Out of the series of Best American Comics series, this anthology was my least favorite. I resented being lectured by the author to “read it like a book… stop skimming,” when I was already following his insistent directions.
Highlights included an excerpt from Sailor Twain: Or: The Mermaid in the Hudson by Mark Siegel, and Canadian Royalty by Michael DeForge (I love everything that DeForge does, to be sure).
I had an issue with the presentation of Building Stories in the anthology–what is arguably the best graphic novel of the decade was formatted horrendously. It is an unconventional graphic novel, and any attempt to put it into a book format does it a serious disservice.
Shenyang’s Oddball Architecture: As I gear up for a year studying the history of Chinese architecture in Beijing, I love reading articles like this (if only to satiate myself!). There’s a great many ‘oddball’ buildings in China–it’s being treated like an architect’s wonderland right now, often with few limits on funding or structure. Sometimes this results in great works of architecture, such as (IMHO) the CCTV tower by Rem Koolhaas/OMA, but then you have the case in point of this article, the Feng Yuan building, a misguided attempt to fuse international modern architecture with Chinese aesthetics.
‘Selma’ Costumes Reveal Class and Consciousness of the Movement: I desperately want to see this movie! I really love seeing costume designers vividly display their characters’ fears, desires, and ambitions in the way they dress themselves.
“Okay. I was walking to the store, and I saw this man on a park bench. He said, ‘come here please.’ So I went over to him. I said, ‘what do you need?’ He grabbed me by the shirt, and he held a knife to my throat and told me he was going to cut me. I told him — I said, ‘go ahead and cut me.’ And I said, ‘I’ll be coming back, and I’ll hunt your ass.’ Oops. Am I supposed to say that? I’m sorry… I wasn’t afraid. And for some reason, he let me go. And I went home.”
The original story was featured on this week’s episode of Invisibilia (NPR), which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Social Issues–A Woman in Uniform: Being a police officer in contemporary America is fraught with issues–it’s a tough life to lead as a man, but I would argue it’s even tougher to occupy that role as a woman. This is an interesting exploration of both one woman’s experience as a NY police officer, as well as an examination of what the literal uniform means to her.
Buzzfeed’s Great Middle California Architectural Road Trip: If I ever get back to my home state, I would love to actually complete this trip. I’ve read about the Watts towers and are desperate to see them! (Check out the comments–seems like everyone who has visited thinks it’s pretty cool, too.)
Best American Nonrequired Reading 2014: This group of stories/plays/peoms/podcasts/what-have-you was chosen by a select group of high-school-aged kids from around the US. The result is an eclectic (and wonderful) mix of literature. My favorites: ‘An Interview with Mona Eltahawy’ by Yasmine El Rashidi, ‘Embarazada’ by Andrew Foster Altschul, ‘The Saltwater Twin’ by Maia Morgan, and ‘Joy’ by Zadie Smith.
Olikoye: Okay, not a book, but rather a (very) short story, from one of the authors I have heard a lot about in recent months. I’ve been excited to read Americanah by this author (Chimamandah Ngozi Adichie), and this was a great story in and of itself. It tells a family history of sorts through naming rites, shedding light on both the family in particular as well as Nigerian culture.
Random Content from Around the Internet:
Monolith Controversies: The award-winning Chilean entry into the Venice architecture biennale 2014. This exhibition is about the prefabricated concrete block and how it came to shape residential space in turbulent 1970s Chile (during that era, Chile faced a 180 degree political turn from the communist policies of Salvador Allende, to the conservative, religious dictatorship of Pinochet via coup).
I can’t remember the first time I saw a painting from Samantha French, but I knew from the moment I saw them that their incandescence and mood were unique.
In her paintings, she transmits a human experience via paint: she focuses on and expands that sense of wonder that we have all noticed if not fixated upon in our experiences with water.
Even when you know about water’s chemical composition and why it aggregates and reflects the way it does, the effect is still incredible when witnessed. Samantha French studies water in its immediate, human context, making humans appear magical in the wake of the spotted light patterns that disperse themselves within vast blue arenas.
It reminds me of my state of mind as a child; French’s sensibilities happily rejoice in the visual wonders that familiarity can drain from us with age.
I just finished reading the book The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art by Don Thompson, a detailed overview of the art world from the perspectives of gallerists, auction houses, collectors and more. Sometimes snarky (very clear warnings are given to new-to-the-game collectors who think that buying fresh art from art school grads will result in later profits), sometimes awed (by collectors such as Charles Saatchi), Thompson maintains his truthful tone throughout the book. I felt as if I was getting inside information that most people weren’t privy to–an internship in a book.
