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This week, the failure of OWS, Instagram’s impact on photography, the dominant aesthetic of the last decade, populist art from the Syrian civil war, Emily Dickinson as radical, and more.
Q: You say Occupy was a gift to global activists, both in its success and its failure. What illusions did it help bust up?
A: Occupy Wall Street was a nearly textbook example of a social movement that should have worked. But it didn’t. That is why I call Occupy a constructive failure. The movement taught us that contemporary activism has been chasing an illusion: the idea that the most effective form of protest is to get millions of people into the streets because then our elected representatives will be forced to heed the wishes of the people. The first goal of my book is to shift the paradigms of protest by challenging activists to question this dominant theory of activism.
I did an informal survey of Instagram photos in London, and what I found is that, if you look at the center of London—which is a good place to look because you have people from everywhere—about 80 percent of photographs is what I would call casual photography. They’re similar to photographs from your youth, or from the ‘50s or ‘60s. People don’t care much about the aesthetics; they care about the content. You photograph something because it’s going to be important to you, or to your family, or maybe to your friends. Whether you get a lot of likes doesn’t seem to be the key factor. We have about 10 percent of photographs where people try to be very professional—they photograph a lot of details, a lot of landscapes. And then there’s about 10 percent of what I call design photography, or style photography, which is something more urban, more contemporary, more minimal, with lots of negative space.
What’s amazing about these photographs is I keep finding, like, 12 year olds in Siberia who are as sophisticated in their photography as top professional photographers working for magazines. Instagram is like a school where teenagers are learning very sophisticated ways of communicating.
Unlike reading a newspaper, reading a lifestyle magazine is more an aesthetic than functional choice, a way of pursuing higher, or at least less immediate, interests like art, fashion, food, and good manners. A magazine’s editors lead this aspirational pursuit and the readers never quite catch up. Even the image of a grand castle, Cave’s home, on the cover of The Gentleman’s Magazine seemed to hint at the rarified knowledge contained within. If you read this, you could live here.
Similar magazines spread across the newly independent United States, often bringing together wealthy professional communities like that of merchants and doctors, according to Heather Haveman, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley and the author of Magazines and the Making of America. “These people aren’t going to meet face to face because they’re geographically scattered, but they recognize when they’re reading an issue, someone else like themselves is also reading the magazine,” Haveman says. “It made them aware that they were not just in their own locality. They had an imagined sense of themselves in a community that was big.”
— ◥◤Kriston Capps (@kristoncapps) March 15, 2016
Unlike World War II, where events were covered solely by print and state media and often took the form of propaganda, information from Syria is reaching the world in a faster, more direct and sometimes more reliable way. “It’s as if the world is able to watch the war live as it happens,” said Fares.
Visual art also plays a vital role in sending out a message to the world using a universal language. “You don’t need to be a Syrian or an expert on Syria in order to understand a simple poster,” he said.
For Fares, the job will not end with the end of the conflict. “The role of Syrian artists is, and will be, telling the story of the Syrian Revolution. Today, and years after the war is over, we will see hundreds and thousands of artworks, each showing the conflict in its own way. From Daraa’s children [in 2011], to the final solution to the crisis, we will see a very clear timeline consisting of works of art.”
But where did he get the idea for the object itself, for a metal-clad building composed of swelling, sweeping curvilinear planes? In part, certainly, from the great concrete sails of the Sydney Opera House, designed by Jørn Utzon, the building whose international impact the Basque authorities hoped to emulate by commissioning the Guggenheim project in the first place. But in Bilbao, along with the phantasmagoria of the landscape, there are also three exquisite little paintings by El Greco in the Fine Arts Museum, each of them presenting cloud constructions as abstract and powerfully architectonic as anything Gehry has conceived, and inspired, like the Guggenheim building, by the incomparable forms of nature, especially by those temperamental Spanish skies.
