The Internet Is Exploding: 10 Must-Read Articles This Week 8/30

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Care in the Garden

Hurricanes are battering the Gulf, California is ablaze, and the RNC happened. The internet was full of rupture this week. Highlights: Amy Sherald’s Breonna Taylor painting, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “The Great Fire,” the future of museums, the Whitney’s canceled show, Kerry James Marshall and Jordan Casteel on Vogue, Chadwick Boseman, Jacob Blake, the NBA strikes, the story of Kirkland Life Care Center, and Jazmine Sullivan’s remorse. 


1. Vanity Fair: Amy Sherald on Making Breonna Taylor’s Portrait

For the cover of its September issue, Vanity Fair commissioned Amy Sherald to paint a portrait of Breonna Taylor. Sherald deviated from her typical process for this painting as Taylor couldn’t sit for her, so she “found a young woman with similar physical attributes, studied Taylor’s hairstyles and fashion choices, and drew inspiration from things she learned about the young woman—that she had been a frontline worker in the battle against COVID-19; that her boyfriend had been about to propose marriage; that she was self-possessed, brave, loving, loved.” Being immunocompromised, Sherald cannot partake in the ongoing protests and this painting is a way for her to participate in the “moment and to activism—producing this image keeps Breonna alive forever.”

The portrait itself is a gorgeous painting, but it has been quite controversial with many people questioning if Taylor’s family was consulted or compensated for the use of her image, one person tweeting “Breonna Taylor does not need a Vanity Fair cover. SHE NEEDS JUSTICE.” Many have defended the image as the cover story itself is “in the words of her mother,” and many agree that Taylor needs justice, but point out that Vanity Fair isn’t the justice system (which we all know is broken) and that Taylor’s family is using the media to draw some much-needed attention to her case. Considerable criticism has also fallen on Sherald for taking the commission in the first place. 

The whole discourse around the painting and Sherald is interesting and important. Sherald has a long history of supporting anti-racism movements and giving breadth to Blackness through her paintings. I think the more interesting and meaningful critique here should focus on Vanity Fair and the structural changes that need to happen at parent company Condé Nast, and the fields the magazine covers. Vanity Fair did try to address the latter by hiring Ta-Nehisi Coates to edit this issue, but with Condé Nast’s history that isn’t nearly enough. 


2. Vanity Fair: Ta-Nehisi Coates on Vanity Fair’s September Issue, The Great Fire

Taking the name from Eve L. Ewing’s True Stories About the Great Fire, “a poem inspired by the belief among white Chicagoans that the first Great Migration to the city was ‘the worst calamity that had struck the city since the Great Fire’ of 1871, which took hundreds of lives and burned out the heart of the city,” the September issue of Vanity Fair explores the implications of this comparison, when “once a people become a ‘calamity,’ all means of dealing with them are acceptable.” 

In his editor’s letter, Coates explains how “to plunder a people of everything, you must plunder their humanity first,” writing that “whiteness thrives in darkness. It has to—because to assert itself in full view, to admit to calling [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] a ‘fucking bitch’ to her face, is to have one’s own ‘manners and morals’ degraded.” While this Great Fire—a fire of racism, bigotry, and fear—“is an impressive thing… it is not omnipotent. It is endangered not just by corporate co-option, but by those who venerate ‘the art of the possible’ like an 11th commandment. Even now it is said that only on November 3 will we truly know how bright the Fire burns.” We must protest and vote: “Voting is civic hygiene—both essential and insufficient. And voting alone has never been enough to protect anything—least of all the vote itself.”