After reading two books about the art sphere I feel as if I need a break: even the people who are most closely involved with auctions and the art trade can’t fully explain why a Picasso goes for $78 million at auction–it is difficult to extrapolate on assumptions that paintings are worth that much after a certain point, since the foundation is so unstable. Regardless, for paintings under about $30 million, the price scales are easier to comprehend, and the various stories that Thompson provides about the art trade are engaging.
A few fun facts:
1. Le peau de l’ours was the first art fund (like a stock fund, but with its managers betting that art will gain value in the future instead), and it was wildly successful in the beginning of the 20th century. There are two competing theories for the reason behind the name: either it was named for the bearskin hanging on the wall in their office or it was named for an old french folktale in which hunters sold the skin of the bear before catching the bear itself, a tongue-in-cheek statement about what they were doing (and my preferred theory).
2. Santiago Serra, a Spanish/Mexican artist, is famous for his bold artistic moves: on top of his decision to burn down the gallery in which he was showing as a form of protest towards its commercial orientation, he once traded prostitutes heroin in exchange for the right to tattoo a line down the center of their back and photograph it. He also barred the entrance to the Lisson gallery in London with metal grates, so that the upper class gentry that flocked to his exhibition could feel the sting of being excluded as the masses did each day. Another work was proposed at the Kunsthalle in Vienna, where he wanted to strip all of the museum employees to the waist (from head curator to janitor) and display them in a progression of skin tones from dark to light as a commentary about the relationship between privilege and skin tone.
I loved this book, and no, I don’t own any kind of copyright to it.
As I have mentioned, I’m curating an exhibition on John Baeder this summer at the Masur Museum of Art (although at this point it’s a total toss up as to which paintings are going to end up in the gallery from our permanent collection). From my work so far, I have been able to gather a partially-formed picture of Baeder’s life’s work. Questions hang in the air when his work is first seen: why did Baeder paint diners, and why so many? What do they mean, for him and for us?
Baeder did not grow up in Georgia so much as he grew up in diners; in his written work, Diners, he viscerally described the diners of his childhood as places of wonder, filled with vibrant flavors and even stronger personalities.
Few things can be hailed as more truly ‘American’ than the diner. Over the years, many ideas and items have been reinterpreted and converted within the United States, creating bastardized concepts that hail as much to the Old Country as they do to the U.S. (think hamburgers, democracy). The diner, however, grew from the American working class culture in the late 19th century, fueled in later years by the invention and proliferation of the automobile.
For Baeder, diners were a home away from home: the rattle of the kitchen, the smell of meat on the grill, the flourished, hand-painted script that decorated the menu were all indications that he was at once where he came from and where he was going. His words become weighted with sadness throughout his lifelong journey: he recognizes that the death of an American art form, the diner, is upon us, as much as he stubbornly proves its worth.
The Empire was a particularly strange case for Baeder–he painted this diner, but grudgingly. It had candles burning visibly in its windows, all steel and lights and kitsch, playing on the popularity of the art of the diner without embracing its imperfect and true qualities.
For Baeder, diners are lucid dreams. They are real yet fragile, subject to the whims of the changing cultural landscape, and Baeder struggles to salvage and deify them, the knowledge that a simple commemoration is not enough to reverse the damage that time has done.
Diners are an anthropological gem of modern-day America. They are the unsung key to understanding the roots of American society, even as their structures rot and give way to high-rise buildings.
I’ve had six bedrooms in the past two years: six different beds that I have considered my bed, and six different places that I have tried to personalize and recreate the previous living space. Two years ago, if you had asked me where I come from, I would’ve said California without hesitating, giving the ‘halfway between SF and Lake Tahoe’ description I’ve been using to indicate my fairly unknown, nondescript town of origin. Lately, though, with my house in California out of reach and my official change of residence to Monroe, Louisiana, I’ve called myself Louisianan (and therefore an expert on all things made with crawfish, seafood and rice, as people are wont to believe). Living in Chicago has further complicated matters, and the change of beds and living conditions at the start of each year doesn’t make anything more clear; neither do my sojourns to Santiago or Paris.
I still consider California my point of origin, with snippets of Louisiana living added in once every few months, and I still get giddy when I meet people who are familiar with my part of the state (like yesterday’s “Your boyfriend is from Walnut Creek?! I was born there!”), but I wouldn’t describe myself as settled in any particular place anymore.
I bet there are a lot of people here in Paris who feel similarly given the range of languages that I encounter on the Metro each day. I’m not sure how I feel about this–maybe I’m just floating around until I make my next big move. Odds are that it won’t be soon.