El Greco understood the structural power of his abstract shapes no less profoundly than Gehry, for he was an architect himself, as well as a painter and sculptor. His cloud constructions have made the same imaginative leap that Gehry’s built architecture began to make with the design of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles: a spring from the basics of post-and-lintel carpentry to building with abstract planes, each one unique, massed together to create spaces that are never hollow; instead, energy seems to funnel through them like an invisible liquid. On occasion, as in El Greco’s Burial of Count Orgaz (1586), a tiny human soul gets caught up in the windstorm, for the energy is divine, rushing eagerly back to its source.
Yet he was also a shrewd observer. “Her verses are in most cases like poetry plucked up by the roots; we have them with earth, stones, and dew adhering, and must accept them as they are. Wayward and unconventional in the last degree; defiant of form, measure, rhyme, and even grammar; she yet had an exacting standard of her own, and would wait many days for a word that satisfied.” He saw her wildness, and didn’t really know how to deal with it.
He must have assumed that these “wayward” poems would be buried overnight. But “An Open Portfolio” had helped create the legend of the recluse in her inland village who could weave her verses “out of the heart’s own atoms.” Higginson’s article succeeded in ways he couldn’t have imagined—the book went through printing after printing and sold eleven thousand copies. The village poet had come right out of the cupboard.
We are being told that Nina Simone’s face bears no real import on the new eponymous movie about her life, starring Zoe Saldana. “The most important thing,” said Robert Johnson, whose studio is releasing Nina, “is that creativity or quality of performance should never be judged on the basis of color, or ethnicity, or physical likeness.” This is obviously false. Saldana could be the greatest thespian of her time, but no one would consider casting her as Marilyn Monroe. Indeed Nina’s producers have gone to great ends—tragicomic ends—to invoke Nina Simone’s face, darkening Saldana’s skin, adorning her with prosthetics. Neither the term blackface nor brownface is entirely appropriate here. We are not so much talking about deliberate mockery as something much more insidious.
Many galleries are fiercely, if discreetly, vying for market control over artists, with high-end galleries such as Hauser Wirth & Schimmel and Sprüth Magers competing directly for the startling number of major Los Angeles-based artists who lack gallery representation there. Just two years ago, the list was extraordinary: Mark Bradford, Sterling Ruby, Thomas Houseago, John Baldessari, Barbara Kruger, Liza Lou, Robert Irwin and Paul McCarthy didn’t have galleries here (although McCarthy does projects with The Box, which is run by his daughter). The peculiar thing is that, at least by New York or London standards, these artists didn’t have that many galleries to choose fr om. Very few Los Angeles galleries, with the exception of Gagosian Beverly Hills, Blum & Poe and Regen Projects, could match, let alone advance, the artists’ international reputations.
“He played that violin every day, and he did all the maintenance himself because I would watch him take it apart and do things to it,” he says. “His explanation to me is that he bought an old violin. His dad helped him buy it. What do I know?”
Elmer’s glue kept the seams from splitting and also secured a fingernail-size corner of the body, which he had chipped off. Johnson had at least two violins, so he could play concerts without the stolen Strad. But today, friends who have seen pictures of the violin remember him using it in many of the small gigs he played across the country, barely earning enough to get by.
At a recital in California, a friend, Rebecca Rutkowski, approached Johnson after noticing his sound was particularly rich.
“I said, ‘My God, that fiddle sounds incredible,’ ” she says. “He started acting weird. He said, ‘I just borrowed it.’ Then I asked if I could come back and try it. ‘No, don’t come into the dressing room. I keep it closed.’ That was unusual.”
Syrians are becoming increasingly concerned for the plight of US civilians pic.twitter.com/jXSYI8YIeL
— kristyan benedict (@KreaseChan) March 18, 2016
Why does she look like she caught the pharaoh lying? pic.twitter.com/wl1b8Ye6Zf
— Bella Jay
(@thebellabrand) March 18, 2016