American Masters Reader: May 2019

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum via Wikimedia Commons

Throughout our broadcast season, American Masters tells the stories of cultural giants whose work has had a profound effect on American society. The American Masters team is pleased to share a curated selection of the latest discourse in arts and culture: here are six articles and essays we enjoyed in May.

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Money, Ethics, Art: Can Museums Police Themselves? Holland Cotter

The New York Times May 9th 2019

Over the past few months, activists have protested at major museums throughout the U.S., calling for the removal of specific donors and board members who have ties to unethical businesses (such as opioids) and the return of art that was stolen during colonial conquest. In this essay, Holland Cotter explores the history and successes of protesting cultural institutions throughout the 20th century. Cotter argues that museums have an ethical imperative to uphold moral standards for their board and donors and occasionally, their art.

The Pilgrims Who Visit the House in Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina’s World” Shannon Mullen

The New Yorker May 8th 2019

Every year, thousands of people visit Cushing, Maine to see and experience the Olson House – the former home of Christina Olson and the backdrop for Andrew Wyeth’s most famous painting “Christina’s World.” The tour guides who lead weekly tours of the Olson House estimate that the majority of the home’s visitors have only viewed “Christina’s World” in print or reproduction. Perplexed by the magnetism of the Olson homestead, author Shannon Mullen asks: what are these thousands of visitors searching for? To learn more about Andrew Wyeth, check out the American Masters documentary Wyeth.

Avant-garde Cosplay Jessa Crispin

The Outline May 9th 2019

In “Avant-garde Cosplay,” Jessa Crispin examines contemporary feminist retrospectives on famous female artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida Kahlo and Kathy Acker. Whether in the curation of exhibits or literary exploration of the artists’ lives, curators and authors often whitewash the lives of women artists to make them more palatable to a wider audience. Crispin argues that these female artists’ radicalism was what made them genius.

What Happens When Site-Specific Art Outlasts Its Surroundings? Zoë Lescaze

T: The New York Times Style Magazine May 13th 2019

In “What Happens When Site-Specific Art Outlasts Its Surroundings?,” Zoë Lescaze reflects on the two theories of the nature of site-specific art. On one side, many artists believe that site-specific art can only exist where it was originally placed: if you move the art or change the environment around  it, the art itself is destroyed. Other artists’ perspective is that site-specific art can gain new and unique meaning when it is moved. Lescaze does not argue for one point of view over the other but instead explores the history and context of modern and contemporary location-based art.

The Hidden Harper Lee Casey N. Cep

The Paris Review May 15th 2019

Since Go Set A Watchman was published at the very end of her life, Harper Lee is often viewed as a one-time author. In this essay, author Casey N. Cep meditates on Harper Lee’s lifetime of writing letters and essays: even though she wasn’t publishing work that doesn’t mean she was not a professional writer. Cep argues Harper Lee was simply a writer with writer’s block. For more on Harper Lee, check out American Masters — Harper Lee: Hey Boo.

A Cyborg Couture Yae-Jin Ha

Frieze May 16th 2019

In “A Cyborg Couture,” author Yae-Jin Ha reflects on history of cyborgs – part human, part machine – in art. Ha argues that as a theme, especially in fashion, cyborgs can be used to challenge societal expectations of women.