- For years, I’ve implored the management here at the Review to install a gold toilet—it would raise morale and the magazine’s profile. I’m sad to report that the Guggenheim has beaten us to the flush. And their gold john is designed by Maurizio Cattelan, no less, who came out of retirement to make it: “You could go into the restroom just to bask in its glow, Mr. Cattelan said, but it becomes an artwork only with someone sitting on it or standing over it, answering nature’s call … Guggenheim officials said that they anticipated lines for the Cattelan bathroom and added that a guard or attendant might be placed near the door to ensure orderly waiting—and also to make certain that no one tries to abscond with a piece of the toilet. They added that eighteen-karat gold was chosen for its solidity, though they acknowledged the possibility that the sculpture still could be scratched or damaged.”
- Shakespeare teaches many things to many people. He taught me, for instance, how to kill kings by pouring poison in their ears. But he taught Jillian Keenan something even better: the joys of spanking. She writes of a pivotal moment in A Midsummer Night’s Dream: “I could find a huge spectrum of sexualities reflected in its characters. I saw passionate monogamy in Hermia and Lysander, confident polyamory in Oberon and Titania, playful anthropomorphism in Titania and Bottom, and loving bisexuality or homosexuality in Oberon and Puck. But in Helena and Demetrius, I just saw assholes. The problem was that damn scene … My Helena is kinky. In Midsummer, she chooses the love she wants. It doesn’t matter what we think of Demetrius or whether we approve of their dynamic. Helena loves him unflinchingly, and for that she deserves our respect. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a play about consent, and its message is clear: not only can we consent to sex, we can consent to love. It only demands our honesty.”
- Last year, we featured “Big, Bent Ears,” a documentary from the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee. Alex Ross attended this year’s festival—which “might be,” he writes, “the most open-minded music gathering in the country … At Big Ears, the sounds are the stars, free of the tyranny of categories … At Big Ears, composers serve as a center of gravity, a point of reference. Riley, Reich, and Glass have visited in past years, as have Pauline Oliveros and members of Bang on a Can. This year, the composer-in-residence was John Luther Adams; the Knoxville Symphony, under the direction of Steven Schick, kicked off the festival with the ominous surge of Adams’s ‘Become Ocean.’ Such pop-classical agglomerations have happened before, not least in late sixties and seventies New York, when everything merged in a haze of droning tones. But the total map of music has seldom been unrolled on the scale that Big Ears has achieved.”
- Satanists have long been regarded as creepy occultists—but really they’re just a voting bloc. The Satanic Temple, a religion-ish thing that doubles as a political movement–ish thing, has taken the national stage: “TST chapters across the country have launched campaigns demanding the same religious rights and privileges afforded to Christianity. These have included the creation of satanic coloring books for distribution in schools in Florida and Colorado; bids to erect satanic ‘nativity scenes’ on government property in Florida, Michigan, and Indiana; offering prayers to Satan at a high school football game in Seattle; and demanding that a monument to the Ten Commandments at the Oklahoma State Capitol be accompanied by a monument to Baphomet (a goat-headed idol associated with witches’ sabbaths).”
- David Szalay, who won our Plimpton Prize this year, has a new novel out, All That Man Is—excerpted in the Review. Jude Cook sees in Szalay a new approach to masculinity: “Insufficiency is a favorite David Szalay word. The narrator of his previous novel, Spring, suffered from ‘insufficiency of feeling’; in this new collection of carefully juxtaposed tales, a Scottish ne’er-do-well adrift in Croatia decides his smile is ‘insufficient.’ Szalay’s dissections of masculinity can produce wonders from such banal anxieties. Over 400 pages, he goes to town on nine specimens of the male gender, only surfacing to spit out the bones … Nobody captures the super-sadness of modern Europe as well as Szalay. The atmosphere is stained yellow with a Mittel-European ennui.”
- Fact: a minor independent publishing house known as the Central Intelligence Agency published the first Russian-language edition of Doctor Zhivago in 1958. It was printed in an edition of 1,160 as part of an effort to undermine the USSR. Boris Pasternak “was irritated and disappointed, because the copy the CIA had published (and also presented to the Nobel Prize committee) was not complete in its editing and was full of errors … The CIA-Mouton editions were bound in nondescript, blue cloth covers, and the CIA surreptitiously distributed copies among Soviet visitors to Expo ’58, the Brussels World’s Fair. The rationale was that not only would the novel’s content cause outrage among Soviet citizens, but that also seeds of doubt would be planted when it came to light that the government had refused to allow publication of a novel by Russia’s most respected and celebrated writer.”
- The public stage today cries out for figures like Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, examples of an extinct class of “celebrity intellectual.” Their 1968 debates qualified as a legitimate TV event, and the medium hasn’t seen anything like it in decades: “Vidal and Buckley were both patrician in manner, glamorous in aura, irregularly handsome, self-besottedly narcissistic, ornate in vocabulary, casually erudite, irrepressibly witty, highly telegenic, and by all accounts great fun to be around … Also, they warmly hated each other … The antipathy was personal at root, perhaps even psychosexual.”
