It’s a Fact: Museums Are as Big as Sports and Entertainment!

[BBC, LTTW, LONDON] At 6.7 million, the British Museum is set for record attendance in 2013, up 20% on 2012 and beating 2008’s previous record of six million, according to a recent report by the BBC. The number is also rivaling the total of 9 million sold tickets to London Olympics 2012, and beating 2013’s all music festival goers of 6.5 million; and keep in mind that this is from the British Museum alone!

The same observable fact was also happening in the United States, a nation of more than 17.000 museums. According to the American Alliance of Museums, There are approximately 850 million visits each year to American museums, more than the attendance for all major league sporting events and theme parks combined (483 million in 2011). By 2006, museums already received an additional 524 million online visits a year just from adults, a number that continues to grow.

With such staggering numbers, both the British and Americans are safe to say that museum is as big as sports and entertainment; and this might be very useful for the museums enthusiasts across the globe.

Museums are popular

In today’s climate where history and cultural heritages are not voiced as loud as sports or entertainment, especially among the young generation, those numbers could speak louder than words. Museums are popular; and probably unlike sports and entertainment, there are rooms for everyone; from all ranges of ages, income, education, and nationality.

The British Museum’s director, Neil MacGregor, said: “I am delighted that so many people have visited the world collection at the British Museum in the last year. Displays onsite, loans and touring exhibitions nationally and internationally, big screen viewings and online access mean this is truly a dynamic collection that belongs to and is used by a global citizenship”.

To Americans, museums are viewed as one of the most important resources for educating the young generation, telling important stories by collecting, preserving, researching, as well as interpreting objects, living specimens and historical records. With more than a billion tangible world heritages preserved and protected in one place, perhaps near to their home, museums are considered a more reliable source of historical information than books, internet, teachers or even personal accounts by relatives, according to a study by Indiana University.

In short, one would say that history and cultural heritage is indeed as popular as sports and entertainment; or in other words, museums are as big as football matches and music festivals.

However, museums are losing its charm in many other countries, such as in Indonesia. In fact, some are “successfully dying”, as the common joke says. So, if Indonesia, with its 17,508 islands covering an area of 741,050 squares miles, has thousands if not millions of museums’ materials which may have potentials as great as the British Museum, how should we evaluate this?


CES 2014: (Slow) Progress in Audio Technology

[CES, GRAMOPHONE, LTTW, LAS VEGAS] With CES welcomed the year 2014, the advancement within the audio technology will remain as minor as before; or will it not?

Consumer Electronics Show 2014, the largest global gathering for the consumer electronics and technology industry, is history. The International CES 2014, which was held in Las Vegas from January 7 to 10, is often viewed as a barometer for where technology is headed in the coming year.

As probably expected, the show is centered on the race to be the next kings of convenience: curvier, smarter and more wearable devices. Many manufacturers have been claimed that 2014 will be the year of technology contestations; from the once cutting-edge products as mobile phones, tablets, video games, and TVs, to more forward-looking ones such as automated cars, home automation, and the attractive smart watches.

In audio technology, particularly on the advancement of audio equipment, the race is on as well. Manufacturers such as Arcam, Naim, T+A, Cambridge Audio, Meridien, Sony, and many more, are competing to please music enthusiasts—especially the audio hardcore ones. Not just to please the ear with staggering 300 kg Statement amplifier system from Salisbury’s Naim Audio of output in Class A for clarity and sweetness for instance, but also to provide more convenience in arranging your home audio system with high-end digital (and wireless!) speakers and amplifiers from Meridien and AirStream.

In 2014, change will be in the air, literally and figuratively, where manufacturers have big plans for wireless sound and smarter compo, such as introduced by the T+A in its Caruso Blu, an all-in one system combining CD, SACD, DVD and Blu-ray playback, internet radio, FM and DAB tuners, and access to music on network servers, USB storage or Bluetooth devices.

The high-resolution revolution is coming—sometime (read the full article)

From CES 2014 al0ne, many perceived that audio technology is progressing. However, the progress is frustratingly slow, compare to other product categories that make big leaps forward year after year. More probably expected as well, the audio section (within the Home Theatre and Audio category) were less visited and less widely covered than a curved TV, or automatic cars, or smart watches.

