Archive for the 'current affairs' Category

The Week

Paolo Veronese, The Conversion of Mary Magdalene, about 1548, oil on canvas, 117.5 x 163.5 cm. London, The National Gallery.


In a couple of weeks’ time, we’re opening the first major show of the works of Venetian Renaissance artist Paolo Veronese in decades at the National Gallery. Although it falls within my area of responsibility and will therefore occupy much of my time for the next few months, it’s an exhibition I have had nothing to do with, having started at the gallery only a few months ago. But needless to say one I’m looking forward to immensely: it’s a privilege thus to be dropped into the midst of a great project on an artist of immense generosity.

It’s not just that his pictures pull out all the stops, that his art is a rarely paralleled display of elegance, magnificence, and virtuosity, it’s that there is something profoundly touching about those qualities in his work. He is one of the few artists who really understood the lessons of Raphael. His immaculate sense of composition, his grasp of form, two- as well as three-dimensional, his sensitive use of gesture, and the subtlety of his portrayal of human interaction are all elements in what seems to me a distinctly civilising art, to paraphrase Kenneth Clark’s characterisation of Raphael. Contemplating Veronese is not only a joy, it makes you feel better about life and who we are.

That’s the high register. Keep an eye on the NG website for further thoughts and more concrete analysis during the course of the exhibition. I’ll keep you posted here and on twitter.

Links:

  • “There Are Good Guys and Bad Guys.” Bhob Stewart’s classic essay on/obituary of Wally Wood reprinted at the Comics Journal to mark the passing of its author. RIP. Read it, it is one of the most evocative, personal texts of its kind in comics. Really brings the great, flawed cartoonist to life.
  • Nikoline Werdelin interviewed. Arguably the greatest living Danish cartoonist, Werdelin has rarely if ever been interviewed about her comics (she has often talked to journalists about other things — life, style, death, and everything in between), so this in-depth, work-oriented interview by Thomas Thorhauge is a major scoop. Unfortunately it is only available in Danish, as is indeed the case with most of her work. English readers can sample her in From Wonderland with Love.
  • Finally, this uncredited photo, from the Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria, is arresting, sobering, terrible. A reminder that something has to be done there. A no-fly zone blocking the government’s use of their air force remains a good place to start.
  • The Week

    The week in review

    It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these and it will probably be a while yet before I do another one. Much happening in terms of relocating more permanently to London, so… but I just felt the itch to post something here wishing you all (those of you still reading this rather stagnant page) a happy new year. Over the holiday I rekindled my interest in the civil rights movement and black liberation in the US by reading Manning Marable’s fantastic, and controversial, biography of Malcolm X, A Life of Reinvention. Presenting by far the most nuanced view of this complex figure so far, it does more to make him human, real, in the reader’s eye than just about anything else I’ve read. My one quibble is that by being so scrupulous about presenting the details of his life, warts and all, it tends to lose sight of what made him, this leader who achieved very little in terms of concrete political results, such a crucial figure in modern American history. It lacks sufficient exegesis on his words and thoughts, despite an excellent closing chapter that aims to provide perspective. But don’t let that deter if you have any interest in American history or the civil rights movement. It’s a great book.

    With that, I figured I’d post the above video of Malcolm X speaking in Oxford (close to home for me now, that’s why, I guess!) in 1964, five or six months after having broken with the Nation of Islam. It’s a remarkable encapsulation of the fluctuating state of his thought at that moment, starting with a forceful statement of principle — the nature of American racism, the use of violence — entirely consistent with his earlier, more confrontational rhetoric, passes through a Barry Goldwater quote as well — poignantly — as one from Hamlet, to an approchement to the civil rights movement and embrace of the vote as a potential game changer for black Americans. And he ends on a universalist, revolutionary call for action. There are greater moments to be found in his many speeches and interviews (the Malcolm X Project at Columbia University is a good place to start learning more), but I love the eclecticism and coherence of this clip.

