Category: The Arts
Unsurprisingly, [Marc] Spiegler rejects the notion that an increased digital presence could undermine the necessity for the art world to fly to [Basel] Switzerland. “Having content available ahead of time builds momentum and increases, rather than diminishes, people’s desire to come.”
Comparing the fair to a music concert, Spiegler says: “The more live sets a DJ has online, the better attended their shows are. It hypes people up. The fairs are fun, people like seeing each other, they’re not going to stop wanting that.” Indeed for many, Art Basel 2021 will mark the welcome return to a once packed social calendar on the art world circuit, filled with invaluable in-person exchanges. Here’s hoping for a rager.
That is from Kabir Jhala at The Art Newspaper. It does seem the Basel Art Fair will be held in person this September.
One complaint I have about the current “Woke” debates is that they don’t consider how diverse the intellectual playing field is. You can learn a good deal from studying the interstices of dialogue that don’t fit into the common boxes of either pro-Woke or anti-Woke.
Along the way, I am happy to recommend The Art Newspaper (NB: non-subscribers can click through three articles a month) as an excellent periodical, both the paper and on-line editions. It is considered the “journal of record for the international art world.”
To put it bluntly, the art world is torn. In terms of demographics, the art world should lean fairly hard left, at least in the Anglo countries. It is highly educated, cosmopolitan, wealthy, and “aware” of the world. And many of the individuals operating in the art world do lean fairly strongly to the left. Yet the art world itself is based on principles fairly different from Woke and often directly opposed to Woke.
First and foremost, the art world is based on ownership of property. Most (by no means all) of those properties were created by dead white males, or perhaps by living white males.
Art markets typically are ruled by Power Laws and massive inequality, with most works going to zero value and a small percentage of the creators hitting it big. No one in those worlds really thinks that is going to change, or should change. Indeed, you earn status by showing how discriminating your eye is, which means by dumping on the works that aren’t going anywhere.
Textiles, which are arguably the “most female” genre in terms of their creators, are worth systematically much less in the marketplace. Sometimes people complain about this, but they are not willing to bid up the prices commensurately. (I am pleased to consider myself an exception in this regard — I see and indeed “exploit” massive aesthetic arbitrage opportunities here. The same is true for some kinds of pottery as well. Buying artworks from talented yet undervalued women creators is one of the best ways to be Woke.)
Art works do not come attached with triggers, and many of them reflect “the gaze” of dead white males, or they are soaked with violence, not usually along politically correct lines. Women (and men) are eroticized without apology. And they are eroticized because of the market. “Reactionary” religions are central to many genres.
The subscribers to The Art Newspaper often are art owners, art collectors, and institutional participants in the art world, such as curators and people who work at auction houses. They might fret over the theft of art works from poorer and typically non-white parts of the world, but actual full-scale restitution is not in fact their #1 programmatic goal. Surprise!
So if you read The Art Newspaper, you will step into an elite world quite unlike say the world of the American Ivies. The performative incentives here are entirely different.
In the 1990s, The Art Newspaper hardly ever ran articles with Woke themes. Today it does a lot, yet the actual content and analysis just isn’t that Woke. You can think of it as a respite from the Woke, though it will never criticize the Woke directly. It tries to incorporate Woke rhetoric into an essentially non-Woke and anti-Woke set of customs and incentives and property rights.
If you look at the top five “most read” articles from this last week in early July, you will find at #2:
Maybe you’re getting scared now, but the funny thing is the article actually addresses and answers the question. Basically those are the individuals who have essential contacts in the outside art world and knowledge of how that world works. At the end of the piece the article does call for more Chinese leadership talent (as we all would agree), but along the way no one is brow-beaten and there is remarkably little moralizing. Keep in mind The Art Newspaper is being written exactly for these white men, or those who aspire to become them.
One lesson is that when no one is watching, and when actual property is at stake, the contemporary world is still remarkably sensible.
Just how politically correct do you think this article is?
“…new book on 18th-century French art reveals discrete gradations of erotic images.”
