OpinionWeekend

Required Reading

This 3D-printed vase incorporates many human profiles into one. (via Colossal)
This 3D-printed vase concept, which is currently fundraising on Kickstarter, incorporates many human profiles into one. (via Colossal)

This week, tax breaks for billionaire art collectors, architecture of art fairs, assholes who think they’re geniuses, the problem with #AllLivesMatter, a slave who freed herself, literary California, and more.

 Anyone who has had trouble arranging a date to get together with a friend will appreciate this post on the New Yorker by Kelly Stout. It is one of the funniest things I’ve read in a while:

A: I can’t believe we never scheduled this! I miss u! I’m gonna stop being brokers’ fees atop a cake made out of unlicensed plastic surgery and say . . . Tuesday?

B: Jesus. I am, like, the Spanish Civil War riding in a subway car with broken A.C., seated between Kim Jong-un and the phrase “said no one ever.” But I could do coffee like midday on Tues?

 Billionaires benefiting from tax breaks so they can present their vanity museums? Yes, that’s happening everywhere, and the New York Times takes a close look at this, including Peter Brant’s laughably cloistered Brant Foundation Art Study Center:

And at a time when concerns about inequality have heightened criticism of government policies that favor the wealthiest sliver of society, these tax breaks have come under sharper scrutiny.

“I think these types of deals do not follow the intent, even if they follow the letter, of the law,” said Rebecca Wilkins, senior counsel on federal tax policy at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. “They feed into the idea that the system is rigged toward the wealthy.”

 Thomas Chatterton Willliams considers the legacy of French equality that 20th-century African-American author James Baldwin often spoke about and the current Charlie Hebdo situation:

In the five years that I have lived in France, I have more than once been welcomed into well-furnished rooms where I have been left to silently puzzle over colonial detritus — Sambo-like dolls and figurines, thick-lipped, bug-eyed, disembodied brown porcelain heads — cavalierly displayed on illuminated shelves and marble tabletops. The first few times I saw these mementos I was jarred, though it is also possible for me to talk and laugh and drink in such spaces, because I am with friends, and I am comfortable in my status as an American who has made his home in Paris but is always free to leave. And yet, I would be lying if I denied that there is some small part of my consciousness still tender with ancestral ache, which cannot ever allow me to lose sight of these outlandish trophies and souvenirs. They seem to somehow comfort or amuse my hosts, reminding them of nothing at all or of some far less complicated and stressful past, and fit smartly in the décor alongside equestrian prints, layered “oriental” rugs, and grandfather’s antelope heads from Africa mounted on the wall.

 The increasingly difficult relationship between the press and arts organizations:

The complex relationship between arts organizations and the media was brought to light in another recent case. Late last year, Colorado Public Radio announced that it will no longer carry broadcasts of the Colorado Symphony, ending a 15-year partnership. The reasons are varied, but the key sticking point was editorial: specifically, the orchestra wanted a lot more positive coverage on the radio. Ray Rinaldi, the fine arts critic of the Denver Post, tells us what was at the heart of the split.”

Basically the orchestra wanted the radio station to collude with it in turning the live broadcasts into marketing for the symphony,” he explained. “The station didn’t want to be promoting the symphony. They were happy to be a neutral party in bringing the concerts to the community, but they didn’t want to appear to be doing marketing in favor of one organization over the other.”

 Considering the architecture and design of the art fair:

In reality, art fairs are much more akin to a hybrid of an office space, a party tent, and a trade show. As viewers and buyers migrate from booth to booth, the potential for meaning in any individual art object becomes subsumed in the swarming crowds, the champagne bars, the staggering enormity of capital contained within. At an art fair, one must participate in a fiction in which architecture is experienced as the semblance of another form instead of in its actuality. This function is only possible because the white cube has become so prescribed by the post-modernity development of art that it is no longer even actually necessary. This is a history of autophagy: the drive to carve out an isolated space for art viewing now threatens the objects themselves.

