Required Reading

Video caption: Pop star Rihanna’s performance on Saturday Night Live earlier this month has been the focus of a lot of discussion about the mainstreaming of netart, Seapunk, and a certain Tumblr aesthetic that champions it. A lot of artists who work in these styles are saying what Rihanna did was just not cool.

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This week, pornographic prehistoric art, the military-architectural complex, war photography, art historians and the internet, the man who owns The Scream, reasons to write about the art market, and more.

 Did you ever think prehistoric art looks pornographic? If you answered yes, then maybe you should know that one Paleolithic archaeologist thinks that’s your excuse to legitimize modern behavior as having ancient roots. Needless to say, she’s a downer:

Yes, but when we interpret Paleolithic art more broadly, we talk about “hunting magic” or “religion” or “fertility magic.” I don’t think these interpretations have the same social ramifications as pornography. When respected journals — Nature for example — use terms such as “Prehistoric pin-up” and “35,000-year-old sex object,” and a German museum proclaims that a figurine is either an “earth mother or pin-up girl” (as if no other roles for women could have existed in prehistory), they carry weight and authority. This allows journalists and researchers, evolutionary psychologists in particular, to legitimize and naturalize contemporary western values and behaviors by tracing them back to the “mist of prehistory.”

 As a war rages in Israel/Palestine, this 2006 essay in Frieze, “The Art of War,” is definitely worth revisiting:

The Israeli Defence Forces have been heavily influenced by contemporary philosophy, highlighting the fact that there is considerable overlap among theoretical texts deemed essential by military academies and architectural schools

To understand the IDF’s tactics for moving through Palestinian urban spaces, it is necessary to understand how they interpret the by now familiar principle of ‘swarming’ – a term that has been a buzzword in military theory since the start of the US post cold War doctrine known as the Revolution in Military Affairs.

If you still believe, as the IDF would like you to, that moving through walls is a relatively gentle form of warfare, the following description of the sequence of events might change your mind. To begin with, soldiers assemble behind the wall and then, using explosives, drills or hammers, they break a hole large enough to pass through. Stun grenades are then sometimes thrown, or a few random shots fired into what is usually a private living-room occupied by unsuspecting civilians. When the soldiers have passed through the wall, the occupants are locked inside one of the rooms, where they are made to remain – sometimes for several days – until the operation is concluded, often without water, toilet, food or medicine.

 In other war thoughts, Bob Duggan at Big Think thinks that we need war photography more than ever now, and he uses an exhibition in Houston as his focus point, but then he asks this provocative question, “Are Americans looking to war photography as a visible form of American Empire’s end?” Good question.

 Art Market Monitor offers something to really really good to chew on and it is about the art market “decline” of Damien Hirst:

… we’re told that the vulgar market and its hood-winked vulgar participants spend their vulgar money on work that’s been expertly hyped.

And yet here we have the financial decline of Hirst’s market. Hirst is one of the most relentlessly hyped artists. He had a huge retrospective at one of the world’s most prestigious museums of Contemporary art this year to coincide with one of the world’s most visible events, the Olympics. He also had an unprecedented show at the world’s most powerful and influential gallery that was slavishly covered by every outlet in the art (and general) media.

The general public responded to the Hirst retrospective in record numbers. In terms of popularity, he remains the most famous living artist in the world. His buyers, however, were not impressed with the show spot paintings (perhaps that’s because the show revealed the entire project to be less interesting than first inklings.)

Is this a measure of the wisdom or stupidity of the art market?

 There’s one copyright case concerning college textbooks that has American museums a little nervous. Gallerist has the story (with a dash of hyperbole):

Blockbuster exhibitions like the Guggenheim’s “Picasso Black and White,” the Whitney’s “Yayoi Kusama” and the Met’s “The Steins Collect” could be a thing of the past if a decision in a lower-court case involving textbook sales is upheld by the Supreme Court.

 Are art historians not using the internet to its fullest potential? James Cuno, the president and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust, thinks so. He writes:

… we aren’t conducting art historical research differently. We aren’t working collaboratively and experimentally. As art historians we are still, for the most part, solo practitioners working alone in our studies and publishing in print and online as single authors and only when the work is fully baked. We are still proprietary when it comes to our knowledge. We want sole credit for what we write.

 The Edvard Munch “The Scream” mayhem in New York has me thinking about the man who purchased the painting. The financier behind the purchase, Leon Black, has an interesting backstory (emphasis mine):

A cynic might argue that Leon Black is just another mindless billionaire art collector that might buy art for its social and commercial value; but you see, Leon is no such man. His passion for art was embedded during his bell-bottom wearing, long side-burn-grooming, hippie loving, make-love-not-war years at Dartmouth while studying his BA in Philosophy, and by his mother who was an artist. From then on, parallel to his fast life on the finance lane, Leon began assembling his art collection along with his wife Debra that is mostly made up of works on paper.

 We’re in the last days of film photography (at least as a popular commodity) and this photo essay by Robert Burley on The Daily Beast captures those film photography-related storefronts and factories that are becoming increasingly rare.

 Gallerist, collector, and art writer Adam Lindemann refutes Sarah Thornton’s ten reasons why she will no longer write about the art market point by point. In response to Thornton’s reason #3 (“It never seems to lead to regulation.”), he writes:

Who needs to regulate a little market in which no two items are alike? People who don’t understand art collecting, that’s who! Believe me, innocent moms and pops don’t buy art. Forget the smart sounding conspiracy theory, there’s no victim here. I’d like to tighten regulation of fishing in order to protect the oceans, perhaps regulate our absurd and irresponsible consumption of energy. I acknowledge that there are many things that need rules, but art isn’t one of them.

 Writing on Rhizome, Giampaolo Bianconi explores the gifability of culture, and offers a glimpse at the impact GIFs are having on TV:

Last winter, Dan Harmon, who was then the executive producer of the television sitcom Community, shared that he tried, “many times a season” to put star Alison Brie “in a situation, wardrobe-wise, that I know is going to end up as an animated GIF file!”

Required Reading is published every Sunday morning EST, 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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