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Stuart Davis: In Full Swing


Most people know far less than they should about Stuart Davis, one of America’s most important modern artists. Yet if you can simply understand how the plucky 20th–century painter managed to have his cake and eat it too, you’ll be well on your way to comprehending his significance. Exactly how he did this and why it made for such noteworthy art is enticingly revealed by Stuart Davis: In Full Swing, a peppy new exhibit currently on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City through September 25. Born in 1892 in Philadelphia, where he was influenced by the city’s newspaper illustrators, Davis developed an early dedication to art’s role as a reflector of contemporary social conditions. He went on to train with Robert Henri, leader of the Ashcan School, and adopted the movement’s style of urban realism, with an emphasis on content over composition. But after seeing the 1913 Armory show, which introduced him to European modernism, Davis became enamored with formalist experimentation, fauvism, cubism, and abstraction. Convinced these modern ideas constituted a vital new direction for art, Davis ignored the notion that his long-standing commitment to social art (which prioritized message over medium) stood in stark opposition to his new love for abstraction (indisputably governed by formal principles). In 1921, with his series of cubist-style paintings abstracting tobacco-packaging imagery, Davis achieved the seemingly impossible task of marrying two oppositional artistic approaches. He employed the flat geometric shapes of cubism in paintings that commented loudly and pointedly on everyday life in America: commercial advertising of mass-market products was proliferating, smoking had become a popular habit stateside and their rampant distribution to U.S. soldiers during World War I had made cigarettes an American symbol.   With these paintings, whose titles and images include the names of national cigarette brands and companies, Davis took his first step toward establishing his signature, groundbreaking union between modernism and the belief that art must pertain to the society from which it emerges. Barbara Haskell, co-curator of the Whitney exhibit, describes Davis’s work as “a rare synthesis: an art that is resolutely abstract, yet at the same time exudes the spirit of popular culture.” While all of the works on display merit extended viewing—they’re the kind of pieces you find more and more in the longer you search—the best treasure hunting is in New York Mural (right), a 1932 work created when the Museum of Modern Art invited Davis to make a mural about post–World War I life in America. Mural-making was very popular in the U.S. during the 1930s, due to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal initiatives, which provided governmental support to artists by commissioning them to make murals for public buildings. Though realism was still the preferred style of most American painters at the time, Davis brought a modernist look to the five murals he made. In the flat, overlapping forms of New York Mural, you’ll find fun references to local politics, particularly New York governor and 1928 Democratic presidential candidate Al Smith. See if you can spot Smith’s trademark brown derby hat and bow tie; a banana alluding to his campaign song “Yes! We Have No Bananas”; a champagne glass symbolizing his support for Prohibition’s repeal; and the tiger head and tail representative of his affiliation with Tammany Hall. Yet to genuinely appreciate Davis’s art, you need to make sure you have a good time. Equally unfashionable as his allegiance to art’s social function is Davis’s belief that art should spotlight the positive aspects of life. Davis wanted his paintings to reflect modern life in such a way that when you view them you find the joy in the world around you. Stuart Davis: In Full Swing is on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art through September 25. It will subsequently be on view at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., from November 20 through March 5, 2017; at the De Young Museum in San Francisco, April 8 to August 6, 2017; and at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, September 16, 2017, through January 8, 2018. Photos courtesy of Whitney Museum of American Art

by Lisa Jo Sagolla

Jun 27, 2016

This Week, in Limerick: No Bill, No Break


Thursday, June 23 No Bill, No Break In a boisterous, motley array, They sat-in on the House floor. Hooray! They sang “We'll overcome” But the foregone outcome Was dictated by the NRA.

