• print • Mar/Apr/May 2022

    Anti-American Graffiti

    ARTHUR JAFA RELAYS A HAUNTING INTERPRETATION of the griot as someone who cannibalizes the flesh of those whose stories he tells, as a matter of pragmatism, in order to keep those stories alive for the telling in himself. At the end of his life, the griot’s unsolicited efforts at preservation of both self and other are met with the same gesture: he is denied a traditional burial. His carrion is left out in the open air to be consumed by maggots, completing a loop or energy cycle in nature, which can be ruthlessly just and deliberate in its delivery of karmic retribution. James Dewitt Yancey, a

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2022

    Mindful Mayhem

    WHEN SUN RA BEAMS into an Oakland, California, community center as an intergalactic ambassador from the council of outer space in the 1974 science-fiction movie Space Is the Place, one of the young men in the crowd asks, “Why are your shoes so big?” Ra, the experimental poet, composer, and jazz musician, is wearing platform shoes gussied up with intergalactic flair, which warrant the flippant and incredulous response. But after Ra is asked if he is real, the mocking wonder of the group of Black earthlings gradually dissipates as he answers, “How do you know I’m real? I’m not real. I’m just like

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2022

    What Becomes a Legend Most?

    ON JULY 18, 2009, to little fanfare, @ladygaga posted: “I love lee strasberg. he makes me miss school.” Sometimes Chekhov’s gun is a tweet, and this one finally went off more than a decade later when Gaga took on the role of jilted murderess Patrizia Reggiani in House of Gucci and stayed in character for nine months. The public didn’t hear about the firearm discharge until promotion of the film began. Gaga’s (self-)mythologizing press tour coincided with Michael Schulman’s New Yorker profile of Succession star Jeremy Strong, and those wildly disparate elements created a perfect storm of frenzy

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2022

    Day Trip

    FROM CÉZANNE’S APPLES TO LOIS DODD’S CLOTHESLINES, the quotidian world, with its domestic scenes and unremarkable landscapes, has long inspired artists. Their scrupulously focused attention can yield surprising insights about ordinary things—the geography of shadings on an apple, the dance of towels hung out to dry. Mamma Andersson, whose recent retrospective at the Louisiana Museum in Humlebæk, Denmark, is documented in this exhibition catalogue, also delights in the mundane. Whether depicting a kitchen sink, linen closet, or cluttered desk, Andersson imbues her subjects with an engrossing

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2022

    His Satanic Majesties

    KIDS TODAY! Is fashion all they care about? It’s a driving force on TikTok, and rare is the person under twenty-eight who doesn’t have something we’d call “style.” But the medium of fashion writing has left the kids tragically underfed. In fact, it’s left people of every age starving. It isn’t that no one is talking about it; teenagers on Twitter are practically building an archive of the 1990s-era work of the cerebral Belgian designer Martin Margiela and the provocateur Jean Paul Gaultier, and even your normie uncle has an opinion about whether men should wear skirts. It’s more like we’re at

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2022

    Crème de la Bohème

    THE STORY OF THE STETTHEIMER SISTERS is prestige TV waiting to happen—Jo March meets Hannah Horvath, set against the splendor of money, modernism, and early-twentieth-century Manhattan (with a summer estate or two thrown in for good measure). The eldest, blonde Carrie, was a consummate hostess who, in her spare time, meticulously crafted an opulent dollhouse. Ettie, the youngest, was a brooding Barnard grad with a temper and a unibrow, who, under her pseudonym “Henrie Waste,” once published a book titled Philosophy: An Autobiographical Fragment. And then there’s Florine, the hazy beauty in the

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2022

    First Person Plural

    TO TELL THE STORY of another person’s life poses certain challenges to an author wanting to capture their subject in the truest light possible. In the introduction to her ebullient, poignant What Is Now Known Was Once Only Imagined: An (Auto)biography of Niki de Saint Phalle, Nicole Rudick offers up her strategy for honest representation: “What could be closer to the artist’s voice than the artist’s own voice, closer to her sensibility than that produced by her own hand?” Rudick edited this hybrid volume of text and images, selecting and sequencing Saint Phalle’s own writings and works on paper

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2022

    Man of the Midcentury

    IF FRENCH MODERNISM IS RATIONAL, Italian modernism sensual, German modernism ideological, and Danish modernism comfortable, what’s American modernism? I’d say it’s Danish. That’s because of Jens Risom, the Danish-born and -trained designer who, twenty-three years old on the eve of World War II, boarded a freighter bound for New York. There, according to Vicky Lowry in Jens Risom: A Seat at the Table, the first monograph on his work, the young man “quickly discovered that there wasn’t really any interesting contemporary American furniture to study and learn from”—an exaggeration, maybe, but it’s

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2022

    Swinging on a Star

    THRALL IS A JEFFERSONIAN WORD. In Constructing a Nervous System, the critic Margo Jefferson is enthralled by or to: her mother, her father, Bing Crosby. She suspects Condoleezza Rice is enthralled by or to George W. Bush, and Ike Turner by or to “manic depression and drug addiction, to years of envy,  . . . to a Mississippi childhood that was a trifecta of domestic abuse, sexual treachery and racist violence.” A young James Baldwin enthralled the Harlem faithful. Nina Simone refused the thrall of “warring desires.” It’s the last that clarifies the stakes. Thrall, some time after it meant “slave”

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2022

    Look Back in Anger

    ONCE UPON A TIME, humans lived in small, nomadic, egalitarian bands of hunter-gatherers. Then, several thousand years ago, they domesticated plants and animals, discovered agriculture, and grew sedentary, eventually erecting cities, which gave rise to civilization—emperors, taxes, public works, the DMV. This was either a good thing (Hobbes) or a bad thing (Rousseau).

    So the story goes; maybe you heard it in college. Anthropologists and archaeologists have understood for decades it’s not true. James C. Scott summed up what we now know of early humanity in Against the Grain (2017): “It turns

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2022

    Artful Volumes

    Houston native Jamal Cyrus calls his artistic mentor Terry Adkins a “cerebral artist with soul.” The same description could be applied to Cyrus himself, whose cross-disciplinary artworks often excavate under-known Black cultural histories. JAMAL CYRUS: THE END OF MY BEGINNING (Inventory Press/Blaffer Art Museum, $35), Cyrus’s first monograph, accompanies his midcareer solo exhibition of the same name. The understated title is borrowed from a sculptural installation from 2005, in which Cyrus adorned a miniature suburban landscape with mounds of snowlike Afro hair. As the exhibition’s cocurator

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2022

    Sharpening Her Oyster Knife

    ZORA NEALE HURSTON’S LITERARY STATURE is no longer in dispute, yet people are still trying to put her into a box. “Do you think she was a libertarian?” someone once asked me. For whatever reason, I was too polite to say something like “How the hell should I know?” Far more polite than Hurston would be if she could now answer for herself. Yes, she made conservative, even reactionary noises in her lifetime against the NAACP, leftist politics, Richard Wright, and other socially progressive influences. But tagging Hurston as a libertarian or reactionary is far too reductive for such a formidable

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