May 7, 2013 1:17 pm
The U.S. government has decided to return looted national treasures to their respective countries. Mongolia will get a 70-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus bataar (a slightly smaller cousin to T. rex) skeleton back, and Cambodia will receive two life-sized 10th century Khmer statues called the Kneeling Attendants.
The reconstructed skeleton, which is 8 feet tall and 24 feet long, was unearthed in the Gobi desert in 1946 by a Soviet and Mongolian team, Reuters reports. In 2010, the skeleton arrived in the U.S. from the U.K. along with a customs document that falsely stated that the fossils originated in Britain and that they were only worth $15,000.
Mongolia demanded that the U.S. return the T. bataar skeleton after it was auctioned for $1.05 million last spring by Floridian Eric Prokopi. Here’s how the auction house described the item:
This is an incredible, complete skeleton, painstakingly excavated and prepared, and mounted in a dramatic, forward-leaning running pose. The quality of preservation is superb, with wonderful bone texture and delightfully mottled grayish bone color. In striking contrast are those deadly teeth, long and frightfully robust, in a warm woody brown color, the fearsome, bristling mouth and monstrous jaws leaving one in no doubt as to how the creature came to rule its food chain. Equally deadly and impressive are the large curving claws, with pronounced blood grooves. The body is 75% complete and the skull 80%…
Because of the kerfuffle, the sale was eventually canceled. Charges have since been filed against Prokopi, and the skeleton was returned to Mongolia on Monday. An official from the U.S. Immigration and Customers Enforcement told Reuters that this “is one of the most important repatriations of fossils in recent years.”
Cambodia, likewise, will soon be reunited with its missing relics. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City received the two sandstone statues, which came as separate broken heads and torsos, as gifts in 1987 and 1992, Archaeology reports. But over the years, evidence mounted that the statues had been looted from Cambodia’s Koh Ker temple during the tumultuous Cambodian Civil War in the 1970s. Witnesses, Archeology writes, can remember seeing the statues in the temple up until 1970 but that they were gone by 1975.
According to the New York Times, the museum assured Cambodia in a letter last month that the statues will be returned as soon as appropriate transit arrangements can be sorted out, though no timeline has been set.
The Met’s decision reflects the growing sensitivity by American museums to claims by foreign countries for the return of their cultural artifacts. Many items that have long been displayed in museums do not have precise paperwork showing how the pieces left their countries of origin. In recent years, at the urging of the Association of Art Museum Directors and scholars, many museums have applied more rigorous standards to their acquisitions.
Cambodian officials have asked the Met to examine another two dozen artifacts that may have been looted, and, according to Reuters, the U.S. is also helping to return additional fossils to Mongolia.
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April 16, 2013 2:00 pm
Today, Slate told the story of Wladislaw Starewicz and his weird, animated, insect-puppet stop motion movies. Here’s his masterpiece, The Cameraman’s Revenge, made in 1912:
Starewicz wasn’t the first stop motion animator. The first place stop motion shows up is in 1898, in a movie called The Humpty Dumpty Circus, which has been lost to the world. The first example we can see is from 1902, called Fun in a Bakery Shop – a movie made by Edwin S. Porter and produced by the one and only Thomas A. Edison.
In 1905, the film El Hotel Electrico showcased more early stop motion animation, as bags zoom around the electric hotel seemingly by magic.
Then, in 1906 the world got the first direct manipulation animation – in which a segment of the image is moved or changed or erased in each frame. This film was also put out by Edison, and is called Humorous Phases of Funny Faces.
And Edison can also take credit for bringing the first claymation to the world, in this film Dream of a Rarebit Fiend.
Starewicz, who made the whimsical and wonderful bug animation, also made all sorts of other weird animations. Here is his short from 1922 called Frogland:
And since then, stop motion has grown and grown into things like Coraline and Fantastic Mister Fox, and many animators cite these early stop motion artists as inspiration. They also serve as a reminder that you don’t need Pixar’s budget to make something wonderful, just a few dead bugs and a camera.
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April 9, 2013 9:06 am
A picture is worth a thousand words, but how sweet is its sound? That might sound like a nonsensical question: pictures in books usually don’t make sounds. But, actually, it’s possible to take a printed picture and extract music from it.
