The crowning glory of the Royal Albert Hall is the 250-metre long frieze called The Triumph of Art and Letters on the outer wall, 60 feet up. It was the final element in construction before Victoria cut the ribbon in March 1871.
Its seven Royal Academy artists shared out 16 sections and filled them with 280 life-size figures involved in artistic creativity, manufacture, construction or education. Originally it was to have been a ring of sculpted marble, but economies were necessary, and terra cotta mosaics became the more modest medium. They were put in place not by the artists but by ladies of the mosaic class at the South Kensington Museum, now known as the V&A.
What does the The Triumph of Art and Letters show?
The frieze begins above Door 6 with a scene of exotic foreigners arriving in London for the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851. The carved text, which runs above it noting the financial contribution made by that event to the hall’s construction, also starts here. It seems to determine the order of the sections, so that the phrase ‘advancement of the arts’ overlies the Music and Painting panel above Doors 7 and 8, the name ‘Prince Albert’ coincides with the Princes and Patrons panel above the west porch, ‘the first stone’ accompanies Workers in Stone above Doors 10 and 11 and the quote from Ecclesiastes ‘the wise and their works’ superscribes the figure of James Watt and his steam engine above Door 5.
Watt is exceptional in being identified. Most of the figures are anonymous men, women and children. Some of the men are nude like Greeks, most notably in the Mechanical Powers panel above Door 4, although to spare Victorian blushes, they have no genitals. The Triumph of Art and Letters was meant to have been the 19th century’s answer to the marble frieze that Lord Elgin ‘rescued’ from the Parthenon, one of several iconic buildings depicted in the frieze in acknowledgement by the architects of the Albert Hall that it, too, was joining their ranks. Turn the page for a guide to the frieze’s seven appointed artists and their extraordinary work.
Who were the seven artists of The Triumph of Art and Letters?
EJ POYNTER (1836-1919)
Various Nations Arrive for the Great Exhibition 1851 (Door 6)
Poynter designed the first section, in which the nations, led by cherubs, arrive in London laden with local produce for the show. Liberty leads America’s parade, having unshackled the African-American, struggling with his cotton bale. She is carrying his chains in her right hand. The Native American, who could not have foreseen how trendy his hairstyle would become, brings tobacco in a peace pipe. Poynter, later knighted, was the first Slade professor of art at University College London, and President of the Royal Academy.
EDWARD ARMITAGE (1817-1896)
Philosophers, Sages and Students (Door 3)
Armitage got the student panel, and to show what a forward-looking Victorian he was, included girls. Girton College, Cambridge, the first women’s university, was established only the year before in 1870. Note how Armitage depicts the student body in improbable rapt attention, leaning on the globe, absorbing every nugget, not lying in bed or clutching bowls of cereal. One boy, attending a lecture on fossils, is even taking notes with a quill, while demure handmaids distribute academic awards. Armitage was the official artist of the Crimean War but attracted criticism from people who felt his pictures too bloodthirsty for a civilised nation.
WF YEAMES (1835-1918)
Workers in Stone, Workers in Wood and Brick, Architecture (Doors 10 & 11)
Yeames, given Architecture, depicted St Paul’s Cathedral with Charles II and his spaniel congratulating the architect Wren. As identifiable figures, they are unusual in the frieze, which is mostly dedicated to anonymous workers. In fact, Yeames ironically features the real labourers behind the king’s back, one hauling a bucket, another constructing scaffolding. Yeames’s intention was also to place the new Hall in the context of other domed buildings shown in the frieze, including Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia. English Gothic is represented by Peterborough Cathedral, the haulers and hod-carriers passing a Celtic cross before it.
HS MARKS (1829-1898)
Agriculture, Horticulture and Land Surveying, Astronomy and Navigation
(Doors 1 & 2)
Marks interpreted Agriculture, Horticulture and Land Surveying as ‘taming the land’. A surveyor shows his plans for an earthwork, but even close to, it rather looks like he is wearing a pair of false breasts. Behind him, Romans decide the fate of some captives. An imperial nation extends its boundaries and civilises populations. Marks would eventually become famous for his bird and animal paintings for which he spent hours at the newly opened London Zoo with his friend John Ruskin. The livestock here anticipates this later career. Tradition records that Galileo is the telescope tutor in the neighbouring panel, although the frieze gives no clue to this.
JC HORSLEY (1817-1903)
Engineering (Door 4)
Horsley exalted Great Britain in his Engineering panel, showing Stephenson’s Rocket steam train, three Victorian gents mapping out territory, and telegraph wires running through the panel as if visually connecting the world. He is the only one of the artists to have signed his work and dated it (1869). Just off to the side of the section pictured here, sweating miners deliver combustible rocks to a furnace. One swigs water from a beaker and mops his brow. A team handles the molten steel with sensibly long tongs. Horsley is famous for creating the first Christmas card and, significantly, denouncing contemporary paintings of the nude, a trend borrowed from the Paris salon in the 1880s, for which Punch magazine wittily nicknamed him ‘Clothes Horsley’.
