Updated every Thursday, DIGEST is our editorial team’s picks of the week’s most relevant and interesting articles, essays and videos from the art world and beyond. DIGEST explores topics as wide-ranging as the art market, technology, feminism, art history, the internet, politics, and economics.
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Weekly Reading from 19.07.2018
Humans. What makes us human? Some argue that it is our hands: the development of hands has been essential to our evolution as tool-using creatures, while hand-prints are some of the earliest known examples of art made by conscious human beings. Others argue that civilisations are founded on writing, although it is debated whether writing was created as a form of accountancy or whether it stemmed from human hopes and religious practices.
– Lapham’s Quarterly | Aeon
Animals. Once we are invested in something, we are unlikely to give it up; for example, sitting through a terrible play because we bought the tickets. Recent research suggests that mice show similar behaviour, suggesting that this is not an exclusively human trait. Meanwhile, where the mouse’s cousin the rat lives on tropical islands, its habit of eating seabirds has an unexpectedly detrimental effect on nearby coral reefs.
– The New York Times | The Atlantic
Art on Instagram. Instagram is undoubtedly changing the way we experience art. However, until recently, very little rigorous analysis has been applied to how this change is happening and what it can tell us. In response, Artsy has utilised a new algorithmic tool to analyse the Instagram photos posted at Art Basel Miami Beach. Their results indicate that it is now possible to analyse which artworks were most appealing to Instagram users. The report even breaks the data into works posted by VIPs and by the general public.
– The Conversation | Artsy
Women in the arts. In Saudi Arabia, women have long been excluded from public life and social rights. Nevertheless, they have been fundamental in establishing an arts scene in the country, but their legacy is in danger of being overridden or forgotten by their male counterparts. In Europe, by contrast, women have often struggled to make headway in the arts. But Monika Sprüth and Philomene Magers have been an exception; they recently discussed their 35 year journey in the arts with frieze.
– Artsy | frieze
Essay. 500 years ago this summer, in 1518, the town of Strasbourg was afflicted with a strange phenomenon: a dance epidemic. Hundreds of people began to dance compulsively for days, resulting in exhaustion and even death. In this essay, historian John Waller offers some explanations for this form of mass psychosis and explores what the episode can teach us about the social conditions for madness.
– John Waller
Weekly Reading from 05.07.2018
Artificial intelligence. Tech companies are beginning to accept that the artificial intelligence they’re building their futures on could be flawed. From studies showing that language-processing AI can be sexist to more recent research on facial recognition’s failures on darker skin tones, years of research have erupted into a flurry of actions from Microsoft, IBM, Google, Mozilla, Accenture, and even Congress. However, it seems likely that, when combined with robotics, AI will be put to greatest effect in warehousing and manufacturing, where it will quietly transform the processes behind many aspects of our daily lives.
– Quartz | MIT Technology in Review
Blue light. Tech’s favourite colour appears to be making us miserable. The cold blue light of modern touchscreens may be aesthetically pleasing, but it poses significant health problems. Amber Case argues that designers and technologists should take cues from military history and embrace orange light instead.
– Harvard Health | Fast Co Design
Masterpiece London. Masterpiece London fair last weekend saw some strong sales across its various niches, The Art Newspaper reports, from Marina Abramovic to Surrealism and folk art. The fair recently announced that it had received new funding from the company behind Art Basel, with plans to expand Masterpiece to the US, Asia and the Middle East.
– The Art Newspaper | Artsy
Art school. Is art school only for the young? When successful writer Nell Painter enrolled at art school at the age of 64, she found it isolating and difficult to engage with her younger peers. Conversely, when Helen Molesworth, former director of MOCA, recently addressed the graduating class of UCLA Art School, she expressed her admiration for the younger generation and her belief that they would lead us to a better future.
– Artsy | ArtNet News
Essay. In this excerpt from her new book Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet, Claire Evans explores the first use of the word “computer” as referring to a role undertaken by a group of people, who would work together before the widespread application of electronic computers to solve problems and complete complex calculations. Most of these human computers were women.
