Hyperallergic

27 Jan. 2023

Some museums are ditching the term “mummy” to describe the preserved Ancient Egyptian bodies in their collections. According to a recent CNN report, three British museums have adopted the terms “mummified remains” and “mummified persons,” and several institutions in the United States told Hyperallergic that they are also updating their language in order to command more respect for the individuals that they display to the public.

Across the United Kingdom, the Great North Museum: Hancock in Newcastle, London’s British Museum, and Edinburgh’s National Museums of Scotland have rewritten their display labels and online resources with the new language as it “can encourage visitors to think of the individual who once lived.” Jo Anderson, the assistant keeper of archaeology at the Great North Museum: Hancock, referenced the historical evidence of the UK’s disrespect and desecration of Ancient Egyptian bodies in a 2021 museum blog post clarifying the terms of the change in descriptive language.

According to the blog post, the museum’s famed body of an Ancient Egyptian woman known as Irtyru was brought to England and became the subject of a public “unwrapping party” in 1830 — one of the more grotesque impacts of the Victorian-era “Egyptomania” craze that succeeded the centuries-long European practice of consuming ground-up mummies to prevent and treat various illnesses. Sadly, the flagrant objectification of preserved Ancient Egyptians extended into the art world as well. From the 16th through 20th centuries, “Mummy Brown” was a largely popular shade of oil paint pigmented with pulverized remains looted from Egypt and sold across Europe.

“Examen d’une momie” (“Examination of a Mummy”) by Paul Dominique Philippoteaux, circa 1980 (via Wikimedia Commons)

Adam Goldwater, the museum’s manager, told CNN that visitor research yielded evidence that museum patrons “did not recognize that [Irtyru] was a real person,” prompting the institution to “display her more sensitively.”

The National Museums Scotland (NMS) has also updated its language. Its use of the term “mummified person” was first introduced during its 2017 exhibition The Tomb: Ancient Egyptian Burial and was implemented throughout the permanent Ancient Egypt Rediscovered gallery that opened in 2019. The British Museum still uses the word “mummy” across its galleries, but also adopted the term “mummified person” in new displays as well. A spokesperson for the British Museum did point out that there is no intention of phasing out the word “mummy” across the institution.

The change in language is happening across the pond as well. Four museums informed Hyperallergic that they’ve either already adopted the terminology in their displays and additional literature, or are in the process of reestablishing policies to include more sensitive language for the individuals in their funerary collections.

“We have had many internal discussions around adopting the term ‘mummified remains,’ or ‘mummified person’ as well as best practices around how to alert our visitors to the presence of mummified persons in our gallery space,” a Brooklyn Museum spokesperson told Hyperallergic, citing the decision to rename their Mummy Chamber, housing four mummified individuals, to the “Funerary Gallery” five years ago. (Separately, the institution has recently been identified on a ProPublica database for its possession of Native American remains that have yet to be identified and repatriated under NAGPRA.)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan has over a dozen mummified individuals in their collections and uses the term “mummified remains” across their galleries as well, with a representative noting that the museum “seeks to convey care, dignity and respect throughout explanatory and contextual information.” 

The University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute has 89 mummified remains in their collection, 13 of which are human. A spokesperson for the institute told Hyperallergic that while administrative and faculty discussions are taking place to establish policy on the terminology, gallery signage refers variously to “mummified remains,” “mummy of (individuals name),” and “mummified boy.” They also noted that there is a sign at the entrance of the Egyptian Gallery alerting visitors that they will be viewing human and animal remains.

Chicago’s Field Museum has one of the country’s largest collections of mummified remains with 23 human individuals in their possession. While the museum’s Africa and Egypt galleries are being revamped, a representative stated that they would “certainly consider a shift from “mummy” to “mummified remains” in referring to these individuals and their funerary context.”

Mummy of Ukhhotep, son of Hedjpu, Middle Kingdom ca. 1981–1802 BCE (via The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

But the notion that “mummified remains” is the more appropriate and humanizing term for preserved bodies is not widely accepted. Professor Salima Ikram, the unit head of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo, Egypt, has used the word “mummy” across multiple books, articles, and publications, and told Hyperallergic that she actually finds the term “mummified remains” to be “insulting and dehumanising,” and that several of her colleagues share her opinion.

“‘Remains’ suggests that the body is fragmentary (and to my mind, evokes to what one leaves on ones plate),” Ikram elaborated. “I think the problem is that one needs to educate people so that they realise that a mummy is indeed a human being (or other animal) that has gone through a complex process of transformation that the Egyptians believed was crucial for the person to stop being human and become divine so that the individual could live eternally.”

The ancient Egyptian process of mummification was not rooted in a preoccupation with death, but out of love of life and the desire to continue it after passing on. Priests worked as embalmers to carefully remove the organs, dry out the body, and wrap it carefully with hundreds of yards of linen while performing rituals to ensure that the deceased would maintain all their faculties in the afterlife. Mummies were kept with their belongings that the living believed they would need in the afterlife as well.

“I am saddened by this idea that name-changing will alter or enhance people’s understandings,” Ikram lamented. “Explanations and education are crucial, and indeed, the word mummy, at least here in Egypt, very specifically refers to a human being, albeit in a transformed state.”

In response to Ikram’s comments, the National Museum of Scotland told Hyperallergic that the adopted language has been woven into its educational resources and online information as well.

“Our interpretation addresses both ancient Egyptian beliefs about mummification and colonial-era collecting practices,” the NMS spokesperson stated.

“In our digital sessions for schools and in our schools workshop, children are encouraged to think of these individuals as real people who once had lives of their own and taught about what ancient Egyptians hoped to achieve through mummification.”

27 Jan. 2023

What do we owe to the memories of one another’s hearts?

This central question resonates throughout the exhibition The Heart’s Knowledge: Science and Empathy in the Art of Dario Robleto, presented by Northwestern University’s Block Museum of Art and the McCormick School of Engineering from January 26 through July 9, 2023.

For American artist Dario Robleto (b. 1972), artists and scientists share a common aspiration: to increase the sensitivity of their observations. Throughout the history of scientific invention, instruments like the cardiograph and the telescope have extended the reach of perception from the tiniest stirrings of the human body to the farthest reaches of space. In his prints, sculptures, and video and sound installations, Robleto contemplates the emotional significance of these technologies, bringing us closer to the latent traces of life buried in the scientific record.

The Heart’s Knowledge concentrates on the most recent decade of Robleto’s creative practice, a period of deepening engagement with histories of medicine, biomedical engineering, sound recording, and space exploration. The exhibition organizes the artist’s works as a series of multisensory encounters between art and science. Each piece seeks to attune viewers to phenomena at scales ranging from the intimate to the universal, returning always to the question: Does empathy extend beyond the boundaries of time and space?

In “The First Time, the Heart (A Portrait of Life 1854–1913)” (2017), Robleto transforms early measurements of heartbeats made by 19th-century pioneers of cardiography into exquisite photolithographs executed on paper hand-sooted with candle flames. For the installation “The Pulse Armed With a Pen (An Unknown History of the Human Heartbeat)” (2014), Robleto digitally resurrects these historic heartbeats, allowing visitors to listen to pulses of life recorded before the invention of sound playback. Two immersive video installations, “The Boundary of Life is Quietly Crossed” (2019) and “The Aorta of an Archivist” (2020–2021) weave Robleto’s archival inquiries into the first recorded heartbeats with a meditation on the cosmic limits of perception, while intricate sculptures like “Small Crafts on Sisyphean Seas” (2018) give shape to the speculative search for intelligent life in the universe.

The Heart’s Knowledge marks the culmination of Robleto’s five-year engagement as Artist-at-Large in Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science. This exhibition reflects the spirit of that enterprise, expanding conversations around ethics and empathy in scientific fields, and inviting us to look and listen to the life that surrounds us with curiosity and compassion.

The companion publication is currently available through ARTBOOK DAP.

The Block Museum of Art is always free and open to all.

To learn more, visit blockmuseum.northwestern.edu.

26 Jan. 2023

There’s a novel trend sweeping across TikTok known as “Corecore,” a sarcastic play on the suffix “-core” that web users tack onto a variety of different nouns in reference to niche aesthetics and micro-trends like bimbocore, glitchcore, and normcore. But as some users on the platform have pointed out, Corecore bears a striking resemblance to the century-old artistic movement known as Dada. Tiktok user @aamirazh and several other art history aficionados have highlighted how both operate through the “artist’s act of choice” to attribute meaning to the meaningless.

Remember when “cottagecore” had its moment and we all wanted to grow gardens, make bread (see: sourdough starter trend), and bounce on top of mushroom caps in the forest in response to our exhaustion with late-stage capitalism and overreaching technological reliance? Well, “Corecore” is stripped of the escapism elements that made “cottagecore” take off, confronting viewers with an onslaught of media tidbits stitched together and overlaid with melancholy orchestral (or piano) compositions and pseudo-deep talking points that waver between encouraging defeat and sparking a revolution.

If you scroll through #corecore videos on TikTok, there’s an overarching element of “We Live In a Society” that permeates through the content in the form of clip arrangement. The more I try to explain it, the more I feel like I’m standing in front of a crime investigation bulletin board connecting related elements with red string, so just have a look for yourself:

From the “Top-Liked Videos” section of the #corecore tag dashboard

Corecore TikToks layer or flicker between clips from viral videos of people admitting loneliness or depression, nihilistic dialogue scenes from popular films or TV shows, deep-fried memes, and other staples of “chronically online” web culture in a curated supercut that hits the nail on the head in terms of our collective feeling of hopelessness and anxiety as we hurtle through continuously “unprecedented times.”

Something that I can appreciate about Corecore is its distinct ability to pinpoint both highly nostalgic and anxiety-inducing moments across a large audience through an evolved use of what I would consider its predecessor, “Weirdcore.” According to the Aesthetics Wiki page, Weirdcore is a “Surrealist aesthetic centered around amateur or low-quality photography and/or visual images that have been constructed or edited to convey feelings of confusion, disorientation, dread, alienation, and nostalgia or anemoia.” Weirdcore primarily resides on the depersonalization and trauma sides of Tumblr, but appreciation for the aesthetic has been renewed on Instagram, Reddit, and TikTok as well.

An example of Weirdcore content posted by @we.dont.really.exist on Instagram (screenshot Rhea Nayyar/Hyperallergic)

Corecore utilizes the moving image and capitalizes on the infinite capacity of TikTok’s algorithmic curation to evoke similar feelings of existential dread from those who come across it. You’ll see flashes of viral ASMR content, fast fashion hauls, dating or weight loss advice, influencer drama, and other TikTok trends throughout Corecore videos as a form of metacommentary on how the app itself is a large contributor to the generalized anxiety and addictive overstimulation we’re experiencing in the digital age.

Corecore’s repeated attempts to convey widespread doom and gloom with the state of the human condition do harken back to the dawn of Dadaism. Dadaism was born in Zürich, Switzerland, out of disillusionment with society near the end of World War I. In 1916, German writer Hugo Ball sought refuge in Zürich as the war claimed tens of millions of lives and shared his horror with the world by performing a nonsense poem at the Cabaret Voltaire. Ball wanted to shock everyone who believed that “all this civilized carnage as a triumph of European intelligence,” and thus, the anti-war anti-bourgeoisie absurdist movement of Dada was born. (Though we should also acknowledge that Ball has recently come under scrutiny for his flagrant antisemitism.)

Despite its origins as an “anti-art” movement, Dadaism spread like a wildfire and opened the floodgates for both originality and reappropriation of existing content through untraditional means.

It’s not lost on me that Dada and Corecore have the same sound, either. Apparently, the name “Dada” was coined after the word was found in a dictionary — it’s a term for “rocking horse” in French, and translates to “yes, yes” in Romanian and Russian. And like Dada’s anti-war stance, Corecore props up anti-technofuturism and anti-capitalism by recontextualizing random content to present a new message or meaning altogether.

Digital culture reporter Kieran Press-Reynolds wrote about Corecore at the end of November 2022, calling the movement an “anti-trend” in the same vein as Dadaists exclaiming that “Dada is anti-Dada!”

One Corecore TikToker he spoke to, Dean Erfani, simply defined the aesthetic as “essentially the abstract concept of taking random videos and editing them together to the point that it makes sense to the viewer. Or at least have the viewer interpret it in their own way.” Some Corecore videos actually fixate on specific issues such as the cosmetic procedure frenzy, the loneliness to incel pipeline, rapid climate change, and gross class inequities.

To me, Corecore’s “aesthetic” reads as an art school freshman’s first found-footage project in Adobe Premiere Pro (no, I’m not projecting) presented with the societal dread induced from doom-scrolling on one’s phone at 2am after one too many bong rips on a weeknight (again, not projecting …). But at the very least, it’s an evidence-based manner of expressing one’s frustrations with the world that seems to strike a chord with a large number of TikTok users. In its own way, Corecore is Gen Z’s means of “shocking” sense into the people around them.

Whether or not it inspires change is debatable, but I think the following screenshot from a Corecore TikTok comment section pretty much sums it up:

A particularly enlightening exchange about Corecore (screenshot by Rhea Nayyar/Hyperallergic)
26 Jan. 2023

Twitter and YouTube have reportedly taken down posts and clips relating to the BBC documentary India: The Modi Question following requests made by the Indian government to remove content related to the film, which analyzes Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s role during the Gujarat riots in 2002. Kanchan Gupta, India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting advisor, took to Twitter on Saturday, January 21, calling the film “propaganda” and citing emergency powers under India’s information technology rules to block it.

According to Lumen, an independent research project out of Harvard University, Twitter has taken down posts in India by politicians, journalists, and news media in response to the request. Derek O’Brien, a member of parliament in India’s upper house, noted on Saturday that his tweet about the documentary, in which he called out the prime minister for his alleged “hate for minorities,” had been taken down. A post by actor and activist John Cusack, who co-wrote Things that Can and Cannot Be Said with Arundhati Roy (a critic of the Modi government), was also among the tweets reportedly removed in India. It included a link to the documentary on YouTube that was later removed after being blocked by the video-sharing platform. (A YouTube spokesperson told Hyperallergic that the documentary was blocked by the BBC due to a copyright claim.)

