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Photographer Dan Vojtěch created a gif to show how focal length affects the shape of the face in photography — a fascinating experiment. (via danvojtech.cz)

This week, art in shadow banking, the impact of focal length, oppressive minimalism, slave labor at the White House, Werner Herzog on Pokémon Go, and more.

 Some of the ways art is used in the world of shadow banking:

“One way to launder is to use art as a security for a loan,” said David Hall, who spent 10 years as a special prosecutor for the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Art Crime Team and is now a partner at law firm Wiggin & Dana LLP. Hall, who wouldn’t comment about Sotheby’s or the Low case, said the aim is to use ill-gotten funds to purchase assets that can be used as collateral for a loan. “The level of scrutiny you’ll receive from a bank is much higher than you will receive from an auction house.”

Sotheby’s says it has a rigorous compliance program, and the firm hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing in connection with the government investigation. While the company underwrites loans on the basis of the value and title of the artwork, it has a parallel process that looks into a client’s source of wealth and evaluates risk in a manner analogous to banks, according to Lauren Gioia, a spokeswoman. The compliance program is headed by Jane Levine, a former federal prosecutor who worked with the FBI’s art-crime unit.

 Oppressive minimalism:

“Minimalism” was eventually canonized as an art-historical movement, but the name came to mean something different as it was adopted into consumer culture and turned into a class signifier. What was once a way artists shocked viewers became over the decades a style as delimited and consumable as any Martha Stewart tablescape. The word was defanged, no longer a critical insult and no longer a viable strategy within art — though it never quite gave up its veneer of provocation. Even austerity can be made decadent: To wealthy practitioners, minimalism is now little more than a slightly intriguing perversion, like drinking at breakfast. “One of the real problems with design-world minimalism is that it’s just become a signifier of the global elite,” Raskin says. “The richer you are, the less you have.”

 How cultural appropriation is hurting indigenous artists:

Q: How is it harmful to Indigenous art and artists?
A: It really is our number one source of private direct revenue into our communities, so it’s got a huge economic impact. From a cultural side, it’s a written language here to us on the coast. A lot of people don’t understand that when they are appropriating our artwork that our history, our culture and even our laws are codified into this, so that when you take it and you manipulate it and you bastardise it and you put it out there as your own without understanding the meaning, you’re doing significant damage.

 Many in the French media have decided not to print the names of terrorists so that they don’t feed the cycle of propaganda, martyrdom, and fame that’s currently taking place. Juan Cole writes:

France and Belgium have seen a number of nihilist attacks in the past year and a half, which has pushed the government to institute and extend a state of emergency that seriously infringes on basic human rights. (I call these attacks nihilist rather than terrorist because they hit soft targets without an obvious immediate political goal, and are often carried out by petty criminals or the unbalanced, who nevertheless claim a relationship to Daesh (ISIL, ISIS).

The editors at these news outlets have become convinced that Daesh is successfully “heroizing” the attackers, and that Western news coverage is shared back in Syria and Iraq as well as among Europe’s Muslim community as a way of glorifying the perpetrators. Denying them that glory then becomes a form of counter-terrorism.

 When Roman emperors, Michelangelo, and Mussolini needed the finest marble, they all knew where to go — Carrara in Tuscany. But some are worried about the future of the quarries:

Jobs here are passed almost exclusively from father to son, the heft and movement of the rock taught and felt minutely. I see quarrymen holding their palms against the rock face as though taking its temperature, as though it were living – some enormous beast.

It’s a gesture that strikes me time and again here, but never more than when I meet 75-year-old Franco Barratini. Barratini owns the “Michelangelo Cave” – the very rare, palest seam of Carrara marble favoured by the artist himself, who would come here and personally select a block before having it hauled back to his studio.

In a workshop at the foot of the quarry lies a great unfinished replica of Michelangelo’s David. The rumour is that it’s being made to go up in the Piazza della Signoria in Florence to replace the damaged replica now standing there. The cost of this marble – 55 tonnes of it, from the very same seam that Michelangelo himself used to make the original David in 1501 – is inestimable. The quality of its white is so much more than that of newly-fallen snow. It makes me think of bones and shooting stars. Something that’s stolen its colour from light.

