Boston, Cambridge, Somerville

20 Nov 2014

Arrived in Boston to stay in a cosy apartment in Cambridge Massachusetts for a week full of meetings, studio visits, guest lectures, exhibition opening etc. A great chance to check out the MIT and Harvard campus and see how these institutes influence their urban surroundings. Our apartment is located just yards away from Mass Ave near Porter Square. Well worth strolling down all the way to Central. Especially Harvard square is a fun place to check out.

Jazz on brainwaves.

First night I landed in a Jazz concert called Fresh. Jazz seems to be the number one choice here in Cambridge. It turned out to be an evening of experimental ambient soundscapes and contemporary jazz. featuring Grace & Max – Grace Leslie is a flutist music cognition researcher and electronic musician who is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Affective Computing Group at the MIT Media Lab, developing music neurofeedback systems for creative and therapeutic applications. And also featuring Poland’s  composer/clarinetist Waclaw Zimpel. All took place in a high end sound studio with limited audience seats but totally equipped for live streaming.

Brunch with Judy.

Sunday we were invited to have a brunch at Judy Fox’s place, a beautiful and typical house located in Jamaica Plain, Boston. Judy is one of the curators of the Stereotype exhibition. Eating pie turned out to be a very good way to get to know each other a little bit and exchange some information and ideas for future shows.

Visit to Forest Hill.

We took a small walk across the Forest Hill Cemetery in Boston. A historic place that is also the location for a community art project that was curated by Cecily Miller. The project saved the site from neglect. An interesting place to experience art but I could not help being struck by the nature patiently engulfing these memorials of loved ones. A very four dimensional experience.

ArtScience Labs.

On Monday we had a meeting with the Executive Director of Le Laboratoire, Carrie Fitzsimmons. Le Laboratoire is an project space that is part of ArtScience Labs and showcases avant-garde Science based art projects. A beautiful way to bring science and technology to the public. The lunch in the accompanying Café ArtSience consolidates that thought.


Later that afternoon we headed to Lesley University to give feedback on an archiving and selection application the students were working on. The class was all about interaction design.

On a Stroll.

Tuesday we had the chance to explore more of Cambridge and the Harvard Campus since we got the message ‘all set’ for the exhibition. So we didn’t have to show up at the build-up to check things out.

Harvard Art Museum.

Wednesday morning we had the chance to visit the exclusive membership opening of the Harvard Art Museum by cheating our way in. Someone was so nice to borrow his memberships card to us. The museum has been completely renovated and a few floors were added to the top of the building by Renzo Piano. It houses an advanced department for conservation and an impressive art collection. Especially the faded Rothko paintings were an eye opener. The museum ‘restored’ the faded paintings by developing an advanced digital projecting technique in cooperation with the MIT Media Lab, projecting on the actual paintings to show their original color intensions. Just another example how art and technology seem to go hand in hand.

–“MARK ROTHKO’S Harvard Murals, a five-panel series that the University commissioned from the expressionist painter in 1962, will star in the Harvard Art Museums’ inaugural exhibition this November, the museums announced today. The paintings, installed in 1964 on the tenth floor of Holyoke Center (renamed the Smith Campus Center last year), were all removed within 15 years because their light-sensitive background color had progressively faded.

Since 2008, Harvard’s Center for the Technical Study of Modern Art (CTSMA) and Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies have worked in conjunction with Ramesh Raskar, an expert in computational photography at the MIT Media Lab’s Camera Culture Research Group, to develop a software that uses noninvasive digital light projection as a tool to restore the appearance of Rothko’s original colors. “It’s an amazing opportunity to develop something that hasn’t been done before,” said Narayan Khandekar, senior conservation scientist at the Straus Center. Forms of digital projection had been used on tapestries and architectural elements, he explained, but no one had applied the technology to paintings.

According to Mary Schneider Enriquez, Houghton associate curator of modern and contemporary art, the new exhibition will restore the murals as a work for art historians to study. “One of the tragedies has been that the Harvard Murals have basically not been recognized in art history…as they should be,” she said. “One of the several things this exhibition will do is to bring them back into the discourse on Rothko’s history and [their] importance within his trajectory in art history.” The murals are one of only three commissioned series Rothko executed; the other two are the Seagram Murals, painted in the late 1950s and destined for the Four Seasons restaurant in New York City, and the Rothko Chapel in Houston, which was completed after the artist’s death in 1970 and hosts 14 of his paintings.

