Category Archives: USA

A Special New Course

In this post-truth world, the power of facts is much diminished. Whether it is the conspiracy theories of US president Trump, fake news, mendacious political campaigns in the UK or the filter bubbles we find ourselves trapped inside, it seems factual information is in retreat from public discourse.

Some educators are coming to the rescue. The University of Washington in Seattle is now offering students course credits for a new class titled Calling Bullshit in the Age of Big Data. Seriously!

The world is awash in b..t. We expect it in some spheres, but the hype surrounding Big Data has provided ample cover for b..t to infiltrate the sciences as well. Through readings and discussions, this course will develop the critical thinking skills for spotting and refuting b..t wherever it may occur.

Evolutionary biologist Carl Bergstrom and data scientist Jevin West describe their syllabus by way of a succinct mission statement: Our world is saturated with b..t. Learn to detect and defuse it.

A non-partisan effort, the pair explain that the course is neither a veiled critique of certain individuals nor a satirical offering. Adequate b..t detection strikes us as essential to the survival of liberal democracy, they write on the course homepage.

If you’re a long way from being a Seattle student (either in kilometres or years), don’t despair. The syllabus and most materials are online and available to anyone who wishes to enrol.

Someone who doesn’t need additional training to detect b..t, either in big data or in big talk, is German Chancellor Angela Merkel 🙂

T: I invented the Internet.
M: No you didn’t.
T: I can see through brick walls.
M: No you can’t.
T: I own fourteen dinosaurs, all alive.
M: Please stop!

Mission Matters

Yesterday we came across this story, about Hui Chen, who is clearly one of the individuals in this world who embodies the personal virtues that Dr Gordon Livingston told us are worth developing.

This is the link to Hui Chen’s LinkedIn post Mission Matters and the full text is below.

On May 15, I informed the Fraud Section in the Criminal Division at the U.S. Department of Justice that I did not intend to renew my contract as its Compliance Counsel Expert. Last Friday, I officially ended that role.

Leaving DOJ was not an easy decision. Serving as the Fraud Section’s compliance counsel had given me not only the privilege of working with some of the most dedicated, intelligent, and innovative prosecutors in the federal government, it had also given me a platform from which I believed I could make a positive difference. Now, my reason for leaving is the same: to make a difference. For reasons articulated below, I believe the time has come when I can make a bigger difference outside of the DOJ than inside.

First, trying to hold companies to standards that our current administration is not living up to was creating a cognitive dissonance that I could not overcome. To sit across the table from companies and question how committed they were to ethics and compliance felt not only hypocritical, but very much like shuffling the deck chair on the Titanic. Even as I engaged in those questioning and evaluations, on my mind were the numerous lawsuits pending against the President of the United States for everything from violations of the Constitution to conflict of interest, the ongoing investigations of potentially treasonous conducts, and the investigators and prosecutors fired for their pursuits of principles and facts. Those are conducts I would not tolerate seeing in a company, yet I worked under an administration that engaged in exactly those conduct. I wanted no more part in it.

Second, my ability to do good at a more micro-level, by exchanging ideas with the compliance community on ways to assess the effectiveness of compliance programs, was severely limited. The management of the Criminal Division, of which the Fraud Section is a part, has persistently prohibited me from public speaking. This inability to engage was particularly frustrating after the release of the Evaluations of Corporate Compliance document, as I watched almost everyone except me being able to talk about (and often misinterpreting) my work.

Third, I have come to realize that nothing matters to me more than working to restore the notions of integrity, decency, and intellect back into our government. I yearn to be a part of that effort more directly than volunteering for and attending protests: I want to help elect candidates who stand for those values, and I cannot do that while under contract with the Criminal Division due to Hatch Act restrictions.

The time I spent in the Fraud Section has been among of the most rewarding experiences in my career, and I cannot speak more highly of the prosecutors with whom I had the pleasure of working. I will miss them dearly, and I hope and pray that they remain in the government to protect and defend our Constitution and to hold corporations accountable. As a citizen advocate, I will also fight for resources and support for them to do their jobs.

