Weekend

Required Reading

This week, Ernesto Neto’s new crocheted tree, reviewing Picasso in 1932, considering the park around Eero Saarinen’s famous arch, the reality of open office plans, Hannah Arendt on refugees, social media happiness, and more.

Ernesto Neto’s “GaiaMotherTree” (2018) at Zurich Main Station and there are more images on Colossal (photo by Mark Niedermann, via Colossal)

The justification for this survey of a single year is made in a nod to Picasso’s biographer, John Richardson, who described 1931-32 as his annus mirabilis. It was a hugely productive year, in part because of the new work Picasso was creating for the retrospective, in part, it’s claimed, because of his relationship with the 22-year-old Marie-Thérèse Walter, whom he had met in 1927. She serves as probable model or muse for many of the images of women among the 120 paintings at Tate – there are also sculptures, photographs and documents – and is recognisable by her blonde hair and strong nose. Certain preoccupations recur across the year, most notably different treatments of the female form: the furious, needle-toothed harpy in The Woman with a Dagger, Picasso’s reimagining of David’s The Death of Marat; serene classical busts with engorged, proboscis-like noses in the sculptures produced at his studio at Boisgeloup; disembodied assemblages of abstract volumes, floating in space; languorous, reclining odalisques, lost in sleep or contemplation. Many of the paintings demonstrate a new, exuberant use of colour; others, such as the full-size charcoal drawings on canvas, rely entirely and thrillingly on line – a formidable display of draughtsmanship.

But while generations of St. Louis leaders supported the Arch, the Arch never embraced St. Louis. An artifact of the highway-building era, a product of eminent domain, the ground at its feet was designed so that you, vacationing tourist, you, suburban visitor, could drive in and drive out. It is easy to argue that now we know better. But we knew better all along. When Ada Louise Huxtable visited St. Louis in 1976, she wrote:

The promised revitalization, in the sense of a downtown of pedestrian scale, alive with people and activities, has never materialized. There are busloads of tourists for the Arch, and cars come and go for events at the stadium, with block‐long garages filling and emptying, but no one lingers because there is nothing to linger for. It is a dull, desolate, computerized commercial landscape.

At that time, she was hopeful about a few new downtown buildings near the Old Courthouse (itself almost lost to the 1940s bulldozer removal that took out a swath of cast-iron industrial architecture), by Philip Johnson and John Burgee and Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum, that “make the first real attempt to relate to their surroundings and to suggest human use.” She was wrong about their success and wrong, in fact, that buildings could solve the problem. What St. Louis actually needed was parks.

Importantly, the new study also found that when spatial boundaries disappeared, employees didn’t simply take their usual in-person exchanges online. Rather, they began emailing more with some people and communicating less with others. In other words, an open office can reconfigure employee networks, which obviously can change the way teams work.

Bernstein believes the new study reinforces an existing argument that says intermittent social interactions, rather than constant ones, optimize our ability to work out complex problems. Spatial boundaries, he writes, help people “make sense of their environment by modularizing it, clarifying who is watching and who is not, who has information and who does not, who belongs and who does not, who controls what and who does not, to whom one answers and to whom one does not.”

Arendt identified statelessness with the refugee question or the “existence of ever-growing new people … who live outside the pale of law.” She explained how these new refugees were persecuted “because of what they unchangeably were – born into the wrong kind of race or the wrong kind of class or drafted by the wrong kind of government.”

Without legally enforceable rights they were treated as less than human, forced to live under what Arendt called conditions of “absolute lawlessness.” Even if they were fed, clothed and housed by some public or private agency, their lives were being prolonged by charity, not rights. No law existed that could have forced the nations of the world to feed or house them.

  • I love histories of local galleries and the University of Michigan Museum of Art is mounting an exhibition devoted to the history of Detroit’s Gertrude Kasle Gallery. Why was that space important? Writing for the Detroit Art Review, Jonathan Rinck explains:

In 1965, Gertrude Kasle established a gallery in Detroit’s Fischer Building with the intent of introducing the New York School of abstract expressionism to the Midwest. The gallery lasted for 11 years, during which she acquired and exhibited works by luminaries such as Willem de Kooning, Robert Rauschenberg, and Grace Hartigan.  An alumnus of the University of Michigan, Kastle subsequently donated her muscular collection of American postwar art to the university’s art museum, and through July 22, Exercising the Eye celebrates Kasle’s visionary, connoisseurial eye.

