OpinionWeekend

Required Reading

Some 3-D calligraphic experiments by Istanbul-based graphic designer Tolga Girgin (via Colossal)
Some 3-D calligraphic experiments by Istanbul-based graphic designer Tolga Girgin (via Colossal)

This week, 100 jokes that shaped modern comedy, the information of critic Lawrence Alloway, critics of China are not safe, giant dancing bears on Twitter, and more.

 The 100 jokes that shaped modern comedy, including Abbott & Costello’s renowned “Who’s on First” routine:

Abbott: Who is on first.
Costello: I’m asking you who’s on first.
Abbott: That’s the man’s name.
Costello: That’s who’s name?
Abbott: Yes.

No single sketch has imprinted itself on the American psyche in the last century more acutely than “Who’s on First.” This impeccably structured scene of baseball monikers and prickly pronouns was both the germ of Abbott and Costello’s incredible career and its crown jewel. The sketch itself endures for a number of reasons: Its simple premise delivering myriad laugh lines, the clear schlemiel-schlimazel dynamic between performers, the room it provides for embellishment, and the rat-a-tat delivery make it feel like a ramshackle Ford Model T gathering speed as it barrels toward the edge of a cliff. As the calm and collected Abbott painstakingly explains his baseball team’s lineup — “Who’s on first, What’s on second, I-Don’t-Know’s on third” — Costello tumbles headlong into a misunderstanding made funnier by his infuriated and impotent yaps. Loving tributes to Abbott and Costello’s rhythms and antagonistic banter can be found in countless buddy movies, as well as current projects by fans such as Quentin Tarantino and Jerry Seinfeld. The sketch’s history also tells us something about the American relationship with ownership of comedic material; while the act was drawn from similar vaudeville acts of the day, Abbott and Costello copyrighted “Who’s on First” in 1944.

 Writing for the Brooklyn RailLilly Lampe considers two major painting shows last year that took place in prominent US museums, including The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World at the Museum of Modern Art and Variations: Conversations in and Around Abstract Painting at Los Angeles County Museum of Art:

Is the supposed crisis in painting a product of the medium’s own neurosis? Perhaps it isn’t that painting is dead but that, like many of us, it suffers from anxiety about death? Maybe painting is depressed, a sentiment I dare say many critics would validate, or narcissistic (undeniably), or irrationally obsessed with the threat of other mediums. Obsession of some sort seems the most likely diagnosis, with the result being compulsive inward-looking as well as an unhealthy fixation on what painting or sculpture or video might be doing.

The narcissistic self-obsession of painting was certainly on view in The Forever Now. The exhibition seemed particularly hung up on three primary qualities of painting today: possession of a stretcher or the illusion or reference to one, use of canvas or other painting surfaces, and the gestural mark, something akin to a painterly brushstroke. This dogged insistence on the traditional structure of painting — done on a panel, canvas, or linen, and pulled over stretcher bars—and expressive mark-making done by hand is, minus a dogmatic insistence on the use of paint itself, hardly a step removed from Greenberg’s idea of medium specificity. Both Lowry and Hoptman described the artists in The Forever Now as traditionalists in so many words. Lowry wrote the artists “made their work in the most traditional manner — using paint and brushes on canvas.” Hoptman elided her choices as “practitioners of painting qua painting,” perhaps synonymous with the elusive moniker of “painter-painter.” If MoMA is correct, the move towards the flatness that Greenberg described is not only alive, but dominant, and while medium specificity seems to have gotten away from necessarily involving paint on canvas, the moves made by Bradley, Johnson, and Mehretu, with a grease stick, carved soap, and ink, respectively, substitute painterly mark-making without using a drop of paint.

 Barry Schwabsky makes the case for a reevaluation of Lawrence Alloway, whom he considers “a great intellectual resource among art writers in the 1960s and ’70s.” He writes:

It was during his London period that Alloway coined the term “Pop art.” He was referring not—as critics later would—to the work of painters and sculptors who borrow the imagery of mass culture, but rather to the actual products of commercial culture, what Clement Greenberg dubbed “kitsch” and Theodor Adorno scorned as “the culture industry.” Alloway never conceived of cultures in opposition or in a hierarchy; for him, as he later put it, “Unique oil paintings and highly personal poems as well as mass-distributed films and group-aimed magazines can be placed within a continuum.” He wrote about “artists as consumers” and wanted “an approach that does not depend…on the exclusion of most of the symbols that people live by.” In practice, this meant taking a calmly quasi-sociological view of art as one of many information systems at work in the world, itself capable of housing many different, seemingly incompatible tendencies. He sought a criticism that would be “less royal”; that is, less prone to unsupported authoritative pronouncements based on highly partial narratives of historical development (or what he called “drastic simplificatory strategies to reduce the hectic scene to congruence”). Above all, he always wrote with genuine curiosity and an eye for quality.

 A Chinese art magazine has a thoughtful piece on Ai Weiwei’s controversial image mimicking the pose in which Aylan Kurdi’s body was found after it washed up on the shore. It’s by Thomas Eller, and he writes:

… Ai’s image is very untimely for a whole array of reasons. Everybody in Germany (almost 96%) believes that the refugees need our help. Nobody, however, knows (anymore) how to actually get this done. During this ambiguous moment, Ai decides to lie down on the beach, representative not only of the fate of Aylan, but all refugees—because such is the power that emanates from the picture of the drowned boy. Does he remind us of an obligation that we no longer know how to fulfill, or does he want to profit from our dithering in the subject?