How is this possible? Indiana University’s Media Preservation blog explains that, first, the historian takes a high resolution scan of the print, then warps the circle into a series of parallel lines. The next step is to fill the black and white parallel lines with a solid color. When the historian runs that files through a program called ImageToSound, music comes out.
These sorts of printed records aren’t uncommon, they write:
Some other very old gramophone recordings have come down to us only in the form of prints made on paper, like the one on the fourth floor of Wells Library. This isn’t a unique situation. Many important early motion pictures that didn’t survive in the form of actual films were nevertheless preserved as paper prints deposited for copyright registration purposes with the Library of Congress and later retransferred to film for projection and preservation. Similarly, I’ve found that paper prints of “lost” gramophone recordings can be digitally converted back into playable, audible form.
It’s really worth listening to these records at the Media Preservation blog—both for the sounds and for the images that show how they make these recordings.
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March 27, 2013 9:31 am
Torn between spending the weekend at the Lincoln Center or at the Museum of Natural History? Artist Mara G. Haseltine is offering a compromise in her latest show, “La Boheme: A Portrait of our Oceans in Peril,” held at the agnes b. gallery space in New York City. The show combines opera with art to inform viewers about ocean pollution.
The show borrows from Puccini’s La Boheme, The Scientist reports, opening with the poet Rodolfo serenading giant stalks of human-sized plankton wrapped in plastic pollution to “Che gelida manina,” or “What a cold little hand.” In this case, instead of tuberculosis, it’s garbage that is robbing Rodolfo of his true love.
Here, you can see Haseltine’s introduction to her new work, with clips from the performance starting at about 2:30:
Haseltine further explained her inspiration behind the piece to The Scientist, which she first thought up while collecting water samples with the citizen science group Genspace:
Haseltine noticed that all her samples were contaminated with fine particles of sunlight-degraded plastic. “I have collected plankton from really remote places such as an oasis in the Sahara,” says Haseltine. When she found plastic even there, she was dismayed. “It was a horrifying realization.” That’s when she arrived at the concept of falling in love with something that you know is dying, “which is the ocean, but our planet too,” she says.
Scientists from the research vessel Tara Oceans, which Haseltine collected some plankton samples on, have found degraded plastic in the Antarctic Ocean, formerly believed to be pristine. Haseltine hopes her work brings attention to the problem. Her past exhibitions and projects have featured protein synthesis, oyster restoration and estrogen.
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March 8, 2013 8:57 am
It might be time for the Metropolitan Museum of Art to invest in new signage: they’re being sued by two Czech tourists who claim the existing information tricks visitors into believing there is an entrance fee to see stone engravings from Ancient Egypy, the works of Vincent Van Gogh and Jackson Pollock, and the best places to hide from overbearing parents. (The Met’s policy has always been one of suggested donation.) Reuters reports:
“MMA has misled, and regularly misleads, members of the general public to believe, on all days of the week during times when the MMA is open, that they are required to pay the Admission Fees in order to enter Museum Exhibition Halls,” the lawsuit claimed.
Museum spokesman Harold Holzer said in an email that the museum is “confident that our longstanding pay-what-you-wish admissions policy meets the spirit and letter of our agreement with the city … and ensures that the Met is fully accessible to and affordable by all.”
But wait! Weiss & Hiller, the law firm representing the tourists and several unidentified museum members, has toured this exhibit before—they filed a similar lawsuit in the fall of 2012:
The museum members, Theodore Grunewald and Patricia Nicholson, who filed suit in state court in Manhattan, argue in court papers that the museum makes it difficult to understand the fee policy, a practice intended to “deceive and defraud” the public. The suit, reported by The New York Post, cites asurvey commissioned by Mr. Grunewald and Ms. Nicholson in which more than 360 visitors to the museum were asked if they knew the fee was optional; 85 percent of visitors responded that they believed they were required to pay. Their suit asks the court to prevent the museum from charging any fees.
When the Met first started recommending admission fees in the mid-1970s, signs hung around the entryway read “Pay what you wish, but you must pay something.”