Modern Art Museums

I was at the San Francisco Modern Museum of Art today and I think it was slightly better than Seattle’s (which I visited in April), by which I meant the collection was only like 95% shit instead of 98% shit. The very cursed conclusion might be that its better because of increased competition amongst billionaires, since the one in Seattle was very inside this one billionaire couple’s ass for being like 50% of their endowment.

Anyways, with that experience super fresh in my mind I thought it could be nice to collect my thoughts on modern art museums and how to have fun in them, and maybe do a little photo essay of SF MoMA’s highlights and lowlights.

Things that modern art could make you feel:

  • Like you’re complicit in a billionaire’s tax evasion scheme. This is a collection that was made in like 2007 or something, which is like 60 years after people already thoroughly explored every variation of DrAwInG aTtEnTiOn tO tHe MeDiUm and made every thoughtful piece you can make about that.
If your Drawing Attention To The Medium art piece is worse than Rauschenberg’s White Painting, which was done in the freaking 50s (also available for viewing at SFMOMA!!!) DONT even talk to me, dont even look in my direction
  • The “my 5 year old can draw that” indignation, which you can feel even if you don’t have a 5 year old. Most of the time you’re right to feel indignant; like I said most modern art is garbage. HOWEVER, if you’re looking to decorate your apartment, the good news is, you can take pics of those pieces as inspiration if you like their vibe and then let your inner 5 year old go ham. I think Basquiat has the scribble game locked down too tight so I’m not too interested in scribbly things, I’d rather just get prints of his works. Here’s a cool one tho. Something about making some cool thing using math and randomness, but cheating a little so that it looks not entirely shit. Sure I can paint something like that why not
“256 Farben”, Gerhard Richter, 1974. From the slightly confusing placard description, I think what he did was randomly (supposedly using some mechanism to produce true randomness) choose the intensity of the three primary colours plus green, for each square, and then mix the colours and paint a brick. The green helps make the painting a little more cohesive in colour, and I’m definitely sure he didn’t use true randomness because too many of these shades are vibrant instead of muddy. I’m on to you, Gerhard. But yea I can do something like this to cover up a big bland wall in my apartment
  • Sometimes you see a real piece by someone you’re expecting to be impressed by since it’s a Big Name and it’s just kinda lame
“Cronos”, Noguchi, 1947. Why is this guy considered visionary again?? Idk maybe it was cool for 1947
  • Other times pieces do actually live up to the hype if you see them in person. I did not expect to be so moved by Rothko, but at SF I saw my second Rothko piece and the experience was as weird and sublime as the first. I didn’t take a pic because it’s really much a deal of You Need to See Them in Person and Have Them Loom Over You Like A Cloud of Emotion, and the emotion felt too sacred to try to capture in a camera lens.
  • Can make you feel unexpected emotions, unintentionally. Here is a gallery description introducing you to the works of Günther Förg, whose works I enjoyed.
What struck me about this is that we will never, ever be able to use lead as a medium like this ever again – purely for its material properties, with no regard to the harm that they pose. Even if someone chooses to use lead like this they’ll be forced to like comment on the implications of the health risks of the medium, or deliberately not comment on it, or something even more obnoxious. The gallery itself mediated the experience of viewing the works in an unintentional way as well. Most placards around the museum had small, unintrusive “don’t touch!” icons that were easy to dismiss. The placards in this gallery said, in angry bold text, something like “no seriously do not touch these paintings, they will bring serious harm to your body and your children”. Unexpected frisson there for sure! Maybe you can even say that it is a commentary on the power of art :y
  • Can make you feel unexpected emotions, intentionally, and possibly even grant you superpowers for a bit. I do have a pic for this one but it’s another example of something you need to see in person to understand.
“IKB 174”, Yves Klein, 1958. Before there was vantablack and the pinkest pink, this guy named Yves Klein invented a supersaturated blue pigment and became obsessed with it. All of his works use it, and he patented it as “International Klein Blue”. I kind of wrote it off, but it is in fact without a doubt the most beautiful colour that I’ve ever seen with my own eyes. The screens and photos will never do it justice. The paint was thick, pastelly and a little gritty, and you can see bumps of it on the canvas. The shadow that they cast was a subtle and beautiful purple, instead of a more shaded blue, which delighted and shocked me. After noticing this, for the rest of the day, my eyes were a thousand times more sensitive to the shade that various colours turned when they were partially enshadowed, and that lead to a dozen more moments of awe. thank u yves klein i owe u my life

Things to keep in mind as you go through the exhibits:

