Required Reading

This week, Tom of Finland jewelry, TJ Clark on the art of the Russian Revolution, artist Rosemarie Koczy may have been lying about a past in Nazi concentration camps, a war of words over Boyle Heights, a manicure with pimples, and more.

Tom of Finland has collaborated with jeweler Jonathan Johnson to create a nine-piece line of accessories with the expected phallocentric body of work, including his iconic leather daddy character Kake. See more images at Flaunt. (via Flaunt)

Inevitably, the reassembled Malevich installation had too much the appearance of a theme park, clean and well lit – the publicity photos don’t get that wrong. For those of us who had fed for years on the grainy black and whites of the exhibit taken in 1932, the weird warm glow of reality came as a shock. But the room was nonetheless a triumph, a reopened tomb, a definitive counterfactual – in which all the absurd and horrifying improbability of Bolshevik culture came back to outflank the mind. It reminded one, for a start, of the utter unlikelihood of the exhibit’s having happened in the first place, in the last grisly year of the first Five Year Plan. This is not what Stalinist art was (or is) supposed to have looked like. Malevich himself was suspect at the time: he had been recalled from his travels in Western Europe in 1927 and arrested and interrogated three years later. Friends had burned his papers. By 1932 he was poverty-stricken. I doubt we shall ever know the inside story of his being given a room to himself in Leningrad, but it clearly depended in part on the efforts of his friend and supporter Nikolai Punin, who was one of the curators of 15 Years. In a nearby gallery at the Royal Academy there was a wonderful mad portrait of Punin painted by Malevich in 1933, the critic hieratic in Piero della Francesca profile, kitted out in a sporty Suprematist dressing-gown and fez. The picture is signed bottom left with Malevich’s black square. (Punin’s other portrait in the show was saved for the Memorial cube. He died in the Gulag a few months after Stalin. No doubt his enthusiasm for Malevich was a small item on the torturer’s chargesheet.) But the fact that Punin had his way in 1932 – that he dared to try – should make us step back from our usual understanding of art in the moment before the Terror.

Ms. Koczy’s grandfather’s jewelry shop, which she said was destroyed in the Kristallnacht — the night in 1938 when Jewish homes, schools and businesses were ransacked — was untouched by those events, according to Matthias Kordes, the lead archivist in Recklinghausen.

In a telephone interview, Mr. Kordes said that he and his team were astonished to find records that contradicted Ms. Koczy’s account. “The pictures are very impressive, and very dramatic, because the theme of her pictures is death and pain and fright,” he said. “But her life, I’m sorry, it’s a fake.”

On Nov. 7, the German public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk reported that Ms. Koczy had lied about her past, and other news media outlets quickly followed.

Discovering a narrative khipu that can be deciphered remains one of the holy grails of South American anthropology. If we could find such an object, we might be able to read how Native South Americans viewed their history and rituals in their own words, opening a window to a new Andean world of literature, history, and the arts.

The controversial relationship between Queen Victoria and her young, handsome manservant Abdul Karim, has recently been celebrated with the film Victoria and Abdul.

Abdul Karim was hired as a servant in 1887, but soon became ‘Munshi’ or teacher to the Queen, and later her Indian Secretary. The unlikely pair became close friends and confidantes, which scandalized the Queen’s family and circle of advisers. Abdul Karim had a significant impact on Queen Victoria, and incidentally on Victorian British culture and aesthetics more widely. Curry was even on the Queen’s menu for Sunday lunch.

Abdul Karim is a perfect example of the way that history has been edited to remove the presence of non-white communities in Britain. After Victoria’s death, her eldest son and heir, Bertie, exiled Karim to India and ordered for the destruction of all of their photos, documents, and correspondence. It’s only through recent research that this lost figure of English history is getting his rightful place in the history books.

“I spent all my savings,” he said. He had heard of Central Park and wanted to visit to scout performance spaces, but he didn’t know where it was. Someone suggested Washington Square instead, with its tradition of performers.

He bought a waist-high pedestal and hauled it to the park. He applied greenish paint and stood on it, looking like a statue long exposed to the elements.

“I made like $200-something that first day,” he said. “I say, ‘O.K., I am here.’”

What can we learn about how people ate in the seventeenth century? And even if we can piece together historical recipes, can we ever really know what their food tasted like?

This might seem like a relatively unimportant question. For one thing, the senses of other people are always going to be, at some level, unknowable, because they are so deeply subjective. Not only can I not know what Velázquez’s fried eggs tasted like three hundred years ago, I arguably can’t know what my neighbor’s taste like. And why does the question matter, anyway? A very clear case can be made for the importance of the history of medicine and disease, or the histories of slavery, global commerce, warfare, and social change.

By comparison, the taste of food doesn’t seem to have the same stature. Fried eggs don’t change the course of history.

But taste does change history.

  • There are some interesting op-eds about the situation in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, which has become a flashpoint for discussions about the art world and its role in gentrification. They were published in X-TRA, which is a quarterly contemporary art journal. First, the October 12 op-ed by Travis Diehl titled “An Ultra-red Line,” which includes:

The demand that all galleries leave the area is a demand that the citizens of Boyle Heights be allowed to determine the composition of their neighborhood. This absolutism has its mirror image in the discriminatory, racist policies of the Federal Housing Administration that, between 1934 and 1968, made it next to impossible for residents of certain areas to obtain loans. In a practice known as redlining, the Federal Housing Authority produced color-coded maps designating areas as desirable or, in their bare euphemism, “lacking homogeneity.”

And then a response by Nizan Shaked that was published October 17:

Diehl is right to identify that: “In calling their protest a picket, BHAAAD appealed to the morality of class fellows,” but is wrong in the following sentence when, as if speaking for the protestors, he says: “Side with us, your fellow art-workers, they said. Our cause is just, and if you cross this line, you side with our exploiters and subjugators, the abstracters of our wealth.” I am sure the residents of Boyle Heights would love to discover the wealth Diehl attributes to them, for the neighborhood is measured at: “$33,235 median household income (2008 dollars), low for the city of Los Angeles and low for the county.” Diehl’s opinion piece is peppered with the same errors that characterize most of the arguments posed against rapidly growing global anti-gentrification organizing. These mistakes occur when individualistic thinking applies Marxist terminology literally, without understanding the philosophical meaning or economic implications of terms. Under capitalism it is not wealth but rather labor that is abstracted. Labor is rationalized, systematized, unified, and then corralled up by violent enforcement of border regimes for workers; while money, capital, commodities, and all the people who have income and citizenship privileges are afforded free movement. The struggle of the Boyle Heights residents and their protest is material and concrete; it cannot be properly debated with art-writerly metaphors.

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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