Here is the opening passage:
Most who take an interest in 18th-century French art will know of the Goncourt brothers’ description of “the meanderings, the undulations, the pliancies of a woman’s body” in relation to Watteau, or their ecstatic response to Fragonard’s La Chemise enlevée (around 1770) depicting “a woman… on whose mouth hovers a languid smile, [trying], somewhat faintly, to retain the nightgown that has already been ravished from her body…”
I am not sure Andrea Dworkin would approve. Still, the topic is sufficiently obscure that no one is going to get cancelled for “their ecstatic response to Fragonard.”
Every now and then, The Art Newspaper gets downright sad:
The auction house’s £17.2m [Old Masters] offering in London tonight was only 57% sold, overshadowed by the football match
Are they going to stop calling them “Old Masters”? I don’t think so, not even if the term “Master bedroom” goes away.
The most widely read article of the week was “Archaeologists find ruins of vast Medieval Nubian cathedral in Sudan.” Again, no need to get nervous. They used remote sensing techniques to find the ruins. Good article, good photo, homage to its aesthetic virtues, zero moralizing, zero politics. Not a peep about cultural appropriation or CRT.
Lots of articles cover tax law too! You could say they are a kind of supply-sider, albeit without the revenue maximization idea.
And the editor is a woman, Alison Cole. She even wrote a book Italian Renaissance Courts: Art, Pleasure and Power — do you think she can be totally against those things? 22 Amazon ratings, five star average.
If you love the arts, or simply would like to step into a different intellectual world, I am happy to (strongly) recommend The Art Newspaper. It is also full of practitioner-driven economic reasoning, and fairly objective looks at geopolitics, on top of keeping you current about art worlds. The non-Woke lives.
OK, so what about The Woke and Non-Woke in other areas? Classical music? Stand-up comedy anyone? What else?
William Carlos Williams (from Asphodel):
“It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
of what is found there.”
For the pointer I thank Tim T.
Prum is an ornithologist at Yale, here is the audio, video, and transcript. Here is part of the summary:
Richard joined Tyler to discuss the infidelity of Australian birds, the debate on the origins of avian flight, how the lack of a penis explains why birds are so beautiful, why albatrosses can afford to take so many years to develop before mating, the game theory of ornithology, how flowers advertise themselves like a can of Coke, how modern technology is revolutionizing bird watching, why he’s pro-bird feeders yet anti- outdoor cats, how scarcity predicts territoriality in birds, his favorite bird artist, how Oilbirds got their name, how falcons and cormorants hunt and fish with humans, whether birds exhibit a G factor, why birds have regional accents, whether puffins will perish, why he’s not excited about the idea of trying to bring back passenger pigeons, the “dumb question” that marks a talented perspective ornithologist, and more.
Here is one excerpt:
COWEN: Putting path dependence aside, if you were trying to give us the most fundamental explanation of why sexual dimorphism is different in birds compared to mammals, what would that be?
PRUM: Well, that’s actually a really big question. [laughs]
COWEN: Of course, but the most fundamental factor — what is it?
PRUM: The most fundamental factor is that most birds don’t have a penis.
COWEN: Talk me through the equilibrium there.
PRUM: [laughs] There’s a lot. That’s where we start: Most birds don’t have a penis, which means that one of the things that happens in avian evolution that’s distinct from mammals is that the kids require a lot of care. They’re growing up in the nest, they’re hatching out of an egg, but they’re very, very vulnerable until they can fly.
Birds have a very rapid period of rapid development. That means that they grow up and leave the nest, and you need two parents to do that efficiently in most diets or most kinds of ecologies. That means the dad’s got to be at the nest.
We usually thought that you have social monogamy, at least two birds helping raise the young, because the young are so needy and they have to grow up quickly. But there’s another possibility, which is that they could evolve to be so needy and grow up quickly because they managed to get males at the nest.
