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 16.02.2018
Cities. The future of cities is frequently debated, but these debates often use vague or misleading terms. One critic argues that the idea of the “smart city” is misleading, conjuring up an image of a utopian urban environment that very few innovators or town planners are in reality striving for. Over in South Africa, Cape Town is coming dangerously close to running out of water, leading us to question how a city can deal with the phenomenon of intense drought.
- The Atlantic | The Telegraph
Farming. With an ever-increasing population and with the challenges of climate change already beginning to take effect, innovation in food production and consumption seems necessary and inevitable. Some argue that urban farming - with the aid of technology - is the solution we’re looking for. At Moonflower Farms, plants are grown in hurricane-proof, indoor, vertical “farms”, and fed by LED lights and minerals. Others claim that farming needs to diversify if it is to survive, with Forbes arguing that “the future of food is farming, and the future of farming is female.”
- Futurism | The Atlantic | Forbes
Portraits. This week saw the historic unveiling of two portraits: Barack Obama by Kehinde Wiley, and Michelle Obama by Amy Sherald. The paintings are both strikingly unlike previous presidential portraits, and critics have - unsurprisingly - been divided. Isaac Kaplan argues that the portraits are “masterful”, exploring the ways in which they subvert conventional understandings of gender and race. Ben Davis, on the other hand, offers a nuanced essay in which he explains why he found Wiley’s depiction of Barack Obama disappointing.
- Artsy | ArtNet News
Feminism and death. This week, we learned about a new trend among female chocolatiers and confectioners for creating death-themed Valentine’s chocolates. They say they are among their most popular items, as women buy them for themselves and for friends. A feminist fascination with death is a common - if subversive - theme. In the Victorian era, for example, women made works of art using the hair of their deceased loved ones as a creative response to death.
- The Guardian | Artsy
Mark Dion, The Wonder Workshop, 2015 (detail) (via Whitechapel Gallery)
Essay. The Whitechapel’s new exhibition “Theatre of the Natural World” features Mark Dion’sTate Thames Dig (1998-2000), a cabinet of curiosities filled with the findings of an archaeological dig in the beaches of the Thames. Bullets, fragments of china and broken clay pipes fill the drawers and cupboards: waste items once thrown away, turned into treasure. This essay by William Viney explores the arts and archaeologies of waste in the context of Dion’s work, examining the importance of ‘waste’ in our material and historical imagination.
- William Viney
Weekly Reading from 08.20.2018
Comics and superheroes. In the past, superhero movies had often been camp, silly or comic. Then Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy changed things, putting dark villains and emotional conflicts centre stage. Other films followed Nolan’s lead, but some critics are arguing that Hollywood has finally found a way to make superhero films fun again. This week also saw the release of the highly anticipated Black Panther film, which The Guardian claims manages to be both entertaining and subversive at the same time.
- The Atlantic | The Guardian
Stock market. The last few days have seen intense fluctuations in stock markets across the world. The New Yorker has offered an in-depth exploration (if not quite an explanation) of where this volatility is coming from. Money, stocks and shares are complex issues, as closely connected to human emotions as they are to factual calculations. The FT’s undercover economist Tim Harford offers his method for approaching statistics in a misleading age.
- The New Yorker | The Financial Times
Censorship. Last week, the Manchester Art Gallery removed the Pre-Raphaelite John William Waterhouse’s painting Hylas and the Nymphs (1896). In a move to promote discussion of the depiction of women in art, they encouraged visitors to put their thoughts on a Post-It on the wall where the painting had hung. The move divided critics and the public, and prompted debate on the role of curatorial censorship in museums. The Guardian argues that the removal was a powerful performative artwork in its own right and that it succeeded in its aim of promoting debate, while frieze delves into the complex curatorial and artistic questions created in the process.
- The Guardian | frieze
Digital art. Tech and art experts recently held the first ever rare digital art festival and auction in New York, where panels debated the benefits and dangers of the digital world for artists and collectors, and offered digital artworks for sale in exchange for cryptocurrency. But while the art world has been distracted by the possibilities of Bitcoin, a number of artists have been creating their own cryptocurrencies and exploring how the ways in which people interact with these currencies can shed light on the fundamentals of human behaviour and relationships.