What will I do now? The mission is the same: to make a difference. It seems clear that there is much work to do not only in taking corporate ethics & compliance to the next level, but also in raising the moral consciousness of societies. To those ends, I will engage publicly through speaking, writing, and consulting, working with not only corporations interested in enhancing their ethics & compliance programs, but also with foreign and domestic government agencies to enhance their leadership in the markets. I will also consider it my personal mission to participate in efforts to hold our elected representatives accountable and to protect our environment. I believe it has never been more important for every individual to speak and act on their conscience and belief.

We have just one life to live, and the mission we choose for that life matters as much as the life itself.

The failing architect who dreamt up modern America

What makes an architectural reputation? What does it need if it is to last? Frank Lloyd Wright (1867–1959) can tell us a great deal. This year is the 150th anniversary of the American architect’s birth (today actually), and there is a great deal of activity to mark the occasion in the US. Historic Wright sites, museums and hotels are celebrating with special events, new exhibitions and anniversary packages.

The Museum of Modern Art in New York will honour Wright’s legacy with a major exhibition of his work from June 12 to October 1. Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive includes about 450 works ranging from the 1890s through the 1950s, featuring architectural drawings, models and photographs.

Milwaukee Art Museum is also set to introduce a new exhibition, Frank Lloyd Wright: Buildings for the Prairie, showing from July 28 to October 15. With a focus on designs from the Wasmuth Portfolio — famous lithographs by Wright published in 1911 by the Berlin firm Ernst Wasmuth — the show also includes examples of his furniture, stained glass and textiles.

The Wright-designed Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York will be open Thursday, June 8 (it is usually closed on Thursdays), offering $1.50 admission, free birthday cupcakes!!, a noon tour and rarely seen construction photographs of the museum. During the Museum Mile Festival (June 13), visitors can receive free after-hours admission and Frank Lloyd Wright temporary tattoos.

More than half a century after his death, Wright’s reputation looks in fine health.

The words ‘American architect’ feel a little bare when applied to Wright – convention pushes for the addition of a superlative, such as ‘greatest’ or ‘best loved’. He is routinely described as America’s ‘favourite’ architect, generating among the public the kind of affection that most 20th-century architects could only fantasise about. This pre-eminence was hard won, and never inevitable – in fact a snapshot of Wright’s career makes failure appear the recurring theme. And it’s a lonely sort of achievement: triumph for Wright, obscurity for his ideas.

The buildings that secured Wright his lasting fame came very late. Wright was born in Wisconsin in 1867. Fallingwater, the Pennsylvania house that brought him global fame, was completed in 1937, when he was 70. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the masterwork that crowned his career, opened in 1959, six months after his death at the age of 91. Though he built far more than his image as a prickly visionary might suggest – hundreds of works, mostly individual houses – those two bought him the lease on immortality, and he knew it.

Wright trained at the Chicago offices of the legendary firm of Adler & Sullivan, joining at the age of 20; in 1893 he left the firm and set up his own practice. He built scores of houses in a distinctive ‘Prairie’ style, with long profiles, low pitched roofs, and strips of windows under the eaves. Geometric ornament was applied with restraint and intelligence. Soon he was picking up more prominent commissions, completing a headquarters for the Larkin soap company in Buffalo, New York, in 1906, and Unity Temple, a Unitarian chapel, in Oak Park, Illinois, in 1908. Architectural historians seeking the first signs of modernism in the United States, would alight upon these buildings, although Wright’s relationship with the modern would always be characterised by difference and disagreement.

Then came a near-legendary series of disasters. In 1909 Wright abandoned his wife and children for Martha ‘Mamah’ Borthwick, the wife of one of his clients, and the couple went to Europe to escape the ensuing scandal. In 1914, after the couple’s return to the United States, a deranged manservant set fire to the living quarters of Taliesin, a house and studio built by Wright in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Mamah, her two children, and four other people were killed.

