I was floored to learn something today that will probably come as no surprise to every kid out there who is obsessed with Egyptology-- there were female pharaohs in ancient Egypt. It was rare, but it happened. 

One female ruler in particular, Hatshepsut, really intrigued me, not just because she successfully did the job men almost exclusively assumed, but because of how she was depicted in the art and sculpture of the time.  

There was a specific costume male pharaohs rocked to let everyone know they were important, including a striped head cloth with a cobra on it, a kilt type garment worn around the waist like an apron and a fake beard. In all official representations of Hatshepsut, she is shown donning the exact same uniform. As you can see from the images above, nothing about the way she is depicted communicates that she was a woman. Why? 

Even more intriguing is that her male successor did everything possible to remove her from historical records by defacing sculptures of her likeness and even go so far as to chisel images of her off stone walls. That wasn't a typical practice even for the most competitive and egomaniacal pharaohs.

So I have to wonder, was all of this because she was a woman? Fascinating stuff! Can't wait to learn more when Egyptian treasures from the Brooklyn Museum come to Tulsa this summer.


Chanel's Spring Couture Collection

For anyone who thinks fashion design is a joke, I highly recommend watching this video from Chanel’s haute couture collection for spring. For me, watching is a bit like how I feel when taking a yoga class- focused, controlled and slightly awkward! But the up-close and sustained shots are perfect for seeing the incredible detail, textures and craft involved in each piece. It’s a perspective you would never get from a runway. As an interior designer, there’s a lot to take away from this video. The collection is not about adding decorative, surface embellishments to make a piece interesting - it’s about the actual construction. That’s a really important distinction and a good reminder of what makes an interior space timeless and inspirational. 


Morris Arboretum

In my world, the city of Philadelphia is getting a lot of flack lately for the way it is portrayed in the biased but fascinating documentary The Art of the Steal. I happen to think Philly is a great city so I jumped at the chance to shed a more flattering light on it when I learned about a design project at the Morris Arboretum of U Penn. The name of the project sums it up perfectly: Out-on-a-Limb. It features an incredible canopy walk that gives visitors a bird’s eye view of the forest. I’ve been to a lot of amazing parks, but never had the luxury to experience it the way a squirrel might! Apparently 41% more people have visited the gardens since it opened last summer, which is remarkable when you think about it. The actual garden didn’t change, just the vantage point from which visitors experienced it. It’s got me thinking about possible applications to museums, how can we take the same old stuff we have on display and give people a new way to experience it?


Scouting NY

If you need one more reason to love New York, look no further than the blog ScoutingNY. It was started by a guy who actually gets paid to wander around the streets of New York looking for interesting locations for feature films. I love his recent post about mini-brownstones. He explains that developers used to sell lots in 25’ increments. Sometimes developers would divide them into (2) 12’-6” houses. Think about it: if 12’-6” is the exterior dimension, it's interior space is more like 11’ wide. That’s a very challenging width for a designer to create a logical, flowing floor plan. I would love to be able to take a peek inside to see how people actually live in it.


Cuban Cigar Factory Readings

I just learned about an incredible cultural institution that’s under the radar: cigar factory readings. Starting sometime in the nineteenth century, cigar factory workers began to pool their money to pay for a lector, or someone to read newspapers and works of literature aloud while they worked.  Most of the workers were illiterate so these readings were a way for them to overcome the monotony of their job and learn about current events and culture.  Sometimes if the workers liked a book enough they would name a cigar after it, ala the Montecristo.  While this practice spread to factories in other parts of the world, it is only still practiced in Cuba today.  

What amazes me most about these workers is how they recognized that there was more to life than making money.  While money was obviously critical, they felt a need to reserve a percentage of their pay for the lector.

It seems today that too much emphasis is placed on overcoming poverty in the sense of food, clothing and shelter.  I don’t want to make light of the fact that people are hungry or homeless, believe me, but stories like this remind us also not to forget the “poverty of aspiration.”  Basic needs are just that—basic.  The cigar factory workers prove that no one wants to live in a world without creativity, hope, beauty and all of the other abstract things art and culture provide.


