COLUMNS

  • Fair and Folly

    “I HOPE IT ISN’T TOO DISTURBING,” a well-dressed white woman said to her friend as they considered whether to enter a sound installation about police violence at the 11th Joburg Art Fair earlier this month. The installation, placed right by the entrance of the fair, was the work of Haroon Gunn-Salie, 2018 winner of the Fair’s annual FNB Art Prize. It was a black box in which an immersive surround soundscape was suspended from the ceiling, giving listeners the feeling they were underground. We sat on the floor and soon the voices of mineworkers washed over us, in anti-apartheid protest song. We

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  • Remember the Time

    TAXI DRIVERS IN KOREA DON’T TALK MUCH, and with the fear of confusing them even further, I’ve learned to just hand them my phone and help as they put on their reading glasses to zoom in on my destination. While being transported around Gwangju and Seoul earlier this month, I thought of last year’s hugely popular South Korean film A Taxi Driver and Chia-En Jao’s 2016 video Taxi. But, really, the first thing you notice in these cities is that Google Maps does not work. You can search for your destination and see your position, but the app cannot provide a route. This, upon further research, is

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  • Apocalypstick!

    FIRST CAME WOODSTOCK, the legendary 1969 hippie festival. Then came Wigstock, the world’s foremost drag queen festival, which reigned annually in New York City from 1984 to 2003. A few small-scale revivals have followed, but it wasn’t until September 1 that the event got the spectacular comeback it deserved. The seven-hour extravaganza, dubbed Wigstock H.20, was held on the sprawling rooftop of Pier 17, a five-story complex jutting out on the East River and featuring stunning cityscape views.

    As always, the format was a marathon variety show hosted and curated by Wigstock’s figurehead, Lady Bunny,

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  • Down in Front

    BEFORE THE CUYAHOGA RIVER CAUGHT FIRE, searing into the public’s imagination an unfair but dogged metaphor for a Cleveland in decline, Tennessee Williams is rumored to have delivered a sicker burn: “America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.” The claim isn’t entirely without truth. In 2018, Cleveland—with its deindustrialization, police violence, segregation, and purple politics—is a microcosm for “The American City,” which is in fact the subtitle of the inaugural edition of FRONT, a multimillion-dollar international triennial that

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  • Everything Old Is New Again

    ONE REASON I’VE ALWAYS LOVED THIS PHOTOGRAPHY FESTIVAL is the faded splendor of the city itself. An ancient limestone gem of some fifty thousand inhabitants, Arles lies along the Rhône River, bordering the swamps of the Camargue. Should you go, mosquito repellent is a must for Arles’s nights. Roman remnants, such as the arena and the theater, silently compete with early Christian and Romanesque churches. Residential homes and nineteenth-century industrial buildings further bridge the eras. During the opening week at the beginning of July, many of these venues hosted events and workshops, book

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  • Braving the Elements

    AROUND LUNCHTIME ON THE LAST THURSDAY IN JUNE, I found myself at a table on a terrace with an absurdly beautiful view of the Mediterranean Sea. Behind me was the kind of low-slung corporate resort hotel that is typical of La Marsa, one of several suburban tourist towns east of the capital of Tunisia, Tunis. I scanned the horizon from left to right. A thin dark line separated the deep blue sky from a vast expanse of light sparkling turquoise. It was a ridiculous sight, a shimmering paradise, laughable in its right-there realness. I was distractedly sharing a meal with about a dozen people, flanked

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  • Breathe In

    “STOP TALKING.”

    “Stop talking.”

    “Stop talking.”

    “No, really, stop talking.”

    Unusually for an auctioneer—albeit a very part-time one—White Columns director and chief curator Matthew Higgs isn’t one to raise his voice. And his English wit is sufficiently dry that American ears often have difficulty in distinguishing a genuine word from an ironic one. So it took him a few attempts to convince the crowd at the nonprofit institution’s recent benefit auction that his characteristically affectless request was meant to be taken seriously. Eventually, however, things settled down and bidding on

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  • Attention Deficit

    ON A RECENT MONDAY EVENING, a few hundred people who loved the late composer and lyricist Michael Friedman assembled at Joe’s Pub in New York for the Song Makes a Space, a benefit concert of his work organized by the Civilians, the company Friedman cofounded with Steve Cosson. The night’s goal was to raise money for the Michael Friedman Legacy Fund, which will finance the proper archiving of his materials and the recording of his unrecorded music, so they can be housed at the New York Public Library.

    “The song makes a space” is a line from the final number of The Fortress of Solitude, a 2014

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  • Soft Ruins

    ON A WHITE MARBLE COLUMN, topped by the goddess Athena, that presides over the Pedion Areos Park in Athens, someone has scrawled in black an anarchy symbol. A few steps farther—under lush green trees down Mavromateon Street, past dozens of stray cats haunting the shadows cast by grand bourgeois apartment buildings—are clusters of humans talking under the streetlights in the sticky humidity of the June night. It’s only when you get close do you see they’re cooking and smoking heroin, tongues of flame licking at glass tubes. Beaming down from the fifth floor of one of the buildings, a neon heart

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  • Anti-Bodies

    MY FLIGHT FROM HEATHROW TO BASEL was delayed. The pilot explained that this was due to the large number of visitors to “some art show” clogging the runway at our destination airport. His tone of voice implied an illness, an arterial disease or cancerous growth. I exchanged glances with the other person in my row, whose only baggage was a bubble-wrapped canvas.

    The idea of infection—and its counterpart, inoculation—accompanied me for the next four days of my art tour. Does an art fair have a symbiotic or parasitic relationship with a place? What ails the body of the art world, and is a fair a

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  • Regional Affairs

    YINCHUAN IS IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE, even though the city claims itself to be the “center” of China. The Museum of Contemporary Art Yinchuan is also in the middle of nowhere; the meadow and man-made ponds outside its postmodern architecture bring to mind Iowa, the Netherlands, and Hokkaido. But inside, the second Yinchuan Biennale offers up images from everywhere else: South Africa, Dongting Lake in China’s Hunan Province, the Kachin Hills in Burma, the Karakum Desert in Turkmenistan, Chitwan in Nepal, Mexico City—the list goes on. The biennale’s invited curators and artists from across the

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  • Crossing the Line

    IT IS NO EXAGGERATION to say that throughout the past month, the eyes of the entire wide-awake world have been on the Korean peninsula, with history being made on a near-daily basis. Even the German capital—home to an increasingly sizable Korean expat community and a host to both North and South Korea’s embassies, positioned within walking distance of each other—has not been immune to these moves. Whispers regarding the ambassadors of said embassies suggest that pleasantries were exchanged during a chance social gathering that took place around the time of the first summit between Kim Jong Un

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