    More links:

  • For those that missed it, Barton Gellman of the Washington Post interviewed Edward Snowden at some length last week. The paper also provided a disturbing perspective on the development of quantum computers and what it may mean for universal surveillance.
  • For Danish readers, this piece on how Green Growth has become a global buzzword over the last ten years , loosening the purse strings of corporations as well as government worldwide, is worth checking out. The same goes for Rune Lykkeberg’s piece on how the centre-left seems to have taken back the microphone in the Danish discourse on moral values.
  • MADIBA

    mandela.jpg

    The Week

    Here in the United States we are experts in the knowledge that editorial cartooning is a dying art. In other areas of the world, however, it is an art that people die for.

    – Dr. Robert Russell

    The week in review

    The execution, earlier this year, of cartoonist Akram Raslan is another reminder of the untenable situation in Syria, of the kind we who are especially attuned to cartooning notice. As if we needed it. It is great that the deal to eliminate the country’s chemical weapons so far seems to be going ahead (though, what about the chemical weapons in Egypt and Iran?), and good to see that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this week. But I fail to see how the Assad regime can be regarded as anything but illegitimate by now. I realize the complexity of the situation in the region, how delicate affecting regime change would be, and the power vacuum any removal of the current despot in charge would cause, but how can one seriously contemplate having dealings with these mass murderers in the future? How will the region ever be more stable if they remain in charge? After a while, fear of change just becomes cynicism.

    Links:

  • I really shouldn’t be giving it any attention, but the new “Leonardo” find this week is symptomatic of a rising trend toward sensationalist PR stunts in the art world, where often dubious pieces are trotted out as genuine works by one of the great masters. Another example is the recent, silly attempt to upgrade a Velasquez copy at Kingston Lacy. The press clearly laps it up, but in the long run it has to be a problem for anybody taking seriously the study and facilitation of knowledge of art, as well as to the market. And it clearly makes one wary even of more serious proposals, such as that of the new, possible Titian I wrote about the other day.
  • Speaking of new finds, the sensationalist rollout of the fantastic Van Gogh discovery by the Van Gogh Museum last month is scrutinised and found wanting by Gary Schwartz.
  • And speaking of Nobel Prizes, the one for literature of course went to Alice Munro, whom I suppose is deserving and all, but when is the committee finally going to give it to Bob Dylan? Bill Wyman made the by now long stated case once again before the prize was announced.
  • Pusha T’s new album My Name is My Name, seems poised as contender for album of the year if the singles are anything to go by. The Kendrick Lamar-featured “Nosestalgia” is hot, and “Pain”, released this week is Fyah! Also, check David Drake’s pre-release analysis here.
  • If you read Danish, Louise B. Olsen’s smart and elegant essay on Krazy Kat is a nice way to celebrate the centenary of that greatest of comic strips.
  • Oh, and this article on how the city of London has become an international tax haven for real estate speculators is just a depressing peek into the workings of global capitalism, not the least to somebody like yours truly who will soon be moving to that city.
  • Akram Raslan RIP


    Murdered by the Assad regime, like tens of thousands of other innocents.

    The Week

    “When history looks back on this moment, will it view those who opposed intervening as champions of peace? Or, when the textbooks count the dead children, and the international norms broken with impunity, will our descendants puzzle that we took pride in retreating into passivity during this slaughter?”

    Nicholas Kristof

    The week in review

    The absurd theater on whether a coalition of Western countries led by the US will intervene in the Syrian civil war or not, the contorted logic behind the whole chemical weapons rationale, and the sudden, provocative fit of Russian diplomacy have obviously dominated the week’s news. It’s been a fascinating study in the vagaries of international politics around a hot potato issue. But it’s also been depressing. There is no question that the prospect of engaging in another war, no matter how limited said intervention is claimed to be, is daunting and demanding of the utmost caution on the part of decision makers. But we’re talking a genocide here, like the one that’s been happening in Darfur or the one in Rwanda in the nineties — both of which we left to run their course. The argument for select attacks or even better, imposing a no-fly zone, in Syria seems to me a basic, human one.

