Who Killed More: Hitler, Stalin, or Mao?

Ian Johnson

Chairman Mao attending a military review in Beijing, China, 1967

These months mark the sixtieth anniversary of the launch of Mao’s most infamous experiment in social engineering, the Great Leap Forward. It was this campaign that caused the deaths of tens of millions and catapulted Mao Zedong into the big league of twentieth-century murders. But Mao’s mistakes are more than a chance to reflect on the past. They are also now part of a central debate in Xi Jinping’s China, where the Communist Party is renewing a long-standing battle to protect its legitimacy by limiting discussions of Mao.

Whose Nation? The Art of Black Power

Nell Irvin Painter

Faith Ringgold: United States of Attica, 1971–1972

Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power is rigorous and encyclopedic. As a catalogue, it is certainly lavish, and while it spends time on individual artists, its strength lies in its acknowledgment of the important part institutions play in art’s creation and reception. Within the racist and sexist history of the American art world, black curators, collectors, and galleries have exerted a crucial countervailing influence.

Art et Liberté: Egypt’s Surrealists

Charles Shafaieh

Marcel-Laurent Salinas: Birth, 1944

Though Art et Liberté was universalist in its philosophical convictions, the writing and visual art produced for the group’s five exhibitions and multiple publications—of which more than a hundred works and a similar number of archival materials are on display at the Tate—responded to specific Egyptian concerns. The Egyptian group’s work was no mere imitation of that of André Breton and his associates in the Parisian Surrealist scene, which tends to be regarded by critics as the movement’s one and true home. Rather, Egypt had its own distinct history and a style of Surrealism that, some argued, stretched into its ancient past.

Confederation: The One Possible Israel-Palestine Solution

Bernard Avishai

Palestinian boys playing soccer against the backdrop of the Israeli separation barrier that bisects their school playground in East Jerusalem, 2006

The peacemaking of the Oslo Accords is stuck over the same linked problems that thwarted peacemaking during the previous generation: terrorism, settlements, Jerusalem, borders, the economy, and refugees. It seems vain to blame only leaders or “narratives” for the impasse, and not the way peacemakers have framed the peace that is notionally to be made. “One state” is a mirage. But so, now, is “two states”—unless this portends an overt structure of independence and interdependence: in effect, a confederation. No other arrangement can work.

Putin: From Oligarch to Kleptocrat

Ruth May

Oligarchical capitalism destroys legitimate competition and eats away like a cancer at the resources of a nation. Any semblance of dynamic, healthy competition is strangled by fake competition based solely on firms’ relationships with people in power. The twenty or so oligarchs in Putin’s Russia do not get access to powerful people in government because of their wealth, as is the case, say, with many billionaire political donors in America, but rather, the reverse. Russian oligarchs get access to obscene amounts of wealth because they are loyal to the only person in government who matters: Vladimir Putin.

A Plate of Jellyfish

Lucy Jakub

From Art Forms in Nature, plate 8, 1899–1904; Desmonema annasethe, the jellyfish that Haeckel named after his late wife Anna Sethe

Ernst Haeckel’s intention was to make the natural forms of elusive organisms accessible to artists, and supply them with a new visual vocabulary of protists, mollusks, trilobites, siphonophores, fungi, and echinoderms. In his first book are jellyfish that look like flowers, protists that resemble Fabergé eggs, presented like crown jewels on black velvet, the seeming cosmic vastness of the images belying their actual, microscopic size. Haeckel’s name has not endured as well as the words that he coined—among them, phylum, ecology, and stem cell. But artists took heed. Art Nouveau is crowded with the natural arabesques and patterns that seduced Haeckel.

The Nunes Memo Kremlinology

Andrew Cohen

Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, at a news conference on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., February 27, 2017

On this black Monday, congressional Republicans undermined generations of legislative history and precedent to help a president who then, before the sun had set, undermined the will of Congress in its battle to rein in the Russians. Some will call this treason. Others, obstruction of justice. I’d rather call it giving aid and comfort to the enemy. The really bad news of the day was the inescapable conclusion that the real enemy America faces is not foreign, but domestic.

The Nonbinary Gender Trap

Robin Dembroff

Pablo Picasso: Maya with a Doll, 1938

California legislators, and progressive lawmakers in other states, may be acting from the best of motives, but this swath of new legislation rests on a dangerous mistake. I say this as a nonbinary person, one who identifies as genderqueer and uses the gender-neutral pronouns they and them. Adding “nonbinary” to the list of legal gender options does not address the core problem: any legal system that requires a person to record their gender perpetuates government control over our bodies and identities.

Consciousness and the World

Riccardo Manzotti and Tim Parks

Herbert List: Spirit of Lycabettus XIII, Athens, Mount Lycabettus, 1937

Parks: You mean, essentially, that we are objects, and objects “take place,” rather than act.

Manzotti: We are part of the physical world, hence objects. What else could we be—immaterial souls? As for identity, we are what we are because we are identical with a portion of the world that has come together over the years in a certain way. The traditional separation of subject and object that underpins all standard thinking on consciousness and identity lies at the heart of our troubles as individuals and as a society.

Stephen Shore, Seer of the Everyday

Gideon Jacobs

Stephen Shore: Breakfast, Trail’s End Restaurant, Kanab, Utah, August 10, 1973

The Stephen Shore exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art casts a wide net, including the anomalous periods when Shore worked abroad, but its main focus is his many photographs of hyper-quotidian America, our stalest shades of red, white, and blue. These quiet and straightforward pictures—of food, buildings, cars, and toilets—show that Shore is best understood as a photographer uninterested in photographing what is agreed to be worthy of capture.