Another member of parliament, Mahua Moitra, tweeted, “Sorry, haven’t been elected to represent world’s largest democracy to accept censorship” with an Internet Archive link to the documentary online, which was also taken down.

A BBC spokesperson told Hyperallergic, “The BBC has not asked Twitter to remove any content relating to the documentary. As is our standard practice, we issue Takedown Notices to websites and other file sharing platforms where the content infringes the BBC’s copyright.”

“A wide range of voices, witnesses and experts were approached, and we have featured a range of opinions — this includes responses from people in the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party],” the spokesperson continued. “We offered the Indian Government a right to reply to the matters raised in the series — it declined to respond.” It is unclear if and when the documentary will be released to viewers outside of the UK.

The BBC aired the first segment of the two-part series in the United Kingdom on Tuesday, January 17 and the second a week later. The documentary brings to light a previously unpublished report that the BBC acquired from the British Foreign Office that questions whether Modi, who was chief minister of Gujarat at the time, was “directly responsible” for the ”climate of impunity” that enabled violence in the region.

The riots coming under new scrutiny took place on February 27, 2002, when a train transporting Hindu pilgrims caught fire and killed 59 people. Hindu mobs retaliated to the fire, which was linked to an altercation between Hindu activists and Muslim residents in Godhra and sparked riots for more than two months. About 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed and about 150,000 were displaced. Modi was criticized for not doing enough to stop the violence that erupted against Gujarat’s Muslim minority. In a 2012 victory speech celebrating the Bharatiya Janata Party’s state election win, Modi apologized for mistakes he may have made, alluding to the 2002 riots. In 2012, the Supreme court appointed a special investigation team that concluded it could not find evidence with which to prosecute Modi, who was first elected prime minister in 2014. 

Data shared by Twitter shows a compliance rate with legal requests to remove posts by India’s government at under 20% in the year before Elon Musk took over. Musk has attempted to position himself as a “free speech absolutist” since he acquired the company in October 2022. However, he has been criticized for reversing account suspensions imposed on far-right politicians such as former President Donald Trump after the January 6 insurrection and Representative Marjorie Taylor Green who spread COVID-19 misinformation. Musk has also come under scrutiny for failing to reverse the suspension of Distributed Denial of Secrets, a watchdog group known for leaking documents in the public’s interest. In December 2022, journalists who covered the platform critically, including reporters at the New York Times, Washington Post, and CNN, among others, had their accounts suspended

Since Indian authorities’ attempts over the weekend to block posts about the documentary, students have been detained for going forward with screenings of The Modi Question at universities. BBC reports that police dressed in riot gear detained a dozen students at Jamia Millia Islamia university on Wednesday night, calling the screening an “unauthorised gathering.” The previous night, students at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi accused officials of shutting down electricity and Internet access to stop a planned screening. 

Human rights and free speech organizations such as Human Rights Watch, International Press Institute, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and PEN America have condemned what they see as a decline in freedom of expression and space to openly criticize governments.

“While you can argue that yes there needs to be some element of control, what’s been happening in India has largely been executive,” Prateek Waghre, Internet Freedom Foundation policy director, told Al Jazeera. “There is a lot of discretionary control at the executive level with minimal oversight. And that’s where the concern is.”

26 Jan. 2023
  • If you’ve never come across the bizarre Twitter account Carnivore Aurelius, beyond false claims about sunscreen and patriarchal idealizations of bygone eras, you’re not missing much. For Buzzfeed News, Katie Notopoulos debunks the rumor that the person behind these viral tweets is actually a woman:

To many of his followers, it isn’t entirely clear if the account is genuine or satirical. He explained to BuzzFeed News that it’s a mix of both. He is genuine about the benefits of beef liver, but not the breast milk ice cream. “I just find that adding some playfulness, humor and exaggeration is helpful to bring some light-heartedness to such a tribal and dour dietary world,” Carnivore Aurelius said.

But there are themes and imagery at play that point to something beyond just diet advice and jokes. Curtis Dozier, assistant professor of Greek and Roman studies at Vassar College, leads a project called Pharos, which tracks and debunks the co-opting of classics and antiquity by the alt-right. Dozier told BuzzFeed News that the use of a Roman statue avatar (in this case, emperor Marcus Aurelius, a key adherent of the philosophy known as stoicism) is a visual motif associated with certain alt-right or neofascist accounts.

  • For n+1 magazine, Ken Chen reflects on late activist and organizer Corky Lee’s most iconic images of Asian-American life and community organizing:

Corky Lee started out as an organizer at Two Bridges Neighborhood Council. He convinced tenants to collectively withhold rent until their landlords made repairs and ameliorated their abysmal living conditions. The apartments in Chinatown often lacked heating, hot water, and plumbing and packed several people into a tiny, dingy room. Of course, these inhumane conditions meant that even poor migrants could afford them. To persuade the tenants to organize, Lee showed them photographs he’d taken in other buildings, displaying the original state of neglect and the improved conditions brought by collective pressure—a little like, he later joked, the before-and-after photos in a weight-loss commercial. At first, he did not even own a camera and had to borrow his roommate’s Pentax.

  • Scholar Tressie McMillan Cottom, who was banned from TikTok after explaining her research on blondeness and whiteness, writes for the New York Times about the need to lay bare the “invisible power of blond”:

People often get angry when I write about aesthetics and power. Most of us hate the idea that whom we are attracted to, for instance, has any political context. We hate thinking that the things we enjoy — like a soapy western with conservative tropes — mean anything. That is the thing about status. We all want it, but, should we acquire it, we don’t want it to mean anything. We don’t want to feel bad about having status. The real blondes let me have it because, they maintained, being blond should mean something for them but not mean anything for the rest of us. That is not how status works.

  • NYC Mayor Eric Adams has pushed aggressively for increased police funding, yet after he took office, policy changes stripped already vulnerable trans women incarcerated at Rikers Island of much of their existing support, George Joseph reports for The City:

The LGBTQ+ Affairs Unit now found its work consumed by conflicts with mid-level bureaucrats, who resisted requests to house detainees based on their gender identities and no longer had to worry about pushback from above. 

As a result, monthly programming for the LGBTQ+ community and weekly check-ins with the dozens of known trans detainees scattered across the island fell by the wayside. 

“I haven’t seen the LGBTQ coordinator or anything like that,” said Kirby Hiciano, a trans woman who has spent more than a year on Rikers Island at Rose M. Singer and various male jails. “I have never met with nobody here from the LGBTQ team.”

“The program has now dissolved,” said one uniformed staff member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Those services and all of the support for staff and persons in custody no longer exist.” 

For most of the 20th century, the Italian food served in restaurants came from southern Italy: olive oil, pasta with red sauce and meatballs, pizza. By the 1940s, the Works Progress Administration of the New Deal created a project on restaurants in New York City, marking Italian restaurants as “interesting, sometimes cheap, exciting places to eat,” says Ray. As such, it was becoming a popular food.

But, cautions Ray, “things can get popular, but it’s very difficult to climb the class ladder.” For Italian food, that didn’t come until the 1980s and 1990s, when restaurateurs began to emphasize northern Italian cuisine rather than southern. Risottos and wine sauces from the north became fashionable, and provided a class marker between the pastas and pizza of the south. In the 1990s, says Ray, “if you want[ed] to charge a price that’s higher, you [had] to call yourself northern Italian.”

  • Salman Rushdie’s newest novel Victory City is set for publication this February, six months after he was attacked during a talk at Chautauqua Institution, Alexandra Alter and Elizabeth A. Harris report for the New York Times:

In Rushdie’s vision, the city of Vijayanagar — the name means Victory City — is a place of magic and miracles that owes its existence to its creator, the poet Kampana, who blesses seeds and gives them to the cowherd brothers. If they planted them in a particular spot, she told them, a city would rise instantly from the ground. When her prophecy comes true, she breathes life into the city by whispering stories into people’s ears, imbuing the new place with history. Kampana envisions a society founded on the principles of religious tolerance and equality among the sexes, but is driven into exile, and eventually sees her empire conquered.

  • For New York Magazine’s Grub Street, Emily Sundberg investigates the rise of boutique “shoppy shops” that all seem to sell the same things — products you probably don’t need but will certainly be tempted to buy:

Successfully marketing a product so that it feels local everywhere is an art. I’ve started calling this crucial step in a product’s development “smallwashing,” i.e., when a brand positions itself as a small business and shows up on shelves as if it were small, even though it has probably been through at least one comfy fundraise and a hotshot General Catalyst VC sits on the board. (Bonus points if the company in question hires Gander to handle the design.)

It’s up to the actual companies to decide on their values — Will the jarred condiment be woke, aligned with a cool chef, or “artisanal” in some way? — but regardless of the chosen messaging, Instagram then takes over, drilling its users with targeted ads that help build a company’s story (Omsom lets you cook faster, for example; Momofuku’s noodles let you cook like David Chang). By the time a customer discovers an Instagram brand in a shoppy shop for the first time, it may even feel like a mirage: This chile crisp really exists just for me — it’s not only a story on my phone! 

  • Media and TV love a lesbian best friend character with no meaningful storyline or development, and the impact is real and harmful. Emma Copley Eisenberg writes for Mother Jones:

So how did we get all these flattened, second-fiddle renditions of queer women in our popular culture? The Lesbian Best Friend is, to some extent, a variation on the well-documented Gay Best Friend trope, a harmful stereotype of a gay man who exists in a narrative for heterosexual amusement without any real agency, nuance, or development. “The Gay Best Friend character serves the function of being titillating, being a little raunchy, saying all the things that the main character wants to say but doesn’t get to,” says Hollis Griffin, an associate professor of communications and media at the University of Michigan specializing in queer media studies. “These characters are for comic relief, or they are a way to outsource all sexual references, to make sexuality safe by putting it on ‘the Other.’ The gay character functions as the Id, becoming the repository for all the main character’s deepest wants.”

  • Seeing therapists on TikTok is such a strange experience; commenters gush over their expertise, but why would a respectful mental health professional offer up their clients’ private information as social media catnip? Sarah Manavis digs into the dimensions of this trend for the New Statesman:

Though many of these videos are merely vain and banal, some are actively unhelpful. Many TikTok therapists seemingly attempt to differentiate themselves in a flooded market by giving counterintuitive and, frankly, bad advice. Others encourage self-diagnosis of a variety of conditions – ADHD, anxiety, bipolar disorder – based on “symptoms” that are extremely broad (many public bodies, such as the American Psychological Association, have said social media is leading to a spike in misdiagnosed mental health issues). More than anything, these videos are simplistic – the advice offered is rarely illuminating. Videos such as “how to self-soothe” or “this is gaslighting” rehash the basics of well-known topics: a quick Google search would be far more instructive. With incredible frequency, these therapists make the bold suggestion that your problems might be rooted – gasp! – in your childhood. Videos toe the line between counselling and inspirational speaking, doling out shallow and unhelpful self-help platitudes. Struggling with low self-esteem? Have you tried simply not listening to other people’s opinions?

  • Students at Harvard walked out of Professor John Comaroff’s class on Tuesday, protesting his history of predatory behavior and the university’s failure to take action, Lexi McMenamin reports for Teen Vogue:

The protest was organized by a group of concerned students, Our Harvard Can Do Better, and the grad union’s Feminist Working Group, according to campus paper The Crimson, as well as students from Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard and the Harvard Student Labor Action Movement. Photos from the action, published by The Crimson, show several students plastering a classroom with critical signs and weaving through the campus in protest.

“For the good of the university community and Harvard’s academic mission, it’s past time for Harvard to act,” freshman Rosie Couture said in a statement, accusing Comaroff of “undermining Harvard’s value of creating an equitable, safe learning environment for all.”

  • For The Dial, Lucía Cholakian Herrera interviewed three leaders of the Argentinian reproductive rights movement, which organized to achieve an overturn of the country’s abortion ban in 2020:

JULIETA BAZÁN, doctor: From the health and science perspective, the debate inside Congress and in academia focused on underscoring the high fatality rates for clandestine abortions. Most women who underwent them ended up in the hospital, which put their health, and in some cases their lives, at risk. If illegal abortions were so dangerous, our approach was to develop safe techniques within the public health care system to prevent them [from being necessary].

We worked on two fronts: We wanted to build a consensus on legalization within the health care system, and we also worked on the social decriminalization of abortion among doctors in order to stop the surrounding stigma.

  • Frieda Afary writes for Truthout about the working-class organizers whose leadership has been largely overlooked in the movement for women’s rights in Iran:

What also needs to be singled out is that while the majority of the protesters in the current uprising are young, most are either from the working class or represent the impoverished middle class in a country where two-thirds of a population of 88 million fall under the relative or absolute poverty line.* The four young protesters who were hanged by the regime in December and January were all from the working class: Mohammad Hosseini, a poultry worker; Mohsen Shekari, a coffee shop worker and caregiver for his grandmother; Majid Reza Rahnavard, a shop clerk; and Mohammad Mehdi Karami, a Kurdish karate champion and son of a street vendor.

  • It’s been quite the past couple of weeks for film censorship in South Asia, from Joyland in Pakistan to the BBC‘s documentary on Narendra Modi’s role in the 2002 Muslim pogrom in India. Twitter user @agirlhasnogames provides some comic respite in the midst of this grim reality:
  • A reminder that your land acknowledgment as a marketing strategy is not a cute look …:
  • Is there a Drag Race guest appearance in Congressman George Santos’s future?:

Required Reading is published every Thursday afternoon, 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.

26 Jan. 2023

Hamline University faculty are calling for the resignation of President Fayneese Miller after the school failed to renew the contract of an adjunct who showed artworks depicting the Muslim Prophet Muhammad, student newspaper The Oracle reports. It’s the latest development in the controversy involving former adjunct Erika López Prater, who recently filed a lawsuit against Hamline after a system-wide email sent from the office of inclusive excellence in November denounced her conduct as “Islamophobic.” President Miller has since recanted on the administration’s use of the term.

