Required Reading

This week, reviewing Civilizations, conserving Edgar Degas’s tutus, tech’s “disruption” of photography, Facebook’s long history of apologies, architects and designers championing afrofutrism, and more.

A site-specific installation by Belgium-based artist Ruben Bellinkx embeds a common houseplant into the walls of galleries and homes. See more images at Colossal. (via Colossal)

This comes quite close to stating that we substitute art for religion – a reasonable argument, perhaps, but it draws attention to one of the main contrasts between Civilisation and Civilisations. The first was written and presented by an art historian, the second by historians who write about art. The difference is perhaps more profound than has been acknowledged.

Using a tactic now known as gastrodiplomacy or culinary diplomacy, the government of Thailand has intentionally bolstered the presence of Thai cuisine outside of Thailand to increase its export and tourism revenues, as well as its prominence on the cultural and diplomatic stages. In 2001, the Thai government established the Global Thai Restaurant Company, Ltd., in an effort to establish at least 3,000 Thai restaurants worldwide. At the time, Thai deputy commerce minister Goanpot Asvinvichit told the Wall Street Journal that the government hoped the chain would be “like the McDonald’s of Thai food.” Apparently, the government had been training chefs at its culinary training facilities to send abroad for the previous decade, but this project formalized and enhanced these efforts significantly.

  • A conservator at the Metropolitan Museum talks about the work that went into preserving the tutu of an Edgar Degas sculpture (via New York Magazine):

Smolan shares that he was paid $300 a day in 1983, while photojournalists today often make $200 a day. If adjusted for inflation, $300 in 1983 has the equivalent buying power as about $765 in today’s money — that’s like an hourly rate of close to $100.

So, who was Giulia Tofana outside of being the prolific creator of a widow-maker poison? In many ways, one of history’s most prolific serial killers remains a mystery. There are no portraits of Giulia. During the mid-1600s, Giulia sold cosmetics in southern Italy — and her special recipes for Aqua Tofana contained enough arsenic to kill without leaving a trace. Her goal was to keep her poison secret so that she could continue to sell the potent concoction. And she managed to fool the authorities for nearly 50 years.

ISIS built a state of administrative efficiency that collected taxes and picked up the garbage. It ran a marriage office that oversaw medical examinations to ensure that couples could have children. It issued birth certificates — printed on Islamic State stationery — to babies born under the caliphate’s black flag. It even ran its own D.M.V.

  • The fantasy of Phoenicia and why so many nations (including the Irish, British, and Lebanese) try to claim it as part of their heritage. One of the problems is that “Phoenicia” never really existed:

All of this, including Smith’s claim, would have surprised the ancient Phoenicians, a disparate set of neighbouring and often warring city-states, cut off from each other for the most part by deep river valleys. They did not see themselves as a single ethnic group or people, the kind that could provide the ‘groundwork’ for a nation. There is no known instance of a Phoenician ever calling themselves a Phoenician, or any other collective term. In their inscriptions, they describe themselves in terms of their individual families and cities. They don’t seem to have had a common culture, either: their dialects fall on a continuum that linked city states across Phoenicia, Syria and Palestine, and the individual ports developed separate civic and artistic cultures, drawing on different foreign examples and relationships: Byblos, for instance, looked more to Egyptian models; Arados to Syrian ones; Sidonian architecture drew on both Greece and Persia; while Tyre cultivated close political and commercial ties with Jerusalem.

Peter Mabeo

This designer and carpenter from Botswana launched his own furniture brand in 2006, and has since worked with designers including Luca Nichetto, Patricia Urquiola and Claesson Koivisto Rune. The brand, named Mabeo, aims to show how African design can appeal to a global market

It’s a strange experience, watching a younger, more innocent version of yourself onscreen. It’s stranger still—surreal, even—watching it with your child when she is much closer in age to that version of yourself than you are. My friend was right: my daughter didn’t really seem to register most of the sex stuff, though she did audibly gasp when she thought I had showed my underwear. At one point in the film, the bad-boy character, John Bender, ducks under the table where my character, Claire, is sitting, to hide from a teacher. While there, he takes the opportunity to peek under Claire’s skirt and, though the audience doesn’t see, it is implied that he touches her inappropriately. I was quick to point out to my daughter that the person in the underwear wasn’t really me, though that clarification seemed inconsequential. We kept watching, and, despite my best intentions to give context to the uncomfortable bits, I didn’t elaborate on what might have gone on under the table. She expressed no curiosity in anything sexual, so I decided to follow her lead, and discuss what seemed to resonate with her more. Maybe I just chickened out.

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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