 The history of slavery and the construction of the White House. Did George Washington try to avoid using slaves?

I think he always had an ambiguous understanding in relationship to slavery. So in building this brand new symbol of the new America, the democracy that they were trying to promote and to establish the new country as a beacon in the world for liberation and freedom, it was clearly compromised by the issue of slavery. So I think in that context George Washington would have preferred not to have to address the issue of slave labor building the Capitol, building the White House. The problem was that there was not enough nonslave labor that could get the task accomplished.

So for example, the rock quarries which were in Virginia — [it was] just unimaginable back-breaking work. You had to dig these rocks out, then you had to load them on a boat, sail them across the [Chesapeake] Bay, then they had to be unloaded and then they had to be carried to the site. So this is just grueling, grueling kind of work. And nobody was really willing … to do it. So slave labor played a massive role in getting this city built.

 Werner Herzog being interviewed about Pokémon Go is everything you imagined:

Q: Do you know about Pokémon Go?
A: No.

It’s this…
I don’t know what Pokémon Go is and what all these things are…

It’s a…
You’re talking to somebody who made his first phone call at age 17. You’re talking to someone who doesn’t have a cell phone, for example, for cultural reasons.

Right.
Tell me about Pokémon Go. What is happening on Pokémon Go?

It’s basically the first mainstream augmented reality program. It’s a game where the entire world is mapped and you walk around with the GPS on your phone. You walk around in the real world and can catch these little monsters and collect them. And everybody is playing it.
Does it tell you you’re here at San Vicente, close to Sunset Boulevard?

Yeah, it’s basically like a Google map.
But what does pokémon do at this corner here?

You might be able to catch some. It’s all completely virtual. It’s very simple, but it’s also an overlay of physically based information that now exists on top of the real world.
When two persons in search of a pokémon clash at the corner of Sunset and San Vicente is there violence? Is there murder?

They do fight, virtually.
Physically, do they fight?

No—
Do they bite each other’s hands? Do they punch each other?

The people or the…
Yes, there must be real people if it’s a real encounter with someone else.

 A man writes about how “My $50,000 Twitter Username Was Stolen Thanks to PayPal and GoDaddy“:

Twitter required the attacker to provide more information to proceed and the attacker gave up on this route.

I later learned that the attacker had compromised my Facebook account in order to bargain with me. I was horrified to learn what had happened when friends began asking me about strange behavior on my Facebook account.

I received an email from my attacker at last. The attacker attempted to extort me with the following message.

 There are no more VCRs being produced in the world:

This month will see the last videocassette recorder (VCR) produced in Japan, according to reports. Once no home was complete without a library of chunky black cassettes and a recording device with a slot you had to keep telling the kids not to insert their toast into.

 The UK government will stop using Latin abbreviations, like e.g. and etc., because:

We promote the use of plain English on GOV.UK. We advocate simple, clear language. Terms like eg, ie and etc, while common, make reading difficult for some.

Anyone who didn’t grow up speaking English may not be familiar with them. Even those with high literacy levels can be thrown if they are reading under stress or are in a hurry – like a lot of people are on the web.

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.

Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.

3 replies on “Required Reading”

  1. It is unfortunate that even some slave labor was used at building some white houses, but most were made with paid labor, especially the one Harry Truman had built, the house where Michelle sleeps.
    If that’s what you had in mind writing the article.

    1. Truman oversaw a major reconstruction of the White House (because it was in danger of collapse) but it was and is the same building. Not sure why you’re keen to minimize the forced labour of slaves.

      1. I’m not, but how would you, anyone, remove the rotten foundation and replace it with a concrete one, without dissembling the whole thing and building a new one in its place?
        It seems to me that Washington was ashamed of using the few slaves he did use, but paid them, therefore, not only he didn’t treat them as slaves, but as cheap (not free) labor, inspiring the North to do the same later, for “humanitarian” reasons.
        (I call them political, but the Democrats would’ve argued then, and deny now).
        As far as I know, most laborers were Irish, Scots, and maybe Italians.

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