This week, the brilliance of Gordon Parks, sculptor wasps, tourists and archeological sites, Bridget Riley on her art, bad art, and more.
These decadent lifestyles stand in stark contrast to the principles of austerity being forced on the vast majority in the West’s recession-plagued economies. Amid deepening inequality, images like these can justifiably provoke anger: Lord Aleem, a nineteen-year-old, self-styled Rich Kid of Instagram from Birmingham, regularly posted photographs of his collection of luxury cars outside his home until four of his £500,000 fleet were torched by arsonists last year.
But alongside anger, these images of decadence can also offer the opportunity to imagine a very different world, where wealth is not simply defined by money and possessions but by good health, valuable experiences, and the strength of social relationships, a world where the competitive display of wealth is no longer practiced because luxury is held in common.
Should we be concerned when tourists damage archeological sites? One Cambridge professor doesn’t think so:
It does not matter if Pompeii is damaged by visiting tourists, Professor Mary Beard has said, as she argues it would be “ghastly” to keep the public away from ancient ruins.
Prof Beard, a Cambridge classicist and leading authority on Roman history, said she was “culpably laid back” about the crumbling of houses and walls, insisting they must not be restricted to academics.
John Edwin Mason writes about photographer Gordon Parks and how he implored white Americans to see Black humanity:
Parks was one of LIFE’s best known and most admired photographers by the time that “The White Man’s Day Is Almost Over,” his photo essay about the Black Muslims, appeared in 1963. His star status allowed him to exert more control over his story than he had over previous stories. The result was a nuanced and finely textured photo essay that challenged conventional wisdom about the group. Visual Justice contains 30 of the photographs that Parks made, most never before published or exhibited, during the three months he worked on the assignment, traveling from New York to Los Angeles, with stops in Chicago and Phoenix. They portray a religious community that is far different from the dangerous collection of fanatics that television and the press usually depicted. They emphasize the importance of family, faith and disciplined, peaceful protest. Many of the images show Malcolm X, who was Parks’ guide through the world of the Black Muslims, in a variety of roles — spokesman, prayer leader, amateur photographer.
I searched for a new form that would be unlike any I had used before: a form that did not have the familiar identity of squares, triangles, ovals etc. Eventually, I found what I was looking for in the conjunction of the vertical and the diagonal. This conjunction was the new form. It could be seen as a patch of colour — acting almost like a brush mark. When enlarged, these formal patches became coloured planes that could take up different positions in space. They could serve several functions and being contained they were also movable: could change scale, harmonise or contrast with one another, repeat, echo, ‘create places’ etc. A whole new field of relationships opened up. Together with a more extensive use of my particular collage technique, I had arrived at means broader than any that were available to me before. Now drawing with colour became central to my activity. I found I had to establish a common plane, which ran right through the composition, and from which and to which the spatial advances and recessions of colour would relate. This could not be predetermined — it had to be found afresh each time. It was essential to get across the area, to build a chain of visual events that would carry the eye through its own realm. Shimmered Shade (1990) is one of the paintings that came out of this. I had found this new way of working by taking up an opposing position. It can sometimes happen that, when confronted by what seems to be a wall, which one cannot get either through or round, a kind of radical reorientation is called for. Turning the whole thing over so that an approach can be made from the opposite side, as it were. If this is to succeed, it nearly always means relinquishing some cherished notion or something that you have relied on. This destructive side to creative life is essential to an artist’s survival.
Shumon Basar reflects on the life and work of Zaha Hadid in a very personal piece:
Right now, I’m thinking about our daily life some 20 years ago when I started work at her London studio. It was a converted school; we entered through the “Boy’s Entrance.” I was a fresh graduate. As such, I knew my way around post-structuralism but not much else. I was giddy to be at The Office of Zaha Hadid. I was convinced I’d been accepted into the heart of a living avant-garde. Here, I’d find the spirit of Malevich and Suprematism defiantly alive at the tail end of the 20th century, having survived the cultural wasteland of post-modernism and the pediments of revivalism.
