From net neutrality to ebooks to copyright questions to The Resistance to perennial issues of funding, here are the leading developments of the year for libraries.
Musicologist Ellen T. Harris wrote an authoritative book on this opera three decades ago – a book she has had to completely revise and reissue based on all the info scholars have uncovered over those years. Yet “we know even less [now] than we did then, or at least less than we had imagined. We can no longer say with certainty in what year the opera was written, where it had its premiere, who performed it or even what the original score contained.” In this essay for the Times, Harris explains what it turns out that we’d wrongly assumed and what we’ve learned that upended those assumptions.
The list includes four bona fide celebrities (Yayoi Kusama, Ai Weiwei, David Hockney, and Damien Hirst), several stars within the art world (e.g., Carolee Schneeman, Cindy Sherman, Pope.L), and one veteran artist who’s finally getting the recognition she deserves, 2017 Turner Prize winner Lubaina Himid.
The last time poetry saw this kind of action was with the cable knit sweater-clad poet and singer-songwriter Rod McKuen, who sold millions of books and millions more albums in the late 1960s and early 1970s with titles like “Listen to the Warm” — far outstripping the reach of not only an artist like Leonard Cohen, but most popular novelists of the time. (There were dusty McKuen books and records in my house growing up.) The backlash then makes today’s seem gentle
Keith Cerny is ending what’s widely seen as a successful seven years in Dallas – stabilized finances and balanced budgets, notable premieres, the signing of a new music director and principal guest conductor, a new and well-regarded training program for young female conductors – to take the reins at Calgary Opera, a company that’s roughly half the size of the one he’s leaving.
“Our mental shortcuts work fine at the level of individuals and small-scale societies, but in an increasingly interconnected and globalised world, they are a danger to society. Effortless thinking is at the root of many of the modern world’s most serious problems: xenophobia, terrorism, hatred, inequality, defence of injustice, religious fanaticism and our shocking susceptibility to fake news and conspiracy theories. All are facilitated by people disengaging their critical faculties and going with their gut – and being encouraged to do so by populist politicians channelling anger at the liberal establishment.”
“The effort to put climate change in the foreground of Roman history is motivated both by troves of new data and a heightened sensitivity to the importance of the physical environment. The empire-builders benefitted from impeccable timing: the characteristic warm, wet and stable weather was conducive to economic productivity in an agrarian society. The benefits of economic growth supported the political and social bargains by which the Roman empire controlled its vast territory. The favourable climate, in ways subtle and profound, was baked into the empire’s innermost structure. The end of this lucky climate regime did not immediately, or in any simple deterministic sense, spell the doom of Rome.”
“You learned the secret handshakes and shibboleths without questioning, or even noticing, the changes taking place in your language. You hid behind the third person, used the passive voice when you could, and shied away from making blunt assertions and bold arguments. You wrote nothing you couldn’t back up with a zillion footnotes. You began to pad your ideas with throat-clearing statements and ready-made phrases, taking 25 pages to say what what could have been plainly expressed in 10.”
The company is going through a boom period: MoviePass saw 150,000 new signups in just two days when it dropped its price back in August. But if it does go under, those subscribers will have to return to paying between $10 to $15 for a single ticket. After three months with the service, I don’t think I could do that. MoviePass changes almost everything about the theater experience, when the cost of entry is virtually zero.
Back in the day, things were … easier. Now you need a case with the correct – and very rare – blue Vis markers, Post-It notes on the items, and a lot of cash (Mark Hamill – Luke Skywalker, obviously – charges $295, for instance). Or you can buy them from Disney itself. “Yet there is something about the ‘quality, authentic experience’ that is lost when you can order an autograph online or pick one up from a Disney World gift shop.”
The show has work by Ai Weiwei, Mona Hatoum, Hank Willis Thomas and many more, all woven in Lahore and shipped to San Francisco specifically to respond to the president’s ban on travelers from certain countries. “Sanctuary is distinct in its melding of faith-based practices, especially its integration of Muslim and Christian traditions – and in a former military space, at that.”
Carolina Miranda, in a nuanced piece: “The debate that fills me with the greatest ambivalence centers on the frequently posited idea that only certain artists should be allowed to tackle certain subjects … Inequity undoubtedly persists — less than a third of solo shows at major museums in the U.S. go to women. But the nature of the debate on these issues threatens to constrain artists at a time when a multiplicity of voices and subjects is what’s needed.”
This is quite the unpleasant literary lineage story. According to a former board member of The Paris Review, “As soon as Hughes was named to succeed Plimpton, receiving her Times profile, there were ‘powerful movers and shakers in the literary world, and they exerted influence continuously until they got their way.’ Those voices, the former board member said, were led by the late Bob Silvers, who wanted an ‘NYRB or New Yorker type guy.’ Hughes was in the midst of publishing her first full issue around the time that Silvers-led faction started maneuvering to limit her tenure to a year. Eventually, they pulled enough board members over to their side.”
