One of Beijing’s “Rat Tribe” who live in “illegal” underground spaces. (via viiphoto)

This week, reflections on the death of Thomas Kinkade, the real-life location of The Simpsons‘s Springfield, Ai Weiwei sues Chinese tax collectors, Beijing’s “rat tribe,” Snarkitecture, a Keith Haring mural is threatened in Paris, a look at Exit art, the average age of social media users and cats imitating famous paintings.

 On Friday, April 6, the “Painter of Light” Thomas Kinkade passed away at the age of 54. Despised by the art world, Kinkade’s work has been flying off gallery walls since he died. According to MSNBC:

Since the “Painter of Light” died April 6 at age 54, rabid Kinkade fans, along with novices, have swarmed  his numerous galleries around the country, purchasing mass-made reproductions and prints of the artist’s works even faster than his corporate arm can churn them out (more than 500 copies per day).

To be clear: These are not Kinkade originals – which are rare and can fetch five or six figures. The hot market this week is largely machine-madelithographs on canvas – some signed on the back by Kinkade, others hand-highlighted or “enhanced” by other painters, generally priced at $800 to $1,600.

Retailers say other products – which include prints, nightlights, coffee mugs and bath lotions – also are selling briskly.

And the San Francisco Chronicle has found similar stories:

Nathan Ross, part-owner of the Original Thomas Kinkade Gallery in Kinkade’s hometown of Placerville (El Dorado County), has not had time to count how many canvas reproductions have sold since Friday, but “I don’t think I am exaggerating if I said 200,” he says. On a normal weekend, he sells two or three.

Ross also sold two Kinkade originals he had on consignment – one for $24,000 and another for $150,000. The latter had been listed at $110,000, but when the owner heard Kinkade had died, he raised it by $40,000.

Roger Plath, owner of Sherwood Fine Art in Owatonna, Minn., says, “In the last three days I probably sold more (Kinkades) than I have in the previous year.”

Kim Perata, owner of Thomas Kinkade of Napa Valley, said she has sold more than 40 paintings since Saturday, compared with about 25 in an average month.

Two days ago, Kinkade’s brother came forward to say that the artist had relapsed into alcoholism, which was partly the result of the toil decades of negative critical assessments and family problems had on the artist.

Since Kinkade’s death there have been numerous essays about the artist. Two stood out for me for different reasons:

  • Blake Gopnik of the Daily Beast writes that Kinkade captured a vision of Americana missed by many artists.
  • Laura Miller writes on Salon:

I suspect this is why Kinkade’s paintings have exerted their weird, hypnotic effect on me. They are so preposterous (especially the stream-side ones; he really needed to sit down with an architect and go over the basics of drainage), so awful. And yet I can still detect — beneath that cacophony of hollyhocks and cobblestones and snapdragons — the whisper of something intelligible. I’m pretty sure I know why the hordes of Kinkade collectors love his work, even if I don’t like it myself. Kinkade’s paintings are irredeemably false, like all kitsch, but through them you can just barely glimpse the honest desires they seek to exploit, sinking under the dreck.

 In an interview with Smithsonian Magazine, Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons, has finally revealed the true location of Springfield:

Springfield was named after Springfield, Oregon. The only reason is that when I was a kid, the TV show “Father Knows Best” took place in the town of Springfield, and I was thrilled because I imagined that it was the town next to Portland, my hometown. When I grew up, I realized it was just a fictitious name. I also figured out that Springfield was one of the most common names for a city in the U.S. In anticipation of the success of the show, I thought, “This will be cool; everyone will think it’s their Springfield.” And they do

When the news “broke,” Gizmodo went Google Map hunting in the Oregon town to find the real-life locations of some of the show’s best-known spots to see if there was any correlation.

 According to Reuters, Ai Weiwei, the dissident Chinese artist, is suing “Beijing tax authorities for violating the law by imposing a 15 million yuan ($2.4 million) tax evasion penalty on the company he works for without allowing him access to evidence and witnesses.”

 Have you heard of the “Rat Tribe” of Beijing? There is a photo essay you should see. This is their story:

Faced with sky-high property prices, living underground is often the only option for this legion of low-waged migrant workers, who make up one-third of Beijing’s estimated 20 million people.

Waiters, karaoke hostesses, hairdressers, chefs, security guards, domestic workers and kitchen helpers, these basement dwellers are the backbone of Beijing’s service industry. But they have been unkindly dubbed the “rat tribe” for making a home in Beijing’s 6,000 basements and air raid shelters — about one-third of the city’s underground space.

They pay monthly rents of 300 to 700 yuan ($50 to $110) for partitioned rooms of seven to eight square meters, or sometimes, a closet-like space barely wider than a single bed. Some 50 to 100 rooms often share a single bathroom and several toilet cubicles. A chilly draft filters through the tunnels, which are also often dank and moldy in the summers.

But it may now be a matter of time before the basement dwellers face eviction. The government, which had leased the basements out for use since the 1990s, and even liberalized rules in 2004 to make them more accessible and hugely popular as homes to migrant workers, is clamping down.

 Introducing Snarkitecture by artist Daniel Arsham and architect Alex Mustonen. It is an attempt to play with the idea of architecture and create rather absurd and cartoon-like qualities for something that is normally more formal and serious.

 A Keith Haring mural is threatened in Paris.

 Paris Review takes a look at the 30-year history of Manhattan’s beloved art nonprofit Exit Art:

Exit Art’s mandate was clear from the very beginning: the brash claim that they represented an “exit” from the traditional art world; a neck-and-neck passion for politics and aesthetics; that gag of a catalogue, the kind that implicates gallerygoers as more than passive collectors of names on placards. Yet their remarkable, thirty-year existence on the fringes will soon come to an end.

 Ever wonder what the average age of the reader of many major websites are? According to Buzzfeed, the average age of users of Facebook is 42, Twitter is 38, LinkedIn is 47, Tumblr is 34, Reddit is 35, Pinterest is 40 an YouTube is 43. Probably older than you thought, right?

 And … it wouldn’t be a Sunday if we didn’t provide this link to cats imitating famous paintings.

Required Reading is published every Sunday morning EST, and it is comprised of a short list of art-related links to long-form articles, videos, blog posts or photo essays worth a second look.

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.