Weekend

Required Reading

This week, the cost of doing scholarly work in art history, how novelist Jonathan Franzen avoided jury duty, an alternative Latin American reading list, Lana Del Rey criticizes a critic, Washington’s “Iran Expert” problem, and more.

Unveiled ahead of the Frankfurt Motor Show 2019, the Lamborghini Sián is, according to the Italian automaker, their first hybrid supercar and their “fastest Lamborghini of all time.” More images and info at Dezeen (via Dezeen)

4. Buying high-resolution images for publication. Publishers demand 300 dpi digital images for publication. The directorate at the Royal Library in The Hague believes that the public already owns the collection items and should not have to pay for them twice. Yet other institutions charge enormous fees for high-res images, such as Stockholm’s Royal Library, where a single image costs SKr1,500 (£143.80). I received a recent order from the Bodleian Library in Oxford for images totalling £4,753.38 for my next book, about deliberate and inadvertent damage in manuscripts. Because the work usually involves showing the damage in its context, most of the order consists of two-page spreads. The shots cost £17.20 apiece, and the library insists that each side of the opening must be photographed separately.
Of the 1,419 images I have published since 2011, I was given 70 by my former professor, James Marrow, and 20 were provided free by curators (largely from German, Dutch and French libraries). About 366 came from the Royal Library in The Netherlands, where the images cost only €5 apiece. But that leaves around 963 that I paid for myself, at a conservatively estimated average cost of £25 per image, totalling more than £24,000 out of pocket. (If I’d had to pay at the rate charged by the Swedish Royal Library, my bill for high-resolution images alone would have been £204,052.20.)

A climactic moment in “Witch” centers on another female character — a nearly invisible maid, played by Vella Lovell. The man to whom she’s secretly married betrays her three times, as money and power are dangled within his reach. With each betrayal, the women scattered throughout the audience gasped in unison, louder and louder with each successive shock.

And after the third gasp, we all laughed together — maybe because we felt such delight in letting ourselves get swept up in the moment, or maybe because we heard how many others felt exactly the same way. What a joyful few seconds it was, to feel understood not only by a piece of art but by one another.

Then an older man seated behind me said loudly, “It’s just a play, folks. Relax!”

I turned around and caught a glimpse of him, smiling so smugly, his palm resting in his wife’s hands.

  • Thomas Heatherwick, the designer of the hideous tourist trap that is the Vessel, has words for the critics of his design and it makes him sound like just another 1% fool:

“It’s fine to not like it,” said the British designer. “But the thing that should be appreciated is the ambition of people to say ‘yes’ to making ideas really happen.”

I guess that’s how he sleeps at night.

If you have to read: Beowulf

Try: Popol Vuh

Just as the Brits have their ancient epic poetry, so does Latin America have the Popol Vuh, a narrative by the K’iche’ people of (present-day) Guatemala telling their creation myths, and tales of warriors and heroes. Written down by a visiting missionary in about 1550, the Popol Vuh is one of the only remaining traces of what was once a vibrant oral tradition of storytelling in pre-Columbian America.

  • Musician Lana Del Rey was reviewed by esteemed critic Ann Powers, who wrote a generally favorable review, even if it had the bite that all good reviews have. Well, Del Rey wasn’t happy and criticized the critic on Twitter. Thankfully other critics and music lovers came to Powers’s defense. The LA Times has the whole story:

In a statement to The Times Thursday, Powers defended her thoughts on the album and said she felt no ill will toward Del Rey, wishing her continued success.

“It is a critic’s responsibility to be thoughtful and honest to herself in responding to artists’ work, and an artist’s prerogative to disagree with that response,” Powers said. “I respect Lana Del Rey and hope that her music continues to receive the passionate appreciation it has received for years.”

Powers’ deep dive lauded the album as containing “Del Rey’s most artfully constructed narratives, extending the arc of apparent self-realization also evident in widely framed narratives that stood out on her previous album.” But among the praise, Powers also noted the music’s “needy,” “disempowered,” “self-sabotaging” and “unwoke” tones.