One of the things that happened in the phylogeny of birds — you’ve got ostriches and their relatives, and you’ve got chickens and ducks, and then you’ve got the rest of birds, and that’s a bunch. That’s the vast majority of them, and in that lineage leading to the rest of birds, the penis evolved away, and the question is why. My own theory is that female birds preferred mates that did not have a penis.
One of the ancillary benefits of that, one of the correlated benefits of that is that they were no longer subject to sexual coercion or sexual violence. They could be coerced behaviorally, but they couldn’t be forcibly fertilized. That means that they have freedom of choice, and what do they do with their freedom of choice? They choose beauty. One of the reasons why birds are so beautiful is that males don’t have a penis. They have to be subject to choice in order to effect reproduction, and also they have to invest if females require it.
COWEN: Now, sometimes albatrosses don’t breed until they’re 20 years old or even, on average, maybe it’s what — 10 years old. What are they doing in the meantime that’s so important?
PRUM: Well, that is a deep question.
Recommended, this was one of my favorite CWT episodes.
And a very good book at that:
My main argument is that Jacob’s approach to urbanism and economics was developed parallel to, and perhaps benefited from, a much broader field of knowledge than is generally understood. Therefore, the chapter considers a wide context, including the revolutionary critique of planning espoused by Alison and Peter Smithson throughout the 1950s, on the one hand, and the Austrian-school theory of spontaneous order, on the others. Decades before Jacobs’s remarkably hypotheses, liberal theorists had advanced a demoralizing critique of central design as a challenge to the legacy of collectivist planning while advocating market-based solutions and demonstrating the crucial role that informal commerce played in spontaneous order.
That is from the new and noteworthy Anthony Fontenot, Non-Design: Architecture, Liberalism & the Market.
My latest Bloomberg column considers one factor (of many), here is an excerpt:
The male-female imbalance in academic life should be treated as a kind of emergency. But the institutions that address it are slow and bureaucratic.
Now enter the philosophy of wokeism. One way to think of the woke is as a bunch of people who scream about various injustices. But sometimes they don’t have a good plan to address a particular imbalance — and along the way they can inflict a good deal of unjustified damage, for instance by canceling people who make the wrong remarks about gender imbalance or other issues.
These and other criticisms of the woke may well be correct. Still, at the end of the day it has to be recognized that an unresponsive society will generate a lot of unproductive (and unresponsive) screamers. So simply dissecting the weaknesses of woke tactics and arguments misses the point. When practical solutions do not seem to exist, many people will resort to screaming.
This leads to the conclusion that wokeness won’t be defeated as an ideology until there is a more convincing and practical vision of how to undo institutional sclerosis. When that vision comes, it may not be so closely allied with wokeness, which is not excessively concerned with effective administration and incentive compatibility.
Sometimes it even seems that woke forces are effective. Recently some major museums have announced that they are sending back their highly valuable West African bronze sculptures to their countries of origin. Many of those sculptures were stolen by British colonial occupiers, and their restoration would reunite those countries with a significant part of their cultural heritage. This justified change would probably not have occurred without pressure from wokeism.
One underlying theme of the column is that the defects of the Woke — such as excess rigidity — are closely allied to the defects of the society they are protesting against.
Seven volumes, $200 in paperback, multiple editors, due out in July. I just pre-ordered. Much better than wasting your time reading about the debates du jour.
I am very much looking forward to this one, I will learn lots from it. Will this be the book(s) of the year?
Dr Ruth Scurr FRSL (born 1971, London) is a British writer, historian and literary critic. She is a Fellow of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge.
Her first book, Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution (Chatto & Windus, 2006; Metropolitan Books, 2006) won the Franco-British Society Literary Prize (2006), was shortlisted for the Duff Cooper Prize (2006), long-listed for the Samuel Johnson Prize (2007) and was listed among the 100 Best Books of the Decade in The Times in 2009. It has been translated into five languages.