HH ARMSTEAD (1828-1905)
The Mechanical Powers (Door 4)
Armstead depicts Mechanical Power through the muscular energy of men operating levers, wielding sledge hammers or powering a wine press, vulnerably in the nude. Their lack of private parts is the oddest idea in the frieze, a strange compromise between truth and modesty. Did Horsley intervene? Armstead’s admiration for the human form led him into sculpture and he was responsible for 80 of the bas relief carvings on the Albert Memorial.
FR PICKERSGILL (1820-1900)
Music, Sculpture, Painting (Doors 7 & 8), Infancy of the Arts and Sciences (above south porch), Pottery and Glass-making (Door 5)
Pickersgill was known for painting historical subjects, and here he depicts early instruments – a vihuela, a valveless trumpet, a tambour, a Celtic harp, a lute. For this reason too, perhaps, he was given the Infancy of Arts and Sciences panel, in which he shows artists decorating a boat, fashioning a reed pipe, and more. He returns to clay in the last panel, Pottery and Glass-making, in which increasingly refined objects culminate in the glass-blower’s art before Poynter comes round again.
The LA Art Show Returns With an Environmental Focus – Surface Magazine
Environmental issues have taken on a particular urgency in the past year. Climate scientists have warned that if nations fail to immediately pivot from fossil fuels, catastrophic consequences await. Artists frequently reckon with this grim reality, with many expressing skepticism—if not outright anger—at climate inaction, which has resulted in the destruction of coral reefs, intense wildfires, rising sea levels, and the extinction of beloved animal species. The issues surrounding climate change have become top of mind for The LA Art Show, which is kicking off the city’s eagerly anticipated 2022 art season with a newfound ecological lens thanks to the return of DIVERSEartLA.
This year’s edition, which kicks off today at the Los Angeles Convention Center, sheds light not only on how artists represent the environment in their work, but how humanity’s role factors into the equation. “DIVERSEartLA 2022 will encourage visitors to confront the complex challenges of our global climate crisis and imagine potential solutions,” says Marisa Caichiolo, the show’s curator, who encouraged participating art museums to partner with science and environmental institutions. “This topic is at the heart of a growing number of art narratives, including exhibitions built with high-tech innovations designed to inspire artistic appreciation and the desire to respond to environmental challenges, reinforcing the value of translating environmental advocacy into art.”
Among the programming highlights is “Our turn to change,” a worry-inducing video installation by Andrea Juan and Gabriel Penedo Diego and presented by the Museum of Nature of Cantabria Spain that awakens viewers to melting polar ice caps that are causing sea levels to rise drop by drop. The Torrance Art Museum, meanwhile, presents “Memorial to the Future,” a collaborative piece curated by Max Presneill that centers Brutalist architecture as a failed model of idealism while highlighting the immediate need for environmental action. And in “The Earth’s Fruits” by Guillermo Anselmo Vezzosi, waste unexpectedly takes on a dignified second life.
The LA Art Show opens at the Los Angeles Convention Center, South Hall, from Jan. 19–23.
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At Art Basel, FLUF Haus Breaks Barrier Between Metaverse And Physical World – Forbes
Last month, while the cultural elite wrapped up Art Basel with the usual lavish purchases of Keith Herring paintings and Daniel Arsham decayed sculptures, a different crowd had gathered just a couple blocks down the South Beach coastline. The world’s first “Metaverse star” was about to perform.
FLUF Haus, the first in-person gathering for a community of virtual 3D Rabbits (known as Flufs), was hosting a concert for the music star known as “Angelbaby”—a large tattooed pink rabbit whose identity, appearance, and music had been created entirely on the metaverse.
Despite Angelbaby’s entirely virtual existence, some 600 people—largely stakeholders in the NFT community, FLUF World—had flown from across the globe to witness the in-person debut. A projection screen overlooked the dance floor where guests including Trinidad James and Boyz Noise commingled amidst fire breathers and models. Screens scattered throughout the venue displayed various Fluf avatars, broken up by animated scenes from FLUF World.
The event—which felt like a bit of a coming out party for newly created FLUF World—underscored a crucial, often overlooked detail of the booming NFT space: community.
“The most important thing to me with FLUF World was the Discord.” said Robert Hellauer, a 33-year old financial analyst who became a Fluf holder in September. “I went to all the Discords, and all the metaverses have a different vibe…And you could just feel the energy with this one.”
Like the notorious Bored Apes or CryptoPunks, the value of a Fluf isn’t just as a piece of digital art, but as a digital identity. Much like how Supreme or Thrasher did for skaters, NFTs codify culture into appearance, branding one’s allegiance to virtual clans and online subcultures. Buying into a community, literally, helps carve out one’s metaverse identity. FLUF World recognized this early on, and decided to intentionally avoid the toxicity present in many virtual worlds, instead focusing on creating a dynamic and inclusive world to house their digital animal characters.