During an emergency meeting earlier this week, 71 out of 92 faculty members voted in favor of officially requesting Miller’s resignation, adding in an official statement that the school’s administration “mishandled” the issue and that “great harm has been done to the reputation of Minnesota’s oldest university.”

“We, the faculty of Hamline University, stand for both academic freedom and the education of all students,” the letter reads. “We affirm both academic freedom and our responsibility to foster an inclusive learning community. Importantly, these values neither contradict nor supersede each other.” The statement also alleges that López Prater was not afforded due process or provided with an opportunity to defend herself.

López Prater was denied the opportunity to teach a spring semester class after showing two figurative depictions of the Prophet Mohammed, including a famous Medieval Islamic painting, during a World Art lecture on October 6. Prater issued a warning before showing the images, but one Muslim student in attendance, Aram Wedatalla, was offended by their display. Though some practicing Muslims do not create or intentionally view figurative imagery of Muhammad, Islamic scholars such as historian Christiane Gruber were quick to point out that the works in Prater’s lecture were made with the intent of veneration and devotion, not idolatry.

In a university-wide email, Assistant Vice Principal of Inclusive Excellence David Everett called the classroom incident “undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic.” When reached by Hyperallergic, López Prater described how the accusations have impacted her.

“Unfortunately, my name will be associated with Islamophobia throughout my career, to my great detriment,” López Prater told Hyperallergic, referencing the “emotional distress” and “loss of income” outlined in the lawsuit. “I have not only been impugned unjustly. More broadly, the fields of Islamic Art History and Islamic studies, and many diverse Muslim voices, have been dealt blows and mischaracterized as monolithic in nature, which only promotes damaging stereotypes.”

On January 17, the same day López Prater filed her lawsuit, President Miller and Ellen Watters, the university board of trustees chair, issued a joint statement rescinding the use of the term “Islamophobic” to describe the incident, affirming that “language was used that does not reflect our sentiments on academic freedom.”

“Based on all that we have learned, we have determined that our usage of the term ‘Islamophobic’ was therefore flawed,” Miller and Watters wrote, acknowledging that they have “learned much from the many scholars, religious leaders, and thinkers from around the world on the complexity of displaying images of the Prophet Muhammad.”

Professor Mark Berkson, chair of Hamline University’s Department of Religion and voting faculty member during the emergency meeting, told Hyperallergic that while the “terrible mishandling of the situation involving Prof. López Prater” was the final straw, it wasn’t the only reason the faculty called for her resignation.

“I was on the search committee that hired President Miller, and we recognized her talent and potential,” Berkson remarked. “Unfortunately, her administration has been plagued by problems that culminated in the recent controversy.”

Berkson also commented that while he supports calls for Miller’s resignation, David Everett “is certainly one of the people most responsible for the damage done to Hamline.”

“Without bothering to educate himself about the issues at the heart of the controversy, he acted to exclude our colleague from the community, silence questions and condemn dissenting voices,” Berkson continued. “While the ‘buck stops’ with the president, and therefore she should resign, I strongly believe that Hamline deserves a better voice for diversity and inclusion than David Everett.” 

Fayneese Miller, David Everett, and Hamline University’s media relations department have not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comments.

López Prater has expressed gratitude to the multiple Muslim and Islamic groups who have shown public support for her at this time, highlighting the Muslim Public Affairs Council, CAIR-National, Muslims for Progressive Values, and the Association for Iranian Studies Committee for Academic Freedom in particular.

“I am committed to continue participating in conversations that illuminate and celebrate the broad diversity within Islam — historically and contemporaneously — with my colleagues and students, Muslim and non-Muslim,” López Prater told Hyperallergic. “This is an opportunity for us to mend bridges collectively, and to strive toward greater understanding, education, and reconciliation.”

Back on campus for the spring semester, Berkson notes that there is a lot of work needed to restore the university’s reputation from the “near-universal condemnation of the administration from across the political spectrum.”

“The person whose problematic leadership got us into this situation cannot be the person who will lead us out of it. We need and deserve a new leader and a new vision,” Berkson concluded.   

26 Jan. 2023

In the wake of ongoing political protests that have led to the deaths of over 50 peoplemost of them during confrontations with police forces — the Peruvian government has indefinitely closed Machu Picchu and the famous Inca Trail. The 15th-century Incan site sees around a million tourists per year, and over 400 visitors had to be evacuated over the weekend, according to a January 21 announcement from Peru’s tourism ministry. The agency stated that ticket holders can either receive a refund or use their pass in the month following the conflict’s end, a date which remains unclear as protesters continue to demand the resignation of President Dina Boluarte.

The tourism ministry said that “violent groups” had damaged rail lines leading to Machu Picchu, and last month, the government evacuated thousands of tourists there because of closed airports and obstructed train tracks. That problem has persisted into January as the nearby city of Cusco has erupted in violent clashes with Peruvian authorities.

The nation-wide, Indigenous-led protests began in December, when Peru’s congress ousted former Leftist president Pedro Castillo. Facing a December 7 impeachment vote for corruption charges, Castillo tried to dissolve the nation’s congress, prompting mass resignations and a suggestion of non-support from the military. The country’s top court called the former president’s dissolution of the legislature unconstitutional, and Castillo was removed from office and arrested. Former vice president Dina Boluarte assumed power, and now Castillo faces 18 months in jail before his trial.

Protests in Lima in December (via Wikimedia Commons)

The dramatic turn of events speaks to larger political turmoil in Peru’s recent history: Six presidents have led the nation in the past six years, and reigning governments have been plagued by corruption. Castillo, a former union leader and school teacher, represented a break from traditional leadership and was seen as offering a voice to Peru’s rural poor. Castillo, who is Indigenous, is also the country’s first rural Andean president in a country whose rural Indigenous communities have historically faced social inequality. The recent protests have been largely led by Indigenous Castillo supporters in the Southern Andes.

The recent turmoil constitutes the worst political violence Peru has seen in 20 years. On January 10, the United Nations urged Peruvian authorities to carry out “prompt, impartial and effective” investigations into the mounting injuries and deaths and ensure justice for perpetrators and victims.

The protests continue. On Tuesday, thousands of demonstrators were hit with tear gas and pellets in the capital city of Lima, shortly after Boularte called for a truce. Yesterday, January 25, left-wing Peruvian officials filed for President Dina Boluarte’s impeachment, citing what they see as her mishandling of the recent protests.

26 Jan. 2023

MARFA, Tex. — Artist Kenneth Tam’s Tender is the hand which holds the stone of memory touches on an important and overlooked event in United States history — the exploitation of tens of thousands of Chinese immigrant laborers during the construction of the Central Pacific section of the Transcontinental Railroad in the late 1800s — against a contemporary exploration of masculinity using the cowboy image as a foil. Through a two-channel video titled “Silent Spikes” (2021) and an accompanying set of sculptural pieces, Tam processes and reshapes past and current events, emotions, and traumas using movement, dialogue, and reenactment. 

The work feels physical, visceral, personal, tender. The sculptural elements — precious relics and fossilized carcasses laden with stone and cast-off debris — seem unearthed from an archeological dig. A leather saddle, sawed into pieces, serves as the armature for works mounted on walls the color of raw meat, lending the impression of a carved-up body. 

The video vacillates between past and present. Chinese workers who contributed labor and expertise to constructing rail lines through rough, mountainous terrain prepare for a strike. The men are given a voice through narration, their imagined thoughts (in Cantonese with subtitles) backed by the evocative sounds of stringed instruments, conjuring up both traditional Chinese music and soundtracks of mid-20th-century western movies. A dark, rocky tunnel with a distant opening appears. Though the image of a passageway through the bowels of the earth recurs, the light at the end never seems to come any closer.

On the adjacent screen, a lone individual, then a group, all self-identified Asian American men, dressed like cartoon cowboys on an ethereally-lit stage perform the exaggerated, almost erotic, motions of horseback riding. Though there is no dust, grassland, or horse, there is sensitivity, intimacy, and care in the men’s movements and dialog, elements not typically included in the made-for-TV version of the cowboy myth. Here the archetype of the North American cowboy as a “rugged individual” is recast and reemerges in a different light. 

Installation view, Kenneth Tam, Tender is the hand which holds the stone of memory, Ballroom Marfa, October 26 – May 7, 2023 . Floor pieces, front to back: “He does not know the custom” (2022) and “Why did you strike me” (2022); wall pieces, left to right: “Dear Mother” (2022), “The scent of tea” (2022), and “At night we talk of home” (2022) (photo Alyce Santoro/Hyperallergic)

Perhaps installed out here in Marfa, in the midst of ranchland and close to the US/Mexico border, Tam’s work will have a different resonance than it does with audiences in more urban settings. Rangeland, cattle, and their stewards exist a stone’s throw from the gallery walls. Those who live here have a visceral understanding of the rugged individual as a dangerous fiction — nothing and no one survives alone in the desert. This is a place where cowboys are very real and the story of migrants dehumanized, dismissed, and exploited for their labor is tangible and ever-present. 

Tam takes the character of the stoic cowboy figure and recuperates it by infusing it with emotion and sensuality. A part of the mythology that goes unspoken in the work on view is the cowboy as a heroic conqueror and colonizer during the expansion of the territories of the United States. In this sense, Tam’s reenactments are complicated; empathy with the victims of oppression in the name of industrialization and “progress” can and does exist alongside fascination with the “wild west” spirit that enabled (and enables) such atrocities to occur. If there is a light at the tunnel, perhaps it is in the unearthing of hidden histories of the many who are sacrificed for the wealth of the few, and in the making of new, more nuanced, sensitive, and humane myths.

Kenneth Tam, “At night we talk of home” (2022), leather saddle, aqua-resin, pepper spray, broken ceramic, paint, steel, 12 x 14 x 10 inches (photo Alyce Santoro/Hyperallergic)
Kenneth Tam, “The scent of tea” (2022), leather saddle, aqua-resin, cologne bottle, jade, hand of doll, paint, steel, 16w x 23h x 14d inches (photo Alyce Santoro/Hyperallergic)
Kenneth Tam, “Silent Spikes (still) (2021), two-channel HD video, sound, 20:29 minutes (photo Jason Mandella, courtesy the artist and Commonwealth and Council)
Kenneth Tam, “Silent Spikes (still) (2021), two-channel HD video, sound, 20:29 minutes (photo Alyce Santoro/Hyperallergic)

Tender is the hand which holds the stone of memory continues at Ballroom Marfa (108 E. San Antonio St., Marfa, Texas 79843) through May 7, 2023. The exhibition was organized by Daisy Nam with assistance from Alexann Susholtz.

26 Jan. 2023

SANTA FE, N. Mex. — In a zigzag constellation across the Atlantic, there’s a Tony Price sculpture show on the seafloor. The Brooklyn-born artist hopped a frigate to Europe in 1963 on a hunt for a hipster scene that culturally bridged the beatniks and the hippies. He discovered a welding rig onboard and made artworks from scrap metal, enlisting the crew to ceremonially jettison each piece to make room for the next one.

That ethereal image is echoed at Phil Space, which has housed an exhibition of about 50 works by Price since before the COVID-19 pandemic. Masks and figures made from found materials dot the concrete floor and fill walls papered in black. Stacks of crates line the far end of the room. James Hart, founder of Phil Space, flips on track lights at their dimmest setting.

“I do think I’ve gone crazy because they do speak to me,” says Hart, scanning the metallic faces that float in the void. In addition to running Phil Space, Hart is the president of the nonprofit Friends of Tony Price, established after the artist’s death in 2000.

The prolonged commingling of these two elaborate projects has forced Hart to grapple with the idea of carrying an artistic legacy — with all of its flotsam, jetsam, and treasures. Price’s posthumous show exemplifies the ethos of Phil Space, even as it stands as a physical impediment to the experimental gallery’s resurrection.

Tony Price, (mask) “Nuclear Garuda” (c. 1975-2000), steel, brass, 21 inches x 25 inches x 10 inches, 55lbs (photo by James Hart)

Following his European travels, Price moved to El Rito, New Mexico, and discovered a nearby salvage yard heaped with cast-off materials from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the former headquarters of the Manhattan Project. For over 30 years thereafter, he amassed eerily elegant shrapnel from earth-shattering scientific experiments to create anti-nuclear protest art. 

“These spirit masks represent the cultures of all of humanity,” Hart says. “When you look into the eyes of the spirits, they transform the destructiveness of the materials in your mind.” 

The works are often apocalyptically funny (behold the strained expression of “First Mutant Man Born Without Asshole”) and at times undeniably appropriative (Hart still isn’t sure how to frame Price’s occasional use of the sacred Hopi term kachina) — and they have an uncanny presence that seems watchful and stern, powerful but benevolent.

Price successfully exhibited and sold his art across the United States, from Battery Park in Manhattan to the grounds of Biosphere 2 in Arizona. He left behind about 150 works spanning more than 30 years of output in a studio in Reserve, New Mexico, which he hoped would eventually populate a permanent art center.

“All of this work kind of pooled there, and that’s still where it is — right there,” says Hart. Or rather, about a third of it got stuck at Phil Space, which adjoins Hart’s commercial photography studio on 2nd Street in Santa Fe, when the pandemic froze the gallery’s activities three years ago. “It’s like being in jail with this stuff,” he says. “No one other than Tony has lived with this work like me.” 

Hart established the James Hart Photography Exhibition Space in 1993, renting a spot next to his studio to showcase work by his photography students from Santa Fe Community College. The two spaces comprise about 2,200 square feet.

Tony Price Studio, Reserve, New Mexico, 2002 (photo by James Hart)

In 2000, Hart’s father Phillip died and he renamed the gallery Phil Space in tribute to a long line of family patriarchs. (“It’s also easier to say,” Hart adds.) That’s when Hart shifted his focus from students to local, late-career artists who didn’t fit into Santa Fe’s commercial art scene.

