Your Patron Is Holding You Back, and Other News


On the Shelf

No place for decent people.


  • If you’re buying a new home, avoid the intersection of Art and Commerce. It’s no place to raise a family. Out on the streets you’ll find foppish aesthetes and sturdy banker types in three-piece suits, variously copulating with and murdering one another at all hours of the night. The sidewalks are littered with cigar butts and paperbacks, many of them used. This week has seen an especially nasty accident there: Delta Airlines and Bank of America pulled their funding from a Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar in which the emperor takes on a distinctly Trumpian tint. (Spoiler: he is stabbed.) As Justin Davidson argues, the takeaway here is not that the American public is too foolish to “get” Caesar or that corporations are lumbering, amoral agents of ignorance and destruction—we knew that already. Instead, the controversy illustrates just how vexed our expectations of corporation patronage have become: “Neither art nor money is a neutral force … To pretend that people who write checks have an abstract duty to fund an artistic enterprise without caring about the result is naïve. Most of the time the decision whether to fund a novel, a new piece of music, or an exhibition is made long before these works see the light of day. The Public’s Julius Caesar is a rare instance of a donor’s after-the-fact judgment, but that doesn’t make it outrageous … Corporations often fund the arts as a way of cleansing reputations they have sullied through their business practices or products, and money-hungry organizations have to decide how willing they are to play the game … Organizations slaver over big-ticket philanthropists who can jump-start a construction project, ensure a blockbuster exhibition, or pay for a production by writing a single check. Pursuing them usually means arguing that the work they’re paying for will exhilarate more people than it will anger. Dependence on donors, by its nature, nudges the arts toward traditionalism and conservatism.”
  • Lynette Yiadom-Boakye is a portraitist with a devastating secret: none of her subjects are real. I, too, gasped. The impudence. The temerity! And yet, as Zadie Smith writes, it all works out: “Yiadom-Boakye’s people push themselves forward, into the imagination—as literary characters do—surely, in part, because these are not really portraits. They have no models, no sitters. They are character studies of people who don’t exist. In many of Yiadom-Boakye’s interviews, she is asked about the source of her images, and she tends to answer as a novelist would, citing a potent mix of found images, memory, sheer imagination, and spontaneous painterly improvisation (most of her canvases are, famously, completed in a single day). From a novelist’s point of view, both the speed and the clarity are humbling. Subtleties of human personality it might take thousands of words to establish are here articulated by way of a few confident brushstrokes. But the deeper beguilement is how she manages to create the effect of wholly realized figures while simultaneously confounding so many of our assumptions about the figurative … Who is this? The answer is both literal and liberating: No one.”

  • Meanwhile, in South Asia: truck drivers are painting their vehicles, and it is good. “South Asian ‘truck art’ has become a global phenomenon, inspiring gallery exhibitions abroad and prompting stores in posh London neighborhoods to sell flamboyant miniature pieces. Yet closer to home, some people sneer and refuse to call it ‘art.’ For the drivers, the designs that turn decades-old vehicles into moving murals are often about local pride. Picking the right color or animal portrait is tougher than the countless hours spent on the road. Truck driver Haji Ali Bahadur, from the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, said green and yellow have been his colors of choice during forty years behind the wheel. ‘We, the drivers of Khyber, Mohmand and other tribal regions like flowers on the edge of the vehicles,’ he said. ‘The people of Swat, South Waziristan and Kashmir region like portraits of mountains and different wild animals.’ ”