My memories of those few years are vivid: the Broadway-level drama of Zaha’s arrival at the office each afternoon (which made Meryl Streep’s strop in The Devil Wears Prada seem positively quaint). How I nevergot Zaha’s cappuccino right (I’d never foamed milk before, OK? They don’t teach you that at Oxbridge). And the second-hand London black cab I used to drive Zaha around in (“Let’s stop at Maroush on the way.”) She also bought me designer clothing (style charity?). Shopping with her was so much fun.
More thoughts by Micah White on the failure of Occupy:
“The anti–Iraq War movement collapsed after its global march on February 15, 2003, the largest synchronized protest in human history, failed to sway President Bush and Prime Minister Blair to halt the pre-emptive war on Iraq,” it reads. “Activists in 2003 believed that if millions of people around the world said no in unison on a single day, war would be impossible. Like Occupy, the anti-war movement vaporized when the theory of social change underlying the movement — that governments will bend if millions of people assemble in the streets, march and make a single demand — was proven ineffective.”
Street protests have become ineffective because they are so predictable, White explained. They are calculated into a government’s decision-making process, with police resources deployed accordingly.
Soviet (and Russian) officials seem to love poetry, and an anthology of their work was published:
“Being a diplomat does not mean that you stop being a person,” said Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry, who published an ode in verse on her Facebook page to the Russian pilot shot down by a Turkish jet over Syria last year. “We sometimes work on extremely severe issues, and if you smother the person in yourself, you can’t have an objective view on the world.”
Russian diplomats claim three 19th-century poets as their most distinguished forebears: “Eugene Onegin” author Alexander Pushkin, “Woe from Wit” playwright Alexander Griboyedov and the romantic poet Fyodor Tyutchev, who wrote the now-famous maxim: “Russia cannot be understood with the mind alone.”
Why do we appear to like bad art?
But when the stakes are low, bad art is just another amusing reminder of human fallibility. The popularity of the Borja cultural center and the Museum of Bad Art nods to a deeply human quirk: taking pleasure in, and empathizing with, others’ mistakes. Seeing Ecce homo in person is an act of witnessing a singular piece of Internet culture in its native, spiritual habitat, but it’s also, oddly, an act of faith in the predictable human trait of screwing up. Much of the popularity of bad art stems from this contradiction—and perhaps also points toward the inability of paint to adequately express the nuances of humanity, in all their rich and complex glory.
If you want to talk about inequality, then take a look at Julia Halperin’s great report that examines why US museums spent $5 billion at the same time that the country was going through the worst economic crisis since the 1920s:
US museums spent nearly $5bn on expansions between 2007 and 2014, according to research by The Art Newspaper. During the worst US recession since the Great Depression, $4.95bn was spent or pledged by 26 museums on projects such as the $305m Snøhetta-designed extension of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA), which is due to open on 14 May. The US spent more on expansions than all of the other 37 countries we examined put together …
While shiny new constructions rise across the Middle East, Asia and South America, US museums seem to be in a state of constant growth. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York is in the midst of its second expansion in a decade. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Lacma) began to plan its Peter Zumthor-designed project, which is due to open in 2023, a year before it completed a 45,000 sq. ft pavilion by Renzo Piano in 2010. The museum’s director, Michael Govan, likens the process to “renovating a house with a growing family”; as soon as you finish one building, another needs to be fixed up.
Gawker’s Marina Galperina visited a Trump rally in Long Island, NY. It’s a good look inside such an event:
There’s a festive aggression in the air. Everywhere, people talk about protesters and look around for them wistfully, (“They can come, maybe they learn something.”) I overhear a man with tree-trunk forearms say “These are elbows for protestors.” I ask what he means. “Oh, nothing. Just got elbows for protestors.” I take a bad picture for which he poses happily and reassures me, “Hey, I wouldn’t do that to nobody!”
It feels like people are anticipating confrontation. Not just here, but in their lives in general. “What’s happening in this country!” shouts one. “Tell me about it. My oldest is going to college in two years.” Adds a third, “I told mine, NO! I am not paying that. You’re going to military school.”
Animating old photographs:
And the Boston Globe just published a spoof issue today, positing what it might look like if Donald Trump won the White House: