Weekend

Required Reading

This week, dating a museum, trusting Silicon Valley with our common history, a new book on photographer Garry Winogrand, how slaves are depicted in Ancient art, and more.

This oil painting by Sir Stanley Spencer, “Christ Preaching at Cookham Regatta: Punts by the River” (1958) is the star in Sotheby’s upcoming Modern British art auction. According to Sotheby’s: “Inspired by the great painters of the early Italian Renaissance, Spencer’s symbolic realism is played out on a majestic scale that is nonetheless familiar as quintessentially British everyday life. We are thrilled to be presenting this work at auction for the first time, and to put it on public view for the first time since 1961.” (image courtesy Sotheby’s)
  • Writing for the New Yorker, Ayo Edebiri and Olivia Craighead encapsulate the personalities of New York museums quite well in this satirical post about dating a museum:

The New Museum
He’s a found-sound d.j. and is deeply cool and you’re not entirely sure what he sees in you. Whenever you hang out, you’re never totally confident that it’s a date.

And some shade towards the Met:

The Met
Real husband material—he’s not going to be your husband, but goddammit. He’s born-and-bred New York élite and shows you something new every time you get lost in sprawling conversations. But, all of a sudden, he finds out you’re from Kentucky and says that you have to start paying full price for dates. You’re, like, “Excuse me?” And he’s, like, “I’d pay if you were a teacher from New Jersey or Connecticut.” And you’re, like, “But  . . . I’m me! And I’m from Kentucky.” And he’s, like, “Well, are you a senior citizen? Or twelve and under? We could go dutch if you are.” And again, you’re, like, “Seriously, what?”

It’s the paradox of the internet age: Smartphones and social media have created an archive of publicly available information unlike any in human history — an ocean of eyewitness testimony. But while we create almost everything on the internet, we control almost none of it.

In the summer of 2017, observers of the Syrian Civil War realized that YouTube was removing dozens of channels and tens of thousands of videos documenting the conflict. The deletions occurred after YouTube announced that it had deployed “cutting-edge machine learning technology … to identify and remove violent extremism and terrorism-related content.” But the machines went too far.

This in no way redeems Roman slavery over American slavery. Slave systems at any time or place are irrefutably wrong and without redemption. But it does demonstrate that elite Romans had little shame in participating in the institution of slavery or representing slaves and freedpersons in artwork. To my mind, many museums within the U.S. continue to shy away from labels that connect their art to slavery in part because of a continued guilt over the white subjugation of African Americans in early America. And yet transparency and written recognition of our history of oppression of African Americans is a step forward.

Along with detailed analyses of each image, Dyer also, more ambitiously, tries to answer a question that Winogrand asked himself: “How do you make a photograph that’s more interesting than what happened?” Winogrand was adamant that the image always depicted something different from that which was framed. “The photograph isn’t what was photographed. It’s something else. It’s a new fact.”

… Arranging Winogrand’s life and career in a rough chronology, Dyer has portioned his selection so that about one sixth is devoted to the 1950s, when this Bronx-born son of Jewish working-class parents was exploring New York City with his camera, both on assignments from magazines and following his own instincts. Fully two thirds date from the 1960s, when Winogrand was in peak form, hungry each day to match his wits with an unpredictable world as he hit the sidewalk, cramming the era’s pandemonium into his 35mm wide-angle frames with an unrivaled voracity. The 1970s are the least represented here (Winogrand left NYC for good in 1973 and, many believe, was never as great again), while a final one sixth of the book tracks his sad, aimless last years in Los Angeles during the 1980s.

Trump knew he could get away with snookering the ostensibly liberal press Establishment because he’d seen Cohn do so. One of the most memorable examples occurred on Sunday, November 17, 1985 — the same day that Trump was the subject of his own first Mike Wallace 60 Minutes profile. That morning’s Times contained a gentle, reflective interview with the dying Cohn at a “Washington-area hospital” in which it was stated as fact that he was “fighting liver cancer” — a fiction Cohn vehemently maintained, much as Trump now tells staff members that the Access Hollywood tape is a hoax. The unnamed Washington-area hospital was the National Institutes of Health, where the Reagans had helped him cut to the front of the line for AIDS treatment. It was a given under Rosenthal’s editorship that the Times would bring up none of this to protect the criminally hypocritical Cohn, who had threatened closeted gay government officials with exposure in the McCarthy era and loudly fought gay rights ever since. Meanwhile, the star Times columnist William Safire had joined William Buckley Jr. and Barbara Walters among the three dozen celebrated character witnesses opposing Cohn’s disbarment. Trump, however, had distanced himself from his dying mentor, for a while dropping him altogether. “I can’t believe he’s doing this to me,” Cohn said. “Donald pisses ice water.” With the help of a new young factotum, Roger Stone, Cohn’s last favor for Trump may have been securing his sister Maryanne Trump Barry a federal judgeship from the Reagan administration in 1983 despite her having received the tepid Bar Association rating of “qualified.”

  • Studies are showing a “Trump effect” that is making white Americans more hateful:

This post-election surge in hatred has been referred to as “the Trump Effect.” But several studies have suggested the spike in racial animosity pre-dates Trump. For instance, George Washington University political scientist John Sides found that the white working-class voters who had first backed Barack Obama only to vote for Trump in 2016 were already moving toward the Republican Party before the campaign got underway. Sides found that the share of these voters who “perceived that the Democratic Party was to the left of the Republican Party on the issue of how much the government should help improve the status of African Americans grew dramatically over the Obama years.” Obama, Sides told me last year, “was clarifying on this issue, and that may have hastened their departure from the Democratic Party.” And a study by Mara Cecilia Ostfeld that was published last week in the journal Political Behavior similarly concluded that “as White Democrats learn about Democratic outreach to Latinos, they become less supportive of Democrats.”

This demand that people who challenge things like racism or colonialism or oppression just aren’t grateful is a toxic one. It breeds a type of contempt that ensures you can never win. If I am complaining about colonialism and can’t even say thank you for the railways, then the chip is on my shoulder, the problem is mine.

Toni Morrison once said: “The function, the very serious function, of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being.” Indeed, if I mention the evils of the British Empire, someone will tell me about the horrors of another empire. If I tell them Churchill starved the Bengalis, there will be another comparison. It stops us from having the necessary national conversation about the British Empire.

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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