COLUMNS

  • Loose Threads

    THIS SUMMER IN PARIS, two museums installed versions of the same artworks—eighteenth-century French tapestries from a royal series known as the “Nouvelle Indes” (New Indies)—to tell very different stories about European legacies of race, slavery, and colonialism. One version hangs in the lavish period rooms of the new Hôtel de la Marine in the Place de la Concorde, while another was part of an exhibition devoted to the forty-two-year-old Congolese artist Sammy Baloji at the École des Beaux-Arts. Despite the fact that both sets of hangings came from the Mobilier National and were on view only a

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  • Twisted Sister

    A WOMAN NAMED ROBERTA BREITMORE steps off a Greyhound bus and checks into San Francisco’s Dante Hotel. The year is 1973. Single with no friends in the city, Roberta nervously contemplates her next move, eventually placing roommate-seeking ads in local newspapers. She receives forty-three responses. A victim of childhood trauma, she never finished college and struggles with anxiety. Susceptible to the promises of self-improvement fads, she joins Weight Watchers and EST. After undergoing an exorcism in 1978, Roberta resurfaces, zombielike, as a telerobotic doll with camera eyes in the 1990s. In

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  • Smoke Signals

    “THOUGH IT’S DARK, STILL I SING” is the name of the show. Though it’s a pandemic and the country is on the verge of collapse, still we find ways to celebrate. Nothing spells dystopia more than a tightly packed queue of art-world elites each waiting their turn to be tested for Covid-19 before entering the VIP opening of this year’s much-anticipated thirty-fourth Bienal de São Paulo. Screens mounted at the door of Oscar Niemeyer’s modernist pavilion in the city’s biggest park beeped and grew brighter with each test result, allowing the patient to step into the premises. It felt like boarding a

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  • THERE, THERE

    COINED BY THE ENVIRONMENTALIST David Foreman in 1990, rewilding describes a preservation strategy that allows ecosystems to strike a new equilibrium after long periods of abuse and reckless overextraction. While certainly contentious in conservation circles, the promise of a clean slate at a moment when all other options seem exhausted has gained traction in the popular imagination (just think of how many “nature is healing” memes have floated around in the past year and a half). In their essay “Cur(at)ing for a Broken World: The Case for Collective Rewilding,” the curatorial group Collective

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  • Total Recall

    “IT’S LIKE GOOGLE IMAGES, but in paper and folders.” This has been the simplest way for me to describe the New York Public Library’s Picture Collection to friends, family, and students unfamiliar with one of New York City’s great underknown treasures. The analogy captures the important features of the Picture Collection—its scale, its indexing, and its promise of democratized access. Here, more than a million clipped photographs, prints, maps, illustrations, and sundry other material are organized under thousands of subject headings—from “Apparitions” to “Scorpions” to “Trade Unions”—and are

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  • Blow Up

    IT COULD NOT BE AVOIDED. With the lingering force of a traumatic memory, an advertisement for “Immersive Van Gogh” resurfaced constantly across social media. All over our screens, clips of masked visitors taking in wall-size projections of the Dutch painter’s self-portraits, still lifes, and landscapes proliferated. A thousand Starry Nights bloomed in rapid succession. Any cursory investigation of the phenomenon would uncover a veritable ecosystem of similarly titled, large-scale digital van Gogh installations, their locations ranging from Atlanta to Antwerp, Houston to Hangzhou: “Immersive Van

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  • A Dangerous Method

    I WONDER HOW people will think of psychoanalysis after they see the show “Louise Bourgeois, Freud’s Daughter,” currently at the Jewish Museum in New York. Will it rise in their esteem, having fallen to the level of a silly, obsolete science, a worn-out, clichéd set of interpretations? Bourgeois’s relationship to psychoanalysis is rich, layered, and, importantly, long, as psychoanalysis is wont to be: beginning in 1951 with her treatment following her father’s death, lasting until 1985 with her psychoanalyst’s death. She calls it “a jip,” “a duty,” “a joke,” “a love affair,” “a bad dream,” “a

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  • Ground Control

    I’M SITTING AT THE BOTTOM of a dry, deteriorating swimming pool in the Great Salt Lake Desert. Here, across northwestern Utah’s remote Tooele County, the bone-white, salt-crusted terrain appears endless. It’s so vast you can see the curvature of the Earth.

    The Donner-Reed Party trudged this eighty-mile waterless drive in 1846, following the spurious California Trail shortcut recommended by adventurer and future Confederate major Lansford Hastings. Their hubris and resultant cannibalism epitomize Manifest Destiny’s ravenous pathology. American audacity, not ingenuity, colonized the continent.

    During

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  • Looking After

    THIS APRIL, the University of Pennsylvania admitted to the public that human remains from the charred rubble of the devastating May 13, 1985, police bombing of the MOVE complex in West Philadelphia had been given to Alan Mann, an anthropologist on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania from 1969 to 2001. He was asked to provide forensic analysis of the bones; they are now believed to belong to either or both Tree and Delisha Africa, thirteen and twelve years old, respectively, at the time of their death. Mann took the bones with him when he moved to Princeton University, but they were

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  • Galaxy Brain

    TO INAUGURATE THE CHAOID GALLERY at the New York nonprofit Thread Waxing Space in 1999, curator and School of Visual Arts professor Warren Neidich organized “Conceptual Art as Neurobiological Practice,” convening a mix of phenomenological and brain-related works from relational-aesthetics superstars Douglas Gordon and Liam Gillick, installation artist Jason Rhoades, and post-Conceptualists Jonathan Horowitz and Rainer Ganahl, among others, under the recently minted category of “neuroaesthetics.” Neidich, an artist himself and a former physician, had coined the term in a series of lectures at

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  • Across the Universe

    TAKING THE GUISE of a shape-shifting, benevolent creature composed of several interrelated yet sometimes conflicting personalities—seer, hedonist, eroticist, scholar, and scientist, we could call them—across its nine institutional and temporary sites, the eleventh Liverpool Biennial is the latest global exhibition to treat curating as social practice. Cued by wall text as well as a global pandemic, the ideal viewer will approach this gentle giant with an open mind about the body’s potential to connect across cultures and world history.

    Titled “The Stomach and the Port” and curated by Manuela

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  • As Above, So Below

    THIS VIRAL PHOTOGRAPH by AFP’s Anas Baba—published on May 14, about four days after the start of the Israeli military’s “Operation Guardian of Walls” in Gaza—has already been crowned by the local and international media as the definitive image of this latest wave of suffering, which continues despite the “cease-fire” announced on Friday. As Israeli TV news broadcasters went on about the search for a “victory photo” to mark the end of the fighting, Baba’s photograph, shot from inside the prison of Gaza, offered a depiction of spectacular deadlock.

    Each of the parties (there are of course more than

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