Required Reading

This week, emoji chocolate, museums and toxic money, Eli Valley on drawing dystopia, bingeing on Game of Thrones, and more.

Hershey’s has redesigned one of their chocolate bars for the first time in 125 years. They’ve decided to add some of the most popular emojis to their iconic grid. (via Eater)

Are museums, opera houses, food pantries and other nonprofits to be held responsible for how their donors have made their money? It is a question being asked more and more as a century-old taboo shatters.

“No amount of charity in spending such fortunes can compensate in any way for the misconduct in acquiring them,” Theodore Roosevelt said after John D. Rockefeller proposed starting a foundation in 1909. It was not a lonely thought at the time.

I am constantly asking myself these questions: Why does the decolonization of museums matter? Why do I continue to visit these colonized spaces knowing they rest comfortably in their resistance to change? I see museums as liminal spaces.  The word “liminal” comes from the Latin root, limen, which means “threshold.” The liminal space is the “crossing over” where you have left something behind, yet you are not yet fully in something else. When museums operate in their full liminal potential they are able to tell non-binary histories. For US museums this means acknowledging colonialism, imperialism and white supremacy while also striving towards a decolonialized future.

While I’m not certain all institutions have this potential, I believe art and cultural institutions do because many of their mission statements already lean in this direction—but too often they do not have the internal institutional courage to move from polite social justice talk to radical decolonized action. This is why it is critical that the public continue to apply pressure to power, so institutional leaders do not become complacent or complicit. I stand in the Black radical tradition of hope. I believe it is possible for art institutions to serve as a  zone between the “what was” and “ the next.” What was, is a dark history of colonization and human exploitation. The next, is a decolonized world. It is coming whether the keepers of colonization want it or not.

So, how do you hang paintings on cast concrete?

Suspending pictures on wires secured to a high picture rail, as Victorians sometimes did, doesn’t do the trick. In earthquake country, the last thing you want when a temblor hits is for your suspended Georges de La Tour masterpiece to start slapping against the wall.

Drilling is the answer.

To confirm that assumption, I checked with a number of preparators with extensive experience installing paintings in art museums, commercial galleries and homes. When I explained my question, most groaned. All had essentially the same explanation.

  • Cartoonist Eli Valley spoke at Stanford University, at the invitation of Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voices for Peace, and it is a must-see. The talk is titled “Drawing the Dystopia” (Valley, for those who don’t know, was publicly criticism by Meghan McCain and other elite media figures for drawing “anti-semitic” comics):

Possessed by Memory begins with an epigraph by the divine Oscar Wilde from his essay “The Critic as Artist,” in which he speaks of “the highest criticism” being “a record of one’s soul” and “the spiritual moods and imaginative passions of the mind.” I think of how Wilde and Pater swerved from the prevailing critical ethos to make it new. In their departure from their predecessors, they honed their own aesthetic. You see these swervings and disruptions in English-language criticism: Coleridge moving away from Dryden and Johnson, Arnold from Coleridge, Eliot and Empson attempting to disrupt and correct Arnold while simultaneously taking from him. Your own critical program began with a focus on the Romantic poets, on making new paths from the likes of M. H. Abrams and Northrop Frye. Then you veered into the work that became your life’s mission: the elucidation of influence. To what extent were you conscious of needing to swerve from or to disrupt your own potent predecessors?

I had a bad nightmare on July 11, 1967, following my 37th birthday. I have written about this elsewhere. The next morning I came down to breakfast and began to scribble a long dithyramb that I called “The Covering Cherub or Poetic Influence.” I kept at it for another day or two, and it became, in time, much revised, the opening chapter in The Anxiety of Influence, published January 5, 1973. The original text was printed by John Hollander in his selection of my work called Poetics of Influence. I was sadly amused when Northrop Frye told mutual friends that he could not read the book because it was all about him. It is not. Nor is it about my humane mentors M. H. Abrams and Frederick A. Pottle. After years of meditation I have come to believe that the Covering Cherub, a figure out of Ezekiel and Blake, was smothering me with the massive heft of all the poems I had read, loved, remembered. If I have a potent precursor, it would have to be Dr. Samuel Johnson. I am a good schoolteacher: he is beyond me and beyond disruption. Had I followed family tradition, I would have become a rabbi. Instead, I am a secular rabbi like those celebrated by Wallace Stevens. I teach Shakespeare as scripture. When I teach Poetic Influence, in some ways I vanish, and in some modes I am exalted.

  • Ma Duanlin, the 14th-century historian and government minister, explains what was sold in the markets of China as a result of the Silk Road:

From Tiaozhi [Babylonia] west, crossing the sea, you make a crooked journey, ten thousand li. This country is even and upright; human dwellings are scattered over it like stars. Its territory amounts to a thousand li from east to west and from north to south. It contains over four hundred cities and several tens of small tributary states. In the west there is the Great Sea [the Mediterranean]. On the west of the sea there is the royal city of Ali-san [Alexandria]. They have keepers of official records and foreigners trained in reading their writings. They cut their hair and wear embroidered clothing. They also have small carriages with white canopies, and hoist flags, etc. The country contains many lions, which are a great scourge to travelers; for unless going in caravans of over a hundred men and being protected by military equipment, they will be hurt by them.

Related: The rise and fall of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar.

In little more than a month, I absorbed the show’s abysmal cruelty and rousing bellicosity but also its ethereal tenderness, gallows wit, and thrillingly robust sexual hunger (I’d like to note what the lust-bucket kingdom of Dorne rhymes with). And given the dismal wonder lavished on the brown characters — a collection of either worshipful, sniveling, savage, or largely faceless, voiceless, and penis-less human sacrifices — there was plenty of time to consider whether the men who made this show were really the best people to speculate (courtesy of a reportedly still-in-the-works HBO series), about a United States in which slavery was never abolished.

And once there are no more books to adapt, most of the detailed discourse and sophisticated depiction of brinkmanship, backstabbing and governance vanish. The gradual shift from William Shakespeare to George Romero feels irreversible, like the kind of TV that comes more naturally to the makers of this show.

Parents who named their children Khaleesi respond to Daenerys becoming The Mad Queen.

The display of waste was mesmerising and sickening, as in reaching and overstepping suddenly a limit. The same day the UN published a scientific survey that certified that because of human greed, excess, waste and abuse of our habitat we will lose one million species; animals, trees, plants and foods.

When the flush gates were opened and the vomiting waste of wealth gushed onto the pink carpet a violent sense of anger engulfed me, of a magnitude that I have never experienced.

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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