Friday, 7 December 2007

Friday Grab Bag: Xmas Wrapping Edition

I like to think that I invented the practice of newspapers giving away free wrapping paper. Back when I was editor of The Washington Post's Weekend section I was casting around for what to do as a cover story on the Friday closest to Christmas, a story no one would read anyway, so busy would they be preparing for the holiday. I decided to have an artist create a wrapping paper design which we would print in the central double-truck position. The following year, we made it a contest, inviting children to send us their designs and printing our favorite.

I thought of that this week while reading the Guardian. They asked five high-profile artists to design wrapping paper, which they've been printing all week. The first was by Mark Wallinger, who just won Britain's Turner Prize. Wallinger is one of those artists who bugs people who prefer their artists to be, like, artistic. He's best known for his work "Sleeper," which is a two-hour video of him wandering around an empty Berlin gallery dressed in a bear suit. The piece he won the Turner for was "State Britain," a painstakingly accurate re-creation of a protest camp set up outside the Houses of Parliament by a peace campaigner against the Iraq war. Wallinger and his assistants redrew every poster, banner, flier, sign, sourced every teddy bear and wooden cross. Again, the sort of thing that drives people who like their artists to have original ideas and be able to draw crazy.

But what was his wrapping paper like? It was the words "Jesus Christ" set in a sans serif typeface of about 12 points and printed hundreds of time on the sheet of white paper, alternating in red and green (detail above). At least it looks like wrapping and it coyly toys with the reason for the season. I think it's my favorite of his works and I own one of the limited-edition prints. Well, limited to 400,000.

Heavy-hitter Louise Bourgeois contributed a swirly red-and-white pattern that will at least look good around a box. Handwritten in the white bits of her design are such words as "hours," "minutes," "years" and her own signature.


Also this week was a design by R.B. Kitaj. His design was a crudely sketched face, a bit Chagall-like in its choice of colors to my untrained eye.


Then there's today's design:

It's by a collage artist named Barbara Kruger and it consists of a B&W photo of a blindfolded face imprinted with the red words "Blind idealism is reactionary." Makes me want to enjoy my Christmas pudding!

The mistake the Guardian's editors made in this project was accepting whatever the artists gave them. I'm sure they're all good artists. They obviously want to provoke thoughts. ("'Blind idealism'? Does that mean my belief in Santa Claus or my support of George Bush?") But use the medium you were given, folks. This wasn't a poster contest. Only Wallinger and Bourgeois created anything that plays with the wrapping paper form. The other two just dashed something off. (I didn't buy the Guardian yesterday so I didn't see Gary Hume's design. I had to buy the Daily Mail for its "canoe man" coverage.)

It was always hard picking the winning kid's design at Weekend, but there was always a clear winner, one that had a design that was attractive to look at in its entirety but also worked when wrapped around a bottle of perfume or a paperback book. We got our designs for free. The payment for the kids was the honor of being published. I hope the Guardian didn't pay too much for their designs.

BritNews RoundUp
I wonder what kind of wrapping paper the Daily Mail would print? Scantily-clad elves, no doubt. This week their cutting-edge journalism included a story on what sort of underwear men want their women to wear. (I'm thinking "clean," but what do I know?)

I couldn't find a good Daily Mail breast story this week, but the News of the World gamely filled in, asking the question that has occupied U.S. intelligence agencies ever since they finished their Iran nuclear weapons report: Are Victoria Beckham's boobs shrinking?

Speaking of weapons of mass destruction: A social club in Devon has reprimanded a 77-year-old member for farting too much in their midst. Said the flatulent Maurice Fox: "I sit by the door anyway and try to get out when I can. But sometimes it takes me by surprise and just pops out." I hear you, Maurice. Unfortunately, I also smell you.

Here are some words you never want to see in the same news story: "penis," "firefighters" and "mini hand grinder." Yes, it's this week's episode of Britain's favorite game show: Sex With Inanimate Objects. Don't worry, there's a happy ending.

Stone Carving of the Week

This gob-smacked fellow, and 11 others, gazes out from around the Sheldonian Theatre. The heads are huge, almost three feet high.

Have a great weekend and thanks for reading. This is a bit of a stealth operation so links, and comments, are always appreciated.


Candadai Tirumalai said...

The Sheldonian Theatre (I imagine you have always known the differences between American and British spelling) was Chrisopher Wren's first large building. Mystery surrounds those famous sculptured heads. Apostles? Philosophers? Emperors? Many would probably choose the third. Marcus Aurelius, the philosophic Emperor, would qualify on both counts. The Sheldonian is where Oxford degrees are conferred.

suburbancorrespondent said...

Wow! I didn't know you were the one that invented the wrapping paper competition! But would you believe that, even with 6 kids, our family has never sent in an entry? We always miss the announcement and the deadline. When do they announce it, anyway?

John Kelly said...

They announce it in the Weekend section some time in early November, I believe. You're probably too late again. Better luck next year.

mtbenson said...

You said there were five artists, right? What did the fifth paper look like? (I love this idea, here in DC, in the Guardian, wherever. Way to invent something, maybe.)

Old Lady said...

We have used your Christmas wrapping paper - and enjoyed doing so. We thought it very clever and better than the colored comics papes we sometimes use for birthday presents. Dare I say the Guardian stuff would not suit my household.

redstriped said...

Mr Kelly,
The stone carving of the Week from the Sheldonian Theatre kinda resembles the dude from The Awakening in DC. This is the 100-foot statue of a giant embedded in the earth, struggling to free himself. It's on Hains Point, or East Potomac Park, near the 14th ST Bridge.

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