Required Reading

The source of US immigration by state (1850–2013) (via Pew Research)
The source of US immigration by state, 1850–2013 (via Pew Research)

This week, thoughts on art school, Syrian refugees take over a Danish newspaper, the problems with the American Dream, the future of reading, and more.

 A roundtable about art school that discusses the examples of USC and Cooper Union:

Frances Stark: If all MFA programs die, I personally don’t care. Sorry. We need to look at the bigger questions. The tragedy for me is the fact that what we feel our value is, we’re not able to inject that or shape or get involved with the people who are shaping our products, our computers, our toolbox, everything around us. We’re just not.

When I stopped spreading myself so thin between the institution and my own studio practice, I started to wonder, can I put a little bit of the academy back into the market, in some way? How can the energy of the institution — intellectual intimacy, shared values — be injected into another part of my professional reality?

While the search for the new dean was going on, and the $70 million endowment from Dr. Dre and Iovine was still being kept secret, I went on an unpaid leave of absence, and I started working with a guy I met on the street, Bobby Jesus, as a mentor in my studio. He became my friend and we have collaborated on many projects. When Bobby Jesus first found out about the MFA program, he was like, “What the hell do they do? What is this?” And I said exactly what Lee said in the very beginning, and in your discussion of Black Mountain, Helen, you very beautifully describe what that goal is—that this is a place where you could come and think and talk and be together.

 The new director of the Detroit Institute of Arts wants to emphasize contemporary art:

Q: What are the first three things on your agenda?

A: The first thing I want to do is talk to people. I want to talk to the staff, talk to the division heads, the department heads. I want to meet with everybody. I want to hear what works well and what doesn’t work well. I want to hear their ideas and their hopes for the museum. I’ve already asked the staff to send me an e-mail answering the following question: What do you see your new director doing in the first three months?

The second thing I want to do, and I’m already working on it, is fill some key positions. We need a curator of contemporary art as soon as possible. We need someone who can bring the museum out into the community, who is going to be working with institutions that deal with contemporary art like MOCAD (Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit), art galleries and the art scene in Detroit.

The third thing I want to do is talk with development staff, marketing department and others about our most challenging goal, which is achieving financial stability for the museum. I would like to spend some time looking at how we plan to do that. What is the plan that we have?  What is the message we’ll be crafting to sell our project?

 One Danish newspaper handed over control to a group of Syrian refugees (who were also journalists), and the result was quite excellent:

The paper assembled a dozen refugees, most of whom are recent arrivals in the country, giving them full editorial control and help with research and translation.“

This is a chance to show the Danish people a different picture – we are giving them a new kind of story made by refugees,” said Dalam Alasaad, a Syrian journalist from Palmyra who came to Denmark via Turkey last year.

 In the 1960s, the Sursock Museum was the center of Beirut’s cultural life, and then it languished in underfunded obscurity … and now it’s back, after millions of dollars were invested into its revival:

When it opened as a museum in 1961, the mansion housed exhibitions from artists in the Middle East and around the world, as well as the prestigious Salon d’Automne for local figures. It continued in this capacity through the civil war until its closure in 2007, with a brief pause for renovations in the 70s. It focused on paintings, showing the work of Lebanese artists Chafic Abboud, Paul Guiragossian, Saloua Raouda Choucair and Aref Rayess, as well as international artists. Several rooms, including an oriental-style salon, were kept as Sursock left them.

Over the last five years, as Beirut has become a more popular destination for European tourists in particular, there has been a swell in public interest in the arts, supporting the launch of the Beirut Art Center, Ashkal Alwan’s Home Works forums, and in new galleries all over town. During the Sursock Museum’s $15m (£9.8m) renovation, workers dug a cavernous exhibition hall four stories under the mansion, and built a 166-seat auditorium, workshops for painting restoration and a library housing books, archival photographs, and news clippings. Sursock’s original rooms have been restored with the help of an international group of artisans.

 A blogger in Mosul writes about life under ISIS:

Q: Is blogging from inside the city dangerous?

A: In brief, any word that comes out of Mosul that ISIS takes notice of is a justification for death, according to them. The blogger, his family, and all those related to him could face death. The dangers are quite big and continuous. I have received many threats from ISIS; in the last one they said they would invent a way to kill me that has so far been unknown to humanity.