  • It’s different than a classical art museum, because so many more things fall under modern art – weird sculpture, multimedia pieces, performance art, etc, and also a lot of the pieces come from newer artists that haven’t been time tested yet. I think this leads to a wider spread in quality: there are more pieces that are sublime, and more that are pretty trash. At a normal art museum you just look at paintings and feel slight emotions sometimes, it’s a much more reserved affair. You’re probably not going to find a piece that makes you feel like you’ve been punched in the gut or that teaches you to look at the world in a brand new light.
  • Some artists really phone it in sometimes and it shows. And again, a lot of the pieces are at the museum because of like, tax writeoff shenanigans. These come in the form of something like:
    • Rich person buys art off a guy for 5k
    • Rich person gets art appraised and now the art is worth 30k because the artist is very popular in the new york art scene or whatever
    • Rich person donates art as an in-kind donation worth 30k and can write that off on their taxes.
  • You should feel extra ok about trusting your own analysis on modern art – we haven’t settled on whether or not any particular artist is good, the way we’ve settled on like, classial artists. (All the classical artists you know are “good”, the rest are lost to history or obscurity) And again, most of them are scams, so don’t feel the need to be like “I don’t get it probably because I don’t know enough art history” when you think a piece is really dumb.
  • Hell, most modern artists don’t know their art history. I know this is the case because the museums will point it out to you each time when someone actually knows their art history and does something clever with it. Their pieces are definitely a lot cooler, but they’re definitely the exceptions more than the rule.

If you are an art person and pissed off about any of what I wrote, please invite me to go to a modern art museum with you so you can explain art to me! <3

We can only go forwards

I was talking to my partner the other day about how unlikely it would be for us to have children, and the tremendous sacrifices it would take on both our parts to raise a happy, well-adjusted child. One thing that kept coming up was the extreme difficulty it would be to raise a child away from screens and algorithmic content, when both of us are hopeless addicts ourselves. To us, and I think to most people, it’s a given that providing children with access to screens would be severely unhealthy for their developing brains, in some unique way. And that if you can raise a kid into their early teens without too much exposure to screens, your job is done.

But recently, I’ve been reading some stuff that challenges the “unique” bit, which really upsets this whole entire narrative.

Before the internet we had television sets. They came in the 50s and proliferated in our homes and by the 90s the average American was spending 6 hours a day in front of their sets. Descriptions of television and the culture around it at this time paints a fascinating picture that is very similar to how we think of internet culture today – cynical, self-referential to the point of blindness to the real, hyperreal. And heavily irony-poisoned.

pov: David Foster Wallace tells you to touch grass (1990)

(It’s honestly kind of weird that I forgot about this, considering how much anti-tv stuff was drilled into me throughout elementary school. People were banging on about this a lot back in the day! I remember watching PSAs about how watching TV was bad between cartoons. But maybe it’s not that weird, since it’s been like 12 years since the first iPhone was released and then the internet sort of ate the world. Or, I don’t know, maybe that’s how anything that happens more than 10 years ago feels like.)

What does it mean to say that the irony poisoning isn’t new? That we’re three generations removed from a culture untouched by screens and mass media?

I think, first and foremost, it means that there’s no pure world, no strongtime that we can return to by logging off and touching grass. Not any longer.

It also means that every aspect of our lives and culture have been shaped by it. Depriving a child of a tablet might be in some ways as crippling as not teaching them how to read. I’m honestly not sure if there’s any real way of opting out of this culture, besides joining the Amish. If you’re not down for a life of churning butter and sexual repression, the only way forward is to make new theory and new strategies for the new world that we live in.

So this brings me to this recent piece that I can’t stop thinking about: Michael Cuenco’s “America’s New Post-Literate Epistemology” for Palladium Mag.

I think it’s a super insightful piece, that also doubles as a great survey of the media studies field, which first established in the 70s to critique television culture. I tried to find an excerpt but it’s such a weird, expansive piece that it’s really not possible. So instead here’s a brief summary of one section:

Modern humans interact with content by way of a never ending stream of articles, takes, and countertakes. Issues never feel solved, they only disappear from the timeline due to waning interest in due time. Reflecting this, there’s now a societal disinterest in reaching any sort of closure, and maybe even the feeling that the desire to have closure is somehow juvenile or naive. We should categorize this type of media interaction as having something closer to an oral nature rather than a literate one because of a lack of clear sequence, structure, or hierarchy in the information.

In oral structures, when we interact with new content, we can form associations between them and older stuff that we’ve seen pretty easily, but it’s much more difficult to form conclusions, to reach definitive endings. In this world it becomes increasingly difficult to think in terms of linearity, in terms of doing something and getting somewhere, to produce programs and manifestos and five-year plans.

Literate—but non-liberal—China has a goal: national rejuvenation by 2049. This is a concrete master plan bounded by a progressive notion of time, with numbered steps and specific metrics, and the planners are concerned with the reshaping of space.