“I’d met so many artists through my photography work who did incredible things in the 1970s and ‘80s — a real golden age in Santa Fe — but were struggling to find a gallery on Canyon Road or downtown,” says Hart. He wondered if his warehouse-style space in Midtown, far from the traditional art districts, could fill a cultural vacuum and unite the local community. 

Early exhibitors included the painters Eugene Newmann and Jerry West, and the sculptor John Connell. In the following two decades, Phil Space hosted over 160 exhibitions — many in honor of late-career or deceased artists. In one case, a featured artist died mid-show. “I’d call myself the gallerist of death,” says Hart. “I thought I was like Charon, the boatman who ferries souls to the afterlife.”

Hart’s engagement with Price’s legacy kicked off in 2004, when he was hired to photograph the artist’s work for an exhibition catalog by the New Mexico Museum of Art, which mounted a major retrospective that would travel to the United Nations headquarters in New York. Hart had met a small circle of Tony Price’s friends at a mentor’s funeral a few years before, and they trusted him with a key to Price’s 40-by-40-foot studio in Reserve.

“I couldn’t move the stuff by myself, so I got a block and tackle. One of the masks came off the wall and nearly killed me,” says Hart. “So I ended up making these little lighting setups, each one on the wall. It was painstaking, took the whole summer.” Hart had only met Price once or twice before his death, but he formed an indelible bond with the artist’s story.

Tony Price, “Nuclear Pacifier” (c. 1975-2000), acrylic, steel, 26 inches x 26 inches x 26 inches, 45lbs (photo by Byron Flesher)

Hart was the self-proclaimed “new kid” when he joined the board of Friends of Tony Price in the early 2000s, which until that point featured longtime pals of the artist who were a decade or two older than Hart. That included the now-deceased poet Rosé Cohen (the group’s “administrative leader,” according to Hart) and the filmmaker Godfrey Reggio (“our spiritual leader”).

Since becoming board president a few years ago, Hart has completely reformed the board to include younger members, accepted funding for a new website from a local benefactor, and — crucially — struck a 20-year deal with Price’s three children to continue working towards the construction of a museum. Although the original board members have all left their roles (Hart now calls them “the angels”), Reggio is helping conceptualize a design for the facility.

“He calls it a ‘radical attractor,’” Hart says, pulling out a sketch by Reggio and a few of his own digital renderings. The main exhibition space is a jet black, oblong form inspired by a Viking ship, a cultural reference point for some of Price’s works. Next to it is a bright red cube, which would house a gift shop and administrative offices. Both structures are windowless, so the subdued presentation of the Phil Space show is something of a proof of concept.

“Ideally this would sit on a hillside in the Rio Grande Valley, so that you could see the twinkling lights of Los Alamos at night,” says Hart. “These things were meant to keep an eye.” 

Proposed model for Tony Price permanent collection, design by Godfrey Reggio
Tony Price, (mask) “Samurai Spirit Mask/Nagasaki” (c. 1975-2000), 23 inches x 30 inches x 13 inches, 110lbs (photo by James Hart)
Installation dtail of The Work of Tony Price at Phil Space, Santa Fe, New Mexico (2019-present) (photo by Byron Flesher)
Installation view of The Work of Tony Price at Phil Space, Santa Fe, New Mexico (2019-present) (photo by Byron Flesher)
26 Jan. 2023

OAKLAND, Calif. — Last October, artist Mildred Howard, known for large-scale sculptures, mixed media, and public art, was honored by San Francisco’s 500 Capp Street, as well as the San José Museum of Art. At the end of the month, the Southeast Community Center opened in San Francisco’s Bayview District, with Howard’s commissioned metal sculpture “Promissory Notes” outside. Shortly before this, in September, her solo exhibition, The Time and Space of Now, featuring multimedia installations, her first film, and 30 works on paper, opened at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) San José, and will be up through February 26.

Howard, who was born in San Francisco, grew up in Berkeley, and now lives in Oakland, deserves all the adulation coming her way, says artist Lava Thomas. 

“She was one of the first people creating public artwork in the Bay Area, and she’s literally changed the landscape,” Thomas told Hyperallergic. “She was a huge mentor for me when I was designing the Maya Angelou monument — I had never designed a monument before. And her work in installation art really broke ground for a lot of folks who came after her.”

Thomas had seen Howard’s work when she lived in Los Angeles. After she moved to Berkeley, she heard that Howard was teaching at Stanford and went to the campus to meet her. After Thomas introduced herself, she told Howard how much she admired her work, invited her to lunch, and they’ve been friends ever since. 

Mildred Howard in her Oakland studio (photo Emily Wilson/Hyperallergic)

For her show at the ICA, Howard worked with composer Chris Brown to create music for each space and for a film that she made after discovering eight-millimeter film in her mother’s purse that Howard had shot in Texas when she was 14. In the galleries, a large black peahen flies over a pile of oyster shells; a clock is set to 6:19, representing June 19th — Juneteenth — commemorating the end of slavery in the United States; and a large funnel on the ceiling pours sand onto the floor. In another gallery, 30 of Howard’s prints hang on the walls. 

Zoë Latzer, the ICA’s associate curator, says she wants the museum to show local artists who make a big impact — like Howard. “The Bay Area has been historically very ignored,” she related. “Our role is really thinking about who are these incredible Bay Area artists, both well known, like Mildred, as well as emerging and under-recognized.”

Howard earned an MFA from the Fiberworks Center for the Textile Arts at John F. Kennedy University and uses a multitude of materials and methods: glass, metals, textiles, collage, photography, and prints. The artist, who began as a dancer, works with musicians like Brown and poets including Janice Mirikitani and Quincy Troupe. She relishes the chance to try out new art forms.

“I get bored easily, and I like exploring other avenues of learning,” she explained in her Oakland studio. “In art school they emphasize you have to work on this one body of work, so that you really begin to understand the material. And that’s true, but at the same time, you can work on multiple areas, and one thing informs the other.”

Mildred Howard, “I’ve Been a Witness to this Game I” (2016), monoprint and digital print on collaged found papers, 20 5/8 inches x 15 1/8 inches (image by Strode Photographic, collection of Jordan D. Schnitzer)

Artist Kija Lucas met Howard when she took a class with her at the San Francisco Art Institute, where the class traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico. The two artists have stayed in touch, and Lucas admires the way Howard shifts back and forth between different styles and mediums in her practice. “She’s an artist to her bones, and she works in whatever way makes sense,” Lucas noted. “Her work is really incredible, and she’s been in the Bay Area making art for so long.”

While Howard is now known for her public art, she says it took her about 15 years to get her first commission, which came in 1984 for “Gospel and The Storefront Church” in Mill Valley. Her next public installation was “Salty Peanuts,” in 2000 at the San Francisco Airport. “It took that many years,” she said. “I kept seeing all these men, and I’m thinking they’re no better than I am.” 

Howard persisted because she wanted to expand what she did and expose her work to a broader community. “I’m constantly trying to challenge what I know and what I don’t know,” she mused. “It’s that challenge that interests me.”

Troupe has read his poetry at several of Howard’s openings, and he composed a poem to be etched in the glass panels of her “Three Shades of Blue (2003), displayed in San Francisco’s Fillmore District. The author of two books about Miles Davis, the poet has known Howard for decades and owns several of her pieces; in some ways she reminds him of the famous trumpeter and composer. 

“Mildred is direct, and Miles was direct. I’ve always liked that in people — she is no-nonsense about things,” he laughed. “I think Mildred’s work is powerful and unique. She has her own signature like Miles. If you hear Miles Davis on a record, you know it’s him by the voice. If you see a Mildred Howard piece, you know it’s hers by the voice.”

In addition to creating artworks around the Bay Area, Howard has been involved with her local community in many ways. She developed a curriculum integrating art and science for San Francisco’s Exploratorium, and at chef Alice Waters’s invitation she become executive director of the Edible School Yard at Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Middle School. 

Artist Leila Weefur grew up in Oakland seeing Howard’s artwork. They met when Howard was a visiting artist at Mills College while Weefur was in graduate school there. “She has a lot of perspective and holds a lot of history about this place,” stated Weefer. As an editor at Art Practical, Weefur made a video series about Bay Area artists that included Howard. “I want to uplift her story and make her known to the younger generation.” Weefur added, “She has encouraged me, she has been a friend and someone I can call when I’m having difficulty.”

James Leventhal, director of the ICA San José, asserts that Howard has made generations of artists in the Bay Area feel that their work matters and they have something to say. “I think she’s just been such an important mentor and teacher for so many people for so many decades,” he expressed. “She has just been a living embodiment in a lot of ways that it’s possible [to succeed]. I think she gives that feeling to people.”

Kija Lucas, like Troupe, is impressed by Howard’s directness. “She doesn’t beat around the bush …. She’s very giving, and she tells you what’s up. She’ll let you know the real deal — she’s not going to pretend. She’s the opposite of a gatekeeper for generations of students.”

500 Capp Street’s director, Cait Molloy, believes that Howard has been instrumental in using art to engage people, ranging from children to those who are incarcerated. In Molloy’s experience, Howard wants to share what she knows. 

For Howard, who is in the process of making enough work for three shows in eight months, helping other artists is part of the point. 

“It’s hard,” she said. “The journey is nothing without taking someone along with you.”

Mildred Howard, “Abode: Sanctuary for the Famila(r)” (1994), bottles, wood, sand, stones (courtesy Anglim/Trimble)
Mildred Howard, “The Time and Space of Now” (2021), mixed media installation, commissioned by the New Mexico Museum of Art, 2021 (photo by Cameron Gay)
Mildred Howard, “Assegnazioni con De Seingalt X” (2017), monoprint, collage, chine collé and digital print, 20 3/4 inches x 17 inches (image by Aaron Wessling Photography, collection of Jordan D. Schnitzer )
Mildred Howard, “The Time and Space of Now” (2021), mixed media installation, commissioned by the New Mexico Museum of Art, 2021 (photo by Cameron Gay)
26 Jan. 2023

Joyland (2022), Saim Sadiq’s crushing debut and the first Pakistani film to be shortlisted for the Oscars, is imbued with a crisis of space. There never seems to be enough room. Not in the Rana household, the narrative kernel of the outing, where the intimacy of a married couple is compromised by the presence of a child sleeping with them. Not in the erotic theater, where a transgender dancer struggles to headline her own set. Not even in a close-walled residence, where an expression of female desire is brought to submission by an intrusive pair of eyes. 

This paucity is physical and metaphorical; the urge to fit in within this lack is personal and private. Sadiq frames the story around this admixture of dearth and desire, arguing through his film the world’s tendency to amplify the need to belong while designing it as a cautionary tale of belonging. 

Written by Sadiq and Maggie Briggs, Joyland focuses on a Lahore-based middle-class family. It is helmed by a wheelchair-addled patriarch and includes his two sons, Saleem (Sohail Sameer) and Haider (Ali Junejo). Each is starkly different than the other. The former is an alpha male, eager to extend his lineage with a son. Haider, shouldering responsibilities at home, is diffident. Even their marriages are contrasting. The relationship between Saleem and Nucchi (Sarwat Gilani) brims with inequality, no different from an orthodox union. Haider and Mumtaz (Rasti Farooq) are close. She works at a beauty parlor, he is unemployed. Their alliance, largely asexual in nature, comes across as consensual companionship. It’s why when Haider is hired as a background dancer at an erotic theater and his father decides for Mumtaz to quit her job, she looks to him for support. Haider opposes but gives in. 

Ali Junejo and Alina Khan in Joyland (2022), dir. Saim Sadiq

Since its premiere at Cannes in 2022, the film has been making waves for its LGBTQ+ themes, the appeal accentuated by the first-ever inclusion of a transgender actor (Alina Khan) in a major Pakistani feature although the country legally recognized the community in 2009. A detail such as this and the narrative shift which enfolds Haider falling for the character, Biba preempts the transgressive love story to hijack the main plot. Love, after all, has traditionally served as the text for conflict and subtext for approval. The filmmaker’s brilliance lies in bypassing tropes to render a critique of the cornering labels of identity. 

Subjected to humiliation, Biba yearns for gender-affirming surgery to approximate her true identity. Joyland acknowledges her desire but also examines the stifling existence of those who already are. Mumtaz becomes the face of oppression. On paper, she’s who Biba wants to be — a woman who enjoys social acceptance. Except, the jagged edges of gender have bruised Mumtaz. Haider is no less wounded from being emasculated for his gentility. Through assured filmmaking and compelling performances, Sadiq highlights the restrictions embedded in the coveted idea of belonging. 

During its runtime, Joyland unfolds as a reiteration of patriarchy that necessitates performing gender, and, thus, robs joy of inhabiting it. The film emerges as distinctly South Asian with a universal core, espousing a cogent commentary: When the world is attuned to defining identity in boxes, there will never be enough space. In such a case, Sadiq insists, the desire to belong is fated to remain as a longing to be. 

From Joyland (2022), dir. Saim Sadiq

Joyland (2022) screens at Sundance Film Festival on January 27 and 28, and will arrive in theaters this spring.

26 Jan. 2023

The aim of the Alex Brown Residency at Mainframe Studios is to provide emerging and established artists of exceptional merit with an experience like the working conditions artist Alex Brown (1966–2019) found in Des Moines, Iowa. With an exceptional studio space and a relaxed, comfortable living environment, the residency is intended to give artists the opportunity to make the work they want to make in a unique location, free from the daily influence of being immersed in a major metropolitan scene but without the isolation of a rural residency.

Artists can focus entirely on their work for an extended period of time in a city consistently ranked in recent years as one of the best places to live in the US — the city David Byrne called “beyond cool.” A residency at The Alex Brown Foundation is ideal for those looking to work in a spacious private studio with little distraction.

The Artist-In-Residence program provides a 1,400-square-foot studio space at Mainframe Studios, a renovated 1970s telecommunications building in downtown Des Moines. It includes a monthly stipend of $1,000, airfare or reimbursement for other travel to and from Des Moines, and a fully furnished one-bedroom apartment situated in a quiet, centrally located neighborhood, just a three-minute drive and a 14-minute walk from the studio.