Cross section looking east of the Imperial Hotel, Tokyo (1913–23), Frank Lloyd Wright. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives, New York. © 2017 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Wright’s career was badly affected by the scandal, and the tragedy might have ended it entirely, were it not for his work in Japan. In 1913 Wright was commissioned to design the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, a story told in fascinating detail in Ken Tadashi Oshima’s essay for the large and beautiful catalogue accompanying the MoMA sesquicentennial show. Wright was already an admirer of Japan’s art, architecture, and landscape, and had travelled in the country. He had a particular, passionate interest in ukiyo-e woodblock art, which he began to import to the United States in 1905, and exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1906. This became an important side business in the absence of architectural work. Completed in 1923, the elaborate Imperial Hotel kept Wright busy, but without American work his profile began to suffer. And his misfortune continued. In 1925 Taliesin burned down again, the result of an electrical fault, and Wright lost his stockpile of Japanese art. In 1929 came the stock market crash and the Depression. He declared bankruptcy and teetered on the edge of total failure.

In her book Wright on Exhibit (Princeton University Press), Kathryn Smith shows how Wright used exhibitions to keep his reputation alive. He tried for five years to secure a show of his work at the Art Institute of Chicago, finally succeeding in 1930 after a successful exhibition at the Architectural League in New York. A study focused entirely on an architect’s exhibitions, as Smith has provided, might seem specific to the point of narrowness – and for another architect perhaps it might be. But exhibitions and self-promotion kept the Wright flame alive. ‘Wright’s intention,’ Smith says of the Chicago exhibition, ‘was clearly to show that for the previous fifteen years, despite the implication of headlines in the popular press, he had been intensely active as an architect. Although the majority of the work remained unbuilt […] the exhibition proved that he had moved beyond the single-family house to large-scale commissions, including monumental buildings.’

The Architectural League exhibition, Smith demonstrates, rehabilitated Wright’s reputation, earning praiseful press in the New Yorker, the New York Times and Time. Wright had also won a champion in the person of the critic Lewis Mumford, who would become one of his most important advocates. The details of how architectural shows come together might not be immediately fascinating, were it not for the fact that exhibitions did provide vital turning points in his fortunes, and that Wright’s abrasive manner and perfectionism ‘invariably led to last-minute dramas of operatic proportions’, in Smith’s generously gentle assessment.

So it proved when Wright was included in the new-founded MoMA’s seminal 1932 exhibition of international modernism, curated by Alfred Barr, Henry-Russell Hitchcock, and a young architect called Philip Johnson. The three men were devotees of the first generation of European modern architects, including Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, and Walter Gropius, and the initial agenda for the MoMA show had been to promote these men to an American audience. But the museum wanted Americans included, and an uncomfortable selection were added, including Raymond Hood and Richard Neutra. Last of all came Wright – admired by the curators, but very much in the past tense, as a has-been whose contribution to modernism was negligible and spent.

Wright could smell the condescension from Wisconsin, and was already ideologically up in arms against the whitewash-wielding European modernists. He disliked Hood, an enmity that may have informed The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand’s novel of feuding architects. ‘My way has been too long and too lonely to make my belated bow to my people as a modern architect in company with a self-advertising amateur and a high powered salesman,’ Wright telegraphed Johnson in January 1932, three weeks ahead of the opening date, in the most serious of his pre-show tantrums: ‘No bitterness and sorry but kindly and finally drop me out of your promotion.’ Mumford intervened and Wright reconsidered. Johnson was unable to attend the opening of his own show, as the stresses of putting it together had sent him to hospital with exhaustion. Even then, Wright was not finished, and demanded to be withdrawn from the touring part of the exhibition. ‘You can comfort yourself with the consolation […] that Michelangelo was impossible to get along with – and posterity has forgiven him,’ an exasperated Hitchcock wrote to Wright. ‘In so far as we are posterity doubtless we have already forgiven you.’