    I find particularly depressing the arguments that we should let the notoriously lame duck UN Security Council or US Congress decide. Or that we can solve the conflict with humanitarian aid or non-violent diplomacy alone. It’s been tried for two years now and hasn’t worked. And in the meantime a hundred thousand people have been killed and millions have had to flee their homes.

    I really hope the current decision to pursue a handover by the Assad regime of all chemical weapons bears fruit, but also that it is followed up by aggressive diplomacy to resolve the situation and bring peace to the region. If necessary by the use of force. Witty as Vladimir Putin’s op-ed piece in the New York Times was, fun as it was to see him expose the hypocrisy of American foreign policy, the reality of the war in Syria is so horrible that his high ground-arguments for civilised conflict solution ring hollow if they don’t bring an end to the killings soon.

    Stop the Motor City Sellout


    As most of you are no doubt aware, Detroit is bankrupt, and one of the worse ideas the city has for keeping its creditors at bay is selling off the treasures in the Detroit Institute of Arts, one of America’s finest art museums. Deaccessioning masterworks from the collection, or dissolving it entirely, would be a great loss to the public, and to the city: no longer the industrial hub of yesteryear, Detroit needs to redefine itself in order to remain a vibrant city and and an attractive place to live and visit. Focusing on culture and other soft capital doesn’t appear like the worst way to achieve this, and in the DIA the city has an internationally significant cultural institution and a natural node of interest in such an endeavour, it seems to me. Besides, whatever money might be raised from selling off the collection is dwarfed by the city’s debt. It would be like pissing your pants to stay warm.

    Anyway, enough pontification. Jeffrey Hamburger from Harvard University has organised an online petition to convince the city of Detroit to leave the DIA alone. I encourage you to sign it, and leave any comments you may have.

    (Such petitions can make a difference, however small. Hamburger’s petition to convince the city of Berlin to leave its collection of old masters at the Tiergarten Gemäldegalerie may not have been the deciding factor, but it cannot have had an adverse effect on the recent, happy decision not to move the collection).

    Image: The Wedding Dance by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c. 1566), one of the great works in the DIA.

    The Week

    The week in review

    This week the rap game experienced tremors when Big Sean released the song “Control” online. It featured a verse from the still-young, still gunning Kendrick Lamar on which he not only claimed for himself as many indices of hip hop royalty as he could — ‘Makavelli’s offspring’, the ‘Black Beatle’ or ‘Marley’ and, evidently most galling of all ‘King of New York’, he also named names, placing himself in the august company of the current paragons (Jay-Z, Nas, Eminem, Andre 3000) and calling out a selection of his contemporaries, warning them that whether they are homies or not, he is trying to make their careers history (or ‘murder’ them, to be exact) in the true, competitive spirit of hip hop. This touched of a frenzy of responses from all over the rap world, with dis tracks coming at Kendrick left and right (and mostly from New York emcees, as one would expect). Several prominent artists reacted positively, stating that Kendrick has made hip hop exciting again by rekindling the focus on lyrics.

    This is the kind of verse that’s an immediate jaw-dropper, and not even mainly because of the presumption of naming of names. It’s in the performance. Kendrick here sounds as hungry as he ever has, pouring more aggression into this one verse than his entire, already impressive body of work can muster. We’re hearing a new side of him here. It’s not really about the lyrics, despite what everyone has been saying. Kendrick pushes some easy buttons and simultaneously makes sure not to piss off the establishment too much (why not include Jigga, Nas, et. al. on his hit list while he’s at it? It would be in the spirit). (incidentally, I like that Kanye is nowhere mentioned!). And frankly the rest of the verse is kind of incoherent, lacking in evocative simile and too busy with the name checks. No, what makes this verse of a different order than just about all the responses and most of what one hears in rap at the moment is the conviction he brings to it. It is truly exciting to hear a rapper spit with such passion. The words matter, of course, but only because they are delivered with such fire, such promise. In one verse, Kendrick has done much to dispel the very reasonable fear that he might experience sophomore jinx after his masterful major label debut good kid m.A.A.d city of last year.

