“A Self-Portrait,” an exhibition of paintings by Lamar Peterson, is at Fredericks & Freiser gallery for just a few more days, through April 8. Peterson intends the works to serve, in aggregate, as a metaphor for contemporary black male identity. He’s credited his predilection for bright landscapes to none other than PBS’s Bob Ross: “When I was a kid, I used to paint along with him, and he always painted a mountain scene. I imagine that as being the perfect scene … that most people can relate to. In a sense, people see that mountain scene as being an ideal kind of thing, so I keep coming up with images like that.”
An installation at the Museum of Chinese in America documents a quickly shifting American culture.
There used to be a restaurant at Fifty-First and Lexington, a relic of white-glove Chinese fine dining, called Mr. K’s. Its interior was all baby pink and Art Deco with high-backed plush seats and gold flatware, gold chopsticks, and gold soup bowls with little clawed feet. They served sorbet in between courses and kept a tea candle lit beneath the entrées, which were mostly plated versions of classic take-out fare: hot and sour soup, sweet and sour pork, eggplant in garlic sauce. The Peking duck came out prerolled in flour pancakes painted with hoisin sauce and scallion ribbons. Near the front entrance, there were glass cases of chopsticks inscribed in red with the names of celebrities and politicians who frequented the restaurant.
Ruth Reichl panned it when it opened in 1998—her central critique was about the restaurant’s authenticity. She describes the food as “not-quite-Chinese” and lamented that “unfortunately, Mr. K’s is serving Chinese food from another American era, a time when people had not yet experienced the real thing.” Read More
We’re away until January 3, but we’re reposting some of our favorite pieces from 2016. Enjoy your holiday!
Why I borrowed a name from Salinger.
Ask someone who Seymour Glass is and they’ll tell you he’s a Salinger character: the eldest of the precocious Glass family, a misanthrope who shoots himself on vacation in “A Perfect Day for Bananafish.” But if that someone works in the New York fashion industry—specifically, in the editorial departments of select glossies—their response might be, Didn’t he used to work here?
That’s me they’re thinking of.
Three new books try to untangle the Gordian knot of white-trash identity.
Scan the headlines and you’ll find that everyone’s talking about how the white trash have made their presence felt. The white trash support Trump; the white trash are losing ground; the white trash should be honored by the government for their hard work and sacrifices; the white trash are continuing to redirect their aggression at other racial minorities instead of the robber barons who exploit them.
But who exactly are these people, these trashy whites who have found themselves, in the words of sociologist C. Wright Mills, “without purpose in an epoch in which they are without power?” Read More
- It’s possible you survived the whole weekend without hearing about the unmasking of Elena Ferrante, whose “true identity” (like those exist!) was revealed yesterday by some Italian guy behaving Italianly in The New York Review of Books. If you missed this story, reader—lucky you! I won’t harsh your buzz. You can keep on not knowing Ferrante’s “identity,” as she would’ve wanted it, and I can keep on thinking about which soup I’ll get for lunch today, as I can only assume she would want, too. Deal? Instead, read her Art of Fiction review from our Spring 2015 issue, where she discusses at some length the reasons behind her pseudonym. Or read Dayna Tortorici: “Even the stones know that Ferrante is Ferrante, and that’s the way her readers want it. More than Ferrante herself, her readers have benefited from her choice, spared so much extradiegetic noise. We are as invested in her anonymity—and her autonomy—as she is. It is a compact: she won’t tell us, we won’t ask, and she won’t change her mind and tell us anyway. In exchange, she’ll write books and we’ll read them. The feminist defense of Ferrante’s privacy was especially swift. It’s difficult to read a man’s attempt to ‘out’ a writer who has said she would stop writing if she were ever identified as anything but an attempt to make her stop writing.”
- Now, let’s divert our attention to a much less controversial story from the NYRB: Nathaniel Rich on George Plimpton. “The quintessential Plimptonian anecdote comes near the end of Paper Lion when, a year after leaving the team, he wistfully follows his old squad from afar. We find him in Bellagio, on Lake Como, chasing down a box score in a Paris Herald he has found at a waterside café. ‘When I read that the Lions had lost a game,’ he writes, ‘I rose in anguish out of my chair, absolutely stiff with grief, my knee catching the edge of the table as I came up, and toppling it over in a fine cascade of Perrier bottles’ … Philip Roth, in the extended appreciation of Plimpton that appears in Exit Ghost, identified the issue of social class as ‘the deepest inspiration for his writing so singularly about sports’ … But the technique only works because Plimpton hides this knowing quality from his readers. There is never a wink or nod in the direction of the premise’s artifice. A consummate straight man, he emphasizes how seriously he is taking matters.”
How expats fashion online identities while living in a war zone.
All wars have their aesthetic: the grainy newness of the World Wars, the photographer up close, in mud or water, his speed and fear palpable in the washed-out, often blurred images of men; the Cold War a stark espionage mystery, less action than mood, its clues hidden in the diplomatic formality of competing decadent powers; Vietnam a single black-and-white photo so horrifyingly violent it punctured the jingoism of American imperialism and showed its nihilistic core; and Afghanistan, its online presence as garish as the Las Vegas skyline—street shots and selfies transmuted by the virtual gears of social-media editing, their contrast, sharpness, and saturation jacked up until followers feel as if their neurons are feasting on the very opiates that keep the Taliban in business.
And each war has its signature story. Afghanistan’s coincides with the rise of social media. In the online world where banal weekend jaunts resemble the Odyssey and afflict followers with post-feed depression—the feeling after seeing glistening legs on a beach or a sunset clipped by an airplane’s wing (not, notably, the cramped economy seat or credit-card bill)—establishing a social-media presence in a war zone is more than self-fashioning; it’s reincarnation, maybe even creation ex-nihilo. Expats’ Facebook and Instagram avatars often emerge as if by divine birth, leaving followers unable to fathom how that bookish college friend wound up motorcycling around Kabul or hiking the Hindu Kush with a few smiling local dudes in pajamas who, to the untrained eye, are obviously Taliban. Read More