Perspective from the south of Fallingwater (Kaufmann House), Mill Run, Pennsylvania (1934–37), Frank Lloyd Wright. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives, New York. © 2017 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

But posterity was not yet finished with Wright. In 1932, ever battling to stay afloat, Wright had founded a school at Taliesin. Among the young ‘Fellows’ who came to study was Edgar Kaufmann Jr. His father, Edgar Kaufmann Sr. owned a Pittsburgh department store, and commissioned Wright to build a weekend home on a tight site beside a stream called Bear Run in the Laurel Highlands. Wright’s design was a series of smooth concrete trays cantilevered out over the stream where it tumbled over a small cascade. These trays projected from a central mass of stacked stone. Their dramatic horizontal lines, which might look harsh against the rough stone and natural setting, are almost unnoticeably curved at the edges, giving them remarkable subtlety. The lowest deck is reached from the stream bank by a suspended staircase that almost floats in the air. This house was called Fallingwater. In 1938, drawings and photographs of the house, which had been completed the year before, were exhibited at MoMA: a single-building show. Wright’s fame was secured. Time magazine put him on the front cover; Mumford, in his New Yorker column, called him ‘the world’s greatest living architect’.

Fallingwater was the distillation of the ideology that Wright had sculpted since the first years of the century: organic architecture. Wright had always been acutely aware of the peculiar responsibility of his generation of American architects. ‘How great is the privilege granted us, in being part, not of a Renaissance, but of a naissance in architecture,’ wrote Dankmar Adler, business partner of Wright’s mentor, Louis Sullivan, in 1886. ‘For there is surely being born into our world a new style, the style of America, the style of the civilisation of the nineteenth century, developed by its wants, its conditions and its limitations.’ Wright wanted to create this style for the 20th century, and was dismayed by what he saw as the corrupting European influences: first the Beaux Arts style, lumbering under the weight of ornament, and then the alien and unadorned work of the modernists whose party he had reluctantly crashed at MoMA.

Axonometric view of model D1 in the American System-Built (Ready-Cut) Houses project (1915–17), Frank Lloyd Wright. Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2017 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Against this, Wright wanted to craft a distinctively American idiom. The first stirrings of this ‘organic architecture’ could be seen in the ‘Prairie’ houses of his early career, which took cues from the landscape of Wright’s native Midwest. ‘The straight line of the horizon became the low sheltering roof, trees and flowers were abstracted as geometric patterns in the art glass windows, and leaves contributed their autumnal palette to the plaster surfaces,’ Smith writes.

Wright would use biological metaphors in his buildings throughout his career, such as the tree-like columns at the Johnson Wax Headquarters building, a major commission completed in 1939. But in speaking of ‘organic’ architecture, Wright did not mean straightforward biomorphism of the sort that too often serves as a substitute for inspiration among ‘visionary’ architects. ‘Be warned this word “organic” is like the word “nature”,’ Wright wrote in his book The Living City (1958). “If taken in a sense too biological, it would not be what it is: light in darkness; it would be a stumbling block.’ Instead Wright intended a broader and more sophisticated connection to the landscape, both physical and human, ‘a daily working concept of the great altogether’. He imagined architecture and planning as playing roles in forging an American identity, one that united land, people, and democracy – Usonia.

Aerial view of Broadacre City model (1934–35), Frank Lloyd Wright. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives, New York © 2017 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The grandest expression of the Usonian dream was ‘Broadacre’, a continent-spanning utopian urban form. Broadacre dissolved the American city into the landscape, giving every one of its inhabitants an acre to call their own and marbling together homes, industry and farmland. It was resolutely low-rise, with only a few tall buildings, set in wide parks. There were to be no trains or streetcars, only broad freeways with multi-level junctions. The car was king: Wright categorised homes by the size of their garage, although he also imagined that helicopter taxis would be widely available. This was Wright’s retort to the agglomerated, centralised, congested city inherited by modernity, and to the functional city proposed by the modernists.