    XXL and MTV both provide nice overviews of the responses to the verse; Brandon Soderbergh has the best critical take on the song.

  • In other news, you have to read this incredible piece on how Edward Snowden established his contact to filmmaker Laura Poitras and journalist Glenn Greenwald.
  • Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz on Detroit’s plight and what one might learn from it.
  • The Week

    The week in review

    This weekend saw the first Vanguard Festival here in Copenhagen. A bold step up from long-time hip hop booker Peter “Soul Kitchen” and his team, it spread over two days divided between indie rock (Friday) and hip hop (Saturday). Surely a risk, it seems to have paid off — at least judging by attendance on Saturday. The lineup was stellar, if somewhat retrograde — what one might call ‘your dad’s favorite hip hop’: Pharoahe Monche, DOOM, De La Soul, and the Wu-Tang Clan (on their 20th anniversary tour), as well as some quality Nordic acts, with Loop Troop Rockers and Malk de Koijn being the most notable.

    While among the best in hip hop of the past twenty plus years, the list carried some risk: DOOM is infamously languorous on stage, De La have long been past their (astonishing) prime, the the Wu-Tang are notorious wild cards as a live act. And while DOOM was just as boring as always, and De La gave a lacklustre performance loaded up with time-filler and frustrating wheel-ups, the festival overall was a fantastic live experience. Loop Troop ripped it with their reliably energetic show; Malk is always solid: Pharoahe, backed up by Mela Machinko and DJ Boogie Blind, was reliably amazing, his vocal stylings and content crisp on the mic; and Wu-Tang brought the blast.

    When I last heard them perform live, in 2008 — in the wake of their partly public row over royalties and creative decisions — morale was clearly fraying and their show was erratic. Five years later, and twenty years after Enter the Wu-Tang, the Clan was evidently more closely knit, even if Ghostface still seems reluctant to participate — I don’t think he spat more than four or five verses total — and any Wu-Tang show without a prominent Ghost is a less than optimal one. Good that Meth remains the fabulous entertainer he is, that U-God and GZA (the usual weak links live) performed above average, that Dek remains rock solid, and that the RZA retains his enthusiasm. Also crucial was the crowd, psyched to witness the entire clan on stage for the first time in Denmark, sending much love their way. The interaction, spiked when RZA invited two kids on stage to rock out to “4th Chamber”, was nothing less than wonderful and made for a magical finish to a great festival that I hope we will see return many a time in the future.

    UPDATE: for Danish readers, peep the Rapspot coverage by Svensker-Martin (Ponyblod, Loop Troop, DOOM, Wu-Tang) and Toobs (Marvelous Mosell, Pharoahe Monche, De La Soul, Malk de Koijn), and here are Kenneth Nguyen’s photos.

    OK, here are some links:

  • A major piece of reportage this week was Glenn Greenwald and The Guardian‘s exposure of the NSA XKeystroke surveillance programme. If you didn’t take the time to look at it already, I urge you to do so. Like so much of what the US Government gets up to internationally, this affects us all. Related: John Cassidy and Ben Wizner had useful commentary on the Bradley Manning verdict.
  • Ahmed Akkari interviewed on Danish TV. Akkari was one of the group of Danish Muslim representatives who travelled around the Arab countries in the wake of Jyllands-Posten‘s publication of the infamous Muhammad cartoons, fanning the flames of what was at that point still mostly a local conflict. Since that went down, he’s matured and done some soul searching and now comes forward to denounce his actions in public. Anyone interested in the affair should watch this fascinating interview conducted with reliable acuity by Martin Krasnik. Unfortunately it is in non-captioned Danish. I don’t know whether there’s a transcript out there.
  • The Frankfurt School. Excellent web resource presenting central texts by Frankfurt school thinkers. Great for reference, as well as general edification.
  • Photo: Ghostface Killa by Paw Ager for the Vanguard Festival. More here.