The real danger is not in blogging itself, but in getting access to accurate information while maintaining your safety and not revealing your identity. I have used dozens of personalities and styles so as to stay safe. I have penetrated ISIS at its most fortified gates without their notice. I admit that this can be exhilarating in a way that helps relieve my fears of being killed at the hands of ISIS.

 Is the “American Dream” experiencing problems? Today, Hollywood is the soft power of the US, but that has given people a distorted perception of what the American Dream really is:

That’s because, instead of showing the interdependence of prosperity, democracy, and freedom, contemporary popular culture tends to single out freedom and portray it in ways that are very entertaining, but often also very alien to the concerns of most people in the world.

… In this new dream, the saga of one generation working hard to raise the prospects of the next is replaced by a fantasy of young, unattached men and women living in an upscale urban setting with little or no contact with their families or communities of origin, and enjoying a degree of affluence and personal freedom, including sexual freedom, that is unheard of in most societies. As described by the creators of Friends, it is about “sex, love, relationships, careers … [at] a time in your life when everything’s possible … because when you’re single and in the city, your friends are your family.”

… This picture can be alluring, if you’re an unmarried Egyptian or Nigerian or Indian living with your extended family and subject to their many demands. But there is also a downside to the picture, when viewed from the perspective of people enmeshed in extended, multigenerational family relationships. In Cairo I met a young woman, a student from a Bedouin village, who told me that she was nervous about her impending first visit to the United States because, as she put it, “In the media, Americans are always alone.”

 Wesley Morris thinks this is the year we obsessed over identity:

But there was something oddly compelling about Dolezal, too. She represented — dementedly but also earnestly — a longing to transcend our historical past and racialized present. This is a country founded on independence and yet comfortable with racial domination, a country that has forever been trying to legislate the lines between whiteness and nonwhiteness, between borrowing and genocidal theft. We’ve wanted to think we’re better than a history we can’t seem to stop repeating. Dolezal’s unwavering certainty that she was black was a measure of how seriously she believed in integration: It was as if she had arrived in a future that hadn’t yet caught up to her.

It wasn’t so long ago that many Americans felt they were living in that future. Barack Obama’s election was the dynamite that broke open the country. It was a moment. It was the moment. Obama was biological proof of some kind of progress — the product of an interracial relationship, the kind that was outlawed in some states as recently as 1967 but was normalized. He seemed to absolve us of original sin and take us past this stupid, dangerous race stuff. What if suddenly anything was possible? What if we could be and do whatever and whoever we wanted? In that moment, the country was changing. We were changing.

 What is the future of reading?

The Kindle set the imagination alight. It looked and felt like no ‘computer’ we had ever seen. And because its progenitor was paper – but yet it was digital – there was something magical in holding it. It was The Hitchhiker’s Guide made manifest. (A role that the iPhone would go on to fulfill in totality.) Unlike a desktop – at which we read straight-backed, vertically, some distance away from the text – we could cradle a Kindle. And because it was globally networked and backed by a vast and instantaneously available library, we rarely found it to be limited. That 2007 object held implicit the promise of a universal book container.

… While the software wasn’t perfect, those four years did mark the pinnacle of Kindle hardware innovation. Each subsequent release was a significant improvement on the previous generation. Kindles became smaller, lighter, with higher resolution and more responsive backlit screens. The tactility of the page-turn buttons (the most – and arguably only – important buttons) improved. The battery lasted longer. And the device got cheaper. So cheap it inspired non-profits such as Worldreader to form and begin building digital libraries in Africa. It seemed that the Kindle hardware design team was honing in on the Platonic universal reading container.

 Niru Ratnam has some advice for Anish Kapoor and other sculptors: “Don’t want your public sculpture to get copied? Then make better public sculpture.” Ouch:

And this perhaps is the key to making public sculpture work – to make it speak of a particular location at a particular time. Without that, it is a form of art open to abuse of many different kinds.

 The October 7, 2015, edition of the Ottoman History Podcast is a must-hear. The topic is the politics and legality of gender in 18th-century Aleppo hamams.

 The realities of gender and late night TV:

 This Instagram account archives “sad topographies” on Google Maps:

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 The shocking video of the bombing of a peace rally in Ankara that left nearly 100 people dead:

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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