A Well-Ventilated Utopia

Christopher Benfey

Paul Scheerbart: Nusi-Pusi, 1912

In a recent exhibition and accompanying catalog, the Berlinische Galerie has brought some of Paul Scheerbart’s most indelible images together with the graphic work of two artists he inspired: the modernist architect Bruno Taut (who built a pineapple-shaped glass dome building in Cologne in Scheerbart’s honor) and the little-known outsider artist Paul Goesch (killed by the Nazis in 1940, in their murderous purge of the mentally disabled), whose miniature and colorful architectural visions owe something to Scheerbart.

Xi Jinping: The Illusion of Greatness

Ian Johnson

A building covered in posters of Chinese President Xi Jinping, Shanghai, China, March 26, 2016

Xi Jinping came to power offering a similarly broad range of reforms and pledging to “rejuvenate” China. But his measures have been limited to the classic nationalist-authoritarian-traditionalist playbook. After five years of Xi, his main accomplishments seem to have been to consolidate his power while satisfying people’s desire for social change through crackdowns and promoting traditionalism. The problem is that these efforts come at the expense of actual reforms.

The Mind in the Whirlwind

Riccardo Manzotti and Tim Parks

Bari, Apulia, Italy, 1950

Manzotti: Each body brings into existence a world of relative objects, that are, nevertheless, external physical objects. Not things that emerge from your brain, or representations that well up in there. When the body stops working and dies, that world of experience, your consciousness, which is external to your body, ceases to exist as well. But not, of course, the whirlwind it was selected from.

Parks: Essentially, you’re turning everything inside out. The experience I thought was inside is outside.

The Assange Distraction

Sue Halpern

A mobile phone shows the Ecuadorian Embassy where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been living since June 2012, London, England, August 20, 2012

Given what the files in the recent WikiLeaks release contain, and given that they’ve landed in the hands of Julian Assange, WikiLeaks’s press release might be read more as a threat than an invitation. Julian Assange has not destroyed the source codes that came to him with Vault 7, the algorithms that run these programs, and he has not ruled out releasing them into the wild, where they would be available to any cyber-criminal, state actor, or random hacker. This means that Assange is not just a fugitive as he often calls himself, he is a fugitive who is armed and dangerous.

Raucous, Disorderly Downtown

Richard Hell

I. C. Rapoport's photograph of Claes Oldenburg and Anita Rubin in The Street, Reuben Gallery, New York City, May, 1960

The focus of “Inventing Downtown: Artist-Run Galleries in New York City, 1952–1965” is not on a type or trend of art-making, but rather an inclusive range of galleries, fourteen of them, formed by artists for themselves in storefronts, lofts and church basements. Most of the artists were young. Some of them would become famous, most not. The exhibit brilliantly captures the fertile tumult of this period.

A Real American Horror Story

J. Hoberman

Daniel Kaluuya as Chris and Allison Williams as Rose in Jordan Peele's Get Out, 2017

Jordan Peele’s semi-parodic horror film Get Out is the latest instance of the remarkable and remarkably varied African-American cinema of the past few years. The film articulates the fear that the Obama presidency was smoke and mirrors, a sham and an illusion. While Peele had likely not anticipated our current situation, it would seem that his film has materialized at the very moment that curtain rose and the real America was revealed.

It’s Still a Muslim Ban

David Cole

A custodian working under a portrait of an immigrant from the early twentieth century at Ellis Island, New York, January 31, 2017

Trump has issued a replacement executive order, one that his lawyers evidently felt would be easier to defend. Importantly, the new order still shares the central defect of its predecessor: it is a “Muslim ban” in intent and effect. It would be difficult to imagine a stronger case of impermissible religious discrimination than this one. The president has admitted his purpose on multiple occasions.

Turkey: The Return of the Sultan

Christopher de Bellaigue

Portrait of the Ottoman Sultan Abdülhamid II, 1897; Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, 2015

To many Western observers, the phenomenon of President of Turkey Recep Teayyip Erdoğan’s increased powers demonstrates a return to the kind of authoritarianism that is common to many countries of the Middle East. It also seems to accord with the increasing turn away from democratic practices in many parts of the world, from Putin’s Russia to Trump’s America. On closer inspection, however, what is happening in Turkey shows distinct traces of an earlier phase of Islamic-minded autocracy in the country’s history.

When Art Meets Power

Jenny Uglow

Isaak Brodsky: V.I.Lenin and Manifestation, 1919

It is impossible and wrong, in this fascinating exhibition on Russian art between 1917-1932, to separate art from politics, utopian propaganda from dystopian tragedy. Aesthetic judgement is inevitably compromised. Some may think it obscene to celebrate this period in Russian art: yet it is surely right to make us confront it, to see the boldness of the art and to try and fathom the mixed motives, the hopes and fears and struggles of the artists involved. Right too, when the headlines are full of Trump and Putin, to remind us of the history.