Application Instructions
The Alex Brown Foundation is currently accepting applications for its 2024 artist residency program. Applications will be accepted from artists working in any medium. No application fee will be charged. We will be accepting applications until March 15, 2023, for residencies beginning January 1, 2024.

To learn more, visit alexbrownfoundation.org.

25 Jan. 2023
Asma Naeem (photo by Christopher Myers, courtesy BMA)

The Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) has appointed Asma Naeem as its new director. Announced by the museum on Tuesday, January 24, her tenure will begin on February 1, when she will become the first person of color to lead the institution. 

BMA Board of Trustees named Naeem the museum’s 11th director after a 10-month search following Christopher Bedford’s resignation in June 2022. (Bedford now helms the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.) Naeem has worked at the Baltimore museum for five years, first as its chief curator and most recently as interim co-director; previously, she was a curator in the prints and drawings department at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.

The Baltimore institution has been the subject of controversy in recent years. In 2020, the museum drew criticism for its plan to sell three paintings by Brice Marden, Clyfford Still, and Andy Warhol and use the estimated proceeds of $65 million to fund staff salaries, equity programs, and new acquisitions. Former presidents of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) sent a letter to then-board chair Clair Zamoiski Segal urging the institution to reconsider, and a group of former BMA trustees and other museum supporters signed an open letter in protest. Artists Adam Pendleton and Amy Sherald both resigned from the Board of Trustees during this period, though neither cited the deaccession plan as the reason. The sale was eventually halted hours before two of the paintings by Still and Marden were slated to go under the hammer at Sotheby’s (the Warhol was to be sold privately).

Despite the sale’s cancellation, the institution announced that it would continue to pursue its “Endowment for the Future” initiative, set in motion by a $1 million lead gift from philanthropist and collector Eileen Harris Norton in February 2021 that would help fund new acquisitions by artists of color, among other projects.

Naeem is also ascending into her role as director less than a year since nearly 140 workers at the BMA voted to form a “wall-to-wall” union covering all employees, including retail operations, curation, and security departments. Back in March 2022, workers demonstrated in front of museum steps during an exhibition curated by the museum’s security guards to pressure former BMA Director Christopher Bedford to sign the City of Baltimore’s union election agreement.

Salman Toor: No Ordinary Love installation at the Baltimore Museum of Art (photo by Mitro Hood, courtesy BMA)

Over the course of her career at BMA, Naeem curated exhibitions such as Candice Breitz: Too Long, Didn’t Read, Salman Toor: No Ordinary Love, and the forthcoming The Culture: Hip Hop and Contemporary Art in the 21st Century

Too Long, Didn’t Read, which ran from March 15, 2020, through November 15, 2020, displayed two multichannel video installations by Breitz, a South African-born artist, that reflect on internet and celebrity cultures. The Salman Toor exhibition featured the Pakistan-born artist’s reinterpretations of historical works, such as Sir Anthony van Dyck’s “Rinaldo and Armida” (1629) featuring brown, queer figures, and is traveling to other institutions such as the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University and the Tampa Museum of Art. No Ordinary Love also included a catalogue with essays by writers such as art critic Evan Moffitt and magazine editor and novelist Hanya Yanagihara. 

The upcoming show she co-curated, The Culture, celebrates the influence of Hip Hop culture on contemporary art on the 50th anniversary of the global movement’s birth.

In a statement to Hyperallergic, Naeem hinted broadly at her vision for the institution. “Art does not conform to geopolitical boundaries,” Naeem said. “We are seeking to show visitors how interconnected cultures are and to surface Non-Western influences that permeate the historical art canon.”

25 Jan. 2023
Saudi Arabia Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman, à la Warhol (image Valentina Di Liscia/Hyperallergic)

Not long ago, I received an invitation for a press trip to Saudi Arabia to attend a preview of the exhibition Fame: Andy Warhol in AlUla, opening on February 17. Hosted by the government-funded AlUla Arts Festival, the show will include dozens of works on loan from Pittsburgh’s Andy Warhol Museum, a branch of the Carnegie Museum. The all-expenses-paid trip I was offered — Business Class flight, hotel accommodation, lavish dinners, and programming that includes a helicopter tour over the desert and a “tour with vintage cars” — seemed tempting. Since I have never visited Saudia Arabia, and am most curious about that country, the trip could have been a good way to inform myself. So why did I end up turning down this opportunity? 

Museums renting out part of the collection to other venues — that’s a familiar practice. It’s a good way to build the audience for institutions on both sides of the loan. And, of course, it makes money for the loaner. A show of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Islamic carpets in Saudi Arabia would make more sense. And I can imagine a loan exhibition, say, of still-life French paintings. But the very idea of choosing Warhol, of all possible Western modernists, was to me a most unexpected choice. I presume that the selection of Warhols will require cautious, careful editing. (In 2019, I reviewed the museum’s exhibition of his Catholic works, which I doubt will make it to this exhibition.) 

When then I reflected, the moral dilemmas posed by this exhibition were self-evident. On one hand, the presentation of a body of Warhol’s art to a Saudi audience is a way to potentially open up a dialogue. Who knows what some young visitors might learn from this exhibition? If we only engaged in cultural exchanges with societies whose political culture we approved, then how many such exchanges would be possible? And, more to the point, at this moment, who are we Americans to think of ourselves as moral models for the rest of the world? But on the other hand, Fame may well validate an authoritarian regime whose official policies and practices, especially those concerning sexual freedoms, are abhorrent. To show Warhol under the sponsorship of the Saudi fundamentalist regime is almost like organizing a club called “Jewish friends of the Third Reich.” After all, as you can readily learn online, what used to be called “homosexuality” is not just officially frowned upon in Saudia Arabia — it is potentially subject to capital punishment. But of course, Warhol himself, it is true, collaborated extensively with the authoritarian regime of the Shah of Iran.   

The show at AlUla is organized by Patrick Moore, the Warhol director, who isn’t a curator. In an interview with the Pittsburgh-based LGBTQ+ publication QBurgh, Moore said he has always been an out gay man, and that when he visited Saudia Arabia, he was “pretty astonished” by what he found. “You know, I found a society that was evolving much more quickly than I had anticipated,” he shared. I hope that his optimism is justified. Moore adds that his show “is intended to be an introduction to the aspect of Warhol that I believe is most fascinating to many young people, including Saudi youth, as Andy Warhol’s journey, which started as a child staring at the movie screen and collecting publicity stills, is becoming more common through the rise of social media.” His vision of Warhol’s movies certainly differs from mine. Perhaps he is being ironic — or maybe he is putting us on. It’s hard to read his statement with a straight face. But since I have never visited Saudi Arabia, I really cannot tell. 

In an interesting way, judging Fame is making a bet on the future of its host country. Perhaps this exhibition will have an effect on the beliefs of some people in Saudia Arabia. The question, also, is what the loan says about my country and its museums. I understand that our local museums, like institutions everywhere, may well be financially beleaguered. And so, to survive they need to rent out their collections to prosperous countries. Still, whatever the legal realities, major loans from American quasi-public institutions should not, in my judgment, be promised without some discussion. (That there is no daily print newspaper in Pittsburgh anymore is part of the problem here. You have to go online to learn about the show.) Not when the political dimensions of this show are so obvious.

The sale of American armaments to Middle-Eastern countries is, ideally, a subject for public national political judgment. Whether art from Pittsburgh’s public museums is rented should, I am urging, be (minimally) a subject for local discussion. At least in a case like this, where the moral problems are so evident. Our museums really need to be more transparent if we are to trust them. And they want our trust. Ultimately, of course, if our Pittsburgh museums feel the need for financial reasons to rent the collections, that’s because these institutions lack sufficient local funding. We need to ask what kinds of compromises we are prepared to tolerate. Again: Discussion is required. Until then, I can’t in good conscience go see this show or help it receive more press attention.

25 Jan. 2023

Laura Poitras’s film about photographer Nan Goldin is nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed examines Goldin’s personal life and career while following her work with Prescription Addiction Intervention Now (PAIN), an activist group she founded to fight the Sackler family and the opioid epidemic it largely engineered.

When she founded PAIN in 2017, Goldin had developed an addiction to OxyContin, the opioid produced and sold by the Sackler family’s giant Purdue Pharma (which both knew about and concealed the drug’s addiction risk). PAIN’s advocacy has brought into focus the Sacklers’ “toxic philanthropy,” much of which they poured into the art world. Goldin’s largely successful campaigns have pressured museums to reject Sackler donations and remove the disgraced family’s name from their galleries.

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed mixes more contemporary PAIN footage with flashbacks centering Goldin’s personal biography and art. The result is a personal examination of the contradictions and swings of the artist’s life: from painful memories of loved ones lost to AIDS and drug abuse to glimpses of happiness, community, and belonging. As Dan Schindel notes in his review of the documentary for Hyperallergic, Goldin has always been a documentarian herself, a fact that allows the film to feel more like a collaborative memoir than a historical biography. (Goldin had even shot some of her own footage of her work with PAIN).

In September, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed won the prestigious Golden Lion award at the 79th Venice International Film Festival, making it the second documentary to ever win the prize. Should the film secure an Oscar on March 12, it would mark Poitras’s second Academy Award win. In 2015, she won Best Documentary for her Edward Snowden documentary Citizenfour.

25 Jan. 2023

Rembrandt van Rijn’s “The Night Watch” (1642) is a prize jewel of Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, which has been intensely studying the masterpiece since 2019 in a project named “Operation Night Watch.” Now, researchers working with the museum have made an important discovery folded within the layers of paint — the presence of a chemical called lead formate, which has never before been found in a historic painting.

The finding not only sheds light on how Rembrandt may have created the paint he used on his canvases but also provides insight into past conservation efforts, researcher Katrien Keune explained to Hyperallergic. Keune, who works as Rijksmuseum’s head of science and is a professor at the University of Amsterdam, said the discovery could impact future projects, too.

“It is important to understand the complex chemical changes the painting went through during its existence in order to select the most appropriate conservation treatment,” Keune said, although she noted that as far as the research team knows, lead formate is not harmful to the painting.

The cross-disciplinary group of scholars published their discovery earlier this month in the international edition of the German journal Angewandte Chemie (Applied Chemistry). Lead formates have been seen in paints once before (in 2020), but they were found in freshly painted mock-ups, not original artworks.

Scientists used x-rays and examined small pieces of the painting under microscopes. (courtesy Antwerp X-ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Research group, University of Antwerp, Belgium)

“We think that probably [the lead formates] disappear fast, this is why they were not detected in Old Master paintings until now,” lead author and Rijksmuseum junior scientist Victor Gonzalez said in a statement. (Gonzalez also works at the Supramolecular and Macromolecular Photophysics and Photochemistry laboratory at Paris-Saclay University and in the laboratory of the French National Center for Scientific Research.)

To complete their study, the team looked at parts of “The Night Watch” as well as constructed laboratory samples, the latter made using Rembrandt’s signature concoction of linseed oil and dissolved lead oxide. The scientists examined the fragments at France’s European Synchrotron Radiation Facility and created a map depicting where the formates were located, and when they were created.

While the team’s published research delves into the scientific specificities of lead formate and the technology used to find it, the group thinks its discovery will have broader implications. First, the research could continue Project Night Watch’s investigation of Rembrandt’s own painting practice, but it could also help scientists understand the potential reactions between paints and varnishes. To continue their research, the team will investigate whether these rare compounds originated from past attempts to conserve “The Night Watch.”

While the discovery of lead formates is an important one in furthering conservation efforts, it may not constitute Operation Night Watch’s most glamorous findings. Past discoveries include a pigment containing arsenic (which was mostly used to paint lemons in still lifes) coloring the clothes of one of the work’s subjects, lost paint that was used to depict a cloud of smoke, and a sword that Rembrandt sketched but decided not to paint. Another impressive aspect of the project was the 2019 recreation of the painting’s two side panels: In 1715, the painting was moved and trimmed to fit between two columns. Those missing pieces are lost, but the Rijksmuseum team used artificial intelligence to recreate them.

25 Jan. 2023

BOSTON, Mass. — On January 13, Boston officials unveiled “The Embrace,” the 20-by-40-foot bronze memorial honoring Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, at the 1965 Freedom Plaza. The artwork by Hank Willis Thomas and MASS Design Group was met with nearly immediate backlash online and in the national media, with many likening the monument’s intertwining arms, based on a photograph of the Kings after he won the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, to various sex acts. Others argued that by abstracting the Kings, the sculpture reduced what was a complex and radical fight to end white supremacy to a symbol that White America finds safe and palatable.

But what do Boston-area residents — in particular, park-goers at the Boston Common this past weekend — think of the monument? Keeping in mind that those who choose to spend a cold, gray winter day visiting a public artwork may be predisposed to be positive, many of the Bostonians I spoke with expressed appreciation for the sculpture and frustration that thoughtful criticism has been drowned out by memes. 

Discussion of the sculpture’s possible suggestive nature was sometimes met with eye rolls. While most visitors admitted that they could “see it,” some questioned whether they would have had they not first read the commentary. 

“It’s like a Rorschach test, people see what they are already thinking about,” said Cynthia Sarver, 70, a Boston resident and retired real estate agent. “I feel good about it, and I’m glad to have something on this neglected part of the Common; all of the action is over there, and this is such a major thoroughfare,” she said, gesturing to nearby Tremont Street. “It’s nice to have something positive and beautiful to see from that angle.”

This comment, and others like it, highlights the gap between national discussion and the sentiments found at the Common. While the rest of the country is engaging in debate both serious and satirical, these Bostonians were considering the role the monument plays in the city. 

Nilesh Gandhi, 50, who works in project management and resides in nearby Somerville, was born and raised in the suburb Malden and lived for nearly 15 years in the Back Bay neighborhood. “We know that Boston has a long history of racial tension and injustice, and any steps to shed light and bring awareness to that is a beautiful thing,” he said. 

