Strong Words About Dead Artists, and Other News


On the Shelf

Robert Rauschenberg, Collection, 1954–55.


  • There’s a massive Robert Rauschenberg retrospective coming to the MoMA next month, which means we can expect a host of Serious Opinions on the Significant Artist™ to appear in lofty periodicals everywhere. Look to the horizon and you can see the storm clouds gathering, as the assessors assess and the critics criticize. Jed Perl, whose lacerating take on Jeff Koons can still warm my heart on cold nights, has already rendered his verdict on Rauschenberg, and it goes mainly like this: he sucks. Perl writes, “Rauschenberg became adept at keeping admirers and detractors alike on their toes with his swaggering insouciance and Delphic-Dadaist remarks … It was in 1959, for the catalog of the exhibition ‘Sixteen Americans’ at the Museum of Modern Art, that Rauschenberg dreamed up what has become his most famous statement. ‘Painting,’ he announced, ‘relates to both art and life. Neither can be made. (I try to act in that gap between the two.)’ It’s difficult to conceive of a more gnomic twenty-one-word declaration of principles. What on earth is Rauschenberg talking about? What does it mean to say that art can’t be ‘made’? And what is that ‘gap’ between ‘art and life’ aside from the sweet spot where Rauschenberg established his reputation? … What Rauschenberg provides his interpreters is a nearly endless succession of whims, gambits, riffs, and diversions. Many of his effects amount to little more than lessons everybody ought to have learned in Modern Art 101.”

  • Now is a great time to worry about the threat of nuclear war with North Korea. But don’t spend all your worries in one place. You’ll want to save a few so you can worry about your dildo getting hacked. Mark Hay looks at the downside of “smart” sex toys: “Teledildonics— the industry term for a wide variety of remote sex technologies— currently encompasses dozens of devices. They range from basic vibrators a partner can activate from afar to the high-end Kiiroo’s Onyx and Pearl, a vibrator and masturbation sleeve combo that connects to allow one to experience a distant partner’s actions in real-time. Theoretically, the toys of the future could even allow users to record every physical aspect of a sexual encounter, remote or proximate, and save it for replay or distribution. As with any smart device, there’s the obvious risk that a company could opaquely collect and sell, or a hacker could illicitly siphon off, metadata on users … The right security flaws may allow hackers to gather identifying details, like an email address, as well as geolocation data and an IP address. Then there’s the issue of long-distance sexual assault … There’s a real risk an outside party could activate individuals’ sex toys.”
  • In Berlin, Daniel Trilling visits “German Colonialism: Fragments Past and Present,” at the Deutsches Historisches Museum, which reckons with Europe’s many genocides: “The British sociologist Gurminder K. Bhambra gave a lecture in which she pointed out that most of today’s refugees in Europe come from countries that were once colonies, whose poverty or instability are a result of that experience. She argued that the EU was a colonial project in origin: France’s African possessions were offered ‘as a dowry to Europe’ and non-white populations … One exhibit stands out: a set of sound recordings made on shellac discs in 1917. During the war, British and French colonial troops taken prisoner on the Western Front were separated from the rest and sent to live in a camp outside Berlin. They were studied by scientists, some of whom got them to speak or sing. A Tunisian farmer sings a song he wrote about his conscription, war injury and imprisonment. A Gurkha recites the story of the prodigal son in English. A man from what is now South Sudan counts from one to twenty in his mother tongue, then departs from the script and demands to be released. The voices are upsetting, at once distant and shockingly immediate.”