like Laurie Anderson and Sakamoto Ryuichi, directors like Kurosawa Kiyoshi and Derek Jarman, writers like William S. Burroughs and J.G. Ballard, composers like John Cage and Philip Glass, choreographers like William Forsythe, Merce Cunningham, and visual artists like Yokoo Tadanori and Jeff Koons.

The Museum Inside the Telephone Network launched as the first venture of NTT's InterCommunication Center (ICC), a "21st-century museum that will provide interface between science and technology and art and culture in the coming electronic age," as Asada described it in 1991. Having recently celebrated its 20th year open in Tokyo's Opera City Tower, the ICC continues to put on a variety of non-virtual exhibitions very much in the spirit of the original, and involving some of the very same artists as well (as of this writing, they're readying a music installation co-created by Sakamoto). But offline or on, any union of art and technology is only as interesting as the spirit motivating it, and the creators of such projects would do well to keep in mind the words of The Museum Inside the Telephone Network contributor Kondou Kouji: "I hope that people will think of this as the experience of accidentally drifting into a telephone network, wherein awaits a vast world of pleasure and fun."

via @monoskop

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

A Digital Archive of 1,800+ Children’s Books from UCLA

In the early 18th century, the novel was seen as a frivolous and trivial form at best, a morally corrupting one at worst. Given that the primary readers of novels were women, the belief smacks of patriarchal condescension and a kind of thought control. Fiction is a place where readers can imaginatively live out fantasies and tragedies through the eyes of an imagined other. Respectable middle-class women were expected instead to read conduct manuals and devotionals.

English novelist Samuel Richardson sought to bring respectability to his art in the form of Pamela in 1740, a novel which began as a conduct manual and whose subtitle rather bluntly states the moral of the story: “Virtue Rewarded.”

This moralizing expressed itself in another literary form as well. Children’s books, such as there were, also tended toward the moralistic and didactic, in attempts to steer their readers away from the dangers of what was then called “enthusiasm.”

“Prior to the mid-eighteenth century,” notes the UCLA Children’s Book Collection—a digital repository of over 1800 children’s books dating from 1728 to 1999—“books were rarely created specifically for children, and children’s reading was generally confined to literature intended for their education and moral edification rather than for their amusement. Religious works, grammar books, and ‘courtesy books’ (which offered instruction on proper behavior) were virtually the only early books directed at children.” But a change was in the making in the middle of the century.

Pamela attracted a ribald, even pornographic, response—most notably in Henry Fielding’s satire An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews and the Marquis de Sade’s Justine Meamwhile, the world of children’s literature also underwent a radical shift. “The notion of pleasure in learning was becoming more widely accepted.” Illustrations, previously “consisting of small woodcut vignettes,” slowly began to move to the fore, and “innovations in typography and printing allowed greater freedom in reproducing art.”

That’s not to say that the didactic attitude was dispelled—we see codes of conduct and overt religious themes embedded in children’s literature throughout the 19th century. But as we pointed out in a post on another children’s book archive from the University of Florida, the more staid and traditional books increasingly competed with adventure stories, works of fantasy, and what we call today Young Adult literature like that of Mark Twain and Louisa May Alcott. You can see this tension in the UCLA collection, between pleasure and duty, leisure and work, and education as moral and social training and as a means of achieving personal freedom.

Of the adult literary imagination of the time, Leo Bersani writes in A Future for Astyanax that “the confrontation in nineteenth-century works between a structured, socially viable and verbally analyzable self and the wish to shatter psychic and social structures produces considerable stress and conflict.” I think we can see a similar conflict, expressed much more playfully, in books for children of the past two hundred years or so. Enter the UCLA collection, which includes not only historic children's books but present-day exhibit catalogs and more, here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

1934 Map Resizes the World to Show Which Country Drinks the Most Tea

Not a day goes by that I don’t use Google Maps for something or other, whether it’s basic navigation, researching an address, or finding a dry cleaner. Though some of us might resent the dominance such mapping technology has over our daily interactions, there’s no denying its endless utility. But maps can be so much more than useful tools for getting around—they are works of art, thought experiments, imaginative flights of fancy, and data visualization tools, to name but a few of their overlapping functions. For the imperialists of previous ages, maps displayed a mastery of the world, whether cataloguing travel times from London to everywhere else on the globe, or—as in the example we have here—resizing countries according to how much tea their people drank.

But this is not a map we should look to for accuracy. Like many such cartographic data charts, it promotes a particular agenda. “George Orwell once wrote that tea was one of the mainstays of civilization,” notes Jack Goodman at Atlas Obscura. “Tea, asserted Orwell, has the power to make one feel braver, wiser, and more optimistic. The man spoke for a nation.” (And he spoke to a nation in a 1946 Evening Standard essay, “A Nice Cup of Tea.”) From the map above, titled “The Tea is Drunk” and published by Fortune Magazine in 1934, we learn, writes Goodman, that “Britain consumed 485,000 pounds of tea per year. That’s one hundred billion cups of tea, or around six cups a day for each person.” We might note however, that “the population of China was then nine times bigger than that of the U.K., and they drank roughly twice as much tea as the Brits did.” Why isn’t China at the center of the map? “The author made a tenuous point about the cultural differences between the two: the Chinese drank tea as a necessity, the British by choice.”

