• print • Dec/Jan 2020

    You Can’t Go Home Again

    The Mississippi River and its tributaries flood perennially. To protect the settlements along its banks, the Army Corps of Engineers created a system of levees and canals that forced the waters to an unnatural course. The Great Flood of 1927 uprooted nearly a million people from Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico. It disrupted the Mississippi Delta’s sharecropping economy and, in one of the Great Migration’s largest waves, drove a generation of black strivers from rural life into cities. A wealth of literature immortalized the flood and its aftermath, and elders tallied their losses in oral accounts.

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2020

    Hildegard von Bingen: A Journey into the Images

    IN THE PAST FEW DECADES, the accomplishments of medieval polymath and visionary Hildegard von Bingen have gained widespread recognition. The Benedictine abbess was born in 1098 and, over the course of her long life, excelled as an artist, composer, and author. She extended the melodic range of sacred music, wrote sizable tomes that combined her deep studies of botany and medicine, and even found time to invent an alphabet. She also wrote and illustrated three works devoted to the apparitions she regularly beheld beginning at the age of five. The manuscript of Scivias (a contraction of the phrase

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2020

    A Boy’s Own Story

    Even when a photograph of a wounded or suffering child becomes familiar, it retains the power to unsettle. The smudged face of a sharecropper’s daughter, children arrayed behind barbed wire at Auschwitz, a starving Biafran child, a nine-year-old girl seared by napalm in Vietnam—these images still disturb viewers and prompt strong responses. Yet, as Susan Sontag argued in On Photography, it’s difficult to measure their ultimate utility: “The knowledge gained through still photographs,” she wrote, “will always be some kind of sentimentalism, whether cynical or humanist.” That propensity for

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2020

    Absolutes and Intermediates

    A “VISIONARY,” A “PROPHET,” A “MODERN-DAY LEONARDO”: Writers often resort to panegyrics when confronted with the eccentric, daunting intellect of Agnes Denes. Given the ambition of the octogenarian artist’s career, which spans fifty years and emerges from deep research into philosophy, mathematics, symbolic logic, and environmental science, it’s hard to fault them.

    And yet, as important as she has been to Conceptual and Land art, Denes, by her own reckoning, has been “marginalized” within these movements. That’s finally beginning to change, with a major retrospective this fall at The Shed in

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  • review • November 25, 2019

    The Art of the Meal

    Celebrities endlessly publicize what they eat—supermodel Chrissy Teigen’s two ​New York Times b​est-selling cookbooks feature her face, which is also her job, on the covers and throughout the books; Snoop Dogg’s cookbook promises “platinum recipes,” as if his success began on the plate; Stanley Tucci’s preface for ​The Tucci Cookbook c​ites his family’s Italian cooking as the inspiration for his directorial debut​. ​According to this logic, stardom starts in the stomach. Celebrities’ signature dishes are cruel invitations for the lowly fan to try and elevate their mundane body to a higher plane.

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  • excerpt • November 05, 2019

    The Crying Game

    I suppose some people can weep softly and become more beautiful, but after a real cry, most people are hideous, as if they’ve grown a spare and diseased face beneath the one you know, leaving very little room for the eyes. Or they look as if they’ve been beaten. We look. I look. Once, in fifth grade, I cried at school for a reason I cannot recall, and afterward a popular boy—rattail, skateboard—told me I looked like a druggie, and I was so pleased to be seen I made him repeat it.

    •••

    Ovid would prefer that I and other women restrain ourselves:

    There is no limit to art: in weeping,

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  • excerpt • November 01, 2019

    El Caserío

    This is where I begin. I come from poverty, from El Caserío Padre Rivera, the government housing projects, and there are stories here I never want to forget.

    In El Caserío, Anthony and I spent most summer days playing outside. It was a world of men, of violence, a place too often not safe for women or girls. There were shoot-outs in the streets, fourteen-year-old boys carrying guns as they rode their bikes to the candy store just outside the walls. We watched a guy get stabbed right in front of our building, watched the cops, who we called “los camarones,” come in and raid places for drugs

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  • review • September 25, 2019

    Shark Week

    If the most basic aspect of modern human life is species supremacy, to be eaten is perhaps the true inverse of being alive. In the words of Valerie Taylor, one half of the couple who pioneered the underwater filming of sharks, becoming the first to film great white sharks outside of a cage: “We all realize that the chances of being taken by a shark are exceedingly remote, but it is the horror of having chunks bitten from one’s body while still alive which evokes fear out of all proportion to the actual danger.”

    I’d never heard of the Taylors until reading Sharks, Death, Surfers: An Illustrated

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  • review • September 18, 2019

    Pleasures of the Text

    In 2015, French Tunisian calligraffiti artist eL Seed travelled to Manshiyat Nasr, a ward of Cairo, and created Perception, a large-scale mural and a book project. He was especially inspired by the Zabbaleen, an informal group of workers who have collected the garbage in the city since the 1940s. The Zabbaleen take nine thousand tons of waste daily from Egypt’s capital to settlements like the one in Manshiyat Nasr, where they sort and sell the trash to factories and recycling companies.

    This limited-edition book documents the mural project with numerous photographs of the artwork, along with

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  • review • September 17, 2019

    Moving On

    The problem has to do, as it always does, with language. In When Death Takes Something from You Give It Back, Naja Marie Aidt’s reckoning with the untimely death of her son, Carl, she acknowledges this fact early and often. “My language is all dried up,” she writes in the book’s opening pages. “I vomit over art.” This weariness with written expression is born from the age-old struggle to put words to the most important and mysterious aspects of humanity: our feelings on love, our search for higher meaning, our final demise. It is, she admits, a complaint as old as writing itself.

    What makes

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2019

    Richard Diebenkorn: A Retrospective

    WITH ITS SOFT YET VIBRANT YELLOWS AND REDS in a floral-patterned wallpaper set against an array of angular blues, Recollections of a Visit to Leningrad, a 1965 painting by Richard Diebenkorn, evidences the profound influence of Matisse. Diebenkorn saw works by that artist in 1964 at the State Hermitage Museum and would come to share his strong geographic identification with a sunny locale, replacing the French Riviera with the state of California, his home for most of his creative life. Titled after the Santa Monica neighborhood where he kept a studio beginning in 1967, his widely acclaimed

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2019

    Lubaina Himid: Work From Underneath

    THE LONDON ART WORLD IN THE 1980S was “hedonistic, greedy, self-serving, go-getting opportunistic mayhem,” Lubaina Himid remembered in 2001. “Everyone who shook or moved in artistic semicircles or political whirlpools was a deserving dartboard. I took aim and threw.”

    Born in 1954 in Zanzibar, Tanzania, Himid emerged in the ’80s as a leading figure in Britain’s Black Arts Movement, exposing the wages of empire and affirming black diasporic experience through many media, most prominently painting. Her celebrated 1986 tableau A Fashionable Marriage pastiches the eighteenth-century painter William

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