Weekend

Required Reading

This week, the Venice Biennale opens, the end of the American century, fashion for disabled individuals, the art of Devan Shimoyama, and more.

Yin Xiuzen’s large “Trojan” (2016–17) is made of used clothes on a steel frame. It is one of the most eye-catching works at the 2019 Venice Biennale that opens this weekend. (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

We need these institutions, which include our art museums, to be proactive alternative environments, in which standardized power hierarchies are dissolved, a poly-cultural range of voices speak, the history of art is truthfully told, and truth itself is understood as an always-developing story.

Holbrooke’s immense ambition was reflected in desperate calls to presidents and their closest advisers when big appointments were being made, efforts to be on the right aircraft and at the right meeting, the leaking of snippets of information to journalists about key policy developments, and constant attempts to ensure he appeared in a favourable light, no matter if this involved sidelining colleagues. This meant he could not forge effective working relations with colleagues, even when there was agreement on policy. When he visited China in 1978 with Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter’s national security adviser, seeking to normalise US relations with the country, he was treated brutally and excluded at every turn. The most poignant account in the book is of his friendship with Tony Lake, who arrived in Vietnam at about the same time as him. The friendship ended when Holbrooke had a brief fling with Lake’s wife, which helped destroy his first marriage, though not Lake’s. Thereafter, their careers ran in parallel, with Lake becoming Clinton’s national security adviser. While their world-views remained similar they could never again form an effective partnership.

Logan’s most repeated point is that Vuong’s poetry fails to induce feelings of pain appropriate to what Logan imagines about Vuong’s history. A refugee, a descendant of war, a fatherless man living between two nations, surely his poems should indulge in the “rougher memories” that must comprise his actual life. Perhaps it’s better to say that Vuong does not articulate this pain in a way that Logan recognizes, since Logan also argues that Vuong’s response to war’s effects on his family are not affectively horrifying enough: “the debt incurred,” he writes of Vuong’s poetry, “should demand something like Heart of Darkness.” Heart of Darkness is an illuminating choice of texts, as Heart of Darkness was the basis for Apocalypse Now, Coppola’s much-lauded film about the Vietnam War that focused on the moral crimes and physical suffering of American soldiers at the visual expense of the Vietnamese and Cambodians, who are portrayed—to an individual—as voiceless, primitive savages. In that, Apocalypse Now is most true to Heart of Darkness, which similarly trains its gaze on the horrific acts committed by European imperialists while simultaneously trying to rescue the standing of Europeans by taking seriously their moral flaws, indications—apparently—of whiteness’ psychological complexity. All the while, the voiceless Congolese are summarily slaughtered. Logan, if he’d read Viet Thanh Nguyen’s novel The Sympathizer and its artful skewering of both Coppola’s film and, by implication, Conrad’s text, might realize some Vietnamese and Asian American artists would find that particular novel, recalling as it does that particular film, a dubious aesthetic standard to attain.

Between 1955 and 1976, nearly thirty of the United States’ top clothing designers created garments to fit disabled bodies under the Functional Fashions line. Brands ranged from high-end sportswear to everyday labels. Leading the charge was designer Helen Cookman, whose own disability was hearing loss. During a research residency with Dr. Howard Rusk at New York University’s Institute of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Cookman recognized a need and a business opportunity: beautiful clothes with features for the millions of Americans living with disabilities. At the Institute, Cookman co-authored Functional Fashions for the Physically Handicapped and developed a sample collection. With New York Times Style Editor Virginia Pope, she then created the Clothing Research and Development Foundation to run Functional Fashions. The clothing line included Cookman’s own collection, garments by other designers with Cookman’s innovative features, and outfits already deemed “functional.” The line ended when Cookman and Pope passed away and has since been largely forgotten.

The queer Trinidadian-Japanese Shimoyama was born in 1989. He grew up in Philadelphia and received a master’s degree in painting and printmaking from the Yale School of Art in 2014. The Warhol show focused in part on his campy mythological self-portraits, such as Daphne (2015), in which he appears as the minor Greek goddess in a palette of greens and with eighteen eyes. In the myth, Daphne was the master of her own fate, metamorphosing into a laurel tree to escape Apollo’s sexual advances; in Shimoyama’s painting, he recasts himself as the nymph to show desires for the queer black body that elude the presumptions of the heterosexist gaze. Shimoyama’s lush, surreal compositions—such as He Loves Me (Not) (2016) and Butterfly Eater (2017)—conjure up the oeuvre of Chris Ofili; they also bring to mind the deeply imaginative and intimate black worlds in the recent drawings of Toyin Ojih Odutola and paintings of Lynette Yiadom-Boakye.

The study said the 2,624-year-old tree indicates that bald cypress comes in fifth on the worldwide list of tree species with the oldest individual, sexually reproducing, non-clonal trees. The oldest is a Great Basin bristlecone pine in Nevada dated at 4,900 years, based on a list compiled by Rocky Mountain Tree-Ring Research in Fort Collins, Colo. Stahle said that means only four other tree species on Earth are known to include individual trees capable of living longer than the cypress at Black River.

To understand how the shared meal became lesbian canon, we have to return to a time before marriage equality and Ellen, before even Stonewall, to a small house in San Francisco. In 1955, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, a couple who had been living together since 1953, asked a pivotal question: Where are all the lesbians? There were plenty of gay people in 1950s San Francisco. They had migrated to the city in droves after the War, leaving Midwestern towns or the battlefields of Europe to seek community and freedom. The emerging gay and lesbian establishments of the city’s North Beach neighborhood, such as The Paper Doll and The Tin Angel, were full of them.

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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