ReactorWeekend

Required Reading

by Hrag Vartanian on August 3, 2014

New works by ROA in Gambia (via Unurth)

New works by ROA in Gambia (via Unurth)

This week, auction houses stalking new buyers, Frick Museum controversies, objections to Norman Rockwell’s new biography, the impact of deskilling on arts education, should musicians play Tel Aviv, and more.

 Do you know why Sotheby’s and Christie’s are looking for new bidders? Well, as Kelly Crow of WSJ reports:

A quarter of all auction sales were made to first-time art buyers this year.

In early May, Christie’s invited a group of 18 new collectors from China to visit New York … During its May 13 contemporary art sale, members of the group placed bids on at least half the top 10 priciest pieces in what became an historic, $745 million auction. The group, mostly women, used telephones in their skybox to call a Christie’s specialist standing in the saleroom, Xin Li, a former actress and model in China.

 The Curbed real estate blog probed the “controversial” origins of New York’s Frick Museum. It’s a juicy story and here are some nuggets:

But any museum named after Henry Clay Frick is probably destined to invite controversy. Not only was Frick himself a polarizing figure—he was known as the “most hated man in America,” and once targeted for assassination—but the construction of his mansion a century ago raised the hackles of New York’s Fifth Avenue elite in much the same way that the Frick’s current expansion plans have sent some New Yorkers into a tizzy.

… Upon the death of J.P. Morgan in 1913, Frick purchased the series of Fragonard panels called The Progress of Love from the banker’s estate and had a special room constructed in the mansion to house the panels. Frick spent upwards of $5 million on the new house (not including the price of the land or demolition of the Lenox Library), but that was nothing compared to the fortune he was spending on art: the Fragonard panels were worth $1.25 million alone.

New York Times critic Michael Kimmelman has penned a defense of a smaller Frick:

The city’s truest anti-MoMA, the Frick becomes the latest front in a larger battle to prevent nonprofit outposts of civilization from falling prey to the bigger-is-better paradigm.

 The granddaughter of Norman Rockwell is furious with Deborah Soloman’s new Rockwell biography, and has written a long article exploring the “disaster” of Soloman’s research:

Solomon’s spurious theory is that Norman Rockwell was a repressed homosexual with pedophilic impulses. She tries to minimize her outrageous, completely unfounded claims by repeatedly offering disclaimers — “there is no evidence that he acted on his impulses,” etc. — to mislead the reader and obscure her claims. To be clear, there is no diary entry, letter or memoir that supports her bizarre theories of my grandfather’s sexuality. She creates “evidence” throughout with her relentless falsifications and insinuations and by claiming she sees these impulses in his work.

… Frankly, if Pop were gay I wouldn’t care a bit — it would actually amuse me that I’d had no clue. But the fact of the matter is, he simply wasn’t. Family is privy to intimate, private confidences that convey the truth about a person, but also a variety of other sources have verified my grandfather’s sexuality. For Solomon to pathologize homosexuality by linking it so casually to pedophilia — this I find offensive.

 Is de-skilling killing your arts education? F. Scott Hess writes:

I wish I could say this academic prejudice against skill was a thing of the past. Unfortunately, it is stronger now than it has ever been. Conceptualism replaced abstraction as the dogma of the day, and has been in turn replaced by Postmodern hybridity, identity politics, or pure theory on the majority of college campuses. As in all educational endeavors, young minds are molded to fit the norm their professors set forth. De-skilling is the term I’ve commonly heard used to describe this odd institutional practice in the arts.

The idea that you might train a surgeon to be clumsy, or an engineer to build poorly, or a lawyer to ignore law, would be patently absurd. In the arts, however, you will find an occasional musician who purposely plays badly, or a writer who ignores grammar, but only in the visual arts is training in the traditional skills of the profession systematically and often institutionally denigrated.

