COLUMNS

  • Film

    PLEASURES OF THE TEXT

    Erika Balsom on Ruth Beckermann’s MUTZENBACHER

    AT THE START of Ruth Beckermann’s MUTZENBACHER (2022), text appears over an image of the repurposed industrial space that will serve as the film’s sole setting. It announces a casting call: The director seeks men in Vienna between the ages of sixteen and ninety-nine to participate in a film about Josefine Mutzenbacher, no previous acting experience required.

    But who is Josefine Mutzenbacher? In the anglophone world, the name is not widely known. For many German speakers, however, it is loaded with cultural significance. Josefine Mutzenbacher, or The Story of a Viennese Whore, as Told by Herself

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  • Film

    Bread and Roses

    Revisiting The Wobblies amid a labor resurgence

    ARE WE TIRED of leftist infighting yet? The revolutionary fervor of two years ago is gradually dissipating into directionless, incessant debate over the correct path forward. Ours is not the first generation of radicals to be divided or silenced by liberal figureheads. A silver lining emerges, however, in the resurgent labor movement taking on Amazon and Starbucks, among other corporate and institutional giants. In recent years, a reawakening of worker militancy has rippled across the art world, resulting in widespread organizing efforts in the museum field.

    New York’s Museum of Modern Art—whose

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  • Diary

    Eyes Wide Shut

    Andrew Berardini at the 59th Venice Biennale

    WE SLIP INTO REVERIE. 

    The traditional death notices along the passages and vaporetto stops around Venice have more faces than usual. The blue and yellow flag of Ukraine flaps in the cold breeze blowing off the lagoon. The carnival masks stare from shop windows at the face masks of those on the other side of the glass. Mingling with the throngs of holiday tourists, an art world sweeps in on boats and trains, buses and planes into the Most Serene Republic for the professional days of the fifty-ninth Biennale di Venezia after a long pandemicked wait of three years, and amid a war of aggression in

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  • Film

    Norse Majeure

    Robert Eggers’s berserk bildungsroman

    DIRECTED BY ROBERT EGGERS and cowritten with Sjón, the Icelandic novelist and poet responsible for the Björk lyric “I’m a fountain of blood / in the shape of a girl,” The Northman is set within the stark corners of Viking life and expansion during the tenth century, evoking the era’s sundry pieties and incessant cruelty—a lucid vision of the eternal strangeness of us skin-encased fountains of blood looking to myth for aggrandizement and purpose. The film’s protagonist is a Norse pagan warrior who identifies as a “bear-wolf” and plucks a man’s throat out with his teeth. Despite being a force of

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  • Books

    Heaven Sent

    Celia Paul’s Letters to Gwen John

    LETTERS TO GWEN JOHN. BY CELIA PAUL. New York Review Books, 2022. 352 pages.

    IF TRUTH AND ARTIFICE WERE OPPOSED, we would have no painting, no poetry, no speech, no life. Yet there is tension, undoubtable, incorrigible, a catch in the flow of perception, thought, and deed, as the dreams that live in some strange interior take shape and enter the shared reality of a work. Celia Paul, in both her painting and her writing, is a formidable guardian of her own inner life, as well as a careful chronicler of what it means to traverse a boundary that is barely perceptible, hardly there at all, and yet

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  • Diary

    Floating Feasts

    Linda Yablonsky around the 59th Venice Biennale

    WHEN IT COMES TO ART, there is no such thing as a glutton. Not in Venice, where one can never get enough, certainly not during the VIP preview of a Biennale. The current edition, the fifty-ninth, has brought such a cornucopia of material from so many parts of the world to so many places around the lagoon that one might think every appetite would be sated. Alas, no! The social deprivations of the pandemic created a hunger for the IRL company of others in numbers that Covid protocols continued to repress. As Pinault Foundation curator Caroline Bourgeois told me, “Monsieur Pinault did not feel that

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  • Diary

    Sweet Dreaming

    Kate Sutton at the 59th Venice Biennale

    THERE ARE TWO KINDS OF PEOPLE in this world: those who really listen when they hold a seashell to their ear and those who don’t. Cecilia Alemani’s exhibition “The Milk of Dreams,” the main project of the Fifty-Ninth Venice Biennale, is for the former. Titled after a whimsical children’s book by Leonora Carrington, the show harbors a dark-kerneled exuberance, embracing sensuality, sentimentality, and spirituality to yield a surprising light, even joy.

    Alemani’s biennale was delayed due to Covid, and she clearly spent the extra time wisely. You can feel the research saturating the rooms. Of the

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  • Interviews

    Oraib Toukan

    “Cruel images” and the blind spots of hypervisibility

    Like the rest of us, Oraib Toukan receives images of war on her phone as a series of disjunctive, shaky video clips bracketed by sponcon. Distinctly attuned to the feelings of despair, powerlessness, and ethical compulsion these representations of abject cruelty might evoke among viewers, Toukan is not content to simply look. Instead, she meditates at length, using writing, photography, and film to respond to these granular artifacts of suffering and loss. This inquiry takes her deep into the materiality of film itself. She often enlists the help of interlocutors—in this case, deceased Palestinian

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  • Film

    Dark Tide

    Wu Tsang trains her sights on Moby Dick

    “THE WHITENESS OF THE WHALE,” the famous forty-second chapter of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, smuggles a mini-disquisition on whiteness into the elaborate racial narrative of the novel’s whole. Published in 1851, Melville’s book presents a picture of race just a few years before the US Civil War. The picture is thoroughly, tragically modern—such that, one hundred and seventy-odd years later, a fairly superficial treatment of its themes still lands with impossible weight. Which is to say that Wu Tsang’s new feature film, Moby Dick; or, The Whale, manages to maintain the novel’s nauseous sway

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  • Slant

    The Nothing Special

    On The Andy Warhol Diaries

    “When things actually do happen to you, it’s like watching TV,” Andy Warhol once observed. But what is that like? Last month, Netflix released The Andy Warhol Diaries, a six-episode adaptation of the eponymous 1989 book compiled by Pat Hackett, who received the artist’s dictations over the phone almost every morning during the last decade of his life. Unsure of what to make of this intimate, fragmented portrait, we invited Bruce Hainley and Kristian Vistrup Madsen to talk it out.

    KRISTIAN VISTRUP MADSEN: Episode 1 is haunted (first by the E! True Hollywood Story format of the interviewees, their

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  • Interviews

    Julia Wachtel

    Julia Wachtel on visual pleasure and the dumb image

    Since the late 1970s, Julia Wachtel has sifted through the dregs of the image world. From greeting cards and magazines to the plenum of digital imagery online, Wachtel silkscreens her source materials onto canvases alongside painted panels to construct her rhythmic montages. Her paintings—sardonic, boisterous, biting—will soon be on view in two solo exhibitions: “Believing” runs from April 27 to June 4 at Super Dakota in Brussels; “Fulfillment” opens on April 16 and will be the first show at Helena Anrather’s new, Büro Koray Duman–designed space on the Bowery in New York City.

    WHEN I FIRST STARTED

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