3. Vanity Fair: What Should A Museum Look Like in 2020? 

Also included in this issue of Vanity Fair, Kimberly Drew explored the “seismic shift in how individuals, corporations, and institutions are reckoning with our nation’s racism.” As the art world tries to capitalize on this moment, “watching museums like the British Museum and the Met—institutions with historic ties to colonialism—use a slogan rather than admit to their own roles in the ‘race problem’ ignites a desire for a more holistic investigation of museums not only as homes for art and culture, but as entities with both the buying power and the political ties to make a lasting impact on life beyond this uprising.” Institutions are great at performing morality and historically, museums have used themed exhibitions, acquisitions schemes, or public programs to signal a shift, but otherwise they continue with business as usual. Real shifts must be seen from the sidewalk to the boardroom. There is an urgent and long-standing need for long-term commitments to diverse hiring and executive leadership, divestment from the police, accessibility, and a zero-tolerance policy for racism from staff or visitors.”

In attempting to answer the titular question, Drew spoke with curators, artists, writers, and gallerists on the current state of museums and what they know and hope museums can become going forward.

I know I’ve included a lot from Vanity Fair this week, but the issue is full of good writing and ideas. 


4. New York Times: Whitney Cancels Show That Included Works Bought at Fund-Raisers

The Whitney Museum of American Art has canceled an upcoming exhibition, Collective Actions: Artist Interventions in a Time of Change, which “intended to feature work by artists who participated in projects responding to the coronavirus pandemic and Black Lives Matter demonstrations.” The controversy arose Monday night after some of the artists in the exhibition received an email from Farris Wahbeh, the Whitney’s director of research resources, that said “I’m writing to let you know that I have acquired your work.” Works by several artists in the exhibition were acquired through fundraisers for bail funds and civil rights organizations, like the See in Black sale which raised money for the Bail Project and the National Black Justice Coalition, and the Press Press “Poetry for Persistence” project which sold posters for $40 with proceeds benefiting organizations such as the Baltimore Action Legal Team Community Bail Fund. These works were considerably discounted in order to raise more funds. 

Shortly after the uproar across the internet Tuesday morning the Whitney canceled the exhibition, “a museum spokesman said that Mr. Wahbeh had sent another email to the artists apologizing for the “anger and frustration the exhibition has caused.” Artist Dana Scruggs, whose work was purchased from See in Black, would rather the museum “actually pay us for the full price of our work and hold the exhibition instead of cowering in the face of everyone calling them out.”  


5. Vogue: The Making of Vogue’s September 2020 Covers

Vanity Fair wasn’t the only fashion magazine to commission an artist for its September cover—Vogue hired both Kerry James Marshall and Jordan Casteel to make paintings for their iconic fall issue. Both artists “were given complete freedom to decide who would be on their cover, a real or imaginary person, and how that person would be portrayed. The only requirement was that they choose a dress by one of four Vogue-selected designers for their subject to wear.”

From what I have seen on the internet, these covers are considerably less controversial than Sherald’s painting of Breonna Taylor as Marshall’s figure is a fictional person, and Casteel’s figure is fashion designer Aurora James. 


6. New York Times: ‘Black Panther’ Star Chadwick Boseman Dies of Cancer at 43

Chadwick Boseman, best known from playing T’Challa, the Black Panther and king of the fictional nation of Wakanda in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, died from colon cancer on Friday. He was 43. Boseman has received an outpouring of grief and shock as he hadn’t spoken publicly about his diagnosis. Diagnosed in 2016 with stage III colon cancer, Boseman worked through surgeries and chemotherapy treatments, working on films including Da 5 Bloods, August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and several more as his disease progressed to stage IV. Apart from playing a Black superhero, Boseman was also known for his portrayals of Jackie Robinson in 42 (2013), James Brown in Get on Up (2014), and Thurgood Marshall in Marshall (2017).

People are absolutely devastated by his death. 


7. New York Times: Justice Department to Investigate Jacob Blake Shooting

Last Sunday night, Jacob Blake was shot seven times by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in front of three of his children. He has been partially paralyzed from the shooting. His assault has reignited a wave of protests against anti-racism and police brutality across the country. In Kenosha, two people were killed and a third was seriously injured during the protests, and the 17-year-old suspect of these shootings, Kyle Rittenhouse, has since been arrested—without being shot or harmed in any way by police—and charged with first-degree intentional homicide. Reporters have noted that Rittenhouse’s social media posts “paint a picture of a teen who idolizes police and has participated in programs for aspiring cops.”