    The Week


    The week in review

    I’ve been asked a few times about the painting that the National Gallery in London has recently cleaned and put back on display as Titian’s portrait of the physician Girolamo Fracastoro, as mentioned by Vasari in his Life of Titian of 1568. It’s a difficult one. The argument, as presented in an article in last month’s Burlington Magazine, is based partly on plausible provenance, but mostly on the fact that it it carried on the back of its frame a 19th-century note identifying its sitter as Fracastoro.

    The painting is clearly Titianesque, but rather dull. As mentioned repeatedly in the press coverage, by far the most attractive area is the lynx fur worn by the sitter — compelling tactile eruption flecking through an otherwise rather bland surface. In any case, it pales in comparison with the other Titians in the same room at the National Gallery. None of this means the attribution is wrong, however: it is apparently quite damaged, which probably accounts in large part for its somewhat unconvincing appearance, and although very consistent, Titian did have bad days.

    Another problem is the identification of the sitter. He looks quite different from known portraits of Fracastoro, such as the woodcut on right. The sitter in the painting is clearly slimmer of face and with a thinner, more elegant nose, but he is also clearly older in the woodcut, which might account in part for his fuller, more plump appearance. Plus, we still know very little about the extent to which, and how, painters at this time idealised, rejuvenated, and otherwise altered the appearance of their sitters . It’s an issue, which always makes identification of sitters in Renaissance (and later!) portraits difficult. The nineteenth-century label helps in this case, of course, but is far from proof, even if it repeats an older tradition.

    Summing up, I don’t see any reason to disagree outright with the proposal made by the gallery, which largely convinces, but cannot help but feel a little uneasy about it.

    Links!

  • TPB AFK. A lot of people are of course already unto this, and have only watched the beginning, but I’d still like to point in its direction: Simon Klose’s documentary on the Pirate Bay trial promises an important document about a important moment in the development of digital rights discourse. Youtube link.
  • Eddie Campbell on the ‘Literaries’ and reception of EC Comics. Yes! Campbell formulates much more precisely than I could important aspects of what I’ve been trying get at in my comics criticism of the past few years. A must-read for people interested in comics and how we read them.
  • David Frum on Booker T. Washington. I’ve only started digging into these stimulating posts occasioned by the publication of Robert J. Norrell’s biography of the early black American leader, but warmly recommend them. Washington has long needed the nuanced and revisionist treatment he seems to be getting now.
  • G. W. Bush, naivist painter. This is almost too weird — and good! — to be true, but these are supposed to be bathroom self-portraits by the erswhile president. His vacant expression is very well captured indeed.
  • Stephen Greenblatt on Richard III’s bones. Typically intelligent, if breezy, take on the archeological find of the week.
  • And finally, this article on the problems faced by museums when accepting gifts with stipulations from the donor is an informative read. I’ve long thought that the control exercised by donors over what happens to their collections once donated to a worthwhile institution is often counterproductive, even onerous, especially in America. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is merely one egregious example that I’ve written about in the past.
  • The Week

    Never Just a Joke: Representations of Race in Scandinavia


    Over at Hooded Utilitarian, the latest installment of my very irregular column, DWYCK, focuses on recent media controversies in Sweden over representations of race: Stina Wirsén’s empoyment of pickaninny stereotyping for her childrens book and film character Lilla Hjärtat and Makote Aj Linde’s infamous cake installation at Moderna Museet in Stockholm earlier this year.

    The dicussion also touches upon the media kerfuffle a few months back over the projected removal of Hergé’s Tintin in the Congo to the adult section of the Kulturhuset library in the same city, as well as — inevitably — the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. It’s a complicated set of issues that have implications of cultural integration and free speech and I’d love to hear your opinion, so pop over there and have a look.

    Sanity Prevails.

    The Week

    Julie Christie and Oskar Werner in François Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451 (1966)

    The week in review

    This week I have a Danish-context comics-related grievance I want to address, so please excuse the shift in language here. International links below!

