Wednesday, December 20, 2017

What’s the Fastest Color? Olympic Speedskaters Now Say Blue

Lee Sang-hwa of South Korea, left, Havard Holmefjord Lorentzen of Norway, center, and Moritz Geisreiter of Germany at a World Cup competition last month in Stavanger, Norway. At the 2014 Winter Olympics, South Korea wore a darker shade of blue, Norway wore red and Germany wore black. CreditPhotographs by Carina Johansen/NTB scanpix
STAVANGER, Norway — Olympic-caliber speedskaters sometimes race for more than six miles, and gold medals can be determined by hundredths of a second. Countries that take the sport seriously have looked for every possible scientific advantage, from the composition of the hinge that connects the skate blade to the boot to the aerodynamics of hoods on racing suits.
In the months leading up to the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, some of the sport’s biggest powers seem to be under the sway of a new and far less scientifically rigorous belief about their equipment: Blue is the fastest color.
Speedskating fans and competitors were bemused recently when skaters from three countries — Germany, Norway and South Korea — showed up to the first World Cup event of the season wearing new uniforms in a suspiciously similar shade of blue. South Korea has historically worn blue. Germany and Norway have not.
The attire was particularly jarring for Norway, whose long history of speedskating prowess has been attained in red — always in red. Norway has won 80 speedskating medals at the Olympics, behind only the 105 won by the Netherlands. It was as if the Yankees had showed up at the baseball playoffs in polka dots rather than pinstripes.
“The Norwegians’ whole history is with the legendary red suits,” said Hein Otterspeer, a sprint specialist from the Netherlands, who reported hearing the same rumors as everyone else at the World Cup races in Stavanger, Norway. “People are saying now the blue color is faster than any other color. That’s a bit of a strange theory, but maybe they tested it, and it went better than the red suit.”
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With any new piece of equipment, there is an assumption that it has been tested, tested again and tested some more. At ice rinks, laboratories and wind tunnels around the world, the top countries are engaged in a hush-hush arms race, a different sort of cold war. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics was involved in the development of the racing suits worn by the United States at the last Winter Games.
Every so often, there are revolutionary innovations in materials, design or construction. Sometimes, there are flops, like the suit worn by the Americans in 2014 — the grandiosely named, and ultimately underperforming, Mach 39 from Under Armour — featuring a dimpled, vented material.
But the notion that certain colors could be faster than others? Some skaters found it preposterous. Others accepted it. Many were just confused.
“They said it skates a little faster than red, so I like to believe that,” Hege Bokko, a Norwegian skater, said after stepping off the ice last month in the team’s new blue suit.
But what does that mean, exactly?
“I have no clue,” she said, smiling. “The Koreans and Germans are also skating in blue, so maybe it’s something.”
Never mind the fancy scientists who scratched their heads at the premise.
“I have come to a point in my life that I have sufficient confidence in what I’ve done and what I know, but at the same time I’m not so arrogant to dismiss claims people make,” said Renzo Shamey, a professor of color science and technology at North Carolina State University, which has a leading textiles program.
“Having said that, based on my knowledge of dye chemistry, I cannot possibly imagine how dyeing the same fabric with two dyes that have the same properties to different hues would generate differing aerodynamic responses.”
Chris Needham, an equipment technician for the United States team and former national team skater, said the discussion reminded him of a conversation he had with a ski jumper years ago at the Olympic training center in Lake Placid, N.Y. When Needham asked why so many ski jumpers seemed to be wearing orange suits, the jumper replied, “It flies better.”
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Johann Olav Koss winning gold for Norway at the 1994 Winter Games. “The Norwegians’ whole history is with the legendary red suits,” said Hein Otterspeer, a speedskater from the Netherlands.CreditSimon Bruty/Getty Images
This sort of matter-of-factness about junk science was echoed in Norway.
“It’s been proven that blue is faster than other colors,” said Dai Dai Ntab, a sprint specialist for the Netherlands. “Every Olympic season, everybody is trying to find the hidden gem. This year it’s the blue suits.”
Ntab seemed at least half-serious as he continued: “At the end of the day, winning is the biggest goal, so if it’s faster to skate in the blue, I think Holland should consider changing.”
Some in the sport wondered if the Norwegians were playing mind games with their competitors. In speedskating, posturing is as common as actual technological progress.
“I look at that as the oldest trick in the book,” Mike Crowe, the coach of the Canadian team, said about the color switch and ensuing intrigue. “It’s just gamesmanship, really. Make them doubt. Make them wonder.”
In a fireside interview at the rink, Havard Myklebust, the sports scientist leading Norway’s secret suit development effort, seemed amused at the attention the uniforms had garnered over the past few weeks. He hinted that overeager Norwegian journalists might have played a role in the proliferation of this new color theory.
