By Deb A.
Happy 2018, dear Readers! It's time once again for a look at some of the best-loved books of the year, via a marginally scientific examination of the top picks from a range of book review columns, including those from the New York Times, the BBC, the Washington Post, The Guardian, the New Yorker, the CBC and more.
There was little consensus across the board, but two novels appeared on nearly every list: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders and Sing, Unburied, Sing (winner of the National Book Award) by Jesmin Ward.
Other popular selections were Mohsin Hamed's Exit West, Min Jin Lee's Pachinko, Patricia Lockwood's Priestdaddy, Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere, and Hari Kunzru's White Tears.
What were your favourite books of 2017? Leave your recommendations in the comments section.
By Deb A.
Artist Qinmin Liu's Angelhaha airline took its inaugural flight on December 6th. It flies one-way to art events only and its message for the world is simple: "happiness". (Angelhaha)
"I think to myself what I could have done if I'd won it at 40": 63-year-old Lubaina Himid has won the Turner Prize. In her interview with The Guardian, she challenges, among other things, The Guardian. (The Guardian)
After over 8,000 people signed an online petition to remove a sexualized painting of a child, the Museum of Modern Art has declined to take down Thérèse Dreaming by Balthus, but welcomes the "opportunity for conversation" that the controversy has sparked. (Artnet)
Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi, which recently became the most expensive painting ever sold at over $450 million, will be exhibited at the Louvre Abu Dhabi. (Reuters)
The air you breathe could soon be the air you use for your next masterpiece: Air-Ink is turning pollution into ink. (CBC)
By Deb A.
Canada's newest contemporary art museum has emerged from an unlikely place: the prairie landscape of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
The Remai Modern's flat blocks of sleek glass and red steel mesh are an ambitious statement in an ambitious city. Parallels are already being drawn with other off-the-beaten-path towns that tried to leverage a world-class museum to put them on the map. But is the $85 million art gallery the next Guggenheim Museum Bilbao?
The gallery boasts the world's most comprehensive collection of Picasso linocuts, as well as works by John Baldessari, General Idea, and Ruth Cuthand. With Ellen Remai contributing over $100 million to the gallery--one of the most substantial philanthropic donations to an art institution nationwide--the future of the collection seems enviably bright. Over the next 25 years, the museum will be able to spend $1 million a year on acquisitions; another $1 million will be available each year for donation matching.
One sore spot, however, is the representation of Indigenous people, a community that constitutes over 10% of Saskatoon's population. Apparently missing the memo from the Sobey Art Award, the Remai Modern, which sits on Treaty 6 land, has no Indigenous curators. Its commitment to the community has come under fire, and some believe that the museum is not doing enough to celebrate and promote local artists, despite its stated goal of being "a leading centre for contemporary Indigenous art and discourse."
In contrast, the Remai Modern's predecessor, the Mendel Art Gallery, had forged close links with the Indigenous community. It was also remarkably accessible, offering free entry to all, seven days a week. Its entire collection of 8,000 works, once available to see for nothing, is now housed in the Remai, where an adult ticket costs $12.
It remains to be seen whether the city will fully embrace its newest addition, and whether art lovers will brave the lack of direct flights from other art hubs such as New York and Paris to experience all the Remai Modern has to offer. One thing, however, is fairly certain: it will take a special sort of art enthusiast to plan a winter trip, when temperatures often drop below -30 degrees Celsius.
By Deb A.
Chris Ofili is arguably best known for creating art with elephant dung. Andres Serrano's Piss Christ was made with the artist's urine. Tracy Emin's My Bed hosted a range of bodily fluids, including one that has recently made headlines again in the art world: menses.
The first major movement in the West of using or depicting menstrual blood in art started in the 1970s, along with second wave feminism. And so it is no surprise that recent efforts to address the period taboo coincide with a reaction to the rise of high-profile misogyny.
In 2015 Rupi Kaur's photo showing the artist with a bloodstain at her crotch was removed (and subsequently reinstated following public backlash) from Instagram, leading Ms. Kaur to object to a world that "will have my body in an underwear but not be okay with a small leak."
Six months later, American artist and activist Sarah Levy used her period blood to create a portrait of a presidential candidate who reacted to tough questions at a debate by claiming the female moderator had "blood coming out of her wherever". He is now president, and the painting was purchased this year by the Museum of Military History in Dresden, Germany. It's hard to say which fact is stranger.
