Weekend

Required Reading

This week, John Bolton’s late revelations; the difference between photography in books, exhibitions, and on screens; corporate profiteering off racism; architecture’s coronavirus moment; and more.

Pakistani truck artist Haider Ali painted a homage to George Floyd, demonstrating (yet again) how international the support for Black Lives Matter has been. More photos and info on the Sanafatimajourno blog. (via sanafatimajourno)
  • Trump requested Chinese help to win the 2020 election
  • Trump argued that Venezuela is part of the US
  • Trump casually offered to intervene in the criminal justice system for foreign leaders
  • Trump didn’t a have problem with China’s concentration camps for Uighurs
  • Trump offered to help Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with a Justice Department investigation into a Turkish bank with ties to Erdogan
  • Trump thought Finland was part of Russia
  • Trump didn’t know the UK was a nuclear power
  • Trump wanted Attorney General Bill Barr to make CNN reporters ‘serve time in jail’

The list is long, so check it out yourself.

In the end, Gallerists don’t sell photographs, they sell an object that has an aura — to use Walter Benjamin’s term, and for most photographs (there are exceptions), the aura solely derives from the edition number. (Another way to describe what gallerists do would be to say they sell decorations that come with a form of prestige.)

The commerce-based world of photography exaggerates the aura even further by showing such photographs in often very expensive frames in very large spaces whose walls have been painted white. Galleries try very hard to look like museums (and not like the showrooms that actually are), because by construction (in our society) a museum comes with certain ideas attached: careful curation and a larger cultural prestige.

Obviously, both of these aspects are hugely problematic for a variety of reasons, but that’s a different discussion. (In reality, museums have now become just some other part of the world of art commerce).

Conversations about the symbols of historic injustice make sense if they are framed as debates not about the legacy of the past, but about how that legacy still shapes the present. While colonialism is formally over, neocolonial relations pervade the current global order, from the balance of power in international institutions and trade negotiations to interference in the affairs of former colonies.

Britain may no longer engage in the slave trade, but it still exploits labour from the global periphery. It may no longer extract resources and ship them through the likes of the East India Company, but today’s most powerful corporations follow much the same model. The countries that were previously considered uncivilised are now merely “developing”. What used to be called colonial exploitation has become “migration management”. Former colonial dominions are now termed “failed states”.

But the indisputably racist brands, and their bewildering longevity, speak to the power of marketing in reinforcing offensive stereotypes.

Simply put, if corporate America hadn’t given its full backing to creating and promoting these images as sales tools, making them both culturally legitimate and highly profitable, it’s debatable whether the country’s racial divisions would have run so deep for so long.

“There’s very strong support for that premise,” said Jerome Williams, a business professor at Rutgers University. “Corporate America perpetuated this situation.”

Judy Davis, a marketing professor at Eastern Michigan University, was even more emphatic.

“Advertising and marketing play an important role in selling whiteness,” she told me. “They have played a role in perpetuating an image that whites are superior.”

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Unlike the airy, pristine emptiness of modernism, the space needed for quarantine is primarily defensive, with taped lines and plexiglass walls segmenting the outside world into zones of socially distanced safety. Wide-open spaces are best avoided. Barriers are our friends. Stores and offices will have to be reformatted in order to reopen, our spatial routines fundamentally changed. And, at home, we might find ourselves longing for a few more walls and dark corners.

My interrogator’s questions were naive — he asked me whether communism was the same as homosexuality. He asked me, sarcastically, what was keeping homosexuals from having sex with children and animals.

He did not know that sex with children is a crime, and that sex with animals is also a crime.

It is not surprising that his thinking is so limited.

I think the sad moment right now is the fundamental question: what do you do if you got a system that basically cannot reform itself. All this talk about reform and police training, but all of this sounds empty. We have heard this over and over again. So right now you’re going to see Black neoliberal elite trying to somehow seize this moment and convince folk that they can deliver when more and more people recognise they can’t.

It’s amazing to see brother Barack Obama out there acting like he’s part of the vanguard and struggling against police power when Black Lives Matter emerged under his administration, with his Black attorney general, with his Black homeland security.

But he helped militarise those police departments. He helped generate the levels of poverty when he had bailed out the Wall Street criminals.

City police wrote on Twitter that “of course no one is reported for accidentally letting one go.”

They added that the man had behaved provocatively and uncooperatively during an encounter with officers that preceded the incident.

He got up from a park bench, looked at officers and “let go a massive intestinal wind apparently with full intent,” they said.

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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