COLUMNS

  • The Misfits

    Two fashion labels unraveling Asian identity

    “REFASHIONING” at the Japan Society in New York brings together two emerging fashion labels—Tokyo’s Wataru Tominaga and downtown Manhattan’s CFGNY—as Asian American cultural politics arrive at a critical juncture. Spikes in reported violence against Asians have tapped into a wellspring of mounting anger, tensions that often become assuaged with commercial ventures like fashion, art, and lifestyle. It is a seductive, glittering dream: that “refashioning” one’s personal choices can bring about sweeping change comparable to total political reordering. This context leaves the designers here with a

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  • A COUNTERFEIT ILLUSION

    David Joselit on “Cubism and the Trompe l’Oeil Tradition”

    NO TENDENCY in painting has inspired as much experimentation among succeeding generations of modernist artists as Cubism. In the face of this legacy, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition “Cubism and the Trompe l’Oeil Tradition” seeks to divert that future-oriented momentum by bending its trajectory backward—toward trompe l’oeil painting, a minor Western tradition that was practiced between the mid-seventeenth and nineteenth centuries and later devolved into a form of decoration. This curatorial thesis, launched with slim historical evidence but delivered in a seductive spectacle of gorgeous

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  • The Difficulty of Black Women (A Response)

    what I write and how I write is done in order to save my own life.

    —Barbara Christian, “The Race for Theory”

    IN AN ESSAY on the uncompromising brilliance of Toni Morrison’s oeuvre, published just months before the passing of this inimitable writer, Namwali Serpell observes: “There are many ways to be ‘difficult’ in this world: stubborn, demanding, inconvenient, complex, troublesome, baffling, illegible. Black womanhood is where they overlap.” Black women have always been difficult for the world, which relentlessly demands their labors, but disdains the exorbitance their labors bring forth.

    This

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  • True Colors

    How should Ana Mendieta’s story be told?

    HERE IS WHAT WE KNOW: In 1979, Ana Mendieta, a young, up-and-coming artist fresh off a solo show at the feminist co-op A.I.R. Gallery, met the older, more famous Carl Andre, a so-called founding father of Minimalism. The artists embarked on a romantic and, by several accounts, tempestuous relationship. In 1985, Mendieta died after falling from the window of Andre’s thirty-fourth-floor apartment in New York’s Greenwich Village. He was tried, and acquitted, for her murder. Now eighty-seven, Andre—still living, somewhat astoundingly, in that same apartment—has carried on with his career, exhibiting

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  • VILLA OF THE DAMNED

    John Ganz on “Casa Malaparte: Furniture”

    “OH, WE WILL NOT BE COMMENTING ON THAT” was the answer I got from a gallery representative at the opening of a show of furniture designed by the Italian writer and filmmaker Curzio Malaparte at Gagosian’s space on Park Avenue, New York. The “that” in question was Malaparte’s prominent membership in Mussolini’s National Fascist Party, a fact that is not mentioned in the press release. Instead, the text supplies euphemisms, calling him a “provocative writer” who was “notorious for his oscillations between the ideological extremes of the era.”

    The reason for this evasion is not hard to fathom: “Casa

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  • ARCTIC WARMTH

    Amin Alsaden on “ᐊᖏᕐᕋᒧᑦ/Ruovttu Guvlui/ Towards Home”

    A SOFT GRADIENT BECKONS. Evoking sunrise across a gallery wall, its pale orange fades into a delicate blush of pink. The atmospheric hues, connoting a clear morning sky over an open landscape, serve as the backdrop for a humble wooden structure. A freestanding, zigzagging wall, it is bare on one side, while on the other, the skeletal construction suggests a fragment of an interior, an armature for a dense agglomeration of artifacts—parkas, mittens, boots, and other personal and domestic objects indicative of a colder climate. The tropes and trappings of conventional architecture are absent.

    ᐊᖏ

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  • Peace and Quiet

    The Aichi Triennale mounts a restrained comeback

    WHEN CONFRONTED by a Japanese journalist about the scandal that haunted the previous Aichi Triennale, artistic director Kataoka Mami responded with: “This has been asked too many times,” and “Let the [current] exhibition speak for itself.” Leaving us “outsiders” stunned, these statements seemed calibrated to banish from our minds that now-distant conflict, when outrage over a sculpture commemorating Korean women enlisted into sexual slavery by the Japanese military forced the closure an entire section of the exhibition (ironically titled “After Freedom of Expression?”), let alone the myriad

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  • I Am Falling in Love

    EVERYWHERE THE WORLD we know is splitting in two. Each half in turn in two and so on without rest. Earth like a cell rotting or diffracting; it is not yet possible to tell. Beginning and end meet and merge. Apocalypses and infancy face to face. Fascism advances like a political corpse stubbornly taking the last steps before falling. Sometimes the dead assumes the form of a naked white guy with an antlers on top of the head, other times an Italian businesswoman, or a national-security neocon-feminist mummy; sometimes it speaks English, sometimes Russian, but always the abstract language of the

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  • Harvest Moon

    The 17th Istanbul Biennial’s audacious return to form

    “COMPOST IS SOMETHING where you bring in things together; but it’s also something that you need to leave alone, somethings have to take their own time and place,” mused David Teh, sitting next to his cocurators Ute Meta Bauer and Amar Kanwar at the press briefing of the seventeenth Istanbul Biennial. Compost, Teh went on, “is what gives this year’s biennial its character.” Their talk on September 12 ushered collectives, critics, curators, and “contributors” to this edition (instead of artists) into the Zeytinburnu Medicinal Plants Garden, a first-time venue for the exhibition. Afterward, a

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  • States of Mind

    Toward an alternative future for Jewish art

    WHO CARES ABOUT JEWISH ART, and where does it belong? The category has long faced a problem wherein work is either too Jewish—too niche, too religious, too rootless-cosmopolitan—or too secular, too queer, too political (often code for too anti-Zionist). Jewish spaces censor their own; non-Jewish spaces are afraid to engage. For artists, there’s often a question of what language one has to speak to obtain funding: a question of whether one can show up as their whole self. In her 2019 essay “Kaddish for an Unborn Avant-Garde,” Maia Ipp calls for a revitalization of the visionary in Jewish art,

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  • Beyond Repair

    Regarding torture at the Berlin Biennale

    IN THE TWELFTH BERLIN BIENNALE, images of Iraqi torture and sexual abuse victims have been blown up and arranged into a maze of crude entrapment. The walls of this maze reproduce the photos taken by American soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison and leaked in 2004, one year after the US-led invasion of Iraq. This edition of the Biennale is said to be centered on decolonial engagement, to offer “repair . . . as a form of agency” and “a starting point . . . for critical conversation, in order to find ways together to care for the now.” Yet the Biennale made the decision to commodify photos of unlawfully

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  • Shark Tale

    Resurfacing Winslow Homer’s most elusive painting

    WINSLOW HOMER loved a good repoussoir: Locking the foreground and background into a taut tug-of-war charged his small paintings with titanic vigor. Rocks, waves, boats, and leaping fish bound toward the viewer, while some kind of natural force draws the eye back into the painting. That push-and-pull is emotional as well as compositional: We do not know whether to sympathize with or ridicule his subjects.

    What, then, are we to make of the repoussoir in Winslow Homer’s The Gulf Stream, 1899: a dark, red-flecked wave swelling in the foreground and teeming with criss-crossing sharks? Based on sketches

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