Tag Archives: Essays

How Adrian Piper Challenges Us to Change the Ways We Live

Installation view of <em>Adrian Piper: A Synthesis of Intuitions, 1965–2016</em> at the Museum of Modern Art (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)
Installation view of Adrian Piper: A Synthesis of Intuitions, 1965–2016 at the Museum of Modern Art (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

In 2014, I reviewed Adrian Piper’s “Probable Trust Registry,” which at the time was installed at Elizabeth Dee Gallery. That project went on to win Piper the Golden Lion award at the 2015 Venice Biennale, where the jury noted her amazing ability to “[reform] conceptual practice to include personal subjectivity — of herself, her audience, and the publics in general.” I had a personal stake in this project. As an artist who also deals in performative and participatory forms, I have long looked to Piper’s work and artistic legacy as that which gives me permission to make the work I do. Piper’s ways of … Read the rest

The Art of Eating Cherry Blossoms (with Recipes)

Cherry blossoms in a jar (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

My best friend in Detroit is no longer taking my calls.

This is mostly because the weather is beautiful here in Southwestern France. The last time I spoke with him, a couple weeks ago, Michigan was inundated with snow. I asked him to speak up because the songbirds were chirping too loudly outside. I tried to console him with complaints about the grass growing too long in the garden, and about the brief, dramatic hailstorm during my duck cookery class (which didn’t faze the Swedish students at all).

As it happens here in March and early April, the weather is fickle on an hourly basis. One might experience simultaneous and conflicting conditions of being … Read the rest

It’s OK to Feel Ambivalent About Michelle Obama’s Official Portrait

Michelle Obama by Amy Sherald (2018, image courtesy National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution)

Monday marked one of the biggest news headlines ever for black art, when the National Portrait Gallery unveiled official paintings of Barack and Michelle Obama. And it gave rise to a Black Art Critic emergency.

The unveiling of the Obama portraits was an emotional event — and for black women, who have so long been cut out of the official canon, the historic gravity of the moment could not be overstated. When the images were revealed, social media feeds immediately flooded with praise and disappointment. Many commentators questioned the likeness of Michelle Obama’s portrait to the woman herself. They asked whether the painting really captured the personality and persona that they had individually … Read the rest

My Unexpected Valentine’s Day with Louise Bourgeois

Louise Bourgeois (screenshot via Louise Bourgeois: une vie on YouTube)

Everyone has their own New York anniversary, and mine was the time in 1998 when I met Louise Bourgeois on Valentine’s Day. I was staying with my friend who lived on St. Mark’s Place, and one day, while walking down West 20th street in Chelsea, he pointed to a brownstone and said, with a little tremble in his voice, “That’s where Louise Bourgeois lives!” Apparently, he’d gone there on a class trip from Stony Brook University and they all had to bring their art and she had been really mean to them. I was intrigued. I remembered someone telling me that all the famous people in New York were in the phone book and … Read the rest

The Quiet Strength of Saints Carved from Puerto Rico’s Fallen Trees

A house in western Puerto Rico damaged by the 1918 San Fermín earthquake (courtesy Eduardo Goyco)

On Sunday night, in thousands of homes across northern Puerto Rico, the lights suddenly went out. A fiery explosion at the Guanacillos electricity station temporarily left San Juan without power.

Five months after Maria, the hurricane continues to interrupt daily life. But these disruptions are nothing new to people who have lived for centuries at the mercy of earthquakes, tsunamis, and cyclones. Our island has its own art form that symbolizes our will to carry on, natural disaster after natural disaster: for centuries, Puerto Rican santeros have carved sculptures of Catholic saints from fallen trees. They stand watch even where there are no churches. Carefully crafted and brightly painted, they … Read the rest

The Nothingness of Personality: Young Borges on the Self

“There is no whole self. It suffices to walk any distance along the inexo­rable rigidity that the mirrors of the past open to us in order to feel like out­siders, naively flustered by our own bygone days.”

The Nothingness of Personality: Young Borges on the Self

You find yourself in a city you hadn’t visited in years, walking along a street you had once strolled down with your fingers interlacing a long-ago lover’s, someone you then cherished as the most extraordinary person in the world, who is now married in Jersey with two chubby bulldogs. You find yourself shocked by how an experience of such vivid verisimilitude can be fossilized into a mere memory buried in the strata of what feels like a wholly different person, living a wholly different life — it was you … Read the rest

Working Together: Poet and Philosopher David Whyte’s Beautiful Ode to Our Mutuality with the World

“We shape our self to fit this world and by the world are shaped again.”

Working Together: Poet and Philosopher David Whyte’s Beautiful Ode to Our Mutuality with the World

“Relationship is the fundamental truth of this world of appearance,” wrote the great Indian poet and philosopher Tagore — the first non-European awarded a Nobel Prize — in his 1930 meditation on human nature and the interdependence of existence. Nearly a century later, the English poet, philosopher, and redeemer of meaning David Whyte gave shape to that relational inextricability of our lives in his beautiful poem “Working Together,” found in his collection River Flow: New & Selected Poems (public library).

In this recording from Krista Tippett’s altogether sublime On Being interview with Whyte, he reads this simple, transcendently wakeful poem of supreme relevance to our divided world:


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Descartes on Opinion vs. Reason, the Key to a Wakeful Mind, and the Discipline of Critical Introspection

“It is not enough to have a good mind; the main thing is to apply it well.”

Descartes on Opinion vs. Reason, the Key to a Wakeful Mind, and the Discipline of Critical Introspection

“The questions raised by the desire to know are in principle all answerable by common-sense experience and common-sense reasoning,” Hannah Arendt wrote in her brilliant treatise on thinking vs. knowing and the crucial difference between truth and meaning. “But the questions raised by thinking and which it is in reason’s very nature to raise — questions of meaning — are all unanswerable by common sense and the refinement of it we call science.”

What kind of reasoning, then, can we develop in order not only to inoculate ourselves against unreason, not only to arrive at truth, but to access meaning? More than that, in an age of instant … Read the rest