COLUMNS

  • Photo Op

    I FLASH my SFMOMA lifetime artist membership card, and the woman at the counter asks me, “What do you have in the collection?” Her question gets me tense. A few months after the museum sent me the card in the mail—a total surprise—some brainiac in acquisitions questioned my eligibility, and they threatened to revoke my membership. See me on the phone, shouting at a museum bureaucrat, “You’ve got to be kidding me! This is beyond tacky.” I do not know if this cheerful woman now is just being chatty or if this is a test. I tell her my husband has a piece in the Kikibox. She looks confused and asks,

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  • Subject Lessons

    IN MARCH, Isaac Julien’s show “Lessons of the Hour – Frederick Douglass” premiered at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, a week before it opened at Metro Pictures in New York during Armory Week. I caught a flight upstate for a weekend of events surrounding the debut and was toured around sites important both to Douglass’s life and to Julien’s process, including the George Eastman Museum, the graves of Anna Murray Douglass and Douglass, and Highland Park—the location of a 120-year-old bronze statue of Douglass, the first public monument in the country to memorialize a black American. Julien’s

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  • WEIRD SISTERS

    WE ARE THE GREAT-GRANDDAUGHTERS OF THE WITCHES YOU WEREN’T ABLE TO BURN, declared a banner at this year’s International Women’s Day march in Zagreb, Croatia. As if to illustrate this illicit genealogy, two schoolgirls, accompanied by their mother, carried a sign proclaiming, WOMAN’S PLACE IS IN THE RESISTANCE. These slogans handily describe the expansive oeuvre of Zagreb-based artist Sanja Iveković, who, unsurprisingly, was spotted among the event’s attendees. Since the beginning of Iveković’s artistic career in the 1970s in socialist Yugoslavia, she has sought to prevent the erasure of women’s

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  • Case Study: Nan Goldin and the Sacklers

    ONE NIGHT IN THE SUMMER OF 2017, a few weeks before neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville, I ran into a well-liked art adviser at a party on the second floor of New York’s Russian Samovar. We knew each other vaguely and greeted each other warmly. The well-liked art adviser asked what I was writing. I answered that I was working on an investigative piece with some relevance to the art world.

    “Oh?”

    I asked if the art adviser was familiar with the Sackler family.

    “The Sacklers, yes, of course. I work with them sometimes.” The art adviser then added, whispering: “And yes, I know all about where the

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  • Notre Dame of Ruins

    “IT’S A SPACESHIP,” the artist Alejandro Jodorowsky told me long ago. “An astronomical technology designed to measure the power of light and of darkness. An architectural machine made to take off, destined to fly and to take our souls and our dreams beyond the Earth.” He was speaking about Notre Dame. Looking at the cathedral from its rear, Jodorowsky compared the stone buttresses to the arms that attach to a shuttle on its launchpad, meant to open one day to let the ship rise into the sky. I had a hard time understanding his theory then. But suddenly we were there, together with hundreds of

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  • D-FENS Mechanisms

    BEING A PEDESTRIAN IN LA has long put a person outside the bounds of normality: At best, they’ve made a mistake, gotten a DUI, failed to maintain their car, or crashed it; at worst, they’re already an offender, a trespasser, a prowler, or merely too poor to be considered at all.

    Oliver Payne’s recent travelogue-lecture-performance-video Wandering About Falling Down, 2019, is a meditation on this unique combination of being both overexposed and totally invisible. This past February 26, viewers could catch up with Payne on Instagram Live as he crossed the city. Where was he at lunch? Where was he

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  • I Heart You

    I SIT IN THE COFFEE HOUSE AREA of The Market, a giant food court on the ground floor of the building where Twitter Headquarters lives, eating two types of hot bar curry from a paper box that reads “DISCOVERY. COMMUNITY. REAL FOOD.” I’m also sipping a rather caustic canned pinot gris, which I poured into the thermal bottle I carried my tea to work in. They have a nice wine bar in The Market where I could get something much better, in a stemmed glass, but that would destroy the feral essence of the moment, the way I’m wolfing down my food with a compostable plastic fork. Valentine’s Day—my

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  • REMAINS OF THE FRAY

    PAUL VIRILIO WAS BORED on the beach one summer afternoon in 1958. Leaning against a concrete block, the young man made a 360-degree scan of his surroundings—sand, rocky cliffs, ocean. This panoramic appraisal took him all the way back to the block behind him, a “worthless object” from World War II. His vacation in Brittany was over and his career as an “archaeologist of the future” (to quote his early collaborator, the architect Claude Parent) was about to begin. For the next seven years, Virilio would travel France’s northwestern coast, photographing the abandoned bunkers of the defunct Nazi

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  • On the Ground: Beirut

    IMPERMANENCE IS A PERMANENT CONDITION IN BEIRUT—a horizon of transience continues to shape its residents’ daily lives. While survival mode may appear inevitable here, a good number of Beirutis in the arts have ceaselessly cultivated self-criticism as a structuring ethos of their professional practices over the past two decades, braving Syrian oppression, Israeli assaults, a far-from-resolved garbage crisis, and, still ongoing, the protracted lack of an elected government, not to mention increased state surveillance. Although post-civil-war amnesia among the Lebanese and the constructedness

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  • The Return of Inanna

    I FIRST ENCOUNTERED the Sumerian myth of Inanna in the 1980s, when I read Sylvia Brinton Perera’s Descent to the Goddess: A Way of Initiation for Women (1981). At the time I was plagued with a neurological disorder in which electrified waves would shoot through my body, distorting my sensory processing in ways that terrified me. I memorized Sylvia Plath’s “The Hanging Man”: By the roots of my hair some god got hold of me./ I sizzled in his blue volts like a desert prophet. What if these blue volts went on forever, I fretted—what if the world as I knew it was over? When Inanna enters the

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  • BROUGHT TO JUSTICE

    IF THE AUTONOMY of art was ever actually a thing, it ended with smartphones. The whole time I was visiting “Walls Turned Sideways: Artists Confront the Justice System” at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston on October 6 of last year, I was painfully aware that if I pulled out the screen in my pocket, I might have to confront that inevitable, disheartening headline: SENATE CONFIRMS KAVANAUGH. The white cube was no antidote to the nausea of the present. If aestheticism’s belief in art’s distance from social and political concerns still endures, it does so only in the negative, as a sense of

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  • On the Ground: San Francisco

    FOR MUCH OF NOVEMBER 2018, raging wildfires made particulate matter levels dangerously high in the Bay Area. Eyes watered, schools closed, art openings and lectures were canceled. People fled to LA, never known for its air quality, for bluer skies. It became matter of course to wear N95 respirators if you could find them. Lines snaked around hardware stores, and San Francisco’s young, affluent demographic patiently waited for theirs, just as they do in queues for the latest must-have artisanal ice cream.

    This is not to draw too emphatic a comparison between the arts and the effects of global

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