Broadacre prefigures the exurban sprawl of the American city in the later 20th century – the twisted, resource-hogging dystopian shadow of Wright’s Jeffersonian vision. Otherwise it was inherently impractical, and Wright knew it. Broadacre was ‘nowhere unless everywhere’, Wright said, as quoted in Neil Levine’s book The Urbanism of Frank Lloyd Wright (Princeton University Press). But it was a useful promotional tool for the studio, generating publicity at a time of considerable public debate about the future of the city. To aid this publicity, Wright prevailed upon Edgar Kaufmann Sr., who later commissioned Fallingwater, to fund the construction of a gigantic model of a section of Broadacre, for public display. The city also served as a clearing-house for Wright’s ideas as a focus for his creativity. It can perhaps be understood as a bold early effort to come to grips with the problem of the automobile, a technology that had not yet fully exposed its horrible urban effects – similar misguided efforts are today being made by architects to understand the implications of self-driving cars. And Wright’s engagement with the automobile gave rise to one of his most interesting and stealthily influential unbuilt designs, the Gordon Strong Automobile Objective, a drive-to, drive-through, drive-up viewing platform and planetarium proposed for a hilltop in Maryland. A spiralling ramp ran up its exterior, for cars to ascend to the platform – a form that would later be adapted to the Guggenheim Museum.

Perspective view of Gordon Strong Automobile Objective and Planetarium, Sugarloaf Mountain, Maryland (1924–25), Frank Lloyd Wright. © 2017 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Wright’s advocacy for Broadacre was accompanied by polemics against the modern city, in particular New York. ‘Tier above tier rises the soulless habitation of the shelf,’ he wrote in The Living City, adopting the apocalyptic cadence common among urban critiques of the time:

‘Interminable empty crevices run up and down the winding ways of windy unhealthy canyons. Heartless, this now universal grip of grasping, unending stricture. Box to box on box-boxing, glassed-in boxing looking into other glass-boxing. Black shadows falling on glass fronts with artificial lights burning behind them all day long. Millions upon millions of little cavities, cells squared by the acre, acreage spread by the mile. This a vast prison with glass fronts. […] Incongruous mantrap of monstrous dimensions! Enormity devouring manhood, confusing personality by frustration of individuality? Is this not Anti-Christ? The Moloch that knows no God but more?’

Model of St Mark’s Tower, New York (1927–29), Frank Lloyd Wright. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives, New York. © 2017 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Diatribes like this have given rise to the impression that Wright was an anti-urban architect, a view Levine sets out to disprove. The Urbanism of Frank Lloyd Wright is a companion to Levine’s landmark study The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, published in 1997, and it is as monumental as might be inferred from the 20-year wait. To make his case, Levine teases out an urban thread from Wright’s earliest projects, including a plan for a residential subdivision of Chicago, and a 1928 scheme for three small towers at St Mark’s-in-the-Bouwerie in New York. The St Mark’s scheme, often overlooked among Wright’s unbuilt projects in favour of flashier fare like his mile-high skyscraper brainwave, was clearly important to the architect – although squashed by the Depression, he continually returned to and recycled its plans and drawings. It was the seed of later urban schemes proposed for Washington, D.C. and Pittsburgh, consisting of towers sprouting from a part-buried slab that takes the form of a sculptural landscape. The organic principle of union with the landscape might seem to have lost some of its subtlety, but the ideas are spectacular: at Pittsburgh, the spiral ramp of the Strong Automobile Objective is inflated to megastructural scale, and an aquarium is sunk into the confluence of the city’s rivers, achieving something close to perfect union with the water. Levine concludes with one of Wright’s final projects, again unrealised, a masterplan for Baghdad.

