12 December 2019

Girl, in Still Life

Looking at the book of Balthus

Johanna Ekström

When I was a child, there was a book about the Polish artist Balthus in the small library at our country home. It was dad’s book, big and heavy. The skin between my thumb and index finger stretched taut when I took it down from the shelf. Sometimes I would sit at the table there in the library and page through the book. The table was by a window that looked out on a forest of firs. ...

3 December 2019

The Lasting Breath

Inhaling and exhaling one another

Mairead Small Staid

On display at the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Dearborn, Michigan—amid the lacquered black metal of Model Ts and the hanging flanks of the first planes to fly over the poles, just feet from Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion House and the bus seat made famous by Rosa Parks, mere yards from the chair in which Abraham Lincoln was shot and the limousine in which John Fitzgerald Kennedy was also, yes, shot—is a small, clear, and seemingly empty test tube, once rumored to contain the last breath of Thomas Edison. ...

21 November 2019

Telling Stories

The entangled narrators of true crime

Lukas Cox

In the late summer of 1941, a young woman identified by the initials J. B. wrote to the editor of the wildly popular crime magazine True Detective with a story about her father. “Whenever Dad came home from work,” she begins, “he usually found me huddled in a chair reading a mystery magazine.” Her father does not approve. To him, the stories in the magazine—lurid and sensational tales of real murder cases, complete with vibrant illustrations of partially clothed women—are “just trash.” ...

12 November 2019

How to Make a Monster

Goya and the perils of excessive reason

George Prochnik

In 1796, when he was fifty-one years old, the Spanish artist Francisco Goya began a visual meditation on monsters, reason, and the relationship between these phenomena. After multiple drafts, the final etching proved to be among the most magnetic images in Western culture. It has inspired endless commentary, suggesting that however many words are dedicated to analyzing its power, the secret of this print will never quite be solved. ...

5 November 2019

Remedial Art History for the German Far Right

The new orientalism

Lily Scherlis

This past April, in advance of elections for the EU Parliament, an 1866 French Orientalist painting appeared around Berlin. The painting, The Slave Market by Jean-Léon Gérôme, depicts a naked, enslaved woman having her teeth examined by a prospective buyer. ... The painting was used to publicize the anti-immigration agenda of the far-right AfD (Alternative für Deutschland) party. ...

29 October 2019

Archaeology and Jihad

Baron Max von Oppenheim at Tell Halaf

Aaron Tugendhaft

When Samuel Beckett visited the Tell Halaf Museum in Berlin’s Charlottenburg district on 21 December 1936, he had the place to himself. Though King Faisal of Iraq had visited the makeshift museum when it opened six years earlier and the Illustrated London News had run a cover story on the quirky institution, the museum was hardly a popular tourist destination. You had to be in the know. ...

21 October 2019

Breaking Bread

The dark and white flours of ideology

Nicolaia Rips

Traditional German food was scarce, though German bread was plentiful. Language reflects this—the direct translation of Abendbrot (dinner) is “evening bread” and Brotzeit (snack) is “bread time.” A play on Brotzeit, Zeit für Brot is the name of a popular bakery chain. The bread register maintained by the German Institute for Bread ... declares that there are now more than three thousand officially recognized types of bread in the country. ...

28 August 2019

Dynamicland and the Whimsical Digital Object

Analoguing the digital

Olivia Kan-Sperling

Six hours’ drive north of Disneyland, a building in downtown Oakland houses a kind of computer scientist’s version of the storied children’s amusement park. Its digital magic is of a less spectacular flavor, though; while Hollywood dreams of technofuturia in the style of vapory holograms, and Elon Musk promises to launch us skyward in machines of the old-school brushed-steel-and-silver variety, “Dynamicland” is composed of more modest materials. It’s neither VR, nor AR—just R. ...

27 August 2019

Ringing in Your Ears

Silence and memory in Berlin

Lily Scherlis

There is a building in the neighborhood of Bötzowviertel in northeast Berlin with a panel of doorbells that make no sound. This special bell board at 35 Käthe-Niederkirchner-Straße is a memorial: the names listed next to the bells belong to eighty-three Jews who occupied the building’s forty apartments prior to their deportation, escape, or death during the Nazi era. ...

11 March 2019

Perchance to Sleep

Trouble getting out of bed; trouble getting into bed

Aaron Schuster

A recent advertisement for Beautyrest™ mattresses announces that “Sleep Performance Is the New Performance,” and compares sleepers to swimmers, cyclists, and marathon runners: it’s all about technical perfection in pursuit of human excellence. I have to admit that, not being a sporty type, the idea of sleeping counting as physical exercise and even an athletic skill immediately appealed to me: will they soon make sleeping into an Olympic event, with subcategories for light dozing, power napping, and—the big attraction—deep slumber? At least one thing is like the Olympics: with the widespread use of psychopharmacological supplements, the contemporary sport of sleeping is one giant doping scandal. ...