The museums’ news release recounts how talks about Rothko’s commission began in 1960, when then-economics professor Wassily Leontief, chair of the Society of Fellows, suggested that the artist create a series of works for the penthouse dining room planned for the new Holyoke Center. With the support of John Coolidge, then serving as the director of the Fogg Museum, Rothko painted the large-scale canvases to be donated to Harvard between 1961 and 1962.

But soon after installation of the works in 1964, their backgrounds, which Rothko painted a bright crimson, began to fade differentially. According to Jens Stenger, the former Straus Center conservation scientist (now at Yale) who has been leading the conservation efforts, in the late 1970s the paintings were taken down and stored in a warehouse. They have rarely been on display since, but Stenger said that during a 1988 temporary exhibition, then conservation scientist Paul Whitmore studied the paintings and determined that the color loss was due to the presence of lithol red, a light-sensitive pigment.

When the Straus Center and the CTSMA began working on Rothko’s paintings 20 years later, they faced the challenge of establishing what the backgrounds had looked like almost 50 years ago. According to Stenger, Rudolf Gschwind, a digital-imaging expert at the Digital Humanities Lab of Basel University, helped the Harvard team to determine the original background color of the murals.

CTSMA director Carol Mancusi-Ungaro said that, given their fragile surfaces, theHarvard Murals could not be restored through inpainting (manually compensating for the color loss). The idea of using light projection came from thinking about color perception, said Stenger. “In human color perception you have the light source, the surface, and the viewer, and these three interact,” he explained. “So if you can’t change the surface, you can change the light source to change the color.” In the exhibition, a digital projector will use compensation images to illuminate the murals differentially, restoring the appearance of the original color as the paintings are viewed in the gallery. Mancusi-Ungaro, who is also associate director for conservation and research at the Whitney Museum of American Art, called this kind of technology “a logical next step in conservation.”

“One of the things that makes this tool particularly exciting is that it allows us to see things as they once were,” but no permanent change occurs, Schneider Enriquez said. “We’re just using light to pixel by pixel give us back the unity.”–

Source: Harvard Art Museums’ press release.


Later that day we headed back to Lesley University for a lunch with Kristina Lamour Sansone, Chair of Design at Lesley University, a guest lecture and micro workshop. The lecture had an interactive character with audience questions altering its course. The micro workshop was about making on the spot typography and explaining how three characters can make a great movie. In this case: Blondie, Angel Eyes and Tuco.


Thursday was all about visiting Boston and preparing for the opening of the Stereotype Exhibition at the BSA Artspace. All was well prepared so we had time for a big stroll across Boston. When we returned everything was ready for a live burning of our ‘Burn Baby Burn’ poster. The opening piece of the show. It was good to see many people showing up to attend the opening. Stereotype displays projects from designers like: Brian Banton,(Canada), Jerome Corgier, (France), Oded Ezer, (Israel), Dominique Falla, (Australia), Masashi Kawamura, (Japan), Ji Lee, (USA), Song Hyun Li, (Germany), Thomas G. Mason, (USA), Petra Mrzyk and Jean-Francois Moriceau, (France), Evan Roth, (France), Stefan Sagmeister and Jessica Walsh, (USA), Alida Sayer, (UK) and Dan Tobin Smith, (UK). StereoType was curated by C2 (CuratorSquared), a partnership between Ginger Gregg Duggan and Judith Hoos Fox.


Next morning we had to get ready for a meeting with Mayor Curtatone and a delegation of the city council of somerville to share experience on the topic of city branding. It turned out to be a very good meeting where we could elaborately explain how we went ahead with the rebranding of Eindhoven and how this could parallel with Somerville with has allot of the similar issues to deal with. After one hour and a half of presenting and Q&A we were back on our way. Next stop would be a couple of studios in Somerville in an old foam factory that is still partly operative. The top floor housed several artists that work on their projects. Good to see such an active artist community with a very diverse background.


Then we headed to the MIT Campus to pay a visit to MIT Lab and check out several buildings on the site just to see how things are set up. The activity on the Campus is striking as is the energy that surrounds it. We had the chance to meet several people with an MIT background during our stay in Cambridge. Speaking with them has given me the strong impression that technology and science have become part of the way of life in the Boston area. It’s just everywhere.

And on that note we started packing to cross back over the ocean.

Edhv, Architects
of Identity