Meanwhile, post-literate America has no long-term goals. Identity-slogans like “Make America Great Again” or “Defund the Police” may sound like goals, but they are in fact what Marshall McLuhan (a famed media theorist from the 60s) called “mythical environments,” which “live beyond time and space” and are therefore untethered to concrete linear action in the physical world. By when exactly is America supposed to be great again? Are there any metrics to help us determine if it is on track to becoming great? How precisely do we defund the police? What happens after?

One important thing to note is that the authors are actually quite ambivalent to this shift, from the literate to the post-literate. Sure, Cuenco seems to say, there’ll be growing pains as we make the switch in our epistemology, but can we really say that we’ll be worse off afterwards?

Of course, being a literate troglodyte in this “post-literate” world, my response to the question is an unequivocal YES, OBVIOUSLY. It seems objectively terrible, and what’s worse is how much I recognized my own style of thinking reflected in the description of oral culture, since I’ve been terminally online since I was twelve, and a pretty hopeless tv addict before that.

In adolescence, I began to see issues in hues of grey instead of black and white, and to see societal problems as parts of an ever-shifting ecosystem, paralyzingly wicked and complex instead of anything a single person could affect. Throughout high school and most of university I cultivated and refined this way of thinking. I think the pendulum is now starting to swing in the other direction. I want to develop my ability to think linearly. (I don’t think I’m like, abjectly terrible at this, but I think I could be better.)

So I’ve been taking time to read books again, lots of them, sequentially, from start to finish. I’ve started volunteering, and then working full-time for grassroots mutual aid organizations that do things right now, instead of returning to the public service policy positions I interned for, where my job was to analyze consideration after consideration for policies that might launch 10 years later. (This is important work, but I don’t think it’s the work for me any longer.) I’m trying to get back into the habit of writing, because blog posts need beginnings and middles and ends.

And I go on regular walks, and although I don’t touch the grass, I admire the wildflowers.

Links Retrospective – Rest of 2019

It’s weird how school terms seem pretty ok when you’re in them but then when they’re done you’re like “wow, that sure was, a brickload of stress I was under, I had no time to do anything!” You think I’d be used to it after like 4 years.

Anyways, now that I have dealt with both exams and a case of what was likely bronchitis that my friend had thoughtfully gifted me from all the way across the pond, I’m finally ready to finish what I started. So here are the some of the most interesting things from the internet that I’ve read in the latter half of 2019.

As a reminder, the articles aren’t necessarily published during this period, although many of them are – I choose my collection from what I’ve bookmarked over the months in question. 

August

The Anglosphere Has Always Had Three Genders (Archive)
Death is Bad Blog, 2019

I see almost everyone on both sides acting as if traditional American society has only two genders, and I don’t think this is right. It’s at least half-wrong, anyway. Because since its inception, American society has always had a third gender option for women, and I think this is true for all anglophone cultures for several centuries now. I speak, of course, of the tomboy.

I think this is an interesting theory, and honestly based on the feminist theory I’ve read it seems like it could be valid. But my own, lived experience as a tomboy is messier. My tomboyness 100% had a performativity aspect to it, and my tomboyness changed the things I was allowed to do, restricting in some places and expanding in others.

As a girl, I really liked some of the affectations of femininity – the colour pink, wearing dresses, doing my long hair in elaborate ways. but I had to act as though I didn’t. In return, I was allowed to climb trees and fences, and bring worms home when it rained, and play with beyblades with the boys in the sand pit. I think some part of me knew that I was making a bargain at the time, because the world would not accept me in its entirety. And I decided that I valued wearing dresses less than I value the freedom to climb trees. And I feel like this story of sacrifiting bits of yourself so that you’re legible to others in your society, isn’t innate to tomboyhood, or even femininity. It just sounds like part and parcel of being human, and (sigh) living in a society.

Ra (Archive)
Sarah Constantin, 2016

Ra is a specific kind of glitch in intuition, which can roughly be summarized as the drive to idealize vagueness and despise clarity.

This wasn’t like, the first time that I read this essay, but at the end of my internship deep within the guts of the federal welfare machine, as I began to see more and more of the picture, it was a piece that kept coming to the forefront of my mind. 

What’s interesting is that I think I started the term off very anti-Ra, but by the end, I was seeing many benefits that come from vagueness. It’s not a glitch in intuition, it’s a tradeoff. The vagueness is intrinsically powerful in many ways – although it is a dangerous path that is conducive to corruption and systemic rot. All in all, it’s not a tradeoff I would make, but I can see why others might. I think anyone who works in a large company or organization should read this piece, and come to their own conclusions.

September

Untitled microfiction piece (Archive)
Grimelords, 2014

There’s six guys who live in this flat and all they do all day is play WoW and watch movies.

Short and tender piece about the university experience, if you’re a certain type of nerd.

