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On the Shelf

Rambling Through Rio, and Other News

March 11, 2016 | by

Kurt Klagsbrunn, Dama acompanhando a corrida no Jockey Clube (detail), Rio de Janeiro, 1945. Image via Aperture/Museu de Arte do Rio

  • Today in zits: if you like to spend your free time watching grotesque pimple-popping sessions on YouTube, you’re not alone. (I may or may not have dedicated an hour to zit vids in the very recent past.) Sandra Lee, a dermatologist, has turned her science into art, posting “extraction” videos and picking up 850,000 subscribers along the way: “Sensing an untapped audience, Lee began posting more videos of things popping from the skin, and her audience gradually grew … Her online fans didn’t seem to mind the ick; in fact, many of them relished it. Some fans reported that their mouths inexplicably watered when they saw a particularly juicy pop; others claimed that they found the videos so soothing that they used them as a sleep aid. Lee began setting videos to punnily titled music, like Duke Ellington’s ‘Just Squeeze Me (But Please Don’t Tease Me).’ ”
  • Milking the rest of it,” a new poem by Dorothea Lasky, is rich in bodily fluids, too: “Turn the faucet on / Turn the breast on / Emptied completely of milk / With the tiny hoses in a row … ”
  • The photographer Kurt Klagsbrunn captured the people of midcentury Rio as no one else could: as a stranger. Ali Pechman writes—“A Jewish Austrian refugee, he arrived in the city in 1940 and photographed its people and places until 1960, the year the government decamped for Brasília … He took no less than 100,000 photographs of his new city. The austerity of his early pictures quickly gives way to crowded street scenes with a focus on character, whether a trolley fish seller, a carnival samba dancer, or a Carioca walking her dog in Copacabana. A chic young journalist eyes the camera suspiciously as two white-coated waiters dote on her; a grisly greengrocer looks on tiredly from inside his shop … The photographer’s own off-kilter sense of humor is never out of sight.”
  • Today in critical shrugs: a critic shrugs. That critic is Barry Schwabsky, who understands the degree to which his role is in flux: “I have to admit that the critic’s loss of power doesn’t worry me much. I don’t see my job as mainly that of making or breaking artists’ reputations, or of informing collectors or curators what they ought to buy or exhibit. If they don’t listen to me, fine; I have other responsibilities toward art … If there is a crisis in art criticism, it has to do instead with an inner transformation in the nature of art itself. What if art no longer requires a public—that is, someone like the active spectator Duchamp spoke about? That would be a conundrum, for the critic would no longer have a position from which to evaluate art. It’s not impossible, and it’s not even a new idea: Back in 1966, for example, Allan Kaprow called for “the elimination of the audience”—for participation rather than a merely “empathic response.” In recent years, in great part as a result of their revulsion toward the financialization and globalization of art, more and more artists have been taking this idea seriously, avoiding the audience and instead working only with participants, with collaborators and communities.”
  • Meanwhile, in China: everyone is really into this rom-com about a mermaid. It’s called, appropriately enough, The Mermaid, and it’s just become China’s highest-earning film of all time. How, you ask? One word, my friend: environmentalism. “The Mermaid is not pure escapist entertainment. The ills it addresses—environmental pollution and rampant speculation against the backdrop of a widening income gap—are impossible-to-ignore facts of everyday experience for a Chinese audience. The film opens with a montage of documentary-style footage: sludge pouring from factory pipes, oil-smothered animals, dolphins being herded up for slaughter …  It serves a cathartic function, providing an anxious Chinese audience with an opportunity to laugh at their daily injustices, pairing an everyday violation with a larger dose of fairy tale, one in which everything will work out in the end.”

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