In any case, something is totally off with the picture: poor young boy—rich old artist. One isn’t sure if it’s possible to buy into the vicariousness of Ai’s gesture of himself as refugee. How about a thought experiment: What if Ai had taken a photo of his beloved son on the beach instead of himself? This would also have been controversial in so many ways. But it would undoubtedly have been a document of paternal love, one which would have offered deep insight into the human drama of the refugee crisis. Even the harshest of critics would have had to keep quiet. Instead, what came out was an asymmetrical dialog from “victim” to “VICTIM”. Because in the context of the refugee crisis, Ai’s individual fate appears to be, well, “individual”. In other words: in the context of China, his life appeared to be “exemplary”, embodying the strife of many. In the big context of the refugee crisis, this just doesn’t work. On many levels, the picture of him is as wrong as the strange hard shadow his body casts on the shoreline. His light comes flat from the right, whereas the sun softly lights the seascape from somewhere up on the left hand side.

 The Intercept came clean about one of their reporters, Juan Thompson, whom they admit fabricated quotes in his stories:

The Intercept recently discovered a pattern of deception in the actions of a staff member. The employee, Juan Thompson, was a staff reporter from November 2014 until last month. Thompson fabricated several quotes in his stories and created fake email accounts that he used to impersonate people, one of which was a Gmail account in my name.

An investigation into Thompson’s reporting turned up three instances in which quotes were attributed to people who said they had not been interviewed. In other instances, quotes were attributed to individuals we could not reach, who could not remember speaking with him, or whose identities could not be confirmed. In his reporting Thompson also used quotes that we cannot verify from unnamed people whom he claimed to have encountered at public events. Thompson went to great lengths to deceive his editors, creating an email account to impersonate a source and lying about his reporting methods.

 Courtney Enlow has written a very, very popular “all-caps explosion” about the liberal backlash against Hillary Clinton. One of the choice sections:

So since Hillary cannot yell, since by the virtue of being sane and not a white man she is forced to be the biggest adult in the room, just like Obama has had to for eight goddamn years, I will yell for her.

FIRST AND FUCKING FOREMOST, COOL, YOU LIKE BERNIE’S WISHES AND DREAMS APPROACH TO POLITICS. “FREE COLLEGE FOR EVERYONE AND A GODDAMN PONY.” YES, THAT SOUNDS FUCKING WONDERFUL BUT DO YOU THINK HILLARY COULD EVEN SAY THOSE WORDS WITHOUT FOX NEWS LITERALLY BURYING HER ALIVE IN TAMPONS AND CRUCIFIXES?

 An op-ed in the Washington Post by Jerome Cohen, a professor at New York University law school and leading expert on law in China, argues that critics of China aren’t safe anywhere:

A Chinese journalist calls his wife in China as he boards a train in Thailand. Then he disappears.

Everyone loves a good mystery, but this one has two flaws. First, it’s nonfiction. Second, a principal character already is pretty sure she knows what happened.

“I think he was brought back by the Communist Party,” the wife told the Guardian newspaper last week.

If so, Li Xin’s disappearance would fit into a pattern of increasingly brazen Chinese lawlessness overseas, as agents of the Communist regime track down critics, kidnap them, bring them home and dump them in prison.

 This is one of those amazing cultural stories that you probably didn’t know about. It turns out that during the silent film era, many Indian film stars were from the small Baghdadi Jewish and Bene Israel communities that didn’t speak Hindi or Urdu:

The actors were mostly Baghdadi Jewish women and the rest were from the Bene Israel community, not the Cochini community. That community was small, did not speak Hindi or Urdu, and lived far from the film-making cities of Bombay and Calcutta. A single Baghdadi family contributed greatly to Indian films by giving us the actress-producer Pramila (Esther Victoria Abraham), her sister the actress Romila (Sophie Abraham), and her cousin, the starlet Rose (Rose Musleah). Pramila’s son Haider Ali is an actor, who is best known as the co-writer of the blockbuster film Jodhaa Akbar.

Baghdadi Jewish actresses were known by single Western names (Lillian, Rose), Hindu names (Arati Devi, Pramila, Sulochana) or Muslim names (Firoza Begum, Nadira) rather than the ones identifying them as Jews. Lillian’s birth name was Lillian Ezra.

 If you think the contaminated water in Flint, Michigan, is bad, then maybe you don’t know about this incident on Navajo lands in the southwest United States:

Since the 1950s, their water has been poisoned by uranium mining to fuel the nuclear industry and the making of atomic bombs for the U.S. military. Coal mining and coal-fired power plants have added to the mix. The latest assault on Navajo water was carried out by the massive toxic spills into the Animas and San Juan rivers when the EPA recklessly attempted to address the abandoned Gold King mine.

 A former Mexican Navy battleship was sunk off the coast of Rosarito, Mexico, to create the first artificial reef in Baja California, and thankfully there were GoPro cameras onboard to capture video of it:

 Is not sure how they figured out the “Most Popular Fictional Character From Each Country,” but this list (and map) is entertaining:

DailyInfographics.eu_1

Armenia – Crimson Dynamo, Marvel Comics Universe
Austria – Brüno Gehard, Brüno, Ali G Show
Belgium – Hercule Poirot, Agata Christie Novels
Bulgaria – Katherine Pierce, The Vampire Diaries
Croatia – Dr. Luka Kovač, ER
Czech Republic – Švejk, The Good Soldier Švejk
Denmark – Prince Hamlet
Finland – The Snow Queen
France – Quasimodo, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame … (more)

 The Teletubbies in black and white, set to the song “Atmosphere” by Joy Division, are both soothing and terrifying (h/t nobodyputsbabyinahorner.wordpress.com):

 Did you miss the whole giant dancing bear thing on Twitter (here are more)?

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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