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Weekend Reads

Inside the Vitrine With Damien Hirst, Defending the Gallerina, & More

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Inside the Vitrine With Damien Hirst, Defending the Gallerina, & More

“Hooligan and Aesthete”: Damien Hirst is firmly on the list of art-world superstars that many people love to hate. In Catherine Mayer’s excellent profile of the prolific artist in the Guardian, however, Hirst manages to take on a slightly more sympathetic sheen. Mayer details his rise and fall from favor and his struggles with addiction, as well as the real conditions in his factories so reviled for their industrial-scale production of his "dot" and "spin" paintings. While the occasion for this longread may be the opening of Hirst’s new Newport Street Gallery in London, the real interest comes from peering into the life of one of contemporary art’s most divisive figures. (The Guardian)

The Road Not Traveled: Louis Menand writes a sprightly piece on the Peabody Essex Museum’s new show of works by the great American painter Thomas Hart Benton, who was (in Menand’s words) “a populist…a regionalist, and a representationalist in an era [1920-1975]…when art was programmatically making itself elitist, internationalist, and abstract.” Though Benton himself was an avowed anti-modernist, his depictions of American life nevertheless set the stage for the innovations to come in his wake; Jackson Pollock was one of Benton’s students, an influence some observers claim is evident even in the Abstract Expressionist’s later work. Benton’s work, Menand argues, can thus be thought of as “the direction that modern art didn’t go in.” (New Yorker

Seeing Double: Artforum senior editor Prudence Peiffer reviews Nancy Princenthal’s much buzzed-about new biography of Agnes Martin, suggesting that the most productive way to look at the painter's work is to appreciate her many dualities rather than to try to resolve them. As Peiffer writes, “Hers are the great, stark contradictions of America itself, a landscape defined by ocean and desert, urban drive and pastoral stillness, capitalist appetite and Calvinist restraint.” (Bookforum)

On the Front (Desk) Lines: Jerry Saltz mounts an impassioned defense of art gallery attendants, taking umbrage with the depiction of said employees as supercilious and deliberately opaque about prices in a recent series of columns by Artnews’s Hannah Ghorashi. The writer, he says, “confuses the well-off gallery directors, with their revealing, standoffish policies about pricing, and their employees, who are just trying to hold down jobs.” He also reminds us that leading gallerists like Gavin Brown, Michele Maccarone, and Friedrich Petzel got their start manning the front desk. (Vulture)

Cuba’s Ai Weiwei: Surveying the Havana Biennial, the first to be opened to U.S. art tourists, Holland Cotter found that the best work was of an immaterial variety, with performance artists like Nikhil Chopra and Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons channeling and poeticizing the political change underway in the country. But the signal artwork of the event, he writes, was a performance by Tania Bruguera that was part of her ongoing campaign to expose the totalitarianism concealed behind Cuba’s outward thaw, consisting of her reading peacefully in her home from Hannah Arendt; after sending a crew with jackhammers to do road work outside, drowning out her words, government agents finally took her away for “hours of questioning.” (NYT)

The Hammer M.C.s: With the auction world undergoing a top-to-bottom restructuring amid a paradox of ever-heightening record sales and managerial chaos, Kelly Crow provides an intimate look at the three new masters of the universe—Christie’s CEO Patricia Barbizet, Sotheby’s CEO Tad Smith, and Phillips CEO Edward Dolman—while paying special attention to Smith, a self-avowed art agnostic who came to the job from data-driven turnarounds at Madison Square Garden and Cablevision, and who has hung “a sunny Edward Hopper landscape” in his office from a previous auction to try and divine why it didn’t sell. (Hint: no one wants a feel-good Edward Hopper.) (WSJ)

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