– Claire Evans
Weekly Reading from 28.06.2018
Education and gender. In recent years, girls have increasingly been outperforming boys in most areas of education, including traditionally ‘masculine’ subjects such as science and maths. However, recent studies suggest that performance is often dependent on environment and background, with the strange result that wealthier, white girls are significantly falling behind their male counterparts in mathematics, while in poorer communities girls outpace boys in the subject.
– BBC | The Atlantic
Online shopping. Ebay is one of the oldest big tech companies around, having gone public in 1998. Its interface and premise has changed surprisingly little in that time, and its quiet presence in our lives belies the influence it has had on other major tech companies. While Ebay represents the past, the future is getting closer. One of China’s biggest online retailers has been trialling the first online shopping drone delivery service, with an initial focus on rural areas.
– The New York Times Magazine | Screenshot
Jeff Koons. The artist has made headlines in recent weeks for being at the centre of a lawsuit filed by a collector against Koons and Gagosian for ‘failing to deliver’ three artworks. Meanwhile, Koons recently spoke about the relationship between art and corporations, insisting that art can’t be seen as a luxury product.
– The Art Newspaper | Artsy
Art and blockchain. Later this month, art-blockchain startup Maecenas in collaboration with Dadiani Fine Art will host the first blockchain fine art auction, selling blockchain-tracked shares in an Andy Warhol work in exchange for cryptocurrency. However, in an extensive analysis, ArtNet News’ Tim Schneider argues the auction is representative of a fundamental failure of understanding surrounding blockchain in the art market.
– Forbes | ArtNet News
Ways of looking. In this creative essay, Lulah Ellender interrogates the male gaze. She explores typical positions of power often assumed by men: the doctor with his patient, the artist with his model, the factory worker. She ends with a description of the joys of becoming invisible to the male gaze as an older woman, being able to watch in turn.
– Lulah Ellender
Weekly Reading from 21.06.2018
The rise of machines. Has technology evolved beyond our control? Technology is starting to behave in intelligent and unpredictable ways that even its creators don’t understand. As machines increasingly shape global events, how can we regain control? Machines and smartphones have taken over adult lives in a way that is brought to light particularly in parents, many of whom now fail to give their children the attention they need due to the distractions of their phones.
– The Guardian | The Atlantic
Life on camera. 20 years after it was first released, The Truman Show has been proven to be prescient for our daily lives in many ways: living on camera, widespread product placement, the quandry over whether to live for yourself or for an audience. In a strange move, Facebook has developed an artificially intelligent algorithm that can make sure no one is ever blinking in a photo again, by convincingly replacing their closed eyes with open eyes in any picture.
– Vanity Fair | Tech Crunch
Art forgeries. Fake art is a big business, prompting the unnerving possibility that a larger-than-realised proportion of old masters passing through auction houses are fakes. It’s a sensitive issue in a time when artist estates are closing their authentication services and some museums have found that significant proportions of their holdings are forgeries. In response, Sotheby’s has bought Orion Analytical, a small organisation specialising in art forgeries, testing for synthetic pigments and other tiny tell-tale signs that a work is a fake.
– The Guardian | The Independent
Art Basel. Last week’s Art Basel fair saw some strong sales, as recorded in Artsy’s round up, but the publication argues that the fair needs to do more to help mid-tier galleries. Nevertheless, many smaller galleries reported a successful week. Meanwhile, ArtNet News’ Tim Schneider considers why members of the art world consider Art Basel to be ‘different’, and whether it can remain so for long.
– Artsy | ArtNet News
Black bodies. This week, we end with the provocative video for Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s latest single APES**T. Filmed in secret inside the Louvre, the video is a visual essay about institutional celebration of white, male creativity and the presentation of mostly white bodies and cultures from a narrow perspective. People of colour dance in front of the paintings, critiquing the positioning of black bodies in the artistic canon and in our visual culture more generally.