Models of Wright’s St Mark’s towers are an important feature of the exhibition at MoMA, as is his original model of the Guggenheim Museum, and the catalogue contains a detailed examination of the immense effort that went into their restoration. As well as celebrating Wright’s 150th anniversary, the exhibition marks the transfer of the architect’s copious archives – 55,000 drawings, 125,000 photographs, 300,000 sheets of correspondence, dozens of models – from Taliesin and Taliesin West to the museum and Columbia University. This archive is the evidence of Wright’s decades of thought, writing, striving and designing – a body of architectural work of unique originality and vitality. It is the secret of why there is still much to learn about Wright, and why he rewards study. Fallingwater and the Guggenheim are the tip – the archive is the iceberg.

From the May 2017 issue of Apollo Magazine.

Lego’s Frank Lloyd Wright Collection

This is new!

It is, Lego has released the latest kit in their architecture series, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, for the 150th anniversary of Frank Lloyd Wright’s birth. It is a new rendition of the building. The original interpretation of the building was released by Lego in 2009. The new set provides a much more realistic portrayal of the Wright’s original building as well as the 10-story limestone tower added by Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects in 1992 (based on Wright’s original sketches). Arch and bow bricks make up the swooping lines of the main rotunda and the rounded edges of the base. Even the porthole side windows are represented, as well as little taxis — rendered as two yellow bricks each — and other street details.

We took the little model to Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

The Lego Group and Adam Reed Tucker of Brickstructures, Inc. officially introduced the Lego Architecture line in 2008. In 2009, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation announced that the Lego Group was the exclusive licensed manufacturer of Frank Lloyd Wright Collection® Legp Architecture sets.

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Fallingwater models were shown at the opening of the Frank Lloyd Wright Exhibit: From Within Outward at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 2009, to commemorate the 50 years of the death of Frank Lloyd Wright and the 50th anniversary of the opening of the museum.

Fallingwater is one of the most famous and ingenious houses in the world.

In 2011, Lego released a model of the Robie House. Robie House was the first property to be declared a National Historic Landmark based on its architecture alone.

In 2013, the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo was the fourth Wright design to achieve micro-scale Lego-dom. The Imperial Hotel was the first set in the Lego Architecture sub-brand that is no longer with us. Having survived both 1923’s Great Kantō Earthquake and the American bombing of Tokyo during World War II, Wright’s dramatic Mayan Revival-style structure proved to be no match for the wrecking ball when it was decided, not without protest, to raze the ailing H-shaped building in 1968 and replace it with a more space-efficient modern hotel tower. Portions of the hotel including the main entrance were, however, relocated and rebuilt at an open-air architectural theme park north of Nagoya, Meiji-Mura.

We’ve been there!

Time for cupcakes!

The Right to Own and Run Government

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)

By a five-to-four decision, the United States Supreme Court today defended the right of the wealthiest Americans to own and run the United States government.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts summarized the rationale behind the Court’s decision: “In recent years, this Court has done its level best to remove any barriers preventing the wealthiest in our nation from owning and running our government outright. And while the few barriers that remained were flimsy at best, it was high time that they be shredded as well.”

Citing the United States Constitution, Justice Roberts wrote, “Our founding fathers created the most magnificent democracy in human history. Now, thanks to this decision, the dream of owning that democracy by the wealthiest is a reality.”

Justice Neil Gorsuch also weighed in, telling reporters at the Court, “After all the pro-gay decisions they’ve been making around here, it is nice to finally have a win for the good guys.”

Thanks Andy Borowitz @ The New Yorker

New Technology Required

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)

After an impressively chaotic start to his presidency, the approval rating of the United States President has shrunk to a point where it is no longer detectable by the technology currently available, a leading pollster said yesterday.

Davis Logsdon, who heads the highly regarded Opinion Research Institute at the University of Minnesota, said that his polling unit has developed highly sensitive measurement technology in the last two weeks to gauge the President’s popularity as it fell into the single digits, but added that “as of this week, the President’s approval rating is basically flatlining”.

