Weekend

Required Reading

This week, cultural heritage” and how it benefits the powerful, the Peter Max mess, Naomi Wolf’s “death recorded” mess, the power of nouns, gentrifying Mt. Everest, meme wars, and more.

The new Jishou Art Museum in China is designed by Atelier FCJZ and doubles as a pedestrian bridge. There are more images of this impressive structure on Dezeen. (via Dezeen)

Cases such as Mosul’s highlight a key fact about cultural heritage: it is not primarily about the past – as counterintuitive as that might be. It is about the present. Heritage harnesses the power of the past to justify present social relations, especially relations of power. Governments trample over the lives and needs of individuals and communities, the wealthy convert their dubiously acquired wealth into cultural capital, all in the name of that heritage. And in our conviction that we must protect the remains of the past, the rest of us are often swept up in the enthusiasm. We don’t even question the relatively new idea of cultural heritage – that the remains of history are to be unquestionably treasured as our inheritance from the past and must be preserved in their original state. Or that what typically counts as cultural heritage are major historic buildings and monuments, perfectly suited to be exploited as symbols of the powerful.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Mr. Max was a countercultural icon, a rare painter to achieve name recognition in the mainstream. His psychedelic renderings could be found on the cover of Time, the White House lawn and even a postage stamp. But several years ago, he received a diagnosis of symptoms related to Alzheimer’s, and he now suffers from advanced dementia. Mr. Max, 81, hasn’t painted seriously in four years, according to nine people with direct knowledge of his condition. He doesn’t know what year it is, and he spends most afternoons curled up in a red velvet lounger in his apartment, looking out at the Hudson River.

For some people, Mr. Max’s decline spelled opportunity. His estranged son, Adam, and three business associates took over Mr. Max’s studio, drastically increasing production for a never-ending series of art auctions on cruise ships, even as the artist himself could hardly paint.

  • This photo of the peak of Mount Everest went viral this week, and as one online commenter put it, “we’ve gentrified Mt. Everest.” This story has the details:

The show being celebrated inside, assembled by assistant curator Natasha Matteson, examines the nature of self-representation and self-determination, asking “How does the concept of portraiture shift when categories are in crisis and visibility itself is problematic?” The introduction to the show invokes the biblical story of Esther, who reveals her Jewishness in an attempt to save her people, calling it “an archetypal Jewish story of claiming and declaring the self as one wants to be seen.” It invokes, too, the legacies of legendary French Surrealist artists and lovers Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore who were, rebelliously, openly gender-nonconforming, queer, and Jewish in a 20th century moment where antisemitism and queerantagonisms were at a genocidal fever pitch.

Micah Bazant, a co-organizer of the protest, said: “Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore are such precious ancestors to me as a trans Jewish artist. Their lives and art were decimated by a genocidal occupation — how could we possibly celebrate them in a museum that supports another genocidal occupation?” Echoing this, co-organizer Jordan Reznick wrote to me that “in 1938 Cahun signed the manifesto of the International Federation of Independent Revolutionary Art that stated: ‘There will be no freedom until everyone is free.’ These are the same words we hear from movements today that stand in solidarity with the people of Palestine. When you look at the major funding sources and people in leadership roles at the CJM it is clear that this institution is on the side of genocide and apartheid, not the principles of liberation that Cahun and Moore put their lives on the line for.”

When she went on BBC radio on Thursday, Wolf, the author of Vagina and the forthcoming Outrages: Sex, Censorship, and the Criminalization of Love, probably expected to discuss the historical revelations she’d uncovered her book. But during the interview, broadcaster Matthew Sweet read to Wolf the definition of “death recorded,” a 19th-century English legal term. “Death recorded” means that a convict was pardoned for his crimes rather than given the death sentence.

Wolf thought the term meant execution.

  • The role of memes in the current White House and a fascinating look at how images are transformed online, and how the public spectacle of it all often plays into the Trump administration’s purposes:

Their symbolism may be heavy-handed, but memes are not simple visual messages. Because they are made and remade, memes travel in all sorts of directions. Even memes that seem to lampoon Trump may not communicate that message exactly. Take, for instance, memes that show Trump as a buffoon.

This meme puts Mr. and Mrs. Trump on the couch together, but refigures the president’s persona into Star Wars archenemy Jabba the Hut. Like Princess Leia, Melania is chained by the neck, forced to stay put in a place she never wanted to be.

Yet, these memes don’t amplify concerns about Trump’s misconduct as much as they elicit sympathy for his wife. And up against the Mueller report, these memes broaden available political messaging. Sure, some memes offer pointed critiques of Trump’s intimacy with Putin. But these other images just make us tap into the drama that is the Trump administration. These memes don’t help the case against Trump, but instead offer entertainment and often distraction.

The current debate over intersectionality is really three debates: one based on what academics like Crenshaw actually mean by the term, one based on how activists seeking to eliminate disparities between groups have interpreted the term, and a third on how some conservatives are responding to its use by those activists.

Crenshaw has watched all this with no small measure of surprise. “This is what happens when an idea travels beyond the context and the content,” she said.

Dr Idan, a psycholinguist, knew from previous work that the use of an adjective instead of a noun in a sentence (“Jewish” rather than “Jew”, for example) can shape both judgment and behaviour. Likewise, Dr Reifen-Tagar, a social psychologist, knew from her own earlier research that successful diplomacy often hinges on managing anger in negotiating parties. Putting their heads together, they suspected that employing nouns (“I am in favour of the removal of settlers”), rather than verbs (“I am in favour of removing settlers”), to convey support for policy positions would have a calming effect. The one is more like a statement of an abstract belief. The other is more like a prescription of a course of action and is thus, they hypothesised, more likely to arouse emotions.

Colombia: Francisco Santos, ambassador since 2018

“My staff gives me a hard time about it, but I’m a freak for Taco Bell. I go to the one in Union Station because it’s near the embassy. I chow down. I get Combo #1: a burrito supreme and hard-shell taco with Diet Pepsi and the red packet of salsa — fire, obviously. I went to college at the University of Texas at Austin and began eating Taco Bell there. Now it reminds me of when my life was beginning and everything was new and full of ideas, for days when I have more memories than ideas. I also eat the best beef fajitas in the world at Cactus Cantina because it reminds me of a place, Jorge’s, from Austin.”

Sweden: Karin Olofsdotter, ambassador since 2017

“Mikko has the shrimp open sandwich or mushroom salad, but that’s very Finnish. Every day in Stockholm for lunch I had sushi, so I eat that a lot. Can I tell you a secret? The sushi at Safeway and Whole Foods is very good. I get every fish there, the works. As part of fredagsmys [cozy Fridays] in Sweden, we have tacoskväll [taco night], so I go to Cactus Cantina often on Fridays even though I get chicken fajitas, not tacos. And do you know about the candy wall at Ikea? Swedes have lördagsgodis [Saturday candy]; Saturday is for eating candy. In my house, we eat two pounds of candy every Saturday. That’s a normal amount for a family of four. I will say American Swedish Fish are better than in Sweden, but I eat mormors löständer, like gummy jelly teeth. I started eating those in my 30s. Sometimes people say you have to choose candy or healthy foods. This or that. No. I am a both person.”

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.

comments (0)