The latest controversial attempt to normalise a regular function of the bodies of half of the earth's human population can be found in an equally surprising place: the Stockholm subway. Its new exhibit by Liv Strömquist is a series of black-and white felt pen drawings that feature the occasional blotch of bright red between women's legs. Some have hailed it as a coup for womankind, while others have recoiled in disgust, angry at their newly uncomfortable commute.
For those who prefer to decide when they will be confronted with the reality of women's reproductive cycles--a luxury most women do not have--there's Period Piece in London, which "seeks to provoke critical dialogue about shifts in contraceptive technologies and constructions of the 'natural' around women's bodies." With music composed from ovulation cycles and poetry based on reactions to the Catholic church's rejection of birth control in 1968, the exhibit finds new, less confrontational ways of talking about periods. It is a pop-up event by the Science Gallery London, which opens officially in 2018.
For a brief overview of period art, this piece by Kristen Cochrane is a good place to start.
My country is
There are 7000 human languages in the world. Over half are endangered; one dies every two weeks. What happens to cultures as languages disappear?
The Southbank Centre's Endangered Poetry Project was created to preserve the unique poetic traditions of languages on the brink of extinction.
By reflecting a way of understanding the world, poetry gives us a glimpse into a culture: the ideas people have, what they care about, and how they interpret their surroundings. Documenting poems not only offers us insight into how others live, but also provides us with a novel way of seeing the world around us.
"I'm Iranian and I grew up in Germany--when I came to the U.S., it was very strange to me to learn that the colour blue stands for sadness," Dr. Mandana Seyfeddinipur, the head of the Endangered Languages Archive at SOAS University of London, explained to the BBC. "To me, blue is hope--the sea and the sky."
The intricacies of poetic language are windows into worldviews that can inform our own perspectives, or keep our cultural memories alive. According to Dr. Seyfeddinipur, reading poetry from other cultures "makes you more agile in thinking, because you have to be flexible," incorporating foreign concepts that may not appear in your own culture into your way of thinking.
Members of the public are invited to submit well known poems in an endangered language to the Centre to preserve them for future generations. The call is open until the end of this year.
By Deb A.
Ursula Johnson, also known as Little Bear, is this year's winner of Canada's Sobey Art Award.
The prestigious prize recognises the country's most promising contemporary artists under the age of 40. This year's shortlist included a record number of women (four of five of the artists are female) and two Indigenous artists from the five regions.
Ursula Johnson, representing the Atlantic region, is a performance and installation artist of Mi'kmaw First Nation ancestry. She descends from a long line of artists, including Caroline Gould, her great-grandmother and master basket weaver. Often incorporating basketry traditions into her art, Ms. Johnson explores identity, community, colonialism, and her Indigenous heritage: she wove baskets around herself for her Basket Weaving (Cultural Cocoon) series (2003-2015), was symbolically scalped in Elmiet (He/She Goes Home) (2010) to draw attention to Nova Scotia's history of scalping, and collaborated with Soto Pow Wow dancer Bert Milberg for Hot Looking (2014), a commentary on the appropriation of indigenous culture.
"I will now have the tremendous opportunity to work on a larger scale and expand the reach of my work to a broader community while exploring more diversity in materials and content as well as beginning to create a network of collaborators internationally!" Ms. Johnson said of her win.
Her desire to work with and learn from others was just part of the reason Ursula Johnson received the $50,000 CDN award; the selection committee noted that she "was singled out for her strong voice, her generosity and collaborative spirit. Through her work, she redefines traditional materials and re-imagines colonized histories."
Ursula Johnson is a talented, insightful artist with a strong sense of community, history and social justice--in other words, a fitting representative for the nation's contemporary art scene in a year in which Canada's colonial history has come under the microscope and gender and identity politics dominate public discourse.
The shortlisted artists, Raymond Boisjoly (West Coast & Yukon), Divya Mehra (Prairies & North), Bridget Moser (Ontario), and Jacynthe Carrier (Quebec), will each receive $10,000 CDN. All five artists' works are on display at the Art Museum at the University of Toronto until December 9th.
By Deb A.
He was Canada's unofficial poet laureate, documenting the nation's past and present and guiding Canadians to a clearer understanding of their own cultural identity. Gord Downie, lead singer of The Tragically Hip, solo artist, and activist, died of brain cancer on October 17th. And while he held that his writing could only be completed through performance, his lyrics are still powerful in black and white.