“At the end of last week, you could still see a slight flicker of approval for the President,” he said. “Then — bam! — the lights went out.”

Logsdon said, however, that people should resist drawing the conclusion that the President’s approval rating now stands at zero. “He may have support in the range of .0001 per cent or, say, .0000001 per cent,” he said. “Our equipment just isn’t advanced enough to measure it.”

Logsdon said that the swift descent of the President’s approval rating below detectable levels has surprised experts in the polling profession. “In 2008, when George W Bush was president, I wondered, What could a president possibly do to become less popular than this?” the pollster said. “Now we know.”

Adapted from Andy Borowitz @ The New Yorker

We Love MoMA

Little Puffles and Honey had a grand day at MoMA last May.

One: Number 31, 1950, by Jackson Pollock (1950) at MoMA
One: Number 31, 1950, by Jackson Pollock (1950) at MoMA

And now they love MoMA even more. In times of injustice, the Museum of Modern Art ― one of the most influential art institutions in the United States ― is not remaining neutral and is displaying works by artists from banned Muslim countries as a response to the travel ban.

Siah Armajani, Elements Number 30, 1990, has been installed in the museum’s lobby.
Siah Armajani, Elements Number 30, 1990, has been installed in the museum’s lobby.

In one of the strongest protests yet by a major cultural institution, the museum has reconfigured its fifth-floor permanent-collection galleries to showcase contemporary art from Iran, Iraq and Sudan, whose citizens are subject to the ban. MoMA’s fifth floor galleries focus on Western art from the late 19th to the mid-20th centuries, so the new works represent a clear break with what a viewer would normally encounter. The curators wanted to put the new works into conversation with the artworks already on display.

A Picasso came down. Matisse, down. Ensor, Boccioni, Picabia, Burri: They made way for artists who, if they are alive and abroad, cannot see their work in the museum’s most august galleries. There are seven works now on view including pieces by painter Ibrahim el-Salahi (Sudan), sculptor Parviz Tanavoli (Iran), painter Tala Madani (Iran), architect Zaha Hadid (Iraq), painter Charles Hossein Zenderoudi (Iran), photographer Shirana Shahbazi (Iran) and painter Marcos Grigorian (Russia, of Persian descent). More works by artists from Muslim nations will likely be added to galleries currently under renovation on MoMA’s fifth floor. MoMA is also hosting an accompanying film series beginning February 13, which will feature work from Mohammad Rasoulof (Iran), Manijeh Hekmat (Iran), Ossama Mohammed (Syria), and Kais Al-Zubaidi (Iraq).

The works will be up for several months, and alongside each painting, sculpture, or photograph is a text that makes no bones about why it has suddenly surfaced: “This work is by an artist from a nation whose citizens are being denied entry into the United States, according to a presidential executive order issued on January 27, 2017. This is one of several such artworks from the Museum’s collection installed throughout the fifth-floor galleries to affirm the ideals of welcome and freedom as vital to this Museum, as they are to the United States.

Ibrahim El-Salahi, The Mosque, 1964.
Ibrahim El-Salahi, The Mosque, 1964.

In the recently redesigned Picasso gallery, that Spanish artist’s Card Player of 1913-14 has been replaced by The Mosque, a small oil painting from 1964 by the Sudanese artist Ibrahim el-Salahi. Mr. Salahi freely interweaves Modernist abstraction, Arabic calligraphy and architectural motifs. There’s a tonal rhyme between the burnished browns of The Mosque and the mucky beige and mushroom pigments of Picasso’s analytical Cubist tableaus — and Picasso’s own deep debt to African art is further underlined by his new company.

Henri Matisse’s Tiari , 1930, and Periwinkles / Moroccan Garden, 1912, and Charles Hossein Zenderoudi, K+L+32+H+4. Mon père et moi (My Father and I), 1962.
Henri Matisse’s Tiari, 1930, and Periwinkles / Moroccan Garden, 1912, and Charles Hossein Zenderoudi, K+L+32+H+4. Mon père et moi (My Father and I), 1962.

