The Soviet monument Bulgarians keep using as a canvas for political art.
More than a century before Coca Cola’s controversial Super Bowl commercial celebrating America as a nation of nations, the melting pot overflowed with people of all races and ethnicities—each subject to its share of mass media abuse. Immigration made America what it is, but not without considerable racist barbing and comic hazing by cartoonists, illustrators, and artists. Blacks, Indians, Irish, Jews, and Asians were the main targets. The last was not just savagely portrayed in media as rat-tailed demons but legally restricted for decades from entering the United States. An insightful new anthology of writing on racist stereotyping, Yellow Peril! An Archive of Anti-Asian Fears edited by John Kuo Wei Tchen and Dylan Yeats (Verso), describes how demonizing Asian peoples in word and picture was acceptable in America for so long.
With China’s reemergence today, the term “Yellow Peril” is still faintly whispered. Yet the first use of the pejorative “as a modern political tool,” Tchen, an NYU professor and the author of New York Before Chinatown, told me, was Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm. Responding to his cousin the Russian Czar’s defeat to Japan in 1905, Wilhelm commissioned an artist draw a “threatening Buddha in a lotus position riding a dragon thundercloud off in the distance.” This was not an effective piece of propaganda by contemporary standards, Tchen says, “but it did get at some basic dynamics: the threatening, evil man marked by certain exaggerated and racialized physical characteristics. It gets the juices going for men to become protectors.”
Read more. [Image: Public Domain]
Art by Francesco Francavilla
LOVE this show. LOVE IT!
When Laurence Tisch became CEO of CBS in 1986, he started cutting costs everywhere from the mailroom to the newsroom. Even the cafeteria wasn’t safe. That’s where the proverbial knife fell on a landmark typographic installation: the now-legendary “Gastrotypographicalassemblage”—the Great Wall of CBS—that had hung for more than 20 years.
At 35 feet wide by 8.5 feet tall, this three-dimensional mural designed by CBS design director Lou Dorfsman and the typographic maestros Herb Lubalin and Tom Carnase took over one entire cafeteria wall of Eero Saarinen’s Black Rock, the CBS Building on Sixth Avenue between 52nd and 53rd Streets. Dorfsman considered this massive frieze of custom-milled woodtype spelling out foods and food groups—from lamb chops to hasenpfeffer—his magnum opus, “his gift to the world.”
That says a lot.
Read more. [Image: AIGA]
Kaki King has always done unusual things to her guitar. Watch her very first music video for “Playing With Pink Noise” from 2004, and it’s clear from the percussive, frenzied fret-tapping that the Brooklyn-based musician is not your average axe-shredder. In her 13-year career that’s seen six studio albums and a Golden-Globe nomination for best original score, King has earned critical acclaim for the way she combines unusual tunings, fingerstyle picking, and slap bass techniques to create memorable soundscapes that range from instrumental acoustic work to high-voltage rock songs.
Now, she’s using her guitar in an entirely new way: as a projection screen.
People will make art with any technology.
Read more. [Image: Textfiles]
George Orwell’s handling of his main female character in 1984 is clichéd, clumsy, and not a little sexist. I made that argument in a piece I wrote last week, and in response, a couple of readers replied with what I’d call the “of its time” defense. Yes, they said, Julia is not necessarily treated as a human being, but you can’t really expect more from a book written in 1949. In the words of commenter LaurelhurstLiberal, “As for the claim of misogyny, that’s scarcely surprising in an author of his era, but he comes off a lot better than many of his contemporaries.”
This argument comes up a lot (as, for example, in this piece on Snow White). As others have also pointed out, the “of its time” defense is standard response to writing about sexism or racism in any non-contemporary cultural product. It’s quietly ubiquitous—but it’s also wrongheaded.
If you lived through the punk scene during the ‘70s, the notion that someday the era’s aesthetic would become as venerated as the Renaissance’s or Modernism’s would seem daft. Yet following a reasonable interval, every cultural rebellion becomes the meat of scholarship, nostalgia, and marketing.
So more than 30 years after its heyday, a new wave of retrospective books and exhibitions are emerging. The most recent, Pretty Vacant: The Graphic Language of Punk, opens tomorrow and is on view until March 15 at the Galleries at Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia. The mass of artifacts and ephemera is drawn from the collection of Andrew Krivine, a commercial banker and punk-stuff collector since 1977. For him and others involved with the exhibit, it’s both a chance to show off an obsession and fondly revisit personal pasts.
Read more. [Image: Jamie Reid, Sex Pistols, God Save the Queen, 1977, lithograph. Collection of Andrew Krivine.]
At first, Michelle Hamer’s work may look like overly pixelated photographs of trains and buses, street signs and billboards, sonograms and X-rays —which might be interpreted as a critique of our chaotic digital media and information-saturated culture. But on second glance, it becomes clear that her pixelation is not of the digital variety at all. Rather, her works are delicately hand-stitched replicas of photographs that inject 21st-century imagery with a 19th-century needlepoint veneer. Hamer’s art is making needlepoint “samplers” out of her photographs—now that’s retro.
An Australian artist who teaches architecture, Hamer has had no textile training and minimal exposure to needlepoint. And yet: “I am a fan of its history of narrative,” she told me. “For example, The Bayeux Tapestry.” From sampler to tapestry, her interest in what she calls “primitive pixelation” is particularly relevant given that she sees some Australian indigenous art as “historically pixilated.” And while she is more concerned with the stitch as a pixel than purely needlepoint as art or craft, she likes the interplay between manual and digital.
Read more. [Image: Michelle Hamer]