Warcraft: LFG (Archive)
Left Conservative, 2016

Think about this the next time you wonder why, as we have more loot, more sex, more games, and more media that fits our tastes than ever before, we’re also less satisfied than we’ve ever been.

A cool microcosm of what modernity does.

October

It’s not “them” — it’s us! (Archive)
Betsy Leondar-Wright, 2006

“But let’s say that some working-class people did nevertheless manage to get into this organization. What would we do to make sure they felt uncomfortable and to stop them from taking leadership?” The group launched in with gusto: “A dress code — nothing but tuxedos and evening gowns!” “Fancy food — caviar and champagne!” “The real business takes place at the golf course at the country club!”

No-one said anything like “tofu.”

An old piece, but one that is still so incredibly useful and informative for building cross-class coalitions. 

The Music of “Hustlers” and the Soaring, Stupid National Mood Circa 2008 (Archive)
Jia Tolentino, 2019

I started crying a little, because Usher’s “Love in This Club” was playing. It’s a song with synths that shudder like lasers, and a central looping riff so triumphant and brimming that it sounds like someone telling you that you’re never going to die. As the song played, a flash of pre-recession memories emerged from beneath eleven years’ worth of increasingly subdued expectations: I was in college, and things often felt that good and endless, even though the wad of bills in my pocket was a bunch of greasy ones from waiting tables and my roommates and I were blasting “Love in This Club” in our wood-panelled living room, wearing clearance American Apparel and chugging leftover keg beer, hoping that we wouldn’t see any mice. It feels unseemly and indulgent to get nostalgic about something so dumb and so close to the present, and yet “Hustlers” helped me realize how many people have begun to remember the brief period just before the recession in a similar way.

If you ever want to relive 2007, here is one very excellent way to do it.

November

Why Are My Students Afraid of the World? (Archive)
Christopher Schaberg, 2019

I’m talking about discomfort with the physical world outside our campus buildings, things like sitting on grass: many students just won’t do it.

A new(?) phenomenon, that seems simultaneously tragic, dangerous, and inevitable.

The Real Class War (Archive)
Julius Krein, 2019

The socioeconomic divide that will determine the future of poli­tics, particularly in the United States, is not between the top 30 per­cent or 10 percent and the rest, nor even between the 1 percent and the 99 percent. The real class war is between the 0.1 percent and (at most) the 10 percent—or, more precisely, between elites primarily dependent on capital gains and those primarily dependent on profes­sional labor.

The last few years have brought about a new “discovery” of working-class immiseration—a media phenomenon arguably pro­voked by renewed elite anxieties. As a result, the story of a declining working class is now broadly understood. It is, after all, decades old, and it was entirely predictable if not exactly intended. Much less understood, however, is the more recent reshaping and radicalization of the professional managerial class. While the top 5 or 10 percent may not deserve public sympathy, their underperformance relative to the top 0.1 percent will be more politically significant than the hol­lowing out of the working or lower-middle classes. Unlike the work­ing class, the professional managerial class is still capable of, and re­quired for, wielding political power.

This maps on very well to the class-based discussions that I’m seeing online and in-person (in my very academic crowd, being a uni student and all).

December

What Is a Take? A Trans Feminist Take on the 2019 British Election Results (Archive)
Grace Lavery, 2019

At some point in the last, say, five years, the phrase “hot take” both started to appear less frequently in conversations about online culture (especially Twitter), and the apparently more neutral term “take” has seemed to appear more frequently. The shift seems to have entailed a subtle shift in tone, too. The phrase “hot take” was usually fairly scornful, indicative of a callow or insincere attempt to gin up controversy for the sake of getting attention, much like “clickbait.” Another term from the same period, “thinkpiece,” possessed an even stronger critical association: the typifying thinkpiece was self-indulgent, unfocused pie-in-the-sky; the term carried the sense of intellectual irresponsibility, an inability or refusal to grasp things as they actually are. In that sense, then – and this will be a hot take for some, and a very cold one for others – that the object scorned by the term “thinkpiece” is conceptually indistinguishable from the object once scorned by the term “theory.” We have never lacked for terms to indicate our contempt for those whose thinking is piecemeal, or who fail/refuse to knead the pieces into a larger thinkloaf. 

A really weird and interesting piece, and a good example of what queer theory can contribute to one’s understanding of the world. I wanted to excerpt the entire thing.

Probably the best take you’ll get on the new star wars movies ugghhhhh (Archive)
Kuiperblog, 2019

Rogue One might be the only film since the original trilogy that really understood what, exactly, Star Wars was before it was Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. 

As someone who doesn’t care about Star Wars, this was an extremely interesting piece of analysis that made me care more about Star Wars.

 

Okay! Those are the links. Hopefully the next retrospective wouldn’t be like, 6 months late, but we’ll see 😛

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