Nautical Disaster (1994, Day for Night)
I had this dream where I relished the fray
And the screaming filled my head all day
It was as though I'd been spit here
Settled in, into the pocket
Of a lighthouse on some rocky socket
Off the coast of France, dear
One afternoon four thousand men died in the water here
And five hundred more were thrashing madly
As parasites might in your blood
Now I was in a lifeboat designed for ten and ten only
Anything that systematic would get you hated
It's not a deal nor a test nor a
Love of something faded
The selection was quick, the crew was picked in order
And those left in the water
Got kicked off our pant leg
And we headed for home
Then the dream ends when the phone rings
"You doing alright?"
He said, "It's out there most days and nights
But only a fool would complain"
Anyway, Susan, if you like
Our conversation is as faint a sound in my memory
As those fingernails scratching on my hull
By Deb A.
A book of poetry written by Leonard Cohen just before his death will be published next year. (Billboard)
We've talked about the Fearless Girl statue at length, and we wish we could be shocked that the firm behind it has a history of underpaying women and people of colour. (NPR)
Thirty publishers rejected Matt Cain's book on the grounds that it was too gay, but the general public disagrees: it's well on its way to getting published through crowdfunding instead. (The Bookseller)
505 new books were released during the UK's "Super Thursday". Which will you read first? (BBC)
Prize round-up: Kazuo Ishiguro won this year's Nobel Prize for literature. And the five finalists for Canada's Giller Prize have been announced. (Nobel Prize, Giller Prize)
The Guardian asked the art world about the biggest question currently facing artists. In one way or another, money comes up a lot. (The Guardian)
A school librarian rejected the First Lady's donation of ten Dr. Seuss books. (The Washington Post)
The Yayoi Kusama museum in Tokyo is open for business! (Yayoi Kusama Museum)
By Deb A.
This week we offer you a simple concept: admire artworks by Puerto Rican artists, then click on the accompanying links and make a donation to support Puerto Rico's recovery.
José Campeche (1751-1809)
The Daughters of Governor Ramón de Castro
United for Puerto Rico
Livia Ortiz Ríos (1985-)
Lorenzo Homar (1913-2004)
Image © the Estate of Lorenzo Homar
Antonio Martorell (1939-)
Vigilance from The Wake (Blue Curtain)
Center for Popular Democracy
Collection: Dr. José Cangiano
Francisco Oller (1833-1917)
La Hacienda Buenavista
Rafael Tufiño (1922-2008)
Carlos Dávila Rinaldi (1958-)
Angel Otero (1981-)
Save The Children
By Deb A.
A man rappelled down a building to thumping electro music while a troupe in rainbow sweatshirts waited solemnly underneath the subway overpass, flanked by Art Mile sculptures and throngs of art enthusiasts. The opening of Urban Nation, the world's first major museum dedicated to graffiti, marked the emergence of just one of several landmark museums and galleries this season--here's a look at some of the art world's upcoming institutions.
Urban Nation Museum for Urban Contemporary Art in Berlin, Germany
Status: Opened September 16, 2017
Notable: Urban Nation is the world's first major institution for street art and graffiti. But tearing art out of its original context is not how it operates: instead, Urban Nation features works created on canvas or as sculptures specifically for the museum.
Major names: Shepard Fairey, Ron English, Blek le Rat, Cranio
Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town, South Africa
Status: Opened September 22, 2017
Notable: The MOCAA is the world's largest museum of modern African art. Its nine floors house over a hundred galleries featuring 21st-century African and diaspora art, including the entirety of Jochen Zeitz's personal collection.
Major names: Wangechi Mutu, Chris Ofili, Julie Mehretu, Glenn Ligon
Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara in Jakarta, Indonesia
Status: Opens November 2017
Notable: Museum MACAN is Indonesia's first museum dedicated to international modern art. About half of the museum's works are by Indonesian artists, with the other half coming from Europe, North America and Asia. Founder Haryanto Adikoesoemo has donated art from private collection to help fulfil his proclaimed dream of creating a museum for Indonesians.
Major names: Affandi, Raden Saleh, Gerhard Richter, Anish Kapoor
Louvre Abu Dhabi in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Status: Opens November 2017
Notable: This will be the first Louvre museum to open outside of France (a satellite museum exists in Lens). Originally scheduled to open in 2012, the museum is as known for its delays and human rights scandals as it is for its exquisite architecture and the works it will house: between 200 and 300 artworks will be on loan from France over the course of a decade.
Major names: Titian, Claude Monet, Jacques-Louis David, Francesco Primaticcio
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