The Matisse gallery, where the masterworks Dance and The Piano Lesson hang, has been refitted with a large, intricate work on paper by the Iranian artist Charles Hossein Zenderoudi.

Charles Hossein Zenderoudi, K+L+32+H+4. Mon père et moi (My Father and I), 1962
Charles Hossein Zenderoudi, K+L+32+H+4. Mon père et moi (My Father and I), 1962

In his Mon Père et Moi (1962), stylized gold hands and feet accompany jam-packed squares containing concentric circles and dancing glyphs. Are the two figures performing sujud, the act of prostrating oneself during Muslim prayer? They are too abstract to say with certainty. Like Matisse, Mr. Zenderoudi translated bodies into pure shapes, informed by patterns gleaned from the decorative arts.

Marcos Grigorian (Iranian (naturalized American), born Russia. 1924–2007), "Untitled," 1963, dried earth on canvas
Marcos Grigorian (Iranian, naturalized American, born Russia, 1924–2007), “Untitled,” 1963, dried earth on canvas

An untitled canvas covered in dried, cracked earth, by Marcos Grigorian, who grew up in Iran, now hangs amid similarly geological works by Alberto Burri and Antoni Tàpies. The gallery devoted to futurism has a small bronze totem by Parviz Tanavoli, one of Iran’s foremost sculptors. (Mr. Tanavoli, who divides his time between Iran and Canada, was briefly detained last year by Iranian authorities.)

Henri Rousseau, The Sleeping Gypsy, 1897, and Zaha Hadid, The Peak Project, Hong Kong, China, 1991
Henri Rousseau, The Sleeping Gypsy, 1897, and Zaha Hadid, The Peak Project, Hong Kong, China, 1991

Now, next to Henri Rousseau’s The Sleeping Gypsy is a painting by Zaha Hadid, the Iraqi-born British architect who died last year. Hadid’s depiction of Hong Kong as an allover composition of interlocking shards satisfyingly fractures the gallery’s timeline of art around 1900, and other works, too, are installed almost as intentional disruptions.

Shirana Shahbazi, [Composition-40-2011], 2011
Shirana Shahbazi, [Composition-40-2011], 2011

A massive 2011 photograph of three billiard balls by Shirana Shahbazi — who has German citizenship but whose Iranian birth means she is now barred from this country — incongruously dominates the gallery devoted to Dada, right behind To Be Looked at (from the Other Side of the Glass) with One Eye, Close to, for Almost an Hour, Marcel Duchamp’s impish painting on glass.

Next to a large, Expressionist street scene by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, a 2007 video, Chit Chat, by Tala Madani, who was born in Iran, plays on a loop. The frames of the stop-motion animation derive from bold, brushy compositions Ms. Madani paints and repaints. But where Kirchner depicts the streets of Dresden with a certain alienated distance, the video — depicting men grabbing each other by the throat and vomiting up yellow paint — is quietly urgent.

The speed and directness with which MoMA — not an institution usually thought of as nimble — has responded to the travel ban are impressive. Its particular force comes from the curators’ decision to present these works on the fifth floor, in the galleries most steeped in MoMA’s flowchart narrative of Modernist development. The Iranian, Iraqi and Sudanese art does not merely disrupt the old timeline of art history; it disrupts MoMA’s own institutional character. It says: Even the room in which Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon hangs is not irreproachable, but rather a particular story told by individuals, who at times must speak out.

At center, Parviz Tanavoli's The Prophet, 1964
At center, Parviz Tanavoli’s The Prophet, 1964

In the years to come, all institutions, from the most experimental to the most established, will have to decide whether to keep their heads down or whether to reply. This welcome new voice, less Olympian and more pluralistic, is not how MoMA has spoken in the past — but, then again, this is not how presidents have spoken in the past, either.

New York Times

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