In times of all things digital like now, perhaps the primary convenient in most of audio consumers means small, smart, mobile, and cheap; while the high-resolution sound—the best way musicians want their music to be enjoyed —may comes in second, or third, or even means nothing at all. In CES 2014, many manufacturers and the whole industry were seemed to agree that this year is not the right time to expect consumers to move up from MP3 files to much more data-hungry high-resolution content. Hence, little surprise that the technological advancement is progressing slowly.

However, there is much to learn from this. CES 2014 has shown to the world that things has pretty much turns up-side down lately. Perhaps in just several years ahead, there will be cars that drive you home, or watches that’ll be ‘smarter’ than books, or computers that will be composers and called ‘compusers’. So, who’s progressing slowly anyway? The technology or the human?


Digesting Art Food

If art is for artists, then cooking is for chefs. If one refers to the modern usage of the word fine art, where art is distinguished from functional or applied creations in the West (begins in the 17th century), then ‘art’ and ‘artists’ will not comply with ‘food’ and ‘chefs’. This hasn’t changed ever since—until this recent years.

He is Ferran Adria, the Spanish-born chef who challenged the boundaries between food and art. He has been called the world’s greatest chef. Gourmet magazine referred to Chef Adria as “the Salvador Dali­ of the kitchen”. His restaurant, El Bulli, was five times named best restaurant in the world by the prestigious Restaurant magazine. He earned such reputation by performing cooking experiments often associated with Molecular Gastronomy, the application of science to culinary and cooking practice; and he didn’t want to stop there. He wanted his cooking to be recognized as an art, and him as an artist.

Art Food by Chef Adria

Nowadays, it often isn’t enough for food to be just food. In fact, calling food art is quite common in today’s climate, although most of chefs who do so were referring to the artistry of its visual presentation. However, with the growing challenges on the meaning of art coming from the culinary world, came also big questions: how should art respond to such challenge?* And how will this affect the way we consume food? And how are we supposed to digest art food?

Quite the reverse, the rise of food science and artistry (or known as “foodism”) among societies across the world didn’t get all quite the welcome. One came from the late Andy Rooney, the famous CBS’s 60 Minutes commentator, who shared his not liking of it, “I don’t like food that’s too carefully arranged; it makes me think that the chef is spending too much time arranging and not enough time cooking. If I wanted a picture I’d buy a painting.”

Well, whether you like it or not, people are taking more care over what they put in their stomachs. In this case, perhaps “art” would be a healthy one?


*Serrano Sianturi

Chef Ferran Adrià and the problem of calling food art

by Jason Farago

(BBC, New York) Downtown New York has no shortage of impressive restaurants, but this month the most famous chef in the world won’t be cooking at all. The Drawing Center, a small but important institution in SoHo, is devoting its galleries to an exhibition of the work of Ferran Adrià – the Catalan trailblazer whose restaurant El Bulli on Spain’s Costa Brava became a pilgrimage site for gourmands worldwide in the last decade. Ferran Adrià: Notes on Creativity brings together sketches, charts, diagrams, shopping lists and messily scribbled notes, plus a video that cycles through the nearly 2,000 strange, at times baroque, dishes prepared at El Bulli over the years, such as licorice nitro-dragon, or smoke foam. You may or may not leave inspired, but you will leave hungry.

This is the first exhibition ever devoted to Adrià by an arts institution, and the show argues that drawing played a key role in the development of his innovative cuisine. (It opens on 25 January and will travel to Los Angeles, Cleveland, Minneapolis and Maastricht.) But the show demonstrates Adrià is an artist, and that his work at El Bulli transcended mere hospitality and achieved a higher, greater status.

Did it? It’s hard to say – but either way, the shifting terms by which we judge that question say something important, and maybe not very positive, about food and art.

El Bulli was voted the best in the world by Restaurant magazine five separate years, but Adrià never made any money from it. In fact, it operated at a substantial loss right up until the restaurant’s closure in 2011. He refused to hike prices even when two million diners were fighting for only 8,000 available meals per season. For the chef, money came through other avenues, from book sales to consulting, while the restaurant served other, more aesthetic aims. El Bulli, for Adrià, was less a restaurant than a laboratory and a studio.