Cornell University library’s description of the map is more forthright: “While China actually consumed twice as much tea as Britain, its position at the edge of the map assured that the focus will be on the British Isles.” That focus is commercial in nature, meant to encourage and inform British tea merchants for whom tea was more than a beverage; it was one of the nation's pre-eminent commodities, though most of what was sold as a national product was Indian tea grown in India. Yet the map brims with pride in the British tea trade. “Thus may be told the geography and allegiance of Tea,” its author proclaims, “an empire within an empire, whose borders follow everywhere the scattered territories of that nation on which the sun never sets.” A little over a decade later, India won its independence, and the empire began to fall apart. But the British never lost their taste for or their national pride in tea. View and download a high-resolution scan of the "Tea is Drunk" map at the Cornell Library site.

via Atlas Obscura

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Expensive Wine Is for Dupes: Scientific Study Finds No Strong Correlation Between Quality & Price

If wine is on your Thanksgiving menu tomorrow, then keep this scientific finding in mind: According to a 2008 study published in the Journal of Wine Economics, the quality of wine doesn't generally correlate with its price. At least not for most people. Written by researchers from Yale, UC Davis and the Stockholm School of Economics, the abstract for the study states:

Individuals who are unaware of the price do not derive more enjoyment from more expensive wine. In a sample of more than 6,000 blind tastings, we find that the correlation between price and overall rating is small and negative, suggesting that individuals on average enjoy more expensive wines slightly less. For individuals with wine training, however, we find indications of a non-negative relationship between price and enjoyment. Our results are robust to the inclusion of individual fixed effects, and are not driven by outliers: when omitting the top and bottom deciles of the price distribution, our qualitative results are strengthened, and the statistical significance is improved further. These findings suggest that non-expert wine consumers should not anticipate greater enjoyment of the intrinsic qualities of a wine simply because it is expensive or is appreciated by experts.

You can read online the complete study, "Do More Expensive Wines Taste Better? Evidence from a Large Sample of Blind Tastings." But if you're looking for something that puts the science into more quotidien English and makes the larger case for keeping your hard-earned cash, watch the video from Vox above.

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See the First Photograph of a Human Being: A Photo Taken by Louis Daguerre (1838)

You’ve likely heard the reason people never smile in very old photographs. Early photography could be an excruciatingly slow process. With exposure times of up to 15 minutes, portrait subjects found it impossible to hold a grin, which could easily slip into a pained grimace and ruin the picture. A few minutes represented marked improvement on the time it took to make the very first photograph, Nicéphore Niépce’s 1826 “heliograph.” Capturing the shapes of light and shadow outside his window, Niépce’s image “required an eight-hour exposure,” notes the Christian Science Monitor, “long enough that the sunlight reflects off both sides of the buildings.”

Niépce’s business and inventing partner is much more well-known: Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, who went on after Niépce’s death in 1833 to develop the Daguerreotype process, patenting it in 1839. That same year, the first selfie was born. And the year prior Daguerre himself took what most believe to be the very first photograph of a human, in a street scene of the Boulevard du Temple in Paris. The image shows us one of Daguerre’s early successful attempts at image-making, in which, writes NPR’s Robert Krulwich, “he exposed a chemically treated metal plate for ten minutes. Others were walking or riding in carriages down that busy street that day, but because they moved, they didn’t show up.”

Visible, however, in the lower left quadrant is a man standing with his hands behind his back, one leg perched on a platform. A closer look reveals the fuzzy outline of the person shining his boots. A much finer-grained analysis of the photograph shows what may be other, less distinct figures, including what looks like two women with a cart or pram, a child’s face in a window, and various other passersby. The photograph marks a historically important period in the development of the medium, one in which photography passed from curiosity to revolutionary technology for both artists and scientists.

Although Daguerre had been working on a reliable method since the 1820s, it wasn’t until 1838, the Metropolitan Museum of Art explains, that his “continued experiments progressed to the point where he felt comfortable showing examples of the new medium to selected artists and scientists in the hope of lining up investors.” Photography’s most popular 19th century use—perhaps then as now—was as a means of capturing faces. But Daguerre’s earliest plates “were still life compositions of plaster casts after antique sculpture,” lending “the ‘aura’ of art to pictures made by mechanical means.” He also took photographs of shells and fossils, demonstrating the medium’s utility for scientific purposes.

If portraits were perhaps less interesting to Daguerre’s investors, they were essential to his successors and admirers. Candid shots of people moving about their daily lives as in this Paris street scene, however, proved next to impossible for several more decades. What was formerly believed to be the oldest such photograph, an 1848 image from Cincinnati, shows what appears to be two men standing at the edge of the Ohio River. It seems as though they’ve come to fetch water, but they must have been standing very still to have appeared so clearly. Photography seemed to stop time, freezing a static moment forever in physical form. Blurred images of people moving through the frame expose the illusion. Even in the stillest, stiffest of images, there is movement, an insight Eadweard Muybridge would make central to his experiments in motion photography just a few decades after Daguerre debuted his world-famous method.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

 





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