- The Paris Review | ArtNet News
Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread, 2017, film still (via frieze)
Phantom Thread, which is rumoured to be Daniel Day-Lewis’ last film, was recently released to critical acclaim. A number of critics have drawn out the fairytale allusions in the film, especially to Beauty and the Beast (via Bronte’s Jane Eyre, which is itself a version of the old tale). In response to this, we’re sharing an essay on Beauty and the Beast and related fairytales, and their narratives of sexuality and othering.
- frieze | Jasmeen Griffin
Weekly Reading from 01.02.2018
Bio-technology. Researchers in the US recently released images of lamb fetuses that have beengrown successfully in an artificial womb. The success of the project opens new frontiers regarding gender equality and the dangers of childbirth and premature birth, but it also raises important ethical questions. Elsewhere, scientists have come up with a tiny rubber robot inspired by caterpillars and jellyfish that can jump, swim and climb - all inside the human body.
- Screenshot | The New York Times
Social media. Facebook announced this week that the time users spent browsing the site has fallen for the first time ever after it made changes to its newsfeed intended to promote “meaningful connections”. The changes are meant to minimise the impact of fake news and political interference, but one former Facebook employee says they come too late and that the company ignored these issues early on when they had a chance of tackling them. The only solution, she argues, is a complete overhaul of business transparency in the tech sector.
- Financial Times | Wired
Art market disruption. New company Codex has partnered with 5,000 auction houses to implement its new artwork authentication system based on blockchain (the technology behind bitcoin). The new move will record a work's provenance with no possibility of fakery. Sotheby's has also invested in tech this week by buying a machine-learning software company, but some critics argue its effect on the art market will be limited.
- The Art Newspaper | ArtNet News
Google Arts. Although the Google Arts and Culture app was first launched in 2016, it’s only taken off in recent weeks when it started offering the option to match your face to your painted doppelganger from international museums and collections. But although some have claimed that the app will democratise culture, some critics have argued the opposite, pointing to its limitations when face-matching people of colour, for example. Furthermore, as Orit Gat points out in frieze magazine, indulging your selfie-craving via the app gives Google access to your facial data, all in exchange for a moment of narcissism.
- Screenshot | frieze
Antony Cairns, TY02_011, 2016. Courtesy of Roman Road and the artist. © Antony Cairns
Essay. This essay by Mark Bould, entitled 'Dulltopia', considers the current zeitgeist for dystopian fiction and film, while also examining the claim that contemporary dystopian creations are often dull or restrictive in their scope and vision. He then goes on to discuss the concept of “slow cinema” in relation to dystopia, examining the way in which boredom plays out for the viewer during the cinematic experience.
- Mark Bould
Weekly Reading from 25.01.2018
Tech and politics. While liberal US politicians used to consult and even collaborate with the tech giants in Silicon Valley, they are now shying away from them as public opinion turns less favourable. Instead, they are looking to regulate them. In a similar vein, The Economist is arguing that, while many of the popular arguments against these companies are flawed, there is little doubt that the supremacy of a handful of huge companies is bad for competition and therefore bad for consumers and society.
- The New York Times | The Economist
Space race. Huge strides have recently been made in the race for the commercialisation of space, with heavy investment from some of tech’s biggest figures and innovations in advanced technology such as miniature satellites. On the other hand, a Google-sponsored $20M prize for sending a robot to the moon hasn’t been awarded, as none of the teams managed to reach the deadline after 10 years of work.
- The Financial Times | The Atlantic
Sackler family. In the light of recent coverage of the opioid crisis, a number of art world figures have argued that the Sackler family (whose company marketed and misbranded opioid drugs) should be held to account. Artist Nan Goldin, for example, has created a petition to raise awareness of this issue. However, as artist Natalia Frank points out, critics should be careful to make a distinction between the two Sackler brothers whose firm produced the drugs in question, and Arthur Sackler and his daughter Elizabeth, who were not involved. Arthur and Elizabeth Sackler have given generously to a number of art institutions, and Frank warns against tarring them all with the same brush.