According to his biographer, Colman Andrews, what was one of Adrià’s proudest moments was his inclusion in documenta, the prestigious once-every-five-years German art exhibition, as an artist. The distinction meant everything to him, while many critics and art professionals voiced confusion; the director of Madrid’s Reina Sofia museum branded Adrià’s inclusion as “dilletantish”. Either way, it got to something: Adrià has always had a gnawing hunger – I use the word advisedly – for artistic legitimacy, as if being known as the world’s best chef is somehow not enough. In 2009 Blake Gopnik, an incisive writer then at the Washington Post, travelled to Catalonia to eat at El Bulli. How did he get the nearly impossible reservation? Because he is an art critic; for us, Adrià would happily make space.

Feast or famine?

The relationship between art and food is a long one, and artists in the 20th Century have included cooking and eating in their practices. The Futurists in interwar Turin mounted over-the-top, deeply unpalatable banquets that replaced pasta with steel and sandpaper; the artists of Fluxus in 1960s New York held ‘eat-ins’ that featured only white dishes, or ten different flavoured mashed potatoes. Tastier stuff was to be found at Food, a restaurant founded in SoHo in 1971 by artist Gordon Matta-Clark, which was at once an artists’ canteen and an artwork itself. More recently the Thai artist Rirkrit Tiranavija, subject of an upcoming retrospective at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas, has offered free meals in his exhibitions, encouraging conviviality among gallery-goers rather than quiet contemplation.

But the desire for chefs to declare themselves artists – more precisely, to brand their cooking not just artistic but actually art itself – is a newer thing. Earlier chefs such as François Vatel or Auguste Escoffier might have called themselves artists, but it’s important to unpack that term: it was used as a means to analogise their work to painting and sculpture, not as a claim that no distinction existed. The expansion of the boundaries of contemporary art, however, has let chefs such as Adrià say they aren’t just like artists, but are artists. And this has gone hand-in-hand with a boom in popularity for high-end cuisine, seen everywhere from Top Chef to the bookshops. When Nathan Myhrvold, a multimillionaire foodie with a taste for technology, published his 2,400-page Modernist Cuisine, at a list price of $625, his publisher deemed it a vanity project and only printed a few copies. It went on to become the most profitable cookbook of all time, and has generated – what else? – an art exhibit.

Hard to swallow

Can food be art? Maybe. The reasons food is increasingly being embraced as art are cause for concern and may even reflect something else: a shift in the boundaries of culture itself. As the writer Bill Deresiewicz has argued in The New York Times, in the last decade food has supplanted art and literature as the principal means by which urban professional classes establish their cultural bona fides. It’s now totally common for self-styled knowledgeable people to be clueless about Schiller and Strauss, yet be able to hold forth on the virtues of 12 different kinds of olive oil or distinguish allegedly superior Mexican Coca-Cola from its American cousin. The palate, not the intellect or the soul, has become the dominant authority. Pleasure, rather than insight or antagonism, is all we ask.

When a chef like Adrià is acclaimed as an artist, or when organic obsessives wax rhapsodic about the cultural virtues of turnips, it says we expect less from art than we used to, and food can do the rather small job as well, if not better, than a picture in a white cube. But in aspiring to the status of art, chefs unwittingly expose food’s own shallowness as a medium. Gopnik, the art critic, observed as much when he made his pilgrimage to the Costa Brava. El Bulli, he noted, offered him one of the greatest meals of his life. In artistic terms, however, it was “relatively tame, at least when compared with the most daring contemporary art…more charming and witty than deeply affecting.” I agree – but in an age when every inanity at the art fairs can be sold for six figures and gallery-goers will queue for eight hours to experience the New York MoMA’s daft Rain Room, maybe “charming and witty” is enough for us.

The better question than ‘Is Adrià an artist?’ may be this: what does it say about our expectations of art if food can meet them so easily? Rather than rehashing a tired debate about the boundary between art and cooking, it seems far more profitable to advocate for higher standards in artistic achievement, and to recognise that sensory pleasures need not be art to be worthwhile.

I felt that myself in Catalonia recently. Though I never made it to El Bulli, a few months ago I did have the chance to eat at El Celler de Can Roca, about an hour’s drive away, which now wears El Bulli’s former Restaurant magazine mantle as the ‘world’s best’. My meal there was a four-hour, twenty-course voyage that stirred, surprised, comforted and thrilled me by turns. It did so not through the theatrical gluttony of Adrià’s laboratory experiments, but through a sensitivity and warmth I’ve never felt in any other restaurant. It was not art – and it was fabulous.