This appeal of intentional community has seemingly paid off, as many at Fluf World expressed having previous interest in the metaverse, but hadn’t yet found a space that appealed to them.
“These guys think about things other guys don’t,” says Tom Soler, a software manager attending the event. “Decentraland launched way ahead but it feels very empty. These guys have thought through what is the most engaging way to create a community for people who want to hang together.”
This engagement is reflected in Fluf World’s 42,000 member Discord where “#new-fluffers are greeted with a reminder to “treat each other with respect”, and after searching through the Fluf Radio and sales channels can navigate to the “Above Ground” section, to find channels such as #health-and-wellness, and #time-to-talk.
That’s not to overlook the draw of Fluf World’s impressive technology and artistic detail. Rather than use 8-bit images or 2D cartoons, Fluf World features fully 3D characters designed by animators who’ve worked on projects including Avatar and the Lord of The Rings trilogy. Characters hover over customizable, multi-dimensional environments—which include both personalized character music and location based-backgrounds that range from a desert to futuristic city (collectively known as “scenes and sounds”).
Along with the 10,000 original rabbit ‘Flufs’, FLUF World introduced their second line of characters —known as Party Bears— of which all 10,000 sold out in under 10 minutes. Beyond avatars, stakeholders can also purchase virtual real estate known as “burrows”, and even AI-brained spiders (known as “thingies”) which use pattern recognition to create and mint their own new virtual art. All of Fluf World’s characters constantly evolve, and often contain hidden attributes that develop and reveal themselves over time.
Together, this technology, art, and community channels weave together a digital world that shows promise of true depth; an online space with the potential to create a self-perpetuating cycle of growth based on bottom-up user participation.
“When it comes to other [metaverse] platforms, it’s all about roadmaps,” says FLUF World superfan Nick Synodis, (who goes by the handle Knux). “Fluf is in a league of its own. Its competitor is Spotify. It’s Facebook.”
A Record Label For The Metaverse
One of the most promising examples of FLUF World’s potential to be a truly dynamic multi-channel world is their partnership with NFT music collective, Hume.
Described by co-founders Jay Stolar and David Beiner as the “Web3 version of a record label,” Hume is the NFT music minting service that allows Flufs to commercially own and display exclusive music snippets in their character environment. With a tagline of “we are hume. we are many,” Hume has the most active twitter following in the Fluf World community, acting as both differentiator and hype builder for the virtual world.
“We’re creating music-driven Metastars,” says record producer Gino the Ghost, the event’s emcee and Hume evangelist. “The next Billie Eilish or Drake is gonna be in the metaverse.”
Asked what made him interested in migrating his experience from the traditional music realm, Gino (who has composed music for the likes of rapper Saweetie) expressed both an ardent fascination with FLUF World, as well as sharing a commonly held frustration with the revenue structure of the music industry.
”What I primarily do, I work with the pop side, the rap side, the dance side —and they all want to know, ‘How do I get into NFTs?’ All these creatives are so tired of the labels and the royalties—and music NFTs are a way out that isn’t cash-grabby.”
With the creation of their metaverse star Angelbaby, Gino and the founders at Hume are optimistic that Web3 could create a paradigm shift not just in how artists generate revenue, but how fans can benefit from their artist loyalty. In this case for instance, by financially supporting Angelbaby’s origin story (which involved being lost in the desert after being transported 1000 years back in time), fans received some of Angelbaby’s original minted music. This music in turn grows in value as Angelbaby’s popularity rises.
“People who helped Angelbaby in the desert, now they all own a piece of their song that is worth $400-500. Over time this increases the value of their own NFT,” says Beiner.
Gino explains the relationship a bit more simply: “It a way for fans to make fucking money supporting their favorite artists.”
World Competition, or Synergy?
As Gino’s introduction wraps up and Angelbaby’s giant character is projected onto a screen in front of a sea of cellphone recordings, one aspect of FLUF Haus becomes immediately clear: it’s surprisingly normal.
For all the talk of Web3 and NFTs the metaverse, the event feels much like any other concert—with people dancing in close quarters, and having a good time with people they know. Save for the fact that the performing artist is a 13-foot tall pink rabbit with no known human identity, you’d be hard pressed to know this was an NFT event.
And in a way, that’s kind of the point. As virtual representations of ourselves continue to grow—and the metaverse becomes increasingly populated—so too inevitably will our online identities. But that doesn’t mean we will forgo our personalities in the physical world. Like gamertags, or bitmojis or animal crossing islands, spaces like FLUF World will add another layer onto our beings that enhance, not replace our existing lives. FLUF Haus was trying to demonstrate that connection to the world.
“The meta verse is going to be this amazing digital space,” says Knux. “But the ultimate goal of it is to live in both worlds.”
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