Lewd and Ludic: the Stampography of Vincent Sardon

Jenny Uglow

Vincent Sardon in his studio, 2017; click to enlarge

The Stampographer, a new catalogue of Vincent Sardon’s work, is exuberantly bizarre, often foul-mouthed, sometimes boring, sometimes tender. There are jolly naked cowboys, and blue-and-red biff-boff cartoon fights (Republicans and Democrats?), obscene photos and deliberately blasphemous images—not that anyone would disagree with Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa as an illustration for “the orgasm over time.”

Puerto Rico’s DIY Disaster Relief

Molly Crabapple

Two weeks after Hurricane Maria hit, aid remained a bureaucratic quagmire, mismanaged by FEMA, the FBI, the US military, the laughably corrupt local government. The island looked like it was stuck somewhere between the nineteenth century and the apocalypse. But leftists, nationalists, socialists—the anarchist and feminist Louisa Capetillo’s sons and daughters—were stepping up to rebuild their communities. Natural disasters have a way of clarifying things. They sweep away once-sturdy delusions, to reveal old treasures and scars. 

What’s in a T-Shirt?

Hilary Reid

MoMA’s “Items: Is Fashion Modern?” refers less to a period of time than to a way of relating to time itself—of dealing with and mingling the past, present, and future. The show features items that have been invented anew, used for present needs, or re-appropriated self-consciously to signal one’s identity, for political purposes, for nostalgic reasons, or simply as irony. Together, the exhibition and catalog present what could be considered a fashion “canon” for contemporary life.  

Year One: Trump’s Foreign Affairs

Jonathan Freedland

Saudi King Salman presenting President Donald Trump with the highest civilian honor, the Collar of Abdulaziz Al Saud, at the Royal Court Palace, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, May 20, 2017

Until a year ago, the US was setting a lead of a very different sort. America’s first black president seemed about to make way for the first woman president. Once again, the US was offering an example to the world, affording a glimpse of what twenty-first century democracy might look like. Instead, Trump has provided a glimpse into a gloomier future, one of lies, ethnic division, authoritarianism, and the ever-looming prospect of war. It’s fair to say that most outside the US are counting down the days, like a prisoner scratching marks onto the wall, waiting for Trump to be gone, so that the world might feel steadier, and safer, again. 

Marseus in the Land of Snakes

Christopher Carroll

Otto Marseus van Schrieck: Forest Floor with Thistle and Snake (detail), circa 1665

No one quite knows what led Otto Marseus van Schrieck to the invention of the sottobosco, but it was certainly in the spirit of the times. Born around 1620, Marseus grew up amid the great scientific flourishing of the seventeenth century. This included, among much else, the development of the microscope, which soon led to a widespread enthusiasm for all things minute. Around when Marseus is thought to have been born, the poet and composer Constantijn Huygens looked through an early microscope, later marveling in his memoirs that, “It really is as if you stand before a new theater of nature, or are on a different planet.” The sentiment captures much of the joy of Marseus’s paintings, which at their best give the impression of seeing a world through the eyes of someone encountering it for the first time.

Year One: Stress Testing the Constitution

Elizabeth Joh

A man at an anti-Donald Trump protest outside the Plaza Hotel, New York City, December 11, 2015

Trump’s lawyers deny that the president’s continued receipt of business from foreign, federal, and state governments violates the Constitution. They may be right. And it may be difficult to persuade a court that anyone has standing—the appropriate injury—that would permit a lawsuit in the first place. But while profiting from the presidency may not violate the Constitution’s Emoluments Clauses, refusing to follow routine conflict of interest practices shows a contempt for norms. We might quibble about what counts as an emolument, but we should raise questions about a president unconcerned about mixing private profit and public duty.

Year One: Rhetoric & Responsibility

Marilynne Robinson

George Grosz: Voice of the People, Voice of God, 1920

The Trump problem is probably somewhat self-limiting, he and his ilk being so very strange. But there are older, deeper problems. A substantial part of the American public seems to have lost interest in ideas, therefore in substantive controversy. This worrisome depletion has affected the whole of society, universities included. In saying this, I am making a criticism of institutions I value profoundly, as I do the politics of democracy, more for their splendid potential than for their present influence.

Tove Jansson: Beyond the Moomins?

Simon Willis

Tove Jansson: Smoking Girl (Self-Portrait), 1940

For anyone familiar with Tove Jansson from the Moomins alone, the most surprising works in the exhibition—which aims to rectify the fact that less attention has generally been paid to her range as a visual artist—will be her early self-portraits and her wartime political cartoons. The exhibition’s progression has two somewhat contradictory results. On the one hand, by opening with unfamiliar parts of Jansson’s oeuvre it emphasizes her breadth. On the other, it gets that out of the way before moving on to better-known material. Its momentum ends up flowing toward the Moomins rather than away from them.

The Afterlife of a Memoir

Aminatta Forna

Briton Rivière: Daniel in the Lions' Den, 1872

The writer of a memoir must necessarily reveal a great deal about herself or himself, and often about other people, too. You sacrifice your own privacy, and you sacrifice the privacy of others to whom you may have given no choice. To be the author of a memoir is also to become a confessional for other people. All over the world, people tell me their stories. Sometimes, sharing their stories with me is all they want, and it is enough. Sometimes, they want a wider recognition for their stories. To them, I say this: write, but only if you are sure you want to live with the consequences every day for the rest of your life.

Year One: When Black Women Lead

Steven W. Thrasher

Clockwise from the top left: director Ava DuVernay, 2017; California Representative Maxine Waters, 2017; performer Solange, 2017; Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza, 2015; writer and professor Jesmyn Ward, 2014; writer and professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, 2015

It was in 1991—the year legal theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality”—that Anita Hill came forward with sexual harassment allegations against a conservative nominee to the Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas. If Hill had been believed, it could have sunk his appointment. But such claims from a black woman were not taken seriously. Believing Hill decades ago could have changed access to the ballot and who occupies the White House. Americans should have listened to a black woman then. They should listen to black women now.