The portrait had fetched the highest return at the auction — more than signed works by recognized artists. After years in the privacy of Didion’s home, it was in the public spotlight for the first time, easily viewed online, in the auction house’s catalog, and in the news coverage of the much-publicized sale.

And with that notoriety came the first clues in years of its origins — two emails that promised, respectively, to tell “the whole story” and to correct the record on the painting.

Fuses is shown in its entirety in a curtained-off room towards the end of the exhibition’s first floor; a few rows of traditional conjoined cinema seats arranged in front of a large screen with the consequence that one is physically jolted in one’s seat as a new audience member sits down. The viewing conditions alter the impact of the work entirely. When the exhibition opened in September, I attended a one-off screening of all three autobiographical films at the Barbican’s cinema. The audience was almost entirely women, an art and film crowd, who sat with scholastic intensity through the performance. In such a setting, Schneemann’s films were received as subjects of feminist critique by an audience already cognizant of their seismic influence on the development of a radical woman’s cinema tradition in America in the 1960s and 70s. I reacted with intense dislike to the films then, and to Fuses in particular, which in that environment seemed to mock coquettishly the simplicity of its central idea: that to invert men’s assumed dominance in, and ownership over, heterosexual sex it is enough for a woman to take hold of the camera, to turn it on her partner and back on herself. Schneemann filmed herself too much, I thought, gloried in her own image—just whom, I wondered, was this filmed for? Besides, is it important to have your pleasure represented, like the men do, I wondered, and is that even possible, even for the men? Why, moreover, must a woman’s pleasure be coated in so many layers of paint as to make it unplayable when she’s gone to all the trouble of recording sex for three years? I recognized only the performance of sexuality in the work, not the release of pleasure Schneemann had spent years capturing.

  • After a LGBTQ+ display at the Huntsville, Alabama, public library, chaos ensued and the city has decided to privatize the library, which should worry anyone eager to keep libraries public and accessible. Writing for Bookriot, Kelly Jensen reports:

Though officials claim the move to hire Library Services & Systems (LS&S) will reduce library operational costs over the next ten years, it comes on the heels of the city removing a Pride book display and a Banned Books Week display in September. City Manager Aron Kulhavy called for the displays to be taken down, temporarily closing the library. Following the removal of both displays, the library was told they could not create any additional displays, pending the city’s review of policies and procedures about them. The City Librarian was also placed on leave.

… LS&S is notorious in the world of public libraries for how it has changed the fundamental purpose of the institution. While it is possible employees currently at HPL may be rehired by the company, when a private enterprise takes over a public institution, it is fundamentally altered. No longer is it local and tailored to its community. LS&S will be beholden to the city of Huntsville, meaning that the city manager and his team will have direct input on the library’s operations.

The American Library Association (ALA), the largest professional association for library workers, responded to the potential takeover by LS&S on Twitter yesterday, prior to the meeting, stating “ALA affirms that publicly funded libraries should remain directly accountable to the public they serve. Therefore, the ALA opposes the shifting of policymaking and management oversight of library services for the public to the private for-profit sector.” But when asked whether anyone from ALA would be in attendance at the meeting or communicating with the city, they did not respond. ALA has a toolkit opposing outsourcing of public library operations available on their website, but has historically allowed companies like LS&S to sponsor scholarships for the organization. LS&S led a presentation at this year’s ALA Annual Conference.

Soundararajan has since made it her mission to end caste oppression, a journey she recounts in her debut book, The Trauma of Caste: A Dalit Feminist Meditation on Survivorship, Healing, and Abolition (North Atlantic Books). The word Dalit translates to broken and is the caste Brahmins deem untouchable. But as Soundararajan explains in the book, Dalit also represents the resilience, survival, and the pride of her people.

Caste extends far beyond the borders of the South Asian subcontinent. It impacts 1.9 billion South Asians and 5.5 million South Asians in the United States. It is also found in all South Asian religious communities. “For anyone born into a culture where caste is prevalent,” Soundararajan says, “it determines who and where they worship, where they live, choices and advancement in education and career, even personal relationships—in essence, their entire lives.” Dalits in South Asia face rampant human rights abuses and have a much lower life expectancy than dominant-caste South Asians. Speaking out about caste violence has made Soundararajan a target. “To be a woman leader today means you have to deal with endless threats, gaslighting, and very little support for your safety. We are strong on the outside, but vulnerable and tender as we work with the pain of those attacks.”