by James Waller

Jun 24, 2016

Insider Interview: Benedicte Guichard of Cleeng


In this new series of interviews with industry thought leaders, Mediander explores emerging developments in the fast-changing video on demand (VOD) and streaming TV space. For our kickoff, we spoke with Benedicte Guichard of Cleeng, based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Cleeng is a service that streams, monetizes and protects live events for major companies in the U.S. and Europe, and it just recently completed a project with HBO. Can we start with how Cleeng “got to now,” so to speak? Cleeng is pretty much CEO and founder Gilles Domartini’s idea and vision. Gilles and I had known each other originally from working with Packard Bell and NEC. He was so convincing when he explained it to me and the three other founders, that we all signed on. Back in 2010 there was a lot of discussion about paywalls in the press, and Gilles, after years of building e-commerce platforms for Apple and Philips, came up with a much better solution. Cleeng would allow people to preview an article or video before buying it, and then give access upon purchase. In this way, media houses would allow people access to their websites (and keep their advertising revenues) but still charge for their content. Then Donald Res, our CTO, who had worked for years with Gilles at Philips, joined Cleeng. We finally launched at The Next Web Europe 2011. We signed significant deals within the online publishing industry, but Cleeng was growing slowly. Then in 2013, we received a phone call from Viaplay, a Scandinavian broadcaster that was looking for a pay-per-view solution for a boxing match. Our solution was already working well for video content, so we enabled Viaplay to charge boxing fans to access the fight live online. Seeing the success of this live event was a true wake-up call for Cleeng, and we realized the potential of live events online, especially for sports. So in 2014 we completely pivoted the company to build the best dedicated e-commerce platform for live video. Screen shot of Cleeng.com. I understand you recently worked on a major boxing event with HBO, the WBC and Golden Boy Promotions. That’s quite a deal. Tell us about it.  Boxing is the sport that drives the pay-per-view industry, and one of the biggest organizations in the boxing world, Golden Boy Promotions, reached out to us with a challenge: securely handle and market a U.S. mega-fight via online PPV—in one week. Our team was proud to deliver, on time, a robust landing page capable of hosting 100,000 visitors with a redundant live-streaming infrastructure as backup and the advanced watermarking security to prevent piracy. The fight took place in Las Vegas, and we are in Amsterdam, so unfortunately we could not meet the boxers, but we were all up at 4 a.m. on D-day to watch the fight online. It was a success. We prevented all piracy activity and any revenue loss for the publisher. One thing that surprised us is that we recorded more transactions from mobile devices than from PCs. Given the unexpected mobile response, how has that informed your initiatives in streaming video? Our data shows that mobile usage of both live and on-demand video is rising exponentially, and we are doing our best to ensure that video quality on mobile is exceptional. Multi-device accessibility has always been one of our focal points. People love using streaming media devices when they are home, and we are working on strengthening our service in that area. And, based on the feedback of our American audience, we developed our own Cleeng Roku channel, and we even helped a few of our client broadcasters do the same. The Cleeng team in their Amsterdam office. Are concerts and music festivals an opportunity for Cleeng? For sure. Live-streaming of concerts aims to reshape how we consume music. By making it accessible online, musicians and broadcasters can reach larger crowds and grow revenue. In addition to democratizing events, live-streaming has the potential to add an extra dimension for the fans. The mass acceptance of mobile, live-streaming apps and virtual reality means that viewers can get exceptional video content across devices and a completely different experience. This could include behind-the-scenes video, a 360-degree experience, celebrity interviews and more. In the U.S., the major festivals like Coachella, Bonnaroo and Made in America are already being streamed online, and fans love it. One of the big positives is that live-streaming does not cannibalize the already existing event business. Instead, the video and live event models are complementary, and we are seeing that both online and offline ticket sales are on the rise. Now the challenge for broadcasters and the event organizers is to find the ideal business and revenue model. Technology drives this business forward, so it’s fair to say that the potential is there and up for grabs. Can you tell us about the business models that you are considering now, and compare that to what your team thinks it will look like in five years? Currently publishers mainly use pay-per-view, subscriptions and passes to sell their content. Pay-per-view is a proven revenue model for one-off live events, especially within the sports and business (conferences) verticals. Subscriptions and passes work best for clients involved in broadcasting entertainment (movies, music, league-based sports). But we have noticed publishers are becoming more creative in designing flexible packages to attract and nurture loyal viewers. Our business model, for example, is based on a revenue share. We charge a fee per transaction, but we also propose an enterprise license for large publishers that require more flexibility and expect to generate significant revenue all-year-long. More and more, we think that there will be a need in the future to increase and improve the sale of videos. Our ambition is to become the go-to company for video publishers. Thanks to the expertise we are building, we are positioned to be the leader in content and pricing strategy, conversion-rate improvement and piracy reduction, all of which helps the content owners make the most of their video assets. For more information on Cleeng, visit its website here. Photos courtesy of Cleeng.

