Weekend

Required Reading

This week, the first-ever photographs of the dark side of the moon taken from the surface of the natural satellite, athletes and their tattoos are becoming a problem for video games, eating in the Stone Age, Trump as an evangelical Cyrus the Great, and more.

This week, China’s Chang’e 4 spacecraft has sent back the first-ever photographs of the dark side of the Moon taken from the surface of the natural satellite. Cue Pink Floyd. SCMP has more information on the landing. (photo courtesy China National Space Administration)
  • Peter Brown’s review of the Armenia! (no, really, it has an exclamation mark) exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum is the best one for context, and a recommended read. Also, Merry Armenian Christmas to everyone celebrating:

The exhibition is based on a hitherto undreamed-of gathering of Armenian objects of high quality. The exquisitely illuminated pages of complete books—each volume heavy with a distinctive past—line well-lit walls. But less expected are the enormous decorative crosses carved in stone, known in Armenian as khachkars, that once sprouted like so many ranks of giants in the cemeteries and shrines of the Armenian uplands. Here the cross has become, in an Eastern Christian tradition whose roots lay deep in the imaginative world of the ancient Near East, a tree of life. The khachkar would have shimmered as light and shadow played on its lace-like surface, making the deep-carved stone appear as opulent as the woodwork and stucco of great palaces. Each one spoke of a person or a group whose memory, it was hoped, would last as long as the stone stood in its native earth.

The vibrant khachkars hit the eye in the exhibition’s rooms as the manuscripts do not. But they were both produced for the same reason. Behind each lies a heroic determination not to forget. Each manuscript volume carries a colophon—a final comment added by the scribe—that begs the reader to remember him (or her, for we know of at least one woman scribe) as well as the patron and family who had commissioned the book—usually a gospel or a hymnal. Like the khachkars, the manuscripts come from a society in which memory was not simply (as it often is with us) an attic of the mind—a neutral storage space of past events. Memory was loyalty, and forgetfulness was treason

Any creative illustration “fixed in a tangible medium” is eligible for copyright, and, according to the United States Copyright Office, that includes the ink displayed on someone’s skin. What many people don’t realize, legal experts said, is that the copyright is inherently owned by the tattoo artist, not the person with the tattoos.

For most people, that is not a cause for concern. Lawyers generally agree that an implied license allows people to freely display their tattoos in public, including on television broadcasts or magazine covers. But when tattoos are digitally recreated on avatars in sports video games, copyright infringement can become an issue.

  • Christine Tohmé is the powerhouse behind Ashkal Alwan in Beirut, which marks its 25th anniversary this year, and she spoke to Ocula about the challenges ahead:

Q: Although Beirut has always been an unpredictable terrain to work in, do you think that it is possible to foresee or apprehend some of the difficulties ahead? If so, what are they for you and is it even possible for you to draw any contingency plans?

A: Our resilience and growth is not due to speculation or shrewd investment, but rather to our insistence on building and preserving a safe community. We have long been committed to alternative modes of cultivating friendships and networks of solidarity. But what do you do when the artists, cultural practitioners, thinkers, and activists that compose your community are either leaving or being driven out of Beirut? My sense is that fragmentation is among the most significant challenges we will be facing in the coming years. Our response has to be manifold; one way to think through this is to, for example, consider engaging in the production of digital platforms, as opposed to only physical, locally implanted spaces.

The identification of the 45th president with an ancient Middle Eastern potentate isn’t a fringe thing. “The Trump Prophecy” was produced with the help of professors and students at Liberty University, whose president, Jerry Falwell Jr., has been instrumental in rallying evangelical support for Mr. Trump. Jeanine Pirro of Fox News has picked up on the meme, as has Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, among many others.

As the Trump presidency falls under siege on multiple fronts, it has become increasingly clear that the so-called values voters will be among the last to leave the citadel. A lot of attention has been paid to the supposed paradox of evangelicals backing such an imperfect man, but the real problem is that our idea of Christian nationalism hasn’t caught up with the reality. We still buy the line that the hard core of the Christian right is just an interest group working to protect its values. But what we don’t get is that Mr. Trump’s supposedly anti-Christian attributes and anti-democratic attributes are a vital part of his attraction.

Released on Netflix on Dec. 28, “Bandersnatch” charters new territory. Yes, it’s one of the first mainstream attempts at narrative-driven gameplay on a streaming platform. But it’s also potentially the progenitor of a new form of surveillance—one that invades our privacy while wearing the cloak of entertainment.

Instead of just passively watching a movie, the viewers (or players) get to choose what the main character does next. Some choices are seemingly innocent—what music to play, what to eat for breakfast—but then quickly moves on to questions about career decisions, mental-health issues, and even whether to kill other characters.

All this data is collected by Netflix and stored in a secure database. (Though with so many recent hacks of other companies, it can be hard to feel assured.) Your choices are used to improve the gameplay; those seemingly innocent early decisions (like whether you chose Sugar Puffs or Frosties) impact the narrative much later in the story. Without collecting this information, it can’t send you down your personalized journey choose-your-own-adventure journey.

But what happens to your decision data after the credits roll?

Rosenfeld says he first started to see forgeries of work by artists such as Lawrence, Bearden and Horace Pippin “20 to 30 years ago”, when their works first started to appear on the secondary market. Today, Rosenfeld says he often encounters fakes when collectors and institutions contact his gallery seeking the rights to reproduce an image of an artist’s work, often in exhibition literature. This underscores the fact that “collectors and curators need to be cautious”, Rosenfeld warns, adding that he recently encountered this problem in relation to a picture purportedly by Bob Thompson. The artist’s work is in high-profile shows including Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, an exhibition organised by Tate Modern in London, currently on view at the Brooklyn Museum (until 3 February) and travelling to the Broad in Los Angeles in March.

Concerns about the authenticity of several works by Charles White were raised when the Art Institute of Chicago was organising the artist’s first major survey show, a source at the institution says. The exhibition, seen in Chicago last summer, is currently at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (until 13 January) and is due to travel to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (17 February-9 June). This highlights a potential pitfall for museums that organise such exhibitions: any works that are considered questionable are simply excluded from display, which could lead to a distortion of an artist’s true achievements.

According to the FBI special agent Timothy Carpenter, who manages the agency’s art crimes division, “it’s not the first time this issue has come up”, but he adds that the fake works that are surfacing are likely to be small or not of very high value, which may make dealers disinclined to formally report them.

  • LEAH’s recent newsletter discusses “envy,” and they quote a Standford University professor who “claimed that envy is the one taboo that is alive and well in contemporary society — the vice that few will ever talk about or confess to.” And then there’s the role of social media in the equation:

“The envy factor — thanks to social media, general media, and so forth is much greater today than it had been 50 years ago,” he said. “What’s — I think — driving the politics is that today… everybody knows, who watches TV, that other people are doing better than they are.”

Skin tends to be the most visible proof of a person’s accumulated lifestyle, and that only becomes truer as people age. The past few years have been a boom time for skin care, as the oldest Millennials begin their late 30s and start to wrinkle around the eyes. Soon, they’ll need more than just a fancy cream to get results, because skin loses volume as the body ages, no matter how good your products are. That’s when fillers and Botox come in, and when the high prices of those treatments mean class differences are even more easily elucidated by the condition of a person’s skin.

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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