  • I’ll let this title speak for itself:

China Is Forcing People To Download An App That Tells Them To Delete “Dangerous” Photos

During these years in the small-talk wilderness, I also wondered why Americans valued friendliness with commerce so much. Was handing over cash the sacred rite of American capitalism—and of American life? On a day that I don’t spend money in America, I feel oddly depressed. It’s my main form of social interaction—as it is for millions of Americans who live alone or away from their families.

Racialized seeing describes our capacity to register with social violence enacted upon subjects that exist outside of whiteness. The endurance of this kind of Holocaust rhetoric thus emerges from our disbelief that such violence could ever be enacted against bodies we presently code as white.

The analogy becomes easy and even necessary to make when the government itself offers it freely. Sean Spicer’s Freudian slip that Hitler did not use gas “on his own people” was no mere gaffe: it revealed a shared logic of white biological citizenship. Tens of thousands of the Jewish people killed in the Holocaust were German citizens. But per Nazi racial policy, they were not and could never be German. The 1930s American immigration regime, bolstered by widely circulated eugenicist policy, buttressed these Nazi claims of a biologically essentialized citizenship, as did the American rejection of thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing Europe.

  • According to the Economist, nearly 63% of Instagram users report being miserable, a higher share than for any other social network:

It’s a very bleak suggestion, that the failures of a parent might have such tragic consequences. But according to the movie’s thesis, it’s also an uplifting one. If Eddy’s family was a driver of his tragic fate, the film suggests, then Bobby’s family was just as much the driver of his happier ending, and so with David’s, too. Their childhoods had saved them. “I believe that nature and nurture both matter,” David’s aunt tells Wardle in the movie’s closing moments, “but I think that nurture can overcome nearly everything.”

… and shocking:

Shinseki uncovered a crucial confidential memo from Bernard, written in 1978, that helps explain how the study came to be. Bernard had been telling the adoption agency to separate its twins even in the 1950s, before the study ever started. (It seems the secret study only piggybacked on this pre-existing policy.) That way, the psychiatrist explained, “early mothering would be less burdened and divided and the child’s developing individuality would be facilitated.” This theory was not well-founded in the research of the time, and in retrospect it’s total bunk. Then again, it’s also true that Louise Wise Services was not the only place that split up siblings—even identical twins—for adoption. Separated twin-pairs may be rare, but they’re not unheard of. An important retrospective study, run out of the University of Minnesota between 1979 and 1999, would draw on data from 137 sets of volunteers—twins who’d been reared apart and later reunited. (Even if Bernard and Neubauer’s study were eventually made public, it’s hard to figure how its sample of participants—almost certainly few in number—would tell us anything that we didn’t know already. The Minnesota study, and others have its kind, have already yielded loads of useful data on the nature-versus-nurture question.)

The brutalisation of American life is nowhere more apparent than at the border with Mexico, where children were wrenched from their mothers’ arms by immigration officials and moved to detention centres in 17 states. (The Trump administration asked the Pentagon to prepare 20,000 beds for undocumented immigrants in military bases.) And though Trump rescinded the order, more than 2000 children – some as young as a few months old – have yet to be reunited with their families. Obama sang the praises of American multiculturalism but deported more undocumented immigrants than any previous president. Now Trump has stripped Obama’s policy of its already threadbare human face.

Whether American institutions would be resilient enough to resist Trump was one of the questions raised by his victory. We received a bleak answer last week from the Supreme Court, which voted by 5-4 both to weaken the collective bargaining power of public unions and to uphold the Muslim travel ban. Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees was a striking example of the topsy-turvy logic of Trump world, invoking the First Amendment right to free speech against the right of public unions to collect dues from non-members.

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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