That history has often blotted out the contributions of its Black populace. Many Bostonians don’t know that Crispus Attucks, an American sailor of mixed African and Indigenous ancestry, was the first person killed in the American Revolution, though he’s featured on a monument in the very same park. The Kings’ time in Boston has been similarly unrecognized. 

A tweet by @fa_roose epitomizes many of the online responses to the new sculpture. (screenshot Valentina Di Liscia/Hyperallergic via Twitter)

The greatest criticism was reserved for the plaza, with many residents frustrated by the lack of educational materials within the monument itself. While small stands found on the paths leading to the sculpture offer a short explanation and a QR code to learn more, you could easily pass them unnoticed. The only text is a quote by Coretta Scott King engraved into the sloping wall containing the memorial, and even that is unattributed. 

“There’s no plaque!” said Ann Schunior, a potter from nearby Randolph, 79. “How would you know who these people are?” she asked, pointing to the brass names of local civil rights leaders listed on the pavement. When a nearby visitor caught her gesture and asked about the names she retorted: “You would know if there was a plaque!”

And those names are important. When I spoke to Kim Perlak, 47, chair of the guitar department at Berklee College of Music, she had tears in her eyes, having just caught the name of Martin E. Gilmore Jr. — a WWII veteran and social justice leader — etched nearby. “I work with his son!” she said. “There are people among us who make history and we know them as our friend’s dad. This monument speaks to that for me. We can see the humanity behind the idolatry, [the Kings’] real love.”

As for the design itself? Whether they liked it or not, most Bostonians agreed: You have to see it in person.

Wellesley College art professor Andrew Mowbray, 51, visited the monument Saturday morning having followed the project closely with his students. “My initial reaction after seeing the preliminary drawings was negative, but now that I’m here I like it a lot,” he said. “I appreciate that this is a real sculpture, with every angle considered. It’s not just a 3D drawing.”

Most of the criticism was reserved for the plaza.

Over the weekend, families posed for selfies and children ran through and under the sculpture, pausing to look up at the unexpected shaft of sky you catch when directly under the work. A 10-year-old marveled at the intricacy of the details: “I mean, look at the buttons!” he gushed.

“I love that [the design] of the sculpture enables us to put ourselves in the midst of the embrace,” said Boston-area educator Renique Kersh, 46. “We’re able to focus on the message, which is so important at a time when our world is experiencing so much pain and division.”

Her husband John Kersh, 43, an IT professional, noted that Anish Kapoor’s “Cloud Gate” (2004) in Chicago — where the couple hails from originally — was met with similar responses. “They called it The Bean,” he said. “They still call it The Bean, but they love it. This is the same, you have to interact with it to appreciate it.” 

And that $10 million price tag? Perhaps surprisingly, most residents were unfazed by it, noting that the monument was funded through donations. Keith Patton, 62, a Dorchester resident who is currently unemployed due to a disability, winced.

“That’s a lot of money,” he said. “Do I think we could use that sort of money elsewhere? Sure, but I do think it’s beautiful that folks chose to give to create something that stands for love. Love is such a powerful force, and it includes each and every one of us.” 

When asked for his thoughts on the monument, Andrew B., who hails from the city’s North End neighborhood, said he was still on the fence. “Right now, I think the concept is cool, the execution is TBD,” he said. “The Embrace,” he pointed out, is a permanent memorial, and the narrative and sentiments swirling around it now will settle into something different over time. According to him, that’s part of the point of public monuments. “If art is supposed to spark a conversation, this 100 percent does,” he said.

25 Jan. 2023

Greg Colson belongs to that unenviable group of artists who are considered unclassifiable, and because of that are often overlooked. This status is deeply ironic because of his long interest in systems and categories. He understands that for all of its claims of democracy, the United States (like most of the world) finds ways to maintain certain hierarchies. A painter and sculptor who makes what Donald Judd called “specific objects” out of found materials, he has long been preoccupied with the ways society visually defines and organizes reality. He has made street maps out of strips of discarded wood and used a green tennis ball to represent a planet in our solar system. He has drawn and painted pie charts that measure and name the shared components of our latest collective anxiety. 

In each body of work Colson has done over the course of a career that dates back to 1987, when he began showing in Los Angeles, he has brought together a penchant for exactness with a sensitivity to detritus and waste. By being meticulous in his interaction with abandoned things, Colson infuses the act of care and attention with pathos. I remember thinking that his works registered a conflict between wanting to scream and finding ways to keep his grief under control; and that they were acts of mourning in a country whose citizens are often numb to public expressions of feeling, where mass murder is a routine occurrence, like traffic lights blinking at the center of a small town. What I admire about him is that — sensing how hopeless our current situation might actually be — he still refuses to offer viewers a visual distraction or placebo.

His current solo exhibition, Greg Colson: Snap Shot at the National Arts Club (January 7–January 28, 2022) — his first in many years in New York — includes eight works: five circular “Pie Charts” painted on cut sections of wood and three studies on paper. Although the works on paper might be studies for paintings, I don’t think of them as preliminary. There is something complete about them. The circle seems particularly appropriate as a support because it suggests that we are going in circles and getting nowhere, while the fact that they are composed of sections that fit together conveys that some change is possible. 

As the titles indicate, the subjects include reasons for “Unfriending” (2011), “Top Concerns of Midterm Voters (study)” (2022), and “Leading British Phobias” (2011). This sampling proposes that your opinion about anything seems to matter to someone. Dating between 1998 and 2022, the works communicate the ubiquitous role pie charts (or surveys) play in our lives. “Purse Essentials (Study)” (2022) refers to a survey on what people consider essential objects to be contained in a purse. According to Colson’s chart, lip balm, gum/mints, cellphone, pain reliever, hairbrush, tissues, ATM card, cash, and credit cards are considered indispensable. “Other items women specify as the most essential to carry in their purse” are “sunglasses, tampons, and condoms.” 

Greg Colson, “Top Concerns of Midterm Voters (study)” (2022), enamel, acrylic, pencil, ink, collage, and tape on paper, 14 inches x 11 inches

Viewers might wonder about the purpose of this survey, which Colson was smart to omit. Was it for marketing, surveillance, or something more nefarious? And what do we learn from it? How do we line up with the different sections? Are all purse owners predictably the same? Do those who don’t fit in count at all? For all their apparent inclusivity, pie charts are really ways to cull the populace and exclude those who do not contribute to the survey, similar to the art world’s use of, as well as reliance on, surveys. I had never thought of pie charts as a way of defining a club until now.

Rendered in a straightforward, documentary style, complete with graphic signs and changing typefaces, Colson’s pie charts can be funny, perverse, and unsettling, all while inducing alternating waves of laughter and despair. Looking at “Leading British Phobias” (2011), viewers learn that a large percentage of the British populace has a phobia about “spiders,” “clowns,” and “needles.” Among the other fears cited, Colson lists “dentistry, driving, and heights.” Taken together, these sound like the key ingredients to an Alfred Hitchcock film. 

Whenever I look at one of Colson’s pie charts, I feel like I learn something and nothing at the same time, and I don’t feel assuaged when I should. That’s why I find them fascinating. They point to a curiosity that cannot be satisfied. According to the painting “America’s Biggest Problem” (1998), a significant number of participants identify “crime,” lack of morals,” “national debt,” “politicians,” “drugs,” “homelessness,” “economy,” “schools,” and “environment.” Who decided the categories? What would be different if the survey was held today? What do the pie charts tell us about ourselves? Will they provoke us to change our behavior? One of the underlying effects of Colson’s “Pie Chart” paintings is that he prompts viewers to think about the responses and what theirs might be.

Colson’s droll paintings present the pie chart as a useful monitor of a group’s behavior, while also revealing it to be exclusionary and superficial, a way of underscoring differences of opinion while cancelling the importance of divergence. The individual is regarded only as part of a larger group, suggesting that “individualism” is an obsolete model, and maybe nothing more than a quaint idea. Andy Warhol famously declared that the meaning was all in the surface of his work, and that “There’s nothing behind it.” He wanted badly to belong. Greg Colson suggests that we don’t want to know what’s teeming in our psyche, both collectively and individually. He has never focused on belonging. 

Greg Colson, “Unfriending” (2011), acrylic and pencil on wood and hardboard panels, 47 inches diameter
Greg Colson, “Sustainable Apparel (study)” (2012), enamel, oil, acrylic, pencil, ink, collage, and tape on paper, 14 inches x 11 inches

Greg Colson: Snap Shot continues at the National Arts Club (15 Gramercy Park South, Gramercy Park, Manhattan) through January 28. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.

25 Jan. 2023
Virgil Ortiz (Cochiti Pueblo), “Master and Tics” (2002), Cochiti red clay, white clay slip, red clay slip, black (wild spinach) paint, 27 inches x 15 inches x 12 inches (courtesy Robert Gallegos, image courtesy the museum)

SANTA FE, N. Mex. — ReVOlution, an exhibition at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, featuring work by multimedia artist Virgil Ortiz (Cochiti Pueblo), the museum’s 2022 “Living Treasure,” resides peculiarly in the museum’s lobby, in front of the admissions desk and in view of the gift shop. One walks by the four ceramic pieces and two photographic works that comprise the show in order to obtain a ticket to the museum. I assumed the lobby installation was the invitation to more Ortiz, but as the museum attendant put it, “This is it.” Perhaps there is something about the assumed scale of “living treasure” that set a different expectation in mind. More likely, my anticipation was set by Ortiz’s work itself, which is arresting in memory, vivid in scale and content, and thoroughly original and inherited — a pairing not at odds but mutually binding in his art.

Ortiz’s mother, Seferina Herrera, and grandmother, Laurencita Herrera, were both prolific potters who carried Cochiti traditions forward, making vessels from their land’s clay, painted with black designs from harvested wild spinach — techniques that Ortiz has always used himself. He made his first clay figure when he was six, a storyteller in the style of his grandmother’s and mother’s designs, featuring a woman wearing a suit with a bow tie. Gender play, kink, and futures that touch traditional lifeways are enduring features of Ortiz’s work.

Ceramic vessels and figures that employ satire, parody, and social and political commentary are characteristics of Cochiti works, and two of the ceramic pieces in ReVOlution realize these discursive forms. “Rise Up” (2017) takes the form of a traditional storage jar, its exterior painted with a contemporary scene of women’s fists rising above oil derricks, and Trump riding a Black Snake — the prophetic symbol of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The jar tells a story as the viewer moves around it, or attempts to do so.

Virgil Ortiz (Cochiti Pueblo), “Rise Up” (2017), Cochiti red clay, white clay slip, red clay slip, black (wild spinach) paint, 19 inches x 15 inches x 15 inches (photo Nancy Zastudil/Hyperallergic)

Three of the vessels featured in the show, along with one canteen by Ortiz in MIAC’s permanent exhibition, Here, Now and Always, are in glass cases with one side obstructed. In the lobby, two of the cases are positioned against walls, so I had to crane and contort myself between the case and the wall to see the full image. But Trump rides the snake; he sneers with fists full of dollars, and wears a long red tie that curls like a snake’s tongue. 

As the viewer moves around the jar, Trump is now suspended by his sport coat, held between a woman’s thumb and index finger, a gesture that looks like she’s disposing of something rotten. His tie is shorter, and his suit appears to have shrunk in the water. His mouth suggests he’s yelling. Move again, and Trump is rendered more ghastly: His mouth is sewn shut, the snake slithers in and out of his head, through a cheek, a temple, and out an eye to rest in striking position on top of Trump’s head, which now features only a few strands of hair. Trump holds his right hand with index finger up, as if saying “one” or maybe “wait, I still have a point to make.” His buttons burst at the seams to reveal the signature red tie, but his pants are now adorned with vertical white stripes. With hair, eyes, and pants, he resembles Beetlejuice. Oil derricks in the background appear to sit on either shoulder. 

“Master and Tics” (2020) includes Monos figures, reminiscent of those created by Cochiti potters from about 1880–1920 to represent and comment on an influx of outsiders to the pueblo, brought by train. The Monos, which means “to mimic,” staged parodic figures in motion, performing, commanding attention — Spanish, New Mexican, or Euro-American circus performers, land thieves, and priests. Potters sold their Monos figures to the very outsiders they mocked, and once the audience realized they were both the target of parody and the market to consume it, Monos disappeared from circulation.

Virgil Ortiz (Cochiti Pueblo), “Blind Archer” (2019), Cochiti red clay, white clay slip, red clay slip, black (wild spinach) paint (courtesy Daniel Crane, image courtesy the museum)

Ortiz studied these figures in museums and private collections, and learned of their refinement and detail. He recreates them with signature differences; his figures wear black boots instead of brown shoes. “Master and Tics” features leather cuffs around the wrists of the ring master, and the necks of his animals, each cuff adorned with a silver plate. The ring master’s pants are also black-and-white striped, a potential double of Trump’s pants in “Rise Up,” and a reminder that each reverberates with Cochiti traditions in form and content. As Ortiz describes in a beautiful, recently published book, a mid-career retrospective with prefatory material by his longtime gallerist Charles King, “Our art from the late 1880s told the stories of what those people were experiencing at that time.” […] I want to demonstrate that Native artists can innovate while using traditional methods. […] It’s time to give the voice back to clay.”

The clay speaks stories too — old, ongoing, future, and the blur of these temporal distinctions that my language has imposed. With “Blind Archers” (2019) and “Venutian Soldier Quest” (2020), the final two ceramic pieces in the show, Ortiz grafts figures to vessels, a technique that demonstrates his remarkable co-innovations with clay. They also comprise stories from Ortiz’s elaborate worlding that enfolds the 1680 Pueblo Revolt with an imagined 2180 into a chiasmus of resistance, resilience, shifting and innovating forms — all eternal characteristics of Pueblo people and lands. The Blind Archers figured in the pot along with Tahu, who is projected into a large-scale photographic banner, “Face Off: Tahu and Castilian 2180” (2015), orient the viewer to some of Ortiz’s main characters. Tahu, a Keres term of respect for elder Pueblo women, was blinded by a conquistador during an archery contest. She becomes the leader of the Blind Archers in Ortiz’s enduring Pueblo Revolt. 