Her second book, John Aubrey: My own Life (Chatto & Windus, 2015; New York Review of Books, 2016) was shortlisted for the 2015 Costa Biography Award and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. It was chosen as a 2015 Book of the Year in fifteen newspapers and magazines, including: the Daily Telegraph, the Financial Times, the Times, the Sunday Times, the Times Literary Supplement, the Sunday Express, the Guardian, the Spectator and the New Statesman. It was chosen as a 2016 Book of the Year by Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus Review and the Washington Post.
Scurr began reviewing regularly for The Times and The Times Literary Supplement in 1997. Since then she has also written for The Daily Telegraph, The Observer, New Statesman, The London Review of Books, The New York Review of Books, The Nation, The New York Observer, The Guardian and The Wall Street Journal.
That is from her Wikipedia page. She is an expert in the philosophy of biography and her new biography of Napoleon, which views his life through the medium of his involvement with gardens, has been receiving rave reviews. And here is her home page, and her article on her Cambridge house.
So what should I ask her?
One of the delightful characteristics of the Dutch is their frankness, and this comes through in the tales—which are far from bland.
As the exhibition texts explain, “the debate about the bare bottom in this Degas pastel dominated the art pages of the [Dutch] newspapers for weeks”. The question being asked was “whether in this day and age it is still possible to acquire and exhibit a female nude drawn by a man”.
Roos Rosa de Carvalho recalls that she received a letter from a painters’ model describing how posing nude is her profession, in which she takes pride. This made the museum curator think about Degas, concluding that “if we assume without question that she [Degas’s model] was the unwilling victim of a sex-obsessed artist, then perhaps we are not only failing Degas but her as well”.
Emilie Gordenker, the director of the Van Gogh Museum, was inevitably drawn into the controversy. She admits that “we had an internal discussion about the fact that some visitors might be offended by seeing a female nude”.
Here is more from The Art Newspaper. And here in good ol’ USA, people are worried about TV wives being too attractive, relative to their husbands (NYT). And here is another museum article, again American: “Menstrual Cups in Museums? It’s Time.” (NYT)
Here is the audio, visual, and transcript. Here is part of the summary:
Pierpaolo joined Tyler to discuss why the Mexican banking system only serves 30 percent of Mexicans, which country will be the first to go cashless, the implications of a digital yuan, whether Miami will overtake São Paolo as the tech center of Latin America, how he hopes to make Ualá the Facebook of FinTech, Argentina’s bipolar fiscal policy, his transition from historian to startup founder, the novels of Michel Houellebecq, Nazi economic policy, why you can find amazing and cheap pasta in Argentina, why Jorge Luis Borges might be his favorite philosopher, the advice he’d give to his 18-year-old self, his friendship with Niall Ferguson, the political legacy of the Spanish Civil War, why he stopped sending emails from bed, and more.
Here is just one bit:
COWEN: Why did Argentina’s liberalization attempt under Macri fail?
BARBIERI: That’s a great question. There’s a very big ongoing debate about that. I think that there was a huge divergence between fiscal policy and monetary policy in the first two years of the Macri administration.
The fiscal consolidation was not done fast enough in 2016 and 2017 and then needed to accelerate dramatically after the taper tantrum, if you want to call it, or perceived higher global rates of 2018. So Macri had to run to the IMF and then do a lot of fiscal consolidation — that hadn’t been done in ’16 and ’17 — in’18 and ’19. Ultimately, that’s why he lost the election.
Generally speaking, that’s the short-term electoral answer. There’s a wider answer, which is that I think that many of the deep reforms that Argentina needed lack wide consensus. So I think there’s no question that Argentina needs to modify how the state spends money and its propensity to have larger fiscal deficits that eventually need to be monetized. Then we restart the process.
There’s a great scholar locally, Pablo Gerchunoff, who’s written a very good paper that analyzes Argentine economic history since the 1950s and shows how we move very schizophrenically between two models, one with a high exchange rate, where we all want to export a lot, and then when elections approach, people want a stronger local currency so that we can import a lot and feel richer.
The two models don’t have a wide acceptance on what are the reforms that are needed. I think that, in retrospect, Macri would say that he didn’t seek enough of a wider backing for the kind of reforms that he needed to enact — like Spain did in 1975, if you will, or Chile did after Pinochet — having some basic agreements with the opposition that would outlive a defeat in the elections.