- Yeah, the Internet’s cool and fast-paced and totally au courant, but at the physical level it’s not terribly different from telegraphy. A map from 1877 shows the locations of copper telegraph cables around the world; it bears more than a passing resemblance to a map of the fiber-optic cables that connect the Internet. “Everybody thinks global technology is wireless … But it’s only wireless to the nearest base station or cell-phone tower. The rest of the way, it’s happening at the physical level. There’s wire and cables that link back to all these massive servers. The Internet is not a cloud … it’s under the ocean.”
- Claudia Rankine’s poetry collection Citizen: An American Lyric doesn’t seem a natural candidate for adaptation to the stage. But Stephen Sachs has adapted it nonetheless, and it opens next month in Los Angeles: “My stage adaptation of Citizen is not a play … Like Claudia Rankine’s book, it’s a collage of colliding events, fragments, vignettes, and streams of consciousness that blend poetry, prose, movement, sound, music, and video images. An ensemble of six actors. Each is both a single citizen, and all citizens, interweaving. No conventional linear story, yet a powerful emotional arc. Fast-moving. Stylized … I hope the play makes our highly educated, professional, and privileged patrons uncomfortable in the best possible way. I hope it gets them thinking, gets them talking, opens their eyes, like the citizen in Claudia’s book who needs to put on her glasses to see what is really there.”
- The Guggenheim’s Storylines series has writers—among them John Ashbery, Helen DeWitt, Ben Lerner, and Mary Ruefle—respond to works of art. Lerner, for instance, takes on Gabriel Orozco’s 2012 print Astroturf Collection: “The schematic arrangements (grids) of carefully sculpted ritual objects … points to what Anita Singh has called ‘the surrender of science,’ a declining belief in the adequacy of existing regimes of knowledge in the face of planetary upheaval.”
I’m sitting in an apartment in Jackson Heights, Queens. It’s a nice apartment, with decidedly un-Ikea furniture and mild-mannered art on the walls. It feels well kept but welcoming, gently used. The room I’m in is a classic New York living/dining-room combo, its zones delineated by, on the one hand, a multicolored wood table and, on the other, a sleek white couch.
The couch looks surprisingly comfortable, but I have no idea if it is; I’m sitting back-to-back with it, on a triangular block of foam. There’s a semicircle of these foam stools filling the room’s neutral territory and six people sitting with me. As we wait in awkward and anticipatory silence, I notice the sunlight streaming in from the windows. It glosses the shiny floors, which stay that way, I assume, because everyone who enters this apartment has been told to remove her shoes, just like in my home growing up.
I don’t know who lives here. According to a map the Guggenheim has given me, this is “Erin’s House.” Erin is nowhere to be found, but she has generously loaned out her living/dining room for a few weekends in April and May, for a project called Stillspotting. As its name implies, the project is a search for still spots—quiet spaces, moments of respite, refuge from chaos—in New York.
I could spend days nosing around the Guggenheim’s online publication archive. The museum has digitized a number of its rare and out-of-print publications and made them available for free. What bounty! Even in black and white, the abstract compositions in the 1940 catalogue for “Art of Tomorrow,” one of the Guggenheim’s first shows, still look revolutionary. —Nicole Rudick
Of the many books I received over the holidays, the only one I have read cover to cover is the new edition of Keith Haring’s Journals. Self-analytical but never narcissistic, the artist writes insightfully about art, death, and his generation: “It’s not an easy time to be alive and maybe an even more difficult time to die.” —Artie Niederhoffer
I moved to Berlin when I was twenty-one, just out of college, and I laughed aloud in recognition when Gideon Lewis-Kraus, in his forthcoming A Sense of Direction, described living in the city as “an infinitely long weekend with your parents out of town … The old crimes licensed you to ignore the claims of the past; the low cost of living licensed you to ignore the demands of the present; and the future was something that would happen when we moved back to New York, where many of us would once more live in uncomfortable proximity to our actual parents.” —Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn
I’ve been reading Tom Clark’s blogging on Vanitas—check out “Clean.” —Sadie Stein
I can’t help but admire Trong G. Nguyen’s Library. Since 2007, the New York–based artist has been rewriting books, word for word, on individual grains of rice. Very little is lost in translation. —Eliza Martin
I’ve been very distracted by Letterheady today. Gertrude Stein and Ray Bradbury both had particularly appealing stationery. —Emma del Valle
If you’re interested in multifaceted companies, read Interview Magazine’s chat with Jean Touitou, the founder of A. P. C. clothing. Touitou is a sharp man, and he sheds light on his journey to the top. He began his career in fashion at age twenty-six, about which he says: “Basically a man at twenty-six is like a woman at sixteen … An adolescent.” —Jessica Calderon
Readers of Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities will recall the “Collateral Campaign,” a fictional initiative to commemorate the seventieth anniversary, in 1918, of the ascent of Austrian Emperor Franz Josef to the throne. As the novel progresses, so too does the campaign: it will be a whole year of festivities, it will be The Austrian Year, The Austrian Peace Year. The planning draws in prominent personages who introduce more and more ambitious proposals; it launches scores of dinner evenings, plenipotentiary committees, and public debates.
Musil’s subject, and the admixture of sympathy and satire he brought to it, seems awfully familiar in 2011. Nowadays, we are fairly encircled by Collateral Campaigns—by artistic enterprises whose intentions, intellectual and social, are unimpeachable, yet which seem always to hover between event and discourse, between process and product. Example: the new BMW Guggenehim Lab in the East Village, which opened last month.