  • Skye Arundhati Thomas says the art world has to wake up to the situation in Kashmir, which is an odd way to frame it, but this point is becoming far too common in conflict regions around the world:

Disturbingly, neither public nor private Indian arts institutions have made any comment on the situation. A few artists have made public statements, and fewer still have taken direct action. This is unsettling, given that many Indian artists draw from Kashmiri politics and history to make work. Inder Salim, a New Delhi-based Kashmiri performance artist, filed a 200-page petition with the supreme court, along with journalist Satish Jacob. They challenged the presidential orders that revoked 370 and 35A and argued that the democratic process was not duly followed in this unilateral decision-making, since Kashmir was not given the chance to deliberate on the outcome per its constitutional right. To quote from their petition: ‘The Union of India acted upon a well-thought out stratagem, cleverly devised with the specific intent of evading mandatory constitutional requirements, invading settled rights of constitutional bodies and brazenly defiling and defacing the federal constitutional scheme.’

The former Quillette writer represents a new kind of perfidious pseudo-journalist born of the social media age who was granted a professional respectability he didn’t deserve. But there will be others like him, and journalists need to be more vigilant.

270 Park Avenue is being demolished as you read this. It’s the tallest building ever demolished on purpose, the tallest building ever designed by a woman architect, and was completely rebuilt to LEED Platinum standards in 2011, where just about everything but the frame was replaced, so it is essentially 8 years old. Much of it probably isn’t out of warranty. According to a basic carbon calculator, its embodied carbon in the building amounts to 64,070 metric tonnes, equivalent to driving 13,900 cars for a year.

That’s roughly the amount of carbon dioxide that will be emitted in the next few years building the first 2,400,352 square feet of the new building replacing 270 Park Avenue, the upfront carbon emissions released making the steel, glass, concrete and other materials sitting there right now.

… Some architects, like Waugh Thistleton, have decided not to take any more work that they can’t build out of sustainable materials like wood. My favourite architects these days, Architype, use thatch, straw and wood and cork to build schools, not airports.

Meanwhile, those analysts who can offer well-researched, in-depth, and specialized assessments of Iran are often ignored in Washington as “too esoteric,” or worse, vilified as “regime apologists.” As an Iranian-American analyst who consistently works on the periphery of the DC establishment explained to me, “say anything nuanced about Iran, and you are immediately [accused of being] a mouthpiece for the Ayatollahs.”

… Looking at the top experts working on Iran for the major DC-based think tanks between 2014 and 2016, roughly one-third had PhDs and even fewer had done their dissertations on a topic related to Iran. And though one does not need a PhD to be a subject-matter expert, members of the establishment use this academic qualification as their own internal marker of expertise. Thus, according to the establishment’s own standards, most of the leading, self-proclaimed Iran experts in DC do not qualify as such.

Moreover, around half of the Iran experts based at think tanks in DC could not read, write, or speak Persian at the time of my fieldwork. And a similar number had never once stepped foot inside Iran. One research assistant working at a prominent think tank told me how, as someone who reads Arabic, he would read Persian language news articles aloud for another research assistant who could only speak (but not read) Persian. The two of them together would “translate” Iranian news articles for his boss, an expert who works on the Middle East and comments on Iran frequently.

Gateway KSA doesn’t have a direct relationship with the government, though sponsors include state-controlled Saudi Telecom, Saudi Basic Industries, and Saudi Arabian Airlines. “It’s not that I’m particularly pro-Saudi or have a political agenda,” Quispel says. “I think the way in which we show the country is in a very subtle and fair way.”

The vision fits well with the government’s strategy to rehabilitate Saudi Arabia’s image. The government is focused on expanding Saudi soft power to counter rivals such as Turkey. Officials have courted or pressured Saudi artists to help and also plowed millions of dollars into lobbying politicians and hosting pop concerts. Influencers play a key role in spreading the message.

While some of Lal’s followers attacked her for posting “propaganda,” others were won over, saying they couldn’t wait to visit. She posted stories of her trip, including how she stumbled across rules on gender segregation by accidentally entering the male side of a Starbucks. Lal recalled broaching the topic of Khashoggi’s murder with Saudis whom she met. They told her they weren’t proud of what their government did, she says.


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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