  • Well, well, well … when reporters uncovered abuses in the way Philadelphia police officers were being diagnosed as injured, injuries dropped 31%. William Bender, David Gambacorta, and Barbara Laker report on this interesting drop of “injuries” for the Philadelphia Inquirer and this graphic says it all:

In other words, the Twitter Files’ authors and their ideological counterparts have framed this material as evidence that Twitter, in thrall to its woke workforce and progressive politics more generally, had become an anti-democratic tool that extended the privilege of free speech only to those who held the proper political opinions. “Twitter’s former leadership curtailed public debate; drew arbitrary lines about what’s fake and what’s real; and gaslit ordinary Americans,” Weiss wrote in her Thursday night article. “Musk says he won’t do that.”

Right around the same time that Weiss’s piece went up, several mainstream journalists learned that their Twitter accounts had been suspended. Ostensibly, this was done in response to the journalists’ linking or referring to the Mastodon page for an account called @elonjet, which posts publicly available flight data about Musk’s private plane. Musk suspended @elonjet from Twitter earlier this week (reversing an earlier promise), and on Thursday night he justified all these media suspensions by claiming that @elonjet’s posts were the equivalent of “assassination coordinates.” It just so happened that all of these journalists had reported or commented critically on Musk’s tenure as Twitter’s boss; it also turned out that the story Musk had shared to justify the ban, involving a supposed threat to his son, had some glaring holes, too. By Saturday, after polling his Twitter followers about how long the bans should last, Musk had reinstated many of the suspended accounts. Later that day, Twitter suspended Washington Post journalist Taylor Lorenz after she asked Musk on Twitter to comment on a story she was working on regarding the original suspensions. (She’s since been reinstated.)

It is not at all surprising to watch Musk preen about exposing his predecessors’ alleged abuses of power while simultaneously engaging in the exact same behaviors that he had promised to avoid. Musk has always been too rich and too grandiose to care about following through on his promises. To hear Weiss tell it, Musk pitched her on his recent takeover of Twitter as his attempt to secure “the future of civilization.” While it is easy to believe that Musk thinks of himself in messianic terms, there’s no reason why the rest of us should rush to join his apostolate.

  • A debate over free speech at the University of California, Berkeley campus is raging and brings up lot of uncomfortable questions for those on any side of the debate — the topic is Zionism, anti-Palestinian sentiment, and the banning of speakers from various student groups. Vimal Patel has a good summary of the story for the New York Times:

That collision of issues all but guaranteed a tense debate over free speech, even if a broad swath of speech experts say that student groups are allowed to ban speakers whose views they disagree with.

“A student group has the right to choose the speakers they invite on the basis of viewpoint,” said Mr. Chemerinsky, who is Jewish and a Zionist. “Jewish law students don’t have to invite a Holocaust denier. Black students don’t have to invite white supremacists. If the women’s law association is putting out a program on abortion rights, they can invite only those who believe in abortion rights.”

Mr. Chemerinsky said that excluding speakers based on race, religion, sex or sexual orientation would not be allowed, but he noted that the student groups were excluding speakers based on viewpoint. True, he said, many Jews view Zionism as integral to their identity, but such deep passions do not change the law.

Other legal experts noted that the controversy showed just how mangled the understanding of the First Amendment had become, even at a place like Berkeley, the epicenter of the 1960s free-speech movement. The debate, they said, should focus on whether these bans align with the academic ideal of open, intellectual debate. Even if student groups can prohibit speakers, should they? And should such bans be codified — formally adopted with a bylaw?

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Required Reading is published every Thursday afternoon, and it is comprised of a short list of art-related links to long-form articles, videos, blog posts, or photo essays worth a second look.

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.

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Lakshmi Rivera Amin

Lakshmi Rivera Amin (she/her) is a writer and artist based in New York City. She currently works as Hyperallergic's editorial coordinator.

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