 Karen Archey suggests we might often confuse genius and assholery in the art world, and she’s correct, though it’s not only in the art world and it is often a stance we offer men (usually straight and white) more than women:

… I would argue that it has something to do with both the cultural fetishizing of mental illnesses like Asperger’s (“don’t mind him, he’s weird but genius!”), and narcissistic personality disorder (after all, the art world is built out of hyperconfident personalities).

 Columbia University owns thousands of antiquities, antiques, and paintings, but it has no place to exhibit them together:

Roberto C. Ferrari, an art historian and librarian who became Columbia’s curator of art properties in 2013, has set out to raise the profile of the 10,000 objects on campus.

Last month he gave a tour of them in subterranean storage, browsing along racks and shelves full of pearly Korean ceramics, Roman oil lamps, Polynesian woodcarvings, 19th-century Barbizon landscape paintings and Andy Warhol photos. Many were gifts from celebrated collectors, including the philanthropist Arthur Sackler and the Aga Khan. Columbia has also inherited major estates; dozens of Florine Stettheimer’s surreal early 1900s paintings arrived there as a bequest from her sister Ettie.

 What’s wrong with the #AllLivesMatter hashtag? Philosopher Judith Butler explains:

When we are taking about racism, and anti-black racism in the United States, we have to remember that under slavery black lives were considered only a fraction of a human life, so the prevailing way of valuing lives assumed that some lives mattered more, were more human, more worthy, more deserving of life and freedom, where freedom meant minimally the freedom to move and thrive without being subjected to coercive force. But when and where did black lives ever really get free of coercive force? One reason the chant “Black Lives Matter” is so important is that it states the obvious but the obvious has not yet been historically realized. So it is a statement of outrage and a demand for equality, for the right to live free of constraint, but also a chant that links the history of slavery, of debt peonage, segregation, and a prison system geared toward the containment, neutralization and degradation of black lives, but also a police system that more and more easily and often can take away a black life in a flash all because some officer perceives a threat.

So let us think about what this is: the perception of a threat. One man is leaving a store unarmed, but he is perceived as a threat. Another man is in a chokehold and states that he cannot breathe, and the chokehold is not relaxed, and the man dies because he is perceived as a threat. Mike Brown and Eric Garner. We can name them, but in the space of this interview, we cannot name all the black men and women whose lives are snuffed out all because a police officer perceives a threat, sees the threat in the person, sees the person as pure threat. Perceived as a threat even when unarmed or completely physically subdued, or lying in the ground, as Rodney King clearly was, or coming back home from a party on the train and having the audacity to say to a policeman that he was not doing anything wrong and should not be detained: Oscar Grant. We can see the videos and know what is obviously true, but it is also obviously true that police and the juries that support them obviously do not see what is obvious, or do not wish to see.

 Many Los Alamos–related documents and photographs have recently been declassified, and Jeremy Bernstein takes a look at what they tell us:

I entered Harvard in the fall of 1947. Within a year I started to know members of the physics department. By the time I left Cambridge ten years later I knew them all. A number of them had been at Los Alamos during the war and had essential parts in building the bomb. Norman Ramsey, from whom I took a course in modern physics, had helped assemble “Fat Man,” the plutonium bomb that flattened Nagasaki. Kenneth Bainbridge, probably the last person to touch the plutonium implosion bomb that was tested at Alamogordo in 1945, was department chairman during my last years. Another faculty member, Roy Glauber, who was a little closer to my age, was the second youngest person to be a member of the technical staff. But none of them ever said anything about Los Alamos, at least not to me.

I have often wondered why.

 An almost unbelievable story of a 19th-century African-American slave who posed as her master and freed herself:

In the end, it was Ellen’s skin color, the same thing that had sent her to Macon in the first place, that was going to drive their journey to freedom. William, who was darker in complexion than his wife, was going to dress as a slave, though he’d look shabbier and sound less intelligent than he actually was.

Ellen was going to be white. She was going to be a man. She was going to be rich.

Some of William’s wages went to buying her a set of clothes that would allow her, if no one looked too closely, to be a Georgia plantation owner. The night before they left her hair was cut, and they wrapped one of her arms in a sling—despite their comparative positions of privilege in the slave hierarchy, neither Craft knew how to read or write. She would genteelly explain to whomever asked that her writing arm was damaged, allowing her to avoid filling out forms or signing her name.

