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Obituary | Myron Mirakovsky
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Mirror Master attacked by wolves, dead at 79.

Myron Mirakovsky, known as the ‘master of mirrors’ for the thousands of works he created using reflective surfaces, died December 1st in Brooklyn, New York, from injuries sustained in a wolf attack in Central Park.

Born in Odessa Russia, Mirakovsky emigrated to the U.S. with his parents in the 1950’s. In New York, he worked with his father, a glazier, and attended the Pratt Institute. In the early 60’s he burst into the New York art scene with his installation at Andy Warhol’s Factory, ‘Shiny Dogs,’ which consisted of twenty German Shepherds wrapped in highly reflective Mylar.

In his next show, at the Leo Castelli Gallery, hundreds of cunningly placed mirrors created the sensation of vast crowds stretching to infinity. The six-week exhibition was cancelled after the second week when several members of a visiting group of patients from the Brooklyn Psychiatric Institute ran amok in the gallery, injuring two patrons and smashing a dozen mirrors.

Mirakovsky shied away from large installation following the Castelli Gallery debacle and focused instead on constructing mirror effects that disrupted the viewer’s sense of scale. Using refracting surfaces, he created reflected illusions in which insects (an ant colony, in his most famous work) appeared to be the same size as humans. The effect was disturbing.

For several decades the artist labored in obscurity until a book about him by art historian Eva Hassan (Reflections on Reflections) prompted renewed interest in his mirror works. At a recent retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the aging artist apparently became disoriented during the installation of one of his mirrored chambers and suffered a fall, cracking his hip. Forced to walk with a cane, New York police surmise Mirakovsky was unable to escape when the wolves attacked.

He is survived by two daughters, Myra and Sylvia.

Obituary | Willy Sparks Reno
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Pioneered Cyberspace Environments as Art, dead at 78.

Willy Sparks Reno, known in the secretive cyber arts community as “Sparky 1,” was declared dead on October 1st by a California Court. He disappeared seven years ago from his studio in Redwood City.

Reno’s virtual worlds were experienced by only a handful of associates and art critics, all of whom reported they were astounded by the power of his artificial environments to induce a false sense of reality. Reno used full-body that employed the same remote sensing technologies adopted by military medical researchers in their designs for remote-controlled combat diagnostics centers and emergency operating rooms.

Reno earned a Ph.D. in cybernetics from MIT in the seventies, but chose to pursue a career as an artist, building robotic mobile sculptures that seemed more interesting to critics for the technological innovations they employed than for any aesthetic sensibility. Frustrated by the lack of public interest and near impoverished, he returned to the tech sector where he quickly gained recognition as an innovative problem-solver whose patents for remote sensing technologies made him a wealthy man.

In the mid-nineties, Reno retired and devoted himself to the creation of virtual environments as total-immersion artworks. His most well known work, “Sunflower Fields” immersed the experience in the midst of a vast field of Van Gogh-inspired sunflowers. He constantly struggled to find ways to achieve more powerful, dynamic effects and to create environments in which touch, smell and sound were integrated. The technology he developed for this work was licensed by defense contractors and cyber pornographers, earning him a second fortune.

To Reno’s enduring frustration, the bulky full-body suits required to experience his virtual environments were available only in the lab and he never realized his dream of making his work available to a wider public.

He is survived by a daughter, Persephone.

Obituary | Hamish Gripplethorpe
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Squirrel-Powered Mobile Sculpture designer, dead at 81.

Hamish Gripplethorpe, the English sculptor who delighted countless children (if not art critics) with his complex contraptions driven by squirrels, died in London on July 28th after collapsing in Hyde Park where he had been jogging around the reflecting pond.

As an 18-year old pilot in World War II, Gripplethorpe trained with his American counterparts, among them the sculptor Richard Serra, who became a lifelong friend. Serra wrote an introduction to an exhibition catalogue featuring Gripplethorpe’s sculptures, noting the artist’s squirrel-driven works “explored the relationship between steel and muscle in the post-industrial world.”

Gripplethorpe studied art in Italy in the 30’s and returned to Bologna in the postwar years where he developed his metalworking techniques. For almost a decade Gripplethorpe focused on fantastical sculptures inspired by suits of armor. Some elements in these early pieces suggested the armor was designed for strangely deformed humans or perhaps another species altogether. The work failed to inspire critics and was largely ignored by the art world.

The artist returned to London in the mid-50s where an encounter in his backyard inspired his first squirrel-driven piece, It’s a Nutty World, which consisted of a series of interlocking wheels, the largest of which was more than ten feet in diameter, all made of ultra-light material. In the center, in the smallest wheel of all, a squirrel in its treadmill wheel drove the movement of the entire device. Critics likened the piece to a medieval model of the cosmos. In 1957 a show of 47 Gripplethorpe squirrel works at a London gallery was such a success that it was extended for nearly two years, the longest gallery run for a single artist in London history.

Critics, however, were not amused after a disastrous opening in Bruges, Belgium, at which animal rights activists set 40 of Gripplethorpe’s squirrels free among the crowd at the reception, the artist retired from the public scene. Although he continued to create small-scale squirrel-driven devices for a few private collectors, Gripplethorpe largely dedicated the last decades of his life to his hobby, taxidermy.

At a private memorial for friends and family, 80 squirrels were set free in the Scottish Highlands where the artist had traveled often in the past and where he trapped his “little art assistants,” as he called them. “Hamish will be sorely missed,” Serra told the crowd, “but probably not by squirrels.”

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