– The Carters
Weekly Reading from 07.06.2018
Living and dying online. Recent surveys have revealed that teenagers today are engaging with the internet in a different way from older generations. Snapchat is by far the most popular form of social media, with Facebook lagging far behind, which could have a significant effect on the internet’s future. Our extensive digital footprints mean we are always traceable, but what happens to that footprint when we die? A new industry has sprung up offering to enbalm your digital selfand enable your loved ones to access it after you’re gone.
– Pew Internet | Screenshot
Earth. The ‘flat earth’ movement is burgeoning, with YouTube videos and conferences allowing theories to be shared more widely than ever. But what does this say about science, solace, and how a theory becomes truth? Meanwhile, a group of scientists have used astrophysical observations to model climate change scenarios in imaginary alien civilisations, in an attempt to learn some lessons for the future of life on earth.
– The New Yorker | The Atlantic
Art on Instagram. In a recent interview Christie’s auctioneer Loïc Gouzer, who presided over the infamous $450M Leonardo da Vinci sale, claimed “Instagram definitely works for selling art”, pointing to his own success on the platform as well as that of his former boss Brett Gorvy. Elsewhere on Instagram, the anonymous account @whos____who has started calling out artists who rip off the style of other artists.
– ArtNet News | ArtNet News
Performance art. Last week’s Block Universe was a nine-day marathon of pop-up performances around London, indicating new directions and connections in the medium of performance art. But for frieze’s Hettie Judah, the programme felt a bit too slick and the performances a bit non-confrontational, leading her to wonder whether a fear of offending has caused performance art to lose its bite.
– The Art Newspaper | frieze
Essay. In her new essay ‘Post-Internet Foliage and Other Capitalist Monsterosa’, curator Marie-Ève Lafontaine picks up on a trend for tropical foliage and houseplants in visual culture, from interior design and fashion campaigns to key subsections of the contemporary art scene. She goes on to explore what this zeitgeist-y moment suggests about our relationships with institutions and social media as spaces for encountering art.
– Marie-Ève Lafontaine
Weekly Reading from 31.05.2018
Quantum physics. Superposition, or the ability for a tiny particle to be in two places at once, is one of quantum physics’ most difficult problems, as the particles only act in this way if they are not being measured. However, scientists have recently revealed a plan for an experiment which will allow them to know more about this strange and fundamental phenomenon. Quantum mechanics also have an important, if unexpected, role to play in biology, as quantum biologist Johnjoe McFadden explains in our interview with him.
– Scientific American | Roman Road Journal
Stories. Recent research has revealed that every story in the world can be categorised in its essence as one of six basic universal plots. All of these story structures can be found in folklore and fairy tales, some of the most enduring and influential tales ever told. Techniques taken from the study of evolutionary biology have established that many of our most pervasive fairy tales date back to the Bronze Age.
– BBC | The Atlantic
Museum problems. A number of museums in the US are struggling due to local recessions, declining visitor numbers and increasing storage costs. There are ways to counter these issues, but they are being hampered by the outdated rules enforced by the American Alliance of Museums. Meanwhile in London, an artwork by Lee Bul installed at the Hayward hasspontaneously combusted, causing a fire and delaying the opening of the new exhibition.
– Artsy | The Art Newspaper
Creating a market. What does it take to create an art market? For Van Gogh’s sister-in-law, it took a lot of hard work and a careful marketing strategy. Her efforts turned the Dutch artist into the market giant he is today. A city that has not traditionally been part of the art market needs to follow similar rules: for example, Tbilisi’s first ever art fair last week got good responses and a small group of contemporary galleries are opening up, but will it be enough to sustain a market?
– Artsy | The Art Newspaper
Classical music. For some people, classical music is an important aspect of their everyday and creative lives. For others, it’s a barely considered symbol of snobbery and class. Theodore Gioia’s essay “Bach at the Burger King” explores the use of classical music as a police deterrence tool to ward off young loiterers, and how this creates a deeply problematic relationship between the general public and classical music (and by extension art in general).
– Theodore Gioia