8. Washington Post: Sports come to a halt: NBA, WNBA, MLB, MLS postpone games as players protest Jacob Blake shooting

In an act of solidarity with protests against racism and police brutality, professional sports teams and athletes are postponing games, and withdrawing from competitions. The movement began on Wednesday, “when the Milwaukee Bucks refused to take the court for a playoff game against the Orlando Magic,” protesting the police shooting of Jacob Blake, and has since been followed by teams in the WNBA, MLB, MLS, and individual athletes—most notably tennis player Naomi Osaka, a longtime advocate for Black lives, who pulled out of the Western & Southern Open but then reversed course after the Women’s Tennis Association and United States Tennis Association “offered to postpone all matches until Friday and in my mind that brings more attention to the movement,” she said in a statement. 

On Thursday the NBA decided to resume playing, and the players reportedly want to work towards making systemic changes in the league. 


9. The California Sunday Magazine: What Happened in Room 10?

This is one of the most interesting and tragic stories I have read about the pandemic. The Life Care Center of Kirkland in Washington state became the epicenter of the pandemic in March, with 46 of its 121 residents eventually succumbing to COVID-19. Room 10 of the Center was shared by two patients: Twilla, 85, and Helen, 98. Helen is still alive, however Twilla died from COVID-19. Since the breakout, Kirkland became a sort of test case for how the virus should be handled in similar facilities and exposed how “ill-prepared we were for the pandemic—and how we take care of our elderly.” 

A lawsuit has since been filed against Life Care for how it handled the Kirkland breakout and “the prospect of more lawsuits to come have divided Life Care residents and their families. In part, this is because the lawsuit speaks to a fundamental question: to blame or not to blame?” Twilla’s daughter is one of the family members suing Life Care, and to some, like Helen and her family, “Debbie’s case is a greedy assault against the unluckiest nursing home in America. To others, a successful case against Life Care would be a fitting comeuppance for a facility that made terrible errors and whose errors, they argue, killed dozens of people — at least 46 people — who otherwise would not have died. And then there are those who think that, yes, blame should be assigned, but that it belongs with forces much larger than a single nursing home: with the county, with the state, with federal regulators, with the system. This is a debate about perspective: whether Life Care failed or was failed, or whether this was just the inevitable way of the virus.”

While this story centers around Life Care, it also addresses the disproportionate number of people in nursing homes who are dying from the virus, and just how little oversight there is of most facilities.


10. Spotify: Lost One by Jazmine Sullivan

The first song I heard by Jazmine Sullivan was “Bust Your Windows.” Shortly after that, she released “Lions, Tigers, and Bears.” Soon enough I listened to her whole debut album, Fearless. This was in middle school, and since then I hadn’t listened to much of her music until quarantine. Perhaps I didn’t listen to her second and third albums, Love Me Back and Reality Show, because they had less crossover success and I didn’t listen to much R&B throughout much of high school and college. Regardless, I slept on Sullivan. 

Since the pandemic I have ravenously listened to her, making up for years of lost time. Although I’ve gotten to listen to some of her music for the first time recently, unlike longtime fans, I’ve desired new music from her. 

Sullivan released a new single, “Lost One, on Friday. The single is pensive, remorseful, with Sullivan reflecting on a past relationship she doesn’t want to let go, understanding that “Sometimes it’s too late to make amends,” pleading “Just don’t have too much fun without me / Don’t have too much, don’t have too much fun / Please don’t forget about me / Try not to love no one.” 

If this song is any indication of an upcoming album the whole internet will be in tears. 


Images taken from referenced articles. Have a suggestion for next week? Email with the subject line “The Internet is Exploding.”

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