And still, he seemed content to let the speculation simmer. He demurred when asked whether his team’s research had shown color alone could affect the aerodynamics of a material. He stuck to tantalizing generalities.
“What I’ve said is, our new blue suit is faster than our old red suit,” he said with a tight smile, “and I stand by that.”
Skaters, for the sake of their sanity, seemed disinclined to pay too much attention to the subtleties of a suit. Still, they acknowledged that confidence, in oneself and one’s gear, was crucial. Feeling fast can help you go fast.
The psychology of a suit, then, can be just as important as its physics.
Stephen Westland, a professor of color science at the University of Leeds in England, said that despite the implausibility of a link between color and suit physics, a large body of research showed that color could affect performance from a purely psychological standpoint.
“Sporting participants wearing some colors may feel more confident or powerful,” Westland said. “And opponents may infer qualities about their opponents that depend upon which colors they are wearing.”
The Olympics in South Korea will be the first time Norway’s speedskaters will wear proprietary uniforms rather than suits from a mass producer. Myklebust said the overall goal of his two-year project, nicknamed Top Speed, was to engineer a suit that could subtract eight one-hundredths of a second per lap.
It may be too early to tell whether the Norwegians achieved that goal — or whether their new blue uniforms have made them faster. But for what it’s worth, a Norwegian skater, Havard Holmefjord Lorentzen, was leading the men’s overall World Cup standings last week.
“We just decided we needed to take a bit more responsibility for our racing suits than just buying them from a supplier somewhere,” said Jeremy Wotherspoon, the sprint coach for the Norwegian team.
That seemed fair enough, but there were more pressing questions: What about the color?
Wotherspoon smiled, unfolded his arms and pointed to the hat he was wearing, which bore the logo of a Norwegian seafood company that sponsors the team. It was a familiar shade of blue.
“That could have something to do with it,” he said.
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Mar-a-Lago Has a Feisty New Neighbor

WEST PALM BEACH, FLA. — Beth Rudin DeWoody, the art world doyenne born into a New York real estate fortune, was walking through The BunkerArtspace, a renovated Art Deco building here that she recently opened as an exhibition space for her renowned and eccentric collection.
Although just two miles from Mar-a-Lago, the building is another world, and an indication that this serene, largely residential area is making a play for some of the art scene pizazz of Miami, just an hour or two drive south.
“This is the X-rated area,” Ms. DeWoody, a slim woman in her mid-60s, was saying downstairs in a corner gallery of the Bunker. Dressed in tropical fruit colors, and with her third husband, Firooz Zahedi, a photographer, and their small white poodle following, she passed a Paul McCarthy white silicone bust with a sex toy. A Nick Cave assemblage had one too.
There was a painting depicting a crucifixion by George Condo that might not be pleasing to some of her more conservative neighbors, and a deer’s head made of zippered black leather likely only to please a sadomasochist. Nearby a doll size sculpture by John Waters was having a play date with a Charles Manson doll.
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Ms. DeWoody, who is president of the Rudin Family Foundations and on the boards of the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Hammer Museum, owns more than 10,000 pieces of art, including a vast array of work that is lyrical, artisanal and playful. But she has a special fondness for the big button-pushers that other collectors of her caliber might be more inclined to eschew. “I think art should be provocative,” she said.
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Among Ms. DeWoody’s roughly 10,000 art objects, 300 are on view at the Bunker. From left, Nick Cave’s “Golden Boy,” 2014; Michael Combs’s “Big Game,” 2005; Nicole Eisenman’s “Sleeping Frat Guy II,” 2013; “Evan Holloway’s “Dozen,” 2015; and “Alex Hubbard, TBT,” 2014. CreditYsa Pérez for The New York Times
The Bunker, which is open by appointment, is in a workaday area in West Palm Beach, across the Intracoastal Waterway from Palm Beach. Hers is not unlike the spaces of other collectors, including those of the Rubell family, Martin Margulies and Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz — all in Miami and now open with regular visiting hours. But the Miami area, with its mammoth fair, satellite fairs and myriad museums, including the newly reopened Bass Museum and the Institute of Contemporary Art is in a state of art overdrive.
Until now the Palm Beach metropolitan area — with only one art museum, the Norton, that sometimes shows contemporary work, — has been mostly considered a city for safe and sedate exhibitions. Collectors here, including Republicans like the commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, tend to have more recognizably blue-chip art. Contemporary galleries stick to the familiar too — catering to customers who have art advisers and decorating needs for winter homes.
