Required Reading

The Guardian asked artists from around the world to create "Christmas screensavers," including this one by Ai Weiwei. Other screensavers are by Martin Creed, Urs Fischer,
The Guardian asked artists from around the world to create “Christmas screensavers,” including this one by Ai Weiwei. Other screensavers are by Martin Creed, Urs Fischer, David Hockney, Cornelia Parker, Susan Hiller, and Cory Arcangel.

This week, artist’s explore Christmas, photography and slavery, Rosler’s unradical garage sale, Norman Foster’s NYPL designs, early Franz Kline, Hoberman on The Hobbit, and more.

  A new book by Temple University Press explores the role of photography in American slaveryEnvisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery, including the special role images played in the life of African-American abolitionist Sojourner Truth, who “was probably the first black woman to actively distribute photographs of herself.” Maurice Berger, writing on The New York Times‘ Lens blog, explains:

The book explores how blacks “positioned themselves and were posed by others” in order to advance, question or alter prevailing ideas about race. It examines the ways the national debate about slavery was played out in photographs, for example, from the standpoint of abolitionists, who published them as proof of the brutality and immorality of slavery, and its supporters, who engaged photographs as visual evidence of its “natural order and orderliness.”

  Carol Diehl has some choice words about Martha Rosler’s “Meta-Monumental Garage Sale” at MoMA. She is sure that the project is very very unradical:

I get pissed off when the art world plays at — and therefore mocks — the lives of others, especially “suburbia” and the now mythical “middle class.”  If I see one more arty photograph of a supposedly anonymous ranch house I’ll scream. Buying and selling second hand-items — i.e. “junk” — is what some people do for a living. They know where to find the stuff, how to price and sell it. It’s how they get by.

 Others are forced to sell their belongings in order to raise cash to pay the mortgage or next month’s rent. As for the buyers, there are people out there who wear second-hand clothing not for a lark, but because it’s only way they can afford to cover their backs.

  The new designs for the New York Public Library’s flagship library on Fifth Avenue. Designed by Norman Foster, the interior looks clean and open:

With the help of a lucid PowerPoint presentation. the architect demonstrated just how seamlessly this swap would be, indicating how the 100-year-old structure most-precious spaces, like the Rose Main Reading Room, would be left undisturbed throughout construction. In the process, the building’s public spaces would be more than doubled, adding a “Writer’s Room” and restoring the children’s and teen’s library. The main addition would consist of a 300-person workspace with a large atrium facing the inside of the western facade, the first time it will have been seen in its entirety.

  The Art Blog reviews the new Franz Kline show, Franz Kline: Coal and Steel, at the Allentown Art Museum, which includes a nice group of Ashcan School-influenced works, according to the reviewer:

Mattison connects this painting’s style with George Bellows, George Luks and John Sloan, and sees it as foretelling the structure of Kline’s later abstract art. Seeing “Lower East Side Market,” a lovely, prismatic urban scene made in the Ashcan style, together with “Chatham Square (circa 1948),” made in the Precisionist style, reveals Kline’s broad search for meaningful subject matter and a personal style.

  J. Hoberman is a lapsed J.R.R. Tolkien lover and it shows in his review of new The Hobbit movie but you have to love his descriptions:

Not so The Hobbit which, less a movie than a promotion for its inevitable ancillary computer game, features endless digital battles predicated on space-warping virtual camera moves and chute-and-ladder sudden escapes. Reviewing the Ring trilogy in the mid 1950s, Edmund Wilson famously called it “a children’s book which has somehow got out of hand.” The same could be said of The Hobbit. In this case, a children’s story got out of hand and morphed into Battlefield 3.

  Many museums of ethnography are relics of the colonial period, but is it possible to recontextualize them for the contemporary world?

Throughout Europe, ethnographic museums are being re-conceptualized, sometimes as museums of world culture. This is a move aimed at addressing questions that every museum has to be able to answer: What should it do? For whom? How? Who will pay? All of these questions have been especially critical for the ethnographic museums in their current state, sometimes referred to as “the ethnographic crisis” — in which the troubled relationship between modernity and its colonial past tends to unsettle Europe’s story about itself, particularly where the role of the Other is concerned.

  The complicated story of a street art mural in Atlanta that pits an arts community against local residents, who seem to hate the work:

“It hurt so much to paint over the wall,” said Monica Campana, executive director of Living Walls, in a statement. “For the first time I felt like I had to censor myself. It was a weird feeling, a confusing and ugly feeling that I never want to experience again.”

  A new biennial, Kochi-Muziris, debuts in Kerala, India. It is the country’s first. But why Kerala?

Why would the subcontinent’s first Biennale take place in Kochi, so physically and spiritually distant from the metropolitan art centers of Delhi and Mumbai? Mainly because it was the initiative of two Kerala-born artists to mount a full-fledged Indian Biennale: Riyas Komu and Bose Krishnamachari, two Mumbai-based artists, are the curators of this extremely ambitious venture that aims to put Kerala and India on the art map once and for all.

And then there’s this:

Despite all these challenges, a euphoric feeling surrounds the Biennale. Schools were closed on the day of the opening and locals have been pouring in to view the exhibits. Artists, curators, and critics from all over India have flocked to this tiny coastal town to support what they see as a venture that will benefit them all in the long run. Despite the many hiccups, the wider Indian art community is excited at the possibilities created by the Kochi-Muziris Biennale.

And some related articles in Indian newspapers:

  The Yale University Art Gallery has reopened and many people, including The Boston Globe‘s Sebastian Smee and The New York Times‘ Holland Cotter, love it. Cotter coos:

Balance. For decades we’ve had an art culture that tries to wow us with too muchness — blockbusters, biennials, bank-breaking museum buildings no one needs — and that ends up delivering way too little. Could it be that the day of just enough is upon us, and that Yale’s just right museum is a bellwether?

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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