 The story of the original and greatest art fund:

Level, who was born in 1880 to a family of industrialists, was, like the Steins, wealthy and well-placed; his Memoirs of a Collector depicts a grandmother who once danced with the French novelist and playwright Honoré de Balzac. Level’s collecting began seriously after university—not with fine art, but with rare books, as he made the rounds of the “bouquinistes” who had stalls on the Seine. He describes his purchases in detail, with a bibliophile’s attention to editions, dedications and prices: they include works by Gustave Flaubert, Paul Verlaine, Rémy de Gourmont and Edgar Allan Poe. One line is particularly telling. After listing a number of rare-book purchases (most well under FF10), Level acknowledges that “I constantly sold my books infinitely too early and without great profit, in order to buy others”.

The notion of appetites outstripping finances is a hallmark of art collectors everywhere—and a theme that Level would later cite as one reason for founding La Peau de l’Ours.

 Should musicians play Tel Aviv?

For decades, the issue of whether or not to play the country has hinged on musicians’ feelings, or lack thereof, regarding Israel and Palestine. However, these personal feelings must now be balanced against the calls for boycott in a hyper-connected world, as well as hesitations from fellow bandmates. But a third and equally pressing concern has emerged within the past five years that further complicates the situation: the rampant racism in Tel Aviv toward blacks brought on by an influx of African asylum seekers.

 Is our notion of Iron Curtain modernism skewed? Lyra Kilston explores the commonalities:

And our mental image of a somber, grey society — was that just what was marketed to Americans as a kind of capitalist realism? As Mansfield points out, “the promotion of our lifestyle was better” in the West. But what about the promotion of the Soviet lifestyle in the East which we weren’t seeing? According to a couple of East German magazines in the house, life looked pretty good too. While lifestyle magazine photos seldom reflect reality — both in the East and West — the domestic dream remains the same. American magazines of the time would espouse a similar — and largely imagined — vision too, where citizens consumed in the name of capitalism. Both sides were trying to rebuild their identities after the war, and while each employed different ideologies, they seem to want to say the same thing: We are progressing. We are the future.

 The complicated culture of Bosnian coffee:

To me, Bosnian coffee tasted indistinguishable from its Turkish counterpart, which is to say it was potent, bitter and as thick as mud. For tourists like myself, an easier way to tell the difference between the two coffees may be by how each one is served. “In Turkey, the cezve belongs to the kitchen, not to the table,” Burgaz said. Turkish coffee is served in a single small cup; Bosnian coffee is served in a full džezva (which holds three cups of coffee) on a round iron tray with an empty, ceramic cup, a glass of water, a dish full of sugar cubes and a rahat lokum, a Bosnian candy that foreigners might call Turkish delight.

 These are the most overused design cliches for logos at the moment (h/t @prplst):

Screen Shot 2014-08-03 at 12.51.58 PM

 How the New York hotdog conquered the world:

While the roots of the hot dog stretch back to central Europe, it was on the boardwalks and streets of New York City that the hot dog became assimilated into American life, shedding its immigrants status and donning a stars and stripes waist coat.

 Are ravers the new flower children?

Why is it this music—which has seen an unprecedented surge in attendance in recent years, with the Ultra Music Festival in Miami boasting between 50,000 and 60,000 attendees each day—that has occasioned such an explicit celebration of human connection and community? “Rave culture, despite all the negative attention it receives about its ties to club drugs, is really about togetherness,” a raver gushed to me.

 Patrick Conners explores how the New York Times is not doing a good job covering the Israeli siege of Gaza:

My review of recent Times articles shows that the paper has generally failed to explain the basics: that most of Gaza’s residents are refugees from the area from which Israel launches attacks on Gaza, that Gaza remains under Israeli military occupation and a siege, and that Gaza is increasingly unlivable. The Times very infrequently uses the words occupation, siege and blockade to describe Gaza, and when it does they are most often in quotes from Palestinians. Over the last four weeks, The Times has noted a handful of times in a brief paragraph Israel’s control of land, sea and airspace around Gaza, and broached the words occupied and siege.

 How has our notion of relatability changed?

Whence comes relatability? A hundred years ago, if someone said something was “relatable,” she meant that it could be told—the Shakespearean sense of “relate”—or that it could be connected to some other thing. As recently as a decade ago, even as “relatable” began to accrue its current meaning, the word remained uncommon. The contemporary meaning of “relatable”—to describe a character or a situation in which an ordinary person might see himself reflected—first was popularized by the television industry.

Required Reading is published every Sunday morning EST, and 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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