COLUMNS

  • Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning

    A well-aimed spear of a book, Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning (Penguin Random House) has as much to say about artistic interpretation as it does about the exhausting arithmetic faced by every human raced as Asian in America. Touching on topics such as credential accumulation, racial divides, and the complexities of ethnicity and transnational movement, this collection of essays quickly, if sometimes unevenly, articulates the pursuit of credibility whose stakes are nothing less than survival. Evoking the just barely suppressed exasperation Adrian Piper displays in

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  • Morgan Bassichis's The Odd Years

    The Odd Years (Wendy’s Subway), by Morgan Bassichis, is among my favorite books of the year. Is it poetry, comedy, a book of to-do lists? Yes! It is also a historically important artist’s book that I place in a lineage with Ed Ruscha’s A Few Palm Trees (1971), Lawrence Weiner’s Works (1977), Martha Rosler’s Service: A Trilogy on Colonization (1978), and Glenn Ligon’s A People on the Cover (2015), as well as canonical pieces of Conceptual art such as Lee Lozano’s language pieces and Hanne Darboven’s calendars, marked with her distinctive spirals. The Odd Years is a collection of weekly to-do

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  • Achille Mbembe’s Necropolitics

    At the outset of lockdown, some friends and I revived an old reading group we once had when we all lived in Los Angeles, holding weekly meetings over Zoom. Achille Mbembe’s Necropolitics (Duke) was our anchor text. The book further defines and mobilizes the neologism of its title, the Cameroonian philosopher’s signature term from his famous 2003 essay of the same name. Mbembe writes that “becoming a subject . . . supposes upholding the work of death,” that politics and sovereignty are linked more to a “right to kill” than to the preservation of life. The language of freedom, democracy, and

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  • Svetlana Alpers’s Walker Evans: Starting from Scratch

    The first 143 pages of Walker Evans: Starting from Scratch (Princeton), Svetlana Alpers’s new book, are given over to full-page reproductions of Evans’s photographs. No preface, set of acknowledgments, or copyright page precedes or interrupts the pictures. Even captions have been swept off the page. (They appear in list form after the plates.) Alpers asks us, quite literally, to look before we read. Her book’s layout mirrors that of American Photographs (1938) and Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941), but it also embodies her commitment to the primacy of photographic looking and making.

    Alpers’s

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  • Body Meets World

    SARA HENDREN IS A HUMANIST IN TECH—an artist, design researcher, writer, and professor at Olin College of Engineering. Her work has been widely exhibited and is held in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York; her writing and design have been featured on NPR, in Fast Company, and in the New York Times. Below, she discusses her new book What Can A Body Do? How We Meet the Built World (Penguin Random House, 2020) and the unexpected places disability can be found at the heart of everyday design: household objects, architecture,

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  • Flash Point

    Photography and Belief by David Levi Strauss. David Zwirner Books, 2020. 96 pages.

    ON APRIL 17, 2018, a video is released by BuzzFeed of Barack Obama, sitting comfortably in the Oval Office. He turns to the camera and tells us that Donald Trump “is a total and complete dipshit.” The form of this video, if not its content, seems plausible. It is, of course, a “deepfake,” manufactured by comedian Jordan Peele using Adobe After Effects and FakeApp––generic software that employs neural networks and machine learning to generate convincing simulacra. The video isn’t all silly, though. Peele goes on to

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  • Open City

    Cosmopolitan Radicalism: The Visual Politics of Beirut’s Global Sixties by Zeina Maasri. Cambridge University Press, 2020. 342 pages.

    TWO WHITE WOMEN IN BIKINIS, feet planted in the froth of the Mediterranean, backdropped by Beirut’s iconic Raouché rocks. Bannered across the top left corner of the photograph, in yellow, an unlikely milestone—THE DAY THEY ABOLISHED WINTER—accompanied by looks of self-satisfaction, as if the pair had done it themselves. This image appeared in a December 1969 issue of The Economist, in an ad placed by the National Council for Tourism in Lebanon (NCTL). Backed by

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  • Open Plan

    TO DO 9/7/20 

    -Bleach tub

    -Eradicate fly infestation

    -Investigate whether or not I am being ghosted by my CSA

    -Forgive former sex partners

    -Don’t be hurt by freshman indifference over Zoom

    ACTIVIST-COMEDIAN MORGAN BASSICHIS'S The Odd Years is an inspirational guide for anyone seeking a model of (modest) art-life practice in the midst of a shitstorm, which I’ll leave as an opaque reference as it's simply too tiring or redundant at this point to enumerate the contents of our shared mess. Comprised of to-do lists recorded every Monday in the years 2017 and 2019—note 2018 is missing, thus the clever

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  • REALITY TESTS

    What Comes After Farce?, by Hal Foster. New York: Verso, 2020. 224 pages.

    SURVEYING OUR CULTURAL LANDSCAPE through the prepositional prism of after is hardly a new approach among critics and historians writing on art during the past quarter century. Yet, as articulated in the title of Hal Foster’s new book, the premise is newly intriguing for being tethered to—and eclipsed in blunt rhetorical force by—the sad comedy of “farce.” Here Foster borrows the term from Marx’s famous adage regarding the French bourgeoisie’s willingness in 1851 to cede democratic values to a second Bonaparte emperor some

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  • Red Score

    STOCKHAUSEN SERVES IMPERIALISM, BY CORNELIUS CARDEW. New York: Primary Information, 2020. 126 pages. 

    CORNELIUS CARDEW’S SOLO PIANO INTERPRETATION of the Chinese Cultural Revolution anthem “Sailing the Seas Depends on the Helmsman,” from his 1974 record Four Principles on Ireland and Other Pieces, is spry and cheery, a toe-tapping minute-and-a-half frolic across the ivories. Though its folky character shines, Cardew’s featherweight playing belies the song’s heavy ideological underpinnings. Its lyrics: “The revolutionary masses cannot do without the Communist Party / Mao Zedong Thought is the sun

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  • Nothing Happens

    ELEMENTARY POETRY, BY ANDREI MONASTYRSKI, translated by Brian Droitcour and Yelena Kalinsky. Preface by Boris Groys. Ugly Duckling Presse and Soberscove Press, 2019. 328 pages.

    ON FEBRUARY 1, 1981, a group of ten artists trekked off into the snowy woods outside Moscow. When they reached a clearing, they huddled around a wooden board studded with ten spools of white thread. Each participant—Ilya Kabakov, Oleg Vassiliev, and Yuri Albert among them—was instructed to take up the loose end of his or her thread and walk two hundred to three hundred meters into the forest, until they could no longer

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  • SENSES OF HUMOR

    Saturn and Melancholy: Studies in the History of Natural Philosophy, Religion, and Art, by Raymond Klibansky, Erwin Panofsky, and Fritz Saxl. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2019. 632 pages.

    ACCORDING TO AN ANCIENT TEXT attributed to Aristotle, black bile “can induce paralysis or torpor or depression or anxiety when it prevails in the body; but if it is overheated it produces cheerfulness, bursting into song, and ecstasies and the eruption of sores and the like.” Such “fits of exaltation” were believed to be conducive to creative achievement. “Maracus, the Syracusan,” the text tells

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