    Bogtillægget til denne uges Weekendavis skæmmes af et fejlinformeret og tendentiøst opslag. En ærgerlig plet på en ellers som regel velredigeret og seriøs publikation. Kan det overraske, at emnet for begge artikler på opslaget er tegneserierelateret?

    På venstresiden får vi en kommentar til sidste uges tildeling af Kronsprinsparrets Kulturpris til tegneren Jakob Martin Strid, skrevet af Bo Bjørnvig, der tydeligvis stadig ikke er kommet sig over halvfemsernes skingre presseopgør med tressernes venstrefløj (kan læses online her). Bjørnvig pointerer det pudsige i, at folk — herunder kunstnere — bliver mere konservative med årene, mere specifikt at Strid (og Bjørn Nørgaard, og givetvis også, ad åre, dilletanterne i kunstnergruppen Surrend) fralægger sig tidligere tiders ekstreme holdninger for mere samfundsbevarende af slagsen. Der bliver minsandten også plads til en stikpille til Carsten Jensen.

    Alt er, med andre ord, ved det gamle. Continue reading ‘The Week’

    The Week


    The week in review

    Another great drawing by Raphael is coming up for sale. Like the Female Head, which broke all records when it sold for £29 million in 2009, it’s a so-called auxiliary cartoon for his last great, large-scale work, the Transfiguration (begun 1516, finished after the master’s death in 1520) now in the Vatican. Coming from one of the greatest private collections — accessible to the public — of drawings in the world, that of the Duke of Devonshire, it’s a well-known and justifiably famous drawing. It’s kind of sad that the Duke occasionally sells off his drawings in this way, potentially occluding great work such as this from public view.

    It shows the head of one of the apostles, and was probably used as a visual supplement to the drawn cartoon used in the studio to transfer the composition to the panel. Like the Female Head, it shows pounce marks (the little dots along the contours), which one would expect to be evidence that it was transferred off the present sheet, probably to the final panel (coal dust is pounced through little holes, transferring the composition in outline), but the marks do not seem at all to follow the contours of the drawing, which seems to me indication that an outline design was transferred onto the present sheet and then reworked into the drawing we see.

    Not having seen the drawing in the flesh, I’m far from certain about this, and I haven’t consulted the literature either, so I may just be talking nonsense here. I just find the drawing exciting, with its smoky chiaroscuro suggesting strong light falling from the right, picking out the cranial features and accentuating the melancholy aspect of the young man. Lips parsed, tussled hair, young beard, intelligent but passive.

    The drawing’s estimated price of between £10-15 million reflects the kind of drawing we’re dealing with here: a large, highly finished piece by one of the defining artists of the Western tradition — the kind of work that only comes up for sale extremely rarely, despite what the 2009 sale would seem to indicate. One question is whether it’ll reach the same, frankly unbelievable price that sheet fetched. Judging by quality I think it should: it appears to me a more finely rendered and subtly beautiful drawing than the Female Head, which is beautiful but slightly rote by Raphael’s standards. This is the same type of drawing, but shows more invention and, I think, carries a greater emotional charge.

    Anyway, let’s see what happens at the sale. I hope the Getty or some other wealthy public institution steps in.

    Links:

  • Salman Rushdie on the repressive culture of offense and fear. With the release of his memoirs coinciding fortuitously with the tragic international flare-up of unrest related to that idiotic video on the prophet Muhammad, Danish TV programme Deadline broadcast this interview with the author, recorded the week before. Also: read Bill Keller on Rushdie and the controversy.
  • The anniversary of hate at the Hooded Utilitarian continued this week, with some really good pieces, led by Isaac Butler’s savage critique of Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s V for Vendetta, which also sparked fascinating discussion. Craig Fischer’s piece on David Small’s Stitches was also good. Plus it was nice to see the inimitable Tom Crippen writing again.
  • Henry Sørensen interviewing Morten Søndergård on fifty years of Spider-Man. This now completed extended dialogue is a really great read, but is unfortunately only available in Danish. But do check it out if you can read the language, part one, two, three. Totally unrelated: Xavier Guilbert’s interview with Anders Nilsen is in English, and good!