30 April 2020

Distantiated Communities

A social history of social distancing

Lily Scherlis

The term “social distancing” trickled into the US news at the end of January, and by mid-March had become the governing creed of interpersonal relations for the time being. It surfaced in the midst of early doubts about the efficacy and ethics of the quarantine in China. The media began to recite it, wrapping it in scare quotes. ...

24 March 2020

Modern Heroes with No Poets to Tell of Their Courage

Dedicated to nurses and doctors across the world

Jeff Dolven, Maureen N. McLane, and Geoffrey Nutter

On 13 March, or roughly a century ago, some newspapers published the photograph below of a banner placed outside the Maria Nuova hospital in Florence. The bilingual sign, which according to the news sources was made by four Chinese boys, reads: “Doctors and nurses, modern heroes with no poets to tell of your courage. Thank you from the heart.” ...

25 February 2020

On the Market

Taking stock of one’s soul

Justin E. H. Smith

At the museum, I am standing with my spouse in front of a Flemish vanitas scene. There is an old man hunched over his accounting books, surrounded by gold coins and jewels; a skull sits on his desk, and Death himself perches undetected above his shoulder. What, I ask her, is the “takeaway” of such scenes supposed to be? That one would do well to start thinking of one’s soul, she says. ...

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. ...