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Art is organized by theme at the Bunker. Here, the Food Room includes Vincent Olinet’s “Condensed Milk, Chocolate and English Rose,” 2017; Bertozzi & Casoni, “Vassoio,” 2005; and Olaf Breuning, “Lemon Pig,” 2004.CreditYsa Pérez for The New York Times
Along with Ms. De Woody, a few provocateurs are shaking things up. Sarah Gavlak has a contemporary gallery that doesn’t shy away from selling sexually explicit and politically confrontational art on Worth Avenue, home to luxury stores and dealers offering soothing work by recognizable artists. (A recent front-page article in The Palm Beach Daily News about Ms. Gavlak’s organization of the city’s first “art weekend” ran next to one about a local descendant of Pocahontas who is a Mar-a-Lago club member.)
Yvonne Force Villareal, who helped found the Art Production Fund, a nonprofit that helps support risk-taking art around the world, was recently here to collaborate on a video and sound installation inside an abandoned West Palm Beach Macy’s.
An artwork by John Waters, “Playdate,” 2006, with Michael Jackson and Charles Manson dolls.CreditYsa Pérez for The New York Times
“There are good people around,” said Andrew Hall, the financial trader, who along with 600 invited guests attended a lavish opening night party for the Bunker on Dec. 2. Mr. Hall has a Palm Beach home with his wife, Christine, and oversees exhibition spaces showing his own vast collection in Vermont, Germany and at Mass MoCA. “Seeing a space like this open up right now is kind of reassuring,” he added.
Nearby, Ms. DeWoody breezed through a room with early works by Edward Hopper, Man Ray, Jim Dine, William Wegman and Jean-Michel Basquiat. She stopped and smiled at a lurid ceramic sculpture, a miniature with a cartoon quality called “The Mad Doctor’s Operation” by Clayton Bailey and Peter Saul from the 1970s Bay Area Funk movement.
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From a provocateur’s collection, from left to right: Alec Egan’s “Book #2” (detail), 2017, with Ti-Rock Moore’s “Flint,” 2016; Hank Willis Thomas’s “Amandla,” 2014; and Ray Beldner’s “Gelt Suit” (after Joseph Beuys’s “Felt Suit,” 1970), detail, 2002. CreditYas Pérez for The New York Times
“I’m just a hopeless and perpetual collector and I know I’ve overdone it,” she said, “but it’s just very hard for me to say no.”
This is what has made Ms. DeWoody, who grew up in Manhattan and takes her name from her first husband, James DeWoody, an artist (her two adult children are from that marriage), a fairy godmother to many young artists, waving around her checkbook like a magic wand.
Opening night party at the Bunker in West Palm Beach. CreditYsa Pérez for The New York Times
“She’s the consummate art shopper and gets in on artists early,” said Angela Westwater, the gallerist who sold Ms. DeWoody early work by Tom Sachs.
Often she makes introductions to help promote a young artist’s career.
Years ago, when Ms. DeWoody, who resides between New York, Los Angeles and West Palm Beach, visited the small Harlem studio of Kehinde Wiley, he was struggling. The $5,000 she spent on one of his portraits, he later told her, was more important than bigger sums that followed because it helped him survive. Now he is an art world superstar and has been selected to paint the official portrait of former President Barack Obama for the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.
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Left to right: At the Bunker in West Palm Beach, Jeff Colson’s “Roll Up,” 2012; Vito Acconci’s “Name Calling Chair,” 1984; and Robert Arneson’s “Buster Brown Trophy,” 1964. CreditYsa Pérez for The New York Times
“I don’t think of buying art as investing,” Ms. DeWoody said. “But at times it works out that way.”
In every corner of the packed 20,000-square-foot space guests were taking in a collection of about 300 works that had been humorously curated into rooms by Phillip Estlund, Laura Dvorkin and Maynard Monrow. Each had a theme, including early and atypical work, art about art, food, ecology and the color silver.
“It’s all very Beth,” said Melissa Soros, an arts patron.
The occasion seemed to provide a balm to residents of a city of royal palms and a reminder to step away from the drama of politics to let art uplift and amuse. Drag performers handed out “Fallen Fruit” cocktails. Anne Pasternak, the director of the Brooklyn Museum was there, as was the artist Mike Starn, her husband. So was Harry Benson, the celebrity photographer. The list included all political stripes and affiliations from the art world and beyond. Well, almost. Ivanka Trump, a contemporary collector, was not invited.
Late in the evening Adam Weinberg, the affable Whitney director, hustled along with Ms. DeWoody. “Her collection is more intuitive and associative than linear,” he said. “And it’s all about opening up, not shutting down.” Ms. DeWoody showed him one work after another, from an early Cindy Sherman collage to a drinking fountain by Ti-Rock Moore emitting brown water with a sign that said “colored” above it, recalling the days of segregation. She had something to say about each artist, as if they were family.
“Come,” Ms. DeWoody said as she nudged Mr. Weinberg along. “I have to show you something else.”
Correction: December 16, 2017 
An earlier version of a picture caption with this article misstated the given name of an artist. He is Alec Egan, not Alex.
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