Weekend

Required Reading

This week, the world’s smallest dinosaur was discovered in a chunk of amber in Myanmar, what should museums do, reviewing the Getty Villa reinstallation, and lots of Coronavirus-related links.

The back of the display of Oculudentavis, which is the smallest dinosaur ever found. Trapped in a piece of 99-million-year-old amber, the complete skull of a previously unknown species of bird-like dinosaur was recently discovered. Smaller than the size of the tiniest hummingbird alive today, its head is the size of a thumbnail, its jaw packed with 100 serrated teeth and was likely a predator. Chinese paleontologist Lida Xing told CNN that the piece of amber was bought in Myanmar by Khaung Ra, the mother-in-law of Chen Guang, the director of a museum in southwestern China near the Myanmar border that is dedicated to amber. Khaung Ra, who donated it to the Hupoge Amber Museum so it could be studied by scientists, is also honored in the dinosaur’s official full name: Oculudentavis khaungraae. (image courtesy Lida Xing and used with permission)
  • Holland Cotter has some advice for encyclopedic museums. It’s good and expansive but doesn’t really directly deal with the idea of returning stolen and looted artifacts, which is really a crucial conversation. But I was very pleased he saw the value of removing the “History of Art” (i.e. Western Art) class at Yale University (I very much agree):

In fact, Yale made the right decision in eliminating a course whose very title implied that the history of world art and the history of Western art were equivalent. The department now offers several thematic introductory art courses covering a wide range of global topics, and promises to reinstate a version of the old Western survey with a more reality-based perspective. Maybe at some future point Yale could be persuaded to develop a course on the subject of famous art history courses from the past, examining them as the historical artifacts they are, and were. I’d sign up for that in a flash.

Given this background and these recent initiatives, the top-to-bottom reinstallation of the gallery spaces that began in 2016 presents an excellent opportunity for the public to see how the chastened museum has reimagined its identity and mission in this new era. As I point out in this review, there are indeed glimpses, in the reinstalled galleries, of a new outlook. In keeping with leading trends in critical museology, some displays explain not only what the objects are but also how that knowledge has been generated through particular research methods; and several displays recount the museum’s own history and how and why it acquired particular objects.

Unfortunately, however, this attitude of transparency and self-reflexivity applies only to objects acquired up to J. Paul Getty’s death. Conveniently for the museum, this occurred in 1976, just a few years after the passage of the UNESCO Convention. As a result, none of the displays address the museum’s dubious acquisition practices during the 30- year period when it was, arguably, the world’s leading destination for looted antiquities.

Q: Potosí was an important city in the 18th century, far above sea level and wealthy thanks to the silver mines of its Cerro Ricco (‘Rich Mountain’). How refined was its artistic culture, and who would Holguín’s clients have been?

A: The Imperial Villa of Potosí was referred to as the ‘Treasure of the World’, and was a place that attracted people from all over the globe – many surely enticed by the idea of striking it rich in the Americas. It was one of the most polyglot and mixed societies of the early modern world. Because of the unlimited riches it was often described as a dissolute place. But it was also a profoundly devout city, dotted with churches and other religious institutions that had been established since the discovery of the mines in the 16th century. That’s where Holguín comes into play. Although he was born in Cochabamba, by 1678 he’s documented in Potosí, where he supplied images for many of these institutions; he was obviously catering to both a local and an international clientele. Some of his works were exported across the Viceroyalty of Peru, and even beyond it – the Museo de América in Madrid, for example, has one of the most important works by him, showing the ceremonial arrival in the city of Viceroy Morcillo. Holguín boldly portrayed himself in the middle, holding his palette and brush to suggest his elevated status and that of his profession.

In the first episode, director Davis Guggenheim underlines Gates’s expansive intellect by interviewing Bernie Noe, described as a friend of Gates.

“That’s a gift, to read 150 pages an hour,” says Noe. “I’m going to say it’s 90 percent retention. Kind of extraordinary.”

Guggenheim doesn’t tell audiences that Noe is the principal of Lakeside School, a private institution to which the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given $80 million. The filmmaker also doesn’t mention the extraordinary conflict of interest this presents: The Gateses used their charitable foundation to enrich the private school their children attend, which charges students $35,000 a year.

  • Judith Butler is sometimes predictable (I think she’s been holed up in academia too long) but her recent essay should get your juices flowing, It begins:

The imperative to isolate coincides with a new recognition of our global interdependence during the new time and space of pandemic. On the one hand, we are asked to sequester ourselves in family units, shared dwelling spaces, or individual domiciles, deprived of social contact and relegated to spheres of relative isolation; on the other hand, we are faced with a virus that swiftly crosses borders, oblivious to the very idea of national territory.  What are the consequences of this pandemic for thinking about equality, global interdependence and our obligations toward one another?  The virus does not discriminate. We could say that it treats us equally, puts us equally at risk of falling ill, losing someone close, living in a world of imminent threat.  By the way it moves and strikes, the virus demonstrates that the human community is equally precarious.  At the same time, however, the failure of some states or regions to prepare in advance (the US is now perhaps the most notorious member of that club), the bolstering of national policies and the closing of borders (often accompanied by panicked xenophobia), and the arrival of entrepreneurs eager to capitalize on global suffering, all testify to the rapidity with which radical inequality, which includes nationalism, white supremacy, violence against women, queer, and trans people, and capitalist exploitation find ways to reproduce and strengthen their powers within the pandemic zones  This should come as no surprise.

  • Now that Mecca’s holiest shrine is empty (perhaps the first time in a very long while, if ever), some people are shocked to discover the floor is white:

Stock transactions of lawmakers are reported in ranges. Burr’s Feb. 13 selling spree was his largest stock selling day of at least the past 14 months, according to a ProPublica review of Senate records. Unlike his typical disclosure reports, which are a mix of sales and purchases, all of the transactions were sales.

His biggest sales included companies that are among the most vulnerable to an economic slowdown. He dumped up to $150,000 worth of shares of Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, a chain based in the United States that has lost two-thirds of its value. And he sold up to $100,000 of shares of Extended Stay America, an economy hospitality chain. Shares of that company are now worth less than half of what they did at the time Burr sold.

The assets come from accounts that are held by Burr, belong to his spouse or are jointly held.

The Hill reports at least three other US Senators sold stock:

According to financial disclosure forms, Sens. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) each sold hundreds of thousands of dollars in stocks within days of the Senate holding a classified briefing on Jan. 24 with Trump administration officials on the threat of the coronavirus outbreak.

The sales raise questions about whether the senators violated the STOCK Act, a law that bans members of Congress from making financial trades based on nonpublic information.

  • Sometimes you wonder how behind the times the US is in terms of technology, especially when things like this happen:

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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