 On the history of non-planning in architecture and urban planning, by Anthony Fontenot:

One of the fundamental challenges to design in the 20th century came not from critics within the discipline but rather from the Austrian-British economist Friedrich August Hayek. In his influential mid-century treatise, The Road to Serfdom, Hayek argued that design — specifically, socialist or state-based planning— belonged to a zeitgeist characterized by a “passion for a conscious control of everything.” Written during an extraordinarily turbulent and violent time — when Hayek himself was a political émigré from Nazi-occupied Vienna based at the London School of Economics — the book challenged the assumption, pervasive in the interwar years among leftist intellectuals and politicians, that democratic society was necessarily based upon a “designed order.”

Hayek contrasted the centralized and “planned order” of socialist states with what he called the “spontaneous order” of free-market economies, which he described as the unplanned coordination that results when individual citizens are allowed to pursue self-interest and free trade with minimal coercion.

 One doesn’t always connect California and literature, but these maps (like this one, the Raymond Chandler Map of Los Angeles, by Paul Rogers) should help you see the diverse literary heritage of both San Francisco and Los Angeles:

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 A white teen in Texas gave people a sense of how his affluent friends are using social media, and the tech world couldn’t get enough of it:

Instagram hasn’t been flooded with the older generation yet (not everyone has an Instagram) meaning it’s “hip” and “cool” to the younger crowd. However, it is popular enough that if you have a smartphone it’s almost unheard of for you not to have Instagram, if not to take pictures, but to at least tag people in photos.

And then a social media researcher responds to holding up this one teen’s opinion and ignoring all the problems with his limited perspective:

His coverage of Twitter should raise a big red flag to anyone who has spent an iota of time paying attention to the news. Over the last six months, we’ve seen a phenomenal uptick in serious US-based activism by many youth in light of what took place in Ferguson. It’s hard to ignore Twitter’s role in this phenomenon, with hashtags like #blacklivesmatter and #IfTheyGunnedMeDown not only flowing from Twitter onto other social media platforms, but also getting serious coverage from major media. Andrew’s statement that “a lot of us simply do not understand the point of Twitter” should raise eyebrows, but it’s the rest of his description of Twitter that should serve as a stark reminder of Andrew’s position within the social media landscape.

Let me put this bluntly: teens’ use of social media is significantly shaped by race and class, geography and cultural background. Let me repeat that for emphasis.

 When autocorrect goes wrong:

And then there was Naomi Campbell, who sent a tweet to 300,000 followers congratulating “Malaria” (that is, Malala) on winning the Nobel Peace Prize. (Ms. Campbell works with a number of public health charities, so it wasn’t inconceivable that she had written the word “malaria” many times before.)

Autocorrect originated with word processing programs of the 1980s, in which the language used was checked against a dictionary to make sure the spelling was correct. (According to a 2012 study in Britain, two-thirds of adults would not be able to spell “necessary” and one-third “definitely” without the help of the feature.) Back then the point was simple: to make typing faster and more accurate. To help you, you know, not look like an idiot.

 Artist Tania Bruguera, who was detained by Cuban authorities recently, is demanding to know what the Cuban government is planning to do now that ties have been re-established with the US:

 I’ve heard many times in Cuba that this isn’t the right time to criticize, to use a metaphor or to create a piece of art. Often, I censored myself as an artist as a result of these words that magically place the blame on a doubt or opinion. Today, I know that the right time for an artist is ALWAYS, but most of all when ways of evaluating society and humanity are suspended. The “right time” can’t be a government directive, because the result would be propaganda, not art. The artist would be in the service of the government, not society.

 There was so much buzz this week about the ridiculous Ship Your Enemies Glitter site. First, people were thrilled with the idea of hate mailing glitter, then the “evil genius” behind the site realized that he can probably never fulfill the requests himself, so he’s offering to sell it to an interested party.

Required Reading is published every Sunday morning ET, 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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