COWEN: The best movie from Argentina — is it Nine Queens, Nueve reinas?
BARBIERI: It is a strong contender, but I would think El secreto de sus ojos, The Secret in Their Eyes, is my favorite film about Argentina because of what it says about the very difficult period of modernization, and in particular, the horrors of the last military regime that marked us so much that it still defines our politics 50 years since.
She [an artist] tries to do a show a year, one every three years at each of the three galleries. The idea, she explained, is for your prices not to have a sudden rise, precisely because they can crash, but rather for your dealers to increase them slowly as your work receives exposure through venues like group shows, exhibitions, and biennials. Auctions can be dangerous for just that reason. At the time we spoke, Wilcox’s works on paper (19″ x 24″) were selling for around $6,000; her largest paintings (12′ x 6′), for $45,000. Dealers take 50 percent. Prices are based on size, not judgments of quality, because you don’t want to influence buyers’ opinions. Smaller works are cheaper, but more expensive per square inch (kind of like real estate). Large paintings are easier to sell in Los Angeles than London or New York, because the houses are bigger.
That is an excerpt from William Deresiewicz, The Death of the Artist: How Creators are Struggling to Survive in the Age of Billionaires and Big Tech, an excellent book (ignore the subtitle).
With Bill and Melinda Gates divorcing, and Kanye and Kim doing the same, America now has a paucity of very well-known married couples, at least outside of politics, where Barack and Michelle Obama reign supreme.
Who is the Lucy and Desi of our time? The George Burns and Gracie Allen? The Sonny and Cher?
George and Amal Clooney are in the running, but is she so well known to most Americans? Could they tell you her name from scratch, or cite what she is known for?
Kurt Cobain has passed away, as has Kobe Bryant, Larry and Laurie David split some time ago, and John and Yoko and Paul and Linda (an honorary American couple, for media purposes) are distant memories. Movie stars barely still exist these days.
Perhaps Elon Musk will marry Grimes, who is a musical star of some renown.
Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn have been married for 24 years, and they are pretty well known.
Harry and Meghan maybe are becoming an American couple, at least for media purposes?
That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:
My survey of the cultural vaccine landscape in the U.S. includes the four major vaccines — from Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.
Pfizer, distributed by one of the largest U.S. pharmaceutical firms, is the establishment vaccine. Since it initially had a significant “cold chain” requirement, it was given out at established institutions such as big hospitals and public-health centers with large freezers. It is plentiful, highly effective and largely uncontroversial.
Moderna — the very name suggests something new — is the intellectual vaccine. The company had no product or major revenue source until the vaccine itself, so it is harder to link Moderna to “Big Pharma,” which gives it a kind of anti-establishment vibe. Note also that the last three letters of Moderna are “rna,” referring to the mRNA technology that makes the vaccine work. It is the vaccine for people in the know.
Moderna was also, for a while anyway, the American vaccine. It was available primarily in the U.S. at a time when Pfizer was being handed out liberally in the U.K. and Israel. As a recipient of two Moderna doses myself, I feel just a wee bit special for this reason. You had to be an American to get my vaccine. Yes, the European Union had also approved it, but it failed to procure it in a timely manner. So the availability of Moderna reflects the greater wealth and efficiency of the U.S.
Then there are the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines…
To the extent vaccines turn into markers for a cultural club, vaccine hesitancy may persist.
It might be better, all things considered, if vaccines were viewed more like paper clips — that is, a useful and even necessary product entirely shorn of cultural significance. Few people refuse to deploy paper clips in order to “own the libs” or because they do not trust the establishment. They are just a way to hold two pieces of paper together.
To be clear, the primary blame here lies with those who hesitate to get vaccinated. But behind big mistakes are many small ones — and we vaccinated Americans, with our all-too-human tendency to create hierarchies for everything, are surely contributing to the mess.