- i-D Magazine | ArtNet News
Museums. What should museums be showing in 2018? James Bradburne, the English-Canadian director of Milan’s Pinoteca di Brera, argued passionately this week that museums should break the cycle of feeling that they have to produce “blockbuster” exhibitions to keep afloat. Over in the US, the Brooklyn Museum has announced that it will dedicate a one-work show to Basquiat’s 1982 painting bought for $110.5M at auction last year. The exhibition will be paid for by the work’s owner. Lee Rosenbaum argues that museums should steer clear of such private funding, while ArtNet News’ columnist Tim Schneider takes the another point of view, arguing that accepting such a deal does not harm the essential aims of the museum.
- The Financial Times | Arts Journal | ArtNet News
Andreas Gursky, Les Mées (2016) (via Hayward Gallery)
Essay. In this essay from 2002, critic Alix Ohlin argues that Andreas Gursky offers a contemporary vision of the “sublime”, a term once applied to awe-inspiring landscapes by 18th century philosopher Edmund Burke. Ohlin argues that Gursky’s work reminds us how small we are in the grand scheme of things, not through mountains and waterfalls, but both through the physical size of his photographic prints and his relentless references to the enormous and powerful global forces that shape our world. Andreas Gursky opens at the newly refurbished Hayward Gallery today.
- Alix Ohlin
Weekly Reading from 18.01.2018
Bitcoin. After a two-day slide in value, hitting a new low at 50% of its peak value only a few weeks ago, some are arguing that the Bitcoin bubble has burst. In particular, some critics have suggested that Bitcoin is falling foul of some of the very things is hoped to avoid, such as governmental regulation, and pointed to the problematically large amounts of energy used to mine it. The New York Times, however, is arguing that even if the Bitcoin bubble is over, the technology used to develop it has the potential to change the world.
- Bloomberg | The Atlantic | The Washington Post | The New York Times
Astrology. New research suggests that the millennial generation is showing a resurgence of interest in astrology, the zodiac and horoscopes. The discipline seems to have brushed off its previous overtones of being a bit hippy, waffling and uncool. Recently, arguments have been made in popular publications that astrology is real, but it’s being ruined by contemporary psychology or that you can look at your horoscope based on a significant date in your life, rather than on your date of birth. Online culture is making astrology cool again.
- The Atlantic | Quartz | Refinery 29
USA. Last weekend’s Untitled and FOG fairs in San Francisco showed strong sales and some impressive booths, suggesting a new strength in the city’s art market. Untitled focused on global politics and local interaction, a winning combination according to Elephant. On the opposite coast, the Armory Show in New York has just announced that its Focus section will be themed on the body and technology.
- ArtNet News | Elephant | The Art Newspaper
Art market. Economist Don Thompson has just released another book about the art market. In The Orange Balloon Dog: Bubbles, Turmoil and Avarice in the Contemporary Art Market, Thompson explores the internationalisation of contemporary art sales and how auction houses court collectors and sellers. In a recent interview with The Art Newspaper, Thompson discusses the recent $450M Leonardo sale and gives his predictions for the art market in 2018. You can buy the book here.
- Artsy | The Art Newspaper
Detail from the catalogue accompanying Kynaston McShine’s MoMA exhibition Information (1970)
Essay. The respected curator Kynaston McShine has died this week at the age of 82. McShine was known for his gruff demeanour and for his lasting legacy at MoMA in New York, where he exerted his influence between 1968 and 2008. In 1970, he curated the pioneering show Information, an exhibition that explored contemporary conceptual art. Today we are sharing McShine’s opening essay from the exhibition catalogue, in which he argues for the importance of conceptual art that makes use of contemporary technology and information systems, in a way that remains powerful and highly relevant today.
- Kynaston McShine
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