Required Reading

This week, the world’s largest watercolor painting, the bedcover Rauschenberg stole, the language of autocrats, Crapumenta, Apple’s new HQ, and more.

MASS MoCA will unveil what it’s claiming is the “world’s largest watercolor painting,” a 120-square-foot (8′ x 15′), site-specific commission by Barbara Prey. That’s quite a claim, though I do wish the painting was a little more exciting. (via MASS MoCA)
  • This article about a family “slave” in the US has been much discussed this week. Alex Tizon, who died at the age of 57 this year, writes about when he realized who the woman who lived with his family was. The whole story is chilling:

To our American neighbors, we were model immigrants, a poster family. They told us so. My father had a law degree, my mother was on her way to becoming a doctor, and my siblings and I got good grades and always said “please” and “thank you.” We never talked about Lola. Our secret went to the core of who we were and, at least for us kids, who we wanted to be.

After my mother died of leukemia, in 1999, Lola came to live with me in a small town north of Seattle. I had a family, a career, a house in the suburbs—the American dream. And then I had a slave.

RELATED: Some interesting responses:

SARGENT: One signature aspect of your painting is that the figure almost blends into its surroundings, because the earth tones of your backdrops are reflective of the character’s dark brown skin tones. There are a lot of things that are being signified but particularly there’s a critique of the hypervisibility, which Ralph Ellison talked about, that renders blackness completely seen and unseen. Is that part of the negotiation between the figure and its surroundings in your work?

YIADOM-BOAKYE: Maybe I think more about black thought than black bodies. When people ask about the aspect of race in the work, they are looking for very simple or easy answers. Part of it is when you think other people are so different than yourself, you imagine that their thoughts aren’t the same. When I think about thought, I think about how much there is that is common.

But for the artist Dorothea Rockburne, the painting carries a more personal charge. She first met Rauschenberg during their student days at Black Mountain College, the fabled school near Asheville, N.C., that was briefly the epicenter of the American avant-garde. One day, Ms. Rockburne was in the college laundry room unloading her wash from the dryer when she realized that her patchwork quilt was missing. “The next time I saw it was at the Leo Castelli Gallery,” she recently recalled in a tone of disbelief, referring to the public debut of “Bed.” “My first thought was: Son of a bitch! We were close friends.”

A Russian poet named Sergei Gandlevsky once said that in the late Soviet period he became obsessed with hardware-store nomenclature. He loved the word secateurs, for example. Garden shears, that is. Secateurs is a great word. It has a shape. It has weight. It has a function. It is not ambiguous. It is also not a hammer, a rake, or a plow. It is not even scissors. In a world where words were constantly used to mean their opposite, being able to call secateurs “secateurs”—and nothing else—was freedom.

“Freedom,” on the other hand, was, as you know, slavery. That’s Orwell’s 1984. And it is also the USSR, a country that had “laws,” a “constitution,” and even “elections,” also known as the “free expression of citizen will.” The elections, which were mandatory, involved showing up at the so-called polling place, receiving a pre-filled ballot—each office had one name matched to it—and depositing it in the ballot box, out in the open. Again, this was called the “free expression of citizen will.” There was nothing free about it, it did not constitute expression, it had no relationship to citizenship or will because it granted the subject no agency. Calling this ritual either an “election” or the “free expression of citizen will” had a dual effect: it eviscerated the words “election,” “free,” “expression,” “citizen,” and “will,” and it also left the thing itself undescribed. When something cannot be described, it does not become a fact of shared reality. Hundreds of millions of Soviet citizens had an experience of the thing that could not be described, but I would argue that they did not share that experience, because they had no language for doing so. At the same time, an experience that could be accurately described as, say, an “election,” or “free,” had been preemptively discredited because those words had been used to denote something entirely different.

By “images of violence against women,” I mean not just depictions of violent acts but also the kind of forceful partnering that’s become so ubiquitous, so gratuitous, so banal in ballet — the yanking, dragging, prying open of women’s bodies by men — both with and without a narrative pretext. Calling it out, as I did after seeing Angelin Preljocaj’s “La Stravaganza” (1997) for City Ballet in 2014, or Mauro Bigonzetti’s “Cantata” (2000), performed by Gauthier Dance in 2016 — feels as tiresome as watching it, and unpacking its history would take more space than I have here.

… My disappointment with “Odessa” led me to post a photo on Instagram — my favorite place to air an impulsive thought — with the caption “no more gang rape scenes in ballets, please.” (The photo was of my face, looking directly at the camera, wearing what I consider an “over it” kind of expression.) This prompted an expansive thread of comments, including by my colleague Alastair Macaulay, who had reviewed “Odessa” for The New York Times. He asked whether my call for “no more” was a call for censorship: “Must works of art only depict people behaving correctly?”

The answer, of course, is no. If artists want to deal with rape, gang or otherwise, as subject matter, they should, as they should grapple with any difficult issue. But they must really deal with it: Say something. Don’t just toss it in as one more incidental plot twist, one more exquisite thing to behold. Acknowledge its urgency, its complexity and the fact that to many in the audience, it may not be so abstract.

Graffiti castigating the spectacle as “Crapumenta 14” soon appeared. “I refuse to exoticize myself to increase your cultural capital. Signed: The People,” has been a particular favourite. While Giorgos Kaminis, the city’s mayor, maintained Documenta was fantastic for tourism (as Aegean Airlines’ new and fully booked Kassel to Athens route has proved), critics complained that it amounted to the worst kind of crisis tourism.

“There’s anger because they haven’t taken circumstance into account,” says Nadja Argyropoulou, a curator in Athens. “Their theory is beautiful, radical and timely, but they didn’t mingle or take the leap into the everyday or address the reality here. Circumstance is what humbles theory and makes art as important as real life.”

For detractors, Szymczyk had become the embodiment of the corporate, neo-liberal order he professes to abhor, a purveyor of the worst kind of soft German power. Not only was the exhibition abstruse, it had committed the cardinal sin of omitting Greek artists and curators. “There are so many names,” Argyropoulou says. “People who should have been in it but were never approached. But please also write that we want them to succeed. If they fail, it is us who will be left with their ruins of contemporary art – and in a country that is continually looking to its past, with unresolved questions of identity, that would be disastrous.”



  • After looking at 2,000 scripts, 25,000 actors, 4 million lines, and analyzing them by gender, this is what Hanah Anderson and Matt Daniels (writing for the Pudding) found:

For workers who want to take the café’s pizza back to their pods, Apple created (and patented) a container that lets air and moisture escape so the crust won’t get soggy. (via Wired)

After I resigned in April 1990, I wrote a book about my time with him, Trumped: The Inside Story of the Real Donald Trump, His Cunning Rise and Spectacular Fall, in 1991. In the book, I told stories about Trump’s leadership style that would come to echo his presidency years later.

I witnessed him make public phone calls that he insisted were private and use those conversations to humiliate and corner the person on the other end. I witnessed him demand loyalty from those who worked for him. I witnessed him make impulsive decisions as a result of his short attention span.

  • RELATED: Did you know Nixon wrote to Donald Trump in 1987? Presidential historian Michael Beschloss posted this:

Only 40% of voters approve of the job Trump is doing to 54% who disapprove. For the first time we find more voters (48%) in support of impeaching Trump than there are (41%) opposed to the idea. Only 43% of voters think Trump is actually going to end up serving his full term as President, while 45% think he won’t, and 12% aren’t sure one way or the other.

… By an 8 point margin, 49/41, they say they wish Hillary Clinton was President instead of Trump. And by a 16 point margin, 55/39, they say they wish Barack Obama was still in office instead of Trump.

  • And Time Magazine‘s new cover became a topic of discussion on social media. This is probably the funniest take on it:

Or did Time rip off Mad Magazine?

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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