He worried it was one of many Far Eastern potboilers in the pile, but then he started to read. “Indeed, the manuscript seemed to challenge many of the conventions of such books: there was a distinctly antiheroic aspect to its main protagonist, the portraits of the natives ran counter to prevailing stereotypes, and the narrative’s mordant undercurrent was entirely unlike superﬁcially similar works.”
It all went pretty well, as you might expect, with some twists that might be particular to Ann Patchett: “Not shopping saves an astonishing amount of time. In October, I interviewed Tom Hanks about his collection of short stories in front of 1,700 people in a Washington theater. Previously, I would have believed that such an occasion demanded a new dress and lost two days of my life looking for one. In fact, Tom Hanks had never seen any of my dresses, nor had the people in the audience.”
It’s not just a museum or gallery – it’s much, much bigger than that. “The site now features 98 apartments, 30 offices, a restaurant, a bakery, an auditorium, studios, workshops, and extensive exhibition spaces for both the Vervoordt art dealership and for the nonprofit Axel & May Vervoordt Foundation. Among the foundation’s current exhibits are three large-scale ‘Warrior’ paintings from the 1960s, painted (with those feet) by the now-coveted Gutai School artist Kazuo Shiraga.”
Things might be a fire dump of terrible for women in Hollywood, as revealed by all too many #metoo stories (and oh yes, there are many more to come), but at least a few roles weren’t too bad this year: “Movie mothers tend to be monsters (Mommie Dearest, Carrie, Precious, Animal Kingdom), angels (Bambi, The Grapes of Wrath) or just a bit nothing-y (pretty much everything else). That, however, could be changing. While 2017 has been an awful year for women in film in most respects, it has thrown up a riot – or whatever the collective noun for mums ought to be – of complex on-screen mothers.”
Whoa: “Called the Commission on Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace, the initiative was spearheaded by Kathleen Kennedy, the president of Lucasfilm; Maria Eitel, the co-chair of the Nike Foundation; the powerhouse attorney Nina Shaw; and Freada Kapor Klein, the venture capitalist who helped pioneer surveys on sexual harassment decades ago.”
Hito Steyerl, this year’s number one in the Art Review Power 100 list, is a filmmaker who also delivers hypnotic lectures and whose ideas influence many other artists and culture creators. “Her previous texts don’t become dated; her ideas keep circulating. …People take her work and build upon it. And she’s not afraid of the truth of her time. That’s important for generations that come after her.”
Diana Athill is just a few days from her centenary, but – despite some hand injuries that mean she can’t type into a computer – she’s going strong. “Seasoned Athill watchers won’t be surprised to hear that she is at work on a new book – a tale of upward mobility in England as demonstrated through her own family’s rise from country doctors in early 19th-century Yorkshire to wealthy Norfolk landowners. At the centre of the story is her great-grandfather, who was left £44,000 by a grateful patient at a time when doctors were not considered to be gentlemen and such a sum could buy a handsome Queen Anne mansion in a landscaped park.”
The genre, which exploded after Malcolm Gladwell started his “Revisionist History” podcast, is riddled with sweeping pronouncements, some of which ignore recent scholarship or popular knowledge. They can definitely be informative and useful, but beware: “Sometimes the counterintuitive take is just wrong.”
And wow, is this deal going to affect everything in Hollywood. “The film business has not seen significant consolidation in generations — perhaps not since 1935, when 20th Century Pictures and Fox Film merged to form 20th Century Fox, going on to deliver classics like ‘How Green Was My Valley,’ ‘The Sound of Music’ and ‘Wall Street.’ Now that Disney is a content colossus, analysts expect a wave of Hollywood mergers, as companies like Viacom, CBS, Sony, Lionsgate and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer look to gain scale.”
Even genre fiction can’t make up for the dramatic decline in reading. “It’s a much more unforgiving ecosystem for authors of literary fiction today. We inevitably end up with a situation where the people best positioned to write literary fiction are those for whom making a living isn’t an imperative. That has an effect on the diversity of who is writing – we are losing voices, and we don’t want to be in that position.”
Yes, this artwork can be read as problematic. Jerry Saltz acknowledges that, and then says a lot more: “Even in our rush to protect the innocent, curtail creeps, and assume the moral high ground, art can never abandon paradox. Unlike pornography, which we know it when we see it, Balthus throws us into a nether region of being unsure of what we’re seeing at all. Even if it’s only coy, that’s still not all that it is.”
Beth Rudin DeWoody, “who is president of the Rudin Family Foundations and on the boards of the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Hammer Museum, owns more than 10,000 pieces of art, including a vast array of work that is lyrical, artisanal and playful. But she has a special fondness for the big button-pushers that other collectors of her caliber might be more inclined to eschew. ‘I think art should be provocative,’ she said.”