Cai Guo-Qiang

When recently asked to identify some of the most compelling contemporary artists, Cai Guo-Qiang was a no brainer. Born in China in 1957, Cai now lives in New York City. He is best known for his use of gunpowder that he employs to create public performances (below) and “drawings” that document the explosions.
He creates his drawings by sprinkling gunpowder around paper cut outs of dragons, tigers and other traditional Chinese motifs that lay on top of paper or canvas. After removing the stencils he covers the drawing with cardboard, places stones on top to weigh it down and ignites it. After the explosion, the cardboard is removed to reveal an abstracted drawing. While Cai has some control over how the finished drawing looks, there is an element of chance inherent in working with explosives.
Gunpowder has a loaded history that traces back to ancient Chinese alchemists. They originally discovered it by accident while searching for an elixir that would provide immortality. Ironically, it was quickly co-opted by the Chinese military for war.
Knowing this, Cai’s work becomes conceptually meaty in addition to being visually spectacular. By using gunpowder for creation instead of destruction, Cai makes a powerful statement about the political climate of China and America post 9/11, earning him the distinction of being one of today’s most relevant artists.


Event Horizon

Check out these pics of Antony Gormley’s new outdoor exhibition Event Horizon. Gormley’s work consists of 31 lifesize sculptures – 27 of which are placed on rooftops and ledges of buildings surrounding Madison Square Park. Apparently before the work was fully installed, the NYPD got on board to reassure the public that Gormley’s figures were not potential jumpers on the verge of committing suicide.

Gormley’s take: “I never wanted to freak anyone out. If people think of death and suicide, it’s a sad reflection on evolution. This is meant to be an amazing celebration of New York.”


Marilyn Minter

I was recently at the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Texas and discovered they have a great Marilyn Minter painting in their collection (Image 1). Notice I wrote painting, not photograph. Minter (b. 1948) creates her photorealistic paintings by staging photo shoots of models wearing caked-on make up or what Minter calls “war paint.” She uses an actual darkroom to develop the film and then combines various negatives in Photoshop to make a new image that she paints onto aluminum. The brilliant color, glossy sheen of the surface and simultaneous portrayal of both decay and decadence keeps me staring at her paintings with train wreck-like fascination. Her work is a warning of beauty’s fleeting nature and its subjects remind me of characters long past their prime like Miss Havisham from Great Expectations and Charley, the alcoholic divorcee in the film A Single Man. Of course there are tons of real life women too who need to quit trying so hard with Botox and Lipo and heed Minter’s words: “Perfection is the flaw. It doesn’t exist.”



I’ve just discovered the website www.polyvore.com and I’m really impressed. To sum it up, it is essentially the virtual equivalent of playing paper dolls. You can mix and match real clothing items, shoes, hats, tights and other accessories from various websites with different backgrounds, models and props to create a fashion magazine-like spread of new “looks.”
I spent some time on it the other day and it’s really fun, although more challenging than what you might think to put together an interesting outfit. So many fashionistas are running rampant on there that the simple, all-black aesthetic that I always seem to resort to just isn’t going to cut it. In theory, it’s a great way to try out different looks before buying them and to get more creative with your wardrobe. But that’s assuming you actually have time to put that much thought into your appearance! I’ll probably just stick to copying the outfits the fashion mavens create.
I can totally see a website like this existing for interior design. Imagine how fun it would be to mix and match paint colors with furniture, lighting, rugs and artwork before you buy them! Does this already exist?


NY Export: Opus Jazz

If you ask me, the hottest thing happening in ballet right now is a dance/film project by two New York City Ballet Dancers called NY Export: Opus Jazz.

Opus Jazz is an adaptation of a ballet from the 1950’s by Jerome Robbins. NCYB dancers, Ellen Bar and Sean Suozzi had the idea of re-making Robbins' work back in 2007. After months of editing and years of planning and fundraising, the film has finally come to fruition. Each movement of the ballet is filmed in a different part of the city and danced exclusively by NYCB members. Check out the trailer here:


Tom Friedman

On the heels of April Fools Day and my last post about Jason Peters, I wanted to write about Tom Friedman (1965), an artist with a sense of humor. Friedman is best known for creating sculptures out of everyday materials: toothpaste, laundry detergent, sugar cubes, Pepto-Bismol and more. While I most admire the painstakingly labor-intensive and time-consuming craftsmanship he employs in his work, I don’t always love the finished product.
For example, while its fun to realize that Image 1 is a self-portrait Freidman carved out of a single tablet of aspirin, at the end of the day it’s a silly little aspirin. I feel the same way about Image 2, a sculpture made of hole punches, and Image 3, a perfect sphere molded out of 500 pieces of chewing gum.
A more successful work to me is Image 4, a starbust-like sculpture made out of thousands of toothpicks, because the sculpture is visually stunning and therefore can stand on its own without the toothpick gimmick.
Freidman’s art is clearly full of jokes, but they’re the kind without a lot of substance, or what the comedy world might refer to as “one liner.”