Required Reading

Photographer Luna Park shares her top 50 street art pics for 2013, and it includes work from Chicago, New Orleans, Paris, Basel, Philadelphia, and, of course, New York. (used with permission of the artist)
Photographer Luna Park shares her top 50 street art pics for 2013, and it includes work from Chicago, New Orleans, Paris, Basel, Philadelphia, and, of course, New York. (Luna Park’s Flickrstream, and used with permission of the artist)

This week, East Germany surveillance, the Knoedler forger speaks, smarm vs. snark, Guggenheim’s authenticity problem, and more.

 Surveillance culture from the past:

Top Secret: Images from the Stasi Archives plumbs the immense collection of intelligence and photographs once gathered by the Stasi, East Germany’s secret police. Menner spent two years with the Stasi’s archives, which contain some 1.4 million photographs. During his research, Menner realized how “the public has very limited access to pictures showing the act of surveillance from the perspective of the surveillant. We rarely get to see what Big Brother sees”.

 Bloomberg Business Week spoke to the man at the center of the Knoedler & Co. forgery scandal, Pei-Shen Qian, the forger himself:

In New York, he enrolled at the Art Students League, worked as a janitor to support himself, and took to the streets to paint passersby. That’s when he met Carlos.

Over a decade and a half, the man — who has been identified in civil lawsuits as Jose Carlos Bergantinos Diaz — brought him dozens of orders for works that imitated famed modern artists. Qian’s commissions topped out at $3,000 apiece, he said, and throughout Bergantinos told him he was making artwork for fans of the masters who couldn’t afford the genuine articles.

… The scandal in New York is “a very big misunderstanding,” Qian said, incredulous that anyone would have considered his imitations to be the genuine work of masters. “Nobody would take them seriously,” he said. “It’s impossible to imitate them—from the papers to the paints to the composition. It’s impossible to do it exactly.”

 A major Chinese art auction house is under scrutiny:

In its short life, Poly Auction has risen to become the third-largest auction house in the world, behind Christie’s and Sotheby’s. Its 2012 reported sales totaled nearly $1 billion, and its auction rooms now buzz with the energy of thousands of new consumers eager to buy a piece of their cultural history or invest in the recent art boom.

But while the art market in China remains robust — its $14 billion in sales last year make it the second-largest in the world after the United States — it is also rife with fraud, forgeries and payment defaults that, experts say, are undermining consumer confidence.

 The Guggenheim is confronting some serious questions regarding “authenticity” in conceptual and minimal art:

But since 2010 the Guggenheim has been quietly engaged in one of the most ambitious conservation projects ever to address the deep uncertainties raised by Minimalism and Conceptualism, which brought highly unconventional materials — plywood, hardware, industrial metals — and even more unconventional ideas to art, questioning the importance of objects and of the artist’s hand. Some answers the project is now reaching will be surprising: that, for example, the most responsible act of conservation might be the destruction of a piece of art because, in the final analysis, it is not really a piece of art.

 Writing for Big, Red & Shiny Stephanie Arnett reviews LaToya Ruby Frazier’s Witness at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston:

Through the ambiguity of the work with her family is part of what makes it so powerful, the genius of Frazier’s approach is also her blind spot. By involving her loved ones in her process, Frazier constrains herself to narratives that leave those relationships intact. Frazier focuses blame on outsiders for the state of things in Braddock, but she walks much more softly in accounting for the role of individual choice — of Grandma Ruby’s smoking her Pall Malls in her cancer or her mother’s struggles with addiction as a factor in her mental illness. Judgments are slippery things, drawing conclusions about the past by the state of the present. While environmental or industrial pollution could absolutely be a factor in chronic illness, so could genetics, lifestyle, and access to care. For the poor, this is often a hydra’s head of factors that makes absolute judgments impossible, and accountability harder to bring to bear where it may be warranted.

 Will new archeological methods unlock the secrets of ancient texts? Yes, it appears to be working and this is a great possibility for discovery because “we have perhaps 10% of the great works of classical literature, so any chance to recover the rest is precious.”:

For centuries scholars have been hunting for the lost works of ancient Greek and Latin literature. In the Renaissance, books were found in monastic libraries. In the late 19th Century papyrus scrolls were found in the sands of Egypt. But only in Herculaneum in southern Italy has an entire library from the ancient Mediterranean been discovered in situ.

Despite being found in Italy, most of the recovered material is in Greek. Perhaps the major discovery is a third of On Nature, a previously lost work by the philosopher Epicurus.

But many of the texts that have emerged so far are written by a follower of Epicurus, the philosopher and poet Philodemus of Gadara (c.110-c.40/35BC). In fact, so many of his works are present, and in duplicate copies, that David Sider, a classics professor at New York University, believes that what has been found so far was in fact Philodemus’s own working library. Piso was Philodemus’s patron.

 Still confused about smarm vs. snark? Gothamist publisher Jake Dobkin has created this useful chart to help you out:

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 This Chinese current affairs podcast, Sinica, talks to two Beijing-based artists and critics about the topic of contemporary art in China: Matthew Niederhauser, the artist and photojournalist responsible for the Counterfeit Paradises exhibition, and Philip Tinari, director of the Ullen Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing and founding editor of the Leap magazine about contemporary art in China.

  Nico Muhly reviews Beyonce’s new album track by track:

At first I was anxious about the description of it as a “visual album,” because these days, which albums aren’t? I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a Lady Gaga video, but I know that her appeal — even to me, not ever having beheld her on purpose — is partially to do with her Visual Presentation. Beyoncé’s songs, on this album, connect to one another not just musically, but via a seemingly personal, almost Forrest Gump-like time-traveling woman’s journey through various eras and — I shudder to say the word — styles.

 On Silicon Valley’s race problem:

A recent Nielsen report estimated African Americans’ buying power at more than a trillion dollars, and growing rapidly. The Pew Research Center found, in October, that a higher percentage of black adults used smart phones than white adults. Last year, Pew found that twenty-six per cent of black Internet users were on Twitter, compared with fourteen per cent of non-Hispanic white users and nineteen per cent of Hispanic people. A higher proportion of black respondents used Instagram, the photo-sharing service, too. But the diversity among tech users isn’t reflected among the founders of Silicon Valley companies backed by venture capitalists. One study, conducted in 2010 by CB Insights, showed that only one per cent of venture-capital-backed founders were black; eighty-three per cent of founding teams were all white. From 2009 to 2011, per capita income rose by four per cent for white Silicon Valley residents and fell by eighteen per cent for black residents.

 And curious which words were created the year you were born? The OED helps you find out … for instacne, “nuanced” was added to the dictionary in 1902, “mobile phone” shows up in 1945, and “chocoholic” was added in 1961.

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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