Ortiz calls the 1680 uprising the “first American revolution,” and he uses various media, from clay and glass to film and fashion, to teach these histories and to help Pueblos imagine and set into motion such revolutionary futures. His work is cited for its blending of times, and thus frequently classified in the genre of Indigenous futurisms. I wouldn’t contest these designations. But his repertoire may also call to its audience in unexpected ways. 

Installation view of ReVOlution (2022–23) at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, Santa Fe (photo Nancy Zastudil/Hyperallergic)

I may not have paid enough attention to the other exhibitions had I not been startled by the scale and placement of ReVOlution. But with Ortiz’s work in mind, I encountered fragments of a Spanish mission bell destroyed and apprehended during the Pueblo Revolt from Ogha Pogeh (Santa Fe) in Here, Now and Always. Such an object would have otherwise represented, to this viewer, Catholic colonization; after spending time with Ortiz’s vessels and characters, I stood in front of it at another angle to see the power of Pueblo resistance so resonant in the bell’s broken, fragmented internment. 

In Grounded in Clay, I watched videos of contemporary Pueblo potters interact with ancestral pots currently archived in the collections of the School for Advanced Research. I was struck by the quiet moments, as these artists moved their hands on the pot’s body, often halting on a repaired line, running their finger over and over the same spot. Something was happening, a communication in the haptic encounter that isn’t for me to know precisely, but witnessing the motion was enough. In this sense, ReVOlution functioned as a corridor or opening to learning about the other artists and times, to really seeing these works, some of which were made by Ortiz’s relatives. Perhaps this is just the reading I need to impose — to turn a lobby exhibition into the metaphor of a corridor, a space of transition into another way of seeing and learning. But Ortiz is a committed teacher to those willing to listen. 

Virgil Ortiz (Cochiti Pueblo), “Venutian Soldiers Quest” (2020), Cochiti red clay, white and red clay slip, black (wild spinach) paint, 23 1/2 inches x 13 inches x 12 inches (courtesy Daniel Crane, image courtesy the museum)
Installation view of ReVOlution (2022-23) at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, Santa Fe (photo Nancy Zastudil/Hyperallergic)
Installation view of ReVOlution (2022-23) at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, Santa Fe (photo Nancy Zastudil/Hyperallergic)
Installation view of ReVOlution (2022-23) at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, Santa Fe; “Face Off: Tahu and Castilian 2180” (2015) (photo Nancy Zastudil/Hyperallergic)

ReVOlution continues at the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture (710 Camino Lejo, Santa Fe, New Mexico) through April 1. The exhibition was curated by Lillia McEnaney.

25 Jan. 2023

As a teenager residing in a sleepy suburb near San Jose, California, in the 1990s, Hua Hsu first begins creating zines as a way to unlock access to a broader cultural landscape he imagines is waiting for him on the other side of high school graduation. Initially made as an easy way to get free CDs from bands and record labels, the zine quickly coalesces into a manifesto for “cool,” with breathless essays lauding bands like Pavement pasted between takedowns of phenomena that range from braided leather belts to the US police state. In Stay True, the New Yorker staff writer’s recent memoir, Hsu identifies his zine as a testing ground for a future, more authentic self; he writes, “I was convinced that I could rearrange these piles of photocopied images, short essays, and bits of cut-up paper into a version of myself that felt real and true.”

College is a period of transformation during which young people often try out rituals, personalities, and magnanimity in an attempt to see what sticks. It is in the midst of this reinvention during his freshman year at UC Berkeley that Hsu meets Ken Ishida, a charming Japanese-American frat bro with a penchant for the Dave Matthews Band. As a self-styled outsider looking for a sense of belonging in the dusty record bins and bookstores that make up Berkeley’s counterculture scenes, Hsu is dismissive of Ishida, whom he sees as an embodiment of all things mainstream. Friendship, however, is a force impervious to the rigid parameters of coolness, as Hsu soon discovers through the cigarettes, late-night drives, and winding debates the two come to share. As Hsu writes, “some friends complete us, while others complicate us.” The friendship comes to a sudden end when Ishida is murdered in a car jacking off campus during their senior year. 

Image from zine by Hua Hsu (courtesy Hua Hsu)

Hsu conveys the enormity of this friendship through a constellation of objects: a VHS tape of Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon, a Beach Boys CD, a borrowed t-shirt crumpled at the bottom of a hamper. An obsessive collector, the author adheres to the belief that you are your stuff, arguing that “everything you pick up is a potential gateway … that might blossom into an entirely new you.” Within the book he reconstructs these items into a body of proof of Ken’s life, spinning the detritus of a life shared into a tribute to his friend. Hsu references sociologist Marcel Mauss’s “Essay on the Gift,” which posits gift-giving not as an altruistic act, but rather one conducted with the expectation of reciprocity. We leave these items in each other’s lives as a promise that we’ll be back, creating pockets of time. For Hsu, it is within these pockets that relationships happen. 

Where the materials he collected had previously served as a gateway into the future, in Stay True they serve as a portal to the past. It is no surprise, then, that Hsu’s memoir is wallpapered with ephemera from his adolescence, from the “faded and distant” surface of the thermal paper faxes through which Hsu and his Hsinchu-based father trade calculus homework help and musings on Kurt Cobain to crumpled flyers advertising underground raves, to the scrawled track list of a mixtape. In his grappling with grief, posterity becomes a primary preoccupation for Hsu, who in the wake of Ken’s death, saves and records every jotted note, scrap, and zine from the period of time they shared together. Resurfaced across the pages of Stay True, Hsu creates an archive of the distinct visual language of the era. Within this rich survey of ’90s ephemera is an homage to the modes of communication that forged community and identity prior to the wide reach of the internet.

Cover of Hua Hsu, Stay True: A Memoir (Doubleday Books, 2022) (courtesy Doubleday Books)

Much has been made of the loneliness of Asian-American identity, a catchall term that further alienates the myriad cultural identities it encompasses. In fact, central to Hua and Ishida’s initial differences are the contrasts Hsu finds between his experience “playacting as [an] American,” growing up as a second-generation Taiwanese American in a cultural enclave like Cupertino, and Ishida’s “untroubled” upbringing in a Japanese-American family whose claim to American culture extends back several generations. However, within Stay True is a treatise against loneliness. Hsu eventually finds that they have more in common than he initially thinks — after Ishida is told by a reality television producer for MTV’s The Real World that Asians don’t have the personality for the show’s version of reality he muses, “I am a man without culture.” 

Both in this friendship and beyond, we see Hsu searching for belonging. It is within these tender, contradictory, and often messy relationships — with Ishida, Hsu’s first girlfriend, the Mien middle schoolers he mentors, San Quentin prisoners, and others — that Hsu establishes that the construction of one’s identity is not a solitary endeavor but rather one rooted in deep and intentional connection with those around us.

In Stay True, Hsu turns to Jacques Derrida’s meditations on the transience of friendship, citing the philosopher’s belief that “To love friendship, one must love the future.” As Hsu writes from the present, his careful documentation of the world he shared with Ken Ishida, as well as the threads of Ken’s influence on his own life, are a testament to the inverse — that to love the future, to believe that it is something good and hopeful and worth building toward, is impossible without a love of friendship. 

Image from zine by Hua Hsu (courtesy Hua Hsu)
Screenshot from the website by Hua Hsu (courtesy Hua Hsu)

Stay True: A Memoir by Hua Hsu (2022) is published by Doubleday Books and is available online and in bookstores.

25 Jan. 2023

At Chicago’s Field Museum, what was thought to be a modern replica of a Bronze Age sword turned out to be the real deal. The artifact actually dates back 3,000 years, the museum announced last week.

Over the summer, János Gábor Tarbay, an archaeologist at the Hungarian National Museum, made the finding as the Field Museum was preparing for First Kings of Europe, a special exhibition opening in March 2023 exploring how egalitarian farming communities in southeastern Europe developed into ancient monarchies. Tarbay asked co-curator Bill Parkinson to see the sword when the Hungarian National Museum’s artifacts were brought over for the spring show. 

The sword was acquired by the Field Museum close to 100 years ago and had been labeled as a replica on the accession card. Parkinson told Hyperallergic that Tarbay thought the label was peculiar, since he had seen drawings of the sword in various journals that were published around the 1920s and ’30s when the object was found at the bottom of the Danube River in Budapest.

Tarbay, whose expertise is in Bronze Age metal artifacts, took a look at the sword and felt confident that it was not a copy. To verify this, the sword was tested for percentages of tin and copper that would show up in a weapon from that time period. Using an X-ray fluorescence (XRF) detector, which analyzes chemical components within an artifact to create an “elemental fingerprint,” Tarbay and Field Museum scientists compared the “replica’s” components to known Bronze Age swords and found that theirs had an identical bronze and copper makeup. 

Installation of a Bronze Age Era sword (1080-900 BCE) in the Field Museum’s main hall as a preview for First Kings of Europe

Three millennia ago, the sword may have been thrown down the river along with chest armor to honor someone who died in battle. “It’s a very specific ritual tradition from this time period that speaks to the evolution of a ruling warrior class that was starting to emerge at that point in time,” Parkinson said.

The funeral rite was a custom developed in the period when the discovery of smelting bronze from tin and copper was producing various trade routes across the continent, carrying tin, gold, and horses, among other goods. As those with access to tin from places like modern-day Britain, Afghanistan, or Uzbekistan became wealthier compared to communities who could not acquire it, class-stratified societies emerged. By the Iron Age, around 1200–1000 BCE, these elite groups would go on to become kingdoms that the Ancient Greeks would write about during the Classical Period.

The sword was not found in enough time to be added to the forthcoming exhibition’s showing of Bronze Age era weapons, like another sword dating to 1700–1600 BCE from Hajdúsámson, Hungary, that may have been a part of a burial hoard and is on loan from the Déri Museum. However, the Field Museum’s sword will be installed in the museum’s main hall as a preview of the First Kings of Europe show, which opens March 31.

Parkinson marveled at the new finding. “Usually this story goes the opposite way,” he said. “You think something is real and it turns out to be a fake.”

25 Jan. 2023

Over the course of nine weeks from February through May, Hard Return: 9 Experiments for this Moment will transform the Neuberger Museum of Art into a site of collaboration, investigation, and performance art. Located at the heart of the Purchase College, SUNY campus, in Westchester County, New York, this exhibition is co-curated by acclaimed performance artist Kate Gilmore and performance art scholar Jonah Westerman, both of whom are on the Purchase College faculty.

Nine artists have been commissioned to create diverse, participatory, durational week-long projects that experiment with a sense of being alive in this moment while probing the influence of history on the present, proposing different ways of shaping and understanding community.

To learn more, visit purchase.edu.


Performance Schedule

Brendan Fernandes (February 1–5)
Working with vogue expert and Pose cast member Jason Rodriguez and an ensemble of student dancers, Fernandes’s dance piece is a response to African art in the Neuberger collection, considering the transmission of cultural forms and knowledges across time and space and from body to body.

Alix Pearlstein, “Inventory” for Hard Return: 9 Experiments for this Moment (2023)

Alix Pearlstein ’88 (February 15–19)
“Inventory” blurs the lines between then and now, self and other, live and recorded by using improvisational exercises to examine a personal archive of objects from previous artworks — props, structures, gestures — with a group of student actors.

Daniel Bozhkov (February 22–26)
Through an intensive involvement with soil science and cucumbers, Bozhkov investigates the viability of life on Earth and other planets. He works with the composer Erin Gee, faculty, and students to develop and perform an opera in five acts that considers multiple futures and pushes the science-fictional limits of the present.

Nao Bustamante (March 8–12)
Bustamante and a group of student actors present a series of theatrical set pieces organized around the history of optics and tools used in gynecology and how these have interacted with, and informed conceptions of, femininity and womanliness.

Amber Hawk Swanson, poster for The Harmony Show (2021–present) for Hard Return: 9 Experiments for this Moment, featuring (from left to right) Davecat, Sidore Kuroneko, and Amber Hawk Swanson

Amber Hawk Swanson (March 29–April 2)
Hawk Swanson will film episodes of The Harmony Show, a multi-faceted talk show she developed with her collaborators, Davecat, and his partner, Sidore Kuroneko, a life-size silicone doll. The Harmony Show delves into issues of personhood, desire, race, queerness, dis/ability, and community in two modalities.

Emily Coates (April 5–9)
In an exploration of the history of cosmic dances and their attempts to reckon the heavens in human scale through movement, Coates interweaves a multi-channel video installation with a dance piece featuring original choreography, music, and cameos by Purchase College science faculty.

Autumn Knight (April 12–16)
Featuring performers from the college community, the sculptural installation and dialogue-based performance work “Complain/Disappoint” explores affective labor, vulnerability, and the expectations placed on workers who we ask to shoulder others’ burdens while ignoring that they have their own.

Patty Chang with Astrida and Aleksija Neimanis (April 26–30)
Performers and audience members interact in a participatory, immersive environment that investigates the seams between vision, touch, and sound as well as the borders between individual and collective experience.

Jesus Benavente (May 3–7)
Benavente’s series of installations and interventions explore the ways our surroundings shape our sense of self and the permissible, offering glimpses of how people can push back on these limitations and expand our sense of the possible.


Admission to the Neuberger Museum of Art is free.

For more information, visit purchase.edu.

24 Jan. 2023

The van Gogh is leaving the country, after all. 

That was the final ruling from a federal judge in Detroit, where a dispute with a Brazilian art dealer over the ownership of an 1888 painting, long held in private hands, made headlines over the past month. Last Friday, the judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by Gustavo Soter, who claimed he bought the painting in 2017 but lost track of its whereabouts after he gave it to a third party — until it surfaced in a show on van Gogh at the Detroit Institute of Art (DIA) that closed this weekend.