Shadi joined Tyler to discuss reading the classics as someone who is half-Persian, the difference between Homer and Virgil’s underworlds, the reasons so many women are redefining Virgil’s Aeneid, the best way to learn Latin, why you must be in a room with a native speaker to learn Mandarin, the question of Seneca’s hypocrisy, what it means to “wave the wand of Hermes”, why Lucan begins his epic The Civil War with “fake news”, the line from Henry Purcell’s aria that moves her to tears, her biggest takeaway from being the daughter of an accomplished UN economist, the ancient text she’s most hopeful that new technology will help us discover, the appeal of Strauss to some contemporary Chinese intellectuals, the reasons some consider the history of Athens a better allegory for America than that of Rome, the Thucydides Trap, the magical “presentness” of ancient history she’s found in Italy and Jerusalem, her forthcoming book Plato Goes to China, and more.
Here is one excerpt:
COWEN: You may not agree with this, but many readers I speak with tend to think that Homer is somehow deeper, more mystical, or just more fun to read than Virgil. What accounts for that perception and how might you challenge it?
BARTSCH: I think they think that because both of Homer’s epics are not, per se, about politics or governments. They don’t offer etiologies of a state. They don’t talk about history. They are stories in the true sense. They are about heroes in the true sense, not about some guy who’s pushed around the world by the gods, constantly getting into trouble, crying, wishing he didn’t have to go found Rome, etcetera.
Achilles — figure larger than life. His pride is everything to him. He stops fighting in the Trojan War because he’s been insulted. The drama is, what compels him to go back into battle after that insult?
Odysseus — a fairy tale of a man wandering from island to island, meeting ever stranger creatures, but eventually making it back home. It’s a great yarn. You don’t have to learn history to read these. You get involved in the psychology of the characters, their tragedies and their triumphs.
Nobody is really interested in getting involved in the psychology of the state and its triumphs. On the one hand, you’ve got a poem that’s an etiology for a particular government. On the other hand, you have two amazing stories. I can see how reading The Aeneid would be considered duller for some.
Excellent throughout, and again here is Shadi’s excellent translation of Virgil’s Aeneid.
That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:
If the price of Bitcoin were to reach $200,000, Coinbase Chief Executive Officer Brian Armstrong observed recently, half of the world’s billionaires would be crypto billionaires. Even at the lesser valuations that currently prevail, this crypto wealth has vast potential to reshape philanthropy. Expect a relative decline in the influence of longstanding nonprofit institutions — and more weird, stand-alone projects.
Bitcoin itself is a weird, stand-alone project. The true identity of its inventor, Satoshi Nakamoto, is still unknown, and the broader Bitcoin ecosystem is not owned or controlled by any company or institution. It has been self-sustaining since the beginning, and so it should hardly come as a surprise that Bitcoin billionaires take Bitcoin itself as a model for future institutions, including in philanthropy.
As philanthropists, Bitcoin and other crypto billionaires will likely look to support ideas that can launch in a dramatic way and quickly acquire escape velocity. They are unlikely to fund the ongoing labor costs of established cultural institutions.
Bitcoin and many other cryptocurrencies seem designed to stand independent of any government or mainstream financial institution. That too suggests that the philanthropic emphasis of crypto wealth will be on non-establishment, non-governmental organizations.
Venture capitalist Paul Graham has pointed out that wealth is earned much more quickly nowadays, and that is all the more true in crypto, which after all is only 12 years old. Unlike many of the wealthy people in law or investment banking, these are not people who had to spend their lives working their way up, finally achieving a top position in their 60s. They either are founders of rapidly growing and scaling companies, or they bought large sums of the right crypto assets early on, or both. Either way, their temperaments are geared to expect immediate action and rapid results.
Nonprofits will have to adjust accordingly, even though speed is not typically their comparative advantage. That in turn suggests that the organizational structures of many nonprofits will have to change fairly radically. Many of them were designed or have evolved to be good at continuity, like the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra, which after all is still playing Beethoven with violins and cellos.
There is much more at the link.