by David Pfister

Jun 22, 2016

In The Girls, A Retelling of the Manson Murders From Within


When looking back upon the Manson Family murder spree of 1969, one question continually mystifies us: How did one man persuade a bunch of peace-loving hippies to kill in cold blood? This is the question at the center of Emma Cline's debut novel, The Girls, a fictional account of life at a Manson-like ranch in the late 1960s, as told by a young cult girl. The story opens with protagonist Evie Boyd and her friend Connie, both 14, at the start of their summer break in Petaluma, California, a place of “low-hipped ranch houses” and “sun-scorched crosswalks.” Sexually curious, Evie and Connie attempt to get the most out of their summer with boys, but are unsuccessful. Their frustration appears to set up Evie’s later seduction by Russell (a thinly disguised version of Charles Manson), but male attention turns out to be a small part of the allure of cult life. One day, while at a park in Petaluma, Evie sees Suzanne, the girl who will shepherd her into the ranch family. Intrigued by her look and free-spirited attitude, Evie follows Suzanne and her crew into an alley, where she watches them Dumpster-dive for food and then take off in a black school bus. A few days later, while Evie is on the side of the road trying to fix her broken bicycle, the same bus stops to help, and she ends up heading to the ranch with the group. She stays that night for a “solstice” party (it is not solstice) and meets Russell. Evie doesn’t particularly enjoy her first sexual encounter with Russell, but she likes that the experience brings her closer to Suzanne and the others, because they’ve done that too. Being with Russell, Evie believes, minimizes the distance between herself and the other girls; it makes her a part of the group. Momentarily manipulated by Russell’s brainwashing (he tells her she’s beautiful, smart, special and “an actress” who sees more than other people), Evie is drawn to his utopian vision—she longs for love and acceptance, which seem possible only in a relationship with other girls, particularly those she finds at the ranch. So how did this guy convince these girls, who supposedly came to his ranch in search of peace and harmony, to brutally murder people they didn’t even know? Cline suggests that the killings have less to do with Russell’s reasons and more to do with the girls’ own—that they were filled with murderous rage because of how they had been treated throughout their lives as girls. “The hatred she must have felt to do what she’d done,” reflects the adult Evie, of one of the other cult girls, “to slam the knife over and over again like she was trying to rid herself of a frenzied sickness: hatred like that was not unfamiliar to me.” She offers examples from her own life of men harassing, belittling and using her. “There was so much to destroy,” she says, echoing the feelings of generations of woke women. In essence, the cult girls’ fury was fed by a lifetime of mistreatment at the hands of men. Although Evie ignores obvious warnings in her interactions with the ranch family, she has insight beyond her years. Her parsing of seemingly banal episodes in her young life unearth sad profundities: “That was part of being a girl—you were resigned to whatever feedback you’d get. If you got mad, you were crazy, and if you didn’t react, you were a bitch. The only thing you could do was smile from the corner they’d backed you into. Implicate yourself in the joke even if the joke was always on you.” While Evie and Connie spend endless hours analyzing boys’ actions, “seeing portent and intention in every detail,” in reality, Evie realizes, “they were just boys. Silly and young and straightforward; they weren’t hiding anything.” In The Girls, men are not interesting enough to be duplicitous. Driven by base instincts and occupying a far less complicated social reality, Evie determines that they cannot be of any real use to her as she struggles to make sense of her constricted movements within a world of rules and paradoxes. While this perhaps unfairly discounts the inner lives of boys, it also represents an inevitable and necessary chapter in the history of feminist thought. If this book is feminist—as I believe it is—then it is more indicative of the spirit of the feminist movement of the 1960s than of the movement that surrounds us now. Of course, if hatred and rage are the emotions underlying a movement, problems are bound to arise. “Suzanne and the other girls had stopped being able to make certain judgments,” Cline writes, “the unused muscle of their ego growing slack and useless. It had been so long since any of them had occupied a world where right and wrong existed in any real way. Whatever instincts they’d ever had—the weak twinge in the gut, a gnaw of concern—had become inaudible…They didn’t have very far to fall—I knew just being a girl in the world handicapped your ability to believe in yourself.” It is this “handicap”—far greater of an influence than any cult leader—that could cause a girl to become so very lost. The Girls might not remain true to all the details about the Manson Family, but it tells a far more pervasive truth about the ways “desire [can] humiliate you,” and how humiliation, anger and girlhood so often intertwine. Feature photo of Emma Cline by Megan Cline

by Emily Burns Morgan

Jun 21, 2016

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