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Getting Rid of White Painters

American artist Jackson Pollock (1912 - 1956) at his Springs studio in East Hampton, New York State, 23rd August 1953. (Photo by Tony Vaccaro/Getty Images)

You may or may not care for Jackson Pollock’s work, or you may think it’s overrated, but his first drip paintings are nevertheless significant pieces in the history of art. The Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse owns the second drip painting Pollock ever completed—Red Composition (1946)—but it announced last weekend that it would sell it in order to fund its “anti-racist policies and programming”:

Given the Everson’s important location within the physical and historical context of downtown Syracuse, it is imperative that our work reflects the diverse voices of our communities. This decision signals a pivotal moment for our institution to drive much needed change to our collection . . . The murder of George Floyd and a string of senseless killings of Black lives have propelled us into urgent discussions surrounding the Museum’s role and responsibility in fighting racism inside and outside our walls . . . Now is the time for action. By deaccessioning a single artwork, we can make enormous strides in building a collection that reflects the amazing diversity of our community and ensure that it remains accessible to all for generations to come.

The decision to present actions like this as a response to a crisis— “imperative,” “pivotal moment,” “propelled,” “urgent,” “time for action”—coupled with the promise of “enormous strides” towards an “amazing diversity” is a bit much. This isn’t the language of reality. It’s the language of fantasy, of Disney films and Nike ads, of claptrap.

The painting was given by Dorothy and Marshall M. Reisman, both now dead. Robert Falter, a trustee of the Reisman Foundation, said that they would have been “extremely happy” to see the museum sell off one of the most significant pieces of American art, likely to private hands. I wonder.

In The Los Angeles Times, Christopher Knight calls the move “inexcusable”. He’s right: “The sale of legitimate public patrimony to the highest bidder is touted as a marvelous way to bring racial and gender equity to the institution going forward. Balderdash. The Everson would need to unload half of its collection for it to reflect the diversity of a city that is 45% nonwhite, according to the most recent census estimate.”

In other news: “What Éric Rohmer said of one of his characters,” Matthew Schmitz writes in First Things, “could be said of him as well: He was committed to ‘redoing all of ­Rousseau in reverse.’ His films are anti-­romantic. They reject romantic notions of liberation and autonomy. They critique the cult of romantic love. They warn against a romantic politics that looks forward to a revolutionary future or back to a lost golden age. In the place of these errors, Rohmer championed a serene classicism: over passion, reason; over liberation, restraint; over fantasy, reality.”

A team of scientists is creating a digital map of Venice—inside and out: “This summer, Adam Lowe and his team from the Factum Foundation, with ARCHiVE, the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and Iconem, have made a digital record of all its buildings, inside and out, in such high resolution that San Giorgio now exists in a terabyte of data, a kind of a digital avatar. They have used a LiDAR (light-detection and ranging) scanner, which sends out a pulsed laser light towards the target object and measures the time it takes the laser to return. It calculates the distance the light has travelled, and plots that point in a digital 3D space. The LiDAR has recorded inscriptions so high up they cannot be read from the ground.”

New Zealand’s National Library to get rid of 600,000 books: “Sheltered in the bunkers beneath the National Library in New Zealand’s capital rests a treasure trove of books, including nearly 2,200 first editions that have been carefully looked after for decades. But not for much longer. The ‘overseas collection’ – which includes a first edition of Richard Neville’s Play Power, a 1912 edition of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and multiple first editions of Graham Greene novels – is now headed out the door. In total, the National Library in Wellington plans to get rid of more than 600,000 ‘foreign books’ from their collection, saying they need to make space for more works on New Zealand, of which there are an additional 80,000 to 90,000 to store each year.”

In praise of NYRB Classics: “Thanks to the NYRB Classics, more than More Was Lost is lost no more. The collection has resurrected over 500 titles in its mission to bring you books you didn’t know you needed. Before the reissue, I’d never heard of Perényi or her memoir. But now I can’t imagine my readerly self without it. It makes me wonder what other books are out there, waiting to become essential to my understanding of the world.”

Today, we view air travel as an onerous necessity full of small indignities. It wasn’t always so: “In October 1958, Pan American Airways began its first regular jet service across the Atlantic. Compared with other forms of travel, flying was already fast. In 1946, it took around 20 hours to fly from New York to Paris, as opposed to the four-and-a-half days to cross the Atlantic by ocean liner. But Pan Am’s new jet-powered Boeing 707, moving at an unprecedented speed of 500 to 600 miles per hour, cut transatlantic travel time to a mere seven hours (about the length it remains today). The jet’s incredible speed seemed to some to embody the historical moment. As one author put it in 1959: ‘Every aspect of our time is marked by movement … the aircraft is the most eloquent symbol of this transformation.’ In January 1958, Frank Sinatra’s album Come Fly with Me was released, with a cover that prompted the silver-tongued singer to complain (understandably) that it looked like a poster advertisement for Trans World Airlines (TWA). The album featured travel-themed songs and lyrics referencing a host of far-flung places (Hawaii, Paris and Capri), while never mentioning how fast you could get there. Instead, the title song promised the lovers would ‘float down to Peru’ and ‘just glide, starry-eyed’. Come Fly with Me emphasised the quality of the jet’s movement: barely perceptible, natural and easy. It would be a fitting anthem for an era – roughly the mid-1950s to the end of the 1960s – that’s come to be known as the jet age.”

Photo: Hermitage of St Bartholomew

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about the author

Micah Mattix is the literary editor of The American Conservative and an associate professor of English at Regent University.  His work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, National Review, The Weekly Standard, Pleiades, The Washington Times, and many other publications. His latest book is The Soul Is a Stranger in this World: Essays on Poets and Poetry (Cascade). Follow him on Twitter.

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