Weekend

Required Reading

This week, the new tennis pavilion at the White House, how Trump was meme’d into existence, plagues in Ancient Greece, COVID-19 takes, Myanmar’s missing ruby, and more.

There’s a new structure coming to the White House grounds and it’s a tennis pavilion being spearheaded by First Lady Melania Trump. The structure will replace a building that currently houses restrooms and storage space, and the pavilion’s design is “heavily influenced by the White House architecture,” according to a report the NPS created for the final review of the project last year. There’s also this tidbit: “Tennis Pavilion isn’t Melania’s first foray into architecture and design. She started an undergraduate degree in architecture at the University of Ljubljana but left the course after her first year to pursue modelling in Milan. This background came to light after it emerged she falsely stated she had a degree in architecture on her website and was forced to take the site down.” Is this her legacy project? More images and info on Dezeen. (via Dezeen)

The importance of freedom of information on the Internet was just about the only ethical principle that the fractious populace of /b/ could agree on. Scientology had a record of aggressive action against its critics. It didn’t want its information to be free. It wanted its information to be controlled and expensive. The casus belli had been a video of Tom Cruise, in which he appeared to claim to have special powers as a result of his practice of Scientology. To /b/ (and much of the rest of the Internet), Cruise’s messianic confidence was bizarre. Anons found it lulzy to mock him. The church didn’t like being mocked. It attempted to suppress the video. It attempted to take lulz away from /b/.

As an opening salvo, Anons uploaded a video in which what sounds like a text-to-voice program reads out a threatening letter to Scientology, over images of scudding clouds: “For the good of your followers, for the good of mankind, and for our own enjoyment…we shall proceed to expel you from the Internet and systematically dismantle the Church of Scientology in its present form.” It signs off with one of the most memorable slogans of the 2000s Internet: “We are anonymous. We are legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.” With this, the online activist tactics pioneered in the 1990s by artworld-adjacent groups such as Critical Art Ensemble and the Electronic Disturbance Theater erupted into the global public sphere. In the subsequent decade these tactics have been deployed to all manner of ends by organizations of every size and political persuasion, up to and including nation states.

As someone who writes about early Greek poetry, I spend a lot of time thinking about why its performance was so crucial to ancient life. One answer is that epic and tragedy helped ancient storytellers and audiences try to make sense of human suffering.

From this perspective, plagues functioned as a setup for an even more crucial theme in ancient myth: a leader’s intelligence. At the beginning of the “Iliad,” for instance, the prophet Calchas – who knows the cause of a nine-day plague – is praised as someone “who knows what is, what will be and what happened before.”

This language anticipates a chief criticism of Homer’s legendary King Agamemnon: He does not know “the before and the after.”

A century later, Locke’s concept for “Auction Block Memorial at Faneuil Hall” could have harnessed that same declarative power. It would have forced Boston to recognize its role in slavery. This work could have been to Boston what “Rumors of War,” the anti-Confederate memorial by Kehinde Wiley, is in Richmond — a corrective, a reckoning, a healing.

But last July, a week before a public hearing on Locke’s design, the local NAACP took a stand against his work.

“Auction Block” was meant to live outside of Faneuil Hall, the alleged Cradle of Liberty, named after slave trader Peter Faneuil.

  • Mark O’Connell writes about the Frieze art fair, which, contrary to the Economist‘s dek, is NOT a crucible of creative and culture but mostly a trade convention featuring innovations in artist branding and commerce. Still worth a read:

At the time of Frieze’s inception, the major international fairs were Art Basel in Switzerland, The Armory in New York and Madrid’s Arco. But with the rise of the Young British Artists in the 1990s, and the opening of Tate Modern in 2000, London had become a major art-world city. (“When Matthew and I published the first issue of frieze in 1991,” Sharp told me, “you could have comfortably fit every gallerist, artist, collector and curator in this city in one pub.”)

Despite its organiser’s professed innocence of the business, Frieze London was an immediate success, becoming one of the non-negotiable events in the art-world calendar. Since 2012 Frieze has been composed of two distinct fairs in two gigantic white tents at either end of Regent’s Park in the centre of town: Frieze London, where dealers sell new work by contemporary artists, and Frieze Masters, which focuses on everything from early Homo sapiens to the late 20th century. To put it in business terms, Frieze London is all about the primary market, whereas Frieze Masters is all about the secondary. The bigger deals tend to be the secondary ones (2019’s priciest transaction was Hauser & Wirth’s sale of a 1968 oil-and-chalk work on paper by Cy Twombly for $6.5m). But it’s Frieze London that generates more excitement, for its commanding vision of the state of contemporary art, its larger crowds and its hipper VIPs. (At Frieze Masters I saw the actor John Malkovich drifting urbanely through the throng, whereas at Frieze London I passed M.I.A, a controversy-courting rapper and producer, as she was hustled in.)

The vast majority of visitors come to look at the art, and at the stylish people who have come to be looked at while looking at the art. “There are 60,000 people at this fair,” as Marc Glimcher, ceo of New York’s Pace Gallery put it to me, “and maybe 3,000 of them will buy something.” Glimcher (Power 100 ranking: 23) is an American man of comfortable middle age who somehow managed to pull off a hooded top beneath a blue suit jacket. He talked about the explosion of interest in contemporary art over the last 20 years or so. People were here, he said, because art was an essential part of life.

“The inventory states that the stone is from the King of Burmah (sic) and was presented to the Queen ‘by the Burmese Ambassadors’ and was reset in the original style,” de Guitaut goes on.

So where is it now?

“The bracelet was bequeathed to Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll, and therefore passed out of the Royal Collection.”

Nash wrote to the current Duke of Argyll, who told him no such jewel remained in the family’s possession. Princess Louise, Queen Victoria’s artistic fourth daughter, appears to have given or bequeathed the ruby to someone, but whom?

“As a member of the immediate royal family, Princess Louise’s Will remains sealed,” says Nash, the author of a book on royal wills published earlier this year.

Required Reading is published every Saturday, and it 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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