The piece in question is “Une liseuse de romans,” a small, quiet work that depicts a woman reading plaintively. In his recent book on the painter and his relationship with his sisters, the Dutch art historian Willem-Jan Verlinden writes that “it is difficult to determine who the woman, so intently reading her novel, was supposed to represent,” though Verlinden speculates that the painting shows Wilhelmina van Gogh, “his favorite sister.” Van Gogh himself had painted it shortly after Paul Gauguin began living in his home, and in a letter, he describes it as a combination of parts: “luxuriant hair very black, a green bodice, the sleeves the color of wine lees, the skirt black, the background all yellow, bookshelves with books.”

Even before Soter’s lawsuit stoked sudden interest in the painting, “Une liseuse de romans” was seen as a notable get. It was among the numerous paintings van Gogh sold to the Dutch art dealer Cornelis Hoogendijk, whose death in an asylum in the Dutch city of Ermelo was not unlike van Gogh’s own. Until Soter appeared, the last publicly known owner of the painting had been L​​ouis Franck, described in a Christie’s catalogue as “a passionate sailor, international banker and discriminating art collector. Franck died in 1988. When the painting resurfaced in late 2001, in an Art Institute of Chicago show called Van Gogh and Gauguin: The Studio of the South, the historian S. Hollis Clayson called it “a rarely seen work.” 

But when it showed up in DIA last fall, it was greeted with a lawsuit. Attorneys for Soter, the Brazilian art collector, estimated the painting’s “current value is over $5 million,” though the bill of sale he presented to back up his claim of ownership showed that he bought it for $3.7 million in 2017. More importantly, Soter claimed that the painting was his. 

Shortly after he said to have purchased it, an unnamed third party “took possession of the painting,” according to his lawyers, whose filings refrained from specifying whom, exactly, they were accusing of stealing it. The first and only time Soter claims to have seen his painting since buying it was after he was shown a photograph of it hanging on the walls of DIA, which identified it only as on loan from a “Private collection, São Paulo.”

It was one of 27 van Gogh paintings that the DIA had loaned from around the world for the show, meant to celebrate the Detroit museum’s longstanding involvement with van Gogh’s work; the museum touts itself as the first in the country to buy one: an 1887 self-portrait that the president of the City of Detroit Arts Commission acquired for the city for $4,200 at an auction in 1922. Many of the paintings in the Detroit show, however, were being loaned from abroad, mostly from museums like the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and the Van Gogh Museum in the Netherlands. “Une liseuse de romans,” however, was just one of two that were lent from unnamed private collections. 

Vincent van Gogh, “Self-Portrait with Straw Hat” (1887) (image via Wikimedia Commons)

Soter had gone to court to secure a legal order that would force DIA to keep the painting he believed was his in the United States until a court could decide on who actually owned it. The museum refused, citing a federal law drawn up in the middle of the Cold War called the Immunity from Judicial Seizure Act. The law had been written, in at least one telling, in order to facilitate exchanges of art between the Soviet Union and the United States. Per an article in a legal journal highlighted by the museum’s lawyers, Virginia Senator Harry Byrd had backed the 1965 law at the behest of “a pending exchange between a Soviet museum and the University of Richmond,” which had run into concerns regarding “artworks that had been appropriated by the Soviet government from expatriots.”

The law officially gave the State Department the power to prevent disputes over the ownership of foreign art from wading into courthouses when that art ended up in US museums. The agency was given the power to do this at its own discretion, based on a determination that the work of art covered is a “culturally significant object.” The most notable display of that power would occur about 15 years later, when the agency refused to use it to back a later exhibition of Soviet artwork following the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, which had the effect of sinking a show set to take place at the National Gallery of Art called Art From the Hermitage Museum of Leningrad

“Paintings get immunity from seizure all the time,” Nicholas O’Donnell, a lawyer who runs the Art & Museum Law practice at the New York firm Sullivan & Worcester LLP, told Hyperallergic

Getting the State Department to sign off on loans of any work of art had become “standard practice” for art museums ever since the Museum of Modern Art reportedly neglected to do so when loaning out the Egon Schiele painting “Portrait of Wally.” O’Donnell says. After the painting, then owned by the Leopold Museum in Vienna, appeared in a show of Schiele’s work in 1997, it was the subject of a lawsuit from the heirs of a Jewish-Viennese art dealer named Lea Bondi Jaray, who said she had been forced to leave the painting behind in the 1930s while fleeing the Nazi takeover of Austria. According to Jaray’s letters, she had run into the Austrian art dealer Rudolf Leopold in London and asked him to recover the painting for her; instead, it ended up in Leopold’s collection. Eventually, in order to avoid a trial, the museum paid Jaray’s heirs $19 million to keep the painting there.  

A glance at the Federal Register, the website where decisions like these have to be posted, shows that, so far, this year, the State Department has granted its protection to Tim Walker photos loaned to J. Paul Getty Museum, objects collected for a show on Philadelphia’s Forten Family at the Museum of the American Revolution, and works made by the Greek sculptor Chryssa, assembled for an exhibition later this year at the Dia Art Foundation. What was at stake in Soter’s lawsuit was whether that protection could hold up in court in disputes that involved murky and disputed claims of provenance that neither side seemingly wanted to reveal. 

The opacity over who exactly owns van Gogh’s “Liseuse De Romans” is also not uncommon, says O’Donnell. 

“Typically speaking, a lender either wants to be identified or doesn’t want to be identified and museums will almost always honor whichever wish a lender goes with,” O’Donnell says. “Most of those reasons are non-nefarious. They could just be discrete people.” 

After first ordering DIA to “refrain from damaging, destroying, concealing, disposing [or] moving,” the painting, the federal judge in Detroit had changed his mind late on Friday. The museum’s lawyers had made the case that letting the lawsuit continue at all “would threaten the ability of U.S. art museums to assemble world-renowned exhibitions … likely chilling the willingness of foreign lenders to lend works of art to U.S. institutions.”

At a hearing the day before, according to reports, Judge George Steeh said that he was of the opinion that the museum was “blameless” for how it went about loaning the art and that there was very little legal precedent for how to interpret a 1965 law which, while relied on regularly by museums, “has been invoked sparingly” in court. 

Ultimately, he would write that the law prevented him “from issuing any order depriving defendant of custody or control of the painting.” The painting’s future would not be decided in a federal courthouse.

24 Jan. 2023

Last week, the Madison Square Park Conservancy unveiled its latest commission, Shahzia Sikander’s three-part installation Havah… to breathe, air, life. The Pakistani-American artist, best known for her painting practice that encapsulates the essence of Indo-Persian miniature works through a feminist lens, translated her specific skillsets across material and scale to also introduce the first female subject upon the ten plinths of the Manhattan Appellate Courthouse’s rooftop (there are other female figures elsewhere on the building), across the street from the park.

“NOW” (2023), the eight-foot sculpture of a female figure emerging from a lotus blossom, stands out glinting in yellow bronze amongst her nine stone-carved, historical male associates including Confucius, Justinian, Lycurgus, Moses, and Zoroaster. A statue of Islam’s prophet Muhammad was also part of the lineup until it was removed in 1955. With gnarled, tentacular roots in place of arms and feet and parted hair twisted into spiraling ram horns, the figure assumes a fluid, autonomous energy rooted in natural and mystical power.

Shahzia Sikander, “NOW” (2023) on the Courthouse of the Appellate Division, First Department of the State of New York, for Havah…to breathe, air, life (2023)
(photo by Yasunori Matsui, courtesy Madison Square Park Conservancy)

“Women in my work are always complex, proactive, confident, intelligent and in their playful stances connected to the past in imaginative ways without being tied to a heteronormative lineage or conventional representations of diaspora and nation,” Sikander said in her artist statement for the installation, co-commissioned with the Public Art University of Houston System.

The figure appears again in the park grounds on a monumental scale in “Witness” (2023), adorned with a hoop skirt wrapped with calligraphic mosaic text that reads havah, meaning “air” in Urdu. Placed by one of the entrances and across from the large dog run, “Witness” is privy to a large volume of two- and four-legged foot traffic, spawning interest from curious passersby who are drawn in by her warm glow on the chilly, overcast days of a New York winter. Both “NOW” and “Witness” (2023) stand practically naked with a reimagined jabot, the ornamental chest frill folded into Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s (RBG) standard courtroom uniform, draped across their collarbones and torsos.

Side view of “Witness” (2023) in Madison Square Park (photo Rhea Nayyar/Hyperallergic)

“Witness” is accompanied by an artificial reality element accessed via Snapchat. Having deleted my Snapchat account in 2018, I didn’t make a point of trying it out and I don’t know many people in my age range who still have the app installed, let alone use it for reasons beyond buying weed or sending disappearing nudes. But perhaps it’s a thoughtful and more palatable way to engage adolescents with the work.

The exhibition also showcases “Reckoning” (2020), Sikander’s four-minute animated film that’s on view from 5 to 10 pm daily on the side lawn.

Being that her primary modes of artistry prop up Indo-Persian miniature art, Sikander’s transition into large-scale sculpture is noteworthy for the cause. In her artist statement, she references that a woman, Lady Justice with her sword of authority, scale balance of equilibrium, and occasional blindfold of impartiality, has been the “image” of justice for centuries despite the fact that women have only recently been afforded a jurisdictional voice.

Referencing the death of RBG and the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade, Sikander also speaks to the fact that those very rights afforded to women are at imminent risk. “In the process, it is the dismissal, too, of the indefatigable spirit of the women, who have been collectively fighting for their right to their own bodies over generations,” Sikander said. “However, the enduring power lies with the people who step into and remain in the fight for equality. That spirit and grit is what I want to capture in both the sculptures.”

Detail shot of the floodlights reflecting off of the mosaic element of “Witness” (2023) (photo Rhea Nayyar/Hyperallergic)

“NOW” and “Witness” enforce the intrinsic ties between womanhood and nature. The mosaic element of “Witness” incorporates botanical and floral motifs, with its color palette reflecting the changing seasons. Some elements of the installation touch on themes explored by artists like Wangechi Mutu, Jaishri Abichandani, and Simone Leigh.

Many park visitors stopped in their tracks to examine “Witness,” drawn to her straight pose and wide-open eyes. Some shrugged and passed her by, while others stood for several minutes to take photos and video-call their friends while their dogs tugged impatiently at their leashes in anticipation of the dog run.

One admirer in particular, a Tribeca-based early childhood educator named Sarah Sultan, admitted to me that she wasn’t that taken by the sculpture at first glance, but grew to enjoy it more after talking to me about it.

Detail shot of “Witness” (2023) at sundown (photo Rhea Nayyar/Hyperallergic)

“We as women cover our bodies and shrink ourselves down to a size that people would find acceptable. But she is, literally towering over all of us,” Sultan said.

A pair of sisters visiting from Europe who preferred not to be named remarked that the mosaic element was the most exciting part of “Witness,” focusing their phone cameras on the small pieces of glass arranged to form flowers and leaves.

“We were just saying to each other that we need to look up where to take a class because the mosaic is so lovely, it inspires me,” one of the sisters said. Regarding the woman figure herself, they admitted that there was some confusion about what form she took from a distance.

“When I came up from the distance, I didn’t read the blurb, so it looked like a ram from when I looked at first,” the same sister told me. “And then you it’s a woman. Hey, it’s empowerment and beauty. Nothing can be done without women.”

24 Jan. 2023

LOS ANGELES — Last week, the Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture opened applications for its new grant program Creative Recovery LA. The regional initiative will distribute $26 million to nonprofit arts organizations hardest hit by the pandemic — the “largest investment we’ve ever received at the County level for the arts,” according to Anji Gaspar-Milanovic, director of grants and professional development for LA County Arts and Culture.

The program is broken down into five separate grant categories with different amounts for each: $14.2 million for general economic relief; $1.7 million to reinvigorate and promote cultural tourism; $4.7 million for artist-led programs, residencies, commissions, and public projects; $3 million for organizations that teach and train young people in creative fields; and $2.8 million for programs that support youth involved with the juvenile justice system through the arts. Organizations can apply for multiple grants with one streamlined application, open now through February 15.

Diedrick Brackens: heaven is a muddy riverbed (2022) at Craft Contemporary, a recipient of a 2020 CARES Act Grant (photo by Josh Schaedel, courtesy Craft Contemporary)

Creative Recovery LA is part of the national American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill passed in March 2021 through which LA County received $1.9 billion in total. The Department is coordinating with Community Partners which will administer the grants, and selected recipients will be announced in April.

The LA County Department of Arts and Culture set up a similar grant program at the end of 2020, distributing $12 million to 337 arts nonprofits as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. However, that program was only open to organizations that were already grantees of the Department, while Creative Recovery LA has no such limitations. “We’re trying to cast our net as wide as possible,” said Gaspar-Milanovic. “We want to fund every eligible organization that applies.” To that end, they’ve put together a series of workshops to offer applicants assistance. She said she expects over 400 eligible organizations to receive funding.

“There’s a very wide, robust range of organizations that can apply,” said Kristin Sakoda, director of the department. Micro- to big-budget nonprofits; dance, theater, and visual arts organizations; and entities working with youth and social justice are all eligible.

Contra-Tiempo, a recipient of a 2020 CARES Act Grant (image courtesy Contra-Tiempo)

Creative Recovery LA has also been structured with equity in mind, so that priority will be given to organizations in areas most affected by the pandemic based on the County’s COVID-19 Vulnerability and Recovery Index. At least 75% of funds in each grant category must go to organizations in Priority Zone 1, deemed those with the highest need. These include large swaths of central and south Los Angeles, portions of the Eastside like Boyle Heights, El Monte, and Pomona further East, as well as pockets of the San Fernando Valley in the North.

Although blue-chip galleries and private museums may be making headlines touting the cultural ascent of Los Angeles, for Sakoda, the region’s strength lies in the network of community-based cultural organizations. “Don’t sleep on the public sector and local arts agencies,” she said, “and the role we play in sustaining the arts in America.”

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