Weekend

Required Reading

This week, Murakami and Kanye, museums confronting colonialism, André Leon Talley talks race, the Enlightenment’s racism, winning a house in Detroit, Falz’s This Is Nigeria, and more.

Kanye West & Kid Cudi’s new Kids See Ghosts album has a Takashi Murakami cover. According to the artist, the image of the background picture is based on Katsushika Hokusai’s Mt. Fuji. This isn’t the Japanese artist’s first work to appear on a Kanye project, Murakami designed the cover art for West’s 2007 album, Graduation. (image via @takashipom‘s Instagram feed)
  • Sianne Ngai writes about cuteness — it’s from a passage from her new book Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting — and there’s this powerful quote:

Revolving around the desire for an ever more intimate, ever more sensuous relation to objects already regarded as familiar and unthreatening, cuteness is not just an aestheticization but an eroticization of powerlessness, evoking tenderness for “small things” but also, sometimes, a desire to belittle or diminish them further.

But as the Brooklyn, Liverpool and Birmingham cases highlight, decolonizing cultural institutions is not straightforward. Their attempts suggest that the key issue at this early stage is a lack of understanding about what decolonizing an institution means, and what it entails. A genuinely decolonial approach would see museums interrogate their positions as apparently objective caretakers of non-Western objects and artefacts. The assumption of Western objectivity is not only divorced from the material conditions in which those objects have come to be “owned” by Western knowledge – knowledge informed by a history of contact on unequal terms  – but it also instantiates the exceptionalism with which Western cultures have felt entitled to the final, objective say on other cultures.

  • Former Hyperallergic editor Jillian Steinhauer talks to artist Chloë Bass about her current The Book of Everyday Instruction exhibition. It’s an extensive conversation about empathy, relationships, audiences, and more. She also explains her big “art moment”:

My most striking art moment as a kid was, Rebecca Horn had a major show at the Guggenheim. This was the early ’90s. I was little, and in the oculus of the Guggenheim she had her exploding piano sculpture. I don’t remember the title, but it’s so incredible and it makes this huge sound. Every 15 minutes this piano would explode, and it’s like, “I want to do that. That’s what I want to do with my life: I want to put exploding pianos hanging from the ceilings of buildings, but not if I have to learn to draw.” It’s a bummer—I actually do now wish I knew how to draw.

The German-born Uffizi director began rehanging the museum’s headliners in October 2016 — his predecessor Antonio Natali also made changes in the museum — with a rearrangement of the rooms for Botticelli and other late-15th-century artists. In February this year, the Uffizi opened nine rooms dedicated to Caravaggio, his followers and other 17th-century masters, including Rembrandt and Rubens. The following month the museum refurbished rooms containing works by Bernini to Goya.

The psychopathic algorithm was created by a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as part of an experiment to see what training AI on data from “the dark corners of the net” would do to its world view.

For much of his career, Talley didn’t discuss race. He didn’t refuse to engage on the subject; he implied that he couldn’t engage because he didn’t give it all that much thought. Besides, what was there to say? In the New Yorker profile, writer Hilton Als described a lunch in Paris hosted by Talley during which a French socialite referred to him by the n-word, not surreptitiously, but frankly. “Several people laughed, loudly. None laughed louder than André Leon Talley,” Als wrote. “But it seemed to me that a couple of things happened before he started laughing: he shuttered his eyes, his grin grew larger, and his back went rigid, as he saw his belief in the durability of glamour and allure shatter before him in a million glistening bits. Talley attempted to pick those pieces up.”

To say that “race” and “racism” are products of the Enlightenment is not to say that humans never held slaves or otherwise classified each other prior to the 18th century. Recent scholarship shows how proto- and early forms of modern race thinking (you could call them racialism) existed in medieval Europe, with near-modern forms taking shape in the 15th and 16th centuries. In Spain, for example, we see the turn from anti-Judaism to anti-Semitism, where Jewish ancestry itself was grounds for suspicion, versus Jewish practice. And as historian George Fredrickson notes in Racism: A Short History, “the prejudice and discrimination directed at the Irish on one side of Europe and certain Slavic peoples on the other foreshadowed the dichotomy between civilization and savagery that would characterize imperial expansion beyond the European continent.” One can find nascent forms of all of these ideas in antiquity—indeed, early modern thinkers drew from all of these sources to build our notion of race.

  • The issue of diversity (economic, ethnic, etc.) in the newsroom is real (duh!). An article looks at the problem and asks some tough questions about how the wealthy and privileged have dominated the field (I can tell you as an art critic and arts editor, my experience is it’s worse in the arts, where privilege is often reinforced and masked through exclusion and discussions about ‘quality’ and ‘experience.’):

A 2013 study by the Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project found that in 52 major newsrooms, poverty accounted for less than 1 percent of coverage every year from 2007 to 2012. “Journalists are drawn more to people making things happen than those struggling to pay bills; poverty is not considered a beat; neither advertisers nor readers are likely to demand more coverage, so neither will editors; and poverty stories are almost always enterprise work, requiring extra time and commitment,” Dan Froomkin wrote for the Nieman Center. Journalists who cover class exclusively, or as part of an intersecting beat like gender or racial justice, tell me they sometimes have to convince editors that their stories are even newsworthy.

This thread reflects on the issue and has some good observations:

Oh, and this amazing response to eating unwashed warthog rectum:

Several months later, I packed a suitcase and moved to a city with a well-known reputation. Detroit had given the world Motown and put it on wheels, but was also notorious for its high crime rates and government mismanagement, which drove the city to bankruptcy. I learned to filter out both the look of shock on people’s faces when I told them where I was moving and the polarizing online comments left on every piece ever written about Detroit. I was determined to discover the complicated yet vibrant city on my own terms.

Born to Iranian parents of Armenian descent in Tehran, I came to the U.S. as a refugee in 1988. A familial history tied up in genocide, war, and political turmoil helped redefine my concept of home into one that was ambiguous and constantly changing. Now it was my turn to contribute a new chapter to this staggered past in yet another unfamiliar place. I arrived in Detroit in winter as snow fell, illuminating the hollowed-out buildings that dotted the landscape. They were a stark contrast to a rapidly developing downtown at the center of a constant debate, straddling revitalization and gentrification. Detroit was in transition, and so was I.

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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