Required Reading

This week, Koch Brothers and arts funding, touring the National Museum of Taiwan, a monument commemorating the generosity of the Choctaw Nation to the Irish, urbanism and Apple’s new HQ, the mysteries of “bog bodies” unveiled, and more.

A very unique monument is being unveiled in Ireland, according to reporter Naomi O’Leary: “Sculpture to be unveiled in Cork to remember generosity of the Choctaw Nation, Native American tribe that sent famine aid to Ireland in 1847.” It’s by artist Alex Pentek. (via Twitter/NaomiOhReally)

It is impolite, in critical circles, to link the politics of major donors to the cultural institutions they support. Many of our cherished arts organizations were created by Gilded Age plutocrats, yet are no longer tethered to the Darwinian social views of their originators. But cultural organizations exist in a complicated moral world, in which every dollar they collect is a dollar that isn’t being used to ameliorate poverty or cure disease. Most of us tend to deal with this dilemma by arguing that the good done by cultural organizations can’t be quantified and thus it is unwise to place it crudely in the balance with other social needs.

That’s because we think of the good offered by a museum or opera house as a potent but intangible improvement to the general character of the society. They make us better in some way, perhaps more intelligent, or empathetic, or sensitive in ways that increase our capacity to be and do good.

The logic is tenuous, but defensible, at least so long as the world isn’t in a state of extraordinary crisis. But it becomes much more difficult to argue for the arts relative to other social needs when the planet is threatened by wars, plagues, and other calamities, with the survival of civilization itself in the balance.

The other great tradition in Chinese painting is that of the scholar-artists, or ‘literati’, which developed in various guises between the tenth and 16th centuries. They typically painted in a rough, expressive style, using ink sparsely to reflect their aristocratic manners and to dissociate themselves from the paid professionals of the imperial court. Many of them became recluses – it seems to have been the fashion – and spent their days in the mountains, or studying ancient examples of the ‘three perfections’: painting, poetry and calligraphy. They refused to sell their works, preferring to exchange them or give them as gifts. Here, at least, the Palace Museum has a first-rate example on display, Wen Zhengming’s Zhong Kui in a Wintry Grove, a hanging scroll made in 1534. The demon-queller Zhong Kui stands huddled in a leafless forest, the trees sketched with thin, dry brushstrokes. Nature is the animating force in Wen’s paintings, the human figures remain passive, listening to the world around them.

Centuries before landscape became an independent genre in the West, painters in China were finding ways to represent the meeting of the human mind and the natural world. Paying little attention to conventions of perspective and lighting (there are almost no cast shadows in the early works), Chinese painting instead conveys a unique and absorbing sense of time. At the Palace Museum four handscroll paintings are displayed completely unrolled, including the Qing dynasty Gathering of Scholars, painted with great charm and liveliness of detail, and the much earlier Elegant Gathering in the Western Garden, a Ming dynasty scene of Chinese scholars occupying themselves with calligraphy, music, painting and conversation. These scrolls, some of which are eight or nine metres long, were designed to be read from right to left; as you shuffle along the unfolding scenes you lose yourself in the painting.

What a demented thing to say on such a solipsistic, flow-sustaining, unwavy, missionless, momentum-deficient, same-old-place kind of pop album. At best, Perry sounds like she’s trapped in a purgatory, pantomiming progress, giving an endless pep talk to her own reflection. She wants to look out into the world, but she can’t look away from the mirror.

The fitness center has a climbing wall with pre-distressed stone. The concrete edges of the parking lot walls are rounded. The fire suppression systems come from yachts. Craftspeople harvested the wood paneling at the exact time of year the late Steve Jobs demanded—mid-winter—so the sap content wouldn’t be ruinously high. Come on! You don’t want sappy wood panels. This isn’t, like, Microsoft.

You can’t understand a building without looking at what’s around it—its site, as the architects say. From that angle, Apple’s new HQ is a retrograde, literally inward-looking building with contempt for the city where it lives and cities in general. People rightly credit Apple for defining the look and feel of the future; its computers and phones seem like science fiction. But by building a mega-headquarters straight out of the middle of the last century, Apple has exacerbated the already serious problems endemic to 21st-century suburbs like Cupertino—transportation, housing, and economics. Apple Park is an anachronism wrapped in glass, tucked into a neighborhood.

Manning told me her decision to provide the information to WikiLeaks was a practical one: She originally planned to deliver the data to The New York Times or The Washington Post, and for the last week of her leave, she dodged from public phone to public phone, calling the main office lines for both papers, leaving a message for the public editor at The Times and engaging in a frustrating conversation with a Post writer, who said she would have to know more about the files before her editor would sign off on an article. A hastily arranged meeting with Politico, where she hoped to introduce herself to the site’s security bloggers, was scrapped because of bad weather. “I wanted to try to establish a contact in a way that it couldn’t be traced to me,” Manning told me. But she was running out of time. She describes a clearheaded sense of purpose coming over her: “I needed to do something,” she told me. “And I didn’t want anything to stop that.”

On Feb. 3, 2010, Manning signed onto her laptop and, using a secure file-transfer protocol, sent the files to WikiLeaks.

Scholars tend to agree that Tollund Man’s killing was some kind of ritual sacrifice to the gods—perhaps a fertility offering. To the people who put him there, a bog was a special place. While most of Northern Europe lay under a thick canopy of forest, bogs did not. Half earth, half water and open to the heavens, they were borderlands to the beyond. To these people, will-o’-the-wisps—flickering ghostly lights that recede when approached—weren’t the effects of swamp gas caused by rotting vegetation. They were fairies. The thinking goes that Tollund Man’s tomb may have been meant to ensure a kind of soggy immortality for the sacrificial object.

“When he was found in 1950,” says Nielsen, “they made an X-ray of his body and his head, so you can see the brain is quite well-preserved. They autopsied him like you would do an ordinary body, took out his intestines, said, yup it’s all there, and put it back. Today we go about things entirely differently. The questions go on and on.”

Lately, Tollund Man has been enjoying a particularly hectic afterlife. In 2015, he was sent to the Natural History Museum in Paris to run his feet through a microCT scan normally used for fossils. Specialists in ancient DNA have tapped Tollund Man’s femur to try to get a sample of the genetic material. They failed, but they’re not giving up. Next time they’ll use the petrous bone at the base of the skull, which is far denser than the femur and thus a more promising source of DNA.

The arrival of IS was only the “tipping point” of a trend already gathering pace, as Christians experienced an “overall loss of hope for a safe and secure future”, according to the report, produced by Christian charities Open Doors, Served and Middle East Concern.

It noted that, for the Christians who have settled elsewhere, there is “little incentive” to return, with several saying “the Middle East is no longer a home for Christians”. Less than half of the people displaced from the Nineveh Plains, just outside Mosul, are expected to return, according to the report.

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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