Mark Dion: The Science of Art

Jillian Steinhauer

Mark Dion: After Neukom Vivarium, 2006/2017

“Misadventures of a 21st-Century Naturalist” isn’t comprehensive, but it offers a good overview of Mark Dion’s art. Viewers get an introduction to his primary method: gathering objects—whether on a self-conducted excavation or through the more casual means of collecting—and arranging them according to varying logics to create meticulous tableaux, often in the form of cabinets. At the heart of this practice is a challenging but fruitful contradiction: Dion is a dedicated artist and environmentalist who repurposes older methods of museological and scientific inquiry, which are mired in colonialism and anthropocentric belief systems, in an effort to expose them.

The Rural Vision of Ravilious & Friends

Geoffrey Wheatcroft

Eric Ravilious: Two Women in a Garden, 1933

There is a palpable mood of nostalgia in England at present. This may have been expressed politically in Brexit, but it is also visible in the popular taste for “heritage” and lost worlds. In particular, Britain is awash with books and films about World War II, which all these painters lived through and which became part of their artistic legacy. The England that Ravilious and Bawden evoked so powerfully reflected neither reactionary sentiment nor aimless aesthetic ideals. Their rural vision was not about an escapist rural retreat or nostalgic nationalism, but about a precious common heritage, something worth fighting for.

Democracy and the Machinations of Mind Control

Anthony Barnett

At School in the Year 2000, circa 1910

In both the US and the UK, investigations into the deployment of these shadowy forces are still in progress. In close contests, every influence counts. There is, therefore, an understandable temptation to emphasize that without secretive billionaires, or the Russians, or Facebook, the outcomes of the Brexit referendum and the US presidential election would have been different. And as elections are likely to carry on being close-run, it is important to track down and expose systemic manipulation. But it does not follow that slush funds, algorithms, and alleged conspiracies were primary causes of the electoral shocks of 2016.

Modigliani: Fevered Life, Pure Line

Jenny Uglow

Amedeo Modigliani: Nude, 1917

These sensual images, with curving shoulders, breasts, and thighs outlined in black, with clever references to both old masters and contemporary styles, were a bald commercial venture. But these nudes overcome the cynical appeal to a male gaze. Their bodies are idealized, smooth shapes of sex, but their faces are those of individual women: some gaze out frankly, or peer teasingly, from beneath long lashes; others close their eyes or let their heads loll wearily, as if bored with the whole affair. It is as though Modigliani himself found peace in their calm stillness, away from his fevered life, away from the mass death and ravages of the war.

Militants & Military: Pakistan’s Unholy Alliance

Ahmed Rashid

A man looking at a police bus that was destroyed during clashes between Islamist protesters and police around Islamabad’s main highway, Pakistan, November 26, 2017

Admitting extremist Islamists into the electoral process—groups that have not reconciled with the state and do not subscribe to the constitution or to democracy itself—will pave the way for an even more deadly cycle of violence. If a small fringe group can force the resignation of the justice minister for not being religious enough, Pakistan’s future looks grim. A genuine opposition that could be a counterweight to these machinations—a strong middle class, modern democratic political parties, a vibrant civil society, robust human rights groups, and free media—barely exists.

Bulldozing the Peace Process in Israel

David Shulman

A Palestinian woman looking at the remains of her home after it was demolished by Israeli bulldozers, near Hebron, the West Bank, March 6, 2017

When Netanyahu claims, as he did recently, that Israel’s situation has never been better, he means, in part, that in his own mind he has smashed the Palestinian national movement once and for all. I have no doubt that this has been his goal all along. Indeed, Palestinians in the occupied territories are worn out, demoralized, fenced into small discontinuous enclaves where they lack basic human rights, where their land and other property may be appropriated at any moment, and where they may be arrested and incarcerated at the army’s whim. They are, by now, largely paralyzed by despair. Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem may galvanize them back into action; we shall see.

Gained in Translation

Tim Parks

A photograph by Sophia Andreevna Tolstaya of Leo Tolstoy and Maxim Gorky, late nineteenth century

Translators are people who read books for us. Tolstoy wrote in Russian, so someone must read him for us and then write down that reading in our language. Since the book will be fuller and richer the more experience a reader brings to it, we would want our translator to be aware of as much as possible—cultural references, lexical patterns, geographical setting, and historical moment. Aware, too, of our own language and its many resources. Far from being “just subjective,” these differences will be a function of the different experiences these readers bring to the book, since none of us accumulates the same experience.

The Unsexy Truth About Harassment

Melissa Gira Grant

Bankers Trust, New York City, 1960

This conflation of sex with “sexual misconduct” has led to some concern that what may result from the #MeToo moment is a “sex panic,” with all the attendant public punishment and casting out. But it’s too late: sexual harassment is a form of discipline, and it has already led to so many women being cast out from their work and the attention that is rightfully theirs. When men use sex to push women into inferior, undervalued, and invisible roles, that isn’t sex; that’s punishment. We must reject the idea that harassment is measured by how sexually violated the victim feels (or how she is told she is supposed to feel). Our conflict is not over sex, or with men in particular or in general, but over power.

Chaïm Soutine: the Butcher, the Baker, the Candlestick Maker

Lucy Scholes

Chaïm Soutine: Butcher Boy, 1919–1920

Dressed from head to toe in a vibrant red uniform with gleaming gold buttons, hands defiantly on hips, legs spread wide, the bellboy perfectly captures the tension, seen throughout the exhibition “Soutine’s Portraits: Cooks, Waiters & Bellboys,” between personal dignity and professional subservience. A Russian émigré and the son of a poor Jewish tailor, Soutine rarely gave his portraits titles (hence the generic ones provided here), let alone bothered to note the names of his sitters. And yet he is known for posing his anonymous subjects like the royalty of yore: the bellboy’s regal red livery is reminiscent of ceremonial dress; and a pastry cook, his fluffed-up white cap perched on his head like a bejeweled crown, sits resplendent in a kitchen chair like a monarch on his throne.

‘My Only Friend Is My Conscience’: Face to Face With El Salvador’s Cold Killer

Jonathan Blitzer

Soldiers searching bus passengers along the Northern Highway, El Salvador, 1980

Talking about the civil war was futile with Ochoa. A rambling discussion of Vietnam and ancient Rome, and Putin, Napoleon, and General MacArthur (three of his idols) was peppered with bald, personal pronouncements. When I brought up the theft of CIA documents again, he leaned back and looked at me for the first time with an expression of hostility. Five months later, the Salvadoran Supreme Court declared the country’s amnesty law unconstitutional. With the amnesty law lifted, a judge had recently agreed to hear a human rights case against Ochoa, and the colonel was said to be retaining counsel.