This week, the super-rich ruining museums, how an essay saved a Renaissance masterpiece, writing as commodity, stealing from Jasper Johns, social media as self-expression, and more.
Are the super-rich ruining the new Tate Modern in London? Will Self thinks so:
It would be wise to view the Tate Modern in this rather less rose-tinted uplight: as simply another spatialisation of the savage inequality that’s coming to typify 21st-century London. Working people on modest to low incomes and the unwaged may no longer be able to afford to live in the city, but their children can at least get to experience for a few hours the aristocratic lifestyle of strolling about and looking at expensive stuff.
In today’s proof that writing matters: Did you know an essay by writer Aldous Huxley saved one of Renaissance artist Piero della Francesca’s greatest frescos from destruction?
HV Morton revealed in A Traveller in Italy in 1964 that officer Tony Clarke had saved the painting. After orders to shell Sansepolcro, where the Germans were stationed, he remembered an essay by Aldous Huxley which described the painting as “the greatest picture in the world.”
Mr Clarke refused to give the order to turn the artillery guns on the town, despite instructions from his commanding officer. Shortly afterwards, the Germans fled anyway. Sansepolcro still has a street bearing his name.
Everyone is talking about novelist Ursula K Le Guin’s speech at the National Book Awards:
Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom – poets, visionaries – realists of a larger reality.
Right now, we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximise corporate profit and advertising revenue is not the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship.
Naumann hasn’t spoken with Johns since that phone call in early 2012. The dealer spent most of the call concerned that what had happened would hurt their friendship. When he tried to tell Johns how bad he felt, Johns surprised him by saying, “You feel bad? Imagine how bad I feel. I got duped.”
Like our senior editor Jillian Steinhauer did, the Washington Post‘s Philip Kennicott calls out the Smithsonian for their silence on the Bill Cosby affair:
The question now is whether the Smithsonian has been put in the same place as journalists writing about the Cosby art exhibition. If the Museum of African Art ignores the allegations, it seems to tacitly accept the proposition that all 15 women are liars. But if it tries to issue a statement or contextualize the exhibition with some kind of acknowledgment of the controversy, it appears to say the following: “It’s unfortunate that many people believe he is a serial rapist, but we’re happy to have his art anyway.”
Catwalking on the balls of her feet as another inmate improvises syncopated beats by banging on a metal bed frame using a plastic spoon and a plastic 7-Up bottle, Yah Yah is in her element. Her infectious energy lights up the locked, windowless room filled with roughly 140 inmates. Two other inmates, both with long dark hair and wearing form-fitting minidresses, jostle to be the next to parade down the aisle. They twitch their hips and seem to be having the time of their lives as scores of men and transgender women whoop and shout out unprintable encouragements.
… Today, some straight inmates vie to get placed in MCJ’s gay wing, in part because it’s a safer harbor for ex-gangbangers afraid of being confronted by violent enemies, jailers say. The Sheriff’s Department even uses a “classification officer” to weed out impostors, through a series of controversial test questions about gay culture.
An interesting article about how Jews were first portrayed in medieval Western art:
This image of the Jew, however, was far from “eternal.” Though anti-Semitism is notoriously “the longest hatred,” until 1000 CE, there were no easily distinguishable Jews of any kind in Western imagery, let alone the stereotypical swarthy, hook-nosed Jew. Earlier monuments and manuscripts did depict Hebrew prophets, Israelite armies, and Judaic kings, but they were identifiable only by context, in no way singled out as different from other sages, soldiers, or kings. Even nefarious Jewish characters, such as the priests (pontifices) who urged Pilate to crucify Christ in the Egbert Codex (circa 980), were visually unremarkable; they required labels to identify them as Jewish.
A New Yorker reviews his landlord’s detritus as if it were a series of art projects:
“Sudden Replacement of Functioning Washing Machine with Non-Functional Coin-Operated Washing Machine,” Late 2013
This piece serves as a critique of the increasing commercialization of the art world. The viewer, initially under the impression that he or she would be able to do laundry in the gallery, is forced to confront the escalating demand for high-priced artwork, as he or she attempts to feed quarters, acquired from the deli next door, into the artwork. The piece satirizes the willingness of the viewer to interact with such crass commercialism, as it swallows the quarters yet leaves the laundry cold and damp but unwashed.
Writer Rob Horning makes the case against social media as self-expression:
Social media structure creative effort (e.g., Barthel’s list above) ideologically as “self-creating,” but they often end up as anxiety-inducing, exposing the self’s ad hoc incompleteness while structuring the demand for a fawning audience to complete us, validate every effort, as a natural expectation. Validation is nice, but as a goal for creative effort, it is somewhat limited. The quest for validation must inevitably restrict itself to the tools of attracting attention: the blunt instruments of novelty and prurience (“Kanye West in a balloon chair”). The self one tries to express tends to be new, exciting, confessional, sexy, etc., because it plays as an advertisement. Identity is a series of ads for a product that doesn’t exist.
… The inescapable reciprocity of social relations comes into much sharper relief when you stop using social media, which thrive on the basis of the control over reciprocity they try to provide. They give a crypto-dashboard to social life, making it seem like a personal consumption experience, but that is always an illusion, always scattered by the anxiety of waiting, watching for responses, and by the whiplash alternation between omnipotence and vulnerability.
An upsetting statistic from the UK suggests “artists are £6,000 [~$9,400] a year worse off, in real terms, than they were in 1997.” And “more than 70% of contemporary visual artists who took part in publicly funded exhibitions in the last three years received no fee.”
By shrinking the world, the tyranny of the web has stifled our capacity for independent discovery, catering to an appetite for foreknowledge that inevitably demystifies foreign places. Instead of taking time to absorb and consider, many people seem more inclined to travel quickly, tick off the ‘don’t miss’ highlights and form broad-brush assumptions based on the bare minimum of immersion. Yet the axiom that all ‘travel’ (as opposed to tourism) is by definition enriching and transformative persists.
The industry faced multiple challenges: they weren’t just selling mascara to a newly socialist population, they were establishing a code of hygiene for the poorest classes, supporting social equality and installing a Soviet ideology to an ostensibly apolitical arena.
Special perfume editions were produced to celebrate Soviet successes, like the kolkhoz, a collective farm – amid rumours that Soviet spies were passing on secret formulas for cosmetics from American factories.
Houston-based art blogger Robert Boyd has a short thoughtful piece about the decline of industrial labor and the rise of the “creative class” in the same — once derelict — spaces:
… the conversion of defunct factory spaces into art spaces is a powerful metaphor for the conversion of U.S. cities from places where thousands of people made stuff to places where a few hundred creatives toil, typically for low wages.
Why a French journalist was arrested for having a political conversation in a Cairo cafe:
This incident raises three important questions. The most serious issue at stake is obviously not the arrest itself, but the fact that we have been denounced by a “good citizen”. This move reflects the dominating atmosphere in the country and to which most of the media, including the privately-owned ones, are contributing.
I love Facebook threads like this one started by artist Kyle